• My New Book: Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright is Here

    bookcoverI am proud to announce the release of my new book: Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader’s Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It is now available in paperback and on Kindle.

    Everyone has heroes. When I was growing up, mine was Michael Jordan. I idolized him. My bedroom was a shrine to his basketball awesomeness. Like Mike. If I could be like Mike. Then I grew up and faced the facts: I wasn’t a very good basketball player. I also grew up in my faith. As a teenager I began to take my faith seriously and my heroes began to change.

    In 2007 I found a new hero and he wasn’t a basketball player. He actually grew up playing rugby.

    I was a young pastor, serving my first church, and I was on a bit of spiritual journey. I needed new heroes and I found one across the pond, a then bishop in the Church of England, Tom Wright or as he is better known in North America, N.T. Wright. He is currently professor of New Testament Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is, without question in my mind, the most important and influential voice in the Church today. He also writes a lot of books and some of them are pretty big.

    I had a chance to meet him in 2014. He was lecturing at Christ Church Anglican in Kansas City. It was a ticketed event. I found out from one of the organizers that I was the first one to  purchase a ticket after they went on sale. I felt like a 12 year-old girl going to a One Direction concert. After the morning lecture I was able to meet him briefly at a book signing and although I was told he was not taking pictures, I snapped this picture with Tom.

    me_and_Tom

    The book he was signing was Paul and the Faithfulness of God, a two-volume, 1,700-page densely-packed scholarly work on the theology of Paul. Tom has been working on this book for years or as he said in a recent interview, he has been working on Paul his whole adult life. It is a stunning academic accomplishment laying out in footnoted-detail what Paul was saying in his letters and what he was trying to accomplish. It is an important book, but I fear those who need to read it the most will have a tough time plowing through it. I took four months to read it and I ended up nearly 200 pages short. I had to take a break, before finishing it up.

    I have written Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright to make Tom’s work accessible. This book is like a road map to help you navigate through all the twists and turns as Tom works to reconstruct Paul’s world and his worldview, so we can see and understand what Paul has said about God, God’s people, and God’s future. These topics are massively important. Paul didn’t write philosophical discourses full of abstract speculation. He wrote real letters to real churches instructing them in the ways of life because something unbelievable had happened! The God of Israel, who is the God of all creation, had returned to his people and his work of new creation had begun! God has renewed his covenant and was in the process of renewing the minds of his people according to the new things he was doing.

    Paul wrote what he did because new life was springing up all around him and he wanted these small fledgling congregations loyal to King Jesus to begin to think Christianly, because God’s work of new creation is centered in and through his people. I could go on, but I really want you to read my book…and I need your help.

    My book is published by Doctrina Press, which is me. “Doctrina Press” is my own imprint. I have self-published this book, which means I am (among other things) the marketing department. I would love to have your help in promoting the book. Here are some things you can do:

    1. Check out the book on Amazon.com. The book is available in a paperback and Kindle edition.
    2. If you have friends who are interested in N.T. Wright and/or Christian theology, or who are serious students of the Bible, send them a link to the book on Amazon.
    3. Use your social media accounts to direct people to the book.
    4. If you have a chance to read the book, leave an Amazon review.

    I sent a PDF copy of the book to Tom not expecting a reply, but one day later I received a response. For me Tom Wright is a rock star, so getting his response was like getting an email from Bono. He thanked me and congratulated me for “ably summarizing” his big book on Paul. He said he was grateful, which made me happy. He also said that he wished I would have sent him my manuscript before I published it. He would have been happy to clarify some things. Dang! I should have emailed him earlier. He also said he would be “delighted” to meet with me if we were ever in the same part of the world at the same time. I have to find a way to make that happen.

    Anyway…check out the book, tell you friends, and let me know what you think.

  • Radical Authenticity, Sexuality, And Spiritual Transformation

    (One of the reasons I haven’t blogged here very often is because I have been blogging once a month for Missio Alliance. The following blog was first posted on the Missio Alliance blog on November 14, 2014. I thought it would good to post it again in light of the current conversation in the church regarding sexuality and personhood.) 

    authenticity“But God wants me to be happy, right?” As a pastor living in North America in the 21st century, I have been asked this question more than once. Christians conditioned by a me-first (and “me-always”) culture default to this one abiding principle: the universe exists so I may indeed be happy. I am not opposed to happiness per se. It is a product of the work of the Holy Spirit. Happiness, or “joy” if you prefer, is both in Jesus and connected to the mission of Jesus. He said, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11 NLT). The issue is not whether or not God wants us to be happy, content, joyful people; the issue is how do we define happiness and more importantly, where do we find this happiness?

    The trans-cultural pursuit of what we may call “happiness” is really “wholeness,” becoming complete human beings. We were each created in the image of God, but as a master artist, God has created us uniquely in his image. We are to reflect God’s image into the world and echo back the praise of creation to God, but the ways in which we reflect God’s image will be based on how God has uniquely formed us and how he is re-forming us to be a unique expression of the image of Jesus. This transformation and wholeness allows us to be our true selves and enables us to overcome the internal obstacles to experiencing the happiness we all so desperately long for. Along this track of genuine, Jesus-formed, character transformation the church carries forward the mission of Jesus. Where we get off track is when we exchange the process of spiritual transformation for the acceptance of radical authenticity.

    The mission of Jesus is to redeem and restore God’s good world including humanity, God’s image-bearing creation. God created us to be whole, body and soul, so our true selves could emerge from the rubble of our false selves bent out of shape from the forces of corruption running rampant in God’s world. Radical authenticity is the mistaken task of being true to your self, determining what seems natural to you, and rejecting all outside influences, conventions, and moral knowledge. Being “true to yourself” enthrones the false self and follows the royal decrees of this self calling it “spontaneity,” “freedom,” and “being who I am.”

    N.T. Wright in After You Believe describes radical authenticity as the self-talk that goes like this:

    Be yourself; don’t let anyone else dictate to you; don’t let other people’s systems or phobias cramp your style; be honest about what you’re really feeling and desiring. Get in touch with the bits of yourself you’ve been screening out; make friends with them and be true to them. Anything else will result in a diminishing of your true, unique, wonderful self.

    Wright adds:

    Some people mistake (this way of thinking) for the gospel itself.

    Radical authenticity follows Shakespeare’s axiom: “To thine own self be true,” to which I reply, “Yeah, but what if you are jerk?” This kind of authenticity misunderstands the gospel and sadly misdirects the mission of the church. The gospel does not invite us to look outside to the rules or inside to our authentic selves. The gospel invites us to look to Jesus. We do not find our true selves, our uniquely-created-in-the-image-of-God selves, by looking inward at the false self, but by looking upward to Jesus. In speaking to the crowds following him, Jesus said: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Mark 8:34-37 The Message). Jesus wants us to discover our true selves, but it is found in first dethroning the false self with all of it’s wants, wishes, and desires and doing what may in fact be the most unnatural act of all: allowing that self to be crucified and buried, so God can resurrect the true self in a slow methodical process of spiritual transformation.

    Never has this course correction from radical authenticity to spiritual transformation been more urgent than in light of the current cultural discussion regarding sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual ethics. The church has failed in the past when we make conversations regarding sexuality merely a matter following a list of rules: Do this and don’t do that…or do this and try not to do that…or do this and if you do that, don’t tell anybody…or do this and if you do that, confess it privately and try not to do it again. Our sexuality is too complex, too connected to our internal life, to merely manage it by a list of rules. Plus spiritual transformation, as an integral part of the mission of the church, has never been a process of following the rules.

    When it comes to sexuality, radical authenticity has condition people falsely to assume that they must be free to express sexual desires according to the norms established by the false self. They reason: I have these desires. I have this sort of sexual orientation. I would be inauthentic and untrue to myself if I do not seek to fulfill these desires. Within this context, Christians across the spectrum of sexual orientation not only live out of their false self, but worse yet, they assume their identities, their true selves, are primarily tied to their sexuality. We have allowed the worship of Aphrodite to misshape us into people who define ourselves first and foremost by our sexual identity. We should certainly not ignore our sexuality, but we must tear down the altar to Aphrodite and submit our sexuality to a process of spiritual transformation where we can find our true selves with a much more modest view of our sexual identity.

    Spiritual transformation is not looking at the false self as the unblemished picture of who we are supposed to be. Spiritual transformation is the work of the Spirit to conform us into the image of Jesus for the joy of God the Father. We can be happy, joyful people. We can discover our true selves, but we cannot find out who we are supposed to be if we start with the false self. We have to place ourselves, all of ourselves including our sexuality, in the hands of the Holy Spirit and allow him to form us, mold us, change us, to reflect the image of Jesus. This work of transformation not only brings us the happiness we are looking for, but it ultimately brings joy to the heart of God our Father, because the Father loves the Son. As the Father sees the image of the Son being formed in our hearts and lives he exclaims once again: “Behold my son! The one that I love!” Dedicating ourselves to radical transformation as a direct rejection of radical authenticity is the only way forward if we are preserve the mission of the church.

     

  • Buffalo River Trail Hike (Boxley to Kyles Landing): May 22-24, 2015

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    The Buffalo River Trail (BRT) is a 36.5 mile hiking trail in Northern Arkansas about an hour or so East of Springdale. The Buffalo River is a National River running 135 miles through Arkansas. It is a popular destination for float trips. There are a lot of trails in this area, but the BRT is considered the best hiking trail in the area and some of the best hiking in the Ozarks. The entire BRT runs from Boxley to Pruitt. We ended up doing just over half of the trail from Boxley to Kyles Landing. My oldest son Wesley and I were hiking this trail for his 16th birthday. We talked about maybe coming back for his 18th birthday and doing a float trip down the river.

