Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Greek Adjectives

I'm in Florida and not finding much time for blogging. But I am still teaching online... ish. Here's one of the Greek URLs for the week, including a reading of the last part of Revelation 22:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Reflections: ATS and Wesley

Here are my final reflections on the ATS meeting as relates to Wesley Seminary @IWU. I'm on partial vacation, so not sure if I will have much chance to post this week. We'll see.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

ATS and Pains of Change

Today at ATS has been interesting. On a more comical note (or so I choose to take it) was parliamentary chaos. After torturous amendments, referrals I don't remember being voted on that were sometimes called reconsidering, substitute amendments to a not really so controversial paragraph suffering from lack of wordsmithing, someone stood up and called for the question. The moderator, who was a precious soul, nonetheless had no idea what the person was talking about. "What question?" or something like that was the response.

The really controversial item today was about a seminary associated with Sun Myung Moon's group. Apparently this seminary, which is actually accredited by the Middle States accrediting group, was unanimously denied associate membership at the last biennial meeting. This time they were up for affiliate status, which is a status that does not move toward membership and is reserved for non-degree granting institutions and non-Christian and non-Jewish faiths.

This motion also failed, despite the unanimous recommendation of the commission board, which included such individuals as Richard Mouw, president of Fuller. What was ironic to me is that the last vote to deny them membership was tantamount to saying they were not a Christian institution. The big objection to affiliate status was that they claimed to be Christian.

I believe these are change pains related to the procedural ones I mentioned yesterday. Over time, the association has allowed numerous evangelical and fundamentalist institutions into its membership as an indication of its generosity toward other groups. These groups are the ones who will almost certainly approve changes to the rules on residency and duration of degrees next 2012 meeting.

But as is often the case, those groups that value pluralism often find that the non-pluralistic groups they welcome into their fellowship often then try to stop pluralism when they gain power. This can be the case with conservative Islamic groups. It can be with conservative Christian groups. The openness that welcomes conservative groups can eventually empower those same groups to shut down openness.

Obviously I am not arguing for individual groups to water down their identities. I am simply affirming that it is best for the "pudding" in which such diverse groups exist to be open. This is my understanding of the non-establishment clause of the US Constitution, and I affirm it. ATS is an umbrella organization that has, for example, included Jewish seminaries since the beginning. I don't have a vote, but as far as I can tell, all the representatives from Wesleyan family schools voted in favor of granting this school affiliate status.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daniel Aleshire: Future Has Arrived

I may post on the seminary Dean's blog on Monday if the link to his paper is up by then. Dr. Aleshire delivered a brilliant paper on "The Future Has Arrived: Changing Theological Education in a Changed World" today at the Association of Theological Schools Biennial Meeting. He is its Executive Director. I have been thoroughly impressed by all the staff of the association.

I can also sense that the association members, some eagerly and some with regret, recognize that the Association must make certain changes to its membership standards. I tweeted several of Aleshire's more striking comments during the presentation. One had to do with the future coming so fast that it has overtaken the present, to where the sun is both rising and setting at the same time. Perhaps I will expand on Monday.

But some of the changes he suggested were of the spirit that ATS has provided the gold standard for a certain kind of theological education that worked very well in the twentieth century. Now he suggests at least four areas where ATS should expand in providing the gold standard:

1. education at undergraduate level
2. education for part-time pastors
3. education for people already in ministry
4. education for lay leaders

I've translated his words into my own. Smaller denominations have been engaging these sorts of venues for years but have been scorned by the mainline power holders. For what it's worth, in my opinion the changing reality here is as much the combined diminishment of traditional power as it is the empowerment of these alternative routes. For example, it is because there are no longer enough traditional priests and ministers that Catholics and Methodists alike have had to acknowledge these others who have always been there.

The 20,000 alternative denominations have gone and continue to go gangbusters. What has changed is that ATS is now forced to consider modes of operation that they have been using for 150 years and more.

P.S. I was delighted to be present as Northwest Nazarene's seminary was granted Associate Membership. What is delightful is that their entire MDIV degree is online!

All Have Sinned (5)

Previously on Paul.

... The very familiar verse Romans 3:23 sums up this entire section: "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God."

The second half of this verse is often mistranslated or misunderstood. The New Living Translation, for example, translates it to say, "and fallen short of God's glorious standard," as if the problem Paul has in mind is our human inability to reach God's standard of absolute perfection. But this line of thinking misses Paul's understanding of glory as something humanity lost with Adam's sin and something we are regaining and will definitively regain at the resurrection.

We can make a good argument that Psalm 8 stands behind this verse, especially the part that says God created humanity with the intent of crowning us "with glory and honor" (Ps. 8:5). [1] When God created humans, he put them in a position of glory and honor within the creation. But when Adam sinned, he lost that glory for humanity. When we sin like Adam did, we also illustrate why we currently lack the glory God intended for us.

Part of our restoration, whether for believers who are alive at the time of Christ's return or for those he resurrects, involves "glorification," the restoration of humanity's glory. As Hebrews puts it, Christ is "bringing many sons to glory" (2:10). Or as Paul puts it, we are going to "share in Christ's glory," a "glory that will be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:17-18). Even in the meantime, we are already "being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory" (2 Cor. 3:18).

