Posts Tagged With: Apostle paul

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

How God became King – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul in Context

So this Friday I will speaking with a local church here in Mexico about the book of Romans. Their are Two primary things I wish to accomplish with only one session. Those two primary things deal with context. Paul’s World that he engages with, and Paul’s own unique way of thinking and relating to that world.

In summary, Paul’s contextual world has to do with political social aspects of the Romans world, philosophical and religious aspects of the Greek-Roman World, and Paul’s specifically Jewish world. Paul is living in a world shaped by Greek thinking and religion, Roman power and culture, and Jewish lifestyle. Since the Apostle Paul is often hard to understand it is necessary for someone eager to actually have some sound answers about the things he says to make sure they understand the world in which Paul lived.

That said, part two of the contextualizing of Paul needs to do with what theological categories Paul actually used as a Jewish thinker who, -by the way, recently embraced Jesus of Nazareth as God himself. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves. Back to “Theological Categories”. The reason I believe this is an important precursor for studying the book of Romans is that for a long time scholars have placed upon Paul categories that he himself could not have been entirely committed to. Its not that Paul did not speak about sin, justification, sanctification, sovereignty, free will, predestination and so on. In fact most those words are in the book of Romans. But what has happened is that people have pressed on Paul their own systematic theologies, forcing Paul to agree with his interpreters. These theological categories hinder ongoing sound exegesis. It limits people to the terms and categories established by previous interpreters. That said, these categories I believe were developed by the greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so on. They should not be completely thrown out. But do they function as a way of understanding what categories (if any) Paul had.

If Paul had “theological” categories then they would have been more Jewish that ecclesiastical. So then, in summary of Paul theological categories as a Jew would have something like, Monotheism, Election, and Eschatology. Paul is not a thinker with clearly defined categories so we need to be careful how we might put his thinking into neat little boxes. He was Jewish, ancient Hebrew thinking is more fluid and story based. But Paul was also a Greek thinker and a master of logic and rhetoric. Hebrew thinkers like Paul were committed to the concept of a single God, a single people of God, and of a particular future in which the one God would liberate the specifically Jewish people, and the world would take notice. Was this how Paul thought? In what ways did Paul’s thought deviate from that?

This is something I have already gone in to detail about in previous posts. Yet again, I find it one of the most useful ways of interpreting Paul. If for no other reason than that a plane reading of Paul confuses many, and that even some of what has been said about Paul by great scholars has seemed to miss some of these more contextual elements.

JewnRomeRomans also comes into a better light when we understand the Roman Political world. The feelings of other Jews in Paul’s day and the anticipation of their own reestablishment. Much of what Jews thought about the world around them is shared by Paul, and yet the day has already come for Paul who believes that Jesus was Gods agent bringing a new day, an end to the exile, and a better hope for the whole world. The world was taking notice in what God did in Jerusalem through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is sad because for many Jews this day has come unrecognized. That his fellow kinsman were blind or deaf to what had occurred in Jesus the Messiah had greatly distressed Paul.

Beyond these main points of contextualization are further areas of context for the occasion of the church in Rome. This I will not divulge at the moment.

Paul’s World: 1) Greek Philosophy and Religion. 2)  Roman Politics. 3) Jewish Culture

Paul’s Theology: 1) Monotheism 2) Election 3) Eschatology

Categories: Bible, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Art in the Bible (Part 3): What is Romans all about?

Two Basic points Paul wants to clarify for the church in Rome. How to gain membership in the covenant people of God and what it means to be a member of that covenant family.

How to get Covenant Membership.001

What Covenant Membership Means.001

What are the implications of this kind of reading of Paul in Romans?

Categories: Art, Bible, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romans: Not what I expected

paulRomans is not at all what I had always thought of it as. When I began by School of Biblical Studies in YWAM 8 years ago I thought that Romans was the book I needed to know because this was the most theological book of the bible. I will not doubt in the strict sense of the word that Romans is a book that reveals more about who God is and is therefore a book about theology. However I always felt that how the theology of Paul worked was based around how to get Saved as an individual.

Of course this was of huge concern to me coming into the school because I had encountered some very strong (and I mean hyper) Calvinistic folks right before coming to do my CSBS. So I wanted to be sure Salvation was in fact by faith. Strangely my dilemma with Salvation by Faith was that I felt that there must be some kind of importance in my own heart, and mind, regarding the decision to actually have faith. I was shocked really after getting to Romans and after spending a few years coming back to Romans to the same issue.

