Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Trust Me, Skinny Jeans Look Great On Every Body Type or Are Women More Easily Deceived?

"And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression."

1 Timothy 2:14

I look at myself and have no problem believing that women are easily deceived. If a pair of pants fit me perfectly and are technically the same size as all my other pants, but are labeled one size larger, I refuse to get them. I use toothpaste with "teeth whitening action" although my teeth aren't any whiter after almost a year of use. I like buying name brand products, even if studies have shown that the cheaper generic versions work just as well. Women can absolutely be easily deceived. My question is: are women more easily deceived than men?

I started contemplating this question after reading an article about wives submitting to their husbands. As a fellow complementarian, I agreed with almost everything the author said, but one comment irked me. Most likely referring to 1 Timothy 2:14, the author explained that one of the reasons women need the protection of God and their husbands is because they are more easily deceived than men. My feelings of indignation swelled and I decided to sit down and write a scathingly brilliant (well, at least in my own mind) post refuting this notion.

But as I thought about it, I realized that my negative reactions to this comment weren't really based on anything biblical. Instead they were rooted in my personal experience - not the best grid for interpreting Scripture. Could it be that *gasp*, I've been deceived about women not being more easily deceived? Or does the Bible support what I've thought all along? I want to find out.

For the next few weeks, I'll delve into this concept, examine the opinions of smart people on both sides of the issue, and hopefully come to a biblical conclusion. The issues I’m particularly keen on discussing are:

1. Is Eve representative of all women? Is Paul arguing that since Eve was deceived, all women are more easily deceived than men?
2. If Paul is using Eve’s deception to argue his point in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (that women should not teach or exercise authority over men), why would they still be allowed to teach other women and children?
3. If Eve isn't representative of all women, how does 2:14 fit into Paul's overall argument?
4. What was the nature of Eve’s deception? I’ve been pondering the connection between self-deception and sin and wonder if we allow ourselves to be deceived every time we sin. It seems we willfully go against God's commands because we don't believe they will result in our good. If I choose to gossip, I’ve deceived myself into believing that gossiping will somehow make me happier than if I choose to abstain. However, even though both Adam and Eve sinned, 1 Timothy 2:14 focuses only on Eve's deception. If there is indeed a relationship between self-deception and sin, how then was Eve’s deception different from this self-deception?

So stay tuned! In the meantime, I’d love to read what you think. And maybe next time I find the perfect pair of jeans, I'll ignore the size on the tag and buy them. Or I'll just write a smaller size on the tag in Sharpie.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Saving Righteousness of God (ch. 4)

In chapter 4, Bird tackles the issue of imputed righteousness (hereafter IR). Historically, Protestants have believed that God credits the believing sinner with the righteousness of Christ. Thus, God bestows upon the believer an "alien" (viz. external) righteousness, and Christ's righteousness credited/imputed/reckoned to us constitutes the ground for our justification. This doctrine has served as a significant identity marker for Protestants, since it distinguishes their view of justification from the Catholic view. However, IR has been much maligned of late by several noteworthy scholars. Therefore, Bird goes to the text to determine if and where this doctrine fits in - if anywhere - in the broader field of Christians discourse (pp. 60-61).

First, he offers a historical overview of Protestant positions on the doctrine. Interestingly, there has been a diversity of views on IR within the pale of Protestantism. Luther's view wasn't nearly as crystallized as Melanchthon's. Calvin's concept of imputation was closely linked to union with Christ. The Augsburg Confession is altogether different from Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin, stating that God imputes faith, not righteousness, to the believer. A number of the Puritans (e.g. Baxter) concur with Augsburg regarding the imputation of faith. Yet, despite this diversity, imputed righteousness has been the dominant view among Protestants, serving as a major facet of Protestantism's self-identity. This makes the modern debates about IR all the more significant.

Next, Bird discusses contemporary debates over the doctrine. Bob Gundry and Tom Wright have been especially persistent in criticizing IR. Mark Seidfrid has offered a very nuanced critique of IR (though I'd say he comes EXTREMELY close to affirming what IR proponents affirm). In response, IR defenders have offered a number of responses, with John Piper's being the most vigorous.

To clarify the debate, Bird offers three helpful points. First, he encourages people to tone down the rhetoric. Second, he notes that justification by faith is not the gospel. The gospel is a story about Jesus' death and resurrection, while justification is the most concrete theological expression of the gospel's meaning and application (69-70). I REALLY wanted Dr. Bird to go into more depth describing the link between justification and the gospel, since this is so crucial. Third (and I think this point is TREMENDOUSLY helpful), imputation is an entirely appropriate way of describing justification within the field of systematic theology. However, from the standpoint of biblical theology, it is more appropriate to speak of justification in terms of incorporated righteousness. Paul rather explicitly states that believers are justified because they are incorporated into the righteousness of Christ. This is how righteousness is apprehended for believers. In the remainder of the chapter, Bird sets out to demonstrate this view.

Bird analyzes the traditional IR proof texts; Romans 4:1-25; 5:18-19; 1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:8-9, and 2 Cor 5:21. He concludes that in none of these texts does Paul say that the mechanism of justification is Christ's righteousness imputed to us. Instead, Paul speaks of our union with Christ as being the basis of our righteousness/justification. The notion of incorporated righteousness arises much more naturally from the text than IR. (I'm running out of time, so you'll have to read the book to see all the arguments Bird offers for his position).

In conclusion, Bird notes...

Given the supremely christocentric ingredient in Paul's formulation of justificaiton it is far more appropriate to speak of incorporated righteousness for the righteousness that clothes believers is not that which is somehow abstracted from Christ and projected onto them, but is located exclusively in Christ as the glorified incarnation of God's righteousness.

I couldn't agree more. Imputed righteousness is often talked about in very odd ways, as if Christ passes his righteousness to us like a gas, so that we can possess it. I don't think this is what Paul teaches. Perhaps it's best to say that God doesn't see Christ's righteousness in us, but that he sees us within the righteousness of Christ. This rightfully places the emphasis back onto Christ, and not ourselves. Moreover, it is important to remember what Bird is not saying. He is not saying that imputation is entirely wrongheaded. Rather, he believes it falls under the purview of systematics. Paul seeks to answer the question, "how are we justified?" His answer is, "through union with Christ." Paul, however, does not answer the question, "how does union with Christ justify?" This is a systematic question, and imputation can help answer this question (p. 87).

Bravo Dr. Bird! I think your work on this subject could truly bring resolution to some of the current debates. To conclude, I have (as you might expect) a few questions for you.

1. In Robert Gundry's article, "The Nonimputation of Christ's Righteousness," [in Justification: What's at Stake in the Current Debates? ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Trier (IVP, 2004); 21], he analyzes various examples of the logizomai eis construction, and concludes that in every instance in which it is used, "the counting results in an identification of what is counted with what it is counted as, not in the introduction of something to be distinguished from what is counted..." If he is correct in his assessment, it seems rather unavoidable that faith=righteousness in Romans 4 (e.g in Romans 4:3 - elogisthe auto eis dikaiosyne). How would you respond to Gundry?

2. What do you think of Brian Vickers' dissertation, Jesus' Blood and Righteousness? He makes the argument that imputed righteousness can be demonstrated through a synthesis of the Pauline material. Thus, he appears to think that imputed righteousness is an appropriate biblical-theological category. Have you read this work, and if so, what do you think?

Monday, July 28, 2008

In Defense of Gay Marriage (or How to Protect the Sanctity of Marriage)

I think that homosexuality is sinful, and as such, morally wrong and contributing to the worsening of the soul of any person practicing homosexuality.

I also think that the Christians should stop fighting the legalization of homosexual marriage.

To many these statements will no doubt sound contradictory, and I understand that. But before I defend my apparent contradiction, I need to first implore anyone who immediately reacts negatively to that second sentence to question why it is that s/he thinks homosexual marriage should remain illegal.

Have you ever honestly thought about why you think that, or is it just that since we as Bible-believing Christians consider marriage to be the sacred union of one man and one woman, it should remain outlawed? I am convinced that this is not a good reason for the banning of gay marriage.