Both Jews and Gentiles have lost this glory. Ever since Augustine, Christians have tended to read the "all" in "all have sinned" in individualistic terms. All individuals have sinned. Certainly Paul would agree that all individual human beings have sinned. But this is a subtle shift from what Paul's argument was really about, namely, the fact that both Gentiles and Jews had sinned. "All" in the argument meant "all groups," not just Gentiles, but Jews as well. [2]

When Paul says "all," he is summarizing his earlier argument. For Jews hearing Romans, the first chapter would repeatedly cue in their minds the kinds of sins that Gentiles do. They "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (1:23). The kind of self-righteous Jew Paul pictures in 2:17 would have "Amened" Paul at this point. "You preach it, Paul. Those sinful Gentiles are going to fry!"

Paul goes on in Romans 1:27 to speak of men who "abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another." Again, sexual immorality was one of those stereotypical sins Jews assumed all Gentiles were doing. Homosexual sex was just one consummate example of the kinds of sexual sins a self-righteous Jew might point out to emphasize how sinful those Gentiles were. "Yep, preach it, Paul. Those sinful Gentiles are going to fry!"

But Paul is engaged in a sting operation. The point of Romans 2 is that Jews are just as sinful as those stereotypically sinful Gentiles. In fact, Paul knows some Gentile Christians who have the Law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15). They put the imaginary, self-righteous Jew Paul has been picturing to shame. They have "circumcised hearts," which makes them truly circumcised in God's eyes, while the condemning Jew Paul pictures proves to be uncircumcised in heart before God (Rom. 2:28-29).

So Paul's point in Romans 1:18-3:20 is that God's judgment is coming on all ungodliness, not only on ungodly Gentiles who worship idols and are sexually immoral, but on all Jews as well. All groups have sinned--Jews as well as Gentiles--and all equally face God's wrath. This is the problem we all face. And all can also participate equally in the solution: the faith of Jesus Christ!

[1] We know that Psalm 8 featured in Paul's thinking about Adam because he alludes to it in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that God is putting everything under Christ's feet (1 Cor. 15:27). Hebrews 2:5-11, which probably was written by someone associated with the Pauline mission, may give us a fuller version of Paul's thinking here. You can see my understanding of it in my sense of what stands behind Romans 3:23b above.

[2] This was one of Krister Stendahl's main points in his groundbreaking lecture, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SBL Ruckass

Quite a stir going on right now in SBL over an article in Biblical Archaeology Review called, "A Farewell to SBL." The basic idea is that SBL has abandoned its standards and will let any old uncritical person present.

I certainly wouldn't put things quite the way Hendel does, but I would agree that the whole discipline of biblical studies is in a methodological malaise. I would say that between postmodernism and theological interpretation, a lot of sloppy scholarship is slipping into a whole lot of places these days in the name of "there's no real standard" (postmodernism) and "theology pretending to be exegesis" (some theological interpretation).

I welcome all these methods, as long as no one confuses the one with the other, which I believe is the real problem right now.

Padilla at Association of Theological Schools

I'm in Montreal this week at the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) meeting. One of the issues of great interest to many of us is where ATS will go with certain of its current requirements. Will it continue to require half of seminary degrees be done onsite somewhere (there are already exceptions)? Will it continue to require full libraries on branch sites?

Alvin Padilla, Dean at Gordon-Conwell, gave a very controversial presentation today, I thought, that pushed for the kinds of changes I think will be necessary for seminaries to survive and thrive going forward. I would be very interested, though, to know how he was received by the rest of those in the room!

Monday, June 21, 2010

All Have Sinned (4)

Previously on Paul. Not much time today. I'm off to Montreal as an observer at the biennial Association of Theological Schools meeting. We (Wesley Seminary at IWU) will apply for associate membership at the next meeting, Lord willing. On Friday the question of adjusting residency policies will be introduced. Currently the standard is two years, although some established schools like Asbury have an appropriate exception to require only one year. This is the direction I believe ATS needs to go for seminaries and the MDIV degree itself to revive and thrive. I am fairly confident this will be the decision at the next meeting.

So the idea that everyone has sinned at some point in his or her life was not a new idea Paul came up with. Mainstream Jews would have completely agreed with Paul on this point, not to mention his Christian opponents. [1] Mainstream Jews would have completely agreed with Paul that it was only because of God's grace that Israel enjoyed the special relationship with God they had. They did not earn this special relationship even if God expected them to keep the Law to maintain it. And even if specific Israelites might fail him, God would preserve a righteous remnant within Israel forever.

The disagreement thus was not that "all have sinned" but on what the implications of that sin were and on what God in his righteousness was doing to address that sin. In a nutshell, Paul argued that Jewish sinfulness was no different from Gentile sinfulness, that Jews did not get a pass on their sins simply because they were Jews. Even more importantly, God had determined only one way to make things right with him, and it was not keeping the Jewish Law. The faithful death of Jesus Christ was the only way God was accepting at this time.

Paul spends almost the first three chapters of Romans spelling out the problem and implications of the fact that "all have sinned." After the usual introductory material of 1:1-15 and the key verses of 1:16-17, Paul dedicates Romans 1:18-3:20 to the sin problem of humanity both for Jews and non-Jews alike. [2] The very familiar verse Romans 3:23 sums up this entire section: "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God." [3]


[1] For example, one Qumran hymn says, "What is flesh compared to this? ... He is in iniquity from his maternal womb, and in guilt of unfaithfulness right to old age" (1QH12.29-30).

[2] The "prescript" or greetings of Romans are in 1:1-7. Then the "thanksgiving" section continues at least through verse 15, where Paul thanks God for the Romans. 1:16-17 are then the key verses of the letter.

