N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 1

N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of PaulLast year the church was given a great gift. N.T. (Tom) Wright finally published his 40-year labor of love, his definitive and substantial book on the theology of Paul entitled Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I started reading it on the first Sunday of Advent and attempted to finish by Easter Sunday. I am still finishing up the last section, but I have been spending weeks going back through the book, outlining it for a lecture-style small group beginning this Sunday at my church.

Tom has interpreted Paul for us.
Now I want to interpret Tom for you.

My goal is to outline the book in nine parts making this massive 1,700+ page book accessible. I have titled my outline “N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul” underscoring one of the key components of N.T. Wright’s vision of Paul’s theology: faithfulness. The faithfulness of Jesus demonstrates God’s faithfulness to his creation and to his covenant with Abraham. Paul embodies such faithfulness as he reworks and re-imagines some things in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit. Specifically Paul redefines what it means for the one God of Israel to work through his people to renew and restore his world.

The outline is more than half way done. I have completed the first five parts, which covers approximately 900 pages of the book. The outline covers many of the key conclusions N.T. Wright reaches and some (but not all) of the key pieces of evidence he calls upon. I will make the complete outline available as a PDF as soon as it is complete, but I will post each part as a new blog post,  each week including the first part which is a general introduction to N.T. Wight and the book.

N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul
Part 1: Charting the Course
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 1

I. An Introduction to N.T Wright
N.T. “Tom” Wright is hands-down the most important theological voice in the church today.

A. Christianity Today article
He made the cover of Christianity Today in April 2014. In the cover story, UMC Pastor Jason Byassee writes: “People who are asked to write about N. T. Wright may find they quickly run out of superlatives. He is the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the most important apologist for the Christian faith since C. S. Lewis. He has written the most extensive series of popular commentaries on the New Testament since William Barclay. And, in case three careers sound like too few, he is also a church leader, having served as Bishop of Durham, England, before his current teaching post at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. But perhaps the most significant praise of all: When Wright speaks, preaches, or writes, folks say they see Jesus, and lives are transformed.” (Christianity Today, April 2014, Vol. 58, No. 3, Pg 36, “Surprised by Wright” )

I agree. I am not the most objective reader of Tom Wright. I consider him to be my primary theology mentor because in him I see Jesus, because in him I see a love for the church.

More from the Byassee article: “‘I have always had a high view of the Scriptures and a central view of the Cross,’ Wright says. He insists repeatedly that any theory advanced about Paul must be tested with actual exegesis, and he reads the Scriptures as someone happy to be doing so. Most scholars talk about other scholars. Only a blessed few talk about the Bible. Fewer still talk about God. Wright, while standing on the shoulders of many great scholars, tries to talk about God. And he speaks and writes with an urgency that suggests every sentence is even more essential than the last.”

B. Professional biography

  • BA in classics and BA in theology (Oxford)

  • MA with a focused study on Anglican ministry (Oxford)

  • DPhil (Oxford) Dissertation: “The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans”

  • Lectured at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) (1981-1986)

  • Lectured at Oxford (1986-1993)

  • Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (1994-1999)

  • Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey (2000-2003)

  • Bishop of Durham (2003-2010)

  • Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews (Scotland) (2010 – present)

  • Publications: Nearly 50 books, a complete N.T. commentary series, an original translation of the New Testament, and numerous articles, essays, lectures, and sermons over 40 years (for more information see http://ntwrightpage.com)

C. His primary focus
Wright has spent his career focusing on themes related to Jesus, the gospels, and Paul. He writes from the perspective of a historian, paying very close attention to the historical context of the biblical writers.

II. Paul and the Faithfulness of God
Wright’s magnum opus (Latin for “great work”) is Paul and the Faithfulness of God, affectionately known as the “big book on Paul.” This book is the fourth in a series of scholarly books on Christian origins.

A. Roadmap for navigating through the book
1. Paul’s World (Part 2)
a. Introduction
b. Paul’s Jewish world
c. Ancient Philosophy in a Greek world
d. First-century Empire in a Roman world

2. Paul’s Worldview (Part 3)
a. The convergence of three worlds
b. Worldview: defined by praxis (practice), symbol, story, and question
+ Praxis: What were the common practices in Paul’s world?
+ Symbol: What key symbols filled Paul’s world?
+ Story: What narratives shaped Paul’s imagination?
+ Question: What were the BIG questions people were asking in Paul’s world?

