Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Triumph of Abraham's God by Bruce Longenecker

I have just finished reading The Triumph of Abraham's God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians by Bruce W. Longenecker. It was very enlightening for me, making me see, not just Galatians, but Paul in a different light to before. I am in not very well read, so I do not know how distinctive his ideas are. But I wanted to share my enjoyment of such a great book. The blurb describes it as a 'scholarly yet accessible study', which I think is spot on; and to stop me having to think to hard about how to summarise the content of the book, Longenecker does the job for me:

The gospel that Paul proclaims but which is being perverted by the agitators is, as his letter demonstrates at key points, driven by a clear discernment of the implications of God's triumphal invasion in Christ. Divine sovereignty has penetrated an age of evil, provided a means of release from the oversight of lesser suprahuman forces and established a sphere marked our be unprecedented intimacy with God and multi-racial association. Those whose lives have been caught up in this sphere embody the triumph of God in their transformed patterns of life. By means of the Spirit, the pattern of self-giving that characterised the faithful son of God eradicates self-referential patterns of life that mark out the age of evil.

We have seen how Paul elaborates the intricacies of this perspective in relation to a number of issues in Galatians, including: suprahuman competitors of various sorts; the mechanics of participation in the eschatological age; the fulfillment of the law by Christians; the nature and purposes of the law; the enhancement of society by Christians; and presuppositions for reading scripture properly from a Christian perspective.

(Longenecker, Bruce W. The Triumph of Abraham's God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians, p.173, Edinburgh: T&T Clark)

I found it particularly enjoyable because the New Perspective, for or against, was not the only question for Longenecker when interpreting Paul. My reading recently has been too dominated by that, and it was refreshing to read something where my thoughts were on what God is doing rather than the beliefs of Second Temple Judaism. That is not to say he has nothing to say on the NPP, or that he thinks it is unimportant.

The Triumph of Abraham's God by Bruce W. Longenecker

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Random pickings

Just some random things I would like the world to notice, but not to get too excited about. Although Mike's post is IMHO a 'must read' for bloggers.

  • Mike, from Eternal Perspectives, is a recovering blogoholic and needs to be heard. If only there were more bloggers like him
  • When I heard about the launch of a new e-zine called reformation 21 from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals I hoped for better things than their first issue, which is on the New Perspective on Paul.
  • Miscreant has two posts (here and here) interacting with the above e-zine which in his view is dedicated to 'the New Paronoia on Paul'. They are not as constructive as they could be but they are worth a read. Especially as, unlike me, he seems to be able to post less than 300 words at once.
  • Justin Taylor has spoted some of the new e-zine's better bits though.
  • If anyone is still not reading Scot McKnight's blog they should start now.
  • Thanks must go to Steve McCoy for his help in collating Tim Keller's online articles. If you do not know who Tim Keller is, it is no big deal but he is worth some reading time. (HT JT)
  • And finally, after reading a review like Buddy Boone's review of Inspiration And Incarnation: Evangelicals And The Problem Of The Old Testament by Peter Enns. How are you meant to try to reduce your spending on books? - I must resist, for now.

Going beyond the Spirit

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law […] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

(Galatians 3:13-14)

I am still reading Galatians quite a bit, and have come to conclusion that the importance of the Spirit to Paul is not mirrored by the importance given to it by scholars of the letter.1 I suspect this is partly due to the lack of instances of the word 'Spirit' itself. However, I think the above verses suggest that Paul was thinking of the Spirit, at least to some degree, whenever he thought about the blessings, inheritance, and promises Abraham received.

There a number of things to note before we go further. The first is how incredibly closely linked in the mind of Pau 'possession' of the Spirit and righteousness/justification are (You may think that everyone already has these two closely entwined but I believe that Paul has them closer than anyone I have read - I challenge you to look at that). The second thing to note is that in the verses above the Spirit and Abraham's blessing/inheritance (I think you can equate the two) seem to be the very very similar (although Eph 1:13 suggests not identical). This means that when we see the blessing/inheritance of Abraham mentioned, and so by implication mention of his sons we ought to think of the Spirit.

Galatians 3:2-5 is explicitly concerned with how the Galatians should see the Spirit, as it questions whether they received ‘the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?’ implying that the Spirit is what the goal of either faith or doing works of the law (whatever that means) should be. However, strangely v.3 sees the Galatians as moving beyond the Spirit, when in v.2 Paul seems to have assumed it is their goal. vv. 5-9 then return to the question of how the Spirit/righteousness is to be gained, affirming faith again as the answer.

Paul throughout the letter is constantly appealing to the Galatians experience of receiving the Spirit. He wants them to remember that they received the Spirit, and that it was by faith. However, it is hard to conceive that the Galatians forgot receiving the Spirit in the sense that it slipped their mind. Instead I think we must conclude that they needed reminding that they were already 'there'; both in the sense of being the covenant people (and so approved by God) by (or, in) its reception (cf. 6:16), and in the sense that there is nothing else to 'gain'.

