Posts Tagged With: N.T. Wright

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

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 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

Luthers Schism. And, ” The Dark Ages? “

Please read this with an ounce of whimsical and a pound of sincerity.  Martin Luther, 95 Theses

I was kept up last night about what the issue at hand was for Martin Luther. I am preparing for teaching the book of Romans. Since Romans and Galatians are the two books Luther found the most life changing and useful in his endeavors for change in the church I have been thinking a bit about him. I have read and written quite a bit on the middles ages preceding the reformations. As I have often set out to defend the church of the middle ages it is also something I have aimed to clarify, that the church was no doubt in need of reform.

I have laid out in other places that the church indeed had a couple of reforms take place throughout the middle ages. Specifically the Reform of Pope Gregory VII. Though Gregory VII denied the honor saying that honor was to be given to Gregory the Great whose name he took as Pope. Pope Gregory the Great never sought to have a position in the high church. Against his will he was forced into office. Though it was essential for the church to have actually given the Papal office to a man of humility and integrity. Pope Gregory VII sought to honor Gregory the Great by taking his name and continuing the work of reform that Gregory the first had brought. Simony (the buying of priestly offices) was a serious problem in the church. Along with the buying of offices by corrupt men came the depravity of the priesthood. These were area of great concern for the early reformers. 5751120-M

So Luther had sought to bring about his own reforms. Though he went further than any others had ever gone before. His challenge of the Pope’s authority took on greater meaning as the Papal bull of 1302 ‘Unam Sanctum’ was drawn up. A document that most historians consider to be the most extreme statements of Papal authority ever made. So the problems in the church had never been worse then the century leading up to the time of Luther. It is also of important note that Luther was not the first monk to respond to the abuse within the church in those early times. John Wycliffe in 1384 attempted reform in England, then the Czech Jan Hus in 1415 in Prague. Later we come to Luther in Germany, Calvin and Zwingli in Switzerland (there influence spreading throughout other parts of Europe into Scotland, Germany, France, and Hungary.) This is only to mention a few of the locations breaking into reform or schism with the Roman Catholic Church. There was a great need that the church had for change, reform, and even schism. It is important to note that it was reform that men like Luther sought. But they soon realized they could only settle for a break with the previous Roman Catholic institution.

Thus the story of the church throughout the middle ages is rife with corruptions, wheat and tares. But it remains the church until a split has taken place. Though there has been some actual reform in the Roman Catholic church there has also been a sinking into more error. The Roman Catholic Church like any other denomination has issues that need to be addressed, some more serious then the rest. Clarity about salvation and papal infallibility to name just two. The Catholic church was not wrong to attempt to exercise some control over the translation of scriptures for the sake of protecting them and assuring they would be translated well. The need for the Reforms I believe had less to do with the availability of bibles in the language of the people then it had to do with a) how someone gets saved, b) who has the authority. The need was to recognize scripture as having authority where the Pope did not, and for salvation by Faith and Grace rather then by mere association and participation in catholic church rites. The issue at hand with regards to common people having access to scripture was about the need for people to learn to read at all.

The Latin Vulgate could be read by anyone with an education in most of Western Europe. If you were from Eastern Europe you spoke and likely read in Greek and could read the bible. If you were form Africa there were a number of translations available to those who could read. Even in Europe there are a handful of German translations the predate Luther’s bible.  Again, only to name a few. Bibles were available, though not as many because the printing press was innovated around the time of Luther’s reform and made it possible for Luther’s bible and theological material to spread quicker to the public then any other materiel before it. In fact though Luther translated his work into German it would still only have been readable by someone who could actually read. That is the reason that during the middle ages if you wanted to hear the reading of scripture in your own language you had but to go to a church where that was made possible. It is therefore easier to say there was a great need for the printing press and more frequent work done to translate scripture into other languages. This was a task that the Catholic Church was up for but did so at a slower rate then we would be satisfied by. They were scared of letting just anyone take on this task. We take this for granted today because we know that now large teams of scribes work together to carefully translate the bible from its original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text.

I feel sad discounting the work of scribes and devout monks who worked hard to translate and copy the scripture before the printing press. Their work is significant and important to say the least. But I think we bring shame on the church and its saints by repeating the mistake of calling this broad era of 1,000 years ‘dark’. Luther’s challenge and subsequent schism with the church of Rome was necessary. But was this an era of 1,000 years of darkness that preceded Luther? Hardly.

