Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Assembly of God (Gal. 1:13)

Exploring a line of thinking this morning that I'm sure is sixty years old but not finding the paper trail.

1. In most of Paul's writings, he uses the word "church" (ekklesia) in regard to local assemblies, house churches. So he writes to the church, singular, at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2) and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1). But he writes to the churches, plural, in Galatia (1:2).

One interesting variation is in Galatians 1:13. Here he talks about persecuting "the church of God" in Jerusalem. There is something "ground zero" about this reference. It doesn't seem that he is referring to just another church--the church of God in Jerusalem. He was persecuting the church of God.

Nor do I think this is an abstract reference to the Church universal like we find in Ephesians or Colossians. In fact, this is one shift in these two letters from Paul's use in his earlier letters. In Galatians 1:13 Paul is not referring to "the Church" in a universal sense like Ephesians. [Indeed, it is a source of endless frustration to me how much discussion just mows over these sorts of revealing distinctions.]

No, there is something else going on here, a glimpse into primordial Christianity. I believe the earliest community in Jerusalem saw themselves in some way as the assembly of God.

2. Paul gives us a hint of what James, Peter, John, and others were thinking when he tells us they were known as "pillars" (Gal. 2:9). Pillars of what? Pillars of a temple, I presume (cf. Rev. 3:12).

Herein is a hint, I suspect, that the earliest Christian community saw themselves as a spiritual temple of sorts. Paul of course will use this imagery in 1 Corinthians 3:16 when he calls the Corinthian church a temple of God. He uses imagery of spiritual sacrifice more than once elsewhere (e.g., Rom. 12:1-2, 15:16; Phil. 2:17, 4:18).

So the earliest "church of God" in Jerusalem was a temple of sorts, it would seem. Was it a replacement temple? I think it is at least safe to say that it was a parallel temple. Yet what do we make of the picture in Acts of an early church that participated freely in the temple? It is true that this is "Luke" giving us a picture of an orderly community, so it would fit his thematic tendencies to omit temple critique (he lets Stephen slip by).

Perhaps there is a middle ground. Perhaps, like Jesus, like Stephen, like the Essenes, the earliest church had a critique of the temple. But perhaps they did not yet connect the dots to its complete replacement by the community. Critique short of replacement.

3. I mentioned the Essenes. I'll admit I find it hard not to think that there is some influence here. Not going in the same direction as Jesus, I don't think. He was on a path of inclusion. They were on a path of separation. But the earliest church was a mixture. There were Pharisees in it, for example (Acts 15:5). James clearly insisted on keeping purity rules (Gal. 2:12).

In short, I find no compelling reason to think that the earliest church might not have taken at least the language of Qumran in thinking of themselves as the definitive yahad of God and have also taken the sense of the Essenes that they were a kind of parallel temple.

Here is a relevant passage in 1QS: "The council of the community shall be established in truth. It shall be an everlasting plantation, a house of holiness for Israel, an assembly of supreme holiness for Aaron. They shall be eyewitnesses to the truth at the judgment, and shall be the elect of goodwill who shall atone for the Land and pay to the wicked their reward. It shall be that tried wall, that 'precious cornerstone, whose foundations shall neither rock nor sway in their place.' It shall be a most holy dwelling for Aaron with everlasting knowledge of the covenant of righteousness, and shall offer up sweet fragrance. It shall be a house of perfection and truth in Israel that they may establish a covenant according to the everlasting precepts.

"And they shall be an agreeable offering, atoning for the land and determining the judgment of wickedness, and there shall be no more iniquity. When they have been confirmed for two years in perfection of way by the authority of the community, they shall be set apart as holy within the council of the men of the community. And the interpreter shall not conceal from them, out of fear of the spirit of apostasy, any of those things hidden from Israel which have been discovered by him. And when these become members of the community in Israel according to all these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of ungodly men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare the way of Him, as it is written, 'Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.'" (1QS 8.5-14)

It is very hard not read such passages and not eventually see a cumulative case for Essene influence on the early church, at least in language.

4. Even if we could make a plausible case for the impact of Essene language on the earliest believers in Jerusalem, we have no information to know exactly what the contours of that influence were. For example, it is easy enough to think that the earliest Christians saw themselves as an eschatological community. So here is the easiest point of contact with Qumran.

If parallel temple imagery was part of the Essenes' eschatological language, then it could be that they absorbed it along with the language of eschatological community. It would not thereby imply an end to the temple as an institution in itself, any more than the Qumran language implied the end of the temple as an institution. Those dots would not be connected until later, particularly after the temple was destroyed in AD70.

Some thoughts...

Top Ten Posts of 2015

From Previous Years
Following the usual trend, apart from my basic home page, my most visited pages were not from 2015 but from earlier years. Here is the top ten list from this year:
Top Ten of 2015
Now for the top ten posts actually from 2015. Again, many people do not actually click on the specific post but read it from the basic blog landing page.

And now, the top 10 posts from 2015:

10. The Coming "Remnant" College

9. Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections on Christ (from my theology in bullet points series)

8. The Walking Dead and Aikido

7. The Curious Case of Dr. Oord (when the elimination of his position was announced in April)

6. David Smith to be new Dean (May announcement)

5. I Still Believe (the Walter Brueggemann chapter)

4. The Next Phase of Schenck (announcement of my job change in February)

3. I Still Believe (the James Dunn chapter)

2. Tired of open theism? Buy my philosophy book. :-)

1. Your daughters will preach (from October)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Request Wednesdays: The Gospels and Politics

Last week was the first of "All Request Wednesdays." This week's question comes from Seth Cotton. How do different ways of reading the Gospels end up with different perspectives on politics? I hope that's the question you were asking. :-)

1. Albert Schweitzer pointed out a century ago that even top Jesus scholars generally create Jesus in their own image. There is diverse enough material in the Gospels, there is enough critical ambiguity that you can make Jesus into the person you want him to be.

So among scholars, pictures of Jesus generally coalesce into two basic types--the apocalyptic Jesus and Jesus the sage. The first picture of Jesus, which is currently the dominant one, sees Jesus as a preacher of "end times" or at least a radical in-breaking of God into history. The second sees Jesus more as a Solomon type who went around spreading wisdom.

In our current political climate, there are a number of popular portrayals of Jesus, some of which overlap: 1) Jesus the pacifist, 2) Jesus the liberal, 3) Jesus the in-your-face, anti-government type, 4) Jesus the in-your-face, anti-sin type. Some are used more to serve Democratic types and others more Republican types.

2. How do these relate to critical theories (part of the initial question)? In their own way, the Gospels themselves emphasize different aspects of Jesus and so suited different "political" purposes originally.
  • Matthew is the "anti-Pharisee" Gospel, one of whose original purposes may have been to make it clear that the post-70 Pharisees were not the true heirs of Israel.
  • Luke is the "good news to the poor" Gospel, which is hardest on the wealthy.
  • John is the "in your face" Gospel, meant to lead to faith in Christ.
  • Mark accentuates the limitations of the disciples and the human struggles of Jesus.
3. So it's not too hard to see which Gospels will be the favorites of those with different political agendas. Jesus' anti-Pharisee rhetoric in Matthew 23 or Jesus' hyper-clarity in John has easily served those who want an "in-your-face" Jesus.

So all you need to do is identify the type of person you want to condemn with the Pharisees or Jerusalem leaders. Do you want to resist education? Then accentuate Jesus against the Pharisees. Do you hate the government? Emphasize Jesus kicking money changers out of the temple or Jesus smarting off to Pilate.

Luke will be the favorite of the hippie Jesus. Jesus condemns the rich and emphasizes "good news for the poor" (Luke 4:18). Matthew 5 is the favorite for the pacifist, where Jesus says to turn the other cheek.

So there's something for everyone. Since all these Gospels are Scripture, you might argue that in themselves they give legitimacy to all the different political approaches at particular places and times.