Thus, my first point: at a fundamental level, if we as Christians are seeking for government to legislate Christian morality, then we are in error. As more and more evangelicals are noting these days, America is simply not a Christian nation. The implication of course is that as such, the American government should not be seeking to legislate Christian morality. There may be other reasons for the government to legislate against homosexual marriage, but the fact that it is sinful in the eyes of the God of the Bible is not one of them.

My own preference is that, as much as possible, the government avoids legislating morality at all. There are, of course, some moral issues that must be legislated against for the sake of having a reasonably well functioning society (e.g. murder, rape, theft, et. al.). But it appears to me that the central purpose of that legislation is to make it more difficult for one person to impinge the freedom of another person, especially violently. That is, I should not be allowed to murder you specifically because you would rather not be murdered.

But homosexual marriage squarely fails that test. If two consenting adult males want to marry each other, why should the government be able to stop them? Add to that the tax benefits of being married, and suddenly denying that privilege makes it more expensive to be gay. And again, why should the state financially punish people for being gay?

But there is an even more important reason to allow state-sanctioned gay marriage, and it is this: I could not care any less what the state thinks of my marriage. Not even a little bit (as long as I get the according tax benefits, that is!). And why should you if you are a Christian?

By contrast, the only institution whose opinion of my marriage I do value is the church. Any church can decide whether or not they want to perform a gay wedding, and I for one would never find myself at a church that did that. But is there any biblical precedent for the licensing of Christian marriage to be primarily in the hands of any institution other than the church? The fact that America does or does not sanction my marriage is entirely secondary.

And truthfully, if Christians began to care more about what the church thought of our marriages and less about what the state thinks, perhaps we would do much more to preserve the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. For one, maybe we would stop getting divorced so often if we would submit our whole marriages (not just our weddings) to the church. And on that note, does it not feel even a little hypocritical to anyone else that we of the well-publicized 50% divorce rate are the most outspoken against other people’s marriages?

If we did start to seek the goal of godly marriages, would that not model the sanctity of marriage in a far more profound way than any legislation against gay marriage could? That seems to me to be a far greater and more important challenge to us as Christians than getting the state to sign off on our view of marriage.

Friday, July 25, 2008

If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words, Then Why Can't I Paint Jesus?

So I had my discipleship group of four adorable and brilliant sixth graders over for dinner awhile ago. We enjoyed Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (I ate some leftovers directly out of the pot and one of the girls informed me that eating dinner directly out of the pot is what "young people with careers" normally do) and sampled Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream, which we awarded a respectable 8 out of 10 (we rate a new ice cream each Thursday), before settling into our weekly theological discussion.

So far, these girls have asked how Jesus can be eternal if He died on the cross, wrestled with the problem of evil, shared how the Spirit is helping them say no to sin, and posited that Jesus may have had colic as a baby because smart babies sometimes have colic.

Thursday's discussion was predictably thoughtful and lively and one of the girls asked a great question: How did we get different races if everyone came from Adam and Eve and Adam and Eve were white?

We talked about how the Bible doesn't say what Adam and Eve's skin tone was like, which led the girls to pull out my children's Bibles and we all lamented the fact that Adam and Eve generally look pretty Nordic. (The girls also think it's funny that Eve is always pictured with conveniently long hair.)

This got me thinking about children's Bibles and if they might do more harm than good. My bright little sixth grader has probably thought that Adam and Eve were white for a long time. I doubt anyone actually taught her this, but those pictures in children's Bibles made a lasting impression and she assumed that Adam and Eve looked like the picture in her Bible. Since we don't know what Esther, Moses, or Jesus really looked like (except that they probably weren't the chestnut brown haired Europeans pictured in many Bibles), is it all right to put false images into the minds of kids?

On the one hand, children's picture Bibles introduce young kids to God and His plan, keep them interested and engaged in the story, and are sensitive to their developmental stage. It's difficult to get young kids to sit and listen if there is nothing visual to keep their attention. On the other hand, these Bibles can also lead kids to develop false conceptions of historical figures and events (this may explain why so many kids believe that the forbidden fruit was an apple) and perhaps even subtly encourage racism (given that most of the heroes of the Bible look pretty European.)

And then there's the issue of drawing the Son of God. Even though people have been painting Jesus for centuries, there's something about this that makes me uncomfortable. No painting, picture or sculpture can accurately present what Jesus really looked like and I'm concerned that so many kids picture the Son of God as a handsome and very clean guy with long flowing hair and a red sash. Jesus’ body is a crucial part of who He is. If we can’t demonstrate what Jesus really looked like, should we even try?

As a director of children's ministries, I'm starting to dig myself into a hole. We use a children's Bible in our preschool class every week and if I really believe what I just wrote, I need to start thinking about some storytelling alternatives that will present the Bible accurately and keep in mind our preschoolers' two second attention span.

One idea I'm tossing around is using pictures of objects to tell the story instead of pictures of people. For instance, if a teacher is telling the kids about Jesus feeding the five thousand, he might show them pictures of fish, loaves, and baskets (or better yet, show the kids real fish and bread) instead of showing a picture of Jesus with the fish and loaves. I think the lack of pictures may allow the kids to develop a more biblical conception of Jesus.

What do you think? Should children's Bibles be outlawed? Should I be fired for even suggesting such a thing? Is there a way to pictorially represent the people of the Bible in an accurate and helpful manner? I'd love to hear your opinions and ideas.

The New Girl In Town

Hi everyone! I'm Jenny Bruce (Jeffrey's older sister) and I'm honored and excited to be joining Christians in Context.

I graduated from Biola University with a degree in Biblical Studies in 2002 and have worked as a Director of Children's Ministries (or according to Andrew Faris, a Children's Pastor) ever since. I feel tremendously blessed to work at the same San Francisco Bay Area church where I was raised and I've learned some valuable lessons over the past six years such as:

1. Kids are able to comprehend much more than we assume they can.
2. The boy doing somersaults during the Bible story often remembers the story verbatim.
3. Red Light, Green Light can be adapted to illustrate almost any theological point. Seriously.

Here are a few cheerful facts about me. I'm a fan of Stephen Sondheim musicals, Flannery O'Conner short stories, hot chocolate, NPR, Christopher Guest films, directing kids' theatre, Charles Wesley hymns, Trivial Pursuit, and midcentury modern design. My favorite soapboxes include "Romans 7 describes Paul's pre-conversion experience," and "Dark chocolate is infinitely superior to milk chocolate." I especially enjoy thinking and writing about Christian culture, issues facing the American church, demonstrating what God's Kingdom is like through good works and kids' discipleship.

I'm looking forward to interacting with you all!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Regarding Anti-War Extremism

Over the last few days I've been on a big hip hop kick. That doesn't happen for me all too often, which means that I don't personally own much hip hop to speak of. So I've scratched that hip hop itch primarily through the Flobots (of "Handlebars" fame), both in a friend's car and now through their myspace.

Trouble is, while I appreciate a lot of their musical originality and think the rapping is pretty solid (but then, what do I know about that, really?), I quickly tire of just how extremely anti-war they are. It's great that some Christians are out there caring about social justice (seriously, I mean it), but is the last section of "Handlebars" really comparing the Iraq War with the Holocaust?

Seriously- the Holocaust? You know, that time when 6 million Jews died and World War II started? The evil to which we now compare all other evils- that Holocaust. Is the Iraq War really on par with the Holocaust? I hope I'm misunderstanding the Flobots lyrics.

Trouble is, even if I am misunderstanding the Flobots, this is the kind of language I hear from anti-war folks all the time, most certainly including Christians. I addressed this issue originally in my first post as one of the bloggers at Christians in Context, so I don't want to simply regurgitate that material. But I do want to note a few thoughts I've recently had on the Iraq War and war in general (some of which you have come across before) that, for me at least, need to be addressed before I'm willing to become an Iraq War hater specifically or a full bore pacifist more generally.

Just because I am not a pacifist (or that I may support the Iraq War specifically) does not mean that I love killing people. I lament it, in fact. But I may think it is a necessary evil to achieve a greater good.

