Posts Tagged With: jesus

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

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.

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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

These Dry Bones

bonesThe book of Ezekiel is a really strange book. Outside of Daniel it may be the weirdest book in the OT. The three main visions of the book that act as the pillars of the book are about the presence or absence of God. In chapter 1-3 it is the introductory vision of the glory of God by the river Chebar in Babylon. In chapter 9-10 Ezekiel sees how the presence of God leaves Jerusalem and why. Then in chapters 40-47 he sees the return of the glory of God to Jerusalem or the new Jerusalem. The question for the exiled community in Babylon is about whether or not God is present with them in exile. Is God still powerful and worth devotion if they have been removed from the land? Mid-way through the book the exiled community in Babylon learns of the fall of Jerusalem. Now they realize for the first time that they really are dead and finished as a nation and a people. The destruction of the temple sends a strong signal that they really are done for. Thus Ezekiel’s most famous vision in chapter thirty-seven affirms the feelings and of the exiled community that they are really really dead. But perhaps the most powerful message not only of Ezekiel but of the entire biblical narrative is that death is not the end.

Sin and death entered the world in Genesis chapter three but that was not the end of the story rather the beginning of the redemptive nature of the entire story. And similarly to chapter three of Genesis Israel needs to look outside of themselves for life. Only one source for life exists. Chapter thirty-seven of Ezekiel is meant to remind us of Genesis two when out of the dust of the earth God makes man, and from his own breathe he gives him life. Ezekiel reminds the OR that it is God who does this and that soon he will restore Israel just as he has sought to use Israel to restore life and breathe into all his children.

If nothing else Ezekiel powerfully affirms two things about God and his plans for humanity as a whole as well as Israel. The death and devastation that Israel is going through is not an indicator of Gods absences. This is what the exiled community felt it was. Instead its meant to remind us of our own sin and guilt, or the simple biblical fact of a world that has been seriously infected by the sin of others. Israel desired no doubt to throw God under the buss, so to speak. We also are tempted to continue doing this. However, the second thing that is clear and powerful in Ezekiel’s message is that death is not the end, pain, and suffering are not signs of the end but signs and reminders of the beginning when sin and suffering entered the world through mans rebellion. It can simultaneously remind us of a bright future in which God will restore life and bring the really dead bones back to life.

The theological term here is resurrection. We can ask how the Jewish community thought about the resurrection of the dead. But really it helps just to know it was a topic of discussion for Jews and when Jesus came he spoke of it, he raised people from the dead, he did it himself, and then his apostles were witnesses of it. Actually the first apostles were women, they were the apostles to the apostles. (Women apostles is a topic for another time). Often enough these passages in Ezekiel are thought of in terms of the restoration of Israel as was part of the intended message. But they have a more far reaching fulfillment. First of when we keep in mind the resurrection and redemption narrative beginning in Genesis, and when we recall the importance of the resurrection Christ. In other words the resurrection of Israel after their exile was part of the picture of how God actually intended to bring resurrection to the whole of creation, a theme stretching back to the garden. And when in Romans 8 Paul talks about the revealing of the sons of God he is not speaking merely of Israel but of the church and all of Gods redeemed. The precursor to full restoration and resurrection of Gods creation is the revealing of the sins of God. Which was the whole point of Israels election. A chosen people for the purpose of turning all peoples to the creator. This is a very key element to grasp, it is a true resurrection of Israel when not just ethnic Israelite’s are preserved in the land of Israel, but when Israel has effectively taken part in the purpose for which they were divinely elected when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Categories: Bible, Context, CSBS, Genesis, Old Testament, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living with Evil, living between the Cross and the Resurrection, and actively anticipating a New World.

Devotion to Saint Death in MexicoSo I’ve been reading steadily again. Also we are in full swing of things here at YWAM San Diego Baja. We have DTS running with 30+ students. We have the CSBS starting its 4th school now here with 15 students. And we have the brand new Titus Project running with nine students of which I am one.

I’ve been learning to improve my own teachings with more practical skills and a lot of good reminders and heart checks along the way. Also I read through the book “The Seven Laws of the Learner” by Bruce Wilkinson. Its been a great start to these new challenges I am excited to face over the next few months.