3. Paul’s Theology
a. Monotheism freshly revealed: What’s it mean for the God of Israel to be one? (Part 4)
b. Election freshly reworked: Who are the covenant-people of God? (Parts 5-6)
c. Eschatology freshly imagined: What is God’s future for the world? (Parts 7-8)

4. Paul in His World (Part 9)
a. Paul and empire
b. Paul and religion
c. Paul and philosophy
d. Paul in his Jewish world
e. Conclusions

B. Philemon: A little window into the heart and mind of Paul
“Paul’s Jewish worldview, radically reshaped around the crucified Messiah, challenges the world of ancient paganism with the concrete signs of the faithfulness of God. That is a summary both of the letter to Philemon and of the entire present book.” (21)

Onesimus was a slave in the home of Philemon and had met Paul and become a Christian. Wright calls Onesimus more of a “wandering slave” than a “runaway slave.” Paul writes a letter to Philemon asking him to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a “beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16).

This scene in the ministry of Paul is a peek into his central themes throughout his letters: reconciliation, unity, and partnership (koinonia) through Jesus the Messiah.

“Why would Philemon and Onesimus be motivated to go along with this costly and socially challenging plan? Answer: because of the implicit theology. Because of who God is. Because of the Messiah. Because of his death. Because of who ‘we’ are ‘in him,’ or growing up together ‘into him.’ Because of the hope.” (30)

C. Worldview and theology
Paul’s theology (what he believed about God and God’s world) was dependent upon and shaped by his worldview (how he saw the world).

1. N.T Wright’s “new perspective” on Paul
What is at the heart of Paul’s theology? For the Protestant reformers, the heart of Paul’s theology was justification by faith in the context of salvation. Other themes in Paul’s writings were tangential and peripheral. Wright challenges not only the centrality of justification by faith in Paul’s theology, but challenges the reformed (Lutheran & Calvinistic) interpretations of the Paul.

This challenge has been called the “New Perspective on Paul.”

New Perspective on Paul 

Old Perspective on Paul

Paul’s theology is driven by ecclesiology.

Paul’s theology is driven by soteriology.

Justification is both juridical and participatory.

Justification is primarily juridical.

Justification is the declaration of membership in God’s covenant family.

Justification is the declaration of a right relationship with God.

Judaism was a religion of grace.

Judaism was a religion of legalism.

Paul redefines Jewish thought/categories.

Paul rejects Jewish thought/categories.

Righteousness is “covenant faithfulness.”

Righteousness is a moral quality or legal standing.

God’s righteousness is his faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham.

God’s righteousness is his moral integrity.

We embody God’s righteousness.

We receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

The Gospel is the proclamation of Christ’s lordship through his death, resurrection, and ascension.

The Gospel is the proclamation of justification by faith through grace communicated through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

2. Methods to understanding Paul’s theology
a. History: Paul in the setting of second temple Judaism (Jewish, Roman, Greek influences)
b. Exegesis: Interpreting Paul’s writings in the light of Paul’s historical context
c. Application/relevance: How Paul was understood by his contemporaries?

3. Methods to understanding Paul’s worldview
a. Praxis: What were the common practices in Paul’s world?
b. Symbol: What key symbols filled Paul’s world?
c. Story: What narratives shaped Paul’s imagination?
d. Question: What were the BIG questions people were asking in Paul’s world?

4. The contrast
Theology is our core beliefs about God, his world, and the people he has created. Worldview is the way we look at the world, how we assign value to things (or people), how we prioritize and categorize thoughts. Theology are the constructed evaluations we have made or accepted based on our worldview. Theology is conscious. Worldview is subconscious. Theology is the evaluation of what we are looking at. Worldview is what we are looking through.