4. Is it hopeless? I don't think it is. But only because of the scholarship of the last century and a half.
  • John does bring some unique historical insights, but it is a highly symbolic Gospel. It's goals are much more theological than historical. We look to the Synoptics for more of the feel and tone of Jesus in history.
  • Once we know the theological and political thrust of each Gospel, we can try to triangulate back to the original Jesus feel.
  • So sparring with Pharisees was probably not a dominant aspect of Jesus' ministry. And Jesus did not come to Jerusalem prepared to take over by force. His message seems to have been, "God will take care of the Romans."
  • Luke-Acts may remove Jesus' words on the poor and the rich to some degree from their context in Israel. It was especially the poor of Israel to whom he gave hope.
My own sense of Jesus is that all of these dimensions capture elements of Jesus' earthly ministry. He came across as a prophet who, like John the Baptist, preached that the kingdom of God was arriving in history. His "social justice" dimension resulted from an emphasis on the fact that this good news was for everyone, not just the upper crust. This could lead to anti-establishment overtones because the leadership excluded so many of the marginalized from Israel. He did not emphasize law-observance, in my opinion, for such a focus in itself tended to marginalize the everyday Israelite.

5. I started a Jesus novel last week because of this problem of interpretation, even before Seth posed this week's question. And of course if you want to know my general conclusions, you can always check out my two books on Jesus (also in Kindle).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Psalm 15 and Proverbs 4:1-9

Psalm 15
1. Some have suggested that Psalm 15 was a liturgy for being allowed to enter the temple area, but it is not necessary to take it that concretely. The psalm asks who is worthy of the LORD. What does a righteous person look like?

2. The characteristics of the upright include 1) truthfulness (15:2), 2) someone who doesn't slander others and do evil to them with their words (15:3). 3) They honor those who fear the LORD but despise the wicked (15:4).

There are some textual questions about the last line of 15:4. The NRSV has that the righteous "stand by their oath even to their hurt." However, Robert Alter points out that several translations have "to their friends" instead of the expression that the NRSV tidies up as, "even to their hurt." So, 4) they keep their vows.

6) They do not take bribes or 5) extort those who borrow from them.

3. Those who do these things are worthy to abide on God's holy hill and will not be moved.

Proverbs 4:1-9
Once again, the wise speaker instructs his son and asks him to listen. The wise one did the same when his father taught him instruction. The bottom line was to "Get wisdom" (4:5). "Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight" (4:7). She is something to embrace.

Love her. She will guard you. She will give you a crown.

Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7
Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14
Psalm 3 and Proverbs 1:15-19
Psalm 4 and Proverbs 1:20-27
Psalm 5 and Proverbs 1:28-33
Psalm 6 and Proverbs 2:1-5
Psalm 7 and Proverbs 2:6-15
Psalm 8 and Proverbs 2:16-22
Psalm 9 and Proverbs 3:1-4
Psalm 10 and Proverbs 3:5-12
Psalm 11 and Proverbs 3:13-18
Psalm 12 and Proverbs 3:19-26
Psalm 13 and Proverbs 3:27-31
Psalm 14 and Proverbs 3:34-35

Monday, December 28, 2015

Vision, Capt. America, and Violence

1. "Art imitates life," they say. In their own ways, both Captain America and Vision are types of what a Christian should be in the face of evil (although I fear CA will go astray in the next movie).

When Steve Rodgers signs up for the experiment that makes him Captain America, the scientist says to him, "Do you want to kill Nazis?" His response is perfect: "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies."

He doesn't engage in violence because he likes it. He fights in the defense of others.

2. The Vision is of course intended to be a type of Christ. He does fight, even destroys Ultron. But he does it because Ultron is not redeemable and will only continue to do harm if he is allowed to survive.

If you want to know how the love principle should be played out in the face of evil, here are two examples.

3. I might conclude that the Vision is also a good example of how true strength doesn't get angry in the face of opposition. He knows his strength. He is not afraid or intimidated by Ultron. He does not need to flex or show his muscles to be strong. Everyone knows he is the strongest person in the room and he need do nothing.

ET8. War should only be conducted under extreme circumstances.

This is the eighth post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
War should only be conducted under extreme circumstances.

The next five articles will look at "ending life" from the perspective of 1) war, 2) capital punishment, 3) self-defense, 4) euthanasia, and 5) abortion. We begin with the question of war. When, if ever, is war justifiable from a Christian perspective?

1. The Old Testament has plenty of war. The wars of conquest are not only allowed but commanded by God himself. In the case of Jericho, Israel is commanded to slaughter every living thing in the city, from male warriors to innocent children and animals (Josh. 6:17-21). The kings of Judah and Israel often engaged in war.

Those with the heart of Christ have often wrestled with God's commands for the conquest of Jericho. [1] We can believe that there was a reason for such a command at that moment in time and still find it incredibly puzzling given Jesus' teaching and commands in the New Testament. There are reasons for God's commands. Those who love the letter of the commands but do not have the heart of those commands do not truly keep the commands.

We have the Pharisees of Matthew as the best example of individuals who were more interested in the letter of the Bible than in the heart of God. It is the person that "likes" the story of Jericho's complete annihilation that is more likely to have a spiritual problem than the person who struggles with why God would command the slaughter of so many. No, those with the heart of Christ will almost certainly struggle with that dimension of this story.

2. War seems necessary, from a practical standpoint. Not to gain territory. Not because of some grander scheme where you think the end justifies the means. War seems necessary because the hearts of men are evil. War seems necessary to stop the advancement of the conqueror. War seems necessary to stop the atrocities of men. If there were no sin, there would be no war.

These are not evil motivations--the protection of others, the elimination of a cancerous evil. They do not contradict the love of God, of neighbor, or enemy.

Of course most of us will never have the decision for war within our power. In most countries, those decisions are delegated to people we elect. We do have a choice in who we vote for. We can vote for people who have a heart for war or we can vote for people who see war as a course of last resort.

But it is worth asking, "What would God do?" The question, "What would Jesus do?" is a slightly different one. While on earth, Jesus modeled an ethic for an individual living in a conquered domain. The question of war is more a question of government, a question for the opposite side of the equation, a question for Israel in control of its land. It is a question for God as the empowered judge or the enthroned Christ when he returns as king.

God is love. We have argued in a previous article that God's justice fits within the context of his love. There we suggested three ways in which love might call for justice or at least not contradict it. These were 1) justice for redemption, 2) justice for protection, 3) justice as removal. Insofar as war is compatible with Christ, it will fall within one of these three categories.

3. Before we look at those three justifications for war, we should stop and remind ourselves of Jesus' core ethic. God's ethic does not contradict Jesus' ethic. It only plays it out on a larger scale.

Jesus' ethic consisted of the twin love command: love God and love neighbor: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (22:40). Similarly, "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets" (7:12).

Perhaps even more to the point is Matthew 5:43-48: "“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven... If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? ... Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete" (Matt. 5:43-44, 46, 48 CEB).

The Parable of the Good Samaritan gives an illustration of this principle. A Samaritan, an "enemy," demonstrates the love principle by showing mercy on a Judean. Jesus thus does not give us permission to do whatever we want to our enemy. He does not consider our enemy guilty simply because he or she is our enemy.

4. The implementation of war always involves the violation of the love command, because the heart of man is evil. There will almost always be those who do atrocities in war. Most of those engaged in battle will use hatred to direct their energies.

The imprecatory psalms cannot be used to justify hatred of one's enemies, for Jesus is a higher authority than the Psalms. The imprecatory psalms show us that we can be angry at injustice. They cannot be used to justify hatred.

For these reasons, war must be reserved for the most extreme of circumstances, for it is a source of temptation to do evil on the greatest of scales. It must only be enacted with the purest of motives and the greatest of reserve. Only then do the combatants have a better chance of engaging in battle with a pure heart.

Nevertheless, God can use the wicked in heart as well. He used King Cyrus in this way (Isa. 45:1). He used Pharaoh in this way (Rom. 9:17). He can use the wicked of heart in battle.

The Roman Catholic Catechism warns wisely that a people should not go to war unless "all other means of putting an end to it [an aggressor] must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective" (2309). [2]

5. The decision for war should thus be reserved for the direst of circumstances. The first love basis for justice is justice for redemption, to help lead a person away from a self-destructive trajectory. On a corporate level, a people might be in dire need of freedom from a tyrant. A people, as it were, might need redeemed from individuals within their own ranks.

