According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, September 7, 2012

Evangelical Hermeneutics vs. Pauline Hermeneutics

Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical?
by Peter Enns
May 24, 2012
Even when you account for 2000 years of cultural differences between Paul and Evangelicalism, the answer is no.
Why? Because Paul didn’t treat the Bible the way mainstream Evangelicalism says you need to.
The way Paul handled his Bible–what we call the Old Testament–would keep him off the short list for openings to teach Bible in many Evangelical seminaraies and Christian colleges. Heck, John Piper, John MacArthur, and R. C. Sproul probably wouldn’t let Paul lead a home Bible study, at least not without supervision.
Here is the main reason why:
  • For Evangelicals, the Old Testament leads to the Gospel story. For Paul, the Old Testament is transformed by the Gospel.
  • For Evangelicals, the Old Testament, read pretty much at face value [(literally)], anticipates Jesus. For Paul, the Old Testament is reshaped in order to conform to Jesus.
  • For Evangelicals, the Bible is God’s final authority. For Paul, Jesus is the final authority to which the Bible must bend.
You see, Paul had a monumental theological and hermeneutical task before him. The Old Testament is centered on Israel’s need for obedience to the law of Moses in order to stay in God’s favor–what the Old Testament often calls “life.” God’s favor is most clearly demonstrated by Israel’s remaining in the Promised Land–if they obey, they stay; if they disobey, the are cast out (which is what the exile to Babylon was all about). And, as an added benefit, when Israel is faithful to God, the other nations will take notice and also bend the knee to Yahweh, Israel’s God.
  1. Obedience to law;
  2. Holding onto the land (and along with it worship in the temple);
  3. Conversion of the Gentiles. All central elements of being an Israelite.
The Gospel of Christ that Paul preached said:
  1. Law was a parenthesis, a temporary measure;
  2. Holding on to land is now a non-issue;
  3. Gentiles can claim Israel’s God as their own as Gentiles.
Clearly something has to give. For Paul, it was the Old Testament.
Paul cites the Old Testament 106 times; 59 times in Romans. For example, look at the string of quotations in Romans 9:25-29. Paul is arguing for Gentile inclusion in the plan of God–Gentiles do not need to be circumcised, thus following Jewish law. They are included as Gentiles simply by faith in Jesus the messiah.
Paul could have simply said, “Jesus is here and we are turning a new page. From now on we welcome Gentiles with open arms without them becoming Jewish first.”
That would have been a pretty radical message all by itself, but Paul gets even more radical. He argues that in the Old Testament itself teaches that Gentiles are to be included among Israel solely on the basis of faith–not obeying the law. Paul claims that Gentile inclusion without circumcision was God’s plan all along.
If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you would be right to wonder how Paul is going to pull that off, since the Old Testament is so adamant about maintaining the distinction between Jew and Gentile.
In this string of quotations in Romans 9, Paul cites two passages from Hosea and two from Isaiah to support his claim that Gentile inclusion is part of God’s plan. The problem, though, is that all four of these passages have nothing to do with Gentile inclusion. They are all aimed at God’s mercy at restoring Israel.
This is not a minor point. Paul is not getting a little creative with some passages, tweaking them a bit, teasing some fresh angle out of them. He is saying that these passages support his Gentile agenda, even though a plain reading shows unequivocally that they are about Israel.
Flip over to Romans 10:5-8. Paul places two passages from the law of Moses side by side–and he pits them against each other.
The first is Leviticus 18:5, where Yahweh tells Moses that the Israelites are to “Keep my decrees, for the man who obeys them will live by them.” Note that keeping the law is assumed to be attainable and a benefit to those who do so.
But in very next verse Paul brings in another passage from the Law, Deuteronomy 30:13-14. In Deuteronomy, these verses have a very clear meaning. The commands that God is giving to the Israelites are doable. They are not out of anyone’s reach. They are not up in the heavens or somewhere acoross the ocean. They are right here–”in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
The Israelites were expected to keep these laws, and keeping them brings life, which is sort of what Leviticus 18:5 says. The two passages are in complete harmony.
But Paul contrasts these two verses to pit law against faith.
For Paul, Leviticus 18:5 is correct insofar as it goes, but Paul clearly does not present obedience to the law as a benefit to anyone–which contradicts the point of the passage.
Paul’s handling of Deuteronomy 30:13-14 should, by all standards, drive mainstream Evangelicals crazy. In Deuteronomy, God tells the Israelites to keep these doable-written-on-your-heart commands. Paul says it is not about commands at all but about having faith in Christ, apart from the law of Moses.
Either Paul can’t read or something else is up.
Something else is up.
Paul handles his Bible the way he does for two reasons:
(1) Judaism has a long history of manipulating scripture in the interest of supporting theological arguments. Paul, in case you need reminding, was a Jew trained in this way of using scripture.
(2) Paul’s grand goal in Romans is to make the case that Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing before God; Paul’s angle is to show how the law itself made that same point all along–which requires Paul to take get very creative with the Old Testament.
If anyone else were doing this–me, you, the Pope, Jehovah’s Witnesses, an emergent pastor, a liberal theologian, a first year seminary student–Evangelicals would call it “distorting the inerrant Word of God.” Paul, however, either (1) gets a free pass because Paul is an apostle (and apparently it’s OK for apostles to do this), or (2) Paul’s reading of the Old Testament is defended as being consistent with the Old Testament meaning (which leads to overly subtle and back-breaking arguments).
Here is the great irony. Without question, as a first century Jew, Paul believed his scripture was God’s Word. He had what Evangelicals like to call a “high view” of scripture.
That is correct. It’s just that Paul’s high view and an Evangelical high view are clearly not the same. I’m just glad Evangelicals weren’t around at the time to try to stifle Paul, to keep him from landing his gig as apostle to the Gentiles. We would have missed out on a lot.


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