    For our hike we used Tim Ernst’s trail guide. It had some good maps and descent descriptions of the trail, but it was written primarily for day hikers. There was no mention of campsites in the guide, making finding a campsite at night a bit of a challenge. While there was an ongoing description of the trail, it was written in paragraph form separate from the map, making it difficult to read and hike at the same time. With that said, we only lost the trail once and found the guide helpful in making our way down the trail.

    DAY 1

    We left St. Jo at 6:40 a.m. in order to get to Springdale, Arkansas by lunch time to eat at where else, but Zaxby’s, our favorite chicken place.

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    We drove another hour and half to Ponca and made it to the Buffalo Outdoor Center (BOC) by 1 p.m. When we dropped into the river valley we lost cell phone signal and never got service again. Grant at the BOC said there is no service along the trail, but that there are courtesy phones at the campgrounds which we would be hiking through and we could get a call out there to the ranger’s station or to the BOC. We dropped off a spare key and signed forms for them to shuttle our car to the end of the trail. We had a good experience at the BOC. As a river and hiking outfitter, they are fully stocked with whatever you need (last minute) for the trail. Their shuttle service is a bit pricey. It works like a valet service. They pick up our car from the trail head, keep it at their facility, and then drop it off at our desired location. After leaving the BOC we drove on to the Boxley trail head and locked up our car. We snapped a quick picture by the first sign and blaze and we were off at 1:30 p.m.

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    We crossed the road (Hwy 21) and immediately had to stop and take off our shoes and socks to cross Smith Creek. Thanks to my brother’s wise advice, I packed my camp shoes which made it easy to cross the creek. To do it again, I would have put on my camp shoes at the trail head and worn them across the road and across the creek. We passed two women who were going the opposite direction and we headed on around a field.

    We began hiking up some small ascents and we were both surprised how thick the undergrowth was. It had been raining pretty steady in the area the last few weeks which meant streams were full, but it also meant undergrowth and grass with high. After walking through a grassy area Wesley starting counting the number of ticks he was knocking off his legs. He was up to three in the first two miles of the hike. At one point the grass was five feet high. No joke. I should have packed my weed eater.

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    We caught a nice bluff view, before walking on a country road for a half mile or so. The trail jetted off the road and back down into the woods. We crossed a few streams along the way. As expected every stream and runoff had water moving. We were able to cross most streams without getting our feet wet for the most part. Some runoffs had rock beds that were slick, but we crossed through with no problems. We took a break at one creek running down the bluff. It has a nice cascading waterfall down it.

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    We crossed Arrington Creek at about the 3-mile mark. It had a nice campsite, but we were wanting to make more miles before making camp. We passed a number of blow downs along the way. Some looked recent. At one blow down over a large, rocky runoff we lost the trail. We looked around for a bit, before we saw a blaze on the other side of the runoff. According to the guide book we were using, the trail is not blazed, which is true…sorta. We did find either a blaze or a wooden sign of some sort anytime there was a sharp turn or intersection on the trail. The signs were helpful.

    We continued to climb up the trail after Arrington Creek and Wesley continued to knock off more ticks. I had to pull three off his legs. By 6 miles in, Wesley already counted 12 ticks. I really regretted not spraying down our gear and clothes with Permethrin. We stopped for a break and Wesley put moleskin on two hot spots on the balls of his feet. They weren’t blisters, but they were getting red and sore. We crossed Dry Creek, which wasn’t dry and then crossed into a private property. When we arrived at Running Creek, we looked for a camping spot, but it looked like the creek and surrounding area was on private property. When we crossed the creek, we found goats!

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    Apparently, whoever owns the land around this area is a goat farmer. We saw two fire rings near the creek, but it looked like those spots were all on private property. Bummer. We hiked back across the creek and looked for trees off the trail to hang our hammocks from. The challenge was to find trees near the creek, off the trail, and NOT on private property. We looked for a while and finally found four trees that would work even through the ground was on an incline. The good thing about hammocks is that you do not need level ground, but a step incline makes for a tough first step in the morning. I set up our hammocks while Wesley gathered fire wood. We were set up in the woods just on the other side of the property line, but still close to the creek.

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    We had finished setting up around 8:30 p.m., just as it was getting dark. We chose a flat spot near the creek to cook supper and build a fire, even though it was on private property. We ate mash potatoes and Turkey sausage bites and Wesley stretched out his pad next to the fire.

    We both went to bed by 10 p.m. I stretched out in my hammock and fell a sleeping listening to the sound of the creek.

    DAY 2

    I woke up at 6:15 a.m. to light rain falling on my tarp. It was a cool morning. I couldn’t see my breath but I shivered a bit as I changed into my hiking clothes. I warmed up as I gathered water and grabbed my food bag. The rain picked up some so I sat on a rock under my tarp as I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal. Breakfast hit the spot. I was ready to hike. I woke Wesley up at 8. We were hiking by 9.

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    We had to cross Running Creek again which meant we had to stop dry our feet and put our socks and shoes back on after crossing the creek in our camp shoes. The trail began to ascend up out of the Running Creek, I am glad I didn’t wear my rain jacket even though it started raining a bit. We began to make some miles in the ran, hiking on a pretty muddy trail. In crossing a draining stream running down the bluff, I stepped stepped too quickly on the slick open rock face and fell on my right side. I fell on my right arm and shoulder with a quick THUD. I hiked nearly 100 miles last year on the AT and didn’t fall once. I am out here two days and I fall in the first 10 miles. Lessons learned. Step slowly on slick rocks. We kept walking and as the rain let up, I shot a quick video.

    We made it to the Ponca landing and saw a number of people with canoes and kayaks getting ready to put in. We thought we might eat lunch there, but there wasn’t a picnic table on anything. This was not a campground, just a landing. The Buffalo River looks like great destination for a float trip. Wesley and I talked about coming back down here with some guys and doing a float trip, maybe for his 18th birthday. We went under the bridge (Hwy 74) and hiked on.

    2015-05-23 12.43.15We made it to the Steel Creek Campground at 12:15 and the sun came out! We set up by the restrooms and laid out our gear dry. We ate lunch and enjoyed the sunshine before heading back down the trail at 1:30.

    The terrain was rocky and steep in places, but we were rewarded with a great view of the river and surrounding bluffs a couples miles outside of The Steel Creek Campground. This was the best view of the hike. Parts of the Buffalo River Trail here in Arkansas reminds me of the Appalachian Trial in Georgia.

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    As we continued to climb, Wesley’s knee began to give him trouble. His knee really started to hurt on the downhill towards Beech Creek. As we were making our biggest climb of the day, a 700 foot ascent over 2 miles towards the Slaty Place, Wesley really started slowing down. The knee along with some pretty bad chaffing began to wear him down. He powered through, refusing to switch packs with me. This section of the hike was really similar to the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT had higher climbs, but the terrain on this section of the Buffalo River Trail was just as steep and rocky as parts of the AT.

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    He was in pain and I knew it, but he continued to say he didn’t want to quit. We talked it out and made the decision to get off the trail at Kyles Landing tomorrow. The only solution for a bum knee and chaffing is rest. So the decision was an easy one. I am in pretty decent shape and I could tell this trail was taking a toll on my feet in legs. It felt like I was getting a blister on the bottom of my right toe, probably from hiking with wet feet most of the day. The descent down from the Slaty Place to Indian Creek was wet and muddy. We made it to Indian Creek at 7:15 and found a great spot to make camp!

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    Wesley collected firewood and I set up the hammocks. A group of hikers we saw at the river overlook hiked joined us at our camping spot. I cooked supper near the fire ring. Ramen and beef jerky were on the menu for tonight. I do not eat Ramen back home, but I crave it on the trail. I talked with the other hikers who were a part of a hiking club in the area. A girl who hiked in after us built the fire. Another one had an interest in the AT. I told stories from my section hike on the AT last year and they had a lot of gear questions. Wesley went to bed a little before 10. I stayed up yawning until about 10:30 p.m. It is hard to pull me away from gear conversations. One of hikers had girl scout cookies, which she shared, and we all enjoyed sitting around the fire, eating cookies, and telling hiking stories. I got into my hammock and was again lulled to sleep by the sound of running water.

    DAY 32015-05-24 08.46.10

    I slept great last night. Fell asleep fast and only woke up twice. We camped again by a creek with a little waterfall, which made for an excellent backdrop for good sleep. I woke up once to rain hitting my tarp at 4 a.m., but fell back asleep until 6:30. It was light rain so I grabbed my food bag and water and started breakfast. I enjoyed my coffee and oatmeal while listening to the new Mumford and Sons on my phone, all from the comfort of my warm and dry hammock. The rain stopped and our camp started waking up about 8 a.m. It looks like nine of us made camp here last night. Wesley was awake, but stayed in his hammock resting his knee. I walked down to Kyles Landing at about 8:30. It was a short walk as we camped only 1/2 mile from Kyles. I found the courtesy phone that Grant told me about. I called the Buffalo Outdoor Center and they said they would bring the car to Kyles Landing but it may be early afternoon before they could get there.

    2015-05-24 09.56.44I walked back to camp and told Wesley. We decided to lounge around camp and enjoy this creek-side camping spot while the sun tried to peak through the trees. I caught up on blogging and enjoyed the sound of the water and the birds overhead before we packed up and hiked out at 11 a.m.

    We got to the registration area at Kyles Landing where I made the call to the BOC early that morning and there was our car! We changed clothes and drove out. As we got a cell phone signal, I noticed I had a text from my brother saying a big storm was coming through our area. As we drove to Springdale the rain started coming down hard. I did want to hike on today, but I knew we made the right decision. Hiking in the rain with a knee issue and chaffing would have only made those two issues worse. Sometimes you have to listen to your body and make the right decision even if your heart wants to press on.

