Monday, November 30, 2009

Eucharist - Christian Formation or Spiritual Enlightenment?

This afternoon I received an e-mail from an Anglican theology source that listed a number of "experimental" Eucharistic services, ranging anywhere from an ecological friendly "green" Eucharist, to U2charists, to clown Eucharists, to experimental Eucharistic services in Northern Michigan. One additional service was highlighted from Los Angeles, and that was an Episcopalian and Hindu joint service in 2008. The article goes on to praise the work of unity and "bridge building" between two faiths that have been in conflict with one another for a number of years. The service included elements of both religious cultures and symbols, including the call to worship by a Hindu nun, dressed in a saffron robe and blowing into a conch shell three times.

At one point in the service, the Reverend J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal church apologizes to the Hindu community for discriminating against them, specifically seen through the attempt to proselytize. Rev. Jon announced that they were committed to the renunciation of "proselytizing" to Hindus. Later on in the service, all were invited to gather for Holy Communion. The homily focused on how "the Divine Presence" illuminates unto the whole world for both Hindus and Christians. The goal of this service is to build up a 'beloved community,' according to Rev. Gwynne Guibord.

There is no question that atrocious things have been done under the name of Jesus Christ throughout history. It is also quite evident that many of the ways in which evangelicals live their lives is contrary to the marks of Colossians 3:12 and the identifying virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. But is the way to move forward in the world this blending of services? Does the practice of gathering around the bread and wine, the story of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified and risen and our new lives found within that story, mean no more than finding "the divine presence" in all actions of spirituality? Can anyone encounter any god or higher power through confessing that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."

To be fair, I should not be attempting to write a blog of this sort at midnight, but I cannot help but be frustrated that the Christian church is willing to give up the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. One of the reasons given in the article for this is that they desire to serve rather than dominate. I will throw out though, that gathering together and proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and being formed in communities under his Lordship will not create us at antagonistic or dominating people, but rather people who are compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Watering down and reducing the Eucharist to a mere event of "divine encounter" with any deity sought after is far from living together under the story of Christ crucified and the proclamation of "who we are" as members in that new kingdom of God.

Eucharist - Christian Formation or Spiritual Enlightenment?

This afternoon I received an e-mail from an Anglican theology source that listed a number of "experimental" Eucharistic services, ranging anywhere from an ecological friendly "green" Eucharist, to U2charists, to clown Eucharists, to experimental Eucharistic services in Northern Michigan. One additional service was highlighted from Los Angeles, and that was an Episcopalian and Hindu joint service in 2008. The article goes on to praise the work of unity and "bridge building" between two faiths that have been in conflict with one another for a number of years. The service included elements of both religious cultures and symbols, including the call to worship by a Hindu nun, dressed in a saffron robe and blowing into a conch shell three times.

At one point in the service, the Reverend J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal church apologizes to the Hindu community for discriminating against them, specifically seen through the attempt to proselytize. Rev. Jon announced that they were committed to the renunciation of "proselytizing" to Hindus. Later on in the service, all were invited to gather for Holy Communion. The homily focused on how "the Divine Presence" illuminates unto the whole world for both Hindus and Christians. The goal of this service is to build up a 'beloved community,' according to Rev. Gwynne Guibord.
There is no question that atrocious things have been done under the name of Jesus Christ throughout history. It is also quite evident that many of the ways in which evangelicals live their lives is contrary to the marks of Colossians 3:12 and the identifying virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. But is the way to move forward in the world this blending of services? Does the practice of gathering around the bread and wine, the story of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified and risen and our new lives found within that story, mean no more than finding "the divine presence" in all actions of spirituality? Can anyone encounter any god or higher power through confessing that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."
To be fair, I should not be attempting to write a blog of this sort at midnight, but I cannot help but be frustrated that the Christian church is willing to give up the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. One of the reasons given in the article for this is that they desire to serve rather than dominate. I will throw out though, that gathering together and proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and being formed in communities under his Lordship will not create us at antagonistic or dominating people, but rather people who are compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Watering down and reducing the Eucharist to a mere event of "divine encounter" with any deity sought after is far from living together under the story of Christ crucified and the proclamation of "who we are" as members in that new kingdom of God.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

1 Peter 2:1-10, Proclaiming the Mighty Acts of God

The lectionary readings for today include 1 Peter 2:1-10, which seems to express what the "choosing" or "election" has all been about:
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built​​ into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him​​ will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,​​ in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The election of Israel and the opening of the election to all who believe is anything but a ticket to passivity, but rather a charter to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called use out of darkness and into a marvelous light.

Mystery and the Election of Israel

After spending most of yesterday in the book of Genesis and behind a computer, I decided that I would take the majority of the morning to dive into a new book by Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren titled Introducing the Missional Church - What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. These authors contend that a missional life is shaped by three powerful currents: mystery, memory, and mission (39). The next page has a chart which marks this "Missional Imagination" within both the Old Testament and New Testament. It is the first of those that stuck out to me as I attempt to relate what I am reading here to the continual crafting of a sermon. About mystery and Israel's election, Roxburgh and Boren have the following to say:
Israel's existence just can't be explained in terms of human action or preference. Israel does not exist because Abram chose to leave Ur of the Chaldees or Moses turned aside to see a burning bush. It was not because of the genius of leaders or great individuals that Israel came into being when her people were about to disappear from the face of the earth. The biblical narratives simply announce that God chose these people, and that is the only explanation for Israel's existence. There is no moral balance sheet that tipped things in favor of this people over all others. The biblical story is not about these people but about God and the mystery of his choosing. This choosing is like nothing else in the world, but it makes the world what it is (41).
In Genesis 32 Jacob is renamed Israel. The question of "Why Jacob?" is simply the pre-cursor to "Why Israel?" - yet they are the same question. Election can be such a difficult "doctrine" in a culture that elevates reward and punishment, profit for the good and loss for the bad. We are to get what we deserve. Isn't this the meaning of justice?

For some reason or another, God chose Israel to be the bearers of the revelation of his name as the One-True God, and he chose them not to sit passively by with "the truth," but to be a blessing to the world. Jesus' gospel of the kingdom announced that the people of the covenant were no longer marked by ethnic heritage, but by faith that God had done what God had promised to do through the the suffering servant, Jesus the Messiah, and all who would participate in that kingdom were covenant members.

God chose Jacob. God chose Israel. Election may be a difficult doctrine, but it has been the story of God working in the world to redeem the world.

"The mystery is that God has chosen to act, and we cannot and will not find any explanation beyond his choosing and acting." (42)
Both quotes are from Roxburgh, Alan J. and Boren, M. Scott. Introducing the Missional Church - What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2009.

1 Peter 2:1-10, Proclaiming the Mighty Acts of God

The lectionary readings for today include 1 Peter 2:1-10, which seems to express what the "choosing" or "election" has all been about:
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built​​ into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him​​ will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,​​ in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The election of Israel and the opening of the election to all who believe is anything but a ticket to passivity, but rather a charter to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called use out of darkness and into a marvelous light.