I’ve also begun to read the book “how to read the bible for all its worth” by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. I read it for the first time 7 years ago when I was accepted to do the CSBS in LA. I’m enjoying it even more then I did then. I also just finished reading a wonderful short book by Richard Bauckham called “Bible and Mission”. What I wish to comment on though in this post is a topic I plan to read into further. Evil-and-the-Justice-of-God-0

I just finished the book “Evil and the Justice of God” by N.T. Wright. It is a basic 180 page run through on an intense topic. He quickly introduces the current problem of Evil that continues to be a relevant issue with the ongoing issues with the terrorist group Isis. There are other sensitive issues as a missionary that I am aware of but would rather not going into. Along with those sensitive issues there are some of my good friends who work down in the Red Light district of Tijuana. While people tell us we are foolish for being here and no matter how hard we try to convince them that we are safe. We also recognize with Samwise Gamgee that,

“It’s a dangerous business… going out your door.”

Truly anything can happen but more then that a good many things could happen. We don’t have to try to hard to use our imagination because the reality is that people often disappear in Mexico. People disappear in the USA. Big cities are a risk in general. So with all the potential for evil that looms it is for sure the because of the Grace of God that we step foot out our front doors and proceed to get in cars and drive down to the Red Light area to work with homeless men and women and attempt to bring some light, love, and life.

I am challenged to be proactively thinking about what the nature of evil really is. To write the word, to say the word, and to use it in a way the is consistent with the way scripture uses it and how God has dealt with it and plans to eradicate it. Beyond that I am challenged not just to have thoughts, or philosophies about evil but that when I come face to face with it I will have a response that is consistent with Gods own model. So how then should we be preparing ourselves. A couple months ago i finished listening to the dramatized version of the book by C. S. Lewis, “Screwtape Letters”.  In the preface he describes two wrong approaches to the demonic. One, an over emphasis on the power of demons, and dark spiritual forces of evil. Two, to not give a proper acknowledgement to the world of spirits and demons. So I feel no hesitation to prepare my own philosophy on evil, and to prepare myself for right actions or responses to the evils that may come. Of course we never fully know what we will do until such moments come.

What is our reaction and response to the crisis for Christians and citizens of Iraq and Syria under the terrorism of Isis? N.T. Wright points out that we can not draw the line with terrorists on one side of the line of evil and the innocent on the other side. Because no one is really innocent. In that he really means to say that evil is a line that runs through all men and women. Thought he avoids talking about that line running through children or infants is beside the point. All men and women from an early age develop rebellious, sinful, and yes the potential for evil. Well this is a more and more difficult thing to say in a post christian world. People used to say that divorce was a terrible scandal, homosexuality was an outrage, and pedophilia a an outright disgrace to the human race. This point Wright also pints out is interesting because perhaps the only remaining of these three in a category of ‘evil’ would be the issue of pedophilia. When we consider the line of evil and that it runs through all men we are reminded of another area of weakness in the Christian response to evil. We might go to another extreme and say since the line of evil runs through all men and I am a sinner just as Hitler is a sinner then there are no categories or varying degrees of evil action in the world. This is also a huge mistake and a huge immaturity when it comes to the issue of evil and justice in our world. While both myself and Hitler are sinners, both capable of extreme evils, both prone to hatred, envy, bitterness, violence, manipulation, hurt, and confusion. While I may have killed men in my thoughts toward them, committed adultery with women in my thoughts towards them, and even cursed God himself, I have not committed the same acts in space, time, and history, leaving my mark upon the human race and on Gods good creation. I have left a mark with my sin, my lies, my foolishness, my immaturity, my anger, and my tongue have done damage and the consequences I too must face up to. Among the consequences of my sin, an eternal death and separation from God does not have to be a reality because of Christ. Same for Hitler. Wild as that may sound it is true. But the overarching point here, though God forgives trespasses of those who have trespassed the most there is still a responsibility by authorities put on earth by God to prosecute and provide consequences for all human evil. There is a right consequence for theft and fraud and there is a right consequence for those who commit violent crimes such as murder, rape, child abuse, hate crime, bullying, cruelty to animals, and outright abuse of the environment. Only to name a fraction of crimes that do violence to Gods created order.