Further, why should we not look at this in a somewhat more utilitarian way? This is a question I have raised a number of times and have never had satisfactorily answered. That is, if the idea is to kill the least amount of human beings possible (not just Americans, but all human beings, as we are members of the Kingdom first and the state second, and we of the Kingdom recognize all humans, Iraqi, American, Kurd or otherwise, to be made in the image of God), isn't it reasonable to think that the war was a good idea if in fact it removed a dictator who was torturing and murdering so many of his own people that those deaths did and would have outnumbered the number of war casualties? It may feel cold to just compare numbers, but I honestly cannot think of a better way to evaluate it if the controlling criterion is dying people.

That comparison, I think, is exactly why most of us not only approve of, but even applaud America's entrance into World War II. Hitler's atrocities were so glaring that going to war, with all of the deaths that it brought, appears to have been a good idea. So I ask the obvious question to those who are opposed to war in principle: was it or was it not a good idea or even morally virtuous for America to enter into World War II? And for argument's sake, what if Pearl Harbor had not happened? Would it then have been a good idea for us to enter WW II?

I suppose what I am getting at is the same thing that bothers me a lot of the time in popular Christian thinking, namely a lack of real thoughtfulness. All of the extreme language of a group like Flobots is provocative, but ultimately does not lead at least me to action, because it just feels too extreme and not well thought out. I (and I think many others) are actually turned off by language that seems reactionary and I try not to change my beliefs until they are confronted by ones that are more carefully thought through and presented. If you are, in this case, a thoughtful pacifist, I respect that. But if you're out there calling the Iraq War a new Holocaust, I cannot take you seriously.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Are You a 5 Point New Perspectivist?

I imagine that most of this blog's readers are of the Reformed persuasion, and that many are "5 Point Calvinists" (or, to use the language of "5 Point Calvinists"..."Calvinists"). However, how many of you are also 5 point New Perspectivists? In an unpublished paper, Francis Watson has conjured up a humorous (and helpful) way of describing the basic tenants of the New Perspective using the TULIP acronym. Here's his desciption of the 5 points of the New Perspective, along with how they compare to the 5 points of Calvinism.

According to the first point, the Lutheran perspective on Paul has got him all wrong. It results in a total travesty of what he meant. So, in place of Total depravity, our own first point is: 'Total travesty'.

According to the second point, the cardinal belief of first century Judaism is the unmerited divine election, God's choice of Israel to be his covenant people. In this case, no modification seems necessary. 'Unconditional election' will do just fine.

According to the third point, this Jewish belief in election comes to expression in a firm allegiance to the marks of difference - circumcision and the rest. 'Limited atonement' isn't quite right here, so I suggest we replace it with 'Loyalty to the law'.

According to the fourth point, Paul is generally affirmative of this Jewish covenant theology, and certainly does not criticize it for any alleged tendency to make salvation dependent on human law-observance. He is, however, critical of its tendency to confine membership of the people of God to the Jewish community; God is, after all, the God of Gentiles also. We will call our fourth point not 'Irresistible grace' but 'Inclusive salvation'.

According to the fifth point, historical-critical study of Paul must rid itself of misreadings stemming from interpreters' prior theological commitments. 'The Perseverance of the saints' is no good here, so we will call our final point, 'Presuppositionless exegesis'.

Finally, we have a standard by which to measure one's fidelity to the New Perspective. So, how many points do you adhere to? I consider myself a 4.45 point Calvinist, and a 2.75 point New Perspectivist...roughly.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Saving Righteousness of God (ch. 3)

In chapter 3, Bird focuses on the centrality of the resurrection for Paul. He wishes in so doing to offer a corrective to Protestant theologians who have placed an inordinate amount of emphasis on the cross. This isn't to say, of course, that the cross is unimportant to Paul. To the contrary, the cross is at the very heart of the apostle's theology, as it is a fundamental expression of God's saving righteousness (cf. Rom 3:24; 5:9). However, the resurrection is often treated as an add-on to the Christ-event; a proof that Jesus accomplished what he purposed to do at Calvary, and no more. Bird maintains that the resurrection is much more integrally related to God's righteousness and the believer's salvation than has traditionally been supposed. To substantiate this, he examines what impact the resurrection has upon our justification.

Bird begins by surveying five scholars who have argued for an umbilical relationship between Christ's resurrection and our justification. I won't go into detail in outlining these scholars' views, but let me give you a few quotes to get your mental juices churning.

God justifies the sinner because of the new situation of being reconciled and justified which is created by the raising of the Crucified. In this situation, sinful man, in so far as he participates in it through Christ, is qualified as just before God.
(Walter Kunneth, The Theology of the Resurrection, 158)

The legal ground of our justification - and the reason to praise God as the justifier of the wicked lies in Jesus Christ exlusively ... It lies in his death and resurrection, not in his teaching, or in our obedience to it. Man's faith has a part in that legal ground only in as much as it is faith in Jesus Christ.
(Barth and Fletcher, Aquittal by Resurrection, 94)

the enlivening of Christ is judicially declarative not connection with his messianic status as son, his adoption, but also with respect to his (adamic) status as righteous. The constitutive, transforming action of resurrection is specifically forensic in character. It is Christ's justfication.
(Richard Gaffin, The Centrality of the Resurrection, 124)

Just as our sin brought Christ's condemnation and death, so his resurrection announces our justification.
(Mark Seidfrid, Christ Our Righteousness, 47).

In the second half of the chapter, Bird analyzes those texts where Paul imbues the resurrection with salvific signifcance; viz. 1 Cor 15:17, Rom 1-5, 1 Tim 3:16. There's tons to ponder regarding Bird's exegesis of these passages, so let me just note some of the conspicuously interesting points he makes.

1. Bird thinks that a "Christological" reading of Romans 1:16-17 is worth considering, wherein the righteous one (Jesus) will live (resurrection) by his faith(fulness) (n. 49). If this is indeed what Paul is doing in Romans 1:16-17, it powerfully underscores the representative nature of Christ's work on our behalf.

2. Romans 4:25 is obviously a crucial text linking resurrection and justification. Paul states that Jesus was "handed over because of our sins, and raised for our justification." Bird notes that the crucial question with regard to this verse is whether the resurrection actually causes our justification. He answers in the affirmative, noting that Jesus' death and resurrection are (in the words of Stanley) two movements in one redemptive act. Bird states;

The retributive justice of God, his verdict so to speak, is discharged in the death of Christ. The wrath of God has been propitiated with such finality and such perfection that none remains on the believer. In the resurrection, God's declaration of vindication and the enactment of it are manifested in the resurrection of Christ.

3. Romans 5:18 is similar to 4:25, wherein Christ's act of righteousness leads to justifying life for all men. The resurrection is everywhere assumed in Romans 5:12-21, since it is the risen Christ who bestows life and righteousness to believing humanity.

4. Bird's exegesis of Romans has also prompted me to rethink Romans 10:9-10. Why does Paul say that if we believe in our hearts that God raised Christ from the dead, we will be saved? Why does he not mention the death of Christ? Isn't that what we are supposed to believe in? Perhaps Paul is assuming what he has argued earlier; namely, that Jesus has been raised for our justification (4:25). Therefore, believing in Jesus' resurrection actualizes our justification...or something like that. All that to say, the verse was always perplexing to me because I never understood the salvific significance of the resurrection.

To conclude the chapter, Bird notes four implications of his study;

1. When justication is located in the death and resurrection of Christ, a tenable connection can be posited between the judidical and pariticipationist categories in Paul's thought.

2. If Bird is correct, he must explain why Paul can speak of justification as occurring through the cross without ever mentioning the resurrection (Rom 3:24; 5:9). He suggests that Paul did this for pastoral reasons, but I'm not as convinced by Bird's argumentation at this point. Bird says that Christ's death constitutes the verdict against sin for justification to proceed (58). Yes, but Paul seems to say more than this in Romans 5:9; he appears to say that Christ's death causes our justificaion. Maybe I'm being nitpicky (in fact I know am, since I really didn't find much of anything to disagree with in this chapter!).