Romans was a book written to a specific community of Jews and Gentiles in the first century AD. It was not written directly to me about Salvation. In fact it was not even written to them simply about how individuals get saved. Though there are passages that can be used to clarify how Individual Salvation works. I was shocked to find that it is a book written to groups, groups that Paul wished would learn to have fellowship together and call themselves the true Israel of God.

So then, the book references so much from the OT, stories, symbols, practices. It is a book certainly written with the Jewish people in mind. They are one of the communities he is speaking to. He uses the stories and symbols not at random to prove theological points. Instead he uses them (often in order) to show that there is an ongoing story of Gods redemptive work in the world. How that plan started when the race of man fell, or rather rejected God and his original plan. So God starts with plan two so to speak. Abraham, the rest of the patriarchs, Exodus, Law, Land, Temple, Exile, and eventually he climaxes with Christ. He retells the story to show that God had a plan to use the family of Abraham, to give him land, law, influence. But that just as Adam rejected Gods plan so Israel rejected Gods plan, they embraced pagan lifestyle. But what about the Jew during the time of Paul. They did not reject Gods Law. Some say they made an idol of it. That is very simplistic. However, I think it is not far from what Paul himself thinks is the problem in his own day. Paul’s thoughts on the Law are not limited to such a simple reduction. Its perhaps one of the most perplexing parts of Paul. I have written at length in other posts about that specifically. But in summary here I think Paul believed there were multiple functions that Law played both pre-Jesus and post-Jesus.

It did pronounce judgement. It did serve as revelation of God and witness to surrounding nations. It did intend to shape identity of Israel. Some focus in on specific uses of the Law because so many wish to simplify what Paul says about the Law. But to ask Paul to give one purpose for the Law would actually be very crude. Paul was a Jew. Jews in the first century saw a great many uses of the Law. One of which was that by paying close attention to it, study, and practice would bring about Gods blessing in the form of his deliverance and vindication of Israel. In short, Law brought salvation. Paul because of his faith in a faithful Jewish Messiah believes this has already taken place in Jesus. But of course Paul’s twist is that when God did what he had always promised to do in the Messiah he did it not just for the vindication of Israel in the Flesh but for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Passages that always terrified me in Romans could be narrowed down to two references to the OT. First is when Paul is telling the story of the Exodus and Pharaoh and the second is when he is talk about how God had always made distinctions between the people of Jacob and the people of Esau. The combination of God hating Esau, and God manipulating the heart of Pharaoh made me scared to press in any further. But why did Paul use those quotes of OT passages? Pharaohs heart was in fact hardened by God to bring about his salvation for all people, Jews and Egyptians alike. And God did not actually hate Esau or his family. Paul quotes this as a reminder that God simply made a distinction between Israel in the Flesh and its fleshly enemies. God had a plan for ethnic or fleshly Israel. That is why there is a distinction. They are being called to account for why they failed to carry out Gods plans of blessing the nations around them. Thus, the reference to Esau and Jacob is not about blind favoritism. It is about who had the greater responsibility. Paul goes on to say that it is in fact these tribes and nations that are coming into the Israel of God by faith, that they are being grafted in.

In short one of Paul’s most profound points is that being the people of God, the Israel of God, the Elect, is not just about privileged but it is about responsibility. This is my summarizing title for the book of Romans.

“The Story and the Future of the People of the One God”

Thus Paul is not doing Theology so much as he is implementing the use of Jewish story telling, with the key themes being eschatology, election, and monotheism.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Law, Jesus, and Paul: Part 2

I felt like a summarized clarification of the first post on the Law from the angle Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. Since part two is actually long over due. We will recap and get back to the topic for a third part.

There are three main ways I would propose you begin looking at the differences in Jesus statements about the Law from Paul’s statements.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

andimage019

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Point 1 of 3: Jesus was not speaking about how to gain Salvation. He was primarily speaking on how when we understand the law and teach it well, it brings the kingdom of God. Jesus felt free to discuss the ongoing purpose of the law for the ‘his people’. Whereas, Paul felt obligated with his letter to the Galatians, to warn that relying on works of the law for salvation brings a curse. For if that was the way to salvation there would be no way for any person to abide by all the things written in the law.

