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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - Paul, the Law, and Jesus

NT Wright, Paul, the Law, and Jesus
The point is that God’s plan, through Israel, for the rescue of the human race (and thus for the rescue and restoration of the whole creation) meant that Israel had to become the place where ‘sin’, the personified power opposed to God’s plan and purpose, would be ‘increased’, would ‘appear as sin’, would ‘become exceedingly sinful’. And Torah was playing its God-given role within that strange purpose” (510).
On Romans 7:14-23
Nothing whatever is gained, exegetically or theologically, by supposing that the ‘law’ in the last few lines of that passage is a ‘principle’ or ‘system’. The whole passage has been about the law, the Mosaic law, the Torah; and the frustration the passage expresses is neither (a) the psychological torment of the young Jew, discovering law and lust at the same time, nor (b) the puzzle of the existentialist, trying to seize life by the performance of the categorical imperative only to discover that this produces inauthenticity, nor yet (c) the frustration of the Christian, wanting to serve God wholeheartedly yet finding that sin continues to clog the wheels (510).
FIFTH - Leading to yet another point about the Torah: Jesus, the representative Israelite, does the Torah and dies, and the Spirit is sent so the Torah is now done by the people of God. Wright expresses this in his usually fast paced and side-glancing manner:
There, through the Messiah’s death and resurrection, and by implication (7.6) the work of the Spirit (which will be spelled out more fully in chapter 8), a people has been constituted ‘in the Messiah’, a people who have themselves died ‘in him’, thereby leaving behind solidarity with Adam, and solidarity with the Torah-under-Adam, where Israel according to the flesh, continues to languish (6.14). It is this people, this "in-Messiah" people, this led-by-the-spirit people, this died-to-sin-and-living-to-God people (6.11) that now, with great but comprehensible paradox, simultaneously find themselves (a) ‘not under Torah’ (6.14) and also (b) ‘fulfilling the decrees of Torah’ (2.26). This new-covenant people is ‘not under Torah’ in the sense that it is not ‘Israel according to the flesh’, living in the place where Torah goes on pronouncing the necessary and proper sentence of condemnation. But it ‘fulfills the decrees of Torah’, and indeed ‘keeps God’s commandments’, insofar as it is the "Deuteronomy-30 people" in whom what had been impossible under Torah, because of Israel’s fleshly identification with Adam, is now accomplished by the spirit (513).
Or, as he now sums it all up:
Once we grasp how the plots and sub-plots of the story work, then, we can be quite clear that for Paul, Torah is the divine gift which defines and shapes God’s people. God’s people follow their strange vocation through the long years of preparation, through the period (particularly) of failure, curse and exile, and finally to the unexpected (and indeed ‘apocalyptic’) events which Paul sees both as the fulfilment of all the earlier promises [of God], and the new creation which has arrived as a fresh divine gift. Torah accompanies them all the way - like a faithful servant doing what is required in each new eventuality, taking on the different roles demanded by, and at the different stages of, Israel’s journey, to finally attain a [radically] new kind of ‘fulfilment’ in the heart-circumcision promised by Deuteronomy and supplied by the Spirit. At one moment in the narrative the moon is waning; at another it is full; at another, it helps to bury the dead. This narrative framework frees Torah from the burden of always playing the villain in a Lutheran would-be reading of Paul, or the hero in a Reformed one. It offers, instead, a chance for Torah to be what Paul insists it always was: God’s law, holy and just and good, but given a task which, like the task of the Messiah himself, would involve terrible paradox before attaining astonishing resolution. The Torah shines with borrowed light, and the horned dilemmas it has presented to exegetes are only resolved when the complete cycle of waxing and waning has played itself out (516).
Paul and Jesus

Now what about Jesus, where does he fit in the story/stories?
At the same time, it is important to stress that ‘the story of Jesus in Paul’, were we to tell it, would always appear as the denouement of some other story or set of stories. Paul does not introduce, or appear to think of, Jesus as a character facing a task or problem, finding it difficult or impossible, needing to seek fresh help or to ward off difficulties, and finally succeeding in the task or surmounting the problem. As with Torah, only in quite a different mode, everything Paul says about Jesus belongs within one or more of the other stories, of the story of the creator and the cosmos, of the story of God and humankind, and/or the story of God and Israel. Because these three layers of plot interlock in the way I have described, what Paul says about Jesus, and what he could have said were he to have laid out his worldview-narrative end-to-end for us to contemplate, makes the sense it does as the crucial factor within those other narratives. Thus there really is, in one sense, a Pauline ‘story of Jesus’, but it is always the story of how Jesus enables the other stories to proceed to their appointed resolution (517).
There are, then, three interlocking stories, diagrammed on p. 521:
Here is the point of all these pretty little diagrams, and I hope this exposition functions redemptively in their direction too, after the scepticism even of some of their former users. When we understand the triple narrative which forms the basis of Paul’s worldview, we can see the way in which, bewildering though it often seems to us, Jesus the Messiah functions for him in relation to all three stories simultaneously. As Israel’s Messiah, he has accomplished Israel’s rescue from its own plight, passing judgment on the evil that has infiltrated even his own people. As Israel-in-person, which is one of the things a Messiah is (see below), he has completed Israel’s own vocation, to bring rescue and restoration to the human race, passing judgment on human wickedness in order to establish true humanness instead. And as the truly human one (Psalm 8; blended with Psalm 110; as in 1 Corinthians 15) [Jesus] has re-established God’s rule over the cosmos, defeating the enemies that had threatened to destroy the work of the creator in order to bring about new creation. Jesus does not have an independent ‘story’ all on his own. He plays the leading role within all the others. He is Adam; he is Israel; he is the Messiah. Only when we understand all this does Paul’s worldview, particularly its implicit complex narrative, make sense (521).
Summing It All Up

There are then three interlocking stories:
1. Creation was supposed to be looked after by Adam, but he sinned and so lost ‘the glory of God’ (3.23). He is replaced not just by the Messiah but by [the church] - ‘those who receive the abundance of grace, and of the gift of covenant membership, of “being in the right”’: they will ‘reign in life through the one man Jesus the Messiah’ (5.17). By this means, creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption (8.18–26). That is the big story, the overarching plot. This is how creation itself is to be renewed. This is the ‘cosmic’ story. 
2. Humans in their sin, which prevents them from attaining their true vocation, are rescued through ‘the obedience of the one man’. Here, ‘obedience’ has taken the place of ‘faithfulness’, in 3.22 and elsewhere, as a summary of the Messiah’s completion of the work marked out for Israel.189 This is (perhaps unhappily named) the ‘anthropological’ story, which is not to be played off against the ‘cosmic’, which it is designed to serve. It is because humans are rescued from their sin that they are able once more to play their part in God’s worldwide purposes. 
3. The specific problem of Israel, highlighted and exacerbated by the arrival of the Torah (5.20), has been met, and more than met, by the grace which has abounded in the Messiah. [Jesus] has done on Israel’s behalf what Israel could not do, and also has done for Israel itself what Israel needed to be done. His Israel-work rescues Adam’s people; his Adam-work rescues creation itself. This is the ‘covenantal’ vision, which again must not be played off against either the ‘anthropological’ or the ‘cosmic’ stories. It is because the Messiah has fulfilled Israel’s calling that humans are rescued from idolatry, sin and death (531).

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