The consequences for such crimes ought to fit the crime done. This is a basic rule of law and order. This is at least the beginning of the way in which such a discussion must go. That evil is something found in all men also conceived of biblically as ‘sin’. But though it is in all men not all evil done to man, creation, and to God is to be considered equal not the treatment of it.

The final few thoughts on the subject come to us as we engage with the message of scripture. That all of histories evils and injustices were building up as a case not only against mankind but as a case against the good nature and purposes of God. What was Gods way of addressing in the most meaningful way the problem of evil and injustice in the world?

His own death and resurrection gives us a shocking answer if we allow it. Notice we mean to say that it is God’s own death on the cross that makes a way. For it is on the cross and in his suffering that the perfect lamb of God would take on all evil, and injustice, as a way of dealing with the case that was building up heavily against man. And In a way the injustice and evil of God. At least in the minds of men and women in his good creation does the idea of God’s evil and injustices exist. That too was however addressed also with the final act of removing all guilt from men and all possible guilt previously heaped on God by men now atoned for and finished with the work of the cross. Easter then acts not only as a resurrection of the one God-Man Jesus Christ. But as the resurrection of all men and women who receive the cosmic gift of his atoning sacrifice.

While Christ has undergone his own resurrection we await our own. For we are still hear between the cross and the resurrection. We are challenged live now with the atoning work of Christ and the secure hope of resurrection in active anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth. Just as Jesus teaches in a number of parables on forgiveness, that the kingdom of God will look like a place where debts are cleared and jubilee is at last a reality. We can actively anticipate this new world by engaging in a real kind of addressing evil as evil but then trying to help people and help ourselves take steps to forgive the debts of others.

I am extremely challenged then to live not only in between the cross and resurrection but between the resurrection and everything else before. All of the previous evils, the evils we will face tomorrow once they have been committed and even my own evil. How will I actively and honestly address my evil, the evil of others, as well as find forgiveness for my own evil and the evil of others. While I anticipate the ongoing evil works around me I am also actively anticipating the resurrection and the day when all evil, injustice, and suffering will be done with for Good. These are the wonderful challenges to both philosophy, biblical understanding, as well as current and active dealings with evil that I have received in prayer while reading a wonderful little book in the issues.

Please Read: “EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD” – by N.T. Wright

Also I suggest on Topic some more balanced reading relating to the world of spirits, demons, and devil.

C.S. Lewis “Screwtape Letters”

Dean Sherman “Spiritual Warfare”

My next Three Books on the Topic

“Exclusion and Embrace” – Miroslav Volf

“No Future without Forgiveness” – Desmond Tutu

“Raging with Compassion” – John Swinton

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Ethics, Faith, Mexico, New Testament, Philosophy, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What kind of Christian am I?

Here is something for change. I am being introspective. jesus

As I read, study, and do life with other Christians in Mexico of all places I wonder what Christian category I actually fit into in all of my beliefs. I have been a part of YWAM for the last 8 years. Crazy! I’ve been a part of the CSBS for the past 7 years. So what that means is I have been a bit of a bible nerd for all that time. Over the past 4 years I have begun to really broaden my reading and writing habits. I mean broaden, in that I have been reading more then the bible. But that is perhaps the first observation about myself. Reading the bible so much and studying it in context did something to my brain. I think perhaps seeing the bible as one story, a story that fits into real history, a story that covered centuries of history and exposed me to new kinds of literature and authors. Essentially it was a new education, using an entire library of information presented in poetic form as well as prose. For me this study sparked an interested in adding to that sacred library more and more material. I have taken a strong liking to the kind of extra biblical material that challenges and enriches my understanding of the sacred library. Books about ecology, psychology, history, sociology, worldviews, science, and an ever broadening list of subjects. Of course the list of reading material includes a ton of theology stuff. I still don’t have a large appetite for theological debates. But as I have engaged in new theologies, and old theology I have began to wonder about this question: “What am I”?