Labels:

Mystery and the Election of Israel

After spending most of yesterday in the book of Genesis and behind a computer, I decided that I would take the majority of the morning to dive into a new book by Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren titled Introducing the Missional Church - What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. These authors contend that a missional life is shaped by three powerful currents: mystery, memory, and mission (39). The next page has a chart which marks this "Missional Imagination" within both the Old Testament and New Testament. It is the first of those that stuck out to me as I attempt to relate what I am reading here to the continual crafting of a sermon. About mystery and Israel's election, Roxburgh and Boren have the following to say:
Israel's existence just can't be explained in terms of human action or preference. Israel does not exist because Abram chose to leave Ur of the Chaldees or Moses turned aside to see a burning bush. It was not because of the genius of leaders or great individuals that Israel came into being when her people were about to disappear from the face of the earth. The biblical narratives simply announce that God chose these people, and that is the only explanation for Israel's existence. There is no moral balance sheet that tipped things in favor of this people over all others. The biblical story is not about these people but about God and the mystery of his choosing. This choosing is like nothing else in the world, but it makes the world what it is (41).
In Genesis 32 Jacob is renamed Israel. The question of "Why Jacob?" is simply the pre-cursor to "Why Israel?" - yet they are the same question. Election can be such a difficult "doctrine" in a culture that elevates reward and punishment, profit for the good and loss for the bad. We are to get what we deserve. Isn't this the meaning of justice?
For some reason or another, God chose Israel to be the bearers of the revelation of his name as the One-True God, and he chose them not to sit passively by with "the truth," but to be a blessing to the world. Jesus' gospel of the kingdom announced that the people of the covenant were no longer marked by ethnic heritage, but by faith that God had done what God had promised to do through the the suffering servant, Jesus the Messiah, and all who would participate in that kingdom were covenant members.
God chose Jacob. God chose Israel. Election may be a difficult doctrine, but it has been the story of God working in the world to redeem the world.
"The mystery is that God has chosen to act, and we cannot and will not find any explanation beyond his choosing and acting." (42)
Both quotes are from Roxburgh, Alan J. and Boren, M. Scott. Introducing the Missional Church - What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2009.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Identifying God as the Center - Genesis 25:19-34

I never knew that crafting a sermon could be so frustrating. In the past two days I have been attempting to sketch a stereo draft of the sermon to be preached next Tuesday for a preaching course. I am now on my third draft with little hope that anything I have written will last. The text is Genesis 25:19-34, which is a two part text. The first part, verses 19-28, describes the birth stories of Jacob and Esau, including the prophecy given by God to Rebekah that the older son (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). The second part, 29-34, is the somewhat bewildering story of how Jacob secures the birthright from Esau which involves a red stew, some serious hunger, and a stubborn determination to get what he wants.

I am taking a break from that writing, hoping that by simplifying what I think the text says and what it does will help to re-formulate the direction of the sermon. The text seems to have one primary actor - God. Isaac prays to God for a child, and Rebekah conceives. Rebekah prays to God, and God answers with an unnerving prophecy that says the elder son will serve the younger. The second part of the text then goes on to show that God's prophecy will in fact come to pass, despite the way culture and familial patterns fight against it (primarily, that it is the oldest son who is to lead).

God is at the center of this all. What the text says is that a person's status - measured according to human standards - matters not, but only that God be faithful. It is challenging because I am uncomfortable with this. I want to change this story to say instead, "God can use those who are willing," or "God can use those who are faithful," or "God can use those who have an M.Div. and a deep understanding of their call to pastoral ministry within the local church in America." But the text does not adapt to my need or desire here. This passage does not let me believe that God's ability to work and set things right relies upon me and my faith, or upon the faithfulness of my community, or the works of our mission, or the worship and response of our hearts. No - the story here of Jacob and Esau rings loud and clear the message that God's plan of redemption for the world is happening all around, and I can join in, but I cannot be the answer.

I think the fear is that preaching this type of message will not encourage people towards greater participation in the mission of God, but will instead passify us into being mere observers of God's work in the world. The last thing we need is more people who go to church on Sunday morning, singing of God's goodness and love, only then to enter back into "their lives" with the message in their heads but the legs and life of it crippled and left in the church.

The problem is that this story is not meant to be an all-encompassing theological statement of God's mission in the world and our participation with it, but rather was written (or redacted) to display God's faithfulness to the covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 15). Nowhere is there a statement saying, "this is the be-all end-all story of how God works." Nor does it ever say that Jacob is the typological figure of a faithful covenant member. What it does say is that God made covenant with Abraham and his descendants, Jacob followed after as a third generation member, and despite those descendants abilities - whether it's progenitor , wealth, status, or power - God would remain faithful.

But what does this all mean and do for us today? Well, if we believe that we are continued participants in that same story of God's faithfulness, then we are summoned to trust in God's plan of redemption for the world: we are called to hope. We are called to preach the message that our hope is not in earthly rulers, scientific advancement, or even social or justice organizations, but is rather rooted deeply in the reality that Jesus came as the Messiah for the world. And the requirements for participating in this kingdom membership is not mere belief, it is not burdensome work, it is not ancestry or ethnicity, but is rather a dying and rising again in the person of Jesus Christ, where we are found as co-heirs, moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue the redeeming work of God in the world. And it is not by our own hands, but by the faithfulness of God.

Identifying God as the Center - Genesis 25:19-34

I never knew that crafting a sermon could be so frustrating. In the past two days I have been attempting to sketch a stereo draft of the sermon to be preached next Tuesday for a preaching course. I am now on my third draft with little hope that anything I have written will last. The text is Genesis 25:19-34, which is a two part text. The first part, verses 19-28, describes the birth stories of Jacob and Esau, including the prophecy given by God to Rebekah that the older son (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). The second part, 29-34, is the somewhat bewildering story of how Jacob secures the birthright from Esau which involves a red stew, some serious hunger, and a stubborn determination to get what he wants.
I am taking a break from that writing, hoping that by simplifying what I think the text says and what it does will help to re-formulate the direction of the sermon. The text seems to have one primary actor - God. Isaac prays to God for a child, and Rebekah conceives. Rebekah prays to God, and God answers with an unnerving prophecy that says the elder son will serve the younger. The second part of the text then goes on to show that God's prophecy will in fact come to pass, despite the way culture and familial patterns fight against it (primarily, that it is the oldest son who is to lead).
God is at the center of this all. What the text says is that a person's status - measured according to human standards - matters not, but only that God be faithful. It is challenging because I am uncomfortable with this. I want to change this story to say instead, "God can use those who are willing," or "God can use those who are faithful," or "God can use those who have an M.Div. and a deep understanding of their call to pastoral ministry within the local church in America." But the text does not adapt to my need or desire here. This passage does not let me believe that God's ability to work and set things right relies upon me and my faith, or upon the faithfulness of my community, or the works of our mission, or the worship and response of our hearts. No - the story here of Jacob and Esau rings loud and clear the message that God's plan of redemption for the world is happening all around, and I can join in, but I cannot be the answer.
I think the fear is that preaching this type of message will not encourage people towards greater participation in the mission of God, but will instead passify us into being mere observers of God's work in the world. The last thing we need is more people who go to church on Sunday morning, singing of God's goodness and love, only then to enter back into "their lives" with the message in their heads but the legs and life of it crippled and left in the church.
The problem is that this story is not meant to be an all-encompassing theological statement of God's mission in the world and our participation with it, but rather was written (or redacted) to display God's faithfulness to the covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 15). Nowhere is there a statement saying, "this is the be-all end-all story of how God works." Nor does it ever say that Jacob is the typological figure of a faithful covenant member. What it does say is that God made covenant with Abraham and his descendants, Jacob followed after as a third generation member, and despite those descendants abilities - whether it's progenitor , wealth, status, or power - God would remain faithful.
But what does this all mean and do for us today? Well, if we believe that we are continued participants in that same story of God's faithfulness, then we are summoned to trust in God's plan of redemption for the world: we are called to hope. We are called to preach the message that our hope is not in earthly rulers, scientific advancement, or even social or justice organizations, but is rather rooted deeply in the reality that Jesus came as the Messiah for the world. And the requirements for participating in this kingdom membership is not mere belief, it is not burdensome work, it is not ancestry or ethnicity, but is rather a dying and rising again in the person of Jesus Christ, where we are found as co-heirs, moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue the redeeming work of God in the world. And it is not by our own hands, but by the faithfulness of God.

Labels:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Community Update

Someone recently asked me the question, "How is it going living in community?" For those of you who don't know, Jamie and I moved in with another married couple in late June. We did this for a number of reasons, but primarily because of theological understandings of community. We believe that many of the values and virtues of the American dream are forming people not committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but committed to prosperity, freedom, independence, equal opportunity, etc. We do not have the expectation of leaving in June of 2010 with all of our dispositions towards selfishness turned aside, but we do hope to have become at least more hospitable, more welcoming, more servant-like, and more committed to serving our neighbors.

