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

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Glories of God's Creation...

Philosopher, Alan Watts, states that we come out of this world, like a flower budding from a tree. Upon sprouting, the desire to examine our surroundings and stake claim of our experiences grow. Shot on a Bolex 16mm film camera and a Go Pro, we attempt to see our surroundings with a different perspective.
This visual voyage takes you on a journey from Michigan to Colorado to California, utilizing the lens as means to touch, see and be apart of the world.
Filmed//Edited by Mac Jermstad
Stills by Zach Snellenberger
Opening Graphic by Logan Sabo
Words by William Hedgepeth
Sound Bite: Alan Watts
Written permission by Tessa Murray of Still Corners for permission to use "The Trip" in the video
Please support Still Corners by buying their music.
Special Thanks: Imperial Motion

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - The People of God: Israel, Church, Kingdom


Here we have the age-old problem of whether the church replaces Israel in God's plan, or whether Israel will be resurrected again to replace the church later on. Let the reader be forewarned that I'm probably not on the same wavelength as Wright is on the idea of supercessionism. Wright's concern is to read Paul in light of Jesus' fulfillment of Messianic Scripture as heralded in the promises of God's return in the OT to His people Israel. However, along comes Christianity to re-interpret all the blessings of the Israel for itself in a wide variety of soteriological and eschatalogical and schemas. In effect, if I understand Wright correctly, God has done His job to Israel and has passed the torch along to the church through the hands of Jesus, the Immanuel of Israel, and Savior of man.

Which brings me to a loggerhead.... When I first began writing this website my immediate concern was to describe a post-modern, post-evangelic Chrisitanity - popularly known as "Emergent Christianity" (1990s-2010) whose term has been shredded so much as to cause me to re-apply its usage more recently as "post-modernpost-evangelic Christianity" instead of "emergent." In effect, my generation of evangelics had so lost their way within biblical theology that it motivated me to reassess the pros, and cons, of evangelicalism gone awry. And this I have done even as I have neglected a steady diet of biblical exegesis for the writing of contemporary theology in an effort to wrest back into the hands of the church the vision of the bible apart from its many misstatements and misrepresentations made by eager pulpiteers and a politicizing Christian media.

At that time I did not feel it was important to write of the "Relationship between the Testaments," which was the name of my graduate thesis project, and an idea I once had to author. However, the very idea of supercessionism's many misrepresentations tells me that I should perhaps reconsider this task again. Broadly, it takes Wright's observations and applies them forward to the eschaton to come. That is, it speaks of God's election in terms of promise, covenant, community, and fulfillment in Jesus.

Below are my several thoughts on this subject but when re-reading its bullet points I must admit that it pales to the real subject I have in mind - to the major themes of the bible as they move forward in Jesus.... Even so, have I made a hasty sketch to further confound the matter without further apology or explanation at this stage of writing:

  1. Jesus came for Israel. He came to be their Messiah. He came to fulfill Scripture to Israel.

  2. Jesus came to redeem His people and raise them up as a new people to His name. We know this as the (Jewish) early church as it spread outwards to the world under the Apostles.

  3. The church does not replace Israel nor does Israel usurp the church at some later date.

  4. As the old covenant has passed away, so has Israel. Even as the church will be folded into the massing Kingdom of God under God's New Covenant as it converges and spreads.

  5. To be a part of Israel's election in the OT Gentiles had to proselytize under the Old Covenant.

  6. But with the New Covenant comes a new people of God. One composed of Jews AND Gentiles.

  7. In the New Covenant each people group comes on equal footing without proselytization.
      Hence, there is no need to be a Jewish Christian either now or later. But a Messianic
      Christian knowing Jesus as one's Messiah. All is uplifted.

  8. The Gospel of Christ is trans-denominational, trans-cultural, trans-national. It melds and unites all men and women in Jesus' name.