    All in all it was a great hike. Moments of suffering. Moments of discomfort. But a lot of fun and a memorable experience for Wesley and me.

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  • Berryman Trail Hike: April 9-10, 2015

    2015-04-09 13.26.49 HDRThe Berryman Trail (BT) is a 27-mile trail in between Steelville and Potosi about an hour south of St. Louis, Missouri. The BT is a loop, making it possible to hike the trail over 2 days without needing a shuttle. I hiked the trail with Ben, my brother Jeff, and my friend Dave from St. Louis. Ben and I have hiked two other times (here and here) and my brother and I hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail last summer. This was Dave’s first hike.
    We started the BT on Thursday, April 9 at 1:15 p.m. Our plan was to begin with the eastern loop, hiking the trail counter-clockwise. We headed out under sunny skies and it was in the upper 70s. I had read that the eastern side of the loop was the “dry side,” meaning less water. After days of rain in the area, we found all the streams to be full. I only carried a liter of water and filtered water out of one of the streams when I ran out. We hiked through a a mixture of hardwoods and pines on a beautiful day.
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    It seemed like we had a stream crossing every few miles or so. We enjoyed finding creative ways to cross the streams without getting our feet wet.
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    It turned out to be a hot day with the temperature reaching near 80 degrees. There were no tough climbs but we tackled more steep ups and downs on this side of the loop than we would on day 2. We all had AT&T phones and cell service was spotty. We found a signal from time to time.
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    We arrived at the Brazil Creek Campground at 6:00 p.m., completing 10 miles on our first day. Before we left from the Berryman trail head, we dropped a vehicle at the Brazil Creek Campground because there was a 60% chance for severe thunderstorms. We stashed a pop-up canopy and four chairs in Dave’s vehicle at Brazil Creek. Once we arrived at camp the clouds started rolling in so we set up our shelters first. Dave, Ben, and I were all hammocking. Jeff brought his tent. We set up the canopy over the fire pit and gathered some firewood to keep the wood dry whenever the rain started. But the rain never came.
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    We built a small fire and started cooking supper. I ate mash potatoes and turkey bites, one of my favorite meals on the trail. Ben had a weather radio and we listened as severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches were issued for our area. The winds blew up to 20-25 mph. We watched storm clouds come and go and heard thunder in the distance but all the severe weather went around us. We only had a few sprinkles. We never needed the canopy.
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    I slept pretty good in my hammock. My new underquilt worked great but the winds continued to rattle my tarp until midnight. Lows dropped down to the low 40s and I woke up cold at about 5 a.m. I used my 40 degree down bag as a top quilt. I should have used my 20 degree synthetic bag. I got up at 6:00 a.m. and built a small fire. I was never shivering cold and I couldn’t see my breath, but it was chilly. After heating water for coffee and oatmeal and after the sun began to peak through the trees, I started warming up.
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    Brazil Creek was a nice campground. No running water or privy, but it was right by the creek and it did have a picnic table, which is always a plus. It looked to be primarily a horse camp, but there were plenty of flat spots for tents and trees for hammocks. We hit the trail at 9:15 a.m. thinking we had a 14-mile day in front of us but it ended up being a 17 miles to get back to the Berryman trail head. Some of the maps online for the trail are old. We figured out that trail maintainers have rerouted certain sections of the trail to do more ridge walking, following the contours of the bluffs instead of dipping down into the valleys. You do not need a map to hike this trail, but if you are looking to hike the BT and want a map, use this one.
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    It was cool when we started hiking, but it warmed up quickly. We continued hiking through pines and hard woods. There was even a couple of “views,” at least views for the Ozarks. The second day seemed to have less ups and downs than on the eastern side of the loop. We continued hiking until noon, when we stopped for lunch by a stream. I set up my hammock to enjoy lunch “off the ground.” I love hiking with a hammock because where ever you go you always have a place to sit.
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    When we were stopping for lunch, two other hikers stopped to chat for a second. They were day hikers, hiking the entire trail that day. One of the guys was from Columbia and the other was from St. Louis. We talked a bit about the BT and gear and then they mentioned that they hiked on the AT last May. They hiked from Springer Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap in Georgia in May, a couple of weeks before Jeff and I hiked the entire Georgia section. Funny. Small world. These were the only people we saw on the trail.
    As we wrapped up lunch, I laid back in my hammock and thought about taking a nap, but we  had miles to go before we got to camp. We packed up and headed back down the trail. The longer we hiked, we realized we had more to miles in front of us than expected, which was fine with me. It was sunny and 65 degrees. A great day for hiking.
    The western side of the loop overlaps with the Ozark Trail.
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    The Ozark Trail (OT) is a collection of trails in the Missouri Ozarks, 390 miles worth. There are plans to connect all of the trails to create a continuous footpath, but right now there is 200+ miles that are connected. While hiking, I thought about doing a long section hike on the OT, maybe 100 miles or so. Maybe summer 2016. Who knows?
    There were a number of access roads crossing the BT, but there were signs at every intersection. There was no way of losing the trail. I appreciate the volunteers who have kept the trail in good shape. We passed a couple a new blow downs and one tree that had recently been struck by lightning, presumably from storms the last couple of days. We didn’t see much wildlife on the trail. I heard turkeys early in the morning and we saw one tree frog, a chipmunk and a squirrel, and one small black snake. We stopped at an artisan well on the trail at the Edward Beecher Recreation Area. This would be a great camping spot. We filled our water bottles from the spring without filtering and then pressed on.
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    We pushed on realizing we had seven miles to go. I noticed the conversations came to an end as we continued to hike, a sure sign we were getting tired. We took a short break and I checked for a cell signal and got one! I laid down on the ground and rested on my pack. I texted home and posted some pictures from our break spot and then we made the final push to camp.
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     We made it Berryman Trail head about 5:45 pm and I shot a quick video.
    Jeff and I collected firewood, while Ben and Dave  drove over to the Brazil Campground to pick up Dave’s vehicle. We set up camp and started supper. We could have driven home, but I would not have gotten back to the house until 11 p.m. I am glad we decided to camp a second night. We ate supper and I built a good-sized fire.
    2015-04-10 20.21.35
    Ben drove into town and returned an hour and a half later with pizza and gummy bears. Even thought I had eaten supper, I ate a slice of pizza. I figure I burned enough calories hiking 17 miles that day. It was a cloudless night and the stars were out as we sat around the fire. We headed to bed around 10:30 p.m. or so and I was fast asleep within about five minutes. I slept good. I did wake up at 4 a.m. a bit cold. I realized that my underquilt had slid out from underneath my hammock. My mistake. I hung it too lose under my hammock. A mistake I will not make again. I fell back asleep and woke up about 6 a.m.
    I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal. Ben stoked up the fire and we warmed up. It was about 4o degrees or so. We packed up and headed home about 8 a.m. I am looking forward to my next adventure this summer on the Buffalo River Trail.
  • Lent 2015

    lent_2015Lent comes early this year. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, is tomorrow. Christmas Day is the same day every year on the calendar. Easter moves around…something about the phases of the moon. I’m not sure. Lent has been a part of the Christian tradition for a long, long time; I have only been observing Lent for six or seven years. My mistake.

    Lent has become a regular part of the year for me. I look forward to it, not in the same way I look forward to Christmas or Easter (Have you ever tried frozen peeps!). I look forward to Lent because it has been a time-tested practice of the church to grow in faith and identify with Jesus. Lent is a season on the church calendar the 40 days before Easter that helps us to prepare for Easter. It is designed to be a time of confession, prayer, repentance, fasting, and “giving something up” in order to identify with the sufferings of Jesus. Every Sunday is a mini celebration of the resurrection, but Easter Sunday is the ultimate celebration of the resurrection. For those of us following Jesus resurrection is a BIG deal. So for many of us the season of Lent has become a big deal. Lent is important as a way to prepare for Easter, because…

    You cannot know the joy of the resurrection without enduring the sorrow of the cross.

    Lent gives us a slow, winding, meticulous way to reflect on the sufferings of Christ culminating on his death on the cross. Lent is not convenient. Lent is not comfortable. It does not fit our consumer-driven sensibilities. It does help to form us in Christ-likeness. It does help expose our idols. It does help us to grow up.

    At Word of Life Church, we are venturing out into the Lenten season with four Ash Wednesday Services (7 a.m., noon, 5:30 p.m., and 7 p.m.) and then we are praying every day (except for Sunday) in our Upper Room prayer chapel at 12:15 p.m. These prayer gatherings will follow a Midday Prayer Liturgy that will sound and feel the same every day. We are baptizing people on the first Sunday of Lent and we are offering Lenten Small Groups on Sunday morning immediately following the worship service. We have also put together a Lenten Scripture Reading Guide to focus your Bible reading on the sufferings of Christ.

    For me personally, I am reading three books: Simply Good News by N.T. Wright, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers compiled by Andrew Louth and Maxwell Staniforth, and Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words by Rod Bennett. I try to pick books to read during Lent with a particular focus on Jesus. This year I wanted to read from some of the writings of the church fathers. I threw in an N.T. Wright book in the mix just because.

    I invite you to join us on this Lenten journey. Pick some meals or days during the week and fast. Give something up. Seek out silence. Repent. Give yourself to prayer. Join a small group. Read. Read slowly. Read contemplatively. Expect things to change. And most of all, look for Jesus.