Point 2 of 3: Both Jesus and Paul dealt not only with some misconceptions about the law as a means of attaining salvation. They dealt with the ‘other’ law. The Oral Laws that in the first century had taken on as much or more authority as the written law. The nature of the oral teachings was that they were new laws laid down by rabbis that kept people from breaking the laws of Moses. These Oral teachers felt they were doing Israel a service by making sure no one would break the Mosaic law. But the problem with that is they did not teach how to do the Mosaic law. Moses was clear that the whole heart of following the law is about loving God and people. Jesus said this because people had not realized how far off they had got from the heart of the true law given by God. Paul and Jesus had these things in mind when they ministered to the new church.

Point 3 of 3: The law is made of the books of the entire Torah. In the Hebrew bible in the time of Jesus and Paul the Law was the torah. That means Genesis too. It is clear that there exists an ongoing purpose of the law for the church. We the church and the Hebrew people were never intended to attempt to follow the law in order to achieve our own salvation. The reason the Law remains a part of our revelation of God, Man, and all of life is for the ongoing development of individuals and communities who are learning to love God and love people. Or in Jesus’ words, the Kingdom.

Much more could be said, for part three will will look more in depth at the idea of Gods Faithfulness to Covenants. The Law being only one of the 5 possible covenants located in the OT. So really the ongoing discussion will be to extend the third point here in this post. It could be said like this, “The goal of the covenants (Law) was that people would get saved. The means of Salvation is something that gets worked out in the language of the covenants. Particularly in the Abrahamic Covenant it is understood that the moment of Salvation for Abraham came when he believed in Gods promise. In other words Faith in the God who makes covenants and is faithful to them makes men righteous. Salvation becomes available to more when both God and man show faithfulness to the covenant. Cool thing is, God proved his faithfulness to the covenants and brought completion to them by introducing a brand new covenant that embodies the old ones. In other words, we still have a covenant in which we are called to be faithful to. A covenant built firmly on the faithfulness of God, and not man. The new covenant is both a free gift and a big responsibility for those who receive it. There is still much to learn from previous covenants that helps us gain clarity about the current one.

We will go more in depth in the third part.

Categories: Bible, Context, Doctrine, New Testament, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Art and Bible: Part 2 (JEWS IN ROME)

In Part 1 I began to mention some important background information about the church in Rome. Something else interesting and unique among Paul’s letters is his personal greeting of twenty six individuals in Rome. Why are so many people mentioned in detail. Most likely it has to do with the disunity that exists among the Christians in Rome. I think it is likely and maybe more helpful that we would consider the church in Rome to be many individuals who perhaps have little to no dealings with each other whatsoever. This could be a merely racial issue. As many of the early Christians in Rome were likely Jews who heard the gospel from those at Pentecost. These Jews being filled with the Spirit and beginning to place their hope in Christ as Messiah probably continued to meet in Synagogues and carry on being Jews in the normal sense. They needed the presence of one of the apostles to bring more clarity about what is happening. Jews without the presence of an apostle in Rome may have continued to hold Gentiles at an arm length even if they professed faith in God and now the messiah. Even though they were being filled with the spirit they may not have been welcomed so readily. No doubt this was part of the issue in Galatia. But how did Paul go about addressing issues in Rome. The other issues as I mentioned in ‘Part 1’ was that Jews had recently been expelled and then brought back to Rome. Gentile Christians in Rome had a chance to be the ‘church’ without ‘pesky’ Jews around telling them what they can and can not eat and so on. Having them back to Rome was not sitting well with some of the Gentile Christians in Rome. What is the responsibility of the apostle in this situation? How is he going to address this and bring unity and truth to the situation. Its clear that there are some potential errors on either side of the racial divide.  Jew In Rome

The picture today is interesting to me. After I finished I became aware of how extremely out of place the Jewish man seems with the Colosseum in the backdrop. This is how it must have felt for the Jews. Very out of place. And for Gentile Christians, is this how they saw them. Is this what part of what lead to the judgements and divisions between Jew and Gentile believers in the Messiah.

An interesting dilemma is brought up when we consider the earliest Jewish believers. Was it wrong for them to feel an obligation to maintain the traditions they had learned from youth while wholeheartedly embracing the messiah? I don’t believe it was. Take a look at the section in Romans when Paul addresses the area of practice. Jews maintained practices that set them apart. It is more obvious when you observe the early part of the book to see that Paul is pointing out essential areas of truth about God and what he has done to provide salvation for ‘his people’ (Jews and Gentiles). Then in the end he teaches them to learn to honor each other practices and the convictions they live by. Unity and Diversity. Something the church should always remember well.