I read about Reformed tradition, Anglican, conservative evangelical, charismatic, Catholic, emergent, orthodox, neo-orthodox and on and on. Ive read and engaged with a lot of church history and history of Christian thought and still I’m wondering where someone might fit me. I feel this way in part because I serve in YWAM, an Inter-denominational organization. We have people from all traditions and non-traditions in our tribe of Jesus followers.

I come from the Baptist Tradition. GARBC to be exact. My Father, my grandfather, and my three uncles are pastors with GARBC churches in the state of Michigan. I suppose you could say I have carried my share of disillusionment with the church. But over the past 8 years things have shifted. I have sought to find a clearer head in regards to what my thoughts are about church and about the kingdom of God. I now have a stronger love for the local church then I ever have. She has her problems and people will always line up to point them out. To me this is one of the observations I have been seeing. You know it is the church because people are watching to see inconsistencies with beliefs and actions. The most common accusation of Christians may be that we are hypocritical. I think it is important for the church to recognize its inconsistencies and respond to the critics with candor and sincerity to change.

My own disillusionment with the church lead me to explore some of the “Emergent” authors; McLaren, Bell, Campolo, Rollins, McManus. I have enjoyed to some degree a lot of what these guys do and say. I have not disagreed with them on each and every point. But in the end I’m not what we are calling “Emergent”. I don’t know… I think its just not cool to stay disillusioned forever. Some of the Emergent guys are doing quite well because its sexy to be disillusioned, confused, “broken”, and uncertain. It is not cool to know something for sure, its not cool to be healthy or to want to be healthy, and doctrine/theology/history is not cool at all. Its all just power play and dogmatism. So while a agree with some of the tough criticism that “emergent” writers bring on the established church I don’t in the end wind up an emergent. I’m not emergent in the same way that I would not consider myself a modern, pure materialist, humanist, secularist, blah blah blah. I am of course a person who lives in what many consider a post-christian, post-modern world and I am effected by much of the thinking, and the style of the rest of my generation. But I suspect that In order not to be cast off as a super old school, pre-historic conservative I need to find the right brand for myself. Maybe someone can help give me some insight as to what I am.

My title suggest that I might just fit right in with the Emergent crew. Because I seem to be unsure about what I am. But I’m not really unsure about what a believe. Check out my blog. I have lots of opinions and I am under no illusion that my beliefs are wrong. I believe most of them to be correct. In all humility I hope to correct the existing mistakes. But they are either correct, or they are mistakes. The only in between for me is that I do believe things aught to be looked at from different perspectives. This is actually post-modern more then it is a modern or pre-modern way of thinking. However, it is also an ancient Hebrew way of thinking. So I would not say that this acknowledgement of the need to asses truth from different perspectives is post-modern pollution of Christianity. Its like, why did God provide two accounts of the history of Kings in Judah with Kings and Chronicles? Why are there two accounts of creation? What we end up with is further enrichment of revealed truths. We are not talking about opposing contradictory messages. What we have are two complementary views about reality. Jeremiah paints a portrait of a failing monarchy and a decaying community headed for hard times. Ezra takes the same original model and paints a complementary portrait identifying the particular features that would help the community at a much later date to put things back together. The fact that this is happening in the bible affirms the validity and benefit from seeing things at different angles for a clearer grasp of the truth.

So aside from needing to get new perspectives I feel that I am either bringing truth or stumbling through error. Feel free to read, agree, or disagree. For now Ive have enough self evaluation. Just to wrap up. I love the church. It has issues here and there, but I love the church. Whatever your creed or tribe I love to see the gathering of folks seeking Jesus ans seeking to bring him out into the world initiating a transformation that he completes. God Bless.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, History, Modern, Modernism, Orthodox, Poetry, Post-Modern | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Paul and Titus: A model of Transformation

In the Letter to Titus  –  Paul says ‘good works’ a lot. Why?

In light of the book of Galatians, where for to many, it would seem to indicate that works are not of great value for the spiritual life. That by faith and by Grace alone are we enabled to live a Godly life. Works alone then are of no use in ones spiritual life. This is a rough synopsis of only some of the thought coming out of Galatians and the language of Paul.