D. Final thoughts
N.T. Wright envisions Paul and the Faithfulness of God to be an attempt to reconcile theology and history. The predominant modern Protestant interpretation of Paul was based in 16th century issues. Wright wants to revisit Paul in the context of the first century. “We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions.” – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture (2014), 26

 

Following Jesus: A Brief Look at the Word of Life Church Story

People are crazy and times are strange 
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
- Bob Dylan

Come follow me.
 - Jesus

The Word of Life Church story has been 33 years in the making. It has been a story filled with drama, mystery, certitude, and searching and seeking with an evolving cast of characters. I have been on staff, serving as the Pastor of Discipleship, for only three years, but I know the story. I attended this church in the 1990s during a  time of numeric growth and now I have the privilege of serving this church as one of the pastors during a more mature time of spiritual growth. It has been nothing more than the story of a people following Jesus.

Our church began in St. Joseph, Missouri without much fanfare in 1981. Brian Zahnd, our lead pastor, was 22 years-old and he, and his wife Peri, hadn’t been married very long when they started the church. Brian had been leading Bible studies since he was 15 and as a young adult he was one of the leaders of a coffee house style ministry in St. Joseph. Brian and Peri started the church because they were following Jesus. They were products of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, a nation-wide resurgence of vibrant Christian faith among young people interested in all things Jesus. Our church was born out of the hearts of people who were enthusiastically following Jesus. The atmosphere in those days was revivalistic. Jesus was capturing the attention of so many and we wanted so desperately to be a part of what he was doing. The mood was electric among the meager congregation who believed God was at work in our church.

The close affinity between the Jesus Movement and the Charismatic Renewal led us to incorporate charismatic distinctives into our faith and practice. In the late 80s and early 90s the church began to experience numeric growth which was accompanied by changes. Staff was added. We relocated to a larger venue for our worship services. Our journey through charismatic Christianity brought us into the “word of faith” branch of that movement. We wanted to follow Jesus in what we saw him doing: preaching the gospel, healing the sick, establishing people in the victory of God, and bringing people into an authentic experience with God. By the mid-1990s the atmosphere was thick with excitement. The general tone of our preaching and teaching was one of faith and victory. It wasn’t long before we became a mega church of the charismatic word-of-faith variety. We bought land. Built (through much struggle) a large ministry complex and continued to add people who wanted to be a part of our church.

By the turn of the century, we had experienced success as a church, at least “success” as defined by the church growth experts of the 1990s. In 2004, things began to change…again. In the midst of our outward success, there was a growing longing for something more substantive than we were experiencing. Our lead pastor had for some time been reading historical theology and the church fathers, men who were following Jesus a long time ago. He started with Augustine and then moved on to Athanasius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and the other Cappadocian Fathers. He stumbled on a deeper, richer, sacramental faith. We began to remove layers of varnish from the Jesus we were following and we found a Jesus much more compelling, much more challenging than the Jesus we knew. Without the cultural assumptions we had thrust upon him, we discovered a beautiful Jesus and a beautiful Gospel. We couldn’t stay the same; things had changed. So we packed our bags and moved on from the charismatic/word of faith movement. Some people wrestled with the changes and stayed; others wrestled and left. Jesus has continued to be gracious to us and we are beginning to see a depth of growth and spiritual formation we hadn’t seen in years past. It seems like we are growing up.

So what has changed in the last ten or eleven years? The simple answer is much has changed, but one thing has remained consistent: our desire to take up our cross and follow Jesus wherever he is leading.

We learned much from the charismatic movement, but we discovered that Jesus’ work is not limited to that one single stream. Jesus has been building his church for 2,000 years and it is filled with diverse beauty. We have come to discover Jesus among the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, and Charismatic Christians. We have rediscovered the central and essential practice of communion in our worship gatherings. We have seen Jesus in his reign over a peaceable kingdom. We have rejected the divisive “us vs. them” way of looking at people and conflicts. We have learned to be quiet and contemplative in addition to being raucous and celebratory. We have grown in appreciation of the liturgical calendar and the ancient practices that have sustained the church from the beginning. We have grown to see God’s work in community within our church instead of measuring success by the crowds at our events. We have rejected certitude and embraced mystery, while being guided by the creeds and ecumenical councils of the church. We now hear the Gospel not as the instructions on how to go to heaven when we die, but a bold proclamation of a new day, a new creation coming with the reign of Jesus as the world’s true Lord. We have learned to love the Bible as the inspired witness to Jesus who is the Word made flesh. We have not arrived, so we continue to pray the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. We continue to learn and grow and struggle as Jesus is being formed in us. So we wait to see where Jesus will lead us next.