For anyone interested by current reading list for the book of Romans is;

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

NIV Application Commentary – Douglas J. Moo

Eerdmans Introduction to NT – Joel B. Green, Paul J. Atchtemeier

Commentary on Romans – Ernst Kasemann

Categories: Art, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Ethics, Faith, New Testament, Romans, School of Biblical Studies | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pluaralism & Sexual Orientations: A Moral Roller Coaster Ride

bildeThe past week we have been on a post-modern moral roller coaster ride.

World Vision recently embraced new policies that honor same sex relationships within their organization only to reverse their decision days later for the sake of the poor across the globe. My wife and I are regular supporters of the organization and we are happy to learn that the donations will continue coming in for all the good work WV is doing across the globe.

I wish to weigh in on this in such a way that may provoke thought and discussion over the nature of human morality. Obviously in our pluralist culture we may wish to say that we should treat people well no matter what their sexual orientation is. That is culturally, the correct answer. To answer otherwise would make for ones self, many new enemies.

On the other hand are the religiously devout immoral in their imposing religious agendas on others in this pluralist era?

In consideration of the whole World Vision drama people are asking, what is more immoral?

Is it it more immoral to be a homosexual?

or

Is it more immoral to consider homosexuality immoral?

And if we want to be good pluralists, we are forced to say that both are in fact immoral but it would be immoral to pass judgement on the immoral. But my question was which is more immoral. I did not say that those who consider homosexuality to be immoral are to also be passing on judgement. But maybe there is a such thing as using your good judgement to make the case that homosexuality is actually immoral.

People speak of the love of Christ as if it were the only element of the character of Christ Christians were to imitate. Jesus speaks often of this kind of moral judgement. That is not something that we seek because we are left to ourselves in this world to determine our own version of morality. But our judgement is to determine what is right and what is wrong. Many things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.

Maybe then we can say with the Apostle Paul to the present issues of our day, “many things are permissible culturally, or naturally, but not all things are beneficial.” This line comes in reference to consistent biblical concept from Genesis that man in all of his humany-humanity is prone to choices that are not beneficial for his life, his health, the health of others, the future world of the next humanity. Are we to accept our present sickness and not look for a restoration and a completeness. This line from the apostle Paul is part of the answer to these moral challenges.

Is wrong wrong because it offends ‘the conservative right wing” or is it wrong wrong because it is actually not beneficial for the world of tomorrow’s?

The church is learning to accept what is beneficial from post-modern culture. Modern Evangelicals would never give in to the pressure to accept what is being accepted in today’s culture. But post-moderns are learning to be okay with people making choices for themselves even if the church feels they are wrong choices. But that is exactly the point. The church (that can actually call itself the church) will not give in to pressure that says, “these choices people are making are right because they love each other and they love God”. It will still be a wrong non beneficial choice.

So for me, I’m okay with my friends and family making their own choice in their sexual orientation. I will not shun you. I will not quote scripture at you. But I will believe, and if asked, I will say, “the choice your making is not going to be a beneficial one. In other words it wont be healthy. Granite you may find some happiness, you may have companionship, but you will miss the benefits of the life God intended for you to have had you made the tough choice that is right.” That opinion I will not force on you but if you have to ask, that is my belief. Truth be told, I’d rather not have to say any of that. I would like to display what I think would be the most Christ-like thing, that would be to spend more quality time, and share a deeper friendship with you. I love you.

The problem with most Christian theology on the issue is that people would prefer to make their standards clear in order to not be mistaken by other evangelicals as an advocate for homosexuality. So I make a point here not to engage heavily in all the bible verses one might wish to throw at this issue. I’m not interested in that in the least.

I’d rather be a friend, and go have a drink with the ones who’s choices are non-beneficial. The problem with theology on the topic is not that it is wrong. It is that it is theology. Theology does not help people wrestling with choices, passions, temptation, and Love. It helps to have someone who is not pretending to love them from afar. It helps to have a person to share that drink with, and to share their love with, and to speak of passions and temptations and choices.

So I challenge me, and I challenge you, do not love from afar, and don’t love with your theology. I appreciate good theology. But in almost every relevant case, theology is at its finest when it is acted upon. When people are treated as whole people or at least people that might one day be whole.

 

*** I will be monitoring comments for this post. Appropriate comments will be allowed. By rules of general fairness towards humans on both sides of the argument.

