Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When God Doesn't Answer Prayer

By Dorothy Greco
February 18, 2013

Dorothy GrecoDorothy Littell Greco divides her time not-so-neatly between writing, making photographs, pastoring, and keeping three teenage sons adequately fed. She lives and works in the Boston area and is a reluctant Patriots/Celtics/Bruins/RedSox fan. You can check out more of her words and images at www.dorothygreco.com 
When God Doesn't Answer Prayer...
At least, how we want Him to answer it.
Our all-powerful, all-loving God encourages us to ask Him for what we want. But sometimes, after we’ve put it out there, He seems to turn and walk in the opposite direction. We are left with questions. Why did He want us to pray if He was just going to say no, anyway? We were praying “wrong” in the first place? What are we supposed to do now?
I have repeated this cycle multiple times. More than a decade ago, I began experiencing unrelenting fatigue, muscle soreness and waning strength. Countless tests and doctor visits later, I received the diagnosis of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. For the next five years, I politely asked God for healing, then demanded healing, then finally gave up hope for healing.
As a result, I have been accused of lacking faith by earnest friends and prayer ministers. I’ve confessed and repented of every sin I can think of, wept, protested and spent more than a few days crippled by despair.
We tend to have one of two responses when what we asked for is not given in a timely fashion: trying harder or angry blaming.
Apparently, I am not the only one who struggled because of unanswered prayer. Last week, I invited friends to fill in the blank on my Facebook wall: “Unanswered prayer ... ” I received more than 40 responses, including the following: is deeply disappointing, makes me feel unloved, feels like a betrayal, is confusing, can be overwhelming, or is business as usual.
Some of our bewilderment emerges because we actually believe that God is all powerful and that He not only wants us to come to him like little children, but also encourages us to ask Him for everything from babies, to spouses, to jobs, to housing to help losing weight. Hence—the disconnect when He doesn’t always give us what we want.
This paradox reminds me of our youngest son’s attitude at Christmas. He starts composing his gift list in September, and for the next four months, he will revise, add to and shamelessly share it. Yet when Christmas day rolls around, he is filled with dread—because experience has shown him that though we are good parents, we don’t always give him precisely what he requested. He has told us, “Why bother asking me if you aren’t going to buy me exactly what I want?”
Isn’t this how we feel about our heavenly Father? We tend to have one of two responses when what we asked for is not given in a timely fashion: trying harder or angry blaming.
My five years of spiritual activism post-diagnosis offer you a snapshot of trying harder. I succeeded only in wearing myself out and spiraling deeper into doubt. None of us can make ourselves worthy—that only comes as a gift from Jesus.
Angry blaming similarly leads us into a dead-end. In night four of an insomnia jag, I remember spewing at God, “Why don’t you help me get to sleep? The Bible tells me that you give sleep to those you love! Don’t you love me?” Powerlessness is its own form of suffering. When we’ve run out of other options, anger and blame give us the illusion of control. But it really is only an illusion. It didn’t help my faith and it certainly didn’t help me to sleep.
For us to avoid these and other unhelpful responses when our prayers aren’t answered the way we’d hoped, we need to zoom out and glimpse the larger story.
What if, rather than interpreting God’s “no” or “not yet” as punishment or indifference, we view it as an invitation to be transformed?
Every day, there is an epic battle being waged for our hearts. The enemy of our soul has an entire arsenal at his disposal but his go-to weapon is doubt. Adam and Eve didn’t disobey because they craved the apple, but because they fell for the serpent’s ruse that God was withholding good things from them. If you ever find yourself doubting God’s love or questioning His character, push back—hold to what you know to be true.
Expressing gratitude also helps to defuse our despair and suffering. Due to fibromyalgia, I can no longer book all-day photo shoots—but I can still see. I can no longer play basketball with my sons—but I can walk and I constantly thank God for these gifts. Turning our hearts to God in gratitude has the capacity to flip our disappointment upside down.
Finally, we must be willing to explore any attachment to entitlement that might contribute to our resentment of how God has answered our prayer. We live in a consumer society and have become accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it. Jesus does not promise to give us everything that we want but rather asks us to sacrifice everything—including our own desires for a specific outcome or result. This changes everything when it comes to how we pray.
What if, rather than interpreting God’s “no” or “not yet” as punishment or indifference, we view it as an invitation to be transformed? C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, “We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”
The possibility that waiting and suffering have the capacity to transform us offers us profound comfort while crushing our fear of God being fickle. Rather than needing God to answer my accusatory questions of “why,” I am free to ask, “How can I find You in the midst of this?” This inquiry provides us with the traction we need to move beyond our pain and into the transformation that God has for us.