[3] My translation.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Oden 5: The Trinity

The previous post in this series is here.

I only got through one chapter this week, chapter 5, "Whether God is Triune."

Oden repeatedly says that theology is simply an explanation of baptism, very interesting even though I wait to be fully convinced. I continue to be bothered by the way he handles the "fathers." Bounds has indicated to me that his sense of "original meaning" is more subtle than one might at first think, that in fact the end of the first part on the Father will lay down some of his hermeneutical cards.

But in general, the early fathers were no more wired to read the New Testament or Old Testament texts in their literary and historical contexts than the New Testament authors were in their readings of the Old. We presume their trinitarian readings of Scripture were on the right theological track. But a clever student who has taken inductive Bible study will be a better contextual interpreter than any of them.

The Bible scholar in me thus chafes when Oden says silly things like, "The unique phrase 'O God, thy God" makes no sense without a triune premise" (113). I have no objection to reading this psalm and Hebrews that quotes it with trinitarian lenses. But the psalm made perfect sense against its ancient near eastern context, a place where human kings were thought of as God's sons and where the king as godlike and God's representative in no way contradicted God as God. We should see these statements as stones on a revelatory path toward trinitarianism and we can read them in the light of later trinitarianism. But this is not the same as reading them in their original contexts.

Still, this chapter is a gold mine of the biblical texts in which the earliest Christians were inspired to hear reference to the Trinity. "The triune teaching has become incrementally clarified as established teaching by passing through successive stages: preindications in the Old Testament; the central disclosure of God as Father, Son, and Spirit in the New Testament; and the full development of church teaching in the Nicene definition and its subsequent interpretations" (109-110).

In the Old Testament, he mentions the plural form of Elohim, the threefold repetition of "holy" in Isaiah. The plural form in "remember your creators." I'm not sure if Oden really thinks these things originally had anything to do with the Trinity, which is highly doubtful--it would require us to assume such things made no sense to the people they were actually written for. But they are passages in which later Christians have heard inklings of the Trinity.

He mentions that Father, Son, and Spirit in the NT all are called God. All display the attributes of God. All do the same works. All are worshipped.

Finally, he mentions 12 NT passages that include all three persons: 1) the baptismal formula of the Great Commission; 2) Jesus' baptism; 3) Paul's benediction in 2 Cor. 13:13; 4) the Ephesian formula of 2:18; 5) Jude's summary call to prayer; 6) the Johannine farewell discourses; 7) John's prologue; 8) the Johannine letters; 9) Revelation's salutation; 10) Philippian hymn; 11) Colossians 1; 12) Hebrews introduction.

On the whole, I've found all the chapters of Oden disappointing thus far. It's because he has kept his promise. He is saying nothing new. He isn't even really clarifying the old.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Righteousness of God (3)

Previously on Paul.

Most scholars would also recognize today that while Luther's sense of "initial justification" was mostly accurate to Paul, his sense of what the phrase "the righteousness of God" meant in Romans 1:17 was probably wrong. The Roman Catholic Church took it to mean the justice God distributed toward believer and non-believer alike. Luther took it to be a "legal fiction," God considering us righteous even though we are not, a righteousness from God.

But the Jewish background to the idea of the righteousness of God points in another direction. For example, Psalm 98:2 says that "The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations." See how much this verse has in common with Romans 1:17? [1] It mentions God's righteousness and speaks of it being revealed. It also has a sense of this revelation going out to all the nations, just as Paul understood the gospel to be for the Gentiles as well as Jews. [2] The verse does not speak of us becoming righteous, but of God's righteousness as he brings about the salvation of Israel.

This psalm is not the only place where God's "righteousness" and his "salvation" are mentioned parallel to one another. [3] The second half of Isaiah (chaps. 40-66) was of great significance to the earliest Christians, and Paul himself occasionally alludes to these chapters (e.g., Rom. 15:21). These sorts of parallels between God's righteousness and the salvation he is bringing permeate them. The Greek version of Isaiah 51:5 Paul used says, "My righteousness draws near quickly, my salvation will come out like a light. The Gentiles will hope on my right arm." [4]

With such a consistent Old Testament background--also found in some of the Jewish literature of Paul's own day [5]--Paul almost certainly inherited a sense that the expression, "the righteousness of God" referred to God's righteousness as God's propensity to save Israel. Paul of course did not have to stop with what the phrase had meant before him, but it is pretty clear what his starting point was.

So when Paul says that "the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel" in Romans 1:17, he is talking about God's relationship with his people and in particular God's propensity to save his people, God's "saving righteousness." Righteousness is a relational term in Jewish thought. It is not about some abstract quality God has but about a specific way that God relates to his people and the world. It is a word that can refer to God's justice, as we will see in Romans 1:18, where Paul goes on to talk about the wrath of God toward ungodliness. But in Romans 1:17 Paul is talking about good news, how God has acted through Christ to bring salvation to his people, which now includes not only believing Jews, but believing Gentiles as well.

So Paul starts with the way Jews already thought of the righteousness of God, God's faithfulness to Israel both in judgment and salvation. Then he Christianizes the concept. Now it is only through Christ that this righteousness comes to God's people. And now God's people is not exactly the same as Israel but only includes believing Jews and is extended to include believing Gentiles as well.

