A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Secular progress and Christian transformation

In my previous post, steph and I got into a discussion/debate about universal health care, amongst other things. This post is not to be taken as a stab at any one person, but rather it is the very way of thinking that amplifies problems more than it solves.

Within the past couple centuries, European cultures have embraced the notion of social progress to be achieved through technological advances and the mass production of goods and services to improve the quality of life. Not that this is necessarily all bad, but notion is that we just need to produce more now to make better now. And initially, this was wed to the Christian values that these Christianized societies had at the time. As a matter of fact, some of the industrialists were devout Christians who saw what they were doing as part of God’s due. But as the societies began to reject the Christan beliefs more so than they already had, the values were like a house of an unsolid foundation, they prone to shift, even though they still looked similar to what they were before.

So what is generally offered by society as a whole has some overlap with the Christian notion of good. However, it has also has some subtle differences because of the vastly different worldviews. But nevertheless, it resonates somewhat with what the Bible advocates of God’s people and so it is easy to presume that the Biblical message is to essentially embrace what is the secular version of progress. However, this form of Christian “social justice” doesn’t in fact base itself on the foundation of Biblical ethics, but on the texts admonishing certain ethics (that are open to varying interpretations) and then seeing the secular vision and embracing it has good, because it does have some overlap. This is not the fault of any one person, but it just gradually happens.

See, there are some very different assumptions between secular tihnking and Christian thinking. To outline a few:

1) Secular thinking sees the end at death, so we must do everything possible to stave off death because once that happens, there is nothing more. That is not to say they necessarily deny an after-life, but this comes from Christians (and of course other religions) embracing the concern about death that secular thinking does and merely allowing for eternal life after the fact. But it does not make decisions based upon that. Whereas the Christian message is that of resurrection through Jesus Christ, so death as it is is not the end. Christian can not prioritize the notion that we must do everything we can to extend the lifetime as far as we can. That is not to say we do nothing to prolong one’s life but it must see things more in the long term beyond the life span of the individual and beyond just the individual but all people (where can the greatest good be done).

2) Secular thinking has an “us and them” mentality. This places the most importance on “us” (and in reality the individual “I”) about the “them.” This becomes especially prevalent in nationalism. Witness in America the xenaphobia about immigration. “THEY come in and take OUR jobs.” Implicit is that the “us” deserves it more than the “them.” Whereas, the Christian message calls us to embrace everyone as ourselves. It does not see the “neighbor” as merely our fellow comrade, but also our enemy essentially. The “us and them” mentality is eraddicated and sees everyone as “us.”

3) Secular thinking embraces the notion that human ingenuity and work can solve all problems. So whenever a problem is seen, the assumption is that it is something that can be done because we have seemingly done well for ourselves so far. But Christianity calls us to realize that we can not solve all the worlds problems. We do play a role in some situations, but that it is God working in what we do and doing that which we are not involved in that problems can be solved. But until God sees fit to do that, there are some things we can not possibly fix in the world as is. This is not to encourage laziness, but to allow us to see reality and realize that maybe our reach is exceeding our grasp.

4) Building off of point one, due to death and our inability to see ahead, progress is seen more in the short term. When there is a problem, if we do provide a solution right now, then we have failed. This failure comes from the assumption that if there is a problem we can fix it. But the Christian message does not see things in the short-term but the long-term. God could have snapped his fingers to redeemed the world, but instead for whatever reason, he has chosen the passage of millenia to fulfill his redemptive plans. Two millenia Israel was struggling before Jesus came, and we are two millenia past that point and yet the world isn’t perfect yet.

Those four points (and others) are what the notion of secular progress is often times based upon (although individuals might have overcome assuming differnet points themselves). So the ethics based upon an initial Christian influence have subtly shifted, but it has a shaky foundation that may not really work in the end.

I’ll leave you to work out how those different assumptions work together. Perhaps in later posts I will engage the ideas more fully.

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August 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Keeping abreast of the political reactions to Palin

Today is just going to be dedicated to politics, so deal with it. 🙂

One thing the Obama campaign and Democrats have to be careful about is the criticism they are laying against the Susan Palin. I have heard a few things:

A) She doesn’t have the experience – If this is pressed (and Obama may have realized this wasn’t smart, hence the quick statement that followed that was complimentary), then it will come back to bite Obama in the end. McCain can still levy the criticism considering Palin is the VP nominee, not the Presidential nominee. But Obama can not.

