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Posts Tagged ‘paul’

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Read ’em and … weep? Just graduated from a year doing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College in Christchurch. I thought it was a fitting time to share what I had learnt with my readers! I’ve only included the essays which I thought I did a good job at and would be interesting.

Introduction to the Old Testament: This first essay looks at the theme of kingship in the Bible, with special focus on the establishment of the monarchy in 1 Samuel. This second essay attempts to outline “sexuality” in the Pentateuch and then uses Jesus’ interpretation of the law in Matthew to meditate on how best we can appropriate it. I regret not starting with a definition of sexuality and the bibliography is quite thin because the topic is so broad!

Gospel of John: Looking at the theme of divine and human agency in John, i.e. predestination and free will, I argue that each book of the Bible needs to be approached on its own terms regarding the information it gives on this. I had to write an application section as part of the assignment. Ignore that; it’s a let down. For my exegesis I asked if I could do the opening verses, 1:1-5. 3000 words on five verses! That was too much fun.

1 Corinthians: Paul presents the most in-depth discussion of celibacy in the Bible. Naturally, I was drawn to checking out what he was talking about. Our exegetical was on the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in 1:17-34. The application is a bit weak but I think all else went well!

Biblical Interpretation: A short, sharp survey of my favourite book in the New Testament, Philippians.

God and Creation: I will not post this one but if anyone is interested let me know in the comments section. This is a theological examination of the Christchurch earthquake. I definitely think it’s better to say something rather than nothing, and I have tried my best to be sensitive, though I’m still unsure what good reading it will do!

Salvation in History and Beyond: Something which I’m still confused about, Lutheran and Catholic approaches to justification. The essay is a little thin in the bibliography, but hopefully it’s a good enough introduction to the basic concerns. I dialogue with the Finnish school on Luther which sees something like deification being a part of Luther’s thought, the Joint Declaration on Justification, which is the result of many years of ecumenical discussion between Catholics and Lutherans, and a Liberationist critique of Lutheran justification.

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There’s no way I can even hope to cover at least some of these, though one might be possible. Nonetheless you might elect to indulge on my part! (They’re all theology related).

 

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10. Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, Daniel P. Umbel, with foreword by Stanley Hauerwas (Baker Academic: October 1, 2013)This book re-examines the popular thesis that Bonhoeffer attempted to assassinate Hitler, reviewing this in light of his writings, as well as exploring his ethics on pacifism. Check out the detailed and informed review from Roger Olson. Remember to read the comments section and this response to the review from one of the authors.

 

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9. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction by Michael Bird (Zondervan: October 30, 2013). Michael Bird is an Australian New Testament scholar who has spent his time among Baptists, Reformed, Presbyterians, and Anglicans: “I would describe myself as an ex-Baptist postPresbyterian Anglican.” Because he’s writing from Australia, he doesn’t need to be too careful about what he says either! Some reviewers on Amazon are not too sure about his biblical studies background and think that more experience with systematic theology would do Bird well. I’m often of the opinion that more experience in biblical studies would do systematic theologians well! He’s also a bit hilarious. One reviewer cites his comments on penal substitution: “I do not wish to disparage Jesus’ death as an atoning, vicarious, substitutionary, and penal sacrifice for sin. May I be anathematized — or even worse, may I be tied to a chair, have my eyelids taped open, and be forced to watch Rob Bell Nooma clips — should I ever downplay the cruciality of Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners” (he goes on to qualify this; it’s just too long to include). Laidlaw, the Bible College I went to this year, is probably going to be adopting this 912 page introduction as the textbook for all theology courses from now on. It would be handy to have around as a reference!

 

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8. The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context by Myron Penner (Baker Academic: June 15, 2013). Not that I’ve looked into the basis for apologetics, but taking a leaf out of Kierkegaard’s book I suppose I’ve been quite ambivalent to it. It would be interesting to see how Penner attempts to reappropriate this sometimes controversial Christian inheritance.

 

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7. The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction by Roger Olson (IVP Academic: October 31, 2013). Olson, an establised and learned teacher of modern theology, traces the major developments over the last 300 (?) years, looking at the epistemological soup from which it emerged, Scleiermacher and liberalism, American evangelicalism, all those amazing 20th century Germans, and postmodern and postliberal theologies, plus more. At 720 pages, this probably more for reference than light reading, though the latter will most probably do you a lot of good!