  9. God has always had a remnant, an elect. We know them as the "people of God."

 10. God's community changes with covenant. With a covenant change comes a people (and era) change.

11. This does not mean that Jesus doesn't fulfill Israel's hope... He simply expands them inclusively.

12. Someday the church will be replaced not by a new Israel but by God's Expanded Kingdom.

13. In the Kingdom of God will God's people rejoice and all find Shalom.

R.E. Slater
November 25, 2013

* * * * * * * * * *

Revised People of God and Supersessionism

At the heart of any theology of the Bible is the people of God, which means Israel and it is a source of astonishment that some write “biblical” theologies and have almost nothing on Israel — other than as background. At the same time, at the core of a Christian reading of the Bible as the Story of God in this world, is the church. In NT Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, this theme of church, along with the classic understanding of salvation, are tied together under the theme of “election.” All of this from a singular angle: The People of God, Freshly Reworked. We are talking here then as the church as the elect people of God — but what does election mean? And how does this get applied to the church after it was applied to Israel?
I use the term ‘election’, rather, to highlight the choice, by the One God, of Abraham’s family, the people historically known as ‘Israel’ and, in Paul’s day, in their smaller post-exilic form, as hoi Ioudaioi, ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Judeans’. The word ‘election’, as applied to Israel, usually carries a further connotation: not simply the divine choice of this people, but more specifically the divine choice of this people for a particular purpose (775).
Election, then, embraces some big themes and NT Wright mentions briefly each — justification, anthropology, being in Christ, salvation history, apocalyptic, transformation (deification), and covenant. Wright himself prefers covenant, thereby assuming election and covenant are to be brought together.
He knows the issues abound, including supersessionism, about which he has these strong comments to say:
We have to contend with what one can only call a revived anti-Christian polemic in which anything, absolutely anything, that is said by way of a ‘fulfilment’ of Abrahamic promises in and through Jesus of Nazareth is said to constitute, or contribute to, that wicked thing called ‘supersessionism’, the merest mention of which sends shivers through the narrow and brittle spine of postmodern moralism. How can we say what has to be said, by way of proper historical exegesis, in such a climate? (784)
The storied nature of covenant comes to the fore in NT Wright’s work: Adam and Abraham and Land and Exodus are all tied into a resumptive and redemptive framework, but the overall impact is that Abraham is the one through whom God chooses to work out the divine plan. In this section in PFG we get an important discussion of texts that connect Adam to Abraham. (I have myself for a number of years called Abraham [as] the “first second Adam.”) From Genesis Rabbah 14.6: “Why is Abraham called a great man? Because he was worthy of being created before the first man. But the Holy One, blessed be he, thought, ‘Perhaps something may go wrong, and there will be no one to repair matters. Lo, to begin with I shall create the first Adam, so that if something should go wrong with him, Abraham will be able to come and remedy matters in his stead’” (from Wright, 794). In other words,
“The question of how this link played out – whether, as we said before, the Abrahamic purpose was designed to rescue the whole of the human race, or rather to rescue Abraham’s family from the rest of the human race – receives a variety of answers, but the underlying point remains: the promises to Abraham were understood in relation to the problems caused by Adam. Their intention was to get the human project back on track after the disasters of the fall, the flood and the idolatrous Tower. The covenant that YHWH made with Abraham was the way of sealing this intent, binding this God to his promise and Abraham’s family to this God, assuring Abraham of the ‘seed’ that would inherit the promises, the promises which were focused on the Land as the new Eden, promises which would be fulfilled by the Exodus from Egypt as the great act of redemption (794-795).
Covenant and righteousness go together: the former is the means of the latter. So NTW examines the meaning of “righteousness” yet one more time, and here is my four point summary:
  1. The word refers in the history of Israel first to right behavior in a relation to God and God’s will.
  2. It is connected to the law court, where the judge is to be righteous and the person in front of the judge may be declared right. (Sometimes the defendant is righteous anyway.)
  3. YHWH will vindicate/justify Israel because YHWH is righteous. God’s act of righteousness then is an act of salvation (Psalms, Isaiah 40–55). That is, God is faithful to his covenant with Israel in justifying/saving.
  4. YHWH’s righteousness then is also cosmic, setting the whole world right.
God’s righteousness, God’s restorative justice and God’s covenant faithfulness are all pulled into one whole in this term “righteousness.”
Israel, then, is God’s servant in this world. The covenant elects Israel to be the redemptive agent for God of the world. Which raises the issue of supersessionism all over again, and Wright sees three kinds:
Hard: God rejected Israel in Christ.
Sweeping: post-Barthian, apocalyptic newness beyond anything earlier. It’s all new. He sees it in J.L. Martyn’s commentary on Galatians.
Jewish: Qumran. The rest of Judaism is compromised.
This latter kind emphasizes fulfillment and is not, he argues, genuinely supersessionist. He asks, Was John Baptist a supersessionist? Jesus? Paul? NT Wright sees his view of Paul to be this kind of Jewish supersessionism. He takes it all on with this:
My proposal has of course been (in chapter 6 of the present work and elsewhere) that Paul’s revision of the Jewish view of Election was more or less of the same type as what we find in Qumran. Call it ‘Jewish supersessionism’ if you like, but recognize the oxymoronic nature of such a phrase. The scandal of Paul’s gospel, after all, was that the events in which he claimed that Israel’s God had been true to what he promised centred on a crucified Messiah. That is the real problem with any and all use of the ‘supersession’ language: either Jesus was and is Israel’s Messiah, or he was not and is not. That question in turn is of course directly linked to the question of the resurrection: either Jesus rose from the dead or he did not. Trying to use postmodern moralism, with its usual weapon of linguistic smearing, as a way to force Christians today to stop saying that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah is bad enough, though that is not our current problem. Trying to use that moralism as a way of forcing first-century historians to deny that Paul thought Jesus was the Messiah, and that the divine promises to Israel had been fulfilled in him, simply will not do (810).
So election is all about God choosing Israel for a purpose:
1. Within the framework of the covenant outlined so far, in which Israel was called to be the people through whom the one God would rescue the world, Israel was called to be the Shema people, confessing the One God and loving him with heart, mind and life itself.
2. Israel was called to be the people shaped by the creator God’s ‘wis dom’. Again, we looked at this earlier. For many in Paul’s day, this ‘wisdom’ was contained, more or less, in Torah.
3. Israel was called to be the people in whom, therefore, the life held out by Torah would become a reality – both in the sense of the ‘life’ of glad, loving obedience and the ‘life’ promised to Torah-keepers (much as the ‘tree of life’ remained, tantalizingly, in Eden).
4. Israel was the people in whose midst the living God had deigned to dwell, first in the pillar of cloud and fire, then in the wilderness tabernacle, and finally in the Temple in Jerusalem.
5. Israel was to be the people who inherited YHWH’s sovereign rule over the world. The promised land was a sign of this, but already by the first century many Jews had glimpsed the possibility, already implicit within the Adam–Abraham nexus, that the land was simply an advance signpost to YHWH’s claim over the whole of creation.
6. Israel was to be (according to the Pentateuchal origins and the second- temple writings already noted) the people who would discover YHWH’s faithfulness to the covenant through the pattern of slavery and Exodus, of exile and restoration.