In Judges, God often raised up individuals to free Israel from foreign rule. We should also remember that it was Israel's sin that regularly put themselves into slavery in the first place. So war may be justifiable in some circumstances as a "war of redemption."

However, let us be clear that war seldom accomplishes its goal without unintended consequences of an evil nature. The Catholic Catechism warns that "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition" (2309). From all appearances, we can probably point to several recent "wars of redemption" whose effects have been worse than the evil they sought to address.

6. Most just wars are "wars of protection." They are wars in which a nation engages to protect itself from an aggressor. The Roman Catholic Catechism puts it in this way: "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain" (2309). In other words, there must be certainty that the aggressor intends to inflict lasting and grave damage to your people. There needs to be a "clear and present danger."

7. Occasionally, an aggressor arises of such complete depravation that a "war of removal" or a "war of annihilation" arises. This is a war against such depravity that there is no good in the enemy, no chance of redemption. We must have great caution here, for every war thinks its enemy of this sort.

Yet there were many Germans who did not support Hitler or who did and were redeemed after World War 2. Hitler himself was likely a reprobate, hardened beyond redemption. Many of those who led with him and lead his regime were likely of this sort. But there were others who were not. So there is a sense even in the case of World War 2 that it was a war of redemption as well as a war of protection. The German people were redeemed.

8. We can thus sum up the criteria for what we might call a "just war." [3]
  • It is a course of last resort. All other reasonable attempts at peace need to have been tried. There needs to be a clear and present danger.
  • It needs to be done with a loving motivation, either to redeem a people or to protect against a power actively engaged in harm of the highest magnitude.
  • It needs to be conducted in such a way that the consequences are not likely to be a greater evil than the evil against which the war is conducted in the first place.
Under such rare circumstances, it might be possible to make a decision for war that does not contradict the love of God and of neighbor. Only under such extreme circumstances would a war be just.

War should only be engaged under the most extreme of circumstances, when the decision for war can be done in harmony with the love command.

Next Sunday: ET9: Capital punishment should be reserved for extreme circumstances, if used at all.

[1] Adam Hamilton is just one recent attempt. He works at "making sense of this violence without justifying it," in Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 215.

[2] The Roman Catholic Catechism, especially 2309.

[3] Just war theory finds its real origins in the writings of St. Augustine in his City of God (e.g., 22.6) and it was refined by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Seminary PC3: Ministerial Calling in Scripture

A few weeks ago, I started a possibly multi-year series on Saturdays called, "Seminary in a Nutshell." The first of eight "books" in this series is on the pastor as a person and the contexts of ministry. Here are the posts so far.


The Pastor and Context
The Domains of Ministry
The Calling of a Minister

I'm also featuring possible resources as I move through the series. Today I want to feature a book by Will Willimon that Wesley Seminary has used, called, The Pastor. The idea was that students would read some general chapters in the first course (I'm suggesting chapters 1, 2, and 13). Then students would read the relevant chapter in each of the six domains of ministry when they had the courses in preaching, worship, leadership, etc.

I might add that there was some debate at the beginning among the Seminary faculty about whether this book is too "Methodist." Most Wesleyan churches tend to be baptistified and thus more "low church." But since seminary is supposed to stretch you...

Today's post is on "Ministerial Calling in Scripture."
1. There are a number of roles that individuals play in Scripture that seem to overlap with the role of a minister today. In the Old Testament, there were prophets and priests. In the New Testament, there were apostles and prophets, evangelists and teachers, elders/overseers and deacons. We will look at some of these roles again in the section on leadership.

For now, we are interested in the callings of these individuals. How did these individuals come to take on the roles that they did in relation to God's people?

The calling of Old Testament priests was straightforward. The role was handed down by family. Of course the initial calling of Moses and his brother Aaron came by God's calling, "out of the blue." We might use the word charismatic in relation to this kind of calling, as opposed to the word institutional. A "charismatic" calling is one that comes outside some inherited organizational appointment, as what might seem to us as a random act of the Holy Spirit. An "institutional" calling, then, is when someone invested with authority within an organization appoints someone.

Of course, once the line of Aaronic priests was established, priesthood was passed down by birth. As Hebrews 5:4: "one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was." No other ministerial role in the Bible was of this sort. [1]

2. The prophetic role involved a calling like the calling of Moses, and indeed Deuteronomy considers Moses to be a prophet (18:15; 34:10). The prophetic calling was of a "charismatic" rather than "institutional" sort. You were not elected a prophet, nor was it passed down in families. Rather, God called prophets according to his will, to present his word to various people.

The earliest prophets were known for ecstatic experiences, as we see when Saul temporarily joined a company of prophets (1 Sam. 10:11-12). David also danced before the LORD when the ark was brought to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:14). Some of the visions of Ezekiel are quite extraordinary.

Some individuals were called to be prophets for a brief time, as in the case of Amos, who was both a shepherd and a "dresser of sycamore trees" (Amos 7:14). He was only a prophet for a year, it would seem. There were also professional prophets, such as those that the king of Israel calls for King Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22. Most of the prophets in the Old and New Testaments were known as prophets for most of their lives.

So prophets were individuals to whom God especially presented a revelation for a particular context. They could arise from anywhere. God could give a word to them anytime. There was no installation service. The word came and you spoke.

There were of course mechanisms to verify whether someone was truly called of God as a prophet or not. One way, of course, was to see if your prophecy came true. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 straightforwardly suggests that the outcome of a prophecy verifies it as true or false.

But we often need to know whether to take action on a prophecy before we know it is true or false. 1 John 4:1-3 encourages the church to "test the spirits" of prophecy to see if they are truly from God. Certainly whether the prophecy has a correct view of Christ is one measure. 1 Corinthians 14:32 suggests that other prophets are the main way by which the prophecies of others can be verified.

3. The callings of other roles in the New Testament also seem like the prophetic calling. So the twelve apostles were called directly by Jesus without any family lineage or clear resume. Similarly, the broader collection of apostles to whom the risen Jesus appeared were not distinguished by any common background. You were an apostle if the risen Jesus appeared to you and called to go and witness to his resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1).

4. The role of teacher may sometimes have been "charismatic" in origin at times. The New Testament does not give us a clear picture of how such teachers came into existence or how exactly they functioned, other than the fact that they obviously taught. They are mentioned both in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 as regular functions in the church.

It is clear enough from books like 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude that false teaching became a serious issue in the early church, perhaps especially after the apostles had died. 3 John may allude to a situation where John the elder has sent a teacher named Demetrius to the church of Gaius, only to find that he is resisted by some in the church. [2]

Intriguing is the possibility that Timothy is viewed as a deacon and teacher in 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy 4:6 refers to Timothy as a "diakonos," which is usually translated "servant" (NRSV) or "minister" (NIV). Yet since Timothy's youth is mentioned (4:12), we might fruitfully view him here as a model of a deacon/teacher in the early church. The teaching function is one of the primary ones mentioned in 1 Timothy 4, especially the teaching of Scripture (4:13).

If so, we can see that some teachers were not necessarily limited to one location. Paul himself brought Timothy to Ephesus, just as he left Titus in Crete (Tit. 1:5). 1 Timothy 4:14 also shows the origins of Timothy's function in the early church. God revealed to various individuals that Timothy was to have such a ministry. They laid hands on him and his service began.

In Timothy we may see that these roles were not always clearly demarcated in the early church. There are apostolic aspects to Timothy's ministry, it seems. He seems much more than a teacher. But teaching was clearly one of his primary functions.

5. In Acts we are introduced to Philip "the evangelist" (Acts 21:8). Timothy is also said to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Timothy 4:5, another indication that these roles sometimes overlapped. Interestingly, although Acts 6 is often taken as the key passage describing the work of a deacon, the chapter never actually uses the word. Nevertheless, we can see the origins of Philip's ministry when the apostles in Jerusalem feel led to set Philip apart for service and they lay hands on him to commission him (Acts 6:5-6).

An evangelist is simply someone who proclaims the good news. The good news is that Jesus is Lord, that he is the risen king and that he died for sins. The role of proclaiming this good news is similar to the role of an apostle, except that the apostles were specifically tasked by the risen Jesus himself. Taking Philip as an example, his evangelistic work led him to move from location to location (Acts 8).