And just maybe, Paul exploits the ambiguity of the phrase "the righteousness of God" so that when he gets to Romans 3:21, he not only alludes to God's righteousness. Maybe Luther was not so far off here as we think. When Paul says, "now, apart from law, righteousness of God has been disclosed," [6] maybe he intended the Romans to hear a double meaning, a double entendre. Not only has the righteousness of God" been revealed in a new way through Christ, God's righteousness. But maybe he means his readers also to hear that a "righteousness" is now available for us "of God," that is, "from God."

[1] We should add here to our list of key books on Paul, Richard Hays' celebrated Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1989). In this book, Hays explores passages in Paul that may "echo" passages from the Old Testament. An echo is something a little weaker than a full blown allusion, where it is clear an author quite intentionally is pointing toward a specific Old Testament (or other) text.

[2] The next verse reads, "He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."

[3] Many will know that Hebrew poetry does not rhyme sounds, but ideas. The verses we are discussing here use "synonymous parallelism" where one line is followed by another line that roughly says the same thing.

[4] My translation.

[5] The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, think of God's righteousness in similar terms. For example, "if I stumble, the mercies of God shall be my salvation always; and if I fall in the sin of the flesh, in the justice of God... will my judgment be... he will judge me in the justice of his truth, and in his plentiful goodness always atone for my sins; in his justice he will cleanse me from the uncleanness of the human being" (1QS11.12). Translation from Florentino G. Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelar, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) 99.

[6] My translation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LOST and sensus plenior

I pretty much waited till after LOST was over to start watching it. Right now my wife and I are near the end of the second season. But I have read a couple spoilers, especially Witherington's, so I have a little sense of what's really going on. If you want to watch the series sometime without knowing, then you should stop reading this post now.

I don't know much, except that they're all dead. Fairly often, one of them will say something that's a double entendre in that light. In the last episode I watched, they have a guy they suspect is one of the "others," whoever they are (I know my lack of knowledge will be painful to the faithful). Sahid has tortured him. Anna what's her name has used her police interrogation skills. At the prospect of them keeping torturing him until they know whether they can believe him or until they kill him, he indicates that they will never find enough reason to believe him and says, "I'm dead already."

Last night I was teaching Biblical Interpretation in Indy, and this line struck me as a good way to communicate the notion of "sensus plenior" to the students, the idea that God implanted hidden meaning in the words of the Old Testament prophets that the prophets themselves did not know but that would leap out to New Testament authors who had seen the rest of the storyline.

The man does not know, presumably, that he is dead. When he says, "I'm dead already," he is speaking to an immediate situation. So Isaiah is speaking to an immediate situation when he tells king Ahaz God wants to give him the sign of a young woman giving birth to a son, probably an heir to the throne, perhaps Hezekiah, whose birth will symbolize "God with us," the fact that God is not going to let the kings to the north defeat him.

But those who have seen the rest of the story hear in these words something else. They hear words about the birth of an heir to the world who will be born of a virgin, a king who will be "God with us" in a much more universal and eternal sense. Isaiah does not know the words will take on this meaning in the light of the rest of the story, but those who know the ending do.

And of course, LOST had writers who knew, just as Christians think of God inspiring the prophets. I've at least started writing a good deal of fiction, the creation of dialog and plot is a kind of mystery. I can imagine that lines like this one were a mysterious mixture of knowing where the plot of LOST was headed and a funny double entendre that jumped out of an author's mind. I bet he or she smiled when they found those words flowing from their fingers, almost as if they were not writing them but were carried away by the characters they had created.

And this is something like what someone means when they speak of divine inspiration that is directive in some way and yet preserves the personality and gifts of the human authors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Greek Class: Lecture on Verbs

If you're interested in how we're approaching Greek for ministry without memorizing the forms, here's a recording of tonight's chat session (it's an hour and a half long... sorry):

I of course could have done a better job myself, but you can see that we're getting to the important things that most traditional Greek courses don't get to. You take two semesters, fill your head with as many forms as you can hold and the basic translation but never get to the real interpretive grist!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Oden 4: Whether God Exists

For previous posts in this series, see here.

After two chapters about God's attributes, Oden now shifts to the question of whether God exists. This order of proceding is important to him, even though he seems quite convinced that these arguments are persuasive. He does not believe God's existence can be proved beyond doubt (83).

I want to make it very clear that it is not necessary for all these arguments to work for us to believe in God. Indeed, some would argue that the proper approach is blind faith rather than "evidence that demands a verdict."

In the end, he presents five kinds of argument that have been made:

1. Arguments from order and design (teleological arguments)

The argument from order is that the order of the universe is such that it begs for us to conclude an intelligence created it with purpose, that there is an Orderer of some kind behind it. The argument from design is similar, but slightly different. It argues that the complexity of the universe argues for an intelligent designer, much as a watch would.

Many will find this argument convincing. Evolution was often thought to have dethroned it, but even the theory of evolution involves patterns of order. Why does nature behave one way and not another? I wonder if in a quantum age, the argument from design collapses into the cosmological argument.

2. Arguments from humanity

The first of these is the argument of mind--how can we have minds by chance? How could nature produce something greater than itself? Not sure this argument makes sense to me. A couple of other arguments here that have been used in the past don't make a lot of sense to me. For example, God may very well have implanted in the human mind an awareness of Him, but it would be circular to argue that this fact alone argues that He exists.

More convincing is the argument that the existence of the divine is the general consensus of human culture. It is striking that humans seem universally to have some sense of the existence of gods. There must be some very strong reality driving this indeed!