 

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6. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy edited by J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, and Stanley N. Gundry, with contributions from R. Albert Mohler Jr. (classical inerrancy), Peter Enns (historical-critical), Michael Bird (??), Kevin Vanhoozer (Augustinian inerrancy/something to do with theological interpretation of Scripture?), and John R. Franke (??) (Zondervan: December 10, 2013). Dear reader, during the course of writing this I bought this book on Kindle and somehow did not realise I would not have it for another couple of weeks! Anyway, Peter Enns is my homeboy. When I became a Christian I underwent a significant amount of confusion as to the role of Scripture in faith. It’s important to be aware of the different approaches out there and the strengths and weaknesses of each. Here’s a short introduction:

 

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5. Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant, and Richard Flory  (Oxford University Press: July 24, 2013). A collection of essays on global pentecostalism, including why it’s growing, pentecostalism and politics, gender, and an appendix with figures. How can you not be excited!? I’m not 100% but pretty sure it’s not the Blue Like Jazz guy.

 

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4. The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68% More Humor! by Jana Riess (self-published (?): October 26, 2013). What a project! Apparently it’s both funny and does not shy away from the controversy which the Bible itself presents. Psalm 17: “Shortest Ps. ALL nations have to praise G b/c of what he did for Israel. We’re talking to you, Egypt & Syria. PTL, already.” 2 Chronicles book introduction: “Like 2 Kings, but with northern kings and history removed. This is SOUTHERN history, y’all.” Genesis 9: “They’ve de-arked. G sends a rainbow to promise he’ll never again murder us by flood. Keeps earthquakes, tsunamis & hurricans in reserve.”

 

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3. The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today by Anthony Thiselton (Eerdmans: June 1, 2013). Thiselton has written extensively on hermeneutics, as well as penning a large and impressive Greek commentary on 1 Corinthians. He is in (mostly suspicious) dialogue with postmodernism and explores Christian responses to this. He’s in his seventies and still going strong! Again, this is another sort of reference book (579 pages), briefly laying out biblical understandings of the Holy Spirit and then tracing these through history to contemporary approaches in theology.

 

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2. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, with foreword from Rachel Held Evans (Howard Books: November 5, 2013). Gender is one of the most important issues that evangelicalism needs to grapple with at the moment! Jesus and Paul, among other voices in the Bible, have been variously praised and criticised/critiqued for their approaches to gender. Sarah Bessey sees that there is at least some positive potential there. It will be interesting to see where she takes it!

 

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1. Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress: October 17, 2013). What else did you expect? N. T. Wright is possibly the most prolific contemporary Pauline scholar. At 1700 pages (1519 of reading material), this is a force to be reckoned with. Love him or dislike him, this is required reading for anyone who wants to seriously engage with the New Testament.

 

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Bonus: The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books: No date… but quite recent!). I’m not all theology nerd! Forsyth is an etymologist, that is someone who looks at how words came about. In his new book he introduces his readers to the ancient discipline of rhetoric, that is, how to speak well.

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I’m back, but not for long. I was just reading Jeremiah and found this:

Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”

(18:11-12).

Probably would have realised earlier if I checked out a commentary, but there’s a clear allusion to this in Romans 9, the famous free-will?-no-such-thing passage:

You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(9:19-24).

In Jeremiah, Israel was asked to repent but ignored it. Interestingly, in Romans 9-11, Paul is nutting out the theological problem of why Israel has not been so keen to receive the gospel, which was first for them.

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As of 2009, Romans 8:28 was the third most read verse on Biblegateway. Try to guess the others before peeking! Anyway, you probably know it:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Jesus Culture subtly restates it in Your Love Never Fails: “You make all things work together for my good.” I wonder if this has become the dominant direction in which this verse has been taken for middle-class Christians? The community of “those who love God” has become the individual, and God’s eschatological, cosmological, redemptive good has become middle class comforts. But it isn’t all for bad. I won’t deny the consolation that this verse can be for anyone who suffers. Regardless, what’s Paul’s context? The following verse reads, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” What is conforming to Jesus’ image? Can it be anything other than following in his footsteps to the cross, “sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11)?

As much of the early church experienced persecution, it was likely the church at Rome had undergone or were anticipating some future persecution. In the same way that God works all things together for the good of the church, Paul cites Psalm 44 a few verses on, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom 8:36). Yet as Jesus died for the ungodly, not the righteous (5:6-8), the church is to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (12:14), giving themselves as living sacrifices to God (12:1; cf. Phil 2:17). I would love Romans 8:28 to be my favourite verse, but I’m not sure I’ve yet accepted all that it entails!

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This is a theme that has been developing in my theology over this year. Romans 8:18-23 I think demonstrates it well:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Here the imperfections and sufferings of creation, although they are tied to sin (5:12), are also “not of its own will.” I respect the theological qualifications of this passage that attempt to distance God from having any direct connection with sin, but the theme is prevalent throughout Romans, no doubt understanding that the same qualifications may apply: “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32). He sent the law, knowing that it would incite sin, yet that his grace would increase (5:20-21). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart for his purposes (9:17). And he used the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as part of his plan to include the Gentiles (11:15).