This second sense, of gaining something else, should be taken in Galatians to have as its focus our relations with other people. The Galatians were receiving persecution along with the Spirit (6:12; 4:29) and moving beyond the Spirit (by being circumsised) would gain them peace and security in their lives. They would also receive, or so they thought, honour from others (4:17). Their security would no longer be 'only' in Christ and before God, nor would they 'only' receive honour from Paul, and so God (cf. 4:18), but also from the agitators. Needless to say this God+ (or Christ+, Spirit+) Christianity would not bring as much glory to God, so Paul was riled.

But moving beyond the Spirit would not 'only' lead to God being made less of, it would also ironically lead to the very thing the Galatians thought they were seeking to avoid – unrighteousness. Most of Galatians 5-6 has as its burden showing this. Adding to the Spirit is to be equated with following the desires of the flesh, which should not be seen as building upon the foundation of the Spirit, but as being contrary to it (much like past enslavement to other gods)2.

These thoughts are just half thought through, incomplete, and presented in a rather rushed fashion, but in that they are just reflections of my own thoughts at the moment. I hope you read them in a forgiving spirit.

They are quite challenging though when you think about them. They force you to ask yourself where and when you are moving beyond the Spirit in your life. I do not think that many Christians are tempted to do 'works of the law' (which must be thought of as something specific to the nation of Israel and the Torah), but we must have our equivalents. Love guided and created by the Spirit was not enough for the Galatians, and Twenty-first century Christians somethimes have the same problem too. The mark of these fleshly acts Galatians teaches us is, I think, when the ideal of the perfect Christian/church can be described in other ways than by love3. If I think of what I would be like if I was 'sorted', then although love (from the Spirit) would be part of the picture, so would middle-class material abitions, ideas of coolness, respect from others, and education. New Creation (though physical) is all tied to the gift of the Spirit (cf. Gal 6:15), and these other values have no home, at least in the way I hold them (because there are good things about them). I am reminded of how the illusion I held that I was not materially ambitious was shattered by God when I did so poorly in my degree.

I’m rambling, and I’m getting tired too, so I will stop, but first I must also add some explicit praise to God about this. The basis of Pauls thinking on moving beyond the Spirit is that God has already provided us with the Spirit which being the 'the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it' (Eph 1:14)is worth more than all the money and honour that this world has to offer. The Spirit is a wonderful gift, and moving beyond it is to deny that. Instead we must walk by the Spirit, so celebrating its presence. Agian I'm rambling. Let us simply praise God for his gift which we have already received, and which contains the guarantee of more of the same, but on a cosmic scale.

Footnotes in a blog!

1. This is not to say it is ignored (Jimmy Dunn, for instance, gives it much attention), nor to say that it is the most important theme of the letter.

2. I am reminded here of a comment I once heard by John Piper, that the cross (or here the Spirit) should not be just the foundation that we build upon as nobody can see the foundation, and so no honour is given to it.

3 All sorts of explaining comments should be made here, but stuff it!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

In order to get my header picture up I need this post

Friday, July 15, 2005

Introspective ramblings.

Firstly let me apologise for my lack of posts recently. There is too much going round in my head, and no time whatsoever.

However I have just enough time to post on one of the things going round in my mind: how I should blog. Thanks to the gracious commenting of Alistair and Dave Bish I have become a lot more self-conscious over the last two weeks. This has meant I have realised that if I post (or write in general, or even talk to other people), I cannot seem to avoid the subject becoming falling into one of the following categories.

  1. The discussion about ideas in an accademic way, where the personal does not exist, and neither does love and hate.
  2. The overly introspective, and self obsessed, 'opening up'.
  3. The recounting of mundane activities that fill my life.
  4. The judgmental picking apart of people (and especially their ideas).

I have in the past ventured deeply into number 2, and have since reacted strongly against it. Number 3 does not interest me, let alone anyone else; but it does fill space. And I am usually able to refrain from number 4 when thinking first (e.g. before writing a post). Number 1 though is my comfort zone, because it does not seem to involve me, and can seem morally neutral.

I see the faults in all of my potentially bloggable thoughts. Much like a songwriter could have said 'It is hard to blog with the devil on your back'. Not wanting to post anything that fits into one of these categories, at the moment, has contributed to a kind of paralysis towards posting, just when I was starting to enjoy it. The lack of time has not helped either. Do not expect many posts any time soon.

I expect I will need to stew a bit more, and I expect pray some more as well.

PS. A third difficulty is the tension between being honest (which includes blogging your interests, despite their merits) and being as you should be (e.g. should I write about my need to pray when I do not feel it like I should).