 Continue to Index -

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - The Problem of Evil

By way of a preface, over the past year or two I have been explaining the problem of evil in terms of the problem of freedom. Rather than attempt a dualistic explanation of evil (sic, "God and evil," "Good and evil"), or proposing that it be found in angelic or human revolt (sic, Luther-Satan, Adam-Eve), or as a kind of metaphysical entity that competes with God for ontological presence (sic, goes back to the argument of "dualism") I have sought to define evil in terms of creational freedom.

By way of illustration, Einstein was once asked to define the idea of "absolute zero," or the idea of "cold," and as typical of this brilliant scientist he went immediately to its opposite idea of "heat" and re-defined coldness as the absence of heat. Simple. Direct. Efficient. And I think they same can be done with the idea of evil. To define evil is to re-define it in terms of freedom. As such, evil is the absence of freedom.

Now this can be minced a bit by a'fixing adjectives to the word - adjectives such as "responsible freedom," or "beneficial freedom," or "God-fearing freedom," or "sinless freedom" (whatever that might be!), but basically its the idea of freedom being misused, misapplied, misappropriated. Or, wrongfully utilized, selfishly applied, proudly denied, self-righteously assumed, and so forth. Yet, the basic idea is that freedom breaks fellowship to that of God's will. And whenever that is done we incur various degrees of "sin" or "evil."

The word freedom also implies relationship. When freedom is rightly used, or wrongly abused, it affects our relationship with God and man. Hence, words like covenanted fellowship with our God and Creator, our Redeemer and Lord, should mean things like the responsible usage of human freedom towards God's creation and mankind. It is how man uses this great-and-good privilege that God has given to us which would determine whether or not we have "sinned." To misuse it, deny it, refuse it, is sin. A sin that begins the long and sorrowful tale of evil until it finally defies God's covenantal relationship with His creation and willfully acts against His rule even as it affects all those whom suffer from our "sinful" freedom.

Thus, evil is no more a metaphysical substance than "love" is, or "goodwill, joy, and happiness." Nor is it an ontological entity like some ghost or spirit that exists in the ether around us. No, it is something that is a part of us, part of our ethical and moral makeup, but more than this. It is a part of our relationship with our Creator-Redeemer Himself. A relationship that is fully present with our willful obedience to God's good-and-gracious will - however fierce and retributive it can sometimes be in our lives.