Understanding Christianity's Jewishness

Christian Judaism
by Scot McKnight
Mar 20, 2012
E.P. Sanders famously said the problem with Judaism for contemporaries of Paul was that it was not Christian.
Sanders was a lightning rod, and at the same time, a lighthouse, for scholars in the late 1970s and 80s, and his legacy — usually called the “new perspective” (language used by Tom Wright and Jimmy Dunn) — has been that while there is a clear difference between “Judaism” and “Christianity,” that relationship in the 1st Century — and perhaps a lot longer — was not so much two kinds of religion but varieties within one religion, namely Judaism.
So the debate is often, Do we call “it” Christian Judaism (a Christian form of Judaism) or Jewish Christianity?
[My own opinion is to call it "Messianic Christianity," even as our faith is the same, making both one and the same, and placing the onus on us to understand the Jewishness of Christianity; and on the Jewish Christian on understanding its transnational, transcultural, transtemporal implications. - res]
And what are the consequences of seeing Christianity — the 1st Century kind — as a kind of Judaism?
Daniel Boyarin, in his new and (for the first time for Boyarin) accessible book, The Jewish Gospels, proposes his way of understanding the relationship of Jesus-following Jews in the context of non-Jesus-following (or is that Jesus-non-following?) Jews. His book deserves a wide reading, even if I think there a chunks of chunks of issues not covered and crying out for some explanation. Boyarin is one of my favorite Jewish scholars who interprets earliest Christianity, though I have to admit that his writing is often very difficult to comprehend. His first work, The Radical Jew (about Paul) and then his Border Lines are important contributions to understanding the original relation of the two groups — Jesus followers and those Jews who did not follow Jesus.
I make the following observations from his book:
First, for Boyarin the key or secret to comprehending earliest Christology — how Jesus became a “part” of God (his word, an odd one to be sure) — is Daniel 7. Over and over he takes the reader back to Daniel 7 to explain how Jesus understood himself and his mission in his Jewish world.
Second, Boyarin belongs in a history of religions school that contends ancient Israel combined El with YHWH, and at least one main version was that El was the older god and YHWH the younger one, though eventually YHWH takes over El. This version of how God developed among Israelites finds a similar version in the relation of the Ancient of Days with the “one like a Son of Man” in Daniel 7, and he makes the thoroughly acceptable suggestion that the Son of Man is “part” of God — sometimes he says a “second God” — because the only one who rides on the clouds of heaven in the Old Testament is God. That makes Son of Man divine.
So, when Jesus uses Son of Man, he is referring to Daniel 7 (this is a major issue for many NT scholars), and if he is then “Son of Man” is a divine title while “Son of God” is a kingly, more human, Davidic title. So Boyarin is turning simplistic but quite traditional theology on its head.

[e.g., The traditional understanding is that "Son of Man" refers to Jesus' affinity with humanity - His human-ness; whereas "Son of God" referes to Jesus' affinity to divinity - His God-ness. However, this is simply read by our English eyes and ears ("man," "God") whereas by Boyarin's account, we are to read those titles biblically - in their context with Scripture. One that I much prefer, even though I understanding the practical symantic purpose of relating our English preference for Jesus' hypostatic union - that He is fully, and equally, both God and man, in His spirit and flesh. - res]
Third, there is good Jewish evidence supporting this kind of Christology at work in Judaism well before Jesus, so when Jesus called himself Son of Man, and with that meant divinity and messianic vocation, there was nothing offensive or non-Jewish about his claim. Boyarin points to 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, and he’s right here — if it can be proven that these texts are pre-Jesus [and hence, apolcalytic - res].
Fourth, Jesus lived an entirely kosher life. Mark 7: 19′s famous statement is not about making all foods clean — so that he was saying you can eat bacon and eggs with milk and still be kosher — but about saying that foods are not sources of purity but instead morals are. Bodily fluids make one unclean; food doesn’t. Food is kosher but this is not the same as purity. Jesus was contesting the addition to the Torah — making foods purity/impurity — by the Pharisees. (Foods are either permitted or not permitted; foods are not clean/unclean or pure/impure.)