I don't know how to give a response to a person inquiring about our progression towards these (what I would call) "gospel" virtues. On the one hand, I would say that we have failed in many ways. We have become no more than acquaintances with most of our neighbors; in fact, some of them we still do not even know. I realize that I fail nearly everyday with becoming servant-like. For the first time in my life, I have had to rake leaves in the fall. This wasn't getting done, and I came to the decision that it had to be done, which I took upon myself, and which I resented while doing. While we have not had a closed door, I could also not describe our door as an open-one.

But on the other hand, I feel a propensity towards hospitality. While raking, I realized the importance of our community over my own individual desires (eventually), and we were able to talk about this later on. I have a desire to care, located very deep, specifically for one of my neighbors.

Maybe this is what it looks like to be formed over time. Maybe it is not just about doing the good works, but becoming a Christ-like person. Maybe, in fact, it will mean failing more-often in actually doing the right thing and then realizing where, deep inside, my motives and desires were formed selfishly.

Living with Jean and Thomas Sharp has been a wonderful blessing. Without even knowing it, we learn so much from one another about service, hospitality, and love. It makes me very excited for the next seven months.

Community Update

Someone recently asked me the question, "How is it going living in community?" For those of you who don't know, Jamie and I moved in with another married couple in late June. We did this for a number of reasons, but primarily because of theological understandings of community. We believe that many of the values and virtues of the American dream are forming people not committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but committed to prosperity, freedom, independence, equal opportunity, etc. We do not have the expectation of leaving in June of 2010 with all of our dispositions towards selfishness turned aside, but we do hope to have become at least more hospitable, more welcoming, more servant-like, and more committed to serving our neighbors.
I don't know how to give a response to a person inquiring about our progression towards these (what I would call) "gospel" virtues. On the one hand, I would say that we have failed in many ways. We have become no more than acquaintances with most of our neighbors; in fact, some of them we still do not even know. I realize that I fail nearly everyday with becoming servant-like. For the first time in my life, I have had to rake leaves in the fall. This wasn't getting done, and I came to the decision that it had to be done, which I took upon myself, and which I resented while doing. While we have not had a closed door, I could also not describe our door as an open-one.
But on the other hand, I feel a propensity towards hospitality. While raking, I realized the importance of our community over my own individual desires (eventually), and we were able to talk about this later on. I have a desire to care, located very deep, specifically for one of my neighbors.
Maybe this is what it looks like to be formed over time. Maybe it is not just about doing the good works, but becoming a Christ-like person. Maybe, in fact, it will mean failing more-often in actually doing the right thing and then realizing where, deep inside, my motives and desires were formed selfishly.
Living with Jean and Thomas Sharp has been a wonderful blessing. Without even knowing it, we learn so much from one another about service, hospitality, and love. It makes me very excited for the next seven months.

Labels:

ECDC Christmas Store

For a number of years now, Elgin Christian Development Corporation has hosted a Christmas Store for families located in western Elgin. The organization, known as ECDC, is focused on empowering people and empowering the community. At the Christmas Store, families can register to come and shop for gifts at highly discounted prices, all of which are new and all of which were donated by communities in the area. One of the motivations for this is preserving families dignities.

The organization is headed up by Brian Heinrich and is located out of Elgin Community Church. This is the church that I was a part of for a number of years, and a church which I still believe in deeply. This church is a light to the community: a community that can often see injustice much clearer than justice. I encourage you to visit ECDC's website and consider donating to the Christmas Store if you feel so led.

Friday, November 20, 2009

ECDC Christmas Store

For a number of years now, Elgin Christian Development Corporation has hosted a Christmas Store for families located in western Elgin. The organization, known as ECDC, is focused on empowering people and empowering the community. At the Christmas Store, families can register to come and shop for gifts at highly discounted prices, all of which are new and all of which were donated by communities in the area. One of the motivations for this is preserving families dignities.
The organization is headed up by Brian Heinrich and is located out of Elgin Community Church. This is the church that I was a part of for a number of years, and a church which I still believe in deeply. This church is a light to the community: a community that can often see injustice much clearer than justice. I encourage you to visit ECDC's website and consider donating to the Christmas Store if you feel so led.

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Rhythm For the Advent Season

I have recently been reminded of the regret that springs up each and every year at Christmas and Easter. The regret is that I never take enough time to prepare for the great remembrances of Incarnation and Resurrection. But as I think further about this, I realize that time is not the issue. Laying aside an hour more each day may do little in preparing for this Christmas. Because the issue, for me at least, has for too long been an inability to see that the Incarnation is a reality of life here-and-now.

Now, this is certainly not a "humility for humility's sake" post, nor a type of pride masked in the form of humility. Rather, it is an excited realization of the revolutionary faithfulness of the Messiah, a realization both of what it meant and continues to mean. I have begun to realize that our God, this faithful and active God of the ages, has not stopped caring and making right the world and evil. And I have caught just a mere glimpse of the way we are called to live as members in that covenant family.

This Advent season, our community will gather each night to join together in waiting. We will take time to read of current events, nearly all of which are tragic (for that is what sells), for the purpose of seeing with our own eyes the brokenness all around us. We will then join together in meditating upon the words of the prophet Isaiah. But this reading and meditating cannot be done in order to simply move us towards belief or intellectual ascent. By submitting to the story of Scripture, as the formative story which is ever-present and in a way "unfinished," we pray that Isaiah will lead us towards humility, hope, hospitality, passion, faithfulness, and justice. Finally, we will spend a number of minutes together in silence.

I don't know how anyone else plans on observing this period of waiting. Even the idea of waiting is contrary to popular desire and motivation. But I know that we need only look in front of us to see that our hope cannot be in humans, institutions, or governments, but only on Jesus the Messiah, the one who came and the one who will come again.

Rhythm For the Advent Season

I have recently been reminded of the regret that springs up each and every year at Christmas and Easter. The regret is that I never take enough time to prepare for the great remembrances of Incarnation and Resurrection. But as I think further about this, I realize that time is not the issue. Laying aside an hour more each day may do little in preparing for this Christmas. Because the issue, for me at least, has for too long been an inability to see that the Incarnation is a reality of life here-and-now.
Now, this is certainly not a "humility for humility's sake" post, nor a type of pride masked in the form of humility. Rather, it is an excited realization of the revolutionary faithfulness of the Messiah, a realization both of what it meant and continues to mean. I have begun to realize that our God, this faithful and active God of the ages, has not stopped caring and making right the world and evil. And I have caught just a mere glimpse of the way we are called to live as members in that covenant family.
This Advent season, our community will gather each night to join together in waiting. We will take time to read of current events, nearly all of which are tragic (for that is what sells), for the purpose of seeing with our own eyes the brokenness all around us. We will then join together in meditating upon the words of the prophet Isaiah. But this reading and meditating cannot be done in order to simply move us towards belief or intellectual ascent. By submitting to the story of Scripture, as the formative story which is ever-present and in a way "unfinished," we pray that Isaiah will lead us towards humility, hope, hospitality, passion, faithfulness, and justice. Finally, we will spend a number of minutes together in silence.
I don't know how anyone else plans on observing this period of waiting. Even the idea of waiting is contrary to popular desire and motivation. But I know that we need only look in front of us to see that our hope cannot be in humans, institutions, or governments, but only on Jesus the Messiah, the one who came and the one who will come again.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Grandpa's Advent Wreath


Jamie and I received quite a gift from my parents last weekend. As many of you know, my grandfather died earlier this year. He was a man that loved the Lord and his family, including six daughters, six sons-in-law, nineteen grandchildren, and two great-grand children. He was faithful to his wife and a man who knew that being a follower of Christ meant not just passive belief, but active participation. What I will remember most from Milton Gumm is his commitment to prayer and taking the time daily to read and study the Scriptures. Each time that we visited, we would gather together in the morning around the table for breakfast and prayer, and each evening would gather in the living room for a devotional reading and more prayer. It was rhythm, and it was filled with life.