But even following up with that in his other books it is indexclear that what he means to say and often does with as much clarity. That no amount of good works ever saved anyone. That only by the goodness of Christ has anyone found adoption into the household of God. (Titus 3:5-7)

That said, the emphasis seems always to be on our endless desire to define “Salvation” into a science of belief, and prayer. Making it as simple as possible for us to add to our numbers and feel better about ourselves. If all I need to do is say a prayer, or believe in my heart then many will gladly do it and go on with their lives unchanged. Fortunately and unfortunately for some that is just not a message to be found in the bible.

Paul is quite clearly emphasizing in most of his work the full picture of salvation. It is not limited to the moment when you pass from death to life but expanded to the whole picture if what it looks like when one passes from death to life. Not that your eternity can not be sealed in a moment. Paul emphasis good works in Titus slowing once to point out that good works are possible because Jesus was ‘good’ first in every way. His good works made it possible for the adoption, salvation, cleansing of “us” for the purpose of good works.

In order to know the real purpose of good works at all then you need to know what the two silly words really mean. What are we to think of when we consider the value of good deeds. The only alternative translation might be “Beautiful Works”. This begins to highlight a theme Paul speaks of often. That from the beginning of time man was created for good or beautiful works.

The Garden was the place where man was created and given the task of creating and nurturing life to make more life and even make it better. (Eph 2:10) Good works touches on more then just religious activity like we might be inclined to think it is when we consider Galatians and the “good works” of the Judaizers. But good works of the rest of Paul’s writing often indicates a much larger concept. That good works is about the creative and endless potential of man. Man made in Gods image means in part, that man has infinite potential for creatively living life and giving life. What a massive influence then Paul letter might have with the despised people of Crete, who may yet walk in a new identity full of “good works”. They are not only encouraged to start in the institute of family life, and church life, but also into the public sphere.

Crete is full of bad works. Full of men and women resembling in almost know way the idea that they are made in the image of a good God. In fact quite the opposite is believed and lived by. They reflect the story that has been told about them.

The church needs to find order first, then the family of Christians, then begin to show good works toward to public sphere. Perhaps Titus is a model for community development.

Paul is not just about starting churches, but about starting organized and healthy churches that have healthy families that find creative ways to make whole cities and governments healthy.

Paul’s “Good Works” then becomes another ‘cargo ship’. It is loaded with a whole story of what Good works really is. It is like sin. Sin has a story. Its not just important to avoid sin because its sinful. But because of what sin really is. Sin is actually connected with the idea of good works. Christians have often settled for “not sinning” when they called to “DO, Good Works”. Its not about what we are not doing so much as about what we are doing for the kingdom of God. Titus is a book written to Titus and his community of believers who need to grasp on to the next step of walking out in good works for their church, family, and cities.

Professor NT Wright affirms some of these ideas himself;
“we find, here in Paul, at least the beginnings of an outline sketch of a Christian responsibility in relation to the wider world, rather than an ethic which is concerned only for the ordering of the household of faith. And I am inclined to think that we should read the passages about ‘good works’ in this light as well: just because other civic benefactors are pagans, that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t ‘do good works’ for their wider society if and when they have the opportunity…” 1

“…They are part of the worldview which Paul believes must characterize the Messiah’s people.”

In other words, Paul was not really someone who in his previous life sought salvation without any knowledge of Gods grace or the importance of ones faith. Something else had been going on in Paul. He is seeing very clearly however that in order for the Jews and everyone else to get on with the next step in Gods plan. Only the messiah could accomplish by faith what no other man was able to. Paul knows now that Jesus made it possible for adoption, for others to become obedient sons of God and begin to bring the Messiah’s worldview to earth. The kind of world that Paul wanted found its full expression in Jesus the Messiah and knew this was what the Messiah had actually initiated in his coming.

Titus is instructed to continue the work of establishing the Messianic Kingdom of God. Beginning with elders for the churches on Crete and finding a strong place in the home, then working its way outward to the general culture and the civic sphere of authority and rulers. The transformation of Crete. An Island that had once been the capital of a large and powerful world civilization was being pointed back to their true greatness as a people. That they were made for the purpose of showing the world their many great works.