  • Reflecting on 2014 with Just a Little Patience

    As I sit here waiting for some friends to come over to the house for our New Year’s Eve celebration, it’s a good time to reflect a bit on the calendar year that is passing. I was recently asked to recount what had happened in 2014 and share any aspirations I had for 2015. The first thing that came to mind about 2014 was a little truth that became real for me this year. I think I am further down the road in becoming a patient person. What I have learned is this:

    Almost all wisdom can be summed up in patience.

    I have known for quite some time that patience is a Christian virtue, a fruit of the Spirit, the calling card of the aged sages. I have never really been a patient person. I have been in a hurry for seemingly all my life. When I was 13 years-old, I wanted to be 16. When I was 16, I wanted to be 18. When I was 18, I wanted to be 25. It was not until my early 30s when I begin to really practice the patience I had heard about for so long. In my early 30s I was pastoring a church and learning the slow, difficult process of loving people on the way to becoming more like Jesus. In my vocation as a pastor I adopted patience as a philosophy of ministry; it is the way pastors love and serve their congregations. We do so with patience.

    I had learned to serve God’s people with patience, but I don’t know if I had reallybecome a patient person at that time. I was still unsettled, discontented, and unsure about myself. I pursued further education and began to write books, which were deeply satisfying, but not enough to change me. Then came 2014. I turned 40 years-old. The transition from 29 to 30 came and went without much thought, but turning 40 was a big deal for me. If by strength we are given 80 years of life then I had reached the halfway point. I turned 40 in the most memorable way. I woke up on my birthday at the Hawk Mountain Shelter on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and by the early afternoon I was standing on top of Springer Mountain in North Georgia, the Southern terminus of the AT. By the end of the day, I was standing2014-06-15 19.20.47 under the iconic arch at the visitor center at Amicalola State Park bringing the end to a 17-mile day and a 100-mile hike that had started 8 days earlier in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Long distance hiking requires a lot of patience. I could drive 100 miles in less than 2 hours. By foot, it took me 8 days. I did a lot of thinking on the trail, a lot of thinking about they kind of person I wanted to be in my next 40 years of life. I thought a lot about patience and about being present to the present moment. I think I am getting closer to being a patient person.

    My wife Jenni and I recently (re)watched Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. The movie reminded me of the great patience and contentment of the Buddhist people. What drives them towards patience and contentment is different than what drives me as a follower of Jesus, but the patience is the same. I can rightly look at practitioners of Buddhism and call them wise as they reflect the patience I see in Jesus. Please do not misunderstand. I am committed to the Christian faith. I am committed to God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the life of patience in me. I am equally committed to admiring all who exhibit patience. I asked my wife if she thought I had become a more patient person. Her hesitation and silence told me all I need to know; I still have a long way to go. She agrees I have become more patient but we both agree I have not yet arrived.

    Now back to waiting for my friends to arrive.

    Waiting. This is what patient people do.

  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 9: Paul in History

    I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the ninth and final blog in this series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

    I had promised a PDF copy of this outline when it was complete, but I now have a different plan. The complete outline turned out to be 22,555 words, which is 50 pages single-spaced. Instead of uploading the PDF, I am going to format it as an ebook and make it available as Kindle download. Who knows maybe I will release it in print form too. We shall see. If you simply cannot wait for the ebook, let me know and maybe…just maybe…I will email you a PDF copy. 

    Part 9: Paul in History
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 12-16

    I. Bringing It All Back Home
    N.T. Wright has taken us into Paul’s world, particularly the world of pagan religion, Greek, philosophy, and Roman politics. We have seen Paul’s Jewish context and his Jewish worldview, two things which formed the foundation for a detailed examination of Paul’s theology summarized by three themes—monotheism, election, and eschatology. These three Jewish concepts were massively rethought and reworked in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. Now Wright wants to bring it all back home with an exploration of Paul’s theology at work in Paul’s world with a spotlight on 1) Paul in the politics of the Roman Empire, 2) Paul in the world of religion, 3) Paul and the philosophers, and 4) Paul in his native Jewish world.

    II. Paul and Caesar
    “Every step Paul took, he walked on land ruled by Caesar.” (1271) The language Paul used to talk about Jesus did not derive from the empire; it was a direct confrontation to the empire. Paul expected the Jewish Messiah to judge the nations and bring salvation and peace to the world. The nations had their leaders, but this was temporary. Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord, which created communities loyal to Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Son of God, titles already used in the empire to speak of the Caesar. While those in authority are to be respected, the idolatry and arrogance of Caesar was challenged by these communities loyal to Jesus the Messiah. Paul does not proclaim Jesus as a better version of Caesar, rather the Gospel of Jesus subverts and overtakes the Gospel of Caesar. “In a world where loyalty to Caesar had become one of the major features of life, it could be that the Christians were ‘working out their own salvation with fear and trembling’, and coming to realize that, somehow or other, if Jesus was lord Caesar was not.” (1302)

    Paul does not endorse the Roman way, but calls for submission to Roman authority as a way to live wisely in the empire. Followers of Messiah in these scattered communities of faith are able to respect those in civic authority knowing they are ultimately held accountable by Jesus the judge and ultimate ruler. Earthly rulers will stand before the judge as will all people. Paul advocates a different kind of politic centered in and around the Messiah which creates a certain kind of revolution, but not a kind that separates us from the culture. “(Paul) saw the gospel of Jesus the Messiah as upstaging, outflanking, delegitimizing and generally subverting the ‘gospel’ of Caesar and Rome.” (1306) Living as loyal subjects of the Messiah does not require either “Constantinian compromise” or “Anabaptist detachment,” but rather a visible witness to a “gospel-shaped and gospel revealed new world of justice and peace.” (1318)

    III. Paul and Pagan Religion
    Religion in the world of Paul did not teach people how to behave as much as it provided signs, myths, and rituals binding people together. “Paul was indeed teaching, operating and living within something we might very well call religio, however much it had been redefined.” (1332) The use of Jewish Scriptures and the worship of one God would had seemed unique to pagan onlookers. Yet it was the one God of Israel, one Lord, and one Spirit that bound together the followers of Jesus the Messiah. Baptism as the initiation into the Christian community and the celebration of the Eucharist formed the primary rituals for Paul’s communities. “The eucharist thus clearly functions for Paul as a rite, complete with traditional words; as a rite in which a ‘founding myth’ was rehearsed, though in this case the founding myth’ was an actual event which had occurred not long before; as a rite in which the worshippers share the life of the divinity being worshipped, though the divinity in question is a human being of recent memory; as a rite dependent on a prior sacrifice, albeit the very strange one of the crucifixion of that same human being; as a rite which should bind the community together….” (1347-1348) This would look like a religion, but one that had never been seen before. It had all the marks of ancient religion but it was infused with theology in a way that was unique.

    IV. Paul and Philosophy
    “Jesus is not simply one person whom one might know certain things. He is the one in whom the very treasures of knowledge itself are hidden.” (1361) Greek philosophers were interested in three topics: logic (what we know), physics (what is there), and ethics (what we do). In the Greek mind, theology was a subset of physics, but Paul would challenge such a view as the God of Israel was not a thing in the material universe.

    Regarding questions of logic, Paul would argue “there is a deeper darkness and a new dawn” in terms of knowledge (1362). Greek philosophy was about coming out of the darkness in order to see what others could not see, but Paul would argue for a deeper darkness. He wrote to the Ephesians describing Gentiles who were “darkened in their understanding” (Ephesians 4:18). They live in darkness as they have lived lives with distorted habits of behavior rooted in a hardness of heart the result of humanity going terribly wrong as described in Genesis 3-11. Jesus is the light of the world that has provided the true light that can consume even the deepest darkness of the human heart.

    Regarding questions of physics, Paul remains steadfast as a creational monotheist. The God of Israel has created all things. Paul writes, “All things created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15). Even in their darkness, humanity could see God’s divine attributes in creation, but because of their darkness the light of the one God is necessary to see all things as they are. As the creator, the one God will ultimately call all things into account.

    Regarding questions of ethics, the dominant logic of the Greek philosophers was once humanity can discover what is, human beings should then go with the grain of the way things are. The Stoics saw divinity in everything, so right living was a matter of going along with nature as it is. The Epicureans saw the gods as far away, but admit gods set up things before their departure, so, like the Stoics, we should just go with the flow of life. In stark contrast, Paul’s ethics were tied not to the ways things are, but eschatology, how things will be under the reign of Messiah. Paul’s inaugurated eschatology announced the coming of the light of truth, beauty, and goodness has come. Therefore we should live in the light of this new world, the one that has come and is coming. “Paul believed that the world had been renewed in the Messiah; that those who were themselves ‘in the Messiah’ had also been renewed as image-bearing human beings; and that the task of such people was to live in accordance with the new world, rather than against its grain.” (1371) The arrival of this new world marked the “rehumanizing power of the gospel of Jesus.” (1376).

    V. Paul and His Jewish Context
    “He came with a Jewish message and a Jewish way of life for the non-Jewish world. He did not see himself as founding or establishing a new, non-Jewish movement. He believed that the message and life he proclaimed and inculcated was, in some sense, the fulfillment of all he had believed as a strict Pharisaic Jew.” (1408) Paul was an apostle to the Gentile nations as a Jewish thinker.

    A. Paul’s Jewish Identity
    Paul was a Jew by birth and he had no modern notions of converting to another religion. He did not compare religions or offer something in the Messiah to replace religion in general or the Jewish religion in particular. He was not attempting to start a new religion or replace religion with something called “faith.” He was extending to non-Jews the opportunity of membership in the renewed-covenant with the God of Israel. Paul did have an encounter with Jesus the Messiah which solidified his call and it became the impetus towards rethinking and reimagining what it meant to be a Jew. Paul admits he died to the law. He had been crucified and raised with the messiah. His identity was no longer Jewish but “Messiah-ish.” Paul was a Jew ethnically but it was not his primary identity. “Paul’s life and work is not a ‘system’, not a ‘religion’, not an attempt to forge a new social reality in and of itself, but a person: the crucified Messiah.” (1146) In Messiah, Paul found his identity and called people to imitate him as he imitated the Messiah.