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Ethics, Mission, Modern, Philosophy, Post-Modern, Society/Culture, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Surviving University: A Brief History

1. Universities are a Christian Invention

That’s right, Christian Scholastics invented the university.

“We can trace the birth of universities to the magnetism of single teachers, whose skill and enthusiasm for learning attracted students wherever they happened to be”[1]

Saint_Augustine_PortraitFrom influential visionaries such as St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (AD 353-430), Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassidorus (AD 40-585), and Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (AD 480-524), some monasteries and cathedral schools grew into universities.

The development of schools can be traced back much further to the ancient world of Greece where other individuals in Athens or Alexandria, ran schools. But we are talking about the university that during the middle ages had developed into “corporations.” [2]

Universities unlike schools were not dependent on a few individuals and could survive long after the death of influential people.

These “Dark Age” universities were not as many of thought, pathetic places where Christians argued over, “how many angels could dance on the head of a needle”. Instead medieval scholastics;

“reviewed past authorities and current opinions, giving analysis of them and reasons for rejecting some and accepting others. Altogether, the methodology already in place by the early twelfth century shows the scholastics’ willingness, and readiness, to criticize the foundation documents of their perspective fields. More than simply receiving and expanding these traditions deemed to have outlived their usefulness. They also freely realigned the authorities they retained to defend positions that these authorities might well have thought strange and novel.”[3] 

“The early Scholastic scientists did not just sit in their studies and think about the world; they increasingly relied on careful observation of the matters involved, that is, on empiricism. For example, the Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Chinese mostly based their “knowledge” of physiology on philosophy and introspection, and some dissections of animals, but they rejected and condemned cutting up humans. Christian Scholastics were the first scholars to build their anatomical knowledge on human dissection!”[4] Mundinus

This was done for the first time in 1315 by Mondino de’Luzzi in front of an audience of students and faculty of the University of Bologna.

Most common histories will be very quite with regards to the Christian origins of university. It is typically said to have been developed out of Greek and Roman learning, brought about by help from Muslim lands, and the few who in Europe were brave enough to oppose the authority of the church. These ideas can be traced to men like Edward Grant, or A.D. White. In reality universities was like a child of the Papacy. This does not mean that papal control over universities existed. There was as I have already said, freedom to explore and expound theories because issues of theological orthodoxy was fixed.

It may help quite a bit to know while attending university as a Christian that scholarly empiricism, the sciences, history, grammar, and logic are actually what have brought students to the door of spiritual wisdom as well as what we deem sacred study.

The chief aim in the middle ages was the search for spiritual wisdom. But their approach to such wisdom was not confined only to the bible. The bible held each field in check. A beautiful union had taken place between religion and liberal arts. Many make this union out to be a bloody battle in which science and intellectual freedom finally broke free from when we reach the enlightenment. But this is not complete reality. Just as in any loving union, there is to be tension. So in this union of church and scholastic education which became university was an ongoing healthy tension where church 743px-Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001orthodoxy was at times stretched or readdressed and new theories had to be put in check with Christian orthodoxy.

Your struggles as a university student are nothing new. In fact there is a wonderful heritage you are walking into. The bible remains key to education simply because it is a library. A unique collection of books selected with extreme care. Sixty-six books, forty plus authors, sixteen-hundred years, three different languages, all telling a single story. Beginning with creation and ending with recreation. Offering students a expanding, progressive, and yet coherent view of life and the world. [5]

Just as monks did not study scripture because they were looking for a job, we are not simply attending university because we are seeking a job but the knowledge of truth.

Even the historical critic of the Catholic church, H. G. Wells admitted,

“The Catholic Church provided what the Roman Empire had lacked, a system of popular teaching, a number of universities and methods of intellectual communication. By this achievement it opened the way to new possibilities of human government… possibilities that are still being apprehended and worked out.” [6]

These institutions, unlike Chinese academies for training Mandarins of a Zen masters school, were not content to settle for repeating the wisdom of the Greeks. They were fully prepared to criticize and correct the ancients. Something that scholars of Islam were unwilling to do, though translation of the works of Aristotle and Plato took place in Arab lands. [7]

A final testimony to the willingness within these scholastic communities to adjust theological views was the development of the rise of Capitalism. Not something simply invented in Venetian countinghouses, or protestant banks in Holland, but within the ninth century monastic communities. Monks found it necessary to adjust their view, that “money and pleasure is the root of all evil”. They were able to see the blessing in well managed finances, mix that with their value for hard work and entrepreneurship and a perfect environment for the rise of capitalism was given to the western world. [8] This was not the same corrupted capitalism one might explore today but one based on principles of moderate living, value in work, and community building. Medieval monks were not concerned with consuming capital gains but with learning to value wealth for its proper use in community building. Monks were able to re-evaluate the passage, “the love of money is the root of all evil” and began to see the value of wealth as a service to God.