For more information on our journey, check out this interview by Trevin Wax: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/06/28/from-word-faith-to-the-church-fathers-a-conversation-with-brian-zahnd/

Why I Don’t Pray for Revival

Nineteenth Century Methodist Campmeeting

There was a time in the early days of my faith, in the days of my spiritual adolescence, where I prayed (often) for revival, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to grip people with religious fervor so that those outside the faith would be compelled to pay attention. I prayed these kinds of prayers for a long time. Recently I realized I don’t pray for revival or spiritual awakening anymore. I still pray, but a request for revival hasn’t crossed my lips for years. As I realized this absent request in my life of prayer, I checked myself: Have I grown cold? Have I grown complacent? Am I backslidden? Does my love for God no longer compel me to desire his work be done on the earth? Am I lazy? Distracted? Unfocused? Have I lost my way? After a prayerful examination of my heart, I must answer “no.”

So why have these prayers vanished from my “prayer list”?

The reasons for not praying for revival are many. Before I share these, I must emphasize these are my reasons. I am not implying praying for revival is a bad thing per se. I am not implying you shouldn’t pray for it. Feel free to pray according for to your conscience. I simply want you to consider praying in a different way. Here are my reasons:

I don’t pray for revival, because I don’t think I ever knew exactly what I was praying for. I can recall many prayers for revival in the past, but I cannot pin down exactly what was in my imagination when I was praying those prayers. I read a lot about the history of revival in North America. I was well aware of the First Great Awakening, Cane Ridge Revival, the Second Great Awakening, the Azusa Street Revival, the Revival at Asbury College in the 1970s. I read Winkie Pratney’s Revival (1984) and the more academic Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard F. Lovelace (1979). Good books. I still have them on my shelf, but for whatever reason, the subject of revival was never very clear in my mind when I was praying. Maybe this was fault. In my mind when I was praying for revival, I imagined a large number of Christian people (it was always a large number, always a crowd) repenting of sin with demonstrative, emotional outbursts. For me the emphasis was more on the crowds and the emotional fervor than what God may, or may not, have been doing. Perhaps I had an incomplete or misguided imagination of what revival is. I could be wrong, but I suppose most people think of crowds and emotionally-charged meetings when they think of revival.

I don’t pray for revival, because I have learned the primary purpose of prayer is for me to be properly formed. Prayers for revival are certainly requests telling God what he should do and how he should do it. Don’t misunderstand me: prayer includes making our requests known to God. No problems there, but obsessively praying for revival didn’t form me into the image of Jesus. Praying with a misplaced priority on requests for revival formed me into an irritated, angry, judgmental kind of person. Yuck! I remember the anxiety I felt in praying over and over again for revival and not seeing it! Not seeing the crowds. Not seeing the emotional displays of real love for God. Yes I used the word “real,” because I had become so judgmental that I began to question people’s love for God by how much emotional-affection they displayed. “Why does revival tarry?” asked Leonard Ravenhill. It had something to do with lazy Christians who would rather eat dinner with their friends and occasional sinners! Lazy Christians who would rather go to post-wedding parties where (gasp!) wine was served! Lazy Christians who wasted their time reclining after a large meal with friends instead of praying for revival! (Oh wait. I think I just described Jesus.) Maybe others can pray for revival and not become bitter and aggravated and judgmental. I couldn’t. Rather it seems like I have become more content and less-judgmental, more like Jesus, since I have learned to pray another way.