    B. Paul and Israel’s Scripture
    Paul was a reader of Israel’s scripture and he did not randomly pick verses from the Jewish scripture (the Old Testament) in order to make them fit what he is writing. Paul was well aware of the context of the specific verses he quotes. The larger context in the Old Testament was on his mind when he uses particular quotes from the Old Testament. He understood the tension present in the Old Testament between the promise of God and the commands of God….that is, the promise to bless/save/redeem the world through the people of Abraham on one hand and the system of blessings/curses in the torah based on Israel’s response to the covenant on the other hand. This tension seemed like “two voices” or “two movements” in Israel’s narrative history. Nevertheless the entirety of Jewish thought (including Jewish scripture) was, for Paul, rethought, reworked, and reimagined in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit.

    In reading and using Old Testament scripture in his writings, Paul is reworking it in the larger context of Israel’s narrative history. “Paul reads Israel’s scriptures as a vast and complex narrative, the story of the faithful creator, the faithful covenant God, the god who in Israel’s Messiah kept his ancient promises and thereby created a people marked out by their pistis, their own gospel-generated faith or faithfulness. The scriptures do not so much bear witness, for Paul, to an abstract truth (‘the one God is faithful’). They narrate that faithfulness, and in doing so, invite the whole world into the faithful family whose source and focus is the crucified and risen Messiah.” (1471)

    VI. Paul’s Aims and Achievements
    “The Messiah and the redemption of history…has to do not simply with ‘spirituality’ or ‘religion’, not with an escapist salvation in which of the world ceases to matter, but with the challenge to action in the world itself.” (1474)

    N.T. Wright drew upon the words of Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt to describe the Jewish desire to move in action in the present. He quotes Arendt who wrote:  “We can no longer afford to take that which was good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion. The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live. And this is why all efforts to escape from the grimness of the present into nostalgia for a still intact past, or into the anticipated oblivion of a better future, are vain.”

    This decidedly Jewish impulse was present in Paul. He was not a detached thinker, but a doer. He was a thinker no doubt, but he was not content with merely dreaming up some good ideas and talking about them. The God of Israel had returned to his people. Messiah had come and the Spirit of Yahweh was dwelling within the human, flesh and blood temple of his renewed people, and above all, God’s act of new creation had begun! God’s action prompted Paul to act. So what was Paul trying to do?  “Paul’s practical aim was the creation and maintenance of particular kinds of communities; that the means to their creation and maintenance was the key notion of reconciliation; and that these communities, which he regarded as the spirit-inhabited Messiah-people, constituted at least in his mind and perhaps also in historical truth a new kind of reality, embodying a new kind of philosophy, of religion and of politics, and a new kind of combination of those; and all of this within the reality we studied in the previous chapter, a new kind of Jewishness, a community of new covenant, a community rooted in a new kind of prayer.” (1476)

    Paul did not write philosophical essays or political manifestos; he wrote letters to churches. Paul’s aims and intentions are wrapped up in the planting, building, and flourishing of the local church. (Side note: Paul and the Faithfulness of God is the fourth in a series of academic books on “Christian origins.” According to Wright, his next volume in this series after the Paul book is a book on Christian missiology.) These aims or goals can be best described as a ministry of reconciliation.

    A. Reconciliation
    The words “mission” and “evangelism” in our modern context have departed somewhat from what they meant during the time Paul was planting churches throughout the Mediterranean world of the ancient Roman Empire. Evangelism for Paul was not a matter of “saving souls for heaven,” a phrase we never see in Paul’s writings, or anywhere in Scripture for that matter. When Paul was traveling, preaching, teaching, writing, and suffering on behalf of the church, he saw himself as engaging in the ministry of reconciliation. “For Paul, everything grew into the field of God’s new world.” (1488) Those who are in the Messiah have entered into God’s new world. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ [behold] new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV). This new world is a world reconciled to God and those who are in Christ are a reconciled people. This new world launched with the resurrection of Jesus is the first stage of the renewal of all creation.

    These new communities formed around the Messiah would appear to the outside world to be a new school of philosophy, a new kind of religion, a new political movement heralding a new king and a new way of being human. “If we do not recognize Paul’s churches as in some sense philosophical communities, religious groups and political bodies it is perhaps because we have been thinking of the modern meanings of such terms rather than those which were known in Paul’s world.” (1492) These reconciled communities were to be a prototype of what is to come, demonstrating to the world what it looked liked to be reconciled to one another and reconciled to the God of all creation.

    Paul saw his ministry of reconciliation, and indeed the ministry of the church, as “temple-building” and not “soul-saving.” His mission was to build the communities as mini-temples where there Spirit of Yahweh would dwell. Individuals experience the Spirit, but each individual reconciled to God, indwelt by God’s Spirit, living in God’s new world, served as a signpost to a larger truth, namely the faithfulness of God. These new temple communities were made up of Jews and Gentiles living in unity. The Gospel Paul preached was for the Jew first but also for a Greek, an unquestionable “Jewish message for the non-Jewish world.” (1498)

    B. Paul’s Work in Caesar’s World
    Paul would not have seen the modern subjects of theology and politics as separate and unrelated themes. Paul was a Roman citizen, but his allegiance was to the Messiah and this double position was consistent with Paul’s eschatology. The age to come had broken into history, but it is not here in it’s fullness. Jesus the Messiah has been highly exalted over all earthly political figures, but Caesar still reigns. The Messiah’s reign was best seen within the local communities worshiping Jesus the Messiah. Caesar, to some extent, had tried to create such a religion within the empire whereby he would be the object of people’s devotion. Caesar’s reign over his empire would not endure as long as Jesus’ reign through his church.

    Not only did Paul see Jesus’ reign as superior to the reign of Caesar, he saw an “integrated vision of the one God and his world.” (1508) Paul would agree that all truth is God’s truth and he regularly affirmed the goodness of creation. God’s kingdom in and through the reign of Messiah was a physical, earth-bound kingdom. “Paul’s aim was to be the temple-builder for the kingdom, planting on non-Jewish soil little communities in which heaven and earth would come together at last, places where the returning glory of Israel’s god would shine out, heralding and anticipating the day when God would be all in all.” (1509) He proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and trusted the power of the gospel message to transform the lives who received it. Paul’s theology was important, but it was to be lived out in these gospel-formed communities.

    Reconciliation and integration are good ways to sum up Paul’s theology. We who study Paul’s theology in communities of our own should expect the reconciliation and integration of those who see justification as primarily God’s legal action (juridical or forensic) and those who see justification as primarily God’s invitation for us to join him (participationist). Our study of Paul should lead to an end to the squabbling between those of the old perspective and those with the new perspective(s) on Paul. We should hope to see an integration of those who are interested in Paul’s historical context with those who are interested in Paul’s theological perspective.

    In the end, we like Paul, are best served when our life of study and participation in the community of faith are sustained by prayer. “The renewed praise of Paul’s doxologies takes its place at the historically situated and theologically explosive fusion of worlds where Paul stood in the middle, between Athens and Jerusalem, between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world, between Philemon and Onesimus, between history and theology, between exegesis and the life of the church, between heaven and earth.” (1518) Paul is a central figure in Christian theology.

    Wright ends the book with these words: “Paul’s ‘aims’, his apostolic vocation, modeled the faithfulness of God. Concentrated and gathered. Prayer became theology, theology prayer. Something understood.” (1519)

    VII. Final Thoughts
    Theology matters. History matters. Wrestling with Scripture matters. These tasks matter because God has been faithful to his covenant. His reign has begun! New creation has begun and we get to participate in it as people of the Messiah as the new temple indwelt by the Spirit.

  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 8: Eschatology and Romans 9-11

    I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the eighth of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

    Part 8: Eschatology and Romans 9-11
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 11, Sections 6.4 – 7

    I. Approaching Difficult Terrain
    “It is easy to be overwhelmed by Romans 9-11: its scale and scope, the mass of secondary literature, the controversial theological and also political topics, and the huge and difficult questions of the overall flow of thought on the one hand and the complex details of exegesis and interpretation on the other.” (1156) We approach Romans 9-11 admitting the difficulty of the challenge before us. Those who say Romans 9-11 is easy to understand and easily applied to our lives haven’t taken the time to seriously read these 90 verses. N.T. Wright discusses this section in the context of eschatology, but these three chapters are connected to monotheism and election, and belong to the rest of the book. They are “bound into the letter’s whole structure by a thousand silken strands.” (1157)

    Romans 9 is filled with questions related to God’s future purposes. This chapter is a retelling of Israel’s story from God’s election of them for a specific job to the exodus event with Moses and Pharaoh, including some comments from the prophets. This section (Romans 9-11) follows logically from where Paul leaves off in Romans 8, where he has discussed the life and love experienced by those who are in the Messiah. Romans 9 deals with those who have not believed, primarily those of Israel who have not believed in Jesus the Messiah.

    II. Artistic Structure of Romans 9-11
    One of the most helpful tools in understanding this section is to see the structure and counter balance of the ideas presented with the central thought found in Romans 10:9.