B) Placing emphasis on a “heart beat” away – If they do that, they will attract even more attention to the very potential of Palin becoming President herself. Now if they are confident she does not have the record, without criticizing the same lack that Obama has, this could work. But otherwise, doing this will backfire on them because they will place even more emphasis on the young energetic woman.

C) She was picked because she was a woman – This can lead to the whole can of worms that Obama is where he is because of his color also. And in the end, people aren’t going to think “oh, she was picked because she was a woman” but they are going to think “Oh, a woman VP.” Pushing this in the long run may push away women voters because the initial reaction some might have will fade away. But the risk of sexism may force the criticque to be silent or hurt their campaign.

The fact is, this choice has hamstrung the Obama campaign. Mainly because she is Obama, except white, a woman, and conservative leaning. But everything else that makes Obama so popular is what Palin is also. Young, energetic, charismatic, about change. It is like looking into a mirror and criticizing what you see. Only difference is, Palin is a VP nominee and Obama is the Presidential nominee. It hurts less when the VP nominee is criticized than when a Presidential nominee is.

The one way the Obama campaign can win now is to go to issues (or find some really bad dirt on Palin). Imagine that! A campaign about the issues. In which case, the rhetoric and change in Obama’s policies will wear him down in the end unless he can develop a solid foundation to stay at, a foundation that can get the voters to go to him. That is the only feasible way for the Obama campaign to win now, but Obama has so far been very little substance. And emotion, while it can energize people initially, must be placed together with reason to have a long lasting impact, of which Obama’s campaign has been short of so far.

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 24 Comments

Obama campaign shooting themselves in the foot?

Sorry for the political posts, but this campaign actually became interesting now.

The Obama campaign came out initially criticizing Palin’s experience, claiming she was not qualified. But that has been the very complaint laid against Obama that he has been trying to skirt. Could making this complaint essentially turn this back around on himself, because he is putting experience onto the playing field himself.

Many commentators have said that this takes the experience criticism off the table, but does it really? It is the VP candidate, not the Presidential candidate, who supposedly lacks the experience. And while she may be, as they say, “a heart beat away” from being president, she has similar, if not superior experience to Obama. She was an actual governor. So, the McCain campaign can emphasize the experience angle because McCain has more, and if God forbid, Palin would have to take over, at worst she is Obama’s equal (whereas Biden’s experience isn’t as important, because Obama is healthy). It is still a key point and with Obama criticizing that in Palin, he has opened himself up to the same criticism.

I am disappointed in the Democratic campaign, both in who they picked and just how they have operated. They had a failing Republican administration, an ideal situation to come into for the opposing party. And they elect a an inexperienced, charismatic but not authoritative, senator who had a more extreme record to the left. And their lead is dwindling with a rather unappealing Republican candidate, and with a VP candidate who is about as exciting as Obama. And now, they make a potentially big mistake.

This just goes to show that as bad as some of the policies of the Republican party are, they Democratic party has been running more on an anti George Bush campaign but having very little substance. And while I like Palin, this campaign is really not going to accomplish a lot down the road, except maybe by the only light in this campaign in Palin, because of the shallowness of the Democratic party not able to effectively address the issues except to get at the Republican party.

And whatever momentum the Obama campaign may have been able to obtain from last night, Palin has now shifted the focus (just watch the news to see how much more is focused upon Palin rather than the Democratic Convention speech).

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

The US Presidential election has just been won

Ok, so maybe that prediction is too bold, but I would say that McCain, who I am not a particular fan of, has won the election, barring nothing unforeseen, with the pick of Sarah Palin as the Vice President. Why do I say that?

First off, Obama has been unable to pull away, despite his charismatic appeal. He had a decent lead in the polls a few weeks ago that has withered. According to the latest poll (George Washington Battleground), he has now lost the lead (albeit only down by one point). But what is particularly interesting is the same poll in May had it at 49-47 in favor of Obama, whereas now it is 47-46 in favor of McCain. What this signals to me is that McCain really hasn’t made up ground by gaining popularity, but Obama is beginning to be exposed and people are not as confident in him. So that is the context in which Obama and McCain made their VP picks.