In conclusion; there is no need to feel like a fish out of water when stepping onto campus of secular universities. Though there is a real challenge facing you, it is not a challenge that the church is not familiar with. It is a challenge that needs really, to be meet head-on. Literally and figuratively. That brings me to theology. It is essential that for Christians we know that reason, and intellect are not something to be detached from the spiritual wisdom we claim to have gained by our faith in Christ, and scriptures.

2. More Knowledge does not need to make your Faith Smaller

A Passage for expounding Knowledge

According to Genesis 1-2, man is made in the image of God. Keep in mind the intricacies of creation. God is without any doubt an intelligent creator, far beyond what we can comprehend. However, if we are in Gods image we may begin to comprehend all that God wishes us to in this life. In other words, we are creative, intellectual, beyond what realize. Man is always pushing the limits, and finding new things. It seems there is endless potential for the human intellect. Maybe that is true, maybe that is because we are made in the image of an immensely intelligent God.

A passage “against” expounding Knowledge

According to Corinthians 1:18-31, it would seem to some that Paul is discouraging knowledge, or the pursuit of it beyond the pursuit of Christ and the foolishness of the cross. I do not however, believe this passage is meant to discourage 21st Century Christians from going beyond knowledge of the cross. Paul himself, in order to write so eloquently and convincingly for both Jews and Greeks had a large knowledge of Jewish culture, scripture, language, as well as Greek culture, language, literature, and Greek rhetoric in particular. Scholars of the Middles ages grew quite adept at understanding Greek rhetoric of masters like Cicero because Paul’s style is almost identical.

Beyond that, a full observation of this passage and you will find verses like, The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of Man (v25). All the wisdom of Jews and Greeks may have pointed to a messiah, but all pale in comparison to the revelation of Christ and his work. So it is not that God wishes man to be foolish, ignorant, intellectually lazy. In fact quite the opposite is obvious. It is considered foolishness, but it should never be considered foolishness by those who believe. It is to be considered the power of God, and the wisdom of God (v18 & 24).

A final exhortation from this passage, and something that I’m sure will prove very useful for those in university. Because your views will be considered foolish by worldly standards, the best way to move forward is in humility. We don’t get to boast before God or man because of our power and wisdom. Its been revealed to us. We did not earn it. Through humility and intellect God will reveal himself to others around you. cs-lewis-from-gospel-coalition

C.S. Lewis is a powerful reminder of what that can look like. His ‘Mere Christianity’ on display during his career at Oxford University was not just a book he wrote, it was his constant way of life among intellectuals who deemed his wisdom as foolishness. But very few today would call him foolish, or unintellectual, or unchristian.

Bibliography

[1] Church History in Plane Language; 3rd Edition: Bruce L. Shelley. 2008 – Thomas Nelsons Publishers (Ch 12 pg 196)

[2] The Genesis of Science: James Hannam,  2011 – Regenery Publishing (ch4 pg66)

[3] Medieval Foundations of Western Intellectual Tradition: Marcia L. Colish, 1997 – Yale University Press

[4] Triumph of Christianity; Rodney Stark, 2011 – HarperCollins Publisher (ch16 pg281)

[5] The Book that made your World – Vishal Mangalwadi, 2011 – Thomas Nelsons Press (ch12 pg211)

[6] The Outline of History; H.G. Wells, 1961 – Garden City Books  (pg 587-88)

[7],[8] The Victory of Reason; Rodent Stark, 2005 – Random House Publishers, (pg 52-53 & 55-56)

Disclaimer: I have not yet been to university, hopefully sometime in the next couple years. This post is for friends who are in University right now. Some at secular schools and some are in bible seminaries. I want to offer what I think will help these friends and anyone else who is facing years of study before you can get on with whatever is next. The post is particularly in mind for those attending secular universities. However, I think the principles can apply to many attending Christian Seminaries. Faith is endangered in both environments. Perhaps a follow up to this post will specifically for Christian Seminaries.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Faith, Genesis, History, Modern, New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.