Though, it is not easy because of the blanket statements that have continued to shape our thought about history in that period. Instead of blanket statements and generalizations about the churches control over western Europe it helps to see that Europe was fractured into many kingdoms throughout most of the middle ages.  The church only gained “control” or at best “influence” over the kingdoms at certain times, during certain reigns, in certain places. Then, there is the dilemma of the state or kingdom exercising its “control” or “influence” over the church. You see it is not always the church with the power to control. Many of the corruptions came because of the opposite being true. Though both had its way of corrupting the right influence of the church in a culture and period of time. Sadly the middle ages had its moments of Wenzelsbibel03darkness but I would hardly call it an era of 1,000 years of darkness. If there is a dark ages within the church then I would say it existed during the 10th-12th Centuries leading up to the time of Luther. But the ‘dark ages’ was a term given to the entire period from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment. It is a secular term used to smear religion and Christianity and the very idea of God being something to be banished from the public sphere so mankind could get on with its anonymous progress. By using it as protestants we simply mean it to be a slant against a certain kind of church rather then the church. But by using the term we give credence to the movement of the “enlightenment” and its anti-God (not just anti-catholic) bias. What we aught to do as Christians is recognize what Christ said about his church that it would be full of good wheat and creeping tares that corrupt and distort its message of hope. We need to do a better job observing the details and avoid criticizing those who came before us. Thus I would not even go so far as to use the ‘dark age’ term as it is a secular term used to condemn the church as a whole of holding back human progress. When in fact the period from the 10th-12th century was one of the most exciting times of technological and scientific exploration by Catholic scholastic Universities across Europe giving way to the Scientific Revolution of the 13th-14th century. Again, blanket statements and generalizations confuse and are the opposite of learning. If you want to know truth about this issue you need to look closer and observe more carefully.

Luther’s Reforms/schism was needed for the church as a whole to go on being the true church of which the Catholic church is part of and always has been, even though it has had its issues and still does.

The “Dark Ages” (a term coined by Petrarch, an Italian scholar, in the 1330’s to describe the decline of Latin literature) was a term used heavily by enlightenment figures as a sweeping criticism of the Roman Catholic church and the lack of technological, scientific, philosophical, and artistic progress as the result. To which I say, “ABSOLUTELY POPPYCOCK!”

A closer look is warranted for the serious Christian scholar, minister, and social activist. Dark Ages is a term to avoid in order to ever find unity with Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a term to avoid in order to not invite unwarranted criticism on the body of Christ of which we are a part. It is a term to avoid because it is far to general and directed (even by the most well meaning folks) at the church and not other important spheres of society of which God is also glorified in.

Read these books for further study.

1. Church History in Plane Language – Bruce L. Shelley

2. The Triumph of Christianity – Rodney Stark

3. The book that made your world – Vishal Mangalwadi

4. For the Glory of God – Rodney Stark

5. Hinges of History Series – Thomas Cahill

6. The Genesis of Science – James Hannam

7. The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark

8. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature – C.S. Lewis

9. Story of Christianity: Part 1 & Part 2 – Justo Gonzalez

10. Those Terrible Middles Ages – Regine Pernoud

11. Scripture and the Authority of God – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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

Evangelicals: Are we merely speaking to ourselves?

wpid-wp-1395868938417.jpgFrancis Schaeffer explains in the first chapter of his first book, that there has been titanic shifts from the old medieval era into the modern age. Philosophers were the first and are typically always the first to speak of this shift and to accept it. Then it can be traced into art, music, and then the general culture. Then the sub-culture holding off the longest against the tides of modernism are the theologians. Though those to have had their day and the shift has made its way into theology.

As we consider this shift we also may be considering the shift into the Post-Modern era. This shift has begun and taken affect in the sub-cultures of Philosophy, Art, and Music, as well in the general culture. We can also see its effect in theology as the church begins to ’emerge’ from its modern, and/or pre-modern nature.

The-God-Who-Is-There(1)Schaeffer’s point in the first chapter of his first book, is that if we do not understand this shift in the culture, academia, art, and theology then when we speak we may only be speaking to ourselves. We are like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand thinking he has hid himself from the danger and is soon devoured by the lion. We have shrunk deeper into our own circular thinking, safe inside the bubble of our own theology. This is Darrow Miller description of the evangelical community following the enlightenment, and the emergence of Darwinian Science and secular humanism in western culture. While evangelicals might assume they are above the line of despair they are fooled. Their optimism for theological worldview is wounded by its inability to engage in what has been deemed secular culture, secular philosophy, secular arts. Theology itself has fallen below the line of despair, it is as Ranald Macaulay says, a one-legged Christianity.

These assessments of Christian faith and its inability to relate to culture is because we have made our faith something private, not appropriate for public life. We are in large part responsible for this style of wounded Christianity.

Another analogy for modern evangelicalism is, the museum. Instead of being an active soldier who defends and goes on offensive to fight for the aims of the superior the evangelical community is like a private museum. Evangelicals have lost ground to this modern tide because of their inability to defend the gospel at the forefront of the spheres of life as well as their failure to think and act as an educated person, understanding and at war with the tide.

We need to get better. We simply need to begin fixing what we have screwed up. I want to conclude this post by recommending a few Christian figures I believe have been getting this right. I think that the next step is outward, into unfamiliar fields of study and discussion. Philosophy, Science, Sociology, History, Art, Music, and the general culture.

My suggestions for doing this are to start with literature and biblical worldview. Educate yourself. Address false dichotomies of sacred and secular.

Use these authors, read their books, find their audio and video lectures online.

C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, N.T. Wright, John H Walton, Rodney Stark, Vishal Mangalwadi, Darrow Miller, Francis Schaeffer. Study Philosophy and its history, study the history of science, study history.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Authority, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Philosophy, Post-Modern, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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