Obama went and picked Joe Biden, a “Washingtonesque” senator. It was a safe pick, but considering that Obama’s popularity may be eroding, it was not necessarily a good pick. It was essentially a defensive move, but any radical move by the McCain campaign could end up exciting people the people in McCain’s favor, which they had yet to do yet.

Now, McCain has picked Palin. A female Alaskan governor who I think will do few things:

A) Her pick will consolidate the morally conservative base because of her opposition to gay marriage and abortion

B) Fiscal conservatives will like her because while she did endorse a record budget for Alaska, she has cut spending in Alaska

C) The national concern about energy policy may be more open to her because, while she is in support to drilling in Anwar, she has defied “big oil.” That may get points from the public

D) She is a woman picked for VP after Hillary Clinton did not get picked for the Democratic ticket. That may pull some of Hillary’s supporters to McCain’s side. Not necessarily a whole lot, but will allow some openness in that voting bloc

E) I am of the belief that a campaign that appeals to women throughout the country (and not merely feminists) is one of the more critical things in a campaign. Where American wives go, I think they influence the votes of that spouses

Then, it sets up an interesting draw away from Obama. First off, she is young and is probably charismatic, like Obama. She is also not a white male, like Obama isn’t. That takes away the discrimination card, because if the Obama campaign would complain about racism, the McCain campaign can complaing about sexism. And then, it seizes the momentum as the campaign heads towards the final major stage of the process.

Its a pick that may let McCain draw in voters, while maybe continuing to erode away at Obama’s current base. Plus, she is a more important pick because of McCain’s age, who unfortunately has a higher odds of passing away or being incapacitated.

I would say this gives McCain’s campaign at least a 5 point boost in the polls over the next few weeks. And I myself have decided who I am going to vote for now because of this pick (I was originally going to vote third party or abstain).

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

My seminary classes and books this semester

Seminary starts a week from today for me. Currently taking nine hours with the follow classes:

Comprehensive Greek 1

Method and Praxis

Christianity as Philosophy

And here is my book lists for those classes:

What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (Very Short Introduction) by Thomas Nagel

Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings by Michael Peterson

Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion by Michael Peterson

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG)

Faith & Rationality: Reason & Belief in God by Alvin Plantinga

Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context by Stanley J. Grenz

Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination by Paul Ricoeur

It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek by David Alan Black

Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

A Primer on Postmodernism by Stanley J. Grenz

Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation by William J. Abraham

Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church by William Abraham

Learn to Read New Testament Greek by David Alan Black

A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (Theology) by Alister E. McGrath

Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics by Vincent Bacote

Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Contours of Christian Philosophy) by William Hasker

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience as a Model of Evangelical Theology by Don Thorsen

God and History by Laurence W. Wood

Theology As History and Hermeneutics by Laurence W. Wood

The Categories by Aristotle

On The Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Rockwell Lecture Series)

Including shipping, it comes out to $600. Ouch!

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Temple, God’s glory and righteousness, and Romans 3:21-26

Two posts in a day and back to Romans we go 🙂

One of the things that would have lead to the feeling of exile to Israelites, at least as Wright proposes, is the fact that the Temple did not display God’s splendor and glory that was spoken of in the first Temple. God was not with His people then. The presence of the cloud above the ark was not there, God was not leading them or protecting them (hence, pagan Roman occupation) as He did the Jews of Egyptian exile by the cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

This works, I think, in the background of what Paul in Romans 3:21-26. In verse 25, the Greek word hilasterion can be translated either as “propitiation” (as many translations do) or as the “mercy seat.” The mercy seat was the place above the ark where atonement was made. But particulary interesting also is that above the mercy seat, God was present in a cloud of smoke. So Paul may well have intended two different meanings in referring to Jesus as the hilasterion/mercy seat: the place where atonement is made for the sins of Israel and the place where God is present.

Look back to 23, where it is said “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” If we take this to refering not to some notion of “heaven” and a final “glorification” (although I would say that glorification in Romans has little to do with “heaven”), we can perhaps see this as a description of both the Gentile’s lack of God’s presence and the present Jewish state of exile, as exemplified in the Temple being empty of God’s glory/presence. Because of the rampant sin of both Gentiles and Jews (who were shown not to be immune to that because of the previous examples of Jewish sin as quoted from the Old Testament in 10-18), God was nowhere to be found in the world.