PPS I realise that this post is firmly within category 2. You see – it is impossible for me.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Two brief reflections on Galatians

I read Galatians this morning, and two passages struck me. The first was 1:3-4 (my italics):

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

Which further confirms me in my view that the penal substitution model should be the central one when thinking about our benefit from Christ's death. Christ conquers evil, the devil etc. because he has paid for our sins, so thwarting (IMO, though it is not in this passage) the devil in his attempts to accuse us before God (e.g. Revelation 12:10), and Sin in its attempt to rule over our lives (e.g. Romans 6:12-19).

The second passage that struck me was Galatians 6. Being circumcised (and persuading others to do so) is here seen merely as an attempt to gain something which will appear good to the outside world. Paul is not criticising primarily an attempt to impress God with our works, but an attempt to impress the world. This is challenging to me, especially after reading Ian Stackhouse's book The Gospel-Driven Church, which I was surprised to find very challenging, as it criticised revivalism's concern with worldly success. A worldly success that many people would not imagine ever could be - growing the church by conversions.

However I can rest (in some senses) in the first passage which reminds me that Christ's death contains the promise of the death of my sinful, fleshly desires to impress the world as well. Soli Deo Gloria.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Wright and penal substitution yet again!

I said I would not post again on Wright for a while, but then I read the transcript of a lecture Wright recently gave at the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (which many people may know about). To avoid breaking my promise I was going to just update my previous post (which itself was an update of another post) but I thought that would make it too long. So here is a rather extended quote from the lecture:

Paul’s insistence on Solus Christus comes fully into its own, of course, in his theology of the accomplishment of Jesus in his death and resurrection. There is at this point a strange theory doing the rounds, according to which all of us who have adopted some variety of the so-called new perspective on Paul are, by definition, weak or vague on Paul’s atonement theology. The thinking seems to go like this: all new perspective writers are basically liberals in disguise (not least since they adopt some positions also adopted by some liberals a hundred years ago); liberals tend to be wooly or vague on the atonement; some new perspective writers are also wooly or vague on the atonement; therefore all new perspective writers must be wooly and vague on the atonement. And therefore, I discover, I am criticized in some quarters in exactly these terms. Frankly, I don’t know whether to be offended or amused by this. I am the author of the longest ever exposition and defence, certainly in modern times, of the view that Jesus himself made Isaiah 53, the greatest atonement-chapter in the Old Testament, the clearest statement of penal substitution in the whole of the Bible, central to his own self-understanding and vocation, and I have spelled out the meaning of that, in the sustained climax of my second longest book, in great detail. I have done my NT scholarship in a world where battle-lines were drawn up very clearly on this topic: those who want to avoid penal substitution at all costs have done their best to argue that Jesus did not refer to Isaiah 53, and I have refuted that attempt at great length and, I trust, with proper weight. What is more, I have expounded the truth of Jesus’ death ‘in our place’ from the very first sermon I preached, in Passiontide 1972, when I spoke to a small congregation on the faith of the dying brigand who turned to Jesus on the cross and saw him as the innocent one dying the death of the guilty. I have several volumes of sermons in print, and in many of them you will find sermons on the cross expounding this view of the atonement. If you look at my biblical commentaries, whether scholarly or popular, you will find the same thing. It is therefore bizarre to be told, in a recent book criticizing me on this and on several other counts, that my statements remain ‘vague’, just because I do not subscribe to a particular Reformed way of talking about imputed righteousness, about which we shall have more to say later, and just because I, like Paul himself in many passages, highlight the Christus Victor theme rather than penal substitution, even though when you ask how the powers of evil were defeated Paul’s answer is of course that God condemned them. Again, I invoke the Tyndale principle: I am determined to read exactly what is there in scripture, not to miss a thing on the one hand but not to insert things either into texts which do not state them.

That is why, for instance, I have been very careful to say that in Romans 8.3, where the penal note is struck firmly by Paul himself, the point is that on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of his own Son. He does not say that God condemned the Son, though of course in physical and historical terms that is what it amounted to. That is why, as well, he declares in 2 Corinthians 5.21 that God made him to be sin for us, while adding a caveat that he knew no sin. And that is why, in particular, I insist on paying attention to the actual argument in Galatians 3.10–14, rather than seizing upon a few phrases there and making them support a systematic position which is not what Paul is at that point talking about. I have to point out, in fact, that there is no single passage in Paul where he says all, or even most, of what he believes about what happened on the cross. It is of course possible to present penal substitution in such a way as to remain open, if not even to invite, the kind of riposte which liberal theology has traditionally made, namely that it makes God look like a bloodthirsty tyrant who wants to kill someone and doesn’t much mind who. I have been accused of all kinds of things on this score from the liberal side, but I stand my ground because Paul stands his, even though some who agree with me in formulation have strange ways of putting things which make me embarrassed to be associated with them. But precisely because I believe that God gave us, through Paul, the letters we have, rather than the books of systematic theology which we have deduced from them (necessary though that task of theology obviously is), I have insisted and shall insist on understanding the full sweep of the letters themselves, giving exact and due weight to the statements and arguments that are actually being mounted, instead of ransacking them to fight in-house battles between rival schools of interpretation.