    Romans 9-11

    A. Starting in the middle (Romans 10:1-17)
    In quoting from Deuteronomy 30 in Romans 10:6-8, Paul is using language to describe the renewal of the covenant and the end of exile. The “righteousness based on faith” (Romans 10:6) is picture of the “faith-based covenant” (1169). In Deuteronomy 30 it is a commandment which is not in heaven or beyond in the sea, but in the mouth and circumcised heart of God’s people so they can obey. In Romans 10, Paul says the word is in your mouth and heart. This word (or message) is the Gospel: “ if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Paul is still talking about justification, that is the one God’s declaration (redefined monotheism) of those who are in the right as members of the one covenant people (redefined election), a future act God is declaring in the present (redefined eschatology). The Jewish people were seeking to establish their own covenant membership (Romans 10:3), but justification and salvation were not only for those with Jewish ethnicity, but for both Jew and Greek alike (Romans 10:12-13). Jesus the Messiah is the end, the termination point, of the torah making covenant membership available to those who wear the badge of faith (Romans 10:4). The God of Israel intended on circumcising the hearts of his people (Deuteronomy 30:6) so there would be a “new way of doing the law” (1173). According to Paul, preaching becomes necessary in this new way. Preaching the Gospel is the announcement that the one God of Jews and Gentiles has become Messiah and King in and through Jesus. Salvation, in addition to justification, is now available for Jews and Gentiles. Keeping Paul’s conclusions in these verses in mind can prevent us from getting lost in Paul’s longer arguments regarding Israel in Romans 9 and 11.

    B. Taking a step back (Romans 9:30-33 and 10:18-21)
    Paul sums up in four verses the case he has been building in Romans 9, God choose Israel to be examples of his righteousness, but they have stumbled because they pursued righteousness, that is a covenant status, not by faith, but by the torah. This line of thinking takes us further back to Romans 7 and 8. The torah gives sin an opportunity to spread, but God condemns sin in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah (Romans 8:3). Romans 9 describes the election of Israel and their stumbling, but there is no mention of sin, although Roman 1-8 deals often with the topic if sin. In pursuing a covenant status formed by the torah, Israel ends up stumbling over the very intent of the law and ultimately the goal of the torah, Jesus the Messiah. The Jewish stumbling in Romans 9:30-33 intended to make the Gentiles jealous as described in Romans 10:18-21. Paul draws upon Moses (Romans 10:19) and Isaiah (Romans 10:20) as witnesses to the fact that “Gentiles were going to be brought in to make Israel jealous.” (1180) The hope for Israel is while God has included Gentiles in the covenant family, those who have pursued covenant membership by faith, God still holds out his hands of mercy towards Israel (Romans 10:21).

    C. Israel’s Strange Purpose (Romans 9:6-29)
    This section is, in part, a retelling of the story of Israel beginning with Abraham. “This, in fact, is how (second-temple Jewish) eschatology works: first you tell the story of Israel so far, and then you look on to what is still to come.” (1181) Paul is talking about eschatology, but Jewish eschatology includes a recounting of God’s activity in history. In one sense, we could read Romans 9 as speaking of the past, Romans 10 dealing with the present, and Romans 11 as Paul’s discussion of the future. Paul is recounting Israel’s story in light of where that story goes namely to the coming of Jesus the Messiah who does for Israel what Israel could not do for herself. The God of Israel has been active in history “showing mercy” and “hardening” in order to fulfill his purposes. Paul is not retelling Israel’s history to demonstrate how God saves people in general using Israel as an example. Rather Paul is describing God’s action in and surrounding Israel, because it is in and through Israel in particular that God has chosen to save the world.

    This retelling of Israel’s election is told from a Jewish point of view to point out to Gentile believers in Jesus the Messiah that they have been included in a irreplaceable story of God’s purposes in and through Israel. Paul’s emphasis is God has shown mercy to Jacob (i.e Israel) a part from Israel’s lack of commitment to the torah. If God can by his grace choose a people unfaithful to the torah then what if God has chosen to be patient with Gentiles these seemingly “vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22)? Paul uses the metaphor of a potter and clay to describe his dealings specifically with Israel and not all humanity. Israel cannot tell God: “You are unfair in molding us in a certain way!” God has chosen Israel and he is the master potter and can mold pottery in any way he chooses. This act of choosing is what we mean by election. “It is not, then, that ‘election’ simply involves a selection of some and a leaving of others, a ‘loving’ of some and a ‘hating’ of others. It is that the ‘elect’ themselves are elect in order to be the place where and the means by which God’s redemptive purposes are worked out.” (1191)

    God’s act of hardening, like his act of electing, was to demonstrate his saving purposes. Paul writes: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24). By writing “what if” Paul is introducing a new interpretation to Israel’s story. What if God wanted to demonstrate his judgment (wrath) and power (authority) by showing patience towards “vessels of wrath” and revealing the richness of his mercy in his “vessels of mercy” which includes Gentiles? The answer is: this is exactly what has happened in Messiah. Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea to answer the question: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (Romans 9:25, quoted from Hosea 2:23).

    D. Israel’s Mysterious Future (Romans 11:1-32)
    Paul asks another rhetorical question: “Has God rejected his people?” He answers: “By no means!” (Romans 11:1) If Romans 9 is a retelling of Israel’s history (election) then the counter-balance is an account of Israel’s future in Roman 11 (eschatology). Israel has been seemingly “cast away” for a purpose, that would ultimately lead to their acceptance. The inclusion of Gentiles was not a sign indicating the God of Israel has rejected his people, rather it was to make Israel jealous. Israel is also invited to participate in the reconciliation of Jesus the Messiah. Paul writes, “For if their rejection [casting away] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15) The covenant is renewed for the Jewish people who confess Jesus is Lord which makes them alive. They are experiencing a “partial hardening” (Romans 11:25), not because God has rejected them and replaced them with Gentiles, but that they would become jealous by the Gentile inclusion and “all Israel will be saved.” Israel stumbled (Romans 11:11), was broken off (Romans 11:19), was hardened (Romans 11:25), and “they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you (Gentiles) they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11:31).

    Will all Israel be saved? Paul’s answer is, at first glance, complex. In Romans 11:14 Paul expects “some” to be saved, but in Romans 11:26 he says all Israel will be saved. He is clear: “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11:32) God’s mercy extends to all, Jew and Gentile alike, but will all Israel be saved or just some? The answer is found in looking back at the rhetorical center of Romans 9-11, which is Romans 10:9-13: “..If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In this regard, Jews cannot boast and neither can Gentiles. Gentiles have been grafted in and if Jews have been broken off, God has the power to graft them in again. Salvation for Israel is the same as salvation for the Gentile nations; it is found in a covenant status pursued by faith in Jesus the Messiah.

    E. The Beginning and the End (Romans 9:1-5 and Romans 11:33-36)
    This section follows the pattern of many of the Psalms, by opening with a lament and closing with praise. Pauls opens with: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2-3) He closes this section with: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). “Paul is doing again what he does best: expounding the ancient faith of Israel, rethought and reimagined around Jesus and the spirit, in such a way as to take every thought captive to obey the Messiah.” (1256)

    III. Summing Up Paul’s Theology
    Paul has taken three Jewish paradigms—monotheism, election, and eschatology—and thoroughly reworked them in light of Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. In doing so he has transformed the hope of Israel by bringing the Jewish law to its intended termination point. The covenant has been renewed as promised. Yahweh has been faithful to the covenant and has returned to his people who are marked by faith in the Messiah. His Spirit now dwells in his rebuilt temple, that temple made with stones that breathe. His final act of judgment has been experienced by those in the body of Messiah. Both Jews and Gentiles have been declared in the right and thus members of God’s covenant family. Gods action of blessing, saving, and healing God’s world has begun, but it is not complete. God has been faithful to his promise to Abraham, a faithfulness to the covenant that has been displayed by the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.

    IV. Final Thoughts
    The Gospel is for the Jew first and also for the Greek, the Gentile, the non-Jew. The Gospel declares how the God worshiped by the Jews has become the King of the world. The future for Israel and Gentile nations depends on how they respond to the Gospel.

  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 7: Eschatology and Ethics

    I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the seventh of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

    Part 7: Eschatology and Ethics
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 11, Sections 1 – 6.3

    I. Introducing Eschatology
    To talk about God’s future for God’s world (eschatology) is to speak of hope. “Many ancient Jews clung on to a hope which had specific content and shape. Rooted in scripture, this was a hope not just for an individual future after death, but for a restoration and renewal of the whole nation, and perhaps even for the entire created order.” (1043) For Paul, eschatology is connected to both election and monotheism. Eschatological hope was never an individual hope, but the hope of one people of God, who, as the one true and living God, has a plan for his good world.

    II. Eschatology and Hope
    “This is not simply a hope beyond the world. It is a hope for the world.” (1044) Paul’s hope was a Jewish hope rethought around Jesus the Messiah, that is, the return of Yahweh to Zion. This hope has begun (Christ has come), but it is not complete (Christ will come again). The present time is in between “the already” and the “not yet” of the day of the Lord. During this time we experience the transformation of character, becoming people fit for the age to come. Jewish hope was built around the return of Yahweh to Zion where he would rule and sort out everything that had gone wrong. This is what is meant by “judgment.”

    “What Yahweh does in the tabernacle or temple is a sign and foretaste of what he intends to do in and for the whole creation…to fill the whole earth with his glory and to set up his kingdom of justice, peace and prosperity.” (1053) This rule through the coming of Messiah would show God’s faithfulness to his covenant (i.e. his righteousness) and therefore enable his people to “bless the families of the earth” and “inherit the world.” This coming rule, the age to come, has broken into this world ruled by sin and death. We who are in the body of Messiah have received eternal life, that is, the life of the age to come.