3. Arguments from change, causality, contingency, and degrees of being

These are the standard cosmological arguments and although they do not prove the existence of the Christian God, I find them very impactful arguments. What caused the universe to explode into existence? Could it be possible that everything in the universe only existed contingently? If so, then it would be possible that nothing would exist. But if nothing could exist, there could not thereafter be anything. So it does seem like there must be some Thing or things that exist necessarily.

I'm not sure how helpful the arguments from motion and degrees of being are. In our world, I think the argument from motion collapses into the argument from cause. The degrees of being argument is that there must be a highest degree of being if we can conceive of lower ones. Not sure this makes any sense today.

Here again is where I respect the fathers but know way more about the world than they did. That makes this chapter seem really off to me at points.

4. Arguments from conscience, beauty, pragmatic results and congruity

I do not find these particular arguments very compelling myself. For example, the moral argument goes something like this: "The existence of absolute moral obligation establishes the existence of God as the cause of the moral order" (94). The problem is that the existence of absolute moral obligation is not at all obvious in the world, even though I believe in it.

Similarly, Kant's arguments for freedom, immortality, and God were based on certain things that seemed obvious to him about the world. Cultural anthropology far from vindicates his sense that everybody experiences such things the way he did. The arguments from conscience and beauty again seem far removed from the universal sense of those in this messed up world. The pragmatic argument is a reason why it might be advantageous to believe but it is not really an argument for the truth of such belief.

5. argument from the idea of perfect being

We end with the ontological argument. Oden clearly thinks he has hit pay dirt here, and there was a time when I tried to meditate on it to grasp its profundity. In the end, I find myself unable to say whether it has any truth to it or not. On one level it is logically incoherent. But there may be a subtle truth to it that I have not fully grasped.

The argument basically is that we could not conceive of God unless God actually existed, that the very idea of God implies within it the existence of God. The logical problem with the argument is that it mixes apples and oranges. The conception of God is a matter of our thoughts. The existence of God is a matter of the reality outside our mind. The argument as classically presented by Anselm and Descartes crosses this boundary between conception and world.

Certainly the greatest possible Being can exist in my conception. But if that fact in itself implies God exists in the real world, I have not yet been able to discern why.

So I find this chapter disappointing. Oden seems to treat all the classic arguments as if they are still fully convincing. Most of them to me, however, seem based on a pre-Cartesian view of the world. Nevertheless, God will continue to exist just fine with or without any of them. :-)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Righteousness of God (2)

Previously on Paul.

...Romans 1:17 says that the "righteousness of God" is revealed in the gospel about Jesus the king. In this expression alone we can trace the birth of Protestantism out of Roman Catholicism, as well as some of the disagreements among later Protestants. Up until the 1500s, almost everyone in the Western world defined themselves as Christian, and the only church in the West that existed was the Roman Catholic Church. [1]

Enter on the scene a German monk named Martin Luther in 1517. It was this year that Luther publically questioned some of the practices of the church of that day. But this moment in history was preceded by some personal breakthroughs that Luther experienced. One of them had to do with his understanding of Romans 1:17 and the phrase, "the righteousness of God."

At that time, Latin was the language of both the scholar and the church, and the Catholic church read the Scriptures in Latin. The vast uneducated majority of Christians thus did not hear the Bible read in their own languages. In Latin, the phrase "the righteousness of God" is "iustitia Dei." You can see that the first word looks a lot like the English word "justice."

And this is exactly how the Church took the word. The gospel reveals the justice of God. Now this is a possible meaning of the word for "righteousness" (dikaiosyne). [2] And it is true that God is just. But most interpreters prior to Luther took the verse to be about God distributing His justice both on believer and non-believer. Luther, who had a heightened sense of his own moral imperfection, found this verse troubling. At the time he believed in purgatory, a place where we burn off our remaining sinfulness and imperfection at death. The prospect of the "justice of God" thus was not good news to him.

His breakthrough was the realization that he could also take the phrase "the righteousness of God" as a reference to a "righteousness from God," that is, as a reference to God declaring us as righteous. Luther's theology of "justification" was born, for him the act of God declaring us righteous or innocent in the divine court. For Luther, we humans will never be acceptable to God in terms of our own goodness or morality. We come to God as sinners and we remain sinners even after we come to Christ. One of his most famous statements is that we are "at the same time righteous and a sinner, as long as we are always repenting." [3]

Some of Luther's thinking here seems true of Paul while other parts do not. For example, you will search long and hard to find any expectation or justification for sinning as a Christian in Paul's letters (cf., for example, Rom. 6:1-2, 12, 15). In the next chapter, we will see how Romans 7 is often, yet quite mistakenly, taken as a Christian's inability to stop sinning. Paul's position on this issue is not even close to ambiguous. Paul expects Christians to live righteous lives and those who do not are in serious danger of not being saved in the end.

Luther was correct, however, in the way he understood Paul's language about how a person comes to be right with God in the first place. Paul taught that a person becomes right with God, that is, is "justified," on the basis of faith--one's trust in what God has done through Jesus the Christ, Jesus the king (Rom. 3:28). We will talk a little more about the role of faith in Paul's theology in the next section. For now, it is enough to say that such faith for Paul was first and foremost centered on God the Father and what He had done through Jesus. However, God had accomplished these things through raising Jesus from the dead and by establishing Jesus as Lord of the cosmos. Therefore, Paul could also speak of our faith being directed toward Jesus, as well as on God the Father.