Anyway, the gift we received is my grandfather's Advent wreath. He was a man that loved being in the wood-shop creating toys, furniture, and crafts that grandma could paint. But one of his gifts was that he made each of his daughters and their families an advent wreath. While we were not perfect in it, I remember gathering with my own family each night of Advent to light the candles, proclaim the story of the Incarnation, and pray together. The so-oft-heard critique is that these practices are null of life and vibrancy when done in rhythm; this could not have been further from the truth. These nights were re-orienting. Our lives were patterned and re-patterned by the great message of God Incarnate in Jesus Christ. And each night that we lit the candle(s) we were reminded that we are still waiting, but that we have also already received. When we light the candles, we are united together with our own extended family - each family lighting the candles in the wreaths made by grandpa's hands - but also we are united with the multitude of believers who proclaim the Messiah-who-came and the Messiah-who-will-come-again.

I am grateful that I am not alone. I am grateful that I have the luxury of lighting these candles in ten days in a warm house with my beautiful wife and loving community. And it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that people all over the world will be without food and water during this time. It breaks my heart that people will kill in the name of selfish gain and idolatry. And it breaks my heart knowing that I, too, am a part of both the problem and the solution. It seems that every year I am too rushed to really be present in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. This year, I pray that our community would be aware of the hurt and pain in our own neighborhood as well as in the world. I pray that we can proclaim a message of hope in God's faithfulness, both in word and action, and that we would be shaped this season in longing and expectation. I pray that, as we light the advent candles each evening, we would be formed as people with a disposition for grace, hope, justice, and hospitality in the world.

Grandpa's Advent Wreath


Jamie and I received quite a gift from my parents last weekend. As many of you know, my grandfather died earlier this year. He was a man that loved the Lord and his family, including six daughters, six sons-in-law, nineteen grandchildren, and two great-grand children. He was faithful to his wife and a man who knew that being a follower of Christ meant not just passive belief, but active participation. What I will remember most from Milton Gumm is his commitment to prayer and taking the time daily to read and study the Scriptures. Each time that we visited, we would gather together in the morning around the table for breakfast and prayer, and each evening would gather in the living room for a devotional reading and more prayer. It was rhythm, and it was filled with life.
Anyway, the gift we received is my grandfather's Advent wreath. He was a man that loved being in the wood-shop creating toys, furniture, and crafts that grandma could paint. But one of his gifts was that he made each of his daughters and their families an advent wreath. While we were not perfect in it, I remember gathering with my own family each night of Advent to light the candles, proclaim the story of the Incarnation, and pray together. The so-oft-heard critique is that these practices are null of life and vibrancy when done in rhythm; this could not have been further from the truth. These nights were re-orienting. Our lives were patterned and re-patterned by the great message of God Incarnate in Jesus Christ. And each night that we lit the candle(s) we were reminded that we are still waiting, but that we have also already received. When we light the candles, we are united together with our own extended family - each family lighting the candles in the wreaths made by grandpa's hands - but also we are united with the multitude of believers who proclaim the Messiah-who-came and the Messiah-who-will-come-again.
I am grateful that I am not alone. I am grateful that I have the luxury of lighting these candles in ten days in a warm house with my beautiful wife and loving community. And it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that people all over the world will be without food and water during this time. It breaks my heart that people will kill in the name of selfish gain and idolatry. And it breaks my heart knowing that I, too, am a part of both the problem and the solution. It seems that every year I am too rushed to really be present in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. This year, I pray that our community would be aware of the hurt and pain in our own neighborhood as well as in the world. I pray that we can proclaim a message of hope in God's faithfulness, both in word and action, and that we would be shaped this season in longing and expectation. I pray that, as we light the advent candles each evening, we would be formed as people with a disposition for grace, hope, justice, and hospitality in the world.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 6

The people of Israel daily declared that "The Lord is our God, the Lord
alone." This was the focus of yesterdays post and N.T. Wright's fifth chapter on "Rethinking God" within Paul's monotheistic framework. Moving along, Wright looks at the second theological certainty that Judaism was based around: that YHWH had chosen the nation of Israel, through the covenant with Abraham, to be blessed and be a blessing to the whole world. It was by God's hand that Israel had received the land, and it was the law that they were to live by, which would show that they were, in fact, this covenant people. And here is one of the main contributions of Wright to the discussion: the covenant with Abraham was never about selecting one people and neglecting or destroying the rest:
The call of Abraham was God's answer to the problem of Adam which had become the problem of Babel...somehow, through the people, God will deal with the problem that has infected his good creation in general and his image-bearing creatures in particular, Israel is to be God's royal nation of holy priests, chosen out of the world but also for the sake of the world (109).
Election, as understood within Second-Temple Judaism, was always closely bound with eschatology. YHWH would, in fact, vindicate His people from the enemies. Gentiles would come into the picture, either in judgment or blessing. This eschatalogical event would mean that God's purposes in-and-through election would be fulfilled, thus dealing with the problem of evil in the world (110).

This is the context of expectation and hope that Jesus became incarnate. As Wright says, it would have been much easier intellectually and politically if Paul had just ignored or outright rejected the election of Israel (111). Rather, Paul writes things like Rom. 3:1-4 and carries a consistent identification of God's chosen people. The election of Abraham and his descendants is not ended, but redefined.

Gal. 2:11-21 is a key passage for Wright in understanding the Law. It is the first time that Paul uses specific language of justification in relation to the law. But the problem has been, that much of Western-Protestant thought has understood Paul to be condemning moral actions as a way to achieve this justification. Taken within the context, Paul is condemning Peter's rebuilding of the separation between Jew and Gentile, rebuilding the walls of separation that Jesus the Messiah has torn down. The elected people have been redefined "through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah." Here again, we find that Wright understands this passage differently than many W-P have in understanding the role of faith. The phrase pistis Christou are references "not to human faith in the Messiah but to the faithfulness of the Messiah, by which I [Wright] understand, not Jesus' own 'faith' in the sense either of belief or trust, but his faithfulness to the divine plan for Israel" (112). All who are now found in this new life of Jesus' resurrection, in their own resurrection from death, are now part of that redefined chosen people. "The Messiah represents his people, so that what is true of him is true of them" (113).

This review of the chapter is formatted differently, for it only focuses on the first few pages. However, in these pages, Wright lays out everything that is to be understood in the chapter as a whole. God has elected a people, not as an end in themselves, but for the sake of the world. God as a righteous judge and faithful party to the covenant redefined his people through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. Members of that chosen people are marked not by national ethnicity, but through their own death and resurrecting anew to the new family; Jew and Gentile alike. Peter is passionately opposed to those who continue to promote the works of the Law, i.e. rebuilding the wall of exclusion based around ethnicity.
The communities which spring up where he [Paul] has announced the gospel are to order their lives as those who look back to Abraham, to the Exodus, to the Law (in its true fulfillment), to the prophets; and at each point this means, as those who stand out as children of light amidst the world of darkness (128).