6. There is a clear "charismatic" dimension to the calling of those in the roles we have looked at thus far. The role of elder and deacon, it would seem, leaned slightly more institutional, although we find charismatic elements even here. Similarly, Paul's recommendation of Phoebe as a deacon (Rom. 16:1) suggests that their service may not always have been limited to one location.

The elders or overseers of local congregations were probably 1) literally older and 2) at one point chosen locally. We do initially hear in Acts of local elders being appointed by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23). But we can imagine that the role became someone self-perpetuated in the late first century, with the current elders appointing new elders as the occasion arose. Then by the second century there were "bishops" of cities to do such things.

The role of deacon would normally seem to be a subsidiary role. For example, it is the second role treated in 1 Timothy 3, after that of overseer (elder). We can speculate that, much of the time, deacons in a local church were appointed by the elders of that church to do service for the local assembly. However, the discussion above suggests that such roles were not always clearly delineated or confined.

6. The sketch above suggests that calling to ministry in the Bible, at the very beginnings of the church, were heavily "charismatic" in nature. That is to say, it was Holy Spirit driven rather than institutionally directed. Apostles and prophets seem to emerge unpredictably within the church. Evangelists and teachers seemed to be recognized by these higher leaders and commissioned by the laying on of hands.

Elders also seemed appointed by apostles at first, but then perhaps quickly become self-perpetuating. Deacons then perhaps were appointed by elders. The functions of these roles were distinct but probably overlapping. Apostles might teach, prophets might evangelize. [3]

One crucial observation is that while these roles were often charismatic in origin, the calling was usually recognized by the church. The messages of prophets needed to be verified. Evangelists and others might have hands laid on them in commissioning. The local assembly presumably recognized the calling of local elders and deacons.

We are not limited in any way but the titles or structures of the early church. They were not entirely uniform themselves and, in any case, developed to suit a first century context. However, we should not throw them away either, just because they developed in a different time and place. At the end of this chapter, we will strategize the application of these models to today.

Next week: Ministerial Calling in History

[1] Kingship was of course hereditary as well. But we are not considering it a ministerial role here.

[2] So Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (London: SCM, 1989).

[3] Philip, "the evangelist," had four daughters who were "prophetesses" (Acts 21:9).

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

In the middle of spending lots of money and sometimes awkward family gatherings, may we all have a moment to remember that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. A gift given to give us life. A life lived for others, an example for us.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jesus Novel 2

Continued from Tuesday

3. So you could imagine our interest when rumors flew up the Jordan that a man named John was washing people in the River Jordan, not far from Jerusalem. He was calling Israel to repentance. God would restore us as a people, he preached, if we would just turn to the Lord with our whole heart.

Prophets like this one didn't come along very often. There were of course stories of the prophets from long ago, Elijah, Elisha. Even though they mainly prophesied in Samaria, we considered them our prophets because they were from the north, like we were.

About a hundred fifty years ago there had been the Teacher of Righteousness. He was a famous Essene like this John the baptizer. You didn't see Essenes everyday. They tended to live together in small, closed communities like the one at the Dead Sea. I suppose that made John all the more intriguing.

Then there was the way he called out Herod Antipas. Antipas had divorced his wife so that he could marry the wife of his half-brother, a woman named Herodias. She had divorced her husband as well. The situation was abominable in so many ways. First, it was not permitted for a wife to divorce her husband. Then for a man to have his brother's wife! The divorce of his first wife would eventually lead to a war.

Apart from God's intervention, a man like John would not last long. When you speak out against such powerful men, death is never far away. Several of us felt an urgency to see him. On the one hand, we did want to believe that God was about to do something special. Then again, John might soon be dead.

4. John proclaimed that God was about to send a true king. How subversive! If Herod the Great were still around, he would kill John just for saying such a thought in private, let alone in public! At the moment, we did not have a king imposed on us by the Romans. We had that vile Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who brought idols into the city of Jerusalem.

We wanted to believe John, that God was about to raise up and anoint someone to restore the kingdom to Israel. Imagine what that would be like, to live at the time when God raised up a messiah to restore Israel! John was "baptizing" people at exactly the same spot where Joshua led us into the Promised Land. It was like he was preparing the way for God to bring us into the land again, just as Isaiah prophesied about Israel returning from Babylon.

If we would only repent of our sins as a people, God would forgive us. God would restore us. There were plenty of washings, especially in Judea. There were miqvaot, baptismal pools, all over the place. But John's washing was different. He wasn't calling us to wash over and over again. He was calling us to wash once as a people, together. Then God would raise up the anointed one!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Request Wednesday: Wesley versus Wesleyans

A.J. Thomas suggested I start an "All Request Wednesday" on the blog. His first suggestion was, "Key Ways in Which Wesleyan Theology is No Longer Quite Like Wesley." There are many people out there who know Wesley better than I do, so let me start an answer and then others can chip in.

1. Experiences and Externals
I'm not sure how much of the Wesleyan movement pays much attention to the idea of entire sanctification these days. But even those who do often think of "holiness" a little differently than Wesley did. For example:
  • John Fletcher helped facilitate a change in focus from "perfect love" to the experience of Pentecost. American Christianity arguably came to focus more on holiness as an experience than holiness as love.
  • Phoebe Palmer accentuated this shift in the mid-1800s when she pushed a "shorter way" to sanctification. Wesley didn't really focus on a timing for perfection in love. At times he even talked about it possibly happening close to death. Palmer facilitated an almost immediate expectation that one might have an experience very quickly after conversion.
  • Many holiness people in the twentieth century came to have an exaggerated sense of holiness that was not only about a dramatic experience soon after conversion but whose key characteristic was not love but relatively shallow externals like not wearing jewelry and not going to movies.
  • A lot of Boomers then effectively abandoned the doctrine.
2. Baptistification
In 1983, Martin Marty wrote an article in Christianity Today about how the Baptist tradition has impacted the flavor of so much American Christianity. We can see this in the Wesleyan tradition in several ways. For example:
  • Believer's baptism so dominates the Wesleyan Church that most Wesleyans are surprised that infant baptism is even an option. But Wesley and Methodism has always assumed infant baptism as the norm.
  • In keeping with the shift away from Wesley's Anglican roots, Wesleyans don't generally practice communion as often as he recommended (as often as possible). We lean away from an emphasis on the sacraments altogether and the Wesleyan on the street tends more toward a memorial view, like Baptists tend to have.
  • We tend to be low church altogether. Some Wesleyans, especially those who came from another denomination, may have questions about larger church hierarchy and often lean toward a more congregational view where the local church runs the show, like in Baptist churches.
  • The Pilgrim Holiness Church went dispensational along with many Baptists around the turn of the century. So they would believe in a seven year Tribulation, a pre-trib rapture, etc, just like many Baptists. Wesley himself was post-millennial and wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about.
  • A good deal of the Wesleyan movement went fundamentalist in the mid-twentieth century. Stephen Paine convinced the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the 50s to add the word inerrancy to its Discipline, and some in the Wesleyan Church continue have a relatively Baptistic understanding of the word. Wesley and the nineteenth century holiness took a more "whole Bible" and "principled" approach.
  • The politics of many Wesleyans is indifferentiable from the typical Baptist. By contrast, it's hard to see Wesley being in favor of arming the populace or being against universal health care. Wesley would probably be thought a liberal today in terms of his politics.
  • Some grass roots Wesleyans question women in ministry and are none too keen on anything resembling the civil rights movement. While these issues were somewhat before Wesley's time, Baptistic influence on the Wesleyan Church can be seen in pockets of resistance to this part of our heritage.
  • What shall we say? Are we not more Pelagian than Wesley? Have not a lot of us absorbed the idea that we cannot help but sin? 
Additions? Disagreement?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Grumbling at the Water Cooler (FB, etc...)

1. I thought I'd make one more post on A Tale of Three Kings. I tweeted several quotes from the book:
  • "Rebels who ascend to the throne by rebellion have no patience with other rebels and their rebellions."
  • "At most, the Lord’s people will follow a leader for a few years. They never support anyone very long."
  • "Men who don't have authority talk about it all the time."
I also did a blog post on promises people make when they are aspiring to leadership.