3. Justification is supremely christological. To this I give a hearty amen. I think it's misleading when systematic theologians discuss the atonement/resurrection apart from the order of salvation. Think of the order of salvation as it is generally conceived. It looks something like this (for us Reformed folks at least).

1. Predestination
2. Calling
3. Regeneration
4. Faith
5. Justification
6. Adoption
7. Sanctification
8. Death
9. Glorification

The problem here is that you can look at the above list completely apart from the person and work of Jesus. This is misguided, for it is only through our union with Christ that the benefits of salvation can be mediated to us. Christ is the justified one, alive from the dead. Through union with him, God calls us just, calls us family, calls us holy, and calls us his. God's love for the church is always and forever mediated through the Son. It is unfortunate that the traditional categories of systematic theoloy tend to obfuscate this reality.

4. If justification is to be conceived of as union with the justified Messiah, then what becomes of imputation? We will look at this question next week.

To conclude, I have two questions for Dr. Bird. First, a theological question; when Paul says that we are raised with Christ in Ephesians (e.g. Eph 2:6), do you think this is just another way of saying that we are justified? Second, a pratical question; how should the salvific significance of the resurrection change the way we share the gospel?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hitting the Links

1. Fred Sanders recommends Charles Simeon.
2. Fred Sanders recommends Charles Simeon's understanding of systematic theology.
3. Dan Phillips discusses abortion specifically and how to think about sin more generally.
4. Christians like finding out if others Christians like beer (yes, I do). (HT: Carrie Allen)
5. Well before N. T. Wright, J. D. G. Dunn, and E. P. Sanders, there was John Locke.
6. Justin Taylor passes on J. I. Packer's Top 5 books.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Emergent Ecclesiology

Thanks to the wonderful invention of google alerts, I was recently notified of an interesting article by John Hammett from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary called An Ecclesiological Assessment of the Emergent Church Movement. As the title suggests, the essay sets out to discuss how the emergent community impacts (or defines) the doctrine of the church. Therefore I figured I'd share a little of Dr. Hammett's appraisal and offer some comments along with it.

At the outset of the paper Hammett begins with a definition of the Emerging Church Movement. He cites the difficulty in defining the group due to its diversity, facets, and nuances. He notes, "The leaders of this movement acknowledge that there is neither unanimity nor even a consensus of opinion among them as to what emergent is, and they deny that any single theologian or spokesperson represents the movement as a whole." But what he does state that the most common theme that surfaces in the over arching dicussions is postmodernism. Though even this has been challanged by individuals such as Andrew Jones, much of the concern is in fact in relation to post-modernism.

Hammett then goes on to ask two questions based on the emerging premise:

1) Must all churches respond to Postmodernism?

2) Should churches respond to Postmodernism?

After giving numerous examples as to the importance of reaching the culture and "learning the vernacular" (to minister to postmodern people; Kimball), he concludes the notion in #1 as problematic. He says, "To insist that all churches must change their methods and message in the light of postmodern culture to reach the next generation seems simply to be an inaccurate overstatement." Hammett's reasoning is shaped from four areas, 1) not all [geographical] areas are affected by postmodernism, 2) even within the areas that are strongly affected by postmodernism, those outside of the emergent community are effectively reaching the culture (ex. Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church), 3) study have shown that parents are continuing to be the major [religious] influence in the lives of their children, 4) postmodernism as we know it is showing signs toward declination.

For the second question Hammett votes in favor. He says, "Of course they should, in some sense. Love for our neighbors calls us to learn the language and engage the questions of the culture." To this he adds a comment from D. A. Carson, "The Reformation developed around concerns that the Catholic Church of that time had departed from Scripture in a number of significant ways; thus, the changes advocated by the Reformers were attempts to reform the church on the basis of Scripture." Although he does caution us of the following, "Should churches adjust their methods and message to postmodern culture? To do so runs the risk of becoming culture driven, rather than Scripture driven. Any adjustments to postmodern culture must be preceded by a biblical analysis of postmodern culture that identifies at which points we may take a Christ of culture or a Christ transforming culture position, and at which points we must take a Christ against culture posture."

Hammett concludes by rightly noting that the church always faces the twin dangers of cultural captivity and cultural irrelevance. And though he does give credence to the emergent community for attempting to reach the culture, he offers the following assessment: "...The emerging church itself also runs the risk of being captive to culture, only to postmodern culture. The more desirable alternative is for all churches to engage the culture, with a zeal to understand its questions and to speak its language, but also with a resolute willingness to take the posture of Christ against culture where biblical fidelity requires it. "

After reading the entire article I found many of Hammett's arguments to be quite compelling; particularly with regard to his point that the Emergent Movement risks finding itself captive to postmodern culture. It is often difficult to discern the degree to which we can alter our methods without compromising our message. And we certainly don't want to alter it in such a way that, while becoming "relevant" to those generations most directly influenced by postmodernism, we inadvertently make ourselves irrelevant to the rest of the population. But I do personally sympathize with the emergent community. Am I convinced that there is a definitive way in which church should be performed? No, but I am confident that we can reach the culture in multiple ways with our greatest concern being to proclaiming the good news of Christ.


As a postscript, I wanted to note that I have reached out to Dr. Hammett in an effort to gain some further insight into this issue. He has graciously given me an article from the manuscript of an upcoming book on the Emergent Church Movement where he discusses this topic in greater length. He has also agreed to respond a correspondence interview as well. Perhaps some of our readers might offer some thoughts on this issue in order to inform the interview questions I ask of Dr. Hammett. Look for that in a few weeks.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Final Review of They Like Jesus But Not the Church

It finally happened: I finished They Like Jesus But Not the Church. Before I leave it behind and move on to the next book, I wanted to give it one final, full review (as opposed to my comments on some of the particulars that have been the themes of my previous posts on the book).

They Like Jesus starts with the premise that modern America is filled with an emergent generation (i.e. 18-30 yr. olds) that is interested in Jesus (and spiritual things more generally) but would never go to church to explore said interest in spirituality. The solution for Christians who want to reach that group with the gospel is to break out of the Christian subculture and make genuine relationships with them. Sincere friendship that includes patient listening and explanations of concepts will lead people into a more legitimate understanding of Jesus that moves past pop-culture perceptions into the full biblical picture.

The middle six chapters each voice the specific concerns emergent non-Christians have: the church is an organized religion with a political agenda, judgmental, male-dominated and female-oppressing, homophobic, arrogantly exclusivist, and narrowly fundamentalist. Included in those chapters are Kimball’s practical answers to each concern. Concluding chapters once again encourage Christians to leave the subculture armed with the hope that comes from knowing that the emergent generation is genuinely interested in Jesus even if for now the church has been slow to reach them.

Kimball has done the church an enormous service with this work. Let me be quite clear: They Like Jesus But Not the Church is a great book that I am convinced many (most?) Christians would benefit greatly from reading.

If you’re skeptical of my high praise, I fully understand. Not only do book reviews tend toward hyperbole in general, but given the constant flow of books everyone is supposed to read on the secret for successful ministry, what could possibly make this one so worth reading? I myself went into the book fully ready to fault Kimball for catering to non-Christian culture, thereby creating a new kind of seeker sensitivity that would marry the culture and generally commit the same old Emergent error of throwing out the biblical baby with evangelicalism’s bathwater. Put another way, I expected that They Like Jesus was going to propose a model of church that would primarily be for non-Christians, when in fact the church is for Christians (who are equipped by the church to go to those non-Christians).

Thing is, while I was ready to find those errors from page one, I never did. Kimball has synthesized some of the best observations of the Emergent church balanced with a refreshing commitment to Biblical authority and Christian orthodoxy. The whole book is designed as a primer on what the emergent generation of non-Christians are thinking specifically as a tool to get Christians to go to them. That is, it rightly does exactly the opposite of what I expected it to fail at, all the while never suggesting that we ought to hide or modify what we believe to make it more acceptable in the eyes of the culture. We’re just supposed to listen sensitively and build relationships with genuine love. And is that so unbiblical?