The crucial thing here, I believe, is that the Solus Christus of the Reformation struck a blow, not always understood by the successors of the Reformers, for a thoroughly eschatological understanding of the gospel. Solus Christus is a way of saying that the entire world turned its critical corner when God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah and then when God began the new creation in his resurrection, the new creation which was at last possible because the forces of corruption, decay and death had been defeated on Good Friday. That, incidentally, is a theme not sufficiently noticed within Reformed theology and exposition of Paul, but it is one of his greatest subjects, fully integrated of course with everything else.

(Fresh Perspectives on Paul Lecture 1: Starting Points and Opening Reflections, delivered 3 January 2005)

Many thanks must go once again to the N. T. Wright Page. The lecture is a good introduction to what Wright is all about, with regards to Paul, addressing (though not kneeling to) Evangelical/Reformed concerns. In it he is unusually clear (IMHO Wright is often lucid, but not clear, if you know what I mean) and offers some challenging and insightful readings of some key texts. I would love to spend time posting on these but time does not permit.

PS I have graciously been granted a comment (worth reading) by a person who certainly knows much, much more than I. In my defence I am still in the process of processing all that I have read by and about Wright. I am horribly aware of the perils of push-button publishing (i.e. blogging). It does tend to encourage the voicing of ill-informed opinions that have had no time to mature, and, especially when they are about other people, should be treated with much care. Please bare with me.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wright and penal substitution, again

I hit upon the most blindingly obvious way to find out more on Wright's view of Christ's death. Use the Google search facility on the amazing N. T. Wright Page, created by Kevin Bush. That turned up the following quotes, which I could simply cut and paste (sigh of relief).

But, that said, I find myself compelled towards one of the well-known theories of atonement, not as a replacement for the events or the stories, but one which carries me further than the others towards the heart of it all, and that is the Christus Victor theme, the belief that on the cross Jesus has won the victory over the powers of evil. Once that is in place, the other theories come in to play their respective parts. For Paul, Jesus’ death clearly involves a judicial or penal element, being God’s proper No to sin expressed upon Jesus as Messiah, Israel’s and therefore the world’s representative. This is the point at which the recognition that the line between good and evil runs right through the middle of me, and of every one of us, is met by the gospel proclamation that the death of Jesus is pro me, in my place and on my behalf. Because, as Messiah, he is Israel’s and the world’s representative, he can stand in for all: for our sake, writes Paul, God made him who knew no sin to be sin, to be an offering for sin, for us (2 Corinthians 5.21). Throughout the New Testament, this death is therefore seen as an act of love, both the love of Jesus himself (Galatians 2.20) and the love of the God who sent him and whose bodily self-expression he was (John 3.16; 13.1; Romans 5.6–11; 8.31–39; 1 John 4.9–10). Within these, not as the foundation but as the outworking, we see that Jesus’ suffering and death are an example of how we are summoned to love one another in turn.

(his italics, Evil and the Crucified God, a lecture delivered in 2003 and writen up in 2004)

Here we see that Wright clearly believes in the penal substitution model but as something that flows out of the Christus Victor 'theme'. I personally think the relationship here is back to front, but time prevents me from further comment. The next quote is from a question and answer session with an email group dedicated to discussing Wright's work.


In your Romans commentary on 8.3-4 (page 578) you wrote, "What was at stake was not simply God’s judicial honor, in some Anselmic sense, but the mysterious power called sin, at large and destructive within the God’s world, needing to be brought to book, to have sentence passed and executed upon it, so that, with its power broken, God could then give the life that sin would otherwise prevent. That is what happened on the cross." You have affirmed substitionary atonement, but what do you see as the limitation with the Anselmic penal substitution view? Does it rely too heavily on a Greco-Roman legal understanding rather than a more Hebraic covenant-relational model? Or is it insufficient in taking into account the God whose honor was at stake was the one who sent Jesus in the first place?


A full analysis of Anselm himself and (a different matter) of those who have in some way or other invoked him is beyond possibility at this moment, but the key thing is that in his scheme God’s honour was offended and needed to be restored, like a mediaeval prince who had been publicly shamed. This is to import into Paul’s picture ideas quite extraneous to it. There are in fact all kinds of different ways of speaking of substitutionary atonement, and using that last phrase as a shorthand often in my experience masks disagreement between different types of theology. Paul is concerned to speak here, which I think is if not his clearest statement of the doctrine then certainly one of the two or three most clear, not about God’s honour being wronged and the death of Jesus making satisfaction for that wrong — something he never puts like that, actually — but of sin as a force and power at large in the world which needs to be condemned and executed, which condemnation and execution took place in the death of Jesus. This makes sense, yes, within the larger Jewish world of thought to which the entire section and indeed entire letter belongs.