So the implication by calling Jesus the mercy seat is that he is in fact saying that God’s glory as returned to the world, and by implication the Israeli “exile” has ended. But the meaning cuts deeper than that and serves as the basis for Paul’s claim that the works of the Torah is not sufficient for justification. If Jesus is the place of God’s presence and not the Temple, then the Torah, which became centered around the Temple, is no longer sufficent to follow God since He has shown He is no longer present in the Temple. In fact, obedience is now to be centered around Jesus, not Torah. Furthermore, by identifying Jesus as the mercy seat, the Temple is shown to be empty since the mercy seat contained in it is not the “real” one.

However, Paul’s thinking is even deeper than that. There is another strain of thinking that the Torah endorses and that Jesus preaches, the emulation of God. “You shall be holy, as I am holy” and “Be complete as your heavenly Father is complete.” So if God was present in Jesus, then God’s holiness and God’s completeness are present in Jesus. Or, as Paul writes in 21, God’s righteousness is revealed. Therefore, Paul is pressing the notion of Jesus as a mercy seat where God’s glory is present in order to show that Jesus is indeed the very example people must follow in order to become like God, the very revelation of God’s own righteous nature.

If one looks to Isaiah 51:4-5, the expecation was for God’s law (torah) to come forth from God, for God’s righteousness to soon come. God’s justice will serve as a “light of the peoples.” Now obviously, the Torah had already been given, so the expectation in Isaiah would not have been merely a rehashing of the Torah, but some form of a new law (though not necessarily to the exclusion or rejection of the Torah). So Jesus serves as the fulfillment of this expectation.

If Jesus is the very example of God’s righteousness in human form, then it follows that the actual revealing of God’s righteousness comes not from the believe of another person in Jesus, but something contained within Jesus, his faith/trust in God. The genitive then is taken as a subjective genitive (“the faith of Christ” not “faith in Christ”). So, the pathway to emulating God’s righteousness was in the faith that Jesus himself contained. The emulation of faith is made explicit elsewhere in Romans 4:12 and the example of Abraham. Incidentally, Isaiah 51:1-2 tells those pursuing righteousness to look back to the example of Abraham. So if Romans 4:12 is in part derived from Isaiah 51:1-2 and Romans 3:21-26 has Isaiah 51:4-5 in the background, then it is not a huge leap to make Jesus’ own faith as the direction one must pursue to obtain righteousness.

But how could this righteousness be potentially followed by others? The redemption in Jesus spoken of in verse 24. The mercy seat of Jesus, which replaces the mercy seat of the Torah, makes it possible that God could still be righteous and yet declare righteous the one who has the trust of Jesus (verse 26). Having a mere example to follow after is one thing, but as Paul talks about in Romans 5 and 7, death has a stranglehold that causes sin to expand, even when the Torah that had some righteous commands, was given. So then, through death and resurrection, Jesus provides freedom from that (Romans 6) and so provides redemption.

Justification, resurrection, redemption, atonement, and even faith all then neatly fit in together. Redemption was the language of coming out slavery, associated with exile. Exile would be had for those who were vindicated (or justified by) by God, which goes hand in hand with the notion of resurrection in Daniel 12. Atonement was the means by which the forgiveness of sins would be obtained, which would stand for the release of exile because sin was the cause of exile. And then faith/trust was in part (not to reduce faith down to a mere set lists of ideas or to intellectual beliefs) based upon the notion of resurrection (Romans 10:9).

One final note that I could not include in the post so far. Paul writes that God displayed Jesus as a mercy seat, by His own forbearance in overlooking the sins of the people. This hearkens back to the fact that the mercy seat and the holy of holiness and the ark were not to be approached without the proper atonement and absolution of guilt. But in Jesus, God overlooks the sin (he does not put them to death for being in Jesus’, the mercy seat, presence) and allows the people to see Jesus as a demonstration of His righteous nature.

Of course, I have to give credit to Wright for giving me the framework in which to be able to interpret Romans in this way.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Mark 13:24-32

As I noted in my previous post, one of the places where I feel Wright falls short in his tendency to argue for more metaphorical (although a different type of metaphorical) and apocalyptic understanding of Mark 13 that takes 24-26 not as literal events. Let me start off by saying that I don’t think language always has to be taken with wooden literalism, that doesn’t allow words and phrases to be invested with meaning other than the dictionary definition, and that the invested meaning might even totally over shadow the literal meaning.