    A. Hope redefined by Jesus
    The resurrection of Jesus the Messiah marked a definite breaking in of the age to come into this present evil age. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The presence of the age to come with the resurrection is kingdom-language. The age to come has been escorted in with the kingdom of God. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26 ESV). We are not waiting for Jesus to rule then, Paul makes it clear: Jesus is “already ruling the world.” (1063)

    Jesus is the world’s true Lord and King. His rule, has begun, but it is not complete. The rule of King Jesus is undoubtedly political in nature. “When Paul said that Jesus was now in charge, he meant something much more dangerous and subversive. he meant, in some sense or other, that Caesar was not the world’s ultimate ruler.” (1065) Calling Jesus “King” and “Lord” implies the kingdom has come to overthrow the current structures of political authority, which was the very hope of Jewish eschatology. As we change our allegiance, we are freed from the present evil age. Paul writes: Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4 ESV). “The ‘evil of the present age, in Jewish thought, consists not in the present world being a dark, wicked pace from which we should try to escape, but in the intrusion into, and infection of, God’s good creation with the power of evil.” (1069)

    We have been delivered from the present evil age as the new exodus people of God. We were slaves to sin and subject to death, but now we have received the life of the age to come! This new exodus fits squarely with Jewish expectations, although rethought through the cross and resurrection of Messiah. Shockingly Jesus, the new-Moses, brought about our liberation by his death at the hands of the very authorities he was overthrowing. Any talk of the atonement (i.e. the meaning and implications of the death of Jesus) needs to consider the historical context of the death of Messiah. “The cross, then, is not simply part of the definition of God or the key fulcrum around which the purpose of God in election is accomplished. It is also at the heart of Paul’s inaugurated eschatology.” (1071) By “inaugurated eschatology,” he means the launching of God’s future new creation project. As previously stated, the death of Jesus, as the means by which the new age breaks into the old, demonstrates God’s righteousness, that is, his covenant faithfulness and justice.

    B. Hope redefined by the Spirit
    We who are in Messiah are the new temple where the Spirit dwells. The Spirit accomplishes the work of heart-transformation, the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28-29), and exists as a sign that Yahweh has returned to his people. We await with all creation for the grand reworking and renewal of all things but the Spirit has been given to us as a deposit “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). Paul’s vision of the future is a “Spirit-driven inaugurated eschatology.” (1078) New creation has begun in us as a sign of what is to come.

    III. The Day of the LORD
    The day of Yahweh has become the day of our Lord Jesus. That day has come and is coming. Paul writes: “…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). (See also 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2) This day will be a time of judgement, not simply condemnation. On that day, the creator God will sort things out and make right everything that is out of order. This day will mark the appearing (Greek word: parousia) of Jesus. It is not that he will “come back” as if he has been far away. Rather he will make his presence known.

    The day of the Lord will be an unveiling of the wrath (judgment) of God, judgment for people with hard, unrepentant hearts who have been storing up judgment for themselves (Romans 2:5). God will ultimately rid the world of evil and renew and restore all creation. The creator God, the one God of Israel, appearing in the person of the Messiah, made a world fit for himself and so he shall restore it and fill it with his presence and justice.

    IV. Eschatology and Ethics
    “The new world beckons” (1096), the world of new creation made known within us by the Spirit calls to us and invites us to live a certain way. Protestant Christianity has a tendency to push ethics to the background and pull salvation to the foreground. This shifting of emphasis is out of fear of equating ethics with “work.” The danger seen by those with a strong Reformed impulse is we will attempt to earn our salvation by works if ethics is too close to the center of Paul’s theology. “Once we understand how Paul’s eschatology works, and how moral behaviour and indeed moral effort (a major theme in Paul, screened out altogether within some interpretative traditions) is reconceived within that world, any such imagined danger disappears.” (1097)

    A. Ethics in light of the “already” in the new age
    Ethics for Paul is tied to his eschatology. We have the responsibility of cooperating with the creator God in his new creation project and so he is developing within us the kind of character necessary to be up for the task. Paul did not work out a sophisticated theology out of Jewish story and symbols and then merely add a few moral commands. Paul’s ethics go hand-in-hand with his theological vision of the arrival of new creation, as if he is saying: “the kingdom has come, Yahweh has returned to make everything new and put everything back into order. This is big news! This changes everything! We cannot live the way we used to live!”

    In the body of Messiah we are a new humanity living in a Spirit-breathed, Spirit-formed new creation. So it is not merely that we are imitating Jesus, rather we are living out of a new identity. We are cooperating with the Spirit. “Part of the mystery of the spirit’s work, at least as Paul understands its work, is that that work does not cancel out human moral effort, including thought, will, decision and action. Rather, it makes them all possible. It opens up a new kind of freedom…” (1106-1107) As Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the Torah, so those who are in Messiah, who walk by the Spirit, fulfill Torah as well.

    B. Ethics in light of the “not yet” of the new age
    Those in the body of Messiah have received the life of the age to come and are already participating in that age, but the new age is not yet here in its fullness. It has officially been launched but it is not complete. “Chasing towards the line: one of Paul’s various athletic metaphors, indicating that the ‘not yet’ of eschatology does not mean hanging around with nothing to do.” (1113) We are pressing toward the goal (chasing towards the finish line) to become fully mature, fully transformed into Christ-likeness, even though we have not yet arrived. Paul writes:  “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:5-8). Those who live in the darkness of the present evil age will not inherit the kingdom of God, so don’t become partners with them. They are living in the not yet. You are living in the light of the age to come. “Paul envisions a renewed humanity in terms of new creation, a new world in which the creator’s original intention would at last be fulfilled; and this new world is to be seen in advance in the Messiah’s people….Sexual immorality destroys the vision of new creation in which the purpose begun in Genesis 1 and 2 can at last find fulfillment.” (117)

    They way we live in the present evil age anticipating the age to come is the way of love. “Love, then, is obviously and uncontroversially central to Paul’s vision of the Christian moral life, in a way not true in either Judaism or the greco-roman world.” (1119) Love flows from a transformed character and a renewed mind. Christians who belong to Messiah develop and maintain Christian patterns of thinking. For Paul, the human mind is able to grasp key truths about the creator God, which guides behavior. The mind and heart are not divided in Paul’s theology.

    V. The Question of Israel
    “If Jesus really was Israel’s Messiah, as (the first Christians) believed the resurrection had demonstrated him to be, then in some sense or other the narrative and identity of Israel had not been ‘replaced’ but fulfilled — fulfilled by him in person, and therefore fulfilled in and for all his people.” (1129) In Galatians, Paul describes the people of God as once enslaved by sin to the Torah, but now “no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7). He chooses Hagar and Sarah as examples of two different ways to be the people of God. Hagar the mother of Ishmael is from Mount Sinai representing the giving of the law to Moses. Sarah is the mother of Isaac representing the promise and covenant with Abraham. By faith (and not by the Torah) we are children of the promise. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The issue is not Judaism versus Christianity. The issue is not whether or not an individual is “saved.” The issue is this: How does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shape how we are to be the people of God in the age to come? Paul writes: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:5-6 ESV).

    The question of Israel is the question of being the people of God. In the Messiah, being the people of God has been redefined from slavery under the Torah to freedom by faith and love. Jewish ethnicity and adherence to the Torah are no longer the markers of the people of God. Now what identifies people as God’s people is faith and love. Paul sums up his thoughts at the end of his letter to the Galatians: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16). By “Israel” Paul means the people of God both Jews (Judeans) and Gentiles.

    VI. Final Thoughts
    The new world has broken into the old world, flooding the darkness of this present evil age with light. Live as people of the light.

  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 6: Election, the Spirit, and Justification

    I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the sixth of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

    Part 6: Election, the Spirit, and Justification
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 10, Sections 4 – 5

    I. The Spirit and the Gospel
    The Gospel is the announcement that the God of Israel has been faithful to his covenant by fulfilling his promises through Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. The Gospel is not how to “get saved” or “how to be justified.” It is the announcement of what God has done in and through Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel announcement comes with the work of the Spirit. No one can say “Jesus is the Lord” without the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Furthermore, the Spirit accomplishes in the renewed people of God what the Torah could not do in the initial people of God.

    II. The Shape of Justification
    Paul’s discussion of justification is in the context of his reworking of the election of Israel summed up in Jesus the Messiah and lived out in the one people of God by the Holy Spirit. The logic of the election of Israel was not God choosing one ethnic group in order to condemn the rest of the world or allow them to remain in pagan darkness. The logic of the election of Israel was God choosing a certain people through whom he would rescue the world with the light of his love. To be justified is to be put right as the people of God for the purposes of God.

    A. The logical context behind Paul’s theology of justification
    1. “God the creator intends at the last to remake the creation, righting all wrongs and filling the world with his own presence.” (926) We start where the Christian narrative begins, the actions of the one true God making the world as a place to be shared with humanity.

    2. “For this to happen, humans themselves have to be ‘put right’.” (926) Because humanity is intricately connected to God’s world, they must be put right, that is, they must be justified.

    3. “God’s way of accomplishing this is through the covenant.” (927) God intended to remain faithful in and through Israel.

    4. “(The covenant) is how the creator God will put humans to rights.” (934) God is responsible for setting right a world gone wrong and he has the power and authority to do it.

    5. “All these themes point forward to the decisive divine judgment on the last day, in other words, to ‘final eschatology.’” (936) There is a final justification coming, a final verdict and sorting out of things gone wrong. The present justification experienced for those in Jesus the Messiah is a foretaste of the justification to come.

    6. “The events concerning Jesus the Messiah are the revelation, in unique and decisive action, of the divine righteousness.” (942) In the death of Jesus, sin (the source of humanity’s wrongdoing) is condemned and in the resurrection of Jesus, God’s new creation (where the world is being put right) has begun. Through the Messiah we see God’s righteousness displayed both in terms of his covenant faithfulness and his restorative justice.