Of course I'm not entirely on the same page as Edwards. He has a fatalism to him that speaks of a heavily deterministic perspective. So this tweet was also inspired by the book: "Saul was God's allowance, a king granted against God's perfect will because of hard hearts, a kingdom of God's permissive will."

Edwards comes from that "purpose driven" perspective that sees God orchestrating every little thing that happens in the world. He and Bobby Clinton have the same feel, in this regards.

2. There are some other good points I didn't find a nice soundbite to tweet. Here are some summaries of those:
  • It is almost impossible to tell whether someone is going to be a Saul or a David.
  • David preferred to be killed than to behave the same as Saul.
  • Sometimes when an unworthy individual gets a greater portion of power, we are finally enabled to see the true state of "internal nakedness" they have, which was not apparent before.
  • "Even Sauls are often the Lord's anointed."
  • "Men who go after the Sauls among us often crucify the Davids among us.
  • "God is not afraid of challengers."
  • Kings who make speeches about submission show twin fears: 1) that they are not really true leaders and 2) that they fear rebellion.
  • David, once in power, did not treat Absalom the way Saul had treated him.
3. The point I wanted to blog about here is in chapter 20. It is where rebellions come from.
  • It starts at the water cooler, at the coffee shop, on Facebook, by email.
  • People enjoyed unloading to Absalom. "As he discussed problem after problem and solution after solution, men began to long for the day when this one would be their leader. He could right so many wrongs. He gave them a sense of hope."
  • "The more they sat in his living room and talked, the more they realized that things were amiss in the kingdom... that they had never thought of before." Cable news has this effect. It is no wonder to me that America is in more of an uproar than ever, with our steady stream of cable news and Facebook feed. I feel it in myself. When I listen to the news, I get angry. When I don't, I'm often more at peace.
  • "Word spread quietly... 'Here is one who understands and has the answers.'"
  • "Finally, his followers, which he vowed he did not have, were almost livid... They all wanted to do something about these endless injustices."
So this is how revolution often starts. History looks back and makes such grumblers often look foolish. Indeed, they often realize it themselves in old age.

Jesus Novel 1

I thought I might blog a novel about Jesus, narrated from the perspective of James the son of Alphaeus, who of course was the first of the apostles to die.
1. The life of a fisherman is very predictable. You get up early. You fish. You take your catch to the market. You take what you get and trade for what you need for your own family. You eat a meal and sit with the other men of the village until dark, telling stories. Then you get up the next day and do it all over again.

My family lived in Capernaum, on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. My father Zebedee did well enough with fishing. He had his own boat, along with a steady crew of workers. There was my brother John and myself. Then two other brothers from Capernaum also worked with us, Simon and Andrew.

It was very rare that something interrupted this flow of life. Rarely did the outside world intrude on this peaceful world in an insignificant part of the Roman Empire. Sure, there was that revolutionary Judas from Gamala, who collected a band of discontents and tried to defeat the Romans. He revolted when Quirinius took a census to raise taxes. He ended up dead.

Even Jerusalem was far off. I don't think I had ever seen a Pharisee in Galilee. Why bother with this insignificant country to the north, a three days walk? I had never even been to Samaria and it was close enough. A person like me might go their whole life and scarcely go further than a few stadia from home.

The priests and some of the leaders of the synagogue went to Jerusalem at least once a year for one of the festivals. Good for them. The rest of us lived off their stories. One day I would go up for a Passover, but there was plenty of fishing to keep us busy in the meantime.

2. We thrived on stories. Every night we told the same old stories over and over again. Remember when Simon got his tunic caught in the net? We grasped at any bit of news. Remember when the toll collector at the Jordan got chewed out by his boss? What was his name? Levi?

Most of the time, there wasn't much new to tell. We could finish each other's punchlines. The same stories led to the next. Occasionally there was some new tidbit from Bethsaida or Chorazin. Still less frequently was some news from Jerusalem, still less of the broader Roman Empire.

Occasionally there was talk of revolution against the Romans. We grumbled about them all the time. Judas had failed. He showed himself to be a false messiah when he died. But he called to mind how God had brought victory against the Syrians in the days of the Maccabees. One day, we believed, he would anoint another man to throw off Roman rule.

3. So you could imagine our interest when rumors flew up the Jordan that there was a man named John washing people in the River Jordan, not far from Jerusalem...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

ET7. Thou shalt not murder.

This is the seventh post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
You shall not murder.

1. Most cultures throughout time have considered it wrong to kill an innocent person who is an equal in your group for no reason. Of course many cultures have no problem with killing people from other groups, and at times a culture might allow someone to kill an inferior in a group. But the general prohibition against murdering innocent people holds generally for all humanity throughout time. [1]

Within Israel, it was the same: "You shall not murder" (Exod. 20:13). It was not permissible to kill anyone within the boundaries of Israel for no cause. Certainly this was true of other Israelite males. We can infer that it was true of killing Israelite women. Even the stranger in the land was protected. 

2. The Law of Israel distinguished between intentional murder and unintentionally causing the death of someone or, just perhaps, killing someone in self-defense. The key element here are the cities of refuge that were set up within Israel. These were cities to which someone might flee if s/he accidentally caused the death of someone.

Deuteronomy 19 gives a good picture of the cities of refuge (see also Num. 35; Josh 20). It is clear that an intentional murderer will find no refuge in those cities. Such a person will be handed over to the family of the one murdered and put to death (Deut. 19:11-13). Rather, they were for the person who unintentionally causes death. Deuteronomy gives the example of someone who, while swinging an ax, might accidentally strike another person with the ax-head.

In more than one place, such an individual is described in this way: "the two had not been at enmity before" (Deut. 19:4; Num. 35:23; Josh. 20:5). Presumably killing someone in self-defense was considered justified, for Exodus 22:2 does not consider someone guilty for killing a robber in your house after dark. Nevertheless, shedding of blood was taken very, very seriously in the holiness codes of the Law: "You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it" (Num. 35:33). Deuteronomy even says not to show mercy on a murderer (Deut. 19:13).

3. Of course in the New Testament, believers found themselves in a different social system. They were not in control of civil law, and the Jews did not follow the civil law of the Old Testament freely. For example, they seem largely to have worked with the Romans when it came to capital punishment (e.g., Jesus, James). Stephen would seem to be an exception to the preferred pattern.

But it is clear not only murder remained wrong (e.g., Jas. 2:11), but Jesus elevates the command to include the contemplation of murder (Matt. 5:21-26). The "fulfilling" of the Law mentioned in Matthew 5:17 involved applying the law of love to the concrete command of the Old Testament. The commandment says not to murder, but if the standard is love, then we must not even fantasize, contemplate, or plot violence or harm toward others.

Jesus even extends this principle to name-calling. Calling someone provocative names in hatred is like murder except that it stops short of the action (Matt. 5:22). 1 John 3:15 similarly says that those who hate their brothers and sisters are murderers. What does John have in mind? "How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" (3:17).

It is thus quite clear that the New Testament elevates the command not to murder significantly. It does so by taking the principle into the realm of the heart. We are to love our friends and enemies. Violence toward others, either in our hearts or with our hands, violate the command not to murder.

4. From time to time, someone will take the command not to kill as an absolute, as a prohibition against killing in any circumstance whatsoever. Does this commandment prohibit war, capital punishment, self-defense, even abortion?

We will be discussing these subjects in the next few articles. Sometimes a principle can be expanded beyond what its original sense was, and we will explore whether such expansion might be the case in relation to some of these types of killing. However, upon a little reflection, it seems clear that the original commandment--at least in the minds of the Israelites--did not have these other permutations in mind when they read this commandment.

5. The word ratsach in the commandment usually applies to the intentional murder of another person. However, it is also used extensively in Numbers in relation to someone who accidentally kills someone else (e.g., Num. 35:6). The cities of refuge in Israel were set up for such people. But there was no protection if you intentionally murdered someone. Clearly adult-adult killing is overwhelmingly what is in view.

It is clear that capital punishment and war were not in view. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy all require capital punishment for numerous actions (e.g., Exod. 21:15). A different Hebrew word is used in such cases (moot). Similarly, it would be hard in the extreme to harmonize the conquests of Joshua with the sixth commandment if killing in war were part of what was prohibited.