[In my church experiences, many times I have found well-meaning Christians making this same mistake; esp. my Christian Torah brethren, who emphasize the importance of observing diets, dress, calendar dates, and other such Jewish decorums for Christian rigor. Under Jesus and Paul, each say this is not necessary. For myself, I have decided my Christianity is Jewish, but that I am not a Jewish Christian, but a Messianic Christian, freed from all laws except God's law to love. - res]
Fifth, suffering was an element of the messianic vision in the Jewish world — and here he sketches stuff in Isaiah 53, how Jews read Isaiah 53, how messianic Jews today are keen on this connection (he says this is a bit embarrassing to some orthodox Jews), how Isaiah 43 was messianic for Jews … etc..
The result for Boyarin: it was the 4th Century and 5th Century that split Judaism into two religions, Christianity and Judaism. The heresiologists of those days said one had to believe one version of the Jewish vision of Jesus (Trinitarian version) or they were not Christian; and Jewish scholars then pronounced such views heresy. Thus we have two religions.
There are problems in his theory, not the least of which is the relationship of Jews and (non-Jewish) Christians already in the 2d Century — Justin Martyr et al — but the big vision is right: Christianity was part of Judaism and everything about Jesus was within the Jewish story.

The New Perspective Revised - "Paul and Messianic Judaism," Parts 4-1

Messianic Judaism: An Introduction
Jewish life is life in a concrete, historical community. Thus, Messianic Jewish groups must be fully part of the Jewish people, sharing its history and its covenantal responsibility as a people chosen by God.
At the same time, faith in Yeshua also has a crucial communal dimension. This faith unites the Messianic Jewish community and the [Gentile] Christian Church, which is the assembly of the faithful from the nations who are joined to Israel through the Messiah.
Together the Messianic Jewish community and the Christian Church constitute the ekklesia, the one Body of Messiah, a community of Jews and Gentiles who in their ongoing distinction and mutual blessing anticipate the shalom of the world to come.
Do you think separable bodies — the Gentile Christian Church and the Messianic Jewish community — fractures the One Body? Do you think it is what Paul had in mind in his mission?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Where Christians Got it Wrong with Paul
by Scot McKnight