Unfortunately, in English we cannot see that the word "to justify" (dikaioō) is closely related to the word for "righteousness" (dikaiosynē). To justify is thus to "declare righteous." Luther rightly understood this word to be a legal term. [4] God pronounces us "not guilty." God declares us innocent in the divine court. He "justifies" us.

But Luther was only right about the moment of our initial faith in what God has done through Christ. The real trial, the actual moment of God's assessment that really counts, is at the judgment. Paul tells the believers at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that they "must all appear before the judgment seat of the Christ so that each might give an account for the things he or she did with their body." He also says something similar in Romans 2 where he says that on the Day of Wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, God will pay each person according to the works they have done (2:5-6). Contrary to Luther, we might first be justified with God on the basis of our faith, but we will not be finally justified if our actions did not conform to God's righteous expectation from that point to our final time of judgment. [5]

Most scholars would also recognize today that while Luther's sense of "initial justification" was mostly accurate to Paul, his sense of what the phrase "the righteousness of God" meant in Romans 1:17 was probably wrong...

[1] In the east, of course, most Christians were Orthodox from the year 1054 on, when the Eastern and Western churches formally split from each other.

[2] In fact, most translations translate dikaiosyne as justice in Romans 3:26.

[3] simul iustus et peccator, semper repentans.

[4] Luther's understanding on justification had a major impact on John Wesley. Wesley's understanding of justification is basically that of Luther. It is on the question of sanctification after justification that they differed drastically.

[5] Certainly in Paul's earlier writings like 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, this judgment would seem to take place at the time of Christ's return and the resurrection. Most would say this timing continued throughout all Paul's writings. Some have argued, however, that 2 Corinthians sees this judgment taking place right after death and that Paul's sense of the immediacy of reward shifted a little during his time at Ephesus.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Monday, June 07, 2010

Symposium on Human Nature: Brief Reflection

I missed the final morning of the conference, which involved a paper on society by Chris Accornero of SWU and a summary by Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent. But I heard all the papers on Saturday.

There was some good material here: one paper on sexual transformation and one on spousal abuse stand out as very informative. It was enjoyable to listen to one paper through a video link with Jamaica--problems getting a visa for the speaker, probably because of some of the problems they're having there right now. There were other enjoyable papers and I regret I did not hear Chris', which was on the societal dimension of restoring human nature.

There were thus some great pieces to the puzzle of human nature at the conference. I look forward to reading how Dr. Lyon integrated the pieces in the final summary.

There were also some glaring omissions of pieces, at least during the time I was there. For example, it is hard to see how a Christian can speak about what it might mean to be fully human or fully restored as human without talking a good deal about Jesus Christ. Oops. In terms of the assumed topic of Human Nature, therefore, we must on this point alone consider the conference deeply incomplete.

Also, in an age where brain science can locate the part of the brain where spirituality "lights up" and where evolution overwhelmingly dominates the scientific landscape, no symposium meaning to be relevant to the current questions about human nature could possibly be complete without significant engagement here. This is also not to mention the recent trend even in evangelical circles to question of whether the Bible teaches we have a detachable soul.

In short, it is always nice to have a reason to meet with old friends. :-)

P.S. Start of next chapter on seminary Dean's blog, this one on postmodernism and Wesleyanism.

Sunday Oden 3: Nature and Character of God

Not Sunday, but alas...

Oden divides the attributes of God into three categories. Chapter 2 is about God's intrinsic attributes and His relational attributes. Chapter 3 is about His personal attributes, those similar to human character. Parentheses are Oden, brackets are me talking...

Intrinsic Attributes (incommunicable, primary, essential attributes)
  • God is before time. [understandably, we can't quite be sure what this means]
  • God is self-sufficient (aseity). [I think I disagree with where Oden will take this, namely, when he claims that God's self-sufficiency does not imply He could have been as happy without the creation. I personally think God was just fine without it. Maybe I misunderstand Oden]
  • God is one.
  • God is not composed of parts (simplicity). [I never understood this one--I suspect it is a pre-modern left-over that has more to do with the way God looks to us within the creation rather than the mysterious ineffable of God beyond the creation]
  • God is infinite.
  • God is immeasurable.
  • God is eternal.
  • God has no impulse to suicide. :-)
  • God is incomparibly alive.
Relational Attributes
  • omnipresent
  • omniscient (Oden claims that the Arminian position on foreknowledge is the consensual one, and thus that Augustine and Calvin are the exception rather than the rule)
  • omnipotence (God can do anything consistent with who He is; He allows for secondary causes and thus does not directly cause everything that happens; He is transcendent)
Personal Attributes (chapter 3)
  • Scripture represents God with personal characteristics [although we always have to be careful about anthropomorphism] God can say "I."
  • God has a name.
  • Impersonal terms inadequate
  • God is Spirit.
  • God has a free will. [classically, His freedom is connected to His nature, meaning that in a very real sense, God is not free to tell someone to murder their child... oops. I am slightly unorthodox here in that I see God's freedom as more extensive than what we think of as His nature]
  • "God deals with human beings not coersively but persuasively" (61).
  • Among God's chief moral characteristics are holiness and love, where Oden defines holiness as perfect goodness [I personally don't think that this is the primary meaning of holiness in the Old Testament. I think it imposes a much later understanding of goodness on an Ancient Near Eastern world]
  • God is love--1 John defines God most succinctly [technically not a definition but a metonymy where something associated with something else is metaphorically used to describe it. The standard distinction between types of loves is also an overreading, although we can probably see a distinction between eros and agape far more than between agape and filos]

Divine happiness brings together all His attributes.