Answers to questions from the Wrightsaid email list, November 2004)

Jonathan Edwards and Mark Seifrid (two names that do not really belong together) I am sure would strongly disagree that God's honour was not central to his concern in sending his Son to the cross. I think they put greater emphasis on it than the biblical writers do, but I still think they are closer to the truth than Wright. But once again I have no time to justify myself.

This is, I hope, the last post on Tom Wright for quite a while. I think there are better things to talk about. But I hope that my posts have spread a little more light into a heated discussion, even if there are very few people looking my way.

Attacks on London

I have nothing really to say on the attacks on London. Obviously I sympathise with the casualties and their families, although not as much as I should. But I felt it would be totally uncaring, and disrespectful to ignore so many peoples passing in such a sudden and shocking way.

For more info try the obvious.

Wright in the firing line again

All this NPP debate is tiring me out. Phillip Johnson is in England at the moment and has lectured on Tom Wright's theology and its supposed consequences (HT: Adrian Warnock). Sadly though, despite the fact that my theology is closer to Phillip Johnson's than Tom Wright's, I found myself screaming inside at the misunderstanding upon misunderstanding of Wright's theology. I would love to go through his lecture, inserting 'yes...but' at a thousand different points, but even though I am on holiday at the moment I do not have the hours it would take. All I can plead is that anyone interested to hear a conservative assessment of the NPP should try, the imperfect, but still very good lectures of Don Carson.

I have however previously posted some preliminary thoughts on his closing point about connections to Steve Chalke and penal substitution.

Refined thoughts on Thielman

Scarily there are some people who read what I write, including Miscreant (the name has a great reason) who has read posts of mine on both Wright and Thielman. If he had much sense he would not, as I am far from an authority on either. I have read an authority on both of them, although I had forgotten all about it when writing on Thielman. Anyway I dug out my recently read copy of Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics by Stephen Westerholm. He has four and a half pages dedicated to Mr Thielman, I will just quote one of his footnotes.

Thielman's understanding of Israel's "plight" shares much in common with that of N. T. Wright, and the two are often grouped together in the summaries and critiques of other scholars. For our purposes, however, it is important to distinguish them inasmuch as Wright makes much of the discontinuity he sees between Paul's understanding of justification and its "Lutheran" interpretation, whereas Thielman sees significant continuity.

(Westerholm, Stephen Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics, p.215, Grand Rapids:Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004)

If you are adapt at searching inside books on Amazon, you may be able to read all that Westerholm has to say here.

For what it matters, I think he may well be in a group of younger scholars (including Bruce W. Longenecker) who has moved past the controversy, and party spirit, and found a fruitful path using the best of both perspectives.

PS. Wright says that Thielman is '[o]ne of the best of the younger generation of Pauline scholars. Clear, refreshing, incisive, even when one may not agree' (Wright, N. T., What St Paul Really Said, p.190, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997).

'Yhwh': The divine name and bible translation

Adrian Warnock has been enjoying the privilege recently of being able to ask the translators of the ESV a few questions. One of these regarded why the ESV, like almost all the other major translations, had translated the divine name Yhwh, which is communally thought to be pronounced 'Yahweh', as 'the LORD' (or occasionally GOD). It may even be more accurate to say that they replaced, rather than translated, the name 'Yhwh', as it is generally thought that the name derives from the Hebrew root 'to be' (McLaughlin, John L. 'Yahweh' in Freedman, David Noel (ed.) Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000). It is a very old tradition, dating from centuries before Christ (ibid), and one endorsed, or at least tolerated, by the NT writers using the ancient Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint. The ESV is doing nothing new.

However, I think it may be time to roll back the centuries of tradition. C. John Collins's answer to Adrian Warnock's question failed to convince me, and if I had the time I would attempt to rebut them. I think there is a strong argument to be made for the replacing of 'the LORD' with Yhwh/Yahweh in all subsequent revisions, or translations.

Although we have seen that the name Yhwh should conjure up a powerful impression of the creator God who is the both beginning and the end, it is also quite a personal name. Our God is not an abstract concept 'the Lord' with no character or personality. 'The Lord' is not a name we have for something we do not really know anything about, like the 'unknown god' the Athenians worshiped (Acts 17:23). It is not an idea that we have to fill with meaning, according to the culture we find ourselves in. Yhwh is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the god of Moab or Ammon. He revealed himself in great acts to the people of Israel, and to us Christians in the greatest act of all, filling the name Yhwh with meaning, distinct from that of the other gods and lords of the ancient near east.

If you read the account of God revealing himself to Moses at the Burning Bush, you can see the tension between the everlasting 'I AM WHO I AM' and the ‘God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' who related to an individual family. This is a key tension, I believe, for Christians to maintain.

Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'Yhwh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, 'Yhwh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey."' And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'Yhwh, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Yhwh our God.'

(Exodus 3:13-18; ESV replacing 'the LORD' with 'Yhwh', and adding some colours which represent different things)

Of course in the bible God is regularly referred to simply as ‘God’ and ‘the Lord’ countless times, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, especially in a culture that is so far from ancient Israel, I think that it would be useful to retrieve some balance. It is still the case in the West that if you say ‘God’ people think of one, all-powerful, vaguely Christian God, neutered by the Enlightenment (although that is changing). Saying ‘Yhwh’ instead may shake up the conversation, so that ’Yhwh’ can be filled with a biblical meaning, not a post-Enlightenment one.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Jesus our king, and so also our representative

In my previous post I quoted Tom Wright saying 'And the Messiah died a criminal's death, with "King of the Jews" written above his head.' The kingship of Jesus and his atoning death are not often talked about in the same sentence, but I think it is incredibly important that we do so more often.

In the OT God often punishes Israel or Judah for the sins of her king. One example of this is when David decides to have a census to 'number Israel and Judah' (2 Sam 24) despite the advice of Joab and the commanders of the Army, as a result of which 'the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men' (vv.15-16). David recognises that it his fault, and not that of the rest of the people (v.17), and so repents and offers sacrifices, as a result of which YHWH stops at 70,000 (v.25)! It is easy in our individualistic culture to have a problem with this, and consider it horribly unjust. But although the ancient Israelites did share that feeling to an extent (e.g. Ezek 18:2), in general they accepted it as the order of things. Our punishment for the sins of Adam is another example that could be brought forward.

However, thankfully, it is not just the sins of the king of Israel that the people of Israel were effected by; his righteous acts and enjoyment of the favour of the Lord also spread to the whole people. So throughout the history of the people of Judah we hear that 'the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant' (2 Kings 8:19); the history of the northern kingdom being less happy.

David however was not the perfect king or representative for God’s people. God therefore sent another King for his people to follow, and who would represent them at the judgment of God. Although we may have problems with being punished because of Adam's sin, without that corporate understanding of the order of the world, we would have no hope of our own sins (not just Adam's) being covered by a representative. It has to work both ways. But we have to accept Jesus as our representative for him to represent us. If, when God judges the living and the dead, we proclaim that we do not need any help or assistance, that we can stand or fall on our own merits we are doomed. However, he is our representative because he is our king. There is no way that we can accept his sacrifice for us and not also accept his kingship over us. The two relationships between him and us are inseparable.

Justification will not come from the passive acceptance of Jesus' work for us, but only from the confession that 'Jesus is Lord' (Rom 10:9), the corollary of which is that he is our representative.

Wright and Substitutionary Atonement

I know some people who, despite my protests, believe that Tom Wright does not believe in substitutionary atonement. I do not think they have read anything by him, but know that he is a little off the rails because he is a proponent of the NPP, even if they do not really understand what that is. However, I believe their main reason for their doubts about Tom Wright's theology of the cross, come from his enthusiastic endorsement of The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann (see posts by Al Mohler and Adrian Warnock). That book, I have no doubt repudiates the doctrine of Penal Substitution, although so far I have only read snippets.

I suspect that Wright endorsed it because of its strong advocacy of social action as necessary result of following Jesus, something that he passionately believes. Wright may therefore have been a bit naive about what most people would take out of it, but I doubt that. Rather I think the substitutionary atonement is just not a doctrine he holds very dear, although I think it may be more central to his thought than even he realises. I am on dangerous ground here as I do not know Tom Wright personally at all, and I have only read a handful of his books, but that is my preliminary impression.

Another problem that Wright creates for himself is that he tends to use different terminology and expressions to describe things than traditional Evangelicalism (or even wider Christianity) because he believes it slightly flawed. This also makes him seem further away from orthodoxy as we know it than he is. Because of these aspects of Wright's theology and writing, it is rare that you come across a passage you can quote as 'proof' that Wright believes in penal substitution (although I still have not seen him use that terminology, except in his Romans Commentary, if I remember correctly as I do not own it myself). However I did find this in his comments on Romans 3:25-26 in his for Everyone series:

God was obliged [an important word to note], in virtue of being the world's creator and judge, to act decisively with sin - which means to punish it [NB here sin is being punished, and the sinner is not in view, this description is not unusual for Wright]. Here we discover a further meaning in the idea of the 'place of mercy' in the previous sentence. The same root also refers to a 'propitiatory' [key word] sacrifice, that is, one which not only purifies people from sin but also turns away the wrath of God which would otherwise rightly fall on the sinner [NB not just the sin]. Though, again Paul does not spell out his meaning in any detail, there are all sorts of converging lines of thought which make it highly probable that he sees Jesus in this light as well, as the one upon whom the appropriate anger of God, directed against the sin of the world, has now fallen [again though it is sin and not the sinner which is the focus of God's anger]'God's righteous verdict against sinners has been meted out against the faithful Israelite, Israel's representative: the Messiah, Jesus.

(Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8, pp.57-58, London: SPCK)

Although this post is already quite long, I think it is also worth reproducing what he says on Romans 8:3:

The weight of the world's sin was focused on Israel; the weight of Israel's sin was focused on the Messiah. And the Messiah died a criminal's death, with 'King of the Jews' written above his head. At that moment, God condemned sin. He condemned sinHe‘in his flesh'. he had cornered it and condemned it. As the prophet had said, 'the punishment that brought us peace fell upon him; and with his stripes we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5).

Notice two things about the way Paul says this. He does not say that God condemned Jesus, but that he condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus.

(his italics, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8, pp.138, London: SPCK)

Appendix (!)

The endorsment of the Lost Message of Jesus mentioned above runs as follows:

Steve Chalke's new book is rooted in good scholarship, but its clear punchy style makes it accessible to anyone and everyone. Its message is stark and exciting: Jesus of Nazareth was far more challenging in his own day, and remains far more relevant to ours, than the church has dared to believe, let alone preach.

The attraction of Wright to the book seems unconnected to any atonement theology. Although the acknowledgements thanks Wright for 'his time and considerable theological wisdom' although what how much of his 'wisdom' they used is unclear.

Wright on Romans - overpriced!Containining damaging theology from Chalke and Mann

Monday, July 04, 2005

New heavens (?!) and a new earth

How many times have you read the following?

For behold, I create new heavens    and a new earth,

(Is 65:17a; cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1)

I have read that verse, and those inspired by it later in the bible, many times and not once did it strike me that God saw the need to create not just a new earth but new heavens as well! John Goldingay was the one who pointed it out to me in his commentary on Isaiah.

…the problems in the heavens and on earth are two sides of a single coin. The heavens are the garrison of supernatural forces whose battling lies behind battles on earth (13:5), the heavens mirror the actions of Yahweh on earth (13:10).

(Goldingay, John Isaiah NIBCOT, p.368, Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001)

This is massively important to how we conduct our prayer life, how we gain assurance of salvation, and how we see the world now. Isaiah was writing to the people of Israel in exile, slaves to an empire, which was so massive and powerful that freedom and dignity for the people of ‘the Almighty’ seemed beyond all hope. But Isaiah, like John in Revelation to another suffering people of God, feels that what they need to do is remember that the material world is not all there is but that there is a spiritual realm where the events of the earth are determined. Some may argue that belief in the objective reality of the devil and demons is unnecessary to Christian living, but Isaiah and John appear to disagree. As Goldingay says ‘we may find it difficult to work with the mythical language of such pictures, but it is equally difficult to find another way of picturing the reality to which it refers’ (ibid).

However we need to be careful not to slip into a kind of dualism (belief in equal competing deities in heaven) as Isaiah’s portrait of war in heaven never gives the impression that any other supernatural forces can rival the God of Israel. It is necessary for the destruction of evil for there to be, or have been (I am unsure on the Holy Spirit’s teaching here, although I suspect I am meant to be), ‘war in heaven’ (Rev 12:7). But the result is sure and wonderful, because of ‘the blood of the Lamb and … the word of [the martyr’s] testimony’ (Rev 12:11; cf. Luke 10:17-20):

and the former things shall not be remembered    or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever    in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,    and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem    and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping    and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it    an infant who lives but a few days,    or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old,    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them;    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit;    they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain    or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD,    and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer;    while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,    and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy    in all my holy mountain,"       says the LORD. (Is 65:17b-25)

For further exploration of this theme try Isaiah 13:5; 13:10-13; 24:21; 34:2-5 (and my previous post on that passage); Rev 12:7-12; 21:1-4. All of which you can find here thanks to Bible Gateway and the publishers of the ESV.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Frank Thielman on Paul's opponents in Galatians

It has often been pointed out that the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a misnomer, as it really is a new perspective on Second Temple Judaism. Much of the debate is about whether the Judaism of the time was legalistic, or more grace-driven (so-called Covenantal Nomism). However, on the bus to Edinburgh yesterday I read the following, which, it seems to me, should shake up that discussion:

In Galatians, where this contrast [between faith and works] first occurs historically, Paul is arguing not against Judaism generally but against Jewish Christians who have added to faith in Christ the requirement that the law must be kept. For Paul, adding this requirement implies that human effort, in the form of keeping the Mosaic law, justifies. Paul is convinced that this implication is thoroughly un-Jewish, and therefore urges the Galatians to return to the gracious religion of his – and his opponents’ – ancestors: “We who are by nature Jews and not Gentile ‘sinners’ know,” he says, “that a person is not justified by works of the law” (2:15-16). Far from misrepresenting Judaism, Paul calls the Galatians back to a truly Jewish understanding of the human need for God’s eschatological mercy.