Did the sixth commandment have an action like abortion in view? It is not at all clear that it was considered such at the time in the Old Testament, although it would seem a legitimate extension of the principle, as we will discuss in a subsequent article. However, in Exodus 21:22, the death of an unborn child as a result of violence toward the mother is not yet treated as murder. It is not likely a situation that any Israelite yet included within the scope of the sixth commandment at that time.

Next Sunday: ET8: Violence in self-defense is regrettable but not wrong.

[1] Those from other groups often are not considered innocent, and of course killing someone within your group has often been acceptable if s/he were considered "guilty" in some way.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Absalom for President

I'm almost two-thirds of the way through A Tale of Three Kings. I came across some very, very insightful comments on those who make promises for when they are in office. Here are some quotes:

Absalom "spoke of many changes he would make in the way the kingdom is run. Although he did not seem to notice it, he had stated two irreconcilable propositions: many changes, more freedom..." (65).

"Absalom dreams. Dreams of what should be, of what will be: 'This is what I will do,' he says. But to fulfill those dreams, he must have the people's cooperation. Ah this is the point often overlooked. Such dreams rest totally on the premise that the people of God will follow the new leader, that all will see as he sees. Such men as Absalom can envision no problems in their own future kingdom..."

"What will Absalom do when people stop following him willingly? Ah now there is a question..."

"Will he still be determined to put all his dreams into being? If so, then Absalom has but one recourse: dictatorship."

Seminary: PC2 The Calling of a Minister

The Domains of Ministry

A couple weeks ago, I started a series called, "seminary in a nutshell." The first section/book is on "The Pastor and Context." Last week I overviewed the general domains of pastoral ministry. Today's post is on calling. I will often feature a book with each post.
1. There is a movement these days to speak of everyone having a vocation, a "calling" in life. There are positive benefits to this movement. For one, it affirms that God is concerned with everyone and their life. No one is insignificant to God. Everyone has a role to play in the kingdom. We all have spiritual gifts that God uses for good in the church and in the world. So nursing could be one person's calling, teaching in the public schools another.

On the other hand, we should not think that God always has only one destiny for me as an individual, although that could be the case in some instances. But God does not necessarily have one career and only one career for me to take or one and only one spouse he has planned for me to marry. Certainly there is one theological view that sees God as determining every single thing that happens in the world. But it is not the view of my own theological tradition. [1] One view suggests that God decides and determines every single thing that happens in the world, which means that none of us would have any choice whatsoever. God becomes directly responsible for all the good and evil that happens.

Even moreso, if you believe that God has given some freedom to the universe and has a fixed plan for my life, what if someone else messes up, which they certainly will? What if the person he planned for me to marry makes the wrong choice and I am left out in the cold? There are so many people in the world--there have been so many people in the world--that, if God does not have multiple paths to the same overall plan for the world as a whole, then we are all lost. God's plan is a big, overall plan, not a plan of minute detail, if he has given some freedom to the world.

So perhaps in some instances God has a specific but "contingent" plan for an individual. [2] Given the choices of others before me, perhaps at times God "calls" people to take a certain career path. In many other cases, perhaps even most cases, God might be happy for us to serve him in any number of different careers.

Therefore, from the standpoint of "free will" [3], to view our careers as a vocation, as a calling, should mean that I view my career as one in which I am called to do all to the glory of God and in which I am called to love others as myself. It does not necessarily mean that this is the only career that God destined for me. I am called to be a certain kind of person in the world, and I should view my job, my marriage, my life as one in which I am called to be like Christ.

2. A slightly different approach to ministry, which moves in the same direction as the "everyone has a vocation" movement, is to consider all believers as ministers of the gospel. So we all become evangelists who are to share the good news with others. Like apostles, we all are sent on the mission. Pastors should not be thought or expected to be more spiritual or holy than any other believer because we are a priesthood of all believers.

Very helpful in this regard is a distinction Keith Drury makes in his book, The Call of a Lifetime. In that book he distinguishes between "ministry" in general and "the ministry." [4] The first is the kind of ministry to which we are all called as believers: "Ministry, at its most basic level, means serving others." All Christians are called to serve others, to love our neighbors and enemies as ourselves. As we will see below, he goes on to distinguish ministry of this sort from a call to the ministry.

3. You can see a pattern in the two trends I have mentioned above. The "everyone has a vocation" movement elevates everyone to the same level. We all have a calling and (by implication), being a minister is no different from any other calling. The "everyone is a minister" movement again elevates everyone to the same level and again (by implication) suggests that "professional" ministers are just ministers like anyone else.

There is a lot of good in these impulses. Certainly "professional" ministers are not more important to God than anyone else. And all Christians are called to the same standard of holiness and ethics as any other.

You can also see the cultural dimension of these trends. They fit with a certain kind of democratization of society, a flattening out that wants to consider all voices equal on any subject. They fit with the Protestant trajectory started by Luther when he emphasized the "priesthood of all believers." [5] We have no mediator between us and God but one--Jesus Christ.

But does God single out and call certain individuals to be ministers in a way that is distinct from the ministry in which all believers participate?

4. Certainly the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries, both Protestant and Catholic, have thought so. There is only a small sliver even within Protestantism that has not seen a place for individuals who receive a specific calling to the ministry. Keith Drury explains this distinct ministry as an "equipping" ministry, based on Ephesians 4:12. "Equipping ministry is the job of a pastor or other minister, preparing laypeople for general ministry" (29). [6] He describes this sort of call as a lifelong call: "Ordination is the rite by which the church sets apart a priest or minister for life-long equipping ministry" (30).

I have heard people give opposite messages with regard to such a call. I have heard some people say, "Go into ministry unless God tells you not to." And I have heard people say, "Don't go into ministry unless you are absolutely sure God has told you to."

We can perhaps relate these two sentiments best to the two kinds of ministry mentioned above. In terms of ministry in general, by all means, may all Christians minister to others in any way they have opportunity. Ask God to call others to your attention. Be Christ to others. This is a call to all Christians.

Indeed, you may find yourself as the youth pastor of your church for a season. You might lead a small group or teach a Sunday School class. You might even find yourself preaching for a season when there is no one else available.

I had a friend in seminary who went through the whole ninety credit hour, three year degree program to get an MDIV. He was ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church. I saw him several years later working at a Lowe's. "I wish someone had told me," he said, "that I could minister without becoming a lifelong, professional minister." At least in his mind, God had called him to minister, not to be a minister.

5. However, Christians throughout the centuries have always believed that God often sets aside specific individuals for the ministry, for ordained ministry. To be consistent, we probably should not think that this "ordination" was planned for all eternity. But in God's contingent will, he does call and anoint specific individuals.

We do not see God acting in this way toward every believer. "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). This was an apostolic ministry to which only those who had witnessed the risen Jesus were called. Only a small portion of the early church was called to this sort of special ministry.

In 1 Timothy, Paul says to Timothy, "Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you" (1 Tim. 4:14, NIV). Since Timothy had not seen the risen Christ, this was not an apostolic ministry. But he was singled out by God to preach and teach the Scriptures at various churches, in this case Ephesus (4:13).

Ephesians 4:11-13 seems to provide some sense of "called out" ministry of this sort when it says, "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

This was not a list that applied to all believers, but to specific types of called ministry for a small percentage of the early church. Indeed, there are no more apostles of the sort they had in the early church, since Paul was the last to see the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:8; cf. 9:1). [7] This is a list of special callings that only some individuals in the early church had.

6. We should not think that the ministry must take on a specific form. There are "bi-vocational" ministers who, like Paul, are clearly called to the "equipping ministry" while they also work in other venues to support themselves materially or perhaps as a opportunity for witness. One can be called to the ministry and be in full-time ministry or in bivocational ministry.

There are "staff pastors," individuals who minister within the multiple ministries of a church. Some of these individuals may feel like they have a call to the ministry while others may feel called to ministry in a more general sense. We should not think that a call to the ministry will always look the same way.

7. Ordination is an event of recognition by a church that an individual is called to ministry in some specific way. If you would, it is a sacramental moment where the Holy Spirit fills a person to do the work of the ministry, usually accompanied by laying hands on the individuals. Church leaders usually lay hands on the person, but others who are anointed may do so as well.