In point of fact, no book I have ever read has ever encouraged me to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to non-Christians like this one has (which is why I am so convinced that many Christians would benefit so much from it). Much of that is because Kimball writes from a uniquely well-rounded perspective. He was raised a non-Christian, only to slip subconsciously into the Christian subculture, only to be awakened to the reality that he is ineffective in bringing the gospel to the world, only to build trusting relationships with non-Christians all around him. Further, he has thought through all of those sensitive and controversial issues that the emergent generation openly has problems with.

All of this comes together to mean that Kimball not only identifies the problems, but gives well thought out and exceptionally practical solutions for how to deal with all of them- something like a field guide for meeting with emergent non-Christians. That is probably much of why I feel so much better equipped to share the gospel.

The one major critique of the work is that the writing is frankly poor. Kimball often writes at a roughly high school stylistic level which can make the whole project feel simplistic. But neither his clarity nor his ideas themselves suffer much because of it, which is again a good indication that he has thought through the issues. So while the style is often frustrating, it does not hinder the thinking enough to be a major deterrent. It just meant that every so often I had to rant about it to a friend, which isn’t so bad.

Many of you who are like me are realizing that, even if it isn’t entirely true that the American church isn’t meeting emergent non-Christians (the jury is still out on that question for me), it is true that I am not. If you are frustrated to be experiencing that same reality, They Like Jesus But Not the Church is well worth the read- even if it never means you get as cool of a haircut or listen to as cool of music as Dan Kimball.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Title Changes

Dear readers,

We at Christians in Context have recently had the opportunity to interact with a number of reputable Christian scholars whose work we have long admired, including D. A. Carson, N. T. Wright, J. D. G. Dunn, I. Howard Marshall, and R. C. Sproul. Many of these have emailed us with unsolicited favorable commentary on our work. Yet each scholar's email also included a surprising note. For example, take this letter from J. I. Packer:

"Dear Norman, Damian, Jeffrey, and Andrew,

I write in appreciation of your blog. It is firmly evangelical, robustly ecumenical, gently Calvinistic, and cautiously post-tribulational pre-millennial. Though I am typically reticent to write reviews and blurbs, I am glad to commend your glowing irenicism, scholarly acumen, and gracious tone. I would be happy to endorse any further work that you produce.

Despite my substantial enthusiasm for your work, I must say that it is difficult to believe that anyone could take you seriously when your first names are so readily accessible. My own name has appeared as 'J. I.' for so long now that even I have forgotten what those initials once stood for, and the gravitas of my work has increased accordingly. I suggest you work towards the same.


J. I. Packer"

While honored by Dr. Packer's kind words, we were utterly confused by the second paragraph. Only after a few such emails came in did we realize however that Packer must be correct: what separates the work of men such as F. F. Bruce, D. A. Carson, and N. T. Wright? It could only be their abbreviated names.

Having now faced the reality that if we are to gain more scholarly momentum we will need to change our names, we hereby shall be posting using the below-listed appellations:

N. R. E. Jeune III
D. Michael Romano
A. Joshua Faris IV
J. Kenneth Bruce

We ask that you no longer refer to any of us by any other names. Thank you for your compliance.

- N. R. E. Jeune III, D. Michael Romano, A. Joshua Faris IV, and J. Kenneth Bruce

(Just kidding. None of those scholars have emailed us. Just a little nerd humor that needed some embellishing for the joke's sake. We're also not going by any of those names, though if you ask me "N. R. E. Jeune III" does have a nice ring to it...)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Saving Righteousness of God (ch. 2 - part 2)

There are a host of things I'd like to discuss more in this chapter, but the time-management monster implores me (along with my wife) to finish commenting on it. You may recall from my previous post that Bird tackles four particularly contentious issues/debates regarding righteousness in chapter 2. I discussed three of these issues (i.e. is righteousness imparted or imputed? is it adherence to a norm or a right relationship? is it transformative or forensic?) last week. Today, we look at the fourth issue; the relationship between Jewish particularism and righteousness. This is a perenially hot topic in Pauline studies, so I thought it would be helpful to camp out here.

Bird first surveys the history of scholarship on this topic. Since the Reformation, there has been a tendency to read Paul's letters as ahistorical treatises on systematic theology (19). Being more interested with what Paul teaches about the order of salvation, Protestant scholars have often failed to appreciate the meaning of the apostle's arguments in their historical context. The Jew/Gentile issue - so central to Paul's thinking - receives scant attention in Reformed scholastics. To simplify, post-reformation scholarship envisaged justification/righteousness as pertaining primarily to the individual's relationship with God.

However, this trend of dehistoricizing Paul's teaching began to change in the 19th century. Increasingly, interpreters began to appreciate the literary and historical contexts of Paul's letters. F.C. Baur (1792-1860) attempted to show that a dialectic tension between Paul and the Judaizers was the catalyst that drove early Christianity. Wrede and Schweitzer expanded on Baur's work, contending that Paul developed his thinking on righteousness/justification in response to his Judaizing opponents. Subsequently, Davies, Munck and Stendahl all (in quite different ways) argued that the Jew/Gentile problem was fundamental for Paul's thinking. The stage was thus set for scholars to evince an explicit correlation between the apostle's thinking on righteousness/justification and the issue of Jewish particularism. E.P. Sanders demonstrated the centrality of covenant membership in 1st century Judaism (and that Jews were not proto-Pelagian legalists trying to work their way to heaven). Building upon Sanders's work, Dunn and Wright argued that Paul conceives of God's righteousness as his covenant faithfulness, and that justification means membership in the covenant. For these scholars, justification is primarily about how one can tell who is a member of God's people. Paul's opponents say that one is marked out as God's by the distinctively Jewish rites of Torah (e.g. circumcision, food laws, etc.). In contrast, Paul says that faith is what marks one out as a member of the covenant people. It should be evident that this view of justification has more to do with the church (i.e. how you can tell who is "in"), and less to do with the order of salvation (i.e. how one gets saved).

Bird goes on to note that some have taken issue with Dunn and Wright on this point on the grounds that apocalypticism, not covenant, constitutes the background for Paul's righteousness/justification language. This is a complicated debate, and one that I am still getting a handle on, but let me say that I agree with Bird that the alleged conflict between apocalyptic and covenantal categories is artificial. When God radically intervenes in history to save and judge, it is an expression of his faithfulness to the covenant. Once this point is conceded, the debate seems misguided.

What intrigued me most about this chapter was Bird's assessment of pre and post-Sanders scholarship. He says,

pre-Sanders scholarship was correct to identify Jewish particularism as the context of Paul's missionsary career and how righteousness is the resolution to Paul's anthropological pessimism concerning the law, flesh, sin and the final judgment. However, it failed to identify exactly how righteousness and justification relates to the problem posed by Jewish particularism. In contrast, much of post-Sanders scholarship correctly identifies and prosecutes the significance of Jewish particularism in relation to Paul's theology of righteousness. Yet the error is frequently made of mistaking the context of justification with its content or to wrongly equate the implication of justification with its purpose.

I agree with Bird that this is one of the big problems with New Perspective exegesis. However, there's a point I need clarification on. I understand justification as having a basically forensic and soteriological meaning. Justification is God's verdict of "righteous" to the ungodly sinner, on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is an effective pronouncement, insofar as it creates a new state of affairs in the relationship between God and the believing sinner. That (to me) is the meaning of justification. Now, it's implication is sociological and ecclesiological; namely, people who are justified by faith are accepted by God, and therefore can accept each other. To me, New Perspectivites err by confusing the meaning of justification with its implication. On this point Dr. Bird, I believe we are in agreement. However, you go on to state that justification is constitutive for the unity of Jews and Gentiles (33). In other words, justification creates a new people in a new covenant (33). Do you then think that justification has a (partly) ecclesiological meaning? Is the difference between your position and that of New Perspectivites (viz. Tom Wright) one of emphasis? I suppose I am trying to pin down where you agree and disagree with the New Perspective on justification.

Well, this review is already too long. Let me conclude by saying that the next two chapters contain some of the most helpful stuff I've ever read on Paul, so stay tuned!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Family Business: How Should We Organize the Church?