Thus have we tied in the idea of freedom to the other idea of relationship. Each is meaningless without the other, and it is in the grand composition of each that we see the further idea of sin and evil. Each are a misuse of freedom and breaking of relationship, or fellowship, to both God and man. To use freedom aright is to restore (and keep) fellowship. To break fellowship is to break from our responsible usage of freedom towards God and man. As sin can be defined in the idea of freedom, so words like unity, fellowship, goodwill can be defined in terms of how freedom affects the freedoms of others in relationship to ourselves, or to one another. (Do a simple word study on the phrase one another throughout the NT to see the gravity of our freedom towards each other... it is an abundant term we too often read pass and ignore).

But when this "responsible" relationship to the Lord is refused, denied, abandoned, or betrayed (commonly known as "disobedience"), then sin is present. Present in terms of our freedom refusing relational fellowship with our Lord. A divine relationship that is present with us from the time of birth as God our Creator. And a relationship that becomes profoundly united (or completed, or even, re-united) by God's own redemption through His atoning work on the Cross for our re-liberation back into His divine fellowship.

A liberation that cannot be had in any other way than through a God-enacted salvation. A salvation that baptizes us into the Spirit and Presence and Fellowship of God unlike any other activity of God or man. A salvation that restores, bit-by-bit, the deep marring that sin has brought to bear upon our promised freedom in the presence, and life, of the divine. A freedom that is restored to us through Jesus and entered into through the Spirit by faith and obedience.

Thus, to define sin is to define the brokenness of our freedom separating us from our Lord God, who would renew, rebirth, reclaim, revive, restore, a profound new freedom back to His children lost on the eve of creation's birth. A birth that decreed to mankind the great privilege of free/will. And yet, upon its unblemished pronouncement from God's first breath - which breathed life into "an empty and dark" creation - came not only man's greatest privilege, but his worst nightmare. A spiritual divide, gulf, and brokenness of relationship (or fellowship) from His very God. A God-ordained decree that at once gave to man his "rights and liberty" and also the greatest "sin and suffering" that it could imagine within the human breast. It is the cherished word liberty. We call this idea freewill. A human will that bears two halves of the same coin - one side "good" and the other "bad." A heavenly coinage that bears heavily upon its spenders  the royal fiat and diadem of divine love, mercy, goodness, and responsibility.