I don’t pray for revival, because I came to reject chaotic emotional spontaneity as the de facto work of the Holy Spirit. I celebrate the launching of the church into her mission in the world by the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. I read the New Testament (and the entire Bible) through the lens of the the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. I depend on the power, presence, and activity of the Spirit in all of the operations of the church life. To be honest, I personally depend on the Spirit’s power and presence to form me into a husband and dad that reflects the beauty of Jesus in my family life. Nevertheless, I have learned the importance of discerning the difference between an emotional experience and a spiritual experience. I do believe the Holy Spirit has free reign over God’s people to do whatever he wants to do in whatever way he chooses to do it. I do not doubt his presence can overwhelm the emotions and work in such a way that by-passes our plans. I have experienced such encounters with the Spirit. My point is we face an inherent danger if we assume this is the only, or even the primary, way the Spirit works. If we pray for a revival, an outpouring of God’s spirit, and the emotional spontaneity is not there, we will face the temptation to fake it. By “fake it,” I don’t mean we intentionally manipulate people for an emotional response (though regrettably such manipulation happens), rather we enter into some strange sort of psychological drama, conjuring up an emotional reaction and calling it “revival.” I want to be aware of, and submitted to, the presence of God’s Spirit, but I don’t want to fake it.

I don’t pray for revival, because Jesus never commands us to pray for it. Surprisingly Jesus never tells us to pray for what we commonly call “revival.” I know, I know there are many things we pray for that Jesus didn’t specifically tell us to pray for, but throughout the New Testament we don’t see prayers for revival. Yes, we see prayers for the coming of the Spirit, prayers for the work of Jesus to come on the earth, prayers for the kingdom of God to come, prayers for the church, but from my reading, we do not see anything in the New Testament resembling a prayer for a group of people to fall on their knees and cry out for God with tears in their eyes and contrition in their voices. The concept of “revival” was born out of Christendom in Western Christianity, in a place where Christianity was the assumed religion, where Christians needed some mechanism, some construct, to identify authentic Christians from among nominal Christians. I understand that need. We don’t live there anymore. We, in North America, live in a post-Christian, post-Christendom world. We are much more like the pre-Nicene church of the first couple of centuries growing and spreading throughout the pagan empire without a “revival” in the modern sense of the word.

I don’t pray for revival, because I tend to pray kingdom-minded prayers. So much of my faith and prayer life began to change when I began to see the kingdom, when I began to see the rule and reign of Jesus on earth through the church. I first began to see the kingdom as a seminary student at Oral Roberts University, a school “forged in the fires of healing evangelism.” I began to see the healing ministry of Jesus connected to his proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus “performed” miracles not to appease the interest of the crowd or even to prove his divinity. He healed people, often by a miracle touch, to demonstrate the very real presence of the kingdom of God in and among the crowd. Jesus revealed the kingdom comes like a seed not like a circus. I know I am running the risk of constructing a caricature, but it seems like much of the talk about “revival,” particularly within modern Pentecostalism, is loud, noisy, and centered-around the platform. I do not believe this image is true among all Pentecostal/charismatics, but there is at least a few pockets in that movement who see “revival” in terms of a sensational circus built around celebrity ministry super-stars. The kingdom of God is NOT like the sensational circus. The kingdom is like yeast in the dough that makes the bread rise. It is like seed planted in a garden. It is like a treasure buried in a field sought by a man who for joy (an emotional reaction!) sold all he had and bought the field. Prayers for revival are more centered around personal spiritual encounters than the kingdom of God. As I continue to see the kingdom, I continue to pray kingdom-minded prayers. I haven’t prayed for revival for years, but I pray “may your kingdom come” nearly every day.

I don’t pray for revival, because often “revival” does not build up the church. It seems like my prayers for revival began to diminish when my prayers for the church increased. I love the church. I love the church not only for what the church has done for me, but because Jesus loves the church and his work through the Spirit is to build his church. From my experience, “revivals” do not build the church long term. The First and Second Great Awakenings produced undeniable marks on the religious consciousness of eighteenth and nineteenth century America, but what churches were born of those revivals? Jonathan Edwards’ revival in the early eighteenth century was among the Congregationalists, a movement that, to my knowledge, no longer exists. Conversely, the Methodist movement (which was a revival movement of sorts) not only featured open-air meetings, but a methodological (pun intended!) approach to church planting. The Azusa Street Revival did in fact produce lots of churches and denominations. I cannot deny the lasting effects of the seminal modern Pentecostal revival. However, I have heard of too many Pentecostal revivals that draw big crowds but leave the host church devastated. Those who focus their prayer life on revival easily become (as I did) irritated, aggravated, and critical. Too often they end up blaming the institutional church or established churches for the lack of revival and thus become embittered towards the church. They form their separate prayer groups, praying for revival, but they refuse to participate fully in one local church because they cannot find a church “spiritually-minded” enough. The Spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost launched the church and this same Spirit empowers the church. So we pray for the Spirit to come. We pray for Christ to come.