N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 6

The people of Israel daily declared that "The Lord is our God, the Lord
alone." This was the focus of yesterdays post and N.T. Wright's fifth chapter on "Rethinking God" within Paul's monotheistic framework. Moving along, Wright looks at the second theological certainty that Judaism was based around: that YHWH had chosen the nation of Israel, through the covenant with Abraham, to be blessed and be a blessing to the whole world. It was by God's hand that Israel had received the land, and it was the law that they were to live by, which would show that they were, in fact, this covenant people. And here is one of the main contributions of Wright to the discussion: the covenant with Abraham was never about selecting one people and neglecting or destroying the rest:
The call of Abraham was God's answer to the problem of Adam which had become the problem of Babel...somehow, through the people, God will deal with the problem that has infected his good creation in general and his image-bearing creatures in particular, Israel is to be God's royal nation of holy priests, chosen out of the world but also for the sake of the world (109).
Election, as understood within Second-Temple Judaism, was always closely bound with eschatology. YHWH would, in fact, vindicate His people from the enemies. Gentiles would come into the picture, either in judgment or blessing. This eschatalogical event would mean that God's purposes in-and-through election would be fulfilled, thus dealing with the problem of evil in the world (110).
This is the context of expectation and hope that Jesus became incarnate. As Wright says, it would have been much easier intellectually and politically if Paul had just ignored or outright rejected the election of Israel (111). Rather, Paul writes things like Rom. 3:1-4 and carries a consistent identification of God's chosen people. The election of Abraham and his descendants is not ended, but redefined.
Gal. 2:11-21 is a key passage for Wright in understanding the Law. It is the first time that Paul uses specific language of justification in relation to the law. But the problem has been, that much of Western-Protestant thought has understood Paul to be condemning moral actions as a way to achieve this justification. Taken within the context, Paul is condemning Peter's rebuilding of the separation between Jew and Gentile, rebuilding the walls of separation that Jesus the Messiah has torn down. The elected people have been redefined "through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah." Here again, we find that Wright understands this passage differently than many W-P have in understanding the role of faith. The phrase pistis Christou are references "not to human faith in the Messiah but to the faithfulness of the Messiah, by which I [Wright] understand, not Jesus' own 'faith' in the sense either of belief or trust, but his faithfulness to the divine plan for Israel" (112). All who are now found in this new life of Jesus' resurrection, in their own resurrection from death, are now part of that redefined chosen people. "The Messiah represents his people, so that what is true of him is true of them" (113).
This review of the chapter is formatted differently, for it only focuses on the first few pages. However, in these pages, Wright lays out everything that is to be understood in the chapter as a whole. God has elected a people, not as an end in themselves, but for the sake of the world. God as a righteous judge and faithful party to the covenant redefined his people through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. Members of that chosen people are marked not by national ethnicity, but through their own death and resurrecting anew to the new family; Jew and Gentile alike. Peter is passionately opposed to those who continue to promote the works of the Law, i.e. rebuilding the wall of exclusion based around ethnicity.
The communities which spring up where he [Paul] has announced the gospel are to order their lives as those who look back to Abraham, to the Exodus, to the Law (in its true fulfillment), to the prophets; and at each point this means, as those who stand out as children of light amidst the world of darkness (128).

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Friday, November 13, 2009

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 5

The second half of N.T. Wright's book, Paul In New Perspectives, has shifted from underlying themes controlling Paul's thought and writing, to looking at the structures which shape his writing. He begins by looking at the Jewish understanding of God.

Although there is little systematic theological discourse within Judaism, three core understandings exist:

(1) God - One God - Yahweh
(2) God's people - election
(3) Eschatology

Summarized: "one God, one people of God, one future for God's world" (84). Paul understood the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah within this framework as the climactic, although unexpected, climax of God's lengthy plan (84-85).

Monotheism and Jewish roots: Contrary to popular belief, there existed a number of monotheistic religions within the ancient world. Wright identifies two of these in particular, pantheism and Epicureanism (modern-Deism). First, pantheistic belief is that everything is divine, or that divinity is within all. One God as all - not many gods in all. Second, Epicureanism, or modern deism, is the belief that there is one God, but that one God is a dispassionate and removed God. Wright points out that a Jewish-monotheism was vastly different, which could be described as a "creational and covenantal monotheism - "The one God of Israel made the world and has remained in dynamic relationship with it; and this one God, in order to further his purposes within and for that world, has entered into covenant with Israel in particular" (86). The problem of evil also played a different role in Jewish monotheism. Rather than a pantheistic view, which could not see the problem of evil for all was divine, and against a deistic view, where evil was obvious because the divine was so removed from the world, Judaism never game up the belief that evil matters desperately to God (87).

Monotheism and Christology: In 1 Cor. 8:6, Paul links the God of Israel's ancestors who was worshipped and acknowledged in the daily prayer, the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH, is one" (Deut. 6:4). Jesus, for Paul, is placed right in the middle of this prayer. "For us there is one God, the father, from whom are all things and we to him, and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things and we through him" (94). Jesus, the son of God, was not just God's messianic agent for Israel and the world, but the One-God's "second self, God's ultimate self-expression as a human being" (95). And finally, it all revolves around the cross as the fullest revelation of both God's justice and His love (96).

Monotheism and the Spirit: God's true people, Jew and Gentile, are to live free of the slavery of tribal deities (Gal. 4:9). And it is by the Spirit, God's new Shekinah dwelling, which leads to renewed creation, the cosmos liberated from slavery, complete exodus (98). The proclamation of this good news is by the work of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Just as the monotheistic-Jewish God was redefined through Jesus the Messiah, so Paul's doctrine of the Spirit redefines the traditional doctrine of the one God (101).

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 5

The second half of N.T. Wright's book, Paul In New Perspectives, has shifted from underlying themes controlling Paul's thought and writing, to looking at the structures which shape his writing. He begins by looking at the Jewish understanding of God.
Although there is little systematic theological discourse within Judaism, three core understandings exist:
(1) God - One God - Yahweh
(2) God's people - election
(3) Eschatology
Summarized: "one God, one people of God, one future for God's world" (84). Paul understood the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah within this framework as the climactic, although unexpected, climax of God's lengthy plan (84-85).
Monotheism and Jewish roots: Contrary to popular belief, there existed a number of monotheistic religions within the ancient world. Wright identifies two of these in particular, pantheism and Epicureanism (modern-Deism). First, pantheistic belief is that everything is divine, or that divinity is within all. One God as all - not many gods in all. Second, Epicureanism, or modern deism, is the belief that there is one God, but that one God is a dispassionate and removed God. Wright points out that a Jewish-monotheism was vastly different, which could be described as a "creational and covenantal monotheism - "The one God of Israel made the world and has remained in dynamic relationship with it; and this one God, in order to further his purposes within and for that world, has entered into covenant with Israel in particular" (86). The problem of evil also played a different role in Jewish monotheism. Rather than a pantheistic view, which could not see the problem of evil for all was divine, and against a deistic view, where evil was obvious because the divine was so removed from the world, Judaism never game up the belief that evil matters desperately to God (87).
Monotheism and Christology: In 1 Cor. 8:6, Paul links the God of Israel's ancestors who was worshipped and acknowledged in the daily prayer, the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH, is one" (Deut. 6:4). Jesus, for Paul, is placed right in the middle of this prayer. "For us there is one God, the father, from whom are all things and we to him, and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things and we through him" (94). Jesus, the son of God, was not just God's messianic agent for Israel and the world, but the One-God's "second self, God's ultimate self-expression as a human being" (95). And finally, it all revolves around the cross as the fullest revelation of both God's justice and His love (96).
Monotheism and the Spirit: God's true people, Jew and Gentile, are to live free of the slavery of tribal deities (Gal. 4:9). And it is by the Spirit, God's new Shekinah dwelling, which leads to renewed creation, the cosmos liberated from slavery, complete exodus (98). The proclamation of this good news is by the work of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Just as the monotheistic-Jewish God was redefined through Jesus the Messiah, so Paul's doctrine of the Spirit redefines the traditional doctrine of the one God (101).

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N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 4

The cross worked as a symbol in two drastically different ways:
  1. For Caesar: spoke politically of the unstoppable military power in Rome, and theologically of the Caesar's own divinity.
  2. For Paul: a symbol of divine love of the true cosmic ruler, the symbol which "spoke of God's naked love" (73).
In the fourth chapter of N.T. Wright's book, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, we move beyond Paul's legacy and context of four worlds, beyond Paul's underlying narratives of creation and covenant, and beyond Paul's understanding of Jesus as the Messiah and the apocalyptic revelation of God's plan, to now look briefly at what Paul's gospel would have meant within the Roman Empire.

Placing Paul within the third world, in a political state under the Roman Empire that promoted and promised freedom, justice, peace, and salvation, Paul proclaimed that Jesus, not Caesar, was the good news. While Caesar's cross was an "effective and feared symbol of imperial might," (64) it could not defeat and disavow the resurrection. Humans die. Rulers die. "Divine" earthly rulers die. The Wisdom of Solomon says that "it is the defeat of death, the return of the martyred righteous, that signals to the earthly rulers that their game is up" (69). The resurrection was the vindication of Jesus as the world's true Lord. Just as earthly rulers use death as a weapon, God has defeated death itself in order to overthrow all other tyranny's (70).