Really the people of Crete believe that they are descendants of wicked rulers who had sex with beasts and became beasts. That they were put in their place by the ordered civilization of the Greeks. The gods of Crete were rendered weak and pathetic beasts and the people resembled their gods. They saw themselves as inferior to the greeks and their gods of power and might. They were in need of a corrected story. Who is our true God? Who are our ancestors? What is our identity? How do we rebuild what we have lost?

They needed a new story about their God. They need a new story about their ancestors. They needed this in order to really begin to understand themselves. They needed to know how to begin to rebuild. The answer is God in Christ, that their past is full of potential yet tainted by their own sin, that their identity is found in knowing their origin as created in Gods image, and that God wants to begin the rebuilding process inside of them and then in their families, in their community by way of the church and then by way of their relationship with the established system of Cretan culture.

 

1. Excerpt From: Wright, N. T. “Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Two book set (Christian Origins and the Question of God). Page 916”

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, New Testament, Old Testament, Salvation, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Law: Jesus and Paul

I would like to explore what Jesus and Paul had in common in their view of the Law. This may seem like an odd way to approach the topic. But for those who know the arguments within theological circles it may not seem that weird.

For many the views given of the continued place of the law for the church have a different place.

Jesus is quoted by Matthew as having encouraged the continued observance of the law, though in a very different way. Some might say well because Matthew’s audience was Jewish and Paul’s was gentile that there is a strong difference and the way we continue to approach the law in the church today is more towards Paul’s comments about the law bringing only death. Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore

One primary issue with this interpretation is that it assumes that the Gospel of Matthew was not written to the church which consisted of Jews. What this unfair interpretation does is assumes that Matthew was written to the Jewish community and not the church. The other point to keep in mind is that Jesus’ frustration with the current understanding of the law in his time was that people did not know it or follow it. What they knew was the oral traditions developed by the rabbinical community. These oral laws had an equal or higher place in the life of the Jews. The nature of that oral law lead people to what they must do in order to not break the law. It was not however teachings on how to best follow the law. Not breaking the law and following the law are two different things. Jesus addressed this head on and re-taught the law in the way he wished the church to continue to teach the law in order to bring more of his kingdom. paul

So in what way then does oral law factor into Paul’s comments about the “law bringing death”. Paul had spent his entire life wrapped up into the culture of oral tradition. He was like the scribe or Pharisee that Jesus mentions in his sermon on the mount. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus in this passage affirms that well taught law makes you great in the kingdom of God. He then affirms that the current version of ‘law’ teaching (the oral law) has nothing to do with those who would be considered truly righteous. Paul explains in his letter to Galatia that the law for him (maybe oral law) was something that brought death. Maybe because following the oral law meant actually breaking the Mosaic law, which was about loving God and people.

The law can continue to bring death when it is treated in this way. But Law existed in the Garden in the way that it exists now under Christ. We are free like in the garden to do all that God has made available to us. But there are still things we must not do. But its about doing not about not doing. We get to follow the example of Christ. We get to study and examine the application of the law because Christ is in us and his spirit may guide us. We can study the law in order to learn to love God and love people for building his kingdom.

The other problem with the discussion regarding the Law is that that word is a bit of a metonymy. Included in the use of the metonymy is the what was spoken by the prophets, the narrative throughout the law, and some of the most odd and abstract laws and standards given by God for his people Israel. There is much that Jesus fulfilled and completed in the law and there is much that has been left incomplete. He has left it for his church to accomplish the and for himself to accomplish in the future. But none of the law is obsolete. In that same breathe, once we have been freed from the curse of the law by Christ, the law is also no longer bringing death in and through those who believe. It will continue to bring death for those who depend on it for righteousness and reject or turn from Christ. But it become clearer that the law and in particular the whole OT has many deep principles for bringing the kingdom of God into every area of life around us.

Jesus has in fact given the keys to the kingdom to the church. The church is to continue not only the work of Israel, but the work of Christ in bringing redemption to all of creation, man, women, Jew, Gentile, free, slave, and eventually to the whole of the created world. If we are to do this we need God the Father and his instruction, God’s son making redemption possible, and the holy spirit continuing in us to accomplish the work given by God, initiated by Christ.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, New Testament, Old Testament, Salvation, Theology | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The Gospel is also a Comprehensive Worldview

Gospel means good new. The good news of Jesus was that he had come to save humankind from their own destruction. Sin is powerful and it was destroying humanity. Not only humanity but the environment. We are now well aware that humanity is not the only casualty of mans depravity. But the whole environment has suffered deeply and waits for restoration, just as man is looking for a time when he will be put right. The good news of Jesus is salvation has arrived.