R.E. Slater
November 25, 2013
* * * * * * * * * *

The Dark Side of God-Belief: Evil


by Scot McKnight
November 19, 2013

Any good solution to the big problems of life must deal at some point with “why evil?” If the apostle Paul proposed big solutions to life then he had to deal with evil, so N.T. Wright, in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, sketches the various solutions to the problem of evil and then offers how Paul’s “revised monotheism” (around Jesus, around the Spirit [he spells it "spirit"]) deals with evil.
Of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Jewish monotheists, Paul fits with the Jewish monotheists and offers a version of their response to evil, which is sharper than any response one finds among the Stoics of Epicureans.
The monotheism of second-temple Jews generated a more sharply etched idea of evil than we see in the surrounding pagan worldviews, including those of ‘monotheists’ such as the Stoics. Once you offer, and celebrate, an account of creational and covenantal monotheism such as we find in Israel’s scriptures, you are going to run into major problems. If there is one God, if he is the creator of a good world and still basically in charge of it, and if he is in covenant with Israel in particular, then neither the Stoic nor the Epicurean solution will do. Nor is serious dualism an option, though there are times when it will look attractive. If the book of Job had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it (739-740).
Now a vitally important set of ideas, so bear with the longer quotation from p. 740:
Ancient Israel did not, however, attempt a ‘solution’ in terms of a coherent analysis of why evil existed within the good creation. Job did not ‘solve’ the problem, but, like some of the Psalms, simply and strikingly reaffirmed the basic monotheistic creed – and complained sharply about the way things were. In the Torah, evil might be traced back to Adam and Eve in the garden, though interestingly there is no sign of this being offered as an ultimate analysis prior to the late first century AD. Or evil might have entered the world through the invasion of strange angelic powers, as in Genesis 6. One might also look back to the arrogance of empire, as in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Or, in relation more specifically to evil within Israel, one could lay the blame on the primal sin of Aaron in making the golden calf (Exodus 32).
These ‘solutions’ were not, of course, mutually exclusive. That was not how ancient Jews read their scriptures. The various accounts of evil functioned, not as scientific ‘explanations’, but as signposts to dark and puzzling realities. Human rebellion, idolatry and arrogance, mingled with shadowy forces from beyond the present world, had infected the world, humans and Israel itself. The narratives drew attention to different apparent elements within the problem, and left it at that. No solution was offered to the question of what modern philosophers have called ‘natural evil’ (earth- quakes, sickness and the like). Prophets might highlight particular events as warning signs from the One God – a line of thought echoed at one point by Paul  – but nobody, not even Job, seems to have asked why such things existed at all within a good creation. The occasional prophetic promise of a transformed creation bore witness to the fact that some at least had an inkling that the trouble ran right through the cosmos itself; but the offer of an eschatological solution was not matched by an analysis of why a problem existed in the first place. 
 But if scripture offered no ‘solution’ in terms of a coherent account of why ‘evil’ existed in the good creation, it offered instead a ‘solution’ in terms of what was to be done – specifically, what was to be done by the creator God. The major proposal was first covenantal and then eschatological: not ‘where did evil come from?’but ‘what will the creator God do about it?’ 
And from p. 742 another important insight: “The fact that one cannot really understand evil is itself an element of creational monotheism, a demonstration that evil is an intruder…”.
Put the argument thus far into logical outline and this (from p. 746) is what you get:
My point thus far can be summarized like this:
  1. All views about ‘evil’ are the correlate of a basic, and often theistic, worldview;
  2. All worldviews, except those of the most shallow and unreflective optimist, have some idea that something is seriously wrong with the world, and indeed with human beings, often including one’s own self;
  3. Monotheists in particular run into a problem which polytheists do not have, and there have been various ways, historically, of addressing that problem;
  4. Monotheists of the second-temple Jewish variety, that is, creational and covenantal monotheists, were bound to have a particularly sharp version of the wider monotheistic problem:
    1. (a)  the world is God’s creation, and yet there is evil in it;
    2. (b)  humans are in God’s image, and yet they rebel;
    3. (c)  Israel is called to be God’s covenant people, and yet is troddendown by the nations.
  5. This was addressed
    1. (a)  by varied use of the ancient narratives of Genesis and Exodus;
    2. (b)  by cultic monotheism (especially the sacrificial system); and
    3. (c)  by eschatological monotheism (the hope and promise that oneday YHWH would return, would unveil his covenant faithfulness in rescuing his people and renewing all things, and would set up his sovereign rule over the whole world).
Now from p. 747: “My proposal, then, is that Paul’s radical rethinking of creational and covenantal monotheism contained within itself both an intensification of the problem and an equally radical solution.”
In Wright’s resolution of these issues he begins by sketching the widespread Augustinian assumption (plight to solution) and its challenge by Sanders and Barth (solution to plight), while he wants to broaden it all to the problem of evil instead of just the problem of personal sin and salvation (and he repeats the well-worn but important new perspective view that Jews were not seeking heaven-when-we-die solutions). Wright thinks there was a plight problem, that the solution came in Christ, but that the solution redefined the original plight in more expansive terms.
What then was the reimagined plight? How did Paul’s grasp of ‘the solution’ enable him – or, indeed, compel him – to radicalize the original ‘plight’ which we have set out in the previous section? We can sketch this in three quick moves which we will then substantiate exegetically. The cross, the resurrection and the holy spirit together brought the ‘plight’ suddenly and sharply into focus.
  1. The most obvious element of Paul’s revised version of the ‘plight’ follows directly from the fact of acrucified Messiah. ‘If “righteousness” comes through the law, then the Messiah died for nothing.’ That is basic to everything else.
  2. Not so obvious, but equally important, was the fact of the risen Messiah. Paul’s understanding of the resurrection gave him a much more focused understanding of the creator’s purposes for the whole cosmos – and hence of the problem, the ‘plight’, in which that whole creation had languished.
  3. The revelation of the personal presence of Israel’s God in the trans- forming work of the spirit compelled Paul to a recognition of the depth of the human plight. All humans, Jews included, were hard-hearted, in need of renewal in the innermost human depths (750).

Continue to Index -

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - Jewish Monotheism Leapt Towards Christology & Pneumatology

What did the Creed do to the early Christian beliefs about Jesus?


by Scot McKnight
November 14, 2013

One of the most common observations about the development of Christian theology, particularly classical orthodoxy, is that it grew, sometimes dramatically, and that those special lines in the Nicene Creed owe their origins to Greek philosophy and not the Jewish faith of those earliest followers of Jesus. Put differently, the creed is not the faith of the early Christians, especially Paul. This leads many, and I’m thinking of folks like Harnack, to prefer the simple, monotheistic and Jewish faith and orthopraxy of the 1st Century over the complex, philosophical trinitarian orthodoxy of the creed.