But Wright doesn't rest here. The resurrection was not just defeat of death or earthly rulers, but the inauguration of God's new world, new creation (70). Wright then looks at a number of Scriptural passages that describe how the person found in Christ is to live - both in an inaugurated new-created kingdom and in a not-yet-realized kingdom. As opposed to reading Paul through a 'two kingdom' lens, with a "western separation of theology and society, religion and politics," (60) Paul with Israel believed that God was the God of the whole world. Paul is prepared to "submit to the courts, but is also more than prepared to remind them of their business and to call them to account when they overstep their duty" (70).

Here is the point, and the point which we need to understand when reading Paul in relation to the Roman Empire:
Through the gospel, in other words, the one true God is claming the allegiance of the entire world, since the gospel itself carries the same power which raised Jesus from the dead, unveiling the true salvation and the true justice before a world where those were already key imperial buzzwords (77).

N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 4

The cross worked as a symbol in two drastically different ways:
  1. For Caesar: spoke politically of the unstoppable military power in Rome, and theologically of the Caesar's own divinity.
  2. For Paul: a symbol of divine love of the true cosmic ruler, the symbol which "spoke of God's naked love" (73).
In the fourth chapter of N.T. Wright's book, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, we move beyond Paul's legacy and context of four worlds, beyond Paul's underlying narratives of creation and covenant, and beyond Paul's understanding of Jesus as the Messiah and the apocalyptic revelation of God's plan, to now look briefly at what Paul's gospel would have meant within the Roman Empire.
Placing Paul within the third world, in a political state under the Roman Empire that promoted and promised freedom, justice, peace, and salvation, Paul proclaimed that Jesus, not Caesar, was the good news. While Caesar's cross was an "effective and feared symbol of imperial might," (64) it could not defeat and disavow the resurrection. Humans die. Rulers die. "Divine" earthly rulers die. The Wisdom of Solomon says that "it is the defeat of death, the return of the martyred righteous, that signals to the earthly rulers that their game is up" (69). The resurrection was the vindication of Jesus as the world's true Lord. Just as earthly rulers use death as a weapon, God has defeated death itself in order to overthrow all other tyranny's (70).
But Wright doesn't rest here. The resurrection was not just defeat of death or earthly rulers, but the inauguration of God's new world, new creation (70). Wright then looks at a number of Scriptural passages that describe how the person found in Christ is to live - both in an inaugurated new-created kingdom and in a not-yet-realized kingdom. As opposed to reading Paul through a 'two kingdom' lens, with a "western separation of theology and society, religion and politics," (60) Paul with Israel believed that God was the God of the whole world. Paul is prepared to "submit to the courts, but is also more than prepared to remind them of their business and to call them to account when they overstep their duty" (70).
Here is the point, and the point which we need to understand when reading Paul in relation to the Roman Empire:
Through the gospel, in other words, the one true God is claming the allegiance of the entire world, since the gospel itself carries the same power which raised Jesus from the dead, unveiling the true salvation and the true justice before a world where those were already key imperial buzzwords (77).

Labels:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 3

The third chapter of N.T. Wright's book, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, deals with two key terms that are quite controversial to many within the scholarly debates. The first is Paul's attribution of the word 'Messiah', as a title rather than a simple surname. That title was reserved for a very specific in-breaking of God in the great story of redemption, involving six key features:
  1. The Messiah would be a royal Messiah
  2. The Messiah would fight Israel's battles against the forces of evil and paganism.
  3. The Messiah will build the Temple - the house where Israel's God will return to and live in
  4. The Messiah will bring Israel's history to the climactic fulfillment of messianic prophecies
  5. The Messiah will act as Israel's representative
  6. The Messiah will act as God's representative to Israel and to the world (43)
For Paul, Jesus is the Messiah. "God's plan for Israel and the world had come to its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel's Messiah and the world's true Lord, in whom Israel's destiny had been accomplished and in whom, therefore, Jew and Gentile alike could inherit the promises made to Abraham" (46-47). Understanding the far-reaching implications of Jesus as this Messiah will be important in getting a fuller perspective on the person and writing of the Apostle Paul.

The second important term for a proper understanding of Paul is the apocalyptic work of Jesus the Messiah on the cross and through resurrection. Apocalyptic literature has to do primarily with the revelation of secrets and hidden mysteries (51). This genre of literature is clearly seen in the book of Daniel, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and Colossians 2. It is here, in Colossians 2, that Paul declares that "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Messiah" (52). Here is the key: the dramatic apocalypse, prophesied and expected in the narrative of covenant-Israel, "has already come about in and through the events concerning the Messiah, Jesus, particularly through his death and resurrection" (52). In fact, the true life of the church is one of these heavenly secrets revealed (55). Wright sums this up in the following:

Paul, then, held what we might call a covenantal and apocalyptic theology in which, in surprising fulfillment of the covenant, God had unveiled his plan, his character, and not least his saving, restorative justice through the events concerning Jesus the Messiah, and would complete this revelation once for all at Jesus' final appearing, his eventual royal presence. And this means, as is well known, that his theology has the character of inaugurated eschatology, that is, of a sense that God's ultimate future has come forwards into the middle of history, so that the church is living within - indeed, is constituted precisely by living simultaneously within! - God's new world, and the present one (57).

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 3

The third chapter of N.T. Wright's book, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, deals with two key terms that are quite controversial to many within the scholarly debates. The first is Paul's attribution of the word 'Messiah', as a title rather than a simple surname. That title was reserved for a very specific in-breaking of God in the great story of redemption, involving six key features:
  1. The Messiah would be a royal Messiah
  2. The Messiah would fight Israel's battles against the forces of evil and paganism.
  3. The Messiah will build the Temple - the house where Israel's God will return to and live in
  4. The Messiah will bring Israel's history to the climactic fulfillment of messianic prophecies
  5. The Messiah will act as Israel's representative
  6. The Messiah will act as God's representative to Israel and to the world (43)
For Paul, Jesus is the Messiah. "God's plan for Israel and the world had come to its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel's Messiah and the world's true Lord, in whom Israel's destiny had been accomplished and in whom, therefore, Jew and Gentile alike could inherit the promises made to Abraham" (46-47). Understanding the far-reaching implications of Jesus as this Messiah will be important in getting a fuller perspective on the person and writing of the Apostle Paul.
The second important term for a proper understanding of Paul is the apocalyptic work of Jesus the Messiah on the cross and through resurrection. Apocalyptic literature has to do primarily with the revelation of secrets and hidden mysteries (51). This genre of literature is clearly seen in the book of Daniel, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and Colossians 2. It is here, in Colossians 2, that Paul declares that "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Messiah" (52). Here is the key: the dramatic apocalypse, prophesied and expected in the narrative of covenant-Israel, "has already come about in and through the events concerning the Messiah, Jesus, particularly through his death and resurrection" (52). In fact, the true life of the church is one of these heavenly secrets revealed (55). Wright sums this up in the following:

Paul, then, held what we might call a covenantal and apocalyptic theology in which, in surprising fulfillment of the covenant, God had unveiled his plan, his character, and not least his saving, restorative justice through the events concerning Jesus the Messiah, and would complete this revelation once for all at Jesus' final appearing, his eventual royal presence. And this means, as is well known, that his theology has the character of inaugurated eschatology, that is, of a sense that God's ultimate future has come forwards into the middle of history, so that the church is living within - indeed, is constituted precisely by living simultaneously within! - God's new world, and the present one (57).

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 2

The second chapter, “Creation and Covenant” (21-39), looks at both of these as controlling themes, always in the mind and influencing Paul’s thought. Creation and covenant are frequently paired together in the Psalms, and Wright looks specifically at Psalm 19 and Psalm 74. When these two are held together, we see that:
The promises to Abraham echo the commands to Adam, and the whole argument of the book [Genesis], the whole point of the narrative, is that God has called Abraham and his family to undo the sin of Adam, even though Abraham and his family are themselves part of the problem as well as the bearers of the solution (23).
First, the role of the covenant is to solve the problems with creation: evil and the problem of the world. Israel’s role in that covenant is to be obedient, and through obedience, Israel would bring justice and salvation to the earth. This is God’s plan of “setting things right.” Second, “creation is invoked to solve the problems within the covenant” (24). God is the creator and has the power to make things right, establish justice, and vindicate his people. ‘Righteousness’ is understood, by Wright, as God’s ‘covenant faithfulness’ (25). This is vastly different from the moral righteousness that so many today believe Paul is referring to, or in Reformed minds, referring to a status that God “imputes to the faithful” (25).