    7. “When Paul speaks about people being ‘justified’ in the present, he is (arguing)…that in the present time the covenant God declares ‘in the right,’ ‘within the covenant,’ all those who hear, believe and obey ‘the gospel’ of Jesus the Messiah.” (944) This declaration “creates and constitutes a new situation, a new status,” namely, those who are justified are a part of the people of God. It is not a description of a person’s moral character but a declaration of a person’s social identity. “Those who are declared or accounted ‘righteous’ on the basis of Messiah-faith constitute the single covenant family which the one God has faithfully given to Abraham.” (961)

    B. Justification at work in Galatians 2:15-4:11
    “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through [the] faith[fulness of] Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:15 ESV)

    The context was the “Antioch incident” where Peter was not sharing a table with Gentile Christians. Paul confronts Peter, because his sin was fundamentally a gospel issue as he explains in Galatians 2:15. We are not justified—declared righteous and therefore members of God’s people—because we keep the law, but because of the faithfulness of Jesus. We believe in Jesus and are justified. Our justification is based on Jesus’ faithful death. Our faith is the badge indicated we are members of God’s people.

    “Paul’s whole argument is about membership in the single family, sharing the same table-fellowship, not primarily about the way in which sins are dealt with and the sinner rescued from them.” (969) There is little mention of sin, and no mention of death, in Galatians. The letter focuses on the definition of Christian community, that is, what does it mean to be the people of God? What are the markers that define Christian community? This definition has been reworked around Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) Paul is addressing the Galatians (plural) according to 3:1. This new shape of the people of God is the work of the Spirit.

    This called people, the children of Abraham, redefined by Jesus and the Spirit will be the means by which God blesses the nations (Galatians 3:8). The promise given to Abraham was not merely for one ethnic people (the Jews) in one particular land (Israel); the promise was for the whole world. Jesus became a curse for us (N.T. Wright notes the “us” refers to Jewish people), redeeming them from the curse of the law so that “the blessing of Abraham may come to the Gentiles” (Galatians 3:13), so that “we (both Jews and Gentiles) might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).

    To be declared righteous members of God’s chosen people (election) has been redefined. Members who once were marked by keeping the torah are now marked by both faith in Jesus as Messiah whose faithful death demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the torah and the reception of God’s Spirit.

    C. Justification at work in 2 Corinthians 3:3
    “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV) The people of God has been redefined by and through the Holy Spirit who has come in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of a coming new covenant where the one God of Israel would write his laws on the hearts of his one people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The coming of new covenant implies a new definition of election, that is, being the people of God. “The spirit has redefined ‘election’, the covenant status of the people of God. The covenant is not now a matter of possessing or hating the Mosaic law. It is a matter of the transformation of the heart, wrought by the spirit.” (983) The Shekinah glory of God which under the old covenant dwelt in a particular place, the Temple in Jerusalem, now dwells in the hearts of his people.

    D. Justification at work in Philippians 3:2-11
    “The emphasis of the passage is precisely not ‘so that is how I shall be “saved”’, but ‘so that is how I will be demonstrated to be truly within the covenant people.’” (984) The context in which Paul talks about receiving righteousness from God is in the context of those who define covenant membership by circumcision and thus, adherence to the torah. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God…” (Philippians 3:3). This statement speaks of the redefined “we,” redefined by the coming of the Spirit.

    Paul continues by recounting his Jewish heritage. He was not bragging that he had earned points as a Jew and was somehow self-righteous. He was providing the evidence that he was a legitimate part of the covenant family, but none of that matters now that Messiah has come. Paul describes his covenant status as in Christ. “…that I may be discovered in him, not having my own covenant status (righteousness) defined by Torah, but the status (righteousness) which comes through the Messiah’s faithfulness: the covenant status (righteousness) from God which is given to faith.” (Galatians 3:9 The Kingdom New Testament) “Being ‘in the Messiah’, as clearly here as anywhere in Paul, is the new way of saying ‘in Israel.’” (989) Justification here is not a matter of the forgiveness of personal sin, but an incorporation into Christ and into Christ’s people.

    E. Justification at work in Romans 3:21-4:25
    In this section, which is one complete thought, we see the righteousness of God on display, not the righteousness we receive from God (Philippians 3:9), but God’s own righteousness, his covenant faithfulness and faithful justice. God’s covenant faithfulness has been displayed apart from the law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus for the benefit of those who believe (Romans 3:22). There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, we are all a part of the plight, given to sin and subject to death, and we are justified, declared to be members of God’s family by grace (Romans 3:23-24). “What we loosely think of as ‘justification’ is very closely joined in Paul’s mind with the incorporation of believers into the messianic reality of Jesus death and resurrection.” (997) We are justified through the redemption that is in Jesus the Messiah (Romans 3:24). The death of Jesus is described by Paul using sacrificial terms: “blood,” “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice,” and “passed over.” God is demonstrating his faithfulness to the covenant to bless the world through Israel which had a sacrificial system, but the Messiah’s death meant the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. The redefined people of God, the church, would no longer carry on that practice. “The ‘righteousness’ of God which was called into question by the failure of Israel to be ‘faithful’ to the divine commission (3:2-3) has been put into effect through the faithfulness of Messiah” (1000).

    Because of the covenant faithfulness of God revealed in the faithful death of Jesus, no one gets to brag (Romans 3:27), not Jews and not Gentiles. God is the God of both (Romans 3:29), because God is one (monotheism!) (Romans 3:30). How does he justify? By faith! “This new people is composed, not only of Gentiles, of course, but of Jews and Gentiles alike who display this pistis (Greek word for “faith”), the badge of membership. This is the same badge, whether one’s covenant status is renewed or initiated” (1001).

    Romans 4 moves to a discussion of Abraham, not as an example of how individuals get “saved” by faith, but as continuation of the display of God’s covenant faithfulness. Paul is bringing up Abraham, because covenant faithfulness is about God’s promise to Abraham. What was gained by Abraham? (Romans 4:1) He did not gain a personal relationship with God. He gained seminal membership into God’s family. Abraham wore the badge of faith and God declared him to be a member of God’s family. “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well” (Romans 4:11). The covenant was all about the one God having one family of Jews and Gentiles.

    What was the promise for this one family? “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world…” (Romans 4:13). The redefined people of God would be occupants of the whole world. There was a promise of land given to Abraham, but the land promise has been redefined, as with everything else, around the coming of Messiah and the gift of the Spirit, whereby we see the “holy land” as the whole earth. This promise did not come through the torah, rather it come through the display of God’s covenant faithfulness through the faith of God’s people (Romans 4:13) who share the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:16). Abraham was strong in faith “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21 ESV). God displays his faithfulness to do what he promised to do in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Abraham wore the badge of faith and was included in God’s family and we wear the badge of faith and are included in God’s family because Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification, or inclusion in God’s family (Romans 4:25).

    F. Justification at work in Romans 5-8
    We start somewhere in the middle. “We are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). This section continues with the theme of the covenant people of God redefined by Jesus and, particularly noted here, by the Spirit. “The spirit is not some alien force, but rather the fresh (though long-promised) manifestation of the one God of Jewish monotheism.” (1008) In Romans 7 Paul is addressing Jewish Christians specifically because in telling the story redemption of Israel, he is telling the story of the redemption of the world. This section reverberates with themes of a new exodus, where sin in the slave master, baptism is the Red Sea crossing, and the redeemed world is the promise land.

    Romans 7:15-25 is not Paul discussing his struggle with sin either pre or post conversion. Paul is not describing the normal Christian life as a life-long struggling with sin. When Paul writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15),” he is describing Israel under the law. He is using the rhetorical first person “I” to describe Israel struggle with sin under the law. The law is good in that it draws Israel to the one true living God, but the law imprisons Israel in sin.

    Sin is the enemy, not the law. Sin is the slave-driver keeping Israel in slavery. Jesus the Messiah set us from from the slavery of sin. Paul repeats this fact in Romans 5:6-11, 6:7-11; 8:1-4. Jesus is the liberator, but the freeing of sin is in the context of the renewed, redefined people of God. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). The plural pronouns denote the context of Christian community. God show his love for us. Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We have been justified. We will be saved from the wrath (judgment) of God (Romans 5:9). Death and sin have reigned, but in the renewed promise land, grace and life reign through Jesus the Messiah (Romans 5:12-21). The movement from death to life is through the red sea crossing of baptism (Romans 6:3-4).

    Sin has, at long last, been condemned in the death of the Messiah (Romans 8:3). “This is the divine purpose: that sin be drawn onto this one place, onto Israel, so that it can be dealt with conclusively by the covenant God himself in the persion, in the flesh of israel’s Messiah, the son of this very God.” (1015) So what was the point of creating Israel as a chosen people and giving them the law? “The point of Israel’s election was not ‘for the creator God to have a favourite people’ but for the sin of Adam to be dealt with. Election itself, and Torah as the gift which sealed election, was designed – this is Paul’s point – to draw sin onto that one place so that it could be successfully condemned right there.” (1015)

    In Romans 8, we see the newly defined people of God as the new temple where God’s Spirit dwells, a people led by the Spirit, as the people of Israel were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). The Spirit redefines the children of God as those who have been incorporated in Jesus the Messiah. The world-wide implications of the demonstration of God’s covenant faithfulness is experienced by creation itself in the rhetorical climax of Romans 8, where Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility…(creation waits to) obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21)

    III. Final Thoughts
    It makes sense to talk about Paul’s theology of justification by faith in the context of Paul’s redefinition of election around the coming of the Holy Spirit, because justification is God’s gracious act of declaring in the right those who are a part of the chosen people of God who carry out God’s purposes for God’s world.