Many today seem to me to want to return to the pre-Creed version of our faith. What do you think? Possible? Impossible? Wise?

It appears to me that NT Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, would do more than disagree with Harnack. Listen to these lines:
Indeed, with both christology and pneumatology it seems that the normal assumption of many writers is radically mistaken. It is not the case that the New Testament is unclear or fuzzy on these subjects, and that the early Fathers invented a high view of Jesus and the spirit which was then wrongly read back into the early period. Rather, it seems as though the earliest Christians, precisely from within their second-temple Jewish monotheism, leapt without difficulty straight to an identification of both Jesus and the Spirit within the divine identity, which the early Fathers then struggled to recapture in the very different categories of hellenistic philosophy. As with christology, so with pneumatology. The idea of a ‘low’ Jewish beginning, from which a gradual ‘ascent’ was made on the dictates of Greek philosophy, is exactly wrong. The Jewish context provided the framework for a thoroughly ‘high’ christology and pneumatology, and it was the attempt to restate that within the language of hellenistic philosophy, and without the help of the key Jewish categories, that gave the impression of a difficult doctrine gradually attained (710). #boom
In particular, exactly as with christology, what strikes me as most important is what has normally been omitted from discussions. Paul uses, of the spirit, (a) language associated with the long- awaited return of YHWH to Zion, with Israel’s God coming back at last to dwell within his temple and (b) the closely related biblical language associated with YHWH being present with his people in the Exodus, leading them in their wilderness wanderings. These features indicate that, for Paul at least, the spirit was not simply a generalized or sub-personal divine force that later theology would turn into a third ‘person of the Trinity’. As far as Paul was concerned, the Spirit, just like Jesus, was doing what YHWH himself had said he would do. The Spirit was the further, and ongoing, manifestation of the personal presence of the one God (710-711). #boom
This is NT Wright’s big picture. How does he work this out? Wright sees the Spirit in the NT as the new Shekinah (presence of God in the temple) and the new Exodus. Hence…
My point can be simply stated. When Paul speaks of the individual Christian, or the whole church, as the ‘temple’ in which the spirit ‘dwells’, such language from a second-temple Jew can only mean (a) that YHWH has returned to his Temple as he had promised and (b) that the mode of this long-awaited, glorious, tabernacling presence is the spirit. If we can speak, as we have done, of a christology of divine identity, drawing on the eschatological side of second-temple monotheism, the evidence compels us to do exactly the same with pneumatology (711).
He looks at 1 Cor 3:16-176:18-202 Cor 6:14–7:1, and Eph 2:19-22 with Romans 8:9-14— these are new Shekinah passages.
What God did in the original Exodus is what God has done for the church in the Spirit.
All of this, then, leads Wright to see “nascent trinitarian monotheism” (721). He sees those Jewish categories as “more helpful” than later Greek philosophical categories.
2 Cor 13:13 is the hard earned theology of Paul.
Kingdom language, with Jesus as the one who secured victory, is the same idea: what was God’s work in the OT is the work of Jesus in the NT. Hence he looks at 1 Cor 15:20-28
That is why, as we shall see in the next chapter, Paul’s hailing of Jesus precisely as Messiah is so important –and why, we may suppose, that category has for so long been thoroughly out of fashion in New Testament scholarship. Without pre-empting our later discussion, we may just say this: where theologians concentrated their efforts on the task either of demonstrating Jesus’ ‘divinity’ or of questioning it (or, at least, of questioning whether it was present in the earliest Christian sources), the category of Messiahship seemed irrelevant. It was Jewish; it was political; what role could it play in Paul’s ‘Christian’ theology? How could it befitted in with the obviously central theme, that of the crucifixion? But such a way of thinking (which has now in any case run into the sand) comes nowhere near the rich integration of themes in Paul’s actual letters. This, in fact, is where the present chapter and the next two are tied tightly together. It is because the redefinition of monotheism we find in Paul focuses on Jesus in order to highlight the inauguration of God’s kingdom in and through him, particularly through his crucifixion that we are forced to put the category of Messiahship back where it belongs, right at the centre of Paul’s thought.348 The kingdom has been inaugurated through the work of Jesus, who, both as the embodiment of Israel’s God and as the single bearer of Israel’s destiny, has defeated the old enemy, has accomplished the new Exodus, and is now, by his spirit, leading his people to their inheritance – not, of course, ‘heaven’, but the reclaiming of all creation (734-735).

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N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - Jesus, Beheld As Messiah-God From the First

From the Very Beginning: NT Wright

November 12, 2013
The issue for historians of earliest Christianity is how this stuff all came about: How did Jesus of Nazareth come to be explained or confessed as he was? How did that christology develop? NT Wright, in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, proposes a breathtaking scheme that high christology, seeing Jesus as part of divine identity, was there from the very beginning:

We must note carefully how this argument actually works. I am not saying that there was a pre-Christian Jewish belief that the Messiah, if and when he turned up, would be in any sense ‘divine’. There are indeed texts which, with hindsight, could be taken to point that way, but despite the best efforts of scholars such as Horbury and Boyarin I remain unconvinced that anyone before Jesus’ first followers read them in this sense. Nor am I saying that anyone prior to Jesus’ first followers had read 2 Samuel 7.12 as predicting a resurrected Messiah (this is hardly surprising since there is no pre-Christian evidence for a dying Messiah,221). What I am suggesting is that the resurrection, demonstrating the truth of Jesus’s pre-crucifixion messianic claim, joined up with the expectation of YHWH’s return on the one hand and the presence of the spirit of Jesus on the other to generate a fresh reading of ‘messianic’ texts which enabled a full christological awareness to dawn on the disciples.

I do not think that pre-Christian Jews had read 2 Samuel 7; or Psalm 110 (‘YHWH says to my lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”’), or Daniel 7 (‘one like a son of man’ being exalted to sit on a throne beside that of the ‘ancient of days’) in ways that anticipated, or could be said to be an antecedent cause of, the very early christology. What I propose is that the combination of (a) the widely held expectation of the divine return to defeat Israel’s enemies and rescue his people and (b) Jesus’ resurrection, compelling the conclusion that he really was Messiah, created exactly the conditions within which, in a context of (c) worship and an awareness of the presence and power of the same Jesus, texts which had been there all along but never seen in this way (except, perhaps, in sayings of Jesus himself!) sprang into life, 222 The earliest christol ogy was thus firmly anchored in scripture, but the reading of scripture in question was highly innovatory, and did not, in itself, generate the belief (692).

From 697, NT Wright proposes an unfolding-of-christology scheme:

So why does Paul stress the sending of the son? Quite possibly because he has already developed, or has even inherited from earlier tradition, ways of speaking and praying which belong with a christological monotheism (and, as Bauckham rightly suggests, an eschatological and cultic, as well as creational and covenantal, christological monotheism). These ways of speaking, as we already seen, identify ‘God’ as the source and goal of all things by designating him ‘father’, even while Jesus is designated ‘lord’, kyrios. We might then hypothesize a development in several stages, though as always with such things there is no way we can plot these chronologically. One might imagine the very early Christians, under the impact of the resurrection of Jesus and the fresh scriptural study which it precipitated, doing a variety of interlocking things very early on:
1. using theos for God the source and goal of all things, and kyrios for Jesus, as in 1 Corinthians 8.6, aware that these corresponded to the Hebrew elohim and YHWH, and intending to stress both the unity and the differentiation between the two of them;
2. using the biblical term ‘father’ to denote God/theos/elohim;
3. drawing in the originally messianic title ‘son of God’, already in use for Jesus because of its Davidic overtones and because of Jesus’ own way of speaking, as the natural corollary of this ‘father’. The one denoted as theos is thus seen as ‘father’ specifically of this ‘son’, andthe one denoted as kyrios is seen as ‘son’ specifically of this ‘father’,
even when that connection is not made explicitly;
4. speaking of ‘father and son’ in parallel to speaking of ‘God and lord’;
5. drawing on the ‘wisdom’ traditions, which were already in use in
terms of both the return of YHWH to Zion (Sirach 24) and the equip- ping of David’s son for his royal task (Wisdom 7—9), to speak of the father ‘sending’ the son (Romans 8.3; Galatians 4.4), and of the father transferring people into ‘the kingdom of the son of his love’ (Colos- sians 1.12–13, with the great ‘wisdom’-poem of 1.15–20 to follow), and of the kyrios as the one through whom all things were made (1 Corinthians 8.6;Colossians 1.16);
6. understanding the whole sequence in terms of the climactic and deci- sive rescuing act of the one God, the new Exodus in which this God had revealed himself fully and finally precisely in fulfilling his ancient promises, saving his people and coming to dwell in their midst.
All this, I stress, is necessarily hypothetical. Unless fresh evidence from the first twenty years of the Jesus-movement were to turn up (the age-old dream of a Christian archaeologist!) it remains impossible to demonstrate that any such sequence of thought actually took place. And ‘a sequence of thought’ has nothing to do with chronological extension. A mind well stocked with scripture, allied to a heart understanding itself to be trans- formed by the spirit and attuned to the worship of Jesus, could grasp in an instant what we are forced to reconstruct slowly and carefully. But I submit that this does seem to reflect some aspects of the data we actually possess. Interestingly, though move (4) seems somewhat obvious, Paul seldom uses the word ‘father’ in direct connection to a designation of Jesus as ‘son’. The closest we come in the passages already discussed is where believers cry ‘Abba, father’, because the spirit of the son has been sent into their hearts, and in Colossians 1.12–14, where ‘the father’ has ‘transferred us into the kingdom of the son of his love’ (697-698).
But this may be the biggest thing many need to hear today:
This brings us back to a point we have made already and which can now be reiterated with renewed force. None of this seems to have been a matter of controversy within the earliest church. This indicates, against the drift of studies of early christology for most of the twentieth century, that what we think of as a ‘high’ christology was thoroughly established within, at the most, twenty years of Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, to employ the kind of argument that used to be popular when it ran in the opposite direction, we might suggest that this christology must have been well established even sooner, since if it had only been accepted, say, in the late 40s we might have expected to catch some trace of anxiety or controversy on this point in Paul’s early letters at least. And we do not. The identification of Jesus with YHWH seems to have been part of (what later came to be called) Christianity from more or less the very beginning. Paul can refer to it, and weave it into arguments, poems, prayers and throwaway remarks, as common coin. Recognizing Jesus within the identity of Israel’s One God, and following through that recognition in worship (where monotheism really counts), seems to have been part of ‘the way’ from the start (709).

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The Why of Narrative Theology, Its Necessity, and Usefulness

A year and half ago I ran a piece titled, "An Unnecessary Division between Narrative and Literary Theology" which basically questioned Fields and CT's misuse of narrative theology. It's understanding of narrative theology was narrow, and selectively preferential towards systematic doctrinal expressions. It refused emergent, postmodern Christian interpretation (based upon sound biblical exegesis) as the more helpful activity in a plethora of traditional voices decrying this activity. My feeling since then has not changed and John Frye, in his article today, shares a more appropriate, conventional understanding of narrative theology when reflecting upon its helpfulness in doctrinal and theological thinking. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
November 25, 2013

Once Upon a Time in a Text Far, Far Away

by John Frye
November 8, 2013

I was raised and trained in a social network that prized doctrinal intelligence. A person’s ability to learn and repeat precise “biblical” ideas was rewarded with praise, affirmation and advancement. The particular lives of some of the people and a few of the communities who valued doctrinal intelligence were factious, argumentative, judgmental, petty, gossipy and blinkered. The world of these otherwise fine people was limited to those who accepted and affirmed the prevailing doctrinal expressions. It was a ghetto of Bible-based ideas.

I have been discovering another perception for reality: narrative intelligence. Narrative intelligence emphasizes the power of story. Narrative intelligence, from a Christian point of view, does not minimize doctrinal intelligence, as many evangelicals think who get real jumpy about “story.” Narrative intelligence gives doctrinal intelligence a home, a place where the energies of doctrine may flourish into actual life. No one lives a systematic life. Everyone lives in stories and connects to others who are living in stories. Reality is a story construct, not a technical, scientific or doctrinal construct. I think many believers have low narrative intelligence when it comes to the faith, and it is not their fault. They check their stories at the door when they walk into church. In that antiseptic evangelical environment they are treated to “principles,” “bullet points,” “definitions” (of this Greek or that Hebrew word), and the consequential “applications.” A high octane story of Jesus’ “the Good Samaritan” is simmered down to a few clear principles and convenient moralisms and is just another little piece of the puzzle labeled “the whole counsel of God.”

Think about it: Many films have been made about the life of Jesus, some mediocre and some compelling. To my knowledge no one has made a movie of Hendrik Berkhof’s or Wayne Grudem’s systematic theologies or Calvin’s Institutes. I wonder why. Even the Apostle Paul’s alleged “doctrinal” books (e.g., Romans) were created within the passionate context of his powerful, missional life and ministry. Paul’s writings are conversations with others about the Jesus he was serving and the Story he was living and gospelling.

Following Jesus is a way of life. His followers are attracted to and swept up into Jesus’ story. The last thing we need is to be smothered in words, words, words…more and more doctrinal words. Definition-making is not the essence of the faith. Life-making, story-making is.

Once upon a time in a text far, far away…