This passage (and it’s parallels in Matthew and Luke) has been the subject of varying interpretation, perhaps more than most any other passages in the Bible. But they can be summed up in five different options:

A) The events foretold are literal (at least in part), and they have yet to be fulfilled (more conservative branches)

B) The events foretold are literal (at least in part), but Jesus was mistaken (more critical response)

C) The things Jesus refers to is fulfilled spiritually (full preterism)

D) The language is more metaphorical (Wright)

E) The “little apocalypse” was the invention of the early church (now I am not going to address this because that goes beyond the scope of this post, but only mention it for completeness sake)

As I said, I reject Wright’s view for a couple reasons. He correctly notes that the potential use for apocalyptic language to be used in a way that isn’t based upon the basic definitions on the words, but rather is based upon the imagery and associations the words bring. But to interpret 24-26 in light of that raises an issue: what is the signal to the hearers/reader that this is not more literal?

Because throughout the earlier part of the “little apocalypse,” Jesus has been using which is almost universally considered descriptions of more literal events (whether in foresight or hindsight). The foretelling of other so-called Christs/Messiahs literally happened in Israel. Is it proper to see Jesus suddenly shift to a different form of communicating without any “marker” to indicate such? The meaning Wright would give to 24-26 would need to be so ingrained into the public (or at least the disciple’s) consciousness for such a “marker” to be unnecessary. Otherwise, Jesus would be rather confusing (or the gospel writers amiss at accurately communicating Jesus’ message).

Secondly, when we go to Luke’s version, he involves the language of the signs of the heavens more into Jesus’ sermon (10-11). If Luke is written more of a story of how Jesus’ group was not revolutionary force that served as a threat to Rome, then wouldn’t it behoove Luke, who seemed to have a very good grasp of the Torah and Prophets, to clarify that the language refers more to Jerusalem’s destruction (assuming Luke was written after 70 AD)?

Now this is not to say the apocalyptic doesn’t have anything to do with the changing of the powers on earth. But it is may be a false dichotomy to presume either a literal meaning or a more metaphorical meaning. I would propose it was a literal sign to signify the change of things. For instance there was indeed a solar eclipse (albeit a hybrid) that could have been seen in Israel in 71 AD, after the destruction of Jerusalem (“Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”). After all, there was a reason the language of the different celestial events began to be associated with the changing of the earthly powers.

And that moves us forward to the “second coming” verse of 26. It is important to remember, as Wright notes, that this would not be seen as a “second coming” by the disciples, but rather the sign of Jesus’ coming to be king of Israel, which they assumed he was going to take within his lifetime (the typical human vision of lifetime). No doubt, such language is literal, would have caused confusion to the disciples, because Jesus was on the earth right there. But despite the incapability of the disciples to understand how what Jesus said was going to happen, it did not stop him from speaking of such literal events, like for instance the foretelling of his death and resurrection.

Then you have Acts 1:9-11 speaks of Jesus descending just as he ascended up with a cloud. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 speaks of descent with a trumpet (see Matthew 24:30-31). Unless these instances are also filled with more metaphorical use of the language (I doubt a strong case can be made for that), either there was a misunderstanding between the transmission from Jesus to Paul and Luke or there is envisioned a literal event.

Also, some were waiting for the king of Israel, the ruler of God’s kingdom (see Zechariah 6:13). Wright’s appeal to vindication avoids the issue. A mere vindication of Jesus wasn’t the expectation, but the actual presence of the king, a king who could serve as judge. Because Jesus’ quotes from Daniel 7:13, and the following verse refers to the authority that the “son of man” who came in the clouds would wield. Furthermore, the expectation of a king to rule on the throne of David (Isaiah 9:6-7) would presume the notion of a physically present king, not merely a vindicated but, by implication, an absent one.

But if the “little apocalypse” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, did Jesus fail to return as he foretold? I think the mistake is assuming that the purpose of the apocalyptic sermon was to talk about the end of all things, which was naturally associated with Jesus’ second coming. But the question attributed to disciples by all three accounts was about when the destruction of the Temple would occur and the signs that would accompany it, although Matthew “interprets” the second question as referring to Jesus’ coming (as king).