Wright then refers to three central passages where Paul refers to covenant and creation, either explicitly or implicitly:

• Colossians 1:15-20 – Jesus the Messiah is the one through whom both creation and redemption have come about: the true fulfillment of Genesis 1:26.
• 1 Corinthians 15 – “Since death came through a human being, the resurrection has come by a human being” (28). The new body is a creation of a new type of human being, in the image of the risen Messiah. We bear both the image of the earthly human being as well as the image of a heavenly one.
• Romans 1-11 – Reveals the challenge that God faced: to be faithful to the covenant and just in his dealings with the whole creation (29). The answer is unveiled in the faithful Messiah Jesus, the One faithful to God’s purpose, “through whose death sin has been dealt with, the one through whom God has now called into being a renewed people among whom Jews and Gentiles are welcome on equal terms” (30). God has accomplished the goals for which the covenant was put in place, while also dealing with the covenant people who had become part of the problem within creation (31).

For Paul, the movement was always “from creation to new creation, and from covenant to renewed covenant”(33). Paul saw himself as placed within this story, not as a doctrinal statement, but as an invitation to participate.

Finally, Paul looks at Evil and Grace, Plight and Solution. He says that, within the Jewish tradition, the basic sin is idolatry, “the worship of that which is not in fact the living creator God,” and that it is through both creation and covenant that, “grace perfects or completes nature not simply by topping it up but by judging it, condemning the evil which has infected it, and then renewing it” (38). This is the point of justification. It was “the way God intended to deal with evil,” through being faithful to the covenant made with a covenant people.

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 2

The second chapter, “Creation and Covenant” (21-39), looks at both of these as controlling themes, always in the mind and influencing Paul’s thought. Creation and covenant are frequently paired together in the Psalms, and Wright looks specifically at Psalm 19 and Psalm 74. When these two are held together, we see that:
The promises to Abraham echo the commands to Adam, and the whole argument of the book [Genesis], the whole point of the narrative, is that God has called Abraham and his family to undo the sin of Adam, even though Abraham and his family are themselves part of the problem as well as the bearers of the solution (23).
First, the role of the covenant is to solve the problems with creation: evil and the problem of the world. Israel’s role in that covenant is to be obedient, and through obedience, Israel would bring justice and salvation to the earth. This is God’s plan of “setting things right.” Second, “creation is invoked to solve the problems within the covenant” (24). God is the creator and has the power to make things right, establish justice, and vindicate his people. ‘Righteousness’ is understood, by Wright, as God’s ‘covenant faithfulness’ (25). This is vastly different from the moral righteousness that so many today believe Paul is referring to, or in Reformed minds, referring to a status that God “imputes to the faithful” (25).
Wright then refers to three central passages where Paul refers to covenant and creation, either explicitly or implicitly:
• Colossians 1:15-20 – Jesus the Messiah is the one through whom both creation and redemption have come about: the true fulfillment of Genesis 1:26.
• 1 Corinthians 15 – “Since death came through a human being, the resurrection has come by a human being” (28). The new body is a creation of a new type of human being, in the image of the risen Messiah. We bear both the image of the earthly human being as well as the image of a heavenly one.
• Romans 1-11 – Reveals the challenge that God faced: to be faithful to the covenant and just in his dealings with the whole creation (29). The answer is unveiled in the faithful Messiah Jesus, the One faithful to God’s purpose, “through whose death sin has been dealt with, the one through whom God has now called into being a renewed people among whom Jews and Gentiles are welcome on equal terms” (30). God has accomplished the goals for which the covenant was put in place, while also dealing with the covenant people who had become part of the problem within creation (31).
For Paul, the movement was always “from creation to new creation, and from covenant to renewed covenant”(33). Paul saw himself as placed within this story, not as a doctrinal statement, but as an invitation to participate.
Finally, Paul looks at Evil and Grace, Plight and Solution. He says that, within the Jewish tradition, the basic sin is idolatry, “the worship of that which is not in fact the living creator God,” and that it is through both creation and covenant that, “grace perfects or completes nature not simply by topping it up but by judging it, condemning the evil which has infected it, and then renewing it” (38). This is the point of justification. It was “the way God intended to deal with evil,” through being faithful to the covenant made with a covenant people.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Individual in Worship - Moving to Post-Criticism

The last six months have been very rewarding in my own self-awareness and critique. A common plague runs rampant through many seminaries, encouraging not a healthy critique of life and living, but a dark cynicism. I have realized that much of my seminary experience has been rooted in identifying the pitfalls of church and society, but offering few beneficial or healing alternatives.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I had been treating the critique of individualism in contemporary worship under this pattern. As a worship arts student we were given tools to identify the "me, my, I, mine" language that locates the individual at the center of the worship event, rather than God's faithfulness to the plan of redemption for the world, given for all of creation. I quickly became disenfranchised with these songs, with the "personal times of worship," with the closing of one's eyes and raising one's hands, with any message that isolated the individual from the community when it gathers and chips away at the narrative of redemption until all that's left is God circling around me and my salvation.

My hope is that healing will come from these revelations, rather than easy and rewarding cynicism. I realize that being disgruntled with this aspect of the "contemporary worship scene" does not necessitate throwing away the personal aspect of worship, but reshaping it within the gathered setting.

The Church that gathers is unique from all other institutions. We gather first and foremost because Jesus the Messiah has risen. The resurrection has implications on all of creation (Isa. 66:22). We gather in celebration of the faithfulness of God throughout all of history as participants in the inaugurated kingdom (Matt. 4:17). We participate in this kingdom in anticipation of the second coming of Christ.

It is these truths that shape the structure and content of the worshiping community. Certainly, out of thanksgiving we respond as individuals for the work of redemption. We also realize that as individuals we do not live perfectly as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and therefore we confess our sins unto God and unto one another. It is my (hopefully) health critique, that when the church gathers as a community, we are to celebrate the depth and breadth of salvation in the wider perspective.

The Individual in Worship - Moving to Post-Criticism

The last six months have been very rewarding in my own self-awareness and critique. A common plague runs rampant through many seminaries, encouraging not a healthy critique of life and living, but a dark cynicism. I have realized that much of my seminary experience has been rooted in identifying the pitfalls of church and society, but offering few beneficial or healing alternatives.
A few weeks ago, I realized that I had been treating the critique of individualism in contemporary worship under this pattern. As a worship arts student we were given tools to identify the "me, my, I, mine" language that locates the individual at the center of the worship event, rather than God's faithfulness to the plan of redemption for the world, given for all of creation. I quickly became disenfranchised with these songs, with the "personal times of worship," with the closing of one's eyes and raising one's hands, with any message that isolated the individual from the community when it gathers and chips away at the narrative of redemption until all that's left is God circling around me and my salvation.
My hope is that healing will come from these revelations, rather than easy and rewarding cynicism. I realize that being disgruntled with this aspect of the "contemporary worship scene" does not necessitate throwing away the personal aspect of worship, but reshaping it within the gathered setting.
The Church that gathers is unique from all other institutions. We gather first and foremost because Jesus the Messiah has risen. The resurrection has implications on all of creation (Isa. 66:22). We gather in celebration of the faithfulness of God throughout all of history as participants in the inaugurated kingdom (Matt. 4:17). We participate in this kingdom in anticipation of the second coming of Christ.
It is these truths that shape the structure and content of the worshiping community. Certainly, out of thanksgiving we respond as individuals for the work of redemption. We also realize that as individuals we do not live perfectly as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and therefore we confess our sins unto God and unto one another. It is my (hopefully) health critique, that when the church gathers as a community, we are to celebrate the depth and breadth of salvation in the wider perspective.

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N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 1

N.T. Wright is one of the most prolific and prophetic authors in New Testament studies, and has placed particular emphasis on the study of Paul. As I am right in the middle of a paper about soteriology, I have decided to use Wright's book, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, as an aid. And as a way to further comprehend the material, I hope to blog about each of the chapters.