So how do I pray?

I pray for the kingdom to come.
I pray for God’s mercy to cleanse and defend the church.
I pray for people to seek after and find Jesus.
I pray for God to bring the nations into his fold.
I pray for the Spirit to be outpoured on all flesh.
I pray God would hasten the coming of his kingdom.
Most of all, I pray that I may be conformed, by the Spirit, into the image of Jesus for the joy of God the Father.

If by “revival” you mean, like J.I. Packer, an ongoing flow of grace where by:
1. God comes down.
2. God’s Word pierces.
3. Man’s sin is seen.
4. Christ’s cross is valued.
5. Change goes deep.
6. Love breaks out.
7. Joy fills hearts.
8. Each church becomes itself—becomes, that is, the people of the divine presence in an experiential, as distinct from merely notional, sense.
9. The lost are found.*
…then fine by me, pray for these things.

But if by revival, you mean something else than the church becoming itself, then I encourage you to pray for something else.

If you are interested in growing in your prayer life, come join us for our Prayer School with Brian Zahnd, Friday & Saturday, October 17-18, 2014. Cost is only $20. Register here: https://prayerschool.wolc.com/#register

(*List complied by Justin Taylor http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/02/17/what-is-revival/)

 

The Peaceable Jesus I Have Come to See: A Response to Michael Kennedy

I am thrilled to be able to move a Twitter conversation (with its 140-character limitation) to the blog. This post is a response to my friend Pastor Michael Kennedy who leads Crosspoint Community Church in Dublin, Georgia. We began a conversation on Twitter in response to Brian Zahnd’s blog post: “What if Hitler Invaded Your House?,” a discussion on the two common objections to Christian nonviolence, i.e. what about Hitler and the Nazis? and what about an intruder in your home?

Michael wrote a respectful, biblical critique of Brian’s vision of Christian nonviolence: “A Jesus I Don’t Recognize (My Response to Brian Zahnd)” a response which critiques Brian position. Brian and I share the same view of Christian nonviolence, and because Michael and I are friends, I gladly offer my response. (Please read Michael’s blog post before continuing with mine.)

Michael’s critique is organized around three points:

  • Championing a Jesus of peace without emphasizing the justice of God is problematic.
  • We are both Jesus and Pilate.
  • Lasting peace will only be present when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom.

I am not going to respond line-by-line to everything in Michael’s post, but I will respond to each of these main points.

1) Championing a Jesus of peace without emphasizing the justice of God is problematic; true, but justice can be accomplished without war.
Brian does preach a Jesus of peace and while he may not have emphasized justice in the blog post on home invasion or in his book A Farewell to Mars, he did address the issue of justice in Unconditional? in Chapter 6 “Forgiveness and Justice.” Justice is indeed the other side of the coin and is connected inextricably to peace. In Jesus “justice and peace kiss” (Psalm 85:10). Jesus is the one Isaiah spoke of calling him both the “prince of peace” and the one who would rule with justice (Isaiah 9:5-7). Rejecting war as a plausible means of shaping the world is not the same thing as rejecting justice. The justice of God can come upon the earth without the shedding of blood. Indeed the reign of Messiah according to Isaiah would be a rule where the “every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:5). Where Michael and I disagree perhaps is when Jesus’ rule begins, but I will save my comments on this disagreement for the end. The justice of God—God setting to right a world gone wrong—is connected to the Jesus’ primary teaching theme: the kingdom of God. Therefore there is no separating peace from justice.