One of the major problems with mans theology regarding salvation is that it is influenced by Greek or Platonic thinking. Salvation is nearly synonymous with escape. Salvation has become a way of escaping the destruction of the flesh as all flesh seems to be crumbling with all of nature, all or mans environment. Mans theology regarding God and his environment has been fatalistic. This too has its root in Platonic Greek Dualism.  That God will allow the destruction of the earth until all is completely ravaged.  But the good news of Jesus is that he was the ‘snake crusher’ that was spoken of in the garden before all of this crumbling began. He is here to put right what was put wrong beginning in Genesis chapter three. earth-full-view_6125_990x742

The lens by which the Christian views his world is Platonic, or dualistic, or gnostic Christian. We need to remember that the good news is that Jesus coming was in part the commencing of his kingdom. Perhaps not in fullness but in part. That means that not everything had to do with souls being saved for heaven in the sky. But whole people being saved, whole nations being discipled, and the whole earth taking a big sigh of relief. All of creation is one step closer to redemption. Salvation is near not just for the human soul.

Finally, the gospel is not simply a message of salvation; it is a comprehensive worldview. It must not only move around the world, but it must penetrate and transform it.

Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, James and the other apostles did not simply give us a way to do what is narrowly seen today as “theology or doctrine” but they worked in communities to examine the cultural lenses of real people and help them live their lives based on truth that would transform individuals and communities. That is, they did not do “Modern evangelical theology” as we know it but they examined and challenged worldviews. They did this because God’s master plan was being unfolded from Christ, the plan was to redeem ‘whole communities’ starting with ‘whole people’.

The Great commission was to do all of this in the nations. They brought salvation, bot not the Platonic escapism. They brought salvation built on the idea that God had come to earth to transform it and that he came back from the grave to resurrect it. The disciples preached the good news of the resurrection which defied the dualism of the Greek worldview.

Discipling, transforming, and saving humanity begins with a biblical worldview.

Discipling, transforming, and creating communities begins with a biblical worldview.

Stewarding and nurturing nature begins with a biblical worldview.

Jesus’ kingdom coming to earth as laid out in the gospels is only the beginning. But it is the beginning of discipleship, transformation, salvation, of man, his community, and his environment.

What we do now to seek his kingdom will be part of the fullness of the kingdom of God when Jesus completes what he started.

That is part of the idea of the comprehensive nature of the biblical worldview. It has been Gods desire from the beginning to restore humanity, to restore creation, and restore family to its original place. This begins with the first sin, and continues with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, Gods son, initiating the kingdom of God on earth bringing salvation for mankind, for nations, and for all the earth. This will be completed later not with the destruction of the earth and the creation of heaven but with the recreation of heaven and earth.

Thus we begin to think like God about other people, about self, about nature. All of it is valuable and wonderful to God. All of it is in the grand scheme of Gods redemption. So we should treat nature, self, and communities with love and respect because God does.

My examination of western evangelicalism is that we have been very good at spreading the Platonic dualist gospel of Jesus around the world but we have not as often spread the holistic gospel of Jesus’ kingdom on earth as in heaven.

The good news for earth and everyone living on it is that God cares about its groans and pains and will one day restore it.

 

 

 

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Doctrine, Eschatology, Genesis, New Testament, Old Testament, Salvation, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Biblical Worldview and the Whole Commission

A common buzz word around Christian circles is the “Great Commission”. Many people know of this commission from the words of Jesus in the final chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

There is perhaps two important elements of this commission that I think people miss. So I want to be direct in talking about it cause if your reading I know how easy it is to lose interest in something you might be reading on an obscure blog.