Mark Nanos is on a mission to expound for readers of Paul a Paul who never broke from Judaism. His project, and here we are sketching some of what he says in the book edited by Mike Bird called The Apostle Paul, is both about rhetoric and theology. Nanos, who plays golf well and is a Jewish scholar of Paul, has been stumping for his themes for more than a decade.
The rhetoric is clear: Christians have explained their faith, in particular the theology of Paul, at the expense of Judaism. They have made Paul a champion of freedom by arguing Judaism was slavery, Paul a champion of universalism by arguing Judaism was exclusive and ethnic, and Paul a champion of a religion of grace, faith and love while Judaism comes off looking like a religion of merit, works and legalism. In a strange irony, Nanos then says “those values that Christians champion… are instead inferior to the values Jews actually uphold” (163). I get his point, but he’s done the same thing he’s accused Christian scholars of doing: comparative descriptions come off as comparative denunciations. But Nanos has the larger end of the stick on this one; he’s right; Christians have failed to comprehend Judaism because they’ve settled for caricatures that they can use to champion their own faith. Though Luke Timothy Johnson, in his response, thinks Nanos has kept a binary opposition by talking about Judaism as if it were “normative Judaism.” Johnson’s contention is that Judaism was more diverse than Nanos suggests. And Campbell thinks this perception of Judaism derives from Melanchthon.
Can you point to a text or texts where you think the Jewish apostle, Paul (or Peter), did not observe Torah? Do you think Paul observed Torah completely? Would you say Paul’s gospel is a kind of Judaism, but still Judaism? Or did he crack the door?
The theology of Paul, then, needs another explanation. If the traditional view made Jews legalists, the new perspective (Nanos argues) makes Jews ethnocentric. He wants to argue neither of these categories belong on the table.
Paul never left Judaism and the only difference between Paul and other forms of Judaism is that Paul’s Judaism had Jesus as the Messiah. Paul was Torah-observant, never left being Torah-observant [I'd quote Acts 23:6 here, but he doesn't; there Paul says "I am a Pharisee"], and Paul’s mission was to expand the Shema faith of Judaism — One God — to include Gentiles. So, Paul’s mission was including Gentiles into one Judaism. Freedom from the Torah is only for non-Jewish Christians; Jewish Christians remained under the Torah. Schreiner’s response focuses on Paul no longer being Torah observant, and he points to Peter in Galatians 2:11-14 (eating with Gentiles) and Paul saying in Romans 14:20 that all foods were clean.
It is big, then, for Nanos to say a major cutting edge between Paul and other forms of Judaism was that Paul permitted Gentile “conversion” without becoming “proselytes” to Judaism. You could convert to Judaism but did not have to become a Jew by undergoing circumcision. Paul opposes proselyte circumcision for Gentile “converts” to Judaism, because circumcision entails Torah observance, and Gentiles don’t have to obey the whole Torah.
Nanos, then, has a narrowed meaning for “works of the law”: it’s about circumcision. Works of the law ultimately leads to changed ethnicity or to ethnic Jewishness.
Nanos is not alone in thinking Paul didn’t have a “conversion” but instead a “calling” to the Gentiles. I think Nanos’ point can be sustained in some ways but his perception of “conversion” could benefit from conversion theory studies themselves, in which conversion is measured by identity change and not by swapping religions. So, I would argue was converted to a whole new frame of mind but that doesn’t necessarily mean he changed religions, which is the (anachronistic, a la LT Johnson’s response) categories he presses into service. Nanos thinks the term “conversion” muddies the water, and he’s right. So he uses “calling,” which I think muddies the water. Paul’s change is more than simply vocational. He saw everything anew through and in Christ. So convert is a good word, but I would want to respect Nanos’ concern to make sure this does not necessarily mean Paul swapped religions.
The issue, for Nanos then, between Paul’s Judaism and others is “chronometrical”: What is appropriate now that the crucifixion and resurrection have occurred? Are we in a new era or not? Paul says Yes, others say No. In other words, it is eschatological. Or, perhaps even more nuanced, hermeneutical. How do we explain where we are in God’s plan? And it revolves around whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.
The big issue of this whole discussion can be expressed as questions: Did the apostle Paul think all Jews had to believe Jesus was the Messiah to be saved, or to enter the kingdom of God, or the Age to Come? Did he think non-messianic Jews were just as saved as messianic Jews? Was historic Judaism sufficient or did one have to embrace messianic Judaism? Johnson thinks Nanos doesn’t give sufficient attention to the newness in Paul’s gospel.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The New Perspective Revised
In my life time the most significant book on Paul has been E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977) because it both shifted interest in Judaism but completely shook up how scholars understood Paul. Since Sanders there have been major articulations of Pauline theology, including those of J.D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, but they build on and take further what was said by Sanders.
In Mike Bird’s new book, The Apostle Paul, there are four views of Paul: the Reformed view by Tom Schreiner, the Catholic view by L.T. Johnson, the post New Perspective view by Douglas Campbell, and the Jewish view of Mark Nanos. Today’s post will look at Campbell’s piece.
What do you see as the major problems with the traditional reading of Paul? What do you see as the major problems with the New Perspective on Paul? Do you think Campbell’s reading helps us forward?
In essence, and Campbell gets this right when many don’t, the core of the New Perspective is a new view of Judaism and a new view of Paul rooted in that new view of Judaism. The “old” perspective on Paul, it is argued, overcooked Judaism into a works-based religion. This led to religion being man’s attempt to justify himself, and the whole gospel of Paul was read as a response to this fundamental anthropological pride. Hence, we read in folks like Tim Keller of two options: performance vs. grace/faith. I see this all over, so Keller’s not alone. The New Perspective calls this into question because it argues that this “performance” stuff emerges from a false view of Judaism and therefore from a Judaism Paul could not have been opposing. Paul’s concerns were elsewhere. Put differently, the old perspective thinks Paul’s concerns were anthropology: the human arrogance of self-justification before God, and that means the essence of gospel preaching is to get humans to perceive their pride. Again, this is not what the New Perspective thinks Paul was on about.
Campbell, however, goes beyond anything being said by the New Perspective, though he agrees completely with its view of Judaism. He thinks the New Perspective explanations of Paul — Dunn, Wright, oddly not really dealing with Sanders — are not good enough and so he revises those explanations. I would say he radically revises.
1. Campbell thinks Paul’s theology turns on three axes: that it is revealed by God to him, that it is Trinitarian (and here he is thoroughly Nicene and orthodox), and missional (his message arises from his mission).
2. Campbells thinks soteriology and gospel are one and the same. [I disagree, but only in emphasis or order.] And he thinks that gospel is found, not in Romans 1:18-3:26, which is classic, but in Romans 5–8. He finds here a God whose work in us cannot be stopped, and he finds an ethic that transforms through the Spirit and transcends the Jewish Torah. [This last point leads to Mark Nanos' strong disagreements.] He is Barthian and Torrancian in his approach.
3. Campbell doesn’t really follow the assignment, which was followed by Schreiner and Johnson, which means we get his closer reading of how to read Romans 5–8.
4. The three persons of the Trinity are indistinguishable in Romans 5–8. Humans are fundamentally relational beings. Christ determines humans not Adam. Since Christ is the solution, Moses is not. (He calls this “thinking backward,” which is a variant of the “from solution to plight.”) The ecclesial approach of Paul is family and he uses the term “brothers” for the Body of Christ.