My question about justice is: Do we see the justice of God in Christ as more punitive or restorative? I suppose Michael sees justice as more punitive, but I see Jesus—in the tradition of God’s dealings with Israel—as promoting a justice that is restorative. More of a punitive view of justice led to Michael’s statement: “The entire reason Jesus came to this earth was to satisfy the justice of God.” This is a bit of an overstatement. It seems like Michael’s views on atonement theory (i.e. penal substitutionary atonement) has overshadowed the gospel writers’ presentation of Jesus and why he came. Atonement theories are numerous and important. I am fine with making room at the table for a certain version of penal substitution, but we cannot allow our theories to overshadow the Jesus revealed in the gospel texts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not present a Jesus whose central role in the incarnation was to satisfy the justice of God. In John’s gospel, for example, we see Jesus who comes to reveal God. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus comes primarily to show us what God is like, to save the world, to be the bread from heaven that brings eternal life. In this revealing, saving work, there is justice, a condemnation upon those who do not believe (John 3:17), but not a condemnation without the declaration of love (John 3:16) and the extension of mercy.

Furthermore, mercy-giving and peace-making are not acts of passivity. At this point it would be helpful to define some terms. By “peace,” I am referring to “non-violence” and by “violence” I mean “exertion of physical force so as to injure, harm, or abuse.” Jesus was consistently non-violent. Yes, Jesus drove out the money-changers from the temple. Yes, he turned over their tables. Yes (according to John and John only), he did so with a homemade whip in hand. My question is this: Was the actions of Jesus in the temple an act of mafia-style intimidation or an act prophetic judgment upon the temple itself? To say Jesus was trying to use force to intimidate people would be inconsistent with the Jesus we see everywhere else throughout the gospels. His actions in the temple with the money-changers were dynamic. They were demonstrative, but they were not “violent” in that he was not attempting to harm or injury anyone either physically or psychologically. Jesus’ actions in the temple would not be considered violent in his historic context. Many Galilean would-be Messiahs had already come, waged wars (armed revolts), and were dead and gone. The zealots (Jews ready to liberate Israel by violence) were popular in the day of Jesus, but Jesus did not join their ranks. Whenever Jesus was given the opportunity to use violence or sanction violence he refused. He taught us to love our enemies not kill them (Matt. 5:44). He rebuked James and John who suggested calling down fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54). He refused to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:11). He challenged the Judeans who were seeking to kill him, condemning their intentions as of the devil (John 8:44). At his arrest he shouted “No more of this!” when disciples wanted to strike with the sword (Luke 22:49-50). Then at the cross he chose the supreme act of non-violence by dying with words of forgiveness, and not vengeance, on his lips (Luke 23:45). At the cross, Jesus demonstrated for us that non-violence is anything but passive. In his suffering, he gave us an example to follow (1 Peter 2:21).

2) We are both Pilate and Jesus; sorta, but ultimately we are followers of Jesus.
I understand the use of the metaphor “We are both Pilate and Jesus,” but I am a bit uncomfortable with seeing ourselves as Pilate. Michael’s point is that we, as citizens as a republic-style government, are much more involved in the State than Christians in the days of the Roman Empire, so we should see ourselves as Pilate the representative of the State. Michael’s argument is: God has put the sword in the hands of the State. We, as US citizens, are the State. Therefore the sword is in our hands.

We are citizens in a republic where we have a voice in the State, but the way the New Testament talks about the State is as an entity separate from the church. Indeed this was the Church/State relationship for the first three centuries of the church until Constantine and the subsequent merging of the Christian Church with the Roman Empire, a horrible disaster for the church which I do not have the space to address in this blog post. My point is we have to read the texts (like Romans 13) in their historical context seeing the Church as distinct from the State. If not, I fear we will misunderstand Romans 13 and other texts and miss some of the central teachings of Jesus.