The Righteousness of God (1)

The last bread crumb on this trail was posted as "The Bottom Line." I am not happy with it, but I'll get discouraged if I don't move on. I vent a little in the notes below. I'll take it out before publication but it is an expression of my frustration at those who practice theological interpretation while pretending to do historical-cultural interpretation.

The Righteousness of God
The key verses of Romans are 1:16-17: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God leading to salvation for all who have faith, both to Jew first and to Greek, for the righteousness of God is being revealed in it, starting with faith and ending with faith, just as it is written, 'But the one who is righteous on the basis of faith will live.'" This highly compact statement of Paul encapsulates the key ideas Paul is about to argue in the first four chapters of Romans. It sets down key words and phrases, like "gospel," "salvation," "faith," and the "righteousness of God."

The gospel for Paul is the "good news." He starts off the letter by mentioning that God set him apart as an apostle commissioned to spread this good news (1:1-2). What is the good news? It is the good news "concerning God's Son" (1:3). The good news is that God has enthroned Jesus as the Messiah, the promised king. God has appointed him "Son of God in power" by raising Jesus from the dead (1:4). And part of the good news is all that goes along with Jesus ruling--including salvation! [1]

In Paul's understanding, Son of God meant that Jesus was God's appointed king of the universe. [2] For Paul, when God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him down at his right hand in the highest heaven (e.g., Acts 13:33), God was enthroning him as "Son of God in power" on the throne of the universe. "Son of God" is kingship language, meaning that God has delegated to Jesus the task of judging and ruling the nations.

Salvation is about being saved in the coming judgment of God. The idea of being saved involves being saved from something. We often say we are saved from our sins, but this expression is a shorthand for being saved from the consequences of our sins. After all, it is not like our sins are following us trying to get us. No, when Paul and other New Testament authors talk about salvation, they are primarily referring to escaping God's wrath on judgment day, also called the Day of the Lord. [3]

The word faith (pistis) and its verb form, "believe" (pisteuo), wander between a sense of trust to a sense of faithfulness and of course to a sense of belief. While these English translations are all different (trust, faithfulness, belief), they are all nuances of the same Greek word. When Paul talks about the "faith of God" (Rom. 3:3), he obviously means the faithfulness of God. When Paul talks about our faith, he can mean things like our belief that God raised Jesus from the dead (e.g., Rom. 4:24) or he can mean our full commitment to and trust in the fact that Jesus is our Lord (e.g., Rom. 10:9). In the next section of this chapter, we will talk about whether Paul also mentions on a few occasions the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

But this section is about the righteousness of God...

[1] N. T. Wright does an excellent job of focusing the good news of the gospel on the fact that Jesus is king (e.g., What Saint Paul Really Said, ***). But he is also quite dogmatic and rigid that this good news is not salvation. One gets the feeling that something more is going on in his mind than just what Paul meant by the word gospel. With Wright, one sometimes gets the feeling that his Reformed Anglican theology is secretly hiding below the surface, steering some of his more emphatic and idiosyncratic points. He looks to be doing historical-cultural interpretation before your eyes, but the direction of his pen is often directed as much by his covert theological impulses.

[2] If we are to get into Paul's head on these sorts of things, we have to forget for a minute some of what we know as Christians from God's continued revelation these last two thousand years. On the one hand, it would be foolish for us to reinvent the wheel. God helped the Christians of the first five centuries to unpack and unfold the significance of Jesus, asking questions that went way beyond anything on the minds of the first Christians. How exactly does Jesus' humanity and his divinity fit together, for example? The answers to which God led Christianity are the common Christian understandings of the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ. It would be silly--not to mention dangerous--to try to rehash these questions all over again.

But the legitimacy, probably even primacy of these Christian readings do not change the fact that what was going on in Paul's head when he wrote words like "appointed Son of God in power" had their first meaning in what words meant in Paul's day. For example, at the time of Paul, "Son of God" was an expressoin that could be used of any of the kings of the Old Testament and language of "bowing the knee" (worship) was appropriate to them. The royal verses Paul and other New Testament authors apply to Jesus were applied to Old Testament, human kings as well.

So 2 Samuel 7:14 was originally about Solomon and implied that he was God's representative, a human representative of God's authority on the throne of Israel. When Hebrews 1:5 quoted this verse, its author may not have been thinking quite as much about Jesus' divinity as we do when we read it. We know Jesus is fully God, begotten of God the Father from eternity past. But it is not at all clear that God had led the New Testament authors to figure quite this much out at that time. Christians came to these understandings through the continued direction of the Holy Spirit as they reflected further on the words of Scripture.

It is thus with mixed feelings that we read studies like Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel. Bauckham's studies are a strange mixture of good theological readings of New Testament texts like Hebrews 1 and yet he cannot seem to free himself from the impulse to find these meanings by way of classical historical-cultural interpretive method. The result is brilliant and ingenious interpretation that, again, may very well be more steered by Bauckham's theological tendencies than by his surface level interpretation.