In the first chapter, "Paul's World, Paul's Legacy," Wright lays out what he understands to be the four worlds which Paul lived in:

  1. Second-Temple Judaism: mixture of religion, faith, culture, and politics
  2. Hellenistic culture: Greek culture and philosophy, rhetorical style was powerful and pervasive.
  3. Roman rulers and the world they hoped to create: ideology and burgeoning emperor-cult
  4. Family of the Messiah: the ekklesia, or 'called-out ones'
This meant that, "for Paul, to be 'in the Messiah', to belong to the Messiah's body, meant embracing an identity rooted in Judaism, lived out in the Hellenistic world, and placing a counter-claim against Caesar's aspiration to world domination, while being both more and less than a simple combination of elements from within those three" (6).

The importance of understanding Paul in this mosaic of worlds is to understand the competing narratives that influence Paul in writing the way he does. Specifically, Wright is concerned with the first world, Second-Temple Judaism, and the narrative of the covenant with Abraham that was always in Paul's mind, especially in obvious passages such as Romans 4 and Galatians 3 (9). Paul would certainly then see the coming, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, as a radical movement within that greater-underlying narrative. Justification therefore "tells how the God of Abraham has fulfilled his promises at last through the apocalyptic death and resurrection of his own beloved Son" (10). If we do not read Paul with this understanding we will have "no chance of grasping the fundamental structures of his thought" (12).

Wright then looks briefly at the arguments formed between the 'Old Perspective' and the 'New Perspective.' Each person who approaches Paul does so out of a context. Enlightenment thought has created four major themes when discussing Paul: history, theology, exegesis and contemporary relevance (14). Within those first three – history, theology, and exegesis – the attempt has been to find an "imperial objectivism," which postmodern critical theory has proved nearly impossible. Instead, Wright argues, that the only way to move forward is by "means of a robust critical realism" (15). He summarizes this in the following:
Only if we start with the assumption that what we ought to have is pure, unsullied objectivism will we conclude that this string of non-accidents reduces previous scholarship to a worthless pile of words. The fact that there are all kinds of non-accidents waiting to happen among the readers of this book (if I dare put it like that) does not mean that they will be without value (17).
Wright then insists on three things in regards to studying Paul:
  1. There are such things as texts
  2. There are such things as fresh and compelling readings of texts
  3. The Holy Spirit works in hidden, mysterious, and unpredictable ways
I appreciated this first chapter, as it placed Paul within a historical and theological context, as well as invited the reader into the study without feeling the need to come in or out with all of the answers. Such clarity is beyond Paul's legacy, which "has been to keep the church on its toes: precisely because he presents so many challenges, he refuses to allow us to settle back and feel we have understood it all" (20).

N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, Chapter 1

N.T. Wright is one of the most prolific and prophetic authors in New Testament studies, and has placed particular emphasis on the study of Paul. As I am right in the middle of a paper about soteriology, I have decided to use Wright's book, Paul In Fresh Perspectives, as an aid. And as a way to further comprehend the material, I hope to blog about each of the chapters.

In the first chapter, "Paul's World, Paul's Legacy," Wright lays out what he understands to be the four worlds which Paul lived in:

  1. Second-Temple Judaism: mixture of religion, faith, culture, and politics
  2. Hellenistic culture: Greek culture and philosophy, rhetorical style was powerful and pervasive.
  3. Roman rulers and the world they hoped to create: ideology and burgeoning emperor-cult
  4. Family of the Messiah: the ekklesia, or 'called-out ones'
This meant that, "for Paul, to be 'in the Messiah', to belong to the Messiah's body, meant embracing an identity rooted in Judaism, lived out in the Hellenistic world, and placing a counter-claim against Caesar's aspiration to world domination, while being both more and less than a simple combination of elements from within those three" (6).
The importance of understanding Paul in this mosaic of worlds is to understand the competing narratives that influence Paul in writing the way he does. Specifically, Wright is concerned with the first world, Second-Temple Judaism, and the narrative of the covenant with Abraham that was always in Paul's mind, especially in obvious passages such as Romans 4 and Galatians 3 (9). Paul would certainly then see the coming, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, as a radical movement within that greater-underlying narrative. Justification therefore "tells how the God of Abraham has fulfilled his promises at last through the apocalyptic death and resurrection of his own beloved Son" (10). If we do not read Paul with this understanding we will have "no chance of grasping the fundamental structures of his thought" (12).
Wright then looks briefly at the arguments formed between the 'Old Perspective' and the 'New Perspective.' Each person who approaches Paul does so out of a context. Enlightenment thought has created four major themes when discussing Paul: history, theology, exegesis and contemporary relevance (14). Within those first three – history, theology, and exegesis – the attempt has been to find an "imperial objectivism," which postmodern critical theory has proved nearly impossible. Instead, Wright argues, that the only way to move forward is by "means of a robust critical realism" (15). He summarizes this in the following:
Only if we start with the assumption that what we ought to have is pure, unsullied objectivism will we conclude that this string of non-accidents reduces previous scholarship to a worthless pile of words. The fact that there are all kinds of non-accidents waiting to happen among the readers of this book (if I dare put it like that) does not mean that they will be without value (17).
Wright then insists on three things in regards to studying Paul:
  1. There are such things as texts
  2. There are such things as fresh and compelling readings of texts
  3. The Holy Spirit works in hidden, mysterious, and unpredictable ways
I appreciated this first chapter, as it placed Paul within a historical and theological context, as well as invited the reader into the study without feeling the need to come in or out with all of the answers. Such clarity is beyond Paul's legacy, which "has been to keep the church on its toes: precisely because he presents so many challenges, he refuses to allow us to settle back and feel we have understood it all" (20).

Labels:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jacob and Esau

I will be preaching a sermon in a few weeks on Genesis 25:19-34, the birth story of Jacob and Esau and the selling of Esau's birthright (to some, simply known as the "red stew" passage). Studying this passage has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on the oneness of Scripture: the telling revelation of God working in and through history. As a child I remember learning about the patriarchs of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. As a child, these were great men who were unswervingly faithful and in love with God. Abraham had his many children, Jacob was a cunning usurper of the system, and Joseph had a beautiful coat. As I have grown older and engaged the story of Scripture, I realize that Abraham did not in fact have many sons, Jacob was at times a deceitful momma's boy, and Joseph's colorful dream coat was a long robe with sleeves (Gen 37:3). Why is it that the stories we tell our children and believe for ourselves are so often in contrast to the witness of Scripture itself? Are we afraid of humble origins? If Scripture is, in fact, true unto itself, should we not be able to rely on the stories of these broken fathers, who despite their own weakness, were used by God?

The stories of the patriarchs are recorded with purpose: to reveal God's faithfulness to all creation from all time. Being invited into the story of Jacob and Esau is an invitation to see how God has worked in and through fallen people to be a blessing to the world. God is both the object and the subject of our devotion. Through Scripture, we are encouraged that through the One faithful God, unfaithful and failing people have participated as kingdom bearers. Men like Jacob and Joseph, the young and the rejected, not to mention King David, the powerful and the wise, are all called together to live as God's chosen ones, in order to be a blessing to the world. This has always been the point of the covenant. This is the kingdom that we live in, the now-but-not-yet.

The passage of Genesis 25:19-34 is filled with tragedy and deceit, but ultimately attests to God's ability to make his plans come true. God's response to Rebekah's plea for peace in her womb was answered: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger." The elder shall serve the younger. And God's faithfulness will be known through it. We do not know why Jacob was chosen over Esau, but what we do know is that understanding God's mind/will here is not the point. The point is to see that God is able. The point is to read beyond Genesis 25 and see that this pattern is consistent. We don't know why God continued to choose unworthy, and quite frankly, sometimes quite silly people to accomplish His will. But nor is this the point. When we can submit our "need to know" to the entire story of God's faithfulness, maybe then we will encounter the living God who is able - who has already accomplished what unfaithful Israel proved unable to do. We are now called to live within that same story as those marked by this transforming message.