One helpful practice is to separate out the Christian “we” from the American “we,” when talking about political theology. We, the Christian “we,” should be the voice of Christ to the nation in which we reside. We should be a prophetic voice for truth and justice. We should feel free to participate (or not participate) in the politics of this nation as our consciences allow because we, the American “we,” are citizens here. BUT our core identity comes from our position in Christ. Our most primary citizenship is from heaven. Our deepest allegiance is to his kingdom. The kingdom of Christ—which is not here in fullness—is, nevertheless, a kingdom of peace as Michael noted. In the overlap of ages between this present evil age and the age to come shouldn’t we be informed by the age to come making ethical decisions based on kingdom values? I agree “it is necessary for someone to stand up against evil,” but we, the Christian “we,” can stand up against evil without violence. Isn’t this the example we see in Jesus at the cross? He made a stand against evil without a single act of violence. Can nations do this in the modern world? I think post-apartheid South Africa is a modern example of how evil can be defeated and justice be served non-violently. Of course Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are examples too. We may indeed have to suffer. Our children may indeed have to suffer, but Jesus invited us to follow him carrying crosses—implements of execution—on the way.

The problem with Constantinianism (and to a lesser degree the Just War Theory) is we become scripted to see war as a legitimate response to global problems. When war (or violent acts) are an option, we lack the imagination (and yes imagination, a renewed imagination, is essential for Christians who submit to a King who is ruling the earth from heaven and will come again to rule on earth) to think through non-violent solutions.

Michael’s comment: “In every war, there is a side that is right and a side that is wrong” is a sweeping generality, which does not hold up to historical evidence. I am no expert in the history of war but from my limited knowledge it seems that Solzhenitsyn’s axiom is true: the dividing line between good and evil does not run between nations but through the heart of every human being. It seems to me that most (maybe “most” is a generality on my part?) nations in a war see themselves as “good” and the enemy as “wrong/evil.” This is the fundamental flaw of war in general, and Constantinianism (i.e. “God’s on the side of my nation”) in particular, we normally justify our acts of violence, which only fuels the ongoing cycle of war. Never has this flaw been so clearly seen as in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides see themselves as recipients of injustice. Both sides see the justness of their cause and the evilness of the enemy. Both sides sense a god-given responsibility to condone good and punish evil and so the un-banned cannonballs continue to fly and innocent people suffer. Jesus is the judge of the nations and he will judge the masters of war. When we mistakenly see ourselves as both Pilate and Jesus, we fool ourselves into thinking we can always judge the right side and the wrong side in a war. Jesus will come to judge the living in the dead. Until then, Jesus has already showed us a better way than war; it is the way of enemy-love, the way of reconciliation and justice, the way of peace. I imagine Jesus weeping now as he did as he entered into Jerusalem, lamenting that humanity has not learned the things that make for peace.

3) Lasting peace will only be present when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom, yes, but Jesus has already begun setting up his reign through the church.
I agree with Michael’s comment he made regarding our dual identity as Pilate and Jesus: “We submit to our government until the government requires from us what we cannot do as citizens of the God’s kingdom.” But I ask: Is the kingdom of Christ a violent or non-violent kingdom? It is a kingdom of justice (even punitive justice) and peace, but is it a violent kingdom where Jesus rules by war and violence? Scripture demands we answer “no.” I am a citizen of a peaceable kingdom and therefore I cannot, in good conscience, kill on behalf of the nation where I live. While those of us who advocate peace are accused of an over-realized eschatology those who subscribe to a Constantinianism-view of political theology can be accused of an UNDER-realized eschatology. It seems that Micahel and I are viewing things from opposite ends of the classic “already/not yet” spectrum. We may disagree to what degree the kingdom has come but we cannot disagree on the nature of the kingdom. If we are being formed by a non-violent kingdom then it follows we would live as a non-violent people.

Before I am accused of holding to an over-realized eschatology, let me make this clear: I understand we live in a violent world. If an intruder enters my home intent on doing my family harm, I will use all the strength I have to subdue him, but I not making any plans to kill him. On a large scale, I understand we need law enforcement, men and women, who use the act of force to “condone good and punish evil,” ( I am reading Romans 13 in the context of a State policing its own citizens and not waging war against other nations), but as followers of Christ we should be the voice of moral constraint calling for the least amounts of violence as possible. We should look at acts of violence with shock and disgust. They are a part of the world that is passing away. We are being formed into the image of a peaceable Jesus who is presenting ruling over a peaceable kingdom. His kingdom will come in its fullness and so we wait and pray “May your kingdom come, may your will be done.” And until then, we embody his peaceable kingdom in the way we live, which leads us enviably down a path of non-violence.