If indeed the primary purpose was to refer to the destruction of the Temple, as he had just foretold, then the mention of his coming in the clouds could be seen as a further insight to what will happen beyond the destruction of the Temple. This might probable, as destruction of the temple would speak against the Herods and would set up the stage for the building of a new temple, which would obviously leave Israelites asking the question of the next building of the Temple and the new king. So destruction of the Temple is associated with the rebuilding of the Temple by the true king, the anointed one of God. Hence Jesus would make mention of his return (although again, perhaps baffling to the disciples at that moment), to be associated with a rebuilding of the temple that the King would do. This might also explain the difference between Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:4 with Luke 21:7.

So what does this mean? That Jesus may not have had the purpose of saying that his coming would be immediately following the destruction that would come from 70 AD. This would allow for sort of a chronological gap between 24-25 from 26-27. And as I would argue, the parable of the fig tree would fit into that notion.

The purpose of the parable was to say that after these signs came that Jesus was near, he would soon take his place as King. Off hand, it is natural to see “near” as referring to near within the span of a few years. However, if Wright is correct in his notion about Israel feeling about being in exile, then near could be referring relative to the history of Israel as a whole, and not so much near in time for the current generation. Hence, Jesus would feel it appropriate to say “all these things,” referring to the signs in my opinion, would happen in the current generation, because the history of Israel was coming to a climax and coming close to God’s purposed goal in this generation. The nearness would be relative to Israel’s history (especially if we span back farther than Abraham, even as far back to Adam). It could even mean that there are not significant changes, or new ages, to come before the king arrives.

That Jesus is not trying to assign a particular specific time relative to the other events is made clear by 32. Unless we take the words with wooden literalism, Jesus is likely trying to say that time frame in which his return was to happen was unknown to him. He only knows that once the signs take place, at least as far as Israel is concerned, the stage is set for Jesus to appear at any time. The temple is destroyed and the political forces of power that opposed Jesus are deposed, which means the True King can come to build the true temple at anytime and bring in God’s Kingdom as it is truly meant to be.

This allows for the obvious interpretation of the signs referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (instead of the modern eschatology, represented and unintentionally caricatured by the Left Behind series), while not having to appeal to an out of place call to more metaphorical langauge and without having to relegate to a “spiritual fulfillment” of the coming of Jesus by full preterism. Nor does it need to say that Jesus was incorrect in saying that he would come (again).

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Two of Wright’s great strengths, and weaknesses

I am currently in the second Volume of Wright’s Christian Origins series, Jesus and the Victory of God. As I read through it, it has been like a cool drink of water to a person thirsty for understanding New Testament and Jesus in light of it and his culture. While Wright certainly is not the first, he is certainly masterful at it.

One of the great strengths I appreciate in his writing is his ability to see beyond the dictionary definition of the word and see the connotations come from different words in its particularly Jewish context. He is capable of seeing language more as it is naturally used instead of a wooden literalistic interpretation.

But this also becomes his greatest weakness in my opinion. He seems a bit too overzealous to try to impose this new interpretation on all areas in which it could possibly find a bit into the Jewish context. One place where I find he is a bit too zealous is the “second coming” passage of Matthew 24:30 (although for his disciples, it was his “first coming” the coming as king). He argues that it is about vindication and the literal sense must be abandoned. Likewise he does so in the previous verse of 29. However, it is possible that could have referred to a literal event. For instance, there was on March 20, 71 AD that could have been seen from Israel (http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEplot/SE0071Mar20H.gif).

While language is invested with meaning that comes from its uses in tradition, the literal meaning imposes itself heavily on its usage, with some exceptions. One must remember that. That is not to say that Wright is enormously mistaken (or even than he is necessarily wrong about Matthew 24), but I think that he is a bit too eager at times to pull out a “fresh” meaning.

A second strength of Wright is that he sees the Jews using the language of exile and interprets accordingly. And I am in hearty agreement that at the very least, the Jews used exilic language to describe themselves (I would have to see more primary evidence before I would say they saw themselves actually in exile). However, as above, he may perhaps apply this too much in many cases, such as the parables. For instance, he is of the opinion that the seed in the parable of the sower echoes the notions of exile where seed was a common image used. While possible, I think this is saying more than the evidence can truly bear out (this also is another example of my previous criticism).