The church is a family. Jesus constituted the church as such (Mk 3:31-35), and Paul followed his Master's lead by employing sibling language to talk about fellow believers. This is not a quaint metaphor, but a determinative social reality that guides believers' behavior towards one another. Why is Paul so incensed in 1 Corinthians 6? Because SIBLINGS are taking each other to court (1 Cor 6:6). Why does Jesus's judgment fall on the goats in Matthew 25? Because they do not attend to the needs of siblings (cf. Mt. 25:40, 45). Who doesn't have the love of God according to John? The one who sees a sibling in need and withholds the world's goods from her/him (1 Jn 3:15-16).

This isn't to say that the church is only a family. It's a bride, a building, a body, and sundry other things. And these images provide us with other, complimentary aspects of the nature/organization of the church. Here's the dilemma that I have encountered: when it comes to how the church should be organized in order to accomplish its mission, we run into all sorts of value conflicts. If the church is to be effective in reaching the lost, there needs to be some means of organizing people around a common task. However, all human organizational systems are flawed, and thus have unintended consequences. Some can turn pastors into project managers who never get around to discipling brothers and sisters. Others can make pastors passive and subject to the whims of their congregations. Others reinforce an unbiblical clergy/laity distinction and so stifle ministry. Families and businesses operate with different assumptions and values. Accordingly, here are some things I've been mulling over (n.b. some of these are compliments of my dad)...

(1) When do models of organization stifle pastors from actually leading the church? When do they stifle church members from taking on ministry?
(2) How should we evaluate ministries, especially since they are being run by brothers and sisters?
(3) What does ministry-accountability look like when we are dealing with siblings?
(4) Is it ever okay to fire a staff member for job performance when sin isn't involved? If so, what biblical rationale would you use to fire said person?
(5) When do organizational systems run counter to the principle of the priesthood of all believers?

Take a crack at any one of them, or all of them if you are so inclined.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just Published....

The folks at Third Millenium Ministries are one of a few ministries that offer what has been called e-zine's or web-mags. Basically it is an online magazine/journal. Theirs is call Reformed Perspectives Magazine, which is a free online library of articles which present viewpoints from the Reformed Protestant community both historical and contemporary.

In any event, this week they have published an article I wrote called "Complete Grace". Its basically a brief primer on the doctrine of election. Below is a short section of the article. You can access the rest here (

"It has been said that there are two ways in which man formulates his theology. Either he embraces a man-centered theology (anthropocentric), or he holds to a God-centered theology (theocentric). If one wants to remain consistent with the truth taught in the Bible, that is, what God reveals to his creatures concerning himself, though it may come as a shock, one has no alternative but to choose a God-centered theology...." CONTINUE.

Friday, July 11, 2008

An Apologetic for Apologetics

Sorry Dan Kimball, the game is up: you're just not really Emergent, even if you do dress cool, have a church in Santa Cruz, and like cooler music than most of us.

As if Kimball's confession of all of his orthodox theological views wasn't enough (see They Like Jesus, 56) , he actually defends apologetics. I'm actually more interested in those thoughts than in proving that he isn't Emergent, so check out this quote:

"As we talked, I also ended up using classical apologetics. Some people think apologetics isn't useful today, but I think it still is, though only after trust has been built and we have been asked questions. In my experience, even those who grew up outside of the church in our emerging culture consider having reasonable answers a respectable thing. In fact, people want to know there's validity to what I believe, and apologetics has been helpful to me in showing that to them. I believe we need apologetics more than ever today, but we need to know what the current questions are." (183)

Some of the dissenters Kimball mentions are friends of mine who are good theological thinkers. My discussions with these folks have made me rethink the value that I have placed on apologetics for the last six or so years. Add to that the two further self-realizations that (1) I often like apologetics because I like being right more than I actually care that non-Christians come to know Jesus (pretty convicting...) and (2) that I have never convinced anyone by means of apologetics to give his life to Christ. So while I haven't rejected the enterprise wholesale, my skepticism has increased.

On the other hand, there seems to be something entirely reasonable about apologetics. The theological objections that we have married the spirit of the age (i.e. modernism and the scientific method), that sin has so depraved humanity that the unsaved mind is incapable of grasping that truth (i.e. a strong belief in noetic sin), or that natural theology is a lost cause because true theology must be revealed have not convinced me entirely. Further, apologetics has been indispensable in my evangelism to Mormons, not to mention the testimony of my friend and co-blogger Norman Jeune, for whom apologetics played a significant role in conversion. Even more simply, I do wonder what those anti-apologetics folks do when a non-Christian asks them rational questions.

This has left me treading aimlessly in the mysterious waters of evangelism methodology. At least, that is, until Dan Kimball put apologetics in its place. He basically makes two points: (1) apologetics should be employed in the context of relationship, and (2) apologetics should seek to answer only the relevant questions.

Point #1 makes enormous sense at least on experiential grounds. Not only have I never convinced anyone of the rationality of Christianity by using apologetics, but I also don't know that I have ever used apologetics much past a first interaction with a non-Christian. First-conversation apologetics comes off as a personal attack that is somehow aggressively defensive- like we're hiding something but trying to get people to believe before they find out what it is.

On the flip side, Norm would tell you that while a Christian did need to answer his questions, those questions were answered in the context of relationships that, upon further reflection, he realized were even more convincing. Kimball is convinced that people are generally rational and want answers to their questions, and I think he is right. But they do not want to be targets for our apologetic missiles. And that makes sense, doesn't it? Who doesn't want genuine relationship over a quick attempt at a mind change? And how can such a quick attempt ever be felt as truly loving and not mercenary?

Does God use street witnessing to change people lives? Yes, of course He does. But the fact that God does not make us do everything perfectly before He uses us isn't license for carelessness and thoughtlessness in our approach to being His ambassadors.

Point #2 (i.e. that apologetics should be used to answer people's actual questions, not just the ones that we think they probably have) is equally important. Kimball pens a good challenge to how we frame our apologetics training: "In all of the times I have taken people through this process, I have never once had someone say, 'This doesn't matter. Everything is relative and they can all be right.'...Despite what you may hear about our relativistic world and the impact of postmodernism, when you logically and gently lay the facts out for people, there's not too much arguing. People see the contradiction..." (181-2)

Not only is there the initial point that we probably don't need to worry so much about proving that truth isn't relative (which is the framework or at least entry point of almost all of the apologetics training I am familiar with), but the underlying principle that we need to answer people's actual questions (the "all roads lead to God" supposition, for example, is much more common, and Kimball spends an excellent chapter on it).

Maybe if we started forming genuine friendships with non-Christians, praying for them, and patiently answering their legitimate questions within that relational context, the value of the apologetics tree would become obvious from its fruit.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Christian Theology defined by Vinoth Ramachandra. I found this quote kind of intriguing and worthy of further thought.

"Christian theology is more than a set of doctrinal beliefs or systematic arguments. It is a way of seeing, of so dwelling in a particular language and doing new things with that language so that its revelatory and transformative power is manifest in the world. That language arose out of specific historical events that both constitute us as the ekklesia of Christ and call forth characteristic social practices such as thanksgiving, forgiving, exposing evil, truth-telling, welcoming the broken and the hopeless, and bearing testimony to grace. Such a theology seeks comprehensiveness because it seeks to bear prophetic witness to One whose speach-acts heal, renew and transform the world in its entirety, but its own speach is always broken, sharing in the not-yet-redeemed character of the world."

From his book Subverting Global Myths (IVP, 2008)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Saving Righteousness of God (ch. 2 - part 1)

This chapter was quite beefy, so it will take a few installments to adequately cover the material. In chapter two, Bird seeks to unravel the riddle of righteousness. Scholars have devoted massive amounts of energy towards discovering what righteousness means in Paul's letters, yet are far from reaching a consensus. Moreover, where scholars end up on this issue tends to determine the overall shape of their theology. For example, N.T. Wright understands the righteousness of God as his covenant faithfulness. Anyone who has spent time with Wright realizes how important this concept is to his thinking. John Piper sees the righteousness of God as God's unwaivering commitment to his glory, and this conception undergirds his vision for the Christian life (i.e. Christian Hedonism). The topic is thus of central importance, and if agreement can be had on the meaning of righteousness, many debates in Pauline studies can (ostensibly) be resolved.