1. Original Context of the Commission

2. The Commission in today’s context.

The Commission in today’s evangelical western context is 200+ years in the making. Something wonderful has happened according to most evangelicals. That is the evangelical missions movement. The Christianity of the 1800’s until this day have been one of extraordinary growth in the way of numbers, and nations reached with the message of salvation and the establishment of a local church. For many the great commission is a call to continue this great work of church planting and spreading the message of salvation with the nations. Is this Jesus’ Great commission? Great Commission

When put into its original context and the passage observed carefully, Jesus’ commission has much more to say about the task of the church.

First of all the Book of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience. Other Gospels had Jewish characteristics but not a strictly Jewish audience in mind. Jesus was addressing the commission to his disciplers and followers and the book of Matthew was addressed to a later audience of Jews.

What does that mean? What does it have to do with how we understand the commission?

Well, In order to put it into the right context we need to know what the task of the Jewish people was. How was Jesus expanding their concept of the task given to them in the Old Testament?

Simply put, the people of Israel had a task of living according to the law of God. This is not to be understood as simply a very rigorous moral code. The Law includes their history of the origins of all of humanity and Israel’s place in the family of human kind. Then they learn their own origin as a nation. They learn of the origin of their specific task as a people with the life of Abraham. Their task is to be a blessing to nations. They learn that they will be able to be a blessing because God speaks to them and reveals the way. Nations around them learn to fear God when they see what great laws the people live by and by what wisdom they have had revealed to them. But in the end they fail to maintain that blessing to the nations. Then God in the Incarnation and following his Resurrection gives his commission anew. His commission for his disciples to bless nations by discipling them is really not to different from before, there is simply a new dynamic because Christ has removed the barrier and initiated the kingdom.

In many respects the “Evangelical Modern Commission” falls very short because we see nations becoming more Christian by ratio, and by number of churches, but we see something private, something that has brought little fruit. Rwanda was devastated after the 1900’s brought the percentage of Christians from 0% to 80% in about 80 years only to see 1 million people exterminated and calamities ensue. Christians fought Christians and little changed on the level of Rwanda’s culture.

There are many stories where the “Evangelical Movement” has boasted of its great accomplishments to plant churches and save souls. Little has been accomplished in the last 200 year by the evangelical missions movement that would seem to have touched on the original context of the great commission.

The great commission is really an extension of all of Gods commissions given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses & Israel, and David. These covenant commissions remind us that Gods goal is not redemption of souls alone but whole people, whole cultures, and the whole of creation.

What we need to know is the whole picture of Gods redemptive plan. It involved discipling nations and bringing the kingdom as well as the king into whatever communities we touch, baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Our brokenness in the Christian worldview is due to the last 200 years of our Evangelical Christian theology.

It is a theology that has rejected secular studies, or humanities, for fear of being humanistic, or secular, or a social gospel adherent. There is a real lack of knowledge with regard to creating and nurturing culture. The abandonment of the studies of humanities has created a really big problem for the defense of the Christian worldview. Because for the past 200 years there is little evidence to defend it. There is a reason to defend it and reason to live it. There are enough examples of this, there are also wonderful examples of this before this whole western strand of evangelicalism began to plague the church. In fact it is dominantly an American Evangelical disaster. America as a nation made strong efforts to break with its European past. This was seen in the movement of the church as well. What the American Christian needs is a better starting point then American Missions movement. We obviously need the whole picture of scripture, the early church, the middles ages, the reformations, the Renaissance, the enlightenment, and the birth of the modern era which has all become the foundation for the modern day, evangelical, missions movement.

We need a better worldview, our belief systems as Christians have been infected throughout a long history of influence. Gnosticism and Platonism of the early church gave us our dualistic Greek thinking. The “enlightenment” encouraged us to keep looking to Greek dualism and add to it all the ‘isms’ of Modernity; humanism, scientism, materialism, rationalism, empiricism, Marxism, existentialism Darwinism, est. These worldviews have corrupted and contributed to the Christianity that we have inherited today. Truly, the only way to cure this begins with seeking God and his truth through commitment to study of the scriptures, and through steady increase in the knowledge of history and worldviews. Then one day you might be able to hold up on one hand a christian worldview that is unparalleled to that of all other worldviews because it is not something man made but God given.

Categories: Anthropology, Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Mission, Modern, Modernism, New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy, Renaissance, Salvation, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

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