[2] Ephesians 2:8, which says, "we have been saved," is quite unusual for Paul's writings. As we will see later in this book, Ephesians is not typical of Paul's writings in the varied imagery it uses. For this reason, John McRay's Paul: His Life and Teaching is well-intentioned but probably misguided to use Ephesians as the launching point for summarizing Paul's theology.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Romans: The Bottom Line

For the previous crumb, see here. This post begins chapter two, "How Salvation Works"

The Bottom Line
One of the biggest secrets in human relationships is to recognize that the arguments and words coming out of someone's mouth may not actually be the primary, underlying issue, what really has the person charged up. They may not even realize it. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to get down to what is really bothering them or what really has them upset. The person who responds in such cases on a purely logical level, only engaging his or her words, may in fact be completely missing what is really going on.

In a somewhat similar vein, E. P. Sanders suggested that Paul's argument developed "from solution to problem." [1] Sanders' interpretation went a little like the following. Paul knew that God had chosen Jesus as the way to reconcile Israel to himself. And if Jesus was the way, then the Jewish Law was not the way. And if the Jewish Law was not the way and the cross was the way, then non-Jews, Gentiles, could be reconciled to God just as easily as Jews could.

We do not have to accept Sanders' entire perspective to see how God might have unfolded Paul's understanding. Paul had kept the Jewish Law brilliantly as a Pharisee. If anyone was right with God, he might have thought, surely I am. But then he witnessed the risen Jesus, which implied that his Law-keeping was not sufficient, was not the way God had chosen. Rather, the cross of Jesus was the way God was reconciling Israel to himself. Sanders put it rather bluntly--the problem with the Law was that it was not Jesus.**

If one of the primary purposes of the Jewish Law for Paul the Pharisee was as a fence to guard the Jews against the nations, then the cross would have even more radical implications for Paul. [2] In keeping with Jesus' own agenda of including the discarded of Israel, God revealed to Paul that the inclusion must go much further than Israel. If the cross trumped the Law as the way to reconciliation, then potentially even Gentiles could be included through the cross. Passages like Isaiah 11 must have jumped out at him, a passage he understood as a prophecy that the Gentiles would hope on the Jewish messiah (cf. Rom. 15:12).

The bottom line for Paul was thus that Gentiles could now be right with God through the cross of Jesus, as well as that the Jewish Law could not make you right with God. The arguments of Romans and Galatians basically play out these fundamental understandings. The idea that the Jews themselves relied on God's grace for a right standing with Him was already something Jews acknowledged. [3] All Jews would have agreed with Paul that they had sinned at some point in their lives and that Israel's good standing with God was a matter of His grace.

But non-believing Jews did not agree that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel. And the believing Jews in Jerusalem did not agree that Jewish believers were any less obligated to keep the Jewish Law than they were before. These are the underlying positions that Paul sets out to defend in the argument of Romans.

[1] In the first volume of this two part series, Paul: Messenger of Grace, we had a running series in the endnotes of the thirty or so books on Paul that a person might read to become a Paul expert. One of the key books on that list was E. P. Sanders' landmark book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (**, 1977). Perhaps we should add to that list another of Sanders' books, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (**).

[2] A famous line in an early second century Jewish book in Greek called the Letter of Aristeas says that, "***"

[3] This is one of the key insights of the "new perspective" on Paul and Judaism that has developed over the last thirty years. Judaism never thought that a person could "earn" a right standing with God. And as Sanders pointed out in Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (**), keeping the Jewish Law was not about "getting in" to Israel or the people of God. It was about "staying in" in the people of God.

It is perhaps understandable that Lutheran and Calvinist interpreters of Judaism would equate its emphasis on works as a sign of works-righteousness. It thus took a Methodist (Sanders) to recognize that the Jewish Law-keeping was much more in response to God's grace toward and covenant with Israel than it was an attempt to earn a righteous status.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Fundamental Hermeneutical AHA to have

One can very well hear God's voice through Scripture just fine without the AHA, but you will never understand Scripture as it actually is if you think the meaning you see in it is "in there." Meaning is not "in" a text. Meaning is a function of the way words are used by readers. The meaning of the Bible is not in the Bible. It is in the reader of the Bible.

If the reader of the Bible reads the words with the assumptions of common Christian faith, they will read it as Scripture. They will read it Christianly. If a person reads it with their denominational assumptions, they will read it and see the teachings of their denominations. And if one reads it in terms of the assumptions of the original contexts of each text, then one will read in it in terms of what it actually and originally meant.

Wesleyan Symposium on Human Nature

In Indy today and tomorrow at the regular Wesleyan Symposium. This year's topic is "Human Nature: Perfect, Flawed, and Redeemed: Wesleyan Perspectives on Human Nature." Right now Jack Connell is speaking on the image of God, etc.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Greek for Ministry Begins!

Tonight we opened the new Greek for Ministry course with Wesley Seminary at IWU. It's a hybrid class, meaning that it has both online and onsite students. For example, there are six of us right now in Indy at the IWU Indianapolis North Education Center. They're working in two groups looking for key connecting words in Galatians 3.

About an hour ago the other five online students met with us for a joint Q & A session with PowerPoints and chat function. OK, OK, not all of them could join tonight, but we recorded the session so that they can look at it later. They'll do the same group work.

All groups, both online and onsite, will post their group work in Blackboard, where all course materials are located. Lectures are pre-recorded vidcasts as well. We're using Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us and the Mounce and Mounce interlinear/analytical as textbooks.

I'm pumped! No need to spend the majority of your time memorizing forms almost everyone will forget the summer after they take it. Now we can focus directly on meaning and get to the most rewarding topics--which most Greek students either never get to or do not get until the second year...