There have frequently been different kinds of ordination. The early church had overseers and deacons, the first of which was more authoritative than the second. Overseers were likely elders who provided direction to a local church or churches. Deacons were likely younger individuals who performed ministry tasks for the church (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12; Rom. 16:1).

At the very beginning, such individuals were appointed by apostles (cf. Acts 14:23). They did not call themselves. It is quite possible that such individuals were only called for a particular task or for a particular season. Others clearly functioned in this role for a lifetime.

8. Some individuals have a sense of God's calling to a ministerial vocation from an early age. Some get that calling in a moment of time. For others, it may be a more gradual sense of calling. Perhaps a person gets involved with a ministry, and the more they minister, the more they sense that God is calling them to a more lasting and focused ministry. Some people grew up with obstacles in their way, especially some women, and it is only after those obstacles are cleared--not least in their minds--that they find their way clear to the ministry.

God calls some individuals to a life-long ministry focus as their vocation. He singles such individuals out and often uses the Church to ratify their calling to the ministry, the role of equipping the saints for ministry in general and for leading the church in the service of others.

Next week: Ministry in the Early Church

[1] Namely, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.

[2] By God's "contingent will," we mean God's will interacting with human decisions. Not a fixed or absolute will, but God's will as he responds to and interacts with our decisions.

[3] The phrase, "free will," needs to be carefully explained. "Free will" for my theological tradition does not mean that I have the power in myself to make every decision I make. It means that God has empowered me to make at least some decisions without being determined to do so.

[4] Keith Drury, The Call of a Lifetime: Is the Ministry God's Plan for Your Life? (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing, 2003), 17.

[5] Although Luther himself certainly believed in ordained ministry.

[6] This idea that ministers equip non-ministers to do the work of the ministry is a modern, twentieth century one. Much depends on whether we should interpret there to be a comma between "mending the saints" and "for the work of ministry." If there is a comma, then apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers both mend and do ministry. But if there is no comma, they they "equip" for the saints to do. Virtually all modern translations render it in terms of equipping the saints to do ministry, although one wonders if this is a place where modern, democratic culture has impacted an interpretive decision.

[7] Even here, however, there may be some today who have a ministry of authority that surpasses other ministers of the gospel. Some traditions play out this ministry of authority in terms of church structure--bishops and such. More charismatic traditions recognize some to have a far more significant authority from the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Biblical Theology - Onsite in Marion

A couple days ago, I laid out a possible 8 week course in Biblical Theology for an online format. I used shorter books and a somewhat abbreviated outline.

Today I want to lay out a graduate Biblical Theology course that I will be doing onsite in the Spring for the School of Theology and Ministry. It will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:15 in Noggle. That's basically a fourteen week course with a finals week.

Textbooks: Brueggemann's, Old Testament Theology
Marshall's, New Testament Theology

I do want to write a biblical theology. Nothing out there really satisfies my longing. Most go biblical author by author, and the ones that don't are high Calvinist. Any publisher want to offer me a contract?

Week 1: What is Biblical Theology?
  • including the history of biblical theology as a concept and movement
  • interaction with Klink and Lockett
Week 2: Theology of God
  • biblical attributes of God in the OT
  • biblical attributes of God in the NT
Week 3: Theology of Creation
  • creation stories of Genesis
  • restoration in the NT
Week 4: Theology of Evil
  • theology of angels, demons, Satan
  • theology of the Fall
Week 5: Theology of Sin
  • sin in the OT
  • sin in the NT
Week 6: Theology of Atonement
  • atonement in the OT
  • atonement in the NT
Week 7: Theology of Israel
  • God's covenant with Israel
  • parting of the ways?
Week 8: Theology of Christ 1
  • the values of Jesus' ministry
  • the Lordship of Christ
Week 9: Theology of Christ 2
  • The pre-existent Christ
  • The Trinity
Week 10: Theology of Salvation
  • predestination and election
  • conditions of salvation
Week 11: Theology of the Spirit
  • Spirit in the OT 
  • Spirit in the NT
Week 12: Theology of the Church
  • images of the Church in the NT
  • baptism and communion
Week 13: Christian Ethics
  • love God with all your heart
  • love your neighbor as yourself
Week 14: Theology of Revelation
  • revelation in history
  • moments of revelation

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Is Allah the same God?

Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton
from her Facebook page
You may have heard of the controversy at Wheaton College over the professor who donned a hijab (head covering) in solidarity with peaceful Muslims who are currently an object of hatred.

Christianity Today's article
Miroslav Volf in the Washington Post
Roger Olson on his blog

1. Wheaton's response was mature and measured. They found no fault in her wearing the scarf to express Christ's command to love both our friends and enemies. Implicitly, I do not believe they found fault in her implicit point that carpet bombing the Middle East, relishing the thought of shooting Muslims, or some attitudes toward Muslim refugees entering the United States were not particularly good representations of Christian values.

Here's Wheaton's statement: "The College has no stated position on the wearing of headscarves as a gesture of care and concern for those in Muslim or other religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution. We support the protection of all Americans including the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States" (Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton).

The college also stated, "Faculty and student expressions of concern about the treatment of Muslims have been grounded in a desire to live peaceably and respectfully with all people, including our neighbors of Islamic and other religious faith traditions. While these commitments are consistent with our Statement of Faith and Community Covenant, overtures of Christian friendship must be enacted with theological clarity as well as compassion."

2. What got Dr. Hawkins on suspension, pending review, is her comment that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I've always found this statement ambiguous. It seems that it does not really say what it is trying to say. After all, there is only one true God out there.

Can we express the options in clearer, less ambiguous forms?
  • Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims all have hold of different parts of the same elephant? In this case, they would all be right on some aspects and wrong on other aspects of the elephant.
  • Does one of these groups have a more correct understanding of the one God than others, while the other two are at least trying to worship the same Being.
  • Are Jews and Muslims really worshiping Satan, demons, or fantasies, even though they think they are worshiping the one true God?
  • Are some Jews and Muslims seeking after the one true God genuinely in their hearts, while being mistaken in their thinking about God? Meanwhile, are some Jews, Christians, and Muslims not truly worshiping the one true God at all in their hearts?
Wheaton's response to her theology was, "While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer." Again, this statement is entirely accurate from a Christian perspective.

3. Personally, I feel sympathy as usual all the way around. I respect this faculty member's sense that America is a little out of whack right now in its values. I hope she passes muster in her review.

On the other hand, I would completely agree with the theological statement of Wheaton two paragraphs above. Islam is not an equally true religion to Christianity, at least not from a Christian point of view. Evangelical colleges do not espouse the elephant view above. As a pietist in the Wesleyan tradition, the fourth bullet point above is the one I hope is true. In that case, some Jews and Muslims would be seeking after the one true God of Christian faith, but they would not be understanding him correctly.

I of course feel sympathy for the administration of Wheaton too. Pesky faculty. :-) Always making statements without any consideration of the political implications or consequences, not to mention the impact on the donor base and potential students.

Academic freedom simply is not absolute, and it's foolish for any faculty member to think so. Having a teaching position at a university simply is not a license to say or do whatever you want to say or do.

But then again, her spirit does not seem to be contentious. She sent out a "holy kiss" to those who disagreed with her. :-)

DMIN in Leadership--Open for Business!

In most academia, the wheels move so slowly it can drive you insane! Finally, after months and months and months of waiting, the second accrediting body has approved Wesley Seminary at IWU's new DMIN degree. The first cohort begins this coming summer in Leadership, with Bob Whitesel as the faculty mentor.

There are only 20 slots and several have already been tentatively filled so you want to jump on this NOW!

You can apply here.

You can download the booklet here.

You can download the flyer here.

For two weeks each year, you’ll travel first to Atlanta, then to England, and finally to San Diego with a diverse group of students to learn from 24 top leaders, experts, and thinkers in leadership, with Wesley's own Dr. Bob Whitesel as your guide.

You will learn about urban, suburban, and rural leadership in Atlanta; church multiplication and renewal in London and Oxford; and multicultural leadership in San Diego. The program leads to a capstone project one on one with a project adviser that brings together 3 years of study and life-changing experiences to transform your ministry, and transform lives. At the end, you will have earned a Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership from Wesley Seminary.