Both Johnson and Schreiner criticize Campbell for insufficient attention to the rest of the Pauline corpus.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Finding the Apostle Paul
by Scot McKnight
Paul gets bashed a bit these days as more and more Christians realize the anchor of their faith is Jesus. But all orthodox Christian faith is at the same time rooted in the biblical witness and not just historical methods. Biblical faith deals with Paul because Paul’s letters — thirteen of them in traditional counting — not only take up lots of pages in your New Testament but his mission and message shaped 1st Century Christianity at deep levels.

Which of these readings of Paul do you think is most like Paul, or most accurate? Why do you think Paul has “fallen out of favor” with so many today? Why do you think others make Paul so central, even more central than Jesus/Gospels?

Biblical faith, then, deals with Paul. Careful readers of Paul’s letters know that there are some major, major disagreements over how to interpret Paul. So the question is not Jesus have I loved, Paul have I known, but which Paul? Last week we sketched the 1st chp in Michael Bird’s edited volume, The Apostle Paul, another Zondervan Counterpoints book. That chp represents a Reformed, or Calvinist, reading of Paul. Today we look at Luke Timothy Johnson’s study of Paul. Three quick facts: Johnson is Catholic; he is one of the most prolific and significant NT scholars; his sketch of Paul may be Catholic but it shows that when it comes Catholicism, Paul’s letters are not the primary source for creating Catholic distinctives. So, in the end, this is the historian’s Paul, the Paul who emerges from the canonical letters who also thinks — contra many in the academic guild — Paul wrote all thirteen letters.

1. Too many of those who sketch Paul’s theology limit the evidence: he was not a systematic thinker; each letter emerges in context and in contact with issues at hand for his mission; there was a school around Paul; Paul prefers personal relationship and communication.

2. Those who find a “center” in Pauline theology are mistaken, and here he pushes against finding it in Epicureanism, Stoicism, Palestinian Judaism, or apocalyptic — or his struggle with the law or the narrative theology of the new perspective. If we consider all letters, we don’t have a center but themes of a missional apostle.

3. Johnson thinks we have to find the matrix of personal religious experience, the religious experience of his readers, and the compex of traditions and practices already in play at the time of Paul.

4. Christology: an exceptional sketch of Paul’s christology, focusing not so much on Christ as on Lord but it all begins with the resurrection. Holy Spirit is prominent in this sketch. Jesus’ resurrection was an eschatological event. Jesus has representative significance.