Bird surveys the literature on this topic by highlighting four contentious aspects of righteousness. First, he discusses whether righteousness is imputed or imparted to believers. Protestants maintain that God declares people to be righteous by imputing
(i.e. counting/crediting) Christ's righteousness to them, while Catholics hold that God makes people righteousness by imparting to them a real righteousness. In the last 10 years, there have been attempts by Catholics and Protestants to reach an agreement on this issue. However, I agree with Bird that indissoluable differences remain between the positions. Bird goes on to state that there is not a huge difference between imputed and imparted righteousness, as long as we are clear that a status is being talked about. I applaud his desire for rapprochement, but I think his point might muddy the ecumenical waters. I don't want to give Catholics the impression that there is more agreement between our positions than their actually is. Further, if righteousness is a status that God imparts to believers, doesn't that entail their actual perfection? If it doesn't, then how precisely is it different than the Catholic position?

Second, Bird addresses whether righteousness pertains to a right relationship, or adherence to a norm. The Hebrew concept of righteousness appears to relate to the rightness of actions in relation to persons and social relationships (10). The Greek concept of righteousness denotes adherence to a norm. Bird rightfully demonstrates that it is wrong to foist a dichotomy here, since God's covenant with his people establishes the norm by which actions are weighed. Therefore, when we speak of people or God acting righteously, the norm for righteousness is provided by the covenant relationship. I think there are times when God's righteousness doesn't have as much to do with the covenant (such as when he acts righteously towards the created order), but I agree with Bird's point. Also, I remain confused why some scholars (e.g. Seidfrid) are so adamant in trying to disassociate the concepts of righteousness and covenant.

Third, Bird discusses whether righteousness is transformative or forensic. Some see the righteousness of God as something that God gives to humans. In this case, righteousness is a gift from God, and it is forensic (i.e. it has to do with God judicially declaring that people are in the right). Others see the righteousness of God as a property/activity of God. Kasemann, for instance, envisages righteousness as a technical term denoting God's salvation-creating power. When God justifies people, he both declares people to be righteous (the forensic dimension), and makes them righteous (the transformative dimension). I think Bird is correct to maintain that righteousness is not as specific as Kasemann and his followers maintain, but has to do with salvation and related concepts. As Bird states,

The righteousness of God then is the character of God embodied and enacted in his saving actions which means vindication (for Israel and the righteous) and condemnation (for the pagan world and the wicked)

All right, that's all for now. Dr. Bird, I'm interested in (1) why some people are so unwilling to associate righteousness and covenant, and (2) if you think that justification has a universal scope. As I read Stuhlmacher, he seems to have this idea that God will justify the cosmos (i.e. new creation). Do you buy that usage of justification, or do you think it is strictly anthropological?

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Impressive Theologizing of John Updike

Yesterday I was perusing Moe's Book Store, and happened upon a collection of poems by John Updike. The collection included the poem Seven Stanzas at Easter, which Updike submitted for the Religious Arts Festival at his home church. Not surprisingly, his work won him the $100 first place prize. I'm no literary critic, but I think this poem is outstanding. As you read the stanzas, remember that Updike penned them around 1960, when demythologization was all the rage in New Testament studies. For Bultmann and his ilk, the resurrection was not about the literal vivification of Christ's body, but the emergence of the church's faith. Updike is a bold voice, fiercely holding to the literal, bodily resurrection against the tide of scholarly opinion.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

In our day, scholars like Crossan and Borg continue to promulgate the erroneous idea that the resurrection is to be interpreted as only a comforting metaphor, or something like that. Let us be resolute in asserting that the literal resurrection of Christ is utterly necessary for the salvation of souls, and the redemption of the world.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Dan Kimball Loves Gay People (And You Should Too)

Once again, They Like Jesus But Not the Church is proving itself well worth the time. Despite having still not finished it I am fully ready to give it a hearty recommendation. Read it and let it challenge and convict your approach to interacting with the world.

Kimball’s chapter on homosexuality might be the best one yet, primarily because he writes as someone who has both thought through the issue theologically (and lands conservatively) yet has apparently interacted quite a bit with homosexuals. This includes hours of interviews with both non-Christian homosexuals and Christians who struggle with homosexuality. Much like his approach to the gender issue (see my previous post), Kimball urges increased thoughtfulness, listening, and understanding.

My burden in writing this particular post is to once again pass on Kimball’s challenge to those who are not planning on reading the book.

I need to be upfront that it would be exceptionally difficult for me to buy that the Bible does not condemn homosexual practice in all forms as sinful. I am aware that there is plenty of pro-gay Bible-believing theology coming out at this point and intend somewhere down the line to interact with it. The texts seem plain to me though and that is the truth of where I stand right now.

That said, the church absolutely cannot go on treating homosexuality as a super-sin. The inescapable fact is that generally speaking the church has reacted to homosexuals in stigmatizing, even homophobic ways (and please note the word “generally”). Preaching and teaching on homosexuality tends to be narrow and uncompassionate.

Kimball’s illustration is helpful and deeply convicting:
“Imagine an unmarried couple who are living together and are sexually active. They enter your church and tell you they aren’t Christians yet, but are interested in God and are checking out your church. They begin attending your worship gatherings, and you are happy to see them there, hoping they will come to trust in Jesus. You know they are living together, and you see them respectfully showing their affection by holding hands in church and putting their arms around one another.
But what if a gay couple did the same thing?” (148)

Even at my own church full of Christians who really try to get things like this right, this situation would be tough. And frankly, there is something understandable about that. The two would seem so out of place that it would be awkward. But could we get past that awkwardness?

Do not hear my wrong: I am in no way condoning homosexuality- as I’ve said, the Bible seems clear that homosexuality is utterly sinful. But it is in fact my doctrine of sin that challenges my thinking about this: if I truly believe that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that all are equally in need of Jesus, that none of us have any merit of ourselves to bring before God, then why would I treat homosexuals any differently than any other non-Christians?

This becomes especially important when we recognize, as Kimball stresses, that there are very likely some in our own congregations who struggle with homosexual urges, just like others struggle with urges to drink too much or have sex before marriage. A Christian who wants to please Jesus but struggles with homosexuality cannot be much different than any other Christian struggling with sin. If we respond in stigmatizing ways we only push these people away from the One Person who can deliver them from their own sinful hearts and reinforce the pain-driven church-hating subculture that is certainly out there.

I find in myself selfishness, lust, pride, lack of love, and lack of care for the poor, to name a few sins. I can only imagine that homosexual Christians find in themselves some of those same things, as well as homosexual desires. My Christian brothers and sisters pray for me, listen to my struggles, and act with compassion as they hold me accountable and lead me to Jesus to heal me and change my heart. The question is, where do we send homosexuals for that same deliverance, and what kind of attitude do we have towards them when we do it?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Afflictions Refine the Believer

Anyone who's read my posts in the past knows that I read John Owen devotionally. His book THE HOLY SPIRIT, his gifts and his power is so chock full of spiritual insights that rather than taking the 384 page book on all at once, I read it in snippets. Some of you may be able to relate to this type of reading. Nevertheless, Owen had the gift of elucidation (and I feel, illumination). And on the above topic in the title, I felt his explanation (with my comments) was worthy of a post.

In any event, this is a subsection of a chapter on how the blood of Christ purges all filth from the believer. Observe:

Purification from sin is likewise ascribed to affliction. Hence they are called God's furnace, and his fining-pot, whereby he takes away our dross (Isa. 31:9, 63:10). They are also called fire, that tries the ways and works of men, consuming their hay and stubble, and purifying their gold and silver (1st Cor. 3:13). And this they do by an efficacy communicated to them by the Spirit of God; for by the cross of Christ, they were cut off from the curse of the first covenant, to which all their evils belonged, and implanted into the covenant of grace. The tree of the cross being cast into the waters of affliction, has rendered them wholesome and medicinal. Christ being the head of the covenant, all the afflictions of his members are originally his (Isa 63:9), and they all tend to increase our conformity to him in holiness. And they work together for his blessed end in several ways."