In order to qualify, most students, with some exceptions, will be expected to have three years of full time ministry since achieving MDIV equivalence (72 hours of graduate work).

So excited to see this venture now officially open for business! Then in 2017 a proclamation cohort begins with Dr. Lenny Luchetti, and a spiritual formation cohort in 2018 with Dr. Colleen Derr. Jump into the game NOW!

The Role of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is Scripture. It was God's word for Israel. It was the Bible of Jesus and the disciples. It is Scripture for us.

In what way is the Old Testament Scripture?

1. It was God's word directly and literally to Israel. It said not to eat pork. They did not eat pork. God told them to put away idols. They either did so or faced God's wrath, usually at the hands of other nations. God told them, including kings (Psalm 72), to care for widows, orphans, and the poor. They either did so or faced God's wrath.

2. For the New Testament authors, the breathing of God through the Old Testament was more complex.
  • There were numerous Scriptures they heard literally as well. "Love God; love neighbor" summed up the whole Law for Jesus and Paul. In playing that command out, all the sexual prohibitions were heard directly. Don't kill; don't steal were heard as direct words.
  • Paul, very controversially at the time, did not consider much of the OT Law to be binding on Gentiles. Circumcision, food laws, purity laws, sabbath--Paul does not consider these to apply to Gentiles. It doesn't matter that the Sabbath law was one of the 10 commandments. Where in the NT does someone say, "Obey the 10 commandments"? That's one of our traditions, not Paul's.
  • The NT authors regularly read the OT in "spiritual ways" which were not what those passages meant originally. Important to realize that the "God-breathed," inspired meaning of the Bible wasn't necessarily the literal one for the NT authors.
3. For us, how do we appropriate the OT as Scripture?
  • The Laws of the OT, including the civil law, were for Israel directly. We should not assume that the laws or commands of the OT are to be applied directly to us. They were God's word to them. There may be principles or points of continuity, but we should ask the question, "Is this for their time or all time?"
  • The key to knowing whether a principle of the OT applies to all time is the New Testament. A Law of the OT is not applicable to today if it is not universalized in the NT. In particular, the law of love is the filter Jesus uses to appropriate all OT law (this is the method Jesus uses in Matthew 5).
  • It is also important to recognize that the categories through which God spoke in the OT were those of the Ancient Near East. The OT does not have as precise an understanding of God as the NT. In fact, the older parts of the OT do not have as precise an understanding of God as some later parts. This factor should be taken into account when forming a biblical theology on a topic.
  • As long as we can find the principle soundly elsewhere, we can preach OT stories and material "spiritually," beyond what it meant originally.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Biblical Theology in 8 weeks

I'm designing an 8 week online course in Biblical Theology (not for KERN). Since I think best with my fingers, here's my first shot at an outline.

Sandra Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament
James Dunn, New Testament Theology: An Introduction

Inevitably, the textbooks you choose affect the outline of a class. I've chosen Richter because it seems more needed for the kind of student likely to take this class. I chose Dunn not only for contrast and competency but also because it's a manageable size. As usual, I'd rather write a book. Maybe in a couple years.


Week 1: What is Biblical Theology?
Richter 15-46 (Bible as story of redemption)
Dunn 1-39 (more metadiscussion)
I would include lecture material engaging Klink and Lockett.

Week 2: The Theology of God
Dunn 41-69 (he engages the OT a little as well)
There would be some inductive work in Scripture here.

Week 3: Theology of Covenant
Richter 47-91
Her material is interesting, although distracting for this particular course. Nevertheless, there is important material here for understanding the OT and covenant is a good way to conceptualize OT theology. I would include contrasting approaches.

Week 4: Creation and Restoration
Richter 92-136
These two chapters give the book ends of creation and restoration. Genesis is well covered, as well as parallels in Revelation.

Week 5: The Theology of Salvation
Dunn 71-96
A return to the NT seems appropriate for the means by which we get from creation to restoration. This chapter is relatively short, so there would need to be some heavy engagement with the NT inductively.

Week 6: The Old Covenant
Richter 137-233
We finish the OT by finishing Richter's book.

Week 7: The New Covenant
Dunn 97-123
Dunn's chapter is on the church. Would perhaps dip into pneumatology by reading some other materials, perhaps a sermon by Wesley, perhaps some engagement of the Catholic Catechism.

Week 8: How Shall We Live?
Dunn 124-59
This is a week on ethics. The love command would be emphasized with some engagement with Romans 14, disputable issues, and perhaps some other texts.

Reflections on a semester of teaching

I've now finished my first semester back teaching. Now comes the big perk of professordom--we don't start back up until January 11. Maybe I can finish a book. :-)

1. Teaching has been a lovely change of pace! Although in some ways the day to day is more intense than as Dean, it has a punctuated nature to it. You show up somewhere then move on. Then you show up somewhere else and then move on.

I've come to view administrative work as something like an hour glass where you have this weight of sand that can only get through a trickle at a time. Administrative work never ends. You just go on vacation and then pick back up where you left off when you get back.

2. I have no regrets. Probably what I miss the most about my former job is the interaction with the whole denomination, a unique position that the seminary enjoys. One fun dimension of the seminary is that it has students who went to OKWU, Kingswood, SWU, and Houghton, beyond IWU. There is really a sense in the Seminary that you're working with ministers in the whole denomination and have access to the denomination on the highest levels.

I do miss the innovation and creative problem solving you can sometimes do when you are in a position of leadership. I should add relatively unencumbered leadership. I think there are creative juices in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) as well, but they have sometimes been somewhat submerged in the past, it seems. I think we are seeing the beginnings of a real turn-around this year with the restructuring. On the other hand, being in leadership when your hands are tied, when you think you know how to improve things or innovate but can't--that's the worst!

My friends in the seminary seem to be doing just fine under the leadership of Captain Wayne Schmidt and co-pilot Dave Smith. Onward and upward!

3. I have enjoyed the students in CAS immensely, as well as my old friends in the School of Theology and Ministry (STM). Of course I only enjoy teaching if the students enjoy it too, so I have enjoyed teaching when the students have seemed to enjoy class, and there have been a few days reflecting on what to do differently next time. Jim Lo and I both agree that it has felt a bit like making all new preps, even though I have taught most of these courses before.

For one, back in the day I was still procrastinating moving my overheads to PowerPoints, so I had to migrate and edit almost all my old materials. More, I taught several courses in special formats. So my New Testament Survey was not just a NT Survey; it was a "First Year Experience" (FYE) NT Survey. That meant that there was another layer of "high touch" elements.

And my Romans and Galatians class was not just a Romans and Galatians class, but a class that had both graduate and undergraduate students in it. That also required some extra attention. My Greek students had Lara Levicheva last year and were sharp as a tack. She was a tough act to follow!

I taught two sections of the basic Foundations course for the Honors College because of that deserter, Steve Lennox. That was a challenge, to synthesize OT and NT Survey, Inductive Bible study, and some basic hermeneutics.

But there has been much laughter. The students have laughed and I have laughed with them. A college that laughs together is a healthy, hopeful place. There are few things I enjoy more than sharp young minds bursting with ideas, seeing new universes for the first time!

4. The students are a little different than before, and I am too. So my age now aligns more with their parents than before. The students seem to be a little higher on average academically than when I first came to teach at IWU. There are also higher expectations of professor service than before. I will refrain from making generic comments about millennials. :-)

So being a professor now, across the university, is a lot more work than it used to be. Gone are the days where a course has one paper or one test and that's it, or where a mysterious grade appears at the end of the semester on the basis of who knows what. But that's a good thing.

5. So on to next semester! Teaching some great classes, not least Biblical Theology on a graduate level. I think I had the best Romans class ever this last semester, so I'm hoping that Hebrews in the spring will follow suit.

I will say that it's hard not to want to jump in and get things moving when you see things that could be done somewhere. It reminds me of Fast and Furious 7--it's hard to drive kids to school when you're used to driving cars out of planes.

But nothing is on fire and there's no question that I have had an unusually peaceful, easy feeling all semester. I will be perfectly happy to teach till the day I retire, and then some. As so many of us professor types say repeatedly, "I can't believe they pay me to do this!"