5. Cross: a scandal for the Jews; supreme sign that God did not spare his Son, was a sacrifice for sin; an expression as well of Jesus’ faith in God and love for others. It is about his faithful obedience. And the cross is a pattern for human behavior: cruciformity.

6. Salvation: it is accomplished by God and it is not about the accidents of life but basic existential existence; his death was not primarily liberation from systemic powers but from sin and sinfulness. Nanos’ response pokes Johnson for inconsistency here since the remaining portions of this chp seem to move in a more social, if not political, direction. He’s not a proponent of the empire theorists today. Salvation does not just rescue but transforms. The language of salvation explores five different metaphors, none of which is sufficient but each of which is adequate and pointing us to the fuller realities of salvation: diplomatic, economic, forensic, cultic, kinship. He sees an inaugurated salvation: here and not fully complete yet. But salvation is social in that it ushers people into the new community. Schreiner’s response calls out Johnson for a lack of attention to the grace of God and to the importance of faith for justification and to Johnson’s emphasis on corporate (not individual) election.

7. Church: the local assembly; mostly Gentile churches; sketches leadership in elders and superintendents and servants… more than a voluntary association but derives from the call of God. Paul dealt with boundaries over against both Gentile/Roman world and Jewish world. Jewish believers follow Torah; Gentiles believers need not. Paul had egalitarian ideas that crashed at times against social realities, and Douglas Campbell thinks Johnson needs to work more on this element of his chp as Campbell thinks the social tensions arise in the non-Pauline letters.

Surprisingly, hardly a thing on eucharist or baptism.


"Beloved, Let us Love One Another" - Are Christians Called to Debate One Another, or to Love One Another?

The Most Frightening Verse in the BIble (at least for me)
by Pete Enns
February 18, 2013
I can still recall a conversation I had many years ago while I was still on the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. A recent graduate came back to visit the campus and felt strongly that he needed to let me know, in no uncertain terms, how I had failed him in his preparation for gospel ministry.
He was a pastor now, for several months, and was called by God to “contend for the gospel,” which is sort of code for pursuing debate with fellow pastors, elders, and congregants to make sure the appropriate level of precise theological orthodoxy was being maintained.
My own teaching style and theology were not oriented toward training polemicists. I was more interested in exploring the Bible with my students and encouraging them to let the Lord surprise them through a careful and alert reading of the text–wherever that would lead.
You can see where this was going. My style was the very problem for this student, who took the time to seek me out and let me know. He became quite belligerent–even a tad condescending. I asked him to consider whether the Bible might have a thing or two to say about whether contending and debating without ceasing was the best way to spend one’s life in service to God’s people.
  • “What about love?” I asked.
  • “Love!?” he answered, “That’s what the liberals told Machen” [J. Gresham Machen founded Westminster Seminary in 1929 in opposition to liberal influence, and he was quite contentious in doing so, which has served as a model of ministry for many in that tradition.]
That brief exchange has come to mind a lot over the years. To live in a near constant state of theological vigilance, ready to strike down a brother or sister for (perceived) theological failings seemed not only a colossal waste of the one life God has given us, but at odds with what the Bible makes a big deal of.
Which brings me to my most frightening verse –actually two–1 John 4:7-8:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
This verse frightens me because when I think of that student it does not take long before I realize that I am looking at myself. I am prone to fall into the same patterns of this young, deeply troubled, student I last saw a dozen or so years ago. Hey, I’m a type A, German, analytical, intellectual guy. Bow before me as I conquer the universe.
This verse is followed by another in v. 12 that drives the point home even further:
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
I am tempted to insert “but” after the semi-colon, even though there isn’t one in the Greek. Still, I think the same point holds either way: The closest we ever get to seeing God is when we love one another, for that is when God lives in us.
I know the Bible sometimes makes absolute-sounding statements when something less threatening would do. I’m just not sure if this is one of those places. This actually sounds pretty foundational, especially since it’s hardly a minor theme in the New Testament.
Here’s what’s frightening:
What if this is one of those verses we are supposed to take literally?
And what happens if we do not love one another? Then what?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Christians should never disagree or exchange sharp words when needed. But… 1 John, and that conversation [from] years ago, keep hanging around in the back of my head.
What if all that love business is as true and serious as it seems to be?