Before I go on to list the elements in which he states I want to comment briefly. How often do we Christians assume that when we are being afflicted in this way or that way that it is actually for our good. Granted, our affliction may not compare with those in other countries who are persecuted for their faith, but affliction still befalls each one of us. I can tell you right now that I'm going through a difficult times financially by trying to unload a rental property in NY and its really difficult for me to look at the situation and say that God must have a reason for it. But I know he does, its just difficult acting on this. And I think many Christians feel the same way. We feel God is ignoring us, or that there is a sin in our lives and as a result we are paying for it with this difficult situation. Truth is, God does have a reason for it. Often its just not what we think. That is why I like what Owen's has to say next.

He then states the ways in which the above quote works together. I'll take a few lines from the 4 ways, cut them down, and comment briefly. Affliction, he states, purifies us:

1) By Revealing God's Hatred of Sin: "They bear some tokens of God's displeasure against sin, by which believers are le to a fresh view of its vileness: for through afflictions are an effect of love, yet it is of love mixed with care to obviate and prevent distempers...Now a view of sin, under suffering, makes men to loathe and abhor themselves, and be ashamed of it. This is the first step toward purification, for it puts us upon seeking after a remedy"

2) By Breaking Attachments to Created Things: "Afflictions take off the beauty and allurement of all created good things, by which the affections are solicited to embrace and cleave to them inordinately. God designs by afflictions to wither all the flowers of this world, by discovering their inefficiencies to give relief."

I like what Owen has to say here. Clearly he is speaking in generalities with respect to what object, mainly because it can apply to many different aspects of human relations. For example, though I enjoy my Audi with all of its features and supreme driving ability, during times of distress it offers me very little consolation for anything. Things are to be enjoyed, but not relied on.

3) By Taking the Edge off Lusts: "Afflictions take the edge off lusts...they curb those vigorous affections which are always ready for the service of lust, and which sometimes carry the soul into the pursuit of sin, like the horse into battle, with madness and fury."

Owen hits the nail on the head again with this one. Affliction will very much alter the way we look at our "normal sins" in which we generally take for granted. It allows us a different motivation and modifies our very outlook on what might normally be taken for granted.

4) By Stiring Up the Graces of the Spirit: "A time of affliction is the special season for the peculiar exercise of all grace; for the soul can no otherwise support or relieve itself. It is taken off from other comforts, every sweet thing being make bitter to it; it must therefore live by, and in some sense upon, faith, love, and delight in God.

As Peter notes, In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is when we face affliction and/or various trials that our faith is tested and made sure. Through tough times we come to know and rely solely on God and His graces which he has bestowed.

Hopefully you were encouraged as much as I was after reading this. Again, some of this may seem elementary and lack the theological meat some of our readers thirst for. But for me, to read the insight of one of the most influential Puritans enriches my soul every time I do.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Best Christian Band You Don't Listen To

All those who listen to mewithoutYou knew who I was talking about before they read this sentence or looked at the picture. That’s because they already know what I have discovered is true: mewithoutYou is unquestionably the greatest Christian rock band of all time.

OK, so that might be a bit of overstatement, but I do really love them. Hailing from Philadelphia, mewithoutYou is that oh so common blend of hardcore, indie rock, and screamed spoken word, sort of like Sunny Day Real Estate meets The Refused meets Bradley Hathaway. You know the type…

Well maybe you don’t. In fact it is their abrasive style that keeps them inaccessible to many. It would be unfair for me to plug their lyrical content (as I most certainly will below) without forewarning you that, while mewithoutYou are masters of indie rock dynamic, they take a little getting used to. I don’t know many who loved them the first time they heard them (except of course for my Dad, who has a cooler taste in music than most college students).

MewithoutYou’s energy is fierce, but is not for its own sake. Aside from their idiosyncratic melodic style, what separates this band is the way musical adrenaline pushes lyrical content deserving of that force. The drumming and guitar work avoids the temptation to showiness but still drives the catchy yet dissident vocals. That is, the musical energy is of a different quality than, say, Muse on the new metal side or the Foo Fighters on the semi-hard rock side.

What really hooked me is the vocal performance, both lyrically and melodically. Not only do I now love the screamed spoken word, but I am frankly hard-pressed to find a better Christian rock lyricist than Aaron Weiss. Note some of the following samples:

From “A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains” on Brother, Sister:

What new mystery is this???
What blessed backwardness!

The Immeasurable One is held but does not resist-

Struck down by wicked words and foolish fists of senseless men,

Almighty One does not defend!

“A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains” as a whole explores the foolishness of the human tendency to think ourselves autonomous when in fact we exist underneath God’s sovereignty, felt or not. When left to our own devices we send the Lord to the cross- a heinous display of what freedom we do exercise. Of course, at any point God could have resisted the cross but chose to do otherwise, revealing that not only do we not actually have autonomy (the whole of this could have been stopped at any point) but that when we exercise our presumed freedom we betray the embodiment of all beauty, goodness, and love.

From “Torches Together” on Catch For us the Foxes:

Why burn poor and lonely under a bowl or under a lampshade
Or on the shelf beside the bed

Where at night you lay turning like a door on its hinges
First on your left side, then on your right side...
then your left side again?

Why burn poor and lonely?

Tell all the stones we're gonna make a building...

We'll be cut into shape and set into place

Or if you'd rather be a window,
I'll gladly be the frame,

Reflecting any kind words, we'll let in all the blame

And ruin our reputations all the same.

So never mind our plan making- we'll start living!

Anyway aren't you unbearably sad?
Then why burn so poor and lonely?

We'll be like torches!

Torches together

We'll be like torches, with whatever respect our tattered dignity demands...

We'll be like torches-
Torches together, hand in hand.

This time the theme is, simply put, evangelism. But rather than stopping at the simple need to share the gospel, Weiss wrestles with the apparent contradiction of our own limitedness as both sinful and as individuals and the mandate to be God’s witnesses in a sinful word. The living stones should form a whole building, and the torches should be in community since we do not burn bright enough alone.

I go back and forth on my favorite mewithoutYou song, but my last example below might win. In “Four-Word Letter, Pt. 2” from Catch For us the Foxes, Weiss borrows the lyrics from the old spiritual popularized in the Cohen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Here are Weiss’s two choruses:

Oh, doubters, let's go down...let's go down, won't you come on down?
Oh, doubters, let's go down...down to the river to pray.
"Oh, but I'm so small I can barely be can this great love be inside of me?"

Look at your eyes...they're small in size, but they see enormous things.

Oh, pretenders, let's go down... let's go down, won't you come on down?

Oh, pretenders, let's go down... down to the river to pray.
"Oh, but I'm so afraid" or "I'm set in my ways"

But He'll make the rabbits and rocks sing His praise.

"Oh, but I'm too tired, I won't last long."
No, He'll use the weak to overcome the strong!

In O Brother, The “let’s go down” call draws two entranced characters to be semi-mindlessly pulled to a river and be baptized. While I enjoy that scene in the movie and the lyrics in the gospel spiritual on their own, Weiss reinvigorates them with his screaming call. The unique vocal style adds urgency to the gospel call that has moved me to tears on numerous listens, as if everything inside Weiss bursts forth as he passionately begs.

Yet Weiss does not allow the characters he calls to in the song to enter that trance. Instead, that audience (at points his own family, which brings a painful personalness as the listener feels their resistance) responds with what actually seem to be appropriate doubts. Weiss hears the doubts and responds with equal passion. Weiss’s screaming uniquely conveys the deep compassion so appropriate to the weight of the sinfulness of humanity and God’s loving response of the gospel.

It is indeed that emotional weight that brings me back over and over to mewithoutYou. When I find myself mired in dryness and dispassion, mewithoutYou awakens my heart. I am convinced this is one of the great reasons Christians need to make great music: reading, talking, and listening to sermons cannot express and draw out emotion like music can. MewithoutYou accomplishes this goal brilliantly, with more musical and lyrical thoughtfulness and creativity than almost all of the music I hear Christians producing. So here’s hoping that you can past the abrasiveness and enjoy them equally.