This goes back to the fact that I am hesitant about one overarching models to see how a person, or people think. Wright seems convinced to apply the model of exile to the Gospels all throughout. And while I definitely think it is a major factor, it is probably not the only major factor that needs to be taken into consideration.

Wright sees the whole story rather well, but as he moves to the actual text, I think he presses his case far too much at times. Still, I find reading him refreshing and edifying

August 26, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Romans 8:1-17 and the Spirit of Christ

Many commentators have noted that in Romans 8:9, there is sort of a Trinitarian formula in that a) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all mentioned and b) that there seems to be an implicit unity because the the Spirit (Spirit of God at verse 11 indicates) and the Spirit of the Christ are synonymous.

I would call into question the second premise as being the meaning of Paul here. If the “Spirit of Christ/the Messiah” is simply another name for the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God, then we have here a rather stale, redundant, pointlessly convoluted logical argument by Paul. But if we see it as the Messiah’s own spirit (in other words, the Messiah’s own presence) then Paul’s argumentation is essentially the illustration of 8:1-2.

In 8:1-2, in Jesus the Messiah there is no condemnation because in the Messiah, once again, the Spirit of life’s guiding (law) overcomes the guiding of sin and overcomes death. I think crucial to Paul’s thinking is that the Spirit itself only does this in conjunction with our presence in the Messiah (Romans 6:1-4 and 7:4 probably serves as the background for the union between believer and Jesus). In the Old Testament, the Spirit was given to many people, and yet we never get the impression of the victory obtained under Jesus was ever obtained prior to.

We find in verse 3 that the source of victory was not in the Spirit of God, but the Son who came in form of the body and as a offering for sin, and thus condemning (compare to 8:1; figurative for putting to death) sin in His body. The result is that people who acknowledge the Torah is good but couldn’t obey it (refer back to chapter 7), could now do so, and then by the guidance of the Spirit. To speak metaphorically, the Son tills the ground in which the Spirit can then be planted.

At which point, Paul then goes on to contrast the flesh (which should refer to morality and per se some sinful nature) and the Spirit (which as we see in verse 2 is spoken of as immortality) and how the former can not obey God’s Torah (refer back to 7:5).

This sets up for Romans 8:9-11, in which there are four premises provided.

1) You are in the Spirit in the Spirit is in you

2) You are not the Messiah’s if the Spirit of the Messiah is not in you

3) If the Messiah is in you, the Spirit (not our spirit) is life due to righteousness even though the body is dead because of sin

4) If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus is in you, we to will be raised

Each premise builds up on the previous one made, and this is vindicated by the use of de (“moreover”, “now”) before each statement. So in verse 9, Paul is stating that one may have the Spirit, but that is not sufficient. One must also have the Messiah’s spirit with them to belong to Him (genitive, literally “of him”). It is important that we see the genitive as referring not per se to ownership, but as a partitive genitive (“part of”).

Paul’s second proposition is essentially tautological, used to prove a point by its self-evident validity. One may have the Spirit, but if one doesn’t have the Messiah’s spirit present within them, they are not a part of (or “in”) the Messiah. If we take “the Spirit of the Messiah” to be synonymous with the Holy Spirit, then it loses its tautological meaning and it becomes just some abstract dogmatic statement. Or one might suggest a plenary meaning in which “the Spirit of the Messiah” refers both to the Holy Spirit and the Messiah by nature of their trinitarian unity, but this too subtle to be effective communication and ignores the language of the first 4 verses in which the Spirit and the Son are, for purposes of this discussion, seen as distinct.

Then we move forward to the third proposition. First off, this serves as further proof that the “the Spirit of the Messiah” should be taken to prefer to the presence of the Messiah, as Paul then condenses it to just the title, as if “the spirit of the Messiah” and “the Messiah” are synonymous. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Spirit “is life” or rather a source of life because of righteousness. In other words, because the Messiah is a part of the believer and he has condemned/put to death sin by his body, this leads to the righteous obedience within the person (cf. 2 Corintihans 5:21). So in the third premise the Spirit, serves the hope for life, in spite of death that the body faces, because the Messiah has changed the person so as to make the Spirit’s leading productive.