When God creates, the possibility of fall is intrinsic to his creation. God wills that his creation will freely respond to him so he must also allow free rebellion. Sin is not merely the individual breaking the moral law, delivered from this through repentance, but the failure of the cosmos to respond to God, of which creation is both perpetrator (sin) and victim (suffering).¹ Is God’s redemptive work in salvation history a response or always originally intended? I’m of the opinion that God creates with the plan to redeem, knowing sin is necessary to a free creation. Additionally, suffering may even be necessary for redemption to be fully realised: That which is created and freely loves God knows something of this love, but that which is created good, suffers and rejects God, and then is reconciled and redeemed, knows something else: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20).²

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¹Anthropocentric accounts of the fall must first explain why the Genesis story includes a snake.

²Not that I am involved in any great suffering so that I can give meaning to it. This at the moment is a merely intellectual exercise, although I do appreciate that when Paul speaks of suffering, he means it.

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In the process of convincing his audience of the sufficiency of faith after law, Paul presents some interesting critiques. Here is one:

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

(Romans 7:14-20).

Now my biggest difficulty with this psychologically penetrating passage is that Paul separates the will of his mind from that of his flesh. He wills do good, but, as a sinner, he wills to serve his flesh and thus does otherwise. I wonder how much of a separation exists in my own life. If I do something, how accurate is it to claim that I will to do otherwise? Of course, there are infinite factors acting upon a will, and what we name will is not singular but composed of infinite ambiguities and always undergoing changes, however subtle. I can say that reflecting on past actions produces a will that wishes to have done otherwise. Then it pledges to do otherwise should it find itself in a similar situation in future. Yet when in that situation it does not do otherwise. The possible arrived at in reflection bows to the actual of the immediate. Does this capture what Paul is communicating? Does he do evil and say “I do not will this yet I will do it anyway,” or “Some part of me at some time has willed otherwise than I will now”?

Maybe this is a further problem with sin: From the perspective of the sinner the will is obscured and indistinct from good-will. Yet with the redemptive power of the Spirit, the will begins its journey towards completion, that which is willed in reflection consistent with that which is willed in experience (8:5-8; 12:2).

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After showing that both Gentiles and Jews are under sin, Paul discloses faith as a new way to be declared righteous and then compares it to the law:

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

(Rom 3:27-28).

I wonder what the primary reason is for why the law cannot bring salvation. I had always thought it had something to do with not being able to fulfill the totality of the law’s requirements: although trying, always falling short because of sin. This is alluded to in Galatians 3:10: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law'” (cf. Rom 9:31-32). But I’m unsure if it’s the reason why Paul saw something other than the law needed. In light of this, his puzzling assertion of being blameless under the law remains (Phil 3:6). But all are sinful under the law (except Paul and a few others?) “for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). This is a major point of Paul’s, expanding on it elsewhere and noting that the although the law was good, sin took advantage of it to do evil (Rom 7:7-13; cf. 5:19-21). It is not fully developed in Galatians, however, but implied (Gal 3:21-22). What is also evident is faith as an alternative to the law which separates Jews and Gentiles, probably what is being highlighted here in Romans 3:27-28, as an answer to the first three chapters, but also elsewhere (Rom 2:14-16; 9:8, 30; Gal 2:15-16; 3:8, 28; cf. Eph 2:14-16).¹

Now, although it is not the primary reason for faith, the inability to fulfill the law through works remains to me in my context its most devastating critique. Works cannot save because they are always an incomplete expression of the law’s requirements. Works is a relative category. What makes faith an absolute category? I think this is where a Calvinist Paul would be very useful. Our faith is not an absolute category, but what Jesus has done on the cross is. The contentious pistis christou (e.g. Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16 (twice), 20), translated either “faith in” and “faith of Christ” carries an unnecessary amount of theological weight for two words! Although it would help to look at some of the literature on this, at this point I tend towards the latter for two reasons. Firstly, theologically I would find it difficult to fulfill faith if it were an absolute category, regardless how small the requirement. Faith is a relative category: though simple trust and belief is all that is asked, my trust and belief will always fall short, but this is somehow still enough, made absolute by the grace of God. And secondly, just that, that God’s grace, sovereignty and initiative are such a dominant Pauline themes (e.g. Rom 3:3-4; 4:4-5; 5:6-8, 21; 11:30-32; Gal 2:21; 3:18).

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¹Maybe Paul was blameless in a sense to whatever interpretation of the law he subscribed, yet in this he was blind to the sinfulness of persecuting the church…?

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