In Romans Paul attacks Jewish boasting in keeping the law (3:27-4:8), but this is not an argument against Judaism generally. It targets only those Jews who believed that their own works cooperated with God’s grace to guarantee their right standing before God.

(Frank Thielman, The Law and the New Testament: The Question of Continuity, p.38, New York:The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999)

This point has probably been made before, but it is the first time that I have read it, or at least the first time that it has come out of the page at me. I think we often forget that Paul is addressing Gentiles in Galatians and not Jews, as only they would be uncircumcised to start with. So Judaism itself is not the alternative ‘gospel’ for them, rather it is what Paul shows to be a nonsensical mixture of both Judaism and Christianity that is a perversion of them both.

Thielman rightly deals with Romans separately, as there the opponents are not as concrete, and Paul is dealing with the nation of Israel. It seems to me that the ‘Lutherans’ in the NPP debate have generally adopted the correct understanding of Judaism, in rejecting a legalistic view of Second Temple Judaism in favour of one that sees more variegation (see the title of Carson et al’s mighty tome). The point that Jewish legalism (however prevalent it was) is a perversion of OT religion properly understood is I think a key point for bible-believing Christians.

PS I do think, and so post, about the NPP quite a lot. But I am quite a poorly educated layperson compared to many other people, so no one should put much stock by what I write. However, I do think it is a subject worth thinking about carefully by all thinking Christians.

PPS The Amazon Page contains a enthusiastic review by the blogger Justin Taylor. I am slightly surprised by this as Thielman has some slight NPP leanings, although he in general does reject it, whereas Justin Taylor is steadfastly conservative. He was once a student of NT Wright's and follows him on the importance of the exile to First Century Jews, but I have a feeling that he has drifted away from the NPP over time. That may be another example of me rushing into conclusions and posting them when I have no evidence as this is the only book I have read by him.

Random Stuff

  • Just seen the Edukators, an amazing German film about young idealists. It has stopped showing in most cinemas now, and the DVD doesn't come out till the autumn, so if you like you can watch the trailer here, because although it will spoil the plot for you, by the autumn you should have forgotten watching it.
  • Phillip Johnson is blogging about his trip to England. I love reading what foreigners think of our country.
  • Ben Witherington, the Evangelical/Arminian/New Perspective leaning NT scholar has started blogging. I'm very exited about this, although so far he dissappointed me.
  • Scot McKnight's blog Jesus Creed, is in my opinion in a league of its own at the moment. Everyone should read it.
  • There are some lectures on worship by David Peterson (author of Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship) online at The Southern Baptist Seminary. There are quite a few other lectures on worship by famous people there too. I haven't listenened to any of them yet but they are sure to be worth checking out.
  • "You'll be six feet down before you catch up with the Jones'" The occasionally morbid, usually brilliant, and always clever (maybe too much so), Thea Gilmore. (From Keep up, Rules for Jokers.)

Edinburgh march

Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund

I was in Edinburgh for the G8/makepovertyhistory protests yesterday. I got there by coach setting off at 6am, but ended up going home on a chartered train with some cyclists who had cycled to Edinburgh from all over the country but especially Southampton, arriving the previous day. I had a friend who had cycled with them from York and I took his ticket as he had made alternative arrangements. The cyclists were all carrying the flags pictured above I ended up waving one for a while, feeling a bit like a character from the Lord of the Rings. For more pictures from Tearfund click here.

It was the first protest I've ever been to, and it was a slightly weird experience. It was enjoyable in spite of the long journey there and back, but in the end I felt a like we did nothing all day. That probably is because we did. There were no leaders there to shout too (not that I would have done if there was) only people who agreed with you. Other than marching, all you really did was sit around listening to music/speakers, and due to a combination of circumstances I did not even get to do that. That was slightly frustrating, and slightly weird. One frustrating thing was to see how Live8 sucked up all the media coverage, which while a good thing in itself, meant that of all the days to hold a protest yesterday was probably the least strategic time to do so.

Another striking thing was how branded the event was. First of all the makepovertyhistory campaign has always been self-consciously very branded, especially the 'white band' idea. Secondly though, all the major development charities (and a few other organisations) were there and all were handing out banners and whistles all branded very prominently with their own logo. The worst of these was the Daily Mirror, which people objected to so much they ripped it off. Oxfam gained some of my respect for being the most discrete.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful part of the city, which meant it was hard to think about the poor, even with all the banners. I fear that I also failed to put prayer at the centre of it as much as I should have done. Only God can make poverty history, and it will probably take Jesus' coming to do that.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away...

The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price...

He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev 21:1-4; 22:17; 22:21)