This leads to the fourth premise, which is essentially the conclusion to the anticipated state in the third conclusion in which there is a death to be faced, but the Spirit may be seen as a source of life. The fouth premise essentially explains how the Spirit becomes a source of life, in that he will raise us up from the dead just exactly as God did through Christ (also through the “Spirit of holiness”; Romans 1:4).

It becomes important that the fourth premise is built up on the third and is not an independent propositional phrase. In other words, one can not interpret the mere presence of the Spirit as the foundation for life, but only when the Spirit is joined with the presence of the Messiah.

And all this leads up to the conclusion drawn in 12-13. That one must strive to follow the Spirit so as to live. This exhortation makes no sense if merely the presence of the Holy Spirit was equivalent to being lead by the Holy Spirit and was as such sufficient for hope of life. It then serves as another reason why “the Spirit of the Messiah” can not simply be another name for the Holy Spirit, but the very distinct presence of the Son. It is only in Him that the Spirit can then guide us and then give us life, and so it is only in that case that the Spirit can testify that we are children (literally “sons”) of God just like the Son, Jesus the Messiah.

This fits within the overall theme of Romans, in which it is in following the example Jesus and his trust in God (chapter 3), being joined to Jesus (chapter 7), and putting on the Lord Jesus the Messiah (chapter 13) that one can have the hope for vindication (literally “justification”) and the hope of resurrected life by the Spirit (which goes hand and hand with vindication). And all this is summed up by Paul in verse 17, “heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may glorified with him” (cf. 1 Peter 4:1).

August 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The relation between Romans and Galatians

One of the principal means through which Romans has essentially been interpreted is through the lens of Galatians. In Galatians, we see Paul with a very condemning voice, arguing that those who got circumcised were severed from the Messiah. Because of some of the similar language between Romans and Galatians, Romans in turn got interpreted as if Paul were fighting against another gospel in that letter also. As a result, Torah obedience was spoken of negatively, as if one had to spurn the Torah altogether (or even worse and further from the text, as if one had to spurn all works altogether). I would guess that a negative view of the Torah stems from an incomplete interpretation of Galatians that was then imposed upon Romans.

I would posit that Galatians is concerned with Torah obedience that, in effect, closes off a prophetic voice, that essentially alienates further revelation and direction regarding ethics. In Galatians 3, Paul asks if the Spirit (akin to the prophetic voice and further revelation) was received by faith/trust or if it was received by following the old custom of Torah obedience. And then, in chapter 5, Paul goes on to state that what matters if faith/trust working through love.

While this is a very preliminary hypothesis, I would gather that what Paul is anathematizing is a vision of old-form Judaism that merely integrates Jesus as Messiah, but past that it continues to follow the old tradition. Torah obedience, per se, isn’t the problem, but rather Torah obedience that alienates any further revelation of what is ethically good beyond what was contained in the Torah.

Where such a reading of Galatians would come in contact with Romans is that, according to my view, the Torah is not enough to be truly a righteous person. Instead, one must follow the example of Jesus and the trust in God that he lived by in order to truly understand and become righteous, righteous in the manner of God’s righteousness nature (cf. Matthew 5:48). Not that looking to the Torah itself made oneself an anathema, but that restricting oneself to Torah obedience alone leads us to reject the lifestyle of Christ as further revelation of righteousness.

Hence, in Galatians one who is circumcised is severed from Christ, because some who were being circumcised refused to listen to a further prophetic voice in Jesus (and the Spirit) beyond that which was already in the Torah. As a result, love with one another was not the result. We see the example of Peter in Galatians 2 refusing to eat with the Gentiles. This would also explain Paul’s further exhortations to love one another in Galatians 5 and 6.

Romans on the other hand, simply says that obedience to the Torah is not enough (Romans 3), but rejecting the “glimpses of righteousness” in the Torah and simply relying upon one’s acceptance of the Torah and circumcision without obedience to the terms of the covenant will also result in judgment. In that, there is another place of contact between Romans 2 and Galatians 6:13.

In the end, it is easy to see why Romans and Galatians were essentially taken as two letters saying the exact same thing, because there are a couple places of contact. However, it has lead to Romans being essentially conformed to a Galatian interpretation and a rather negative view of the Torah resulting within more traditional Protestant circles.

August 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment