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  • 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.


  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 5: Election, Righteousness, and Faithfulness

    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 fifth 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: Election, Righteousness, and Faithfulness
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 10, Sections 1-3

    I. Defining “Election” in Paul’s Theology
    Election means “choosing,” but not in the sense of voting. Election-as-choosing for Paul is not what is reflected in Calvinism in their doctrine of predestination whereby God has chosen some for salvation (the elect) and chosen other for damnation (the reprobate). “The word ‘election’, as applied to Israel, usually carries a further connotation: not simply the divine choice of this people, but more specifically the divine choice of this people for a particular purpose.” (775) In other words, election for Paul is about vocation not salvation.

    As with monotheism, election for Paul is a Jewish concept that has been redefined around Jesus the Messiah. Election includes salvation, that act of God rescuing, healing, and justifying. Justification is the act of God as judge in a court of law pronouncing “in the right” those who are guilty. “Paul’s thought is best understood in terms of the revision, around Messiah and spirit, of the fundamental categories and structures of second-temple jewish understanding; and that this ‘revision,’ precisely because of the drastic nature of the Messiah’s death and resurrection, and the freshly given power of the spirit, is not mere minor adjustment, but a radically new state of affairs, albeit one which had always been promised in Torah, prophets,and Psalms.” (783)

    Israel’s purpose: bear God’s image and tend to God’s world, a direct echo of Adam’s purpose:

    Adam was given a garden.

    Israel was given land.

    Adam received commands.

    Israel received commands.

    Adam disobeyed.

    Israel disobeyed.

    Adam was exiled.

    Israel was exiled.

    God came by the Messiah and the Spirit to do what Adam and Israel could not do. In this sense, Jesus and the Spirit do not replace Israel, but fulfill Israel’s vocation.

    II. Defining “Righteousness” in Paul’s Theology
    N.T. Wright uses the word “covenant” in his definition of “righteousness.”  By covenant he means Abraham as the answer to Adam, that is, the promise made to Abraham to form him into a great nation whereby God would bless (save) the nations of the world, a promise expressly seen in the Exodus event.  “Righteousness” in Paul’s writing can mean:
    1) right behavior: …one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Romans 5:18)
    2) legal status: Those who receive…the free gift of righteousness… (Romans 5:17)
    3) moral character (in reference to people): For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
    4) covenant faithfulness (in reference to God): But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… (Romans 3:21)

    A better English word for the Greek work dikaiosune (most often translated “righteousness”) is “just” or “justice.” Examples: His actions were just. Justice will prevail. As a parent, he is just. When we speak of God’s righteousness we are speaking of his covenant faithfulness and/or his restorative justice. God’s own righteousness is his faithfulness to his covenant to bless the world through the people of Abraham. (See Isaiah 9:7, 42:6)

    III. Israel’s Election as the People of God
    God’s righteousness is connected to the job of Israel to be the instrument by which God would save the world. “Yahweh’s choice of Israel as his people, was aimed not simply at Israel itself, but at the wider and larger purposes which this God intended to fulfill through Israel. Israel is God’s servant; and the point of having a servant is not that the servant becomes one’s best friend, though that may happen too, but in order that, through the work of the servant, one may get things done.” (804)

    Through Israel the one God, the God of creation, the God of Israel intended to bring his righteous rule to the entire world. This promise has been fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit upon the body of Messiah, the church. Does this mean the people of Messiah have replaced the people of Abraham as the people of God (so-called “Replacement Theology”)? No. Jesus doesn’t replace Israel. The church doesn’t replace Israel. Jesus is after all Israel’s Messiah. He does not replace Israel, but embodies Israel and fulfills Israel’s vocation, since this was the purpose of election in the beginning. In fulfilling Israel’s mission, Jesus redefines what it means to be Israel. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29 ESV)

    IV. Messiah as the Focus of Election
    Messiah is the location where the one God of Abraham (monotheism) and the one people of Abraham (election) met. When Paul proclaims Jesus as Messiah he is demonstrating how the entire purpose of Israel’s election has found its termination point. Paul draws on royal passages from Psalms and Isaiah in speaking of Jesus (See Romans 15:8-12; Psalm 18:49, 117:1; Isaiah 11:10). Christ (whenever you read “Christ” think “Messiah”) came as God’s servant to confirm the promises of Israel, so Gentiles would see God’s mercy. Messiah brings the end (the termination point) of the law (Romans 10:4), bringing the long awaited ending to Israel’s story.

    Paul uses incorporative language in talking about Messiah. “Jesus, as Messiah, has drawn together the identity and vocation of Israel upon himself.” (825) In other words, Jesus as Messiah incorporates BOTH the defining markers of what it meant to be the people of God and the job the people of God were to fulfill. Israel was God’s servant, so Israel’s Messiah was God’s servant. What could be said of Israel, could be said of Messiah. Jesus was Israel in the flesh.

    “To be ‘in the king,’ or now, for Paul, ‘in the anointed one,’ the Messiah, is to be part of the people over which he rules, but also part of the people who are defined by him, by what has happened to him, by what the one God has promised him.” (830) To be in Christ, i.e. in Messiah, is to be in “Israel” as the people of God. This Israel is a redefined, but not replaced Israel, redefined according to the Hebrew prophets to be a people of a new covenant, living in a new age. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16 ESV)

    So what about the Torah, the Jewish law? “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:24-29 ESV)

    “Paul regarded Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, and that he saw and expressed that belief in terms of Messiah’s summing up of Israel in himself, thereby launching a new solidarity in which all those ‘in him’ would be characterized by his ‘faithfulness’, expressed in terms of his death and resurrection.” (835)

    V. Jesus the Faithful Messiah in Romans 3 and 4
    “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Greek: pisteos Iesou Christou) for all who believe. For there is no distinction.” (Romans 3:22 ESV)

    Should we translate this as “faith in Jesus Christ” or the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ?” Wright says the the latter. “The faithfulness which was required of Israel, but not provided, has now been provided by Israel’s representative, the Messiah.” (837)

    Back up to Romans 2:24-29. This text sets the context for our interpretive question in 3:22. The context a question itself: Who is a Jew? Answer: “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (2:24-29 ESV) Paul here radically redefines what it means to be a member of the chosen people of God (i.e. a Jew).

    We continue with Paul’s thought process into Romans 3. “Then what advantage has the Jew?” (3:1)  Answer: “Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (3:2) Then Paul asks, “What if some were unfaithful (in their vocation)? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (Romans 3:3). The context here is the faithfulness of Israel and the faithfulness of God.

    Romans 3:9-20 makes it clear that Israel shares in the failure of humanity to reflect God’s image. Israel too is under sin. Israel has not been faithful to the oracles of God entrusted to them. “If the covenant God is going to bless the world through Israel, he needs a faithful Israelite.” (839) Now we return to Romans 3:22. First Paul writes that the righteousness of God, that is God’s covenant faithfulness, has been manifested apart from the Jewish Law, even though the law points to it. And now Romans 3:22: “God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith.” (Kingdom New Testament)

    It is not faith in Jesus that demonstrates God’s righteousness (covenant faithfulness/justice), but rather the faithfulness of Jesus. Personal faith is still necessary if we are to be justified, which is why Paul writes “for all who believe” (Romans 3:22 ESV). Israel has been unfaithful. Jesus the Messiah as Israel-in-person proudly wears the badge of faithfulness. Faith, and not the law, then becomes the badge worn by the Messiah-people who are identified as the people of God. In wearing the badge of faith, human beings — both Jews and Gentiles — are justified. (More on this later.)

    The faithfulness of God has been demonstrated through the redemption that is in the Messiah Jesus by his blood (3:25). Redemption language draws upon Jewish imagery, the celebrated passover event, where God rescues Israel from Egyptian slavery. God has passed over sin, but sin has been dealt with at the cross. We are now justified, set right, not by the law demonstrated by actions, but the law demonstrated by faith, because faith in Jesus sums up the law, it brings the law to its intended purpose (3:31).

    The issue in Paul’s redefinition of election (those chosen to be the people of God who carry out the mission of God on the earth) is to make the point “Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also…” (Romans 3:29 ESV) The language used by Paul fits into both juridical and participationist categories.

    Juridical = having to do with legal status, a courtroom metaphor
    Participationist = having to do with human participation, a relational metaphor

    We are justified by faith apart from the law (3:28). This statement implies we are “reckoned to be within the justified people, those whom this God has declared ‘righteous’, ‘forgiven’, ‘members of the covenant’, on the basis of pistis (faith) alone.” (847)

    VI. Faithfulness and Justification
    A person is not justified by works of the law but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:16)  “Justification is all about being declared to be a member of God’s people; and this people is defined in relation to the Messiah himself.” (856) When we are justified we are “declared to be in the right” and thus members of God’s covenant community.

    Those who rely on the works of the law as the badge of membership in the family of God are under a curse, but Jesus redeems us from the curse by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) so that God’s promise to Abraham could come true and the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles (i.e. the nations, the people of the entire world). Jesus’ redeeming death is how he demonstrates God’s faithfulness to the covenant.

    So why then the law (the Torah)? (Galatians 3:19) In a word: sin. The Torah served as as a stand-in, a babysitter, until Messiah came. “Torah offered life, it could not give it — not through its own fault, but through the sinful human nature of the Israel to which it had been given.” (871) The law was necessary, but temporary. It created two families where the one God desired one people. “How do we know that this God desires that single family? Because God is one….Monotheism, freshly understood through Messiah and spirit, provides the ground and source for the fresh christological understanding of election.” (872) The law was not wrong. It was not opposed to the promises of God, but because of human sinfulness (including the sins of Israel) it was bound to enslave God’s people.

    VII. Messiah’s Action and Our Participation as the People of God
    “God’s covenantal purpose to bless the world through Israel – has been accomplished through the Messiah.” (879) God acted in and through Jesus the Messiah and as Messiah’s people we participate in what he has done.

    “He died for all (Messiah’s achievement), that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (the implementation and our participation).” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV)

    “God through Christ reconciled us to himself (Messiah’s action) and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (our participation)…” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV)

    “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin (Messiah’s action), so that in him we might become (embody) the righteousness of God (our participation).” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

    The death of the Messiah brought sin, the plight, to a single point where it could be condemned and its power broken. “For God has does what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (God’s work through Messiah’s action), in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (our participation).” (Romans 8:3 ESV) “The cross is, for Paul, the sign of the centre: the centre for Israel, the centre for humankind. It is the middle of everywhere, the definite line which refocuses edge-lured minds, the axis of everything.” (910)

    VIII. Final Thoughts
    Monotheism, the one reign of the one God of Israel, informs Paul’s understand of election — God’s one promise to bless the world by choosing one nation, Israel, to reflect his glory in his world. “The elect” in Paul’s writings refers to the people of God identified by faith who have received the task of being the instruments of salvation, reconciliation, and healing of God’s good, but broken, world.

  • Prayer of Irenaeus

    Prayer to God the Father
    A Prayer of Irenaeus

    I appeal to you, Lord,
    God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob and Israel,
    You the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Infinitely merciful as you are, it is your will that we should learn to know you.
    You made heaven and earth, you rule supreme over all that is.
    You are the true, the only God; there is no other god above you.

    Through our Lord Jesus Christ…and the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
    grant that all who read what I have written here may know you,
    because you alone are God; let them draw strength from you;
    keep them from all the teaching that is heretical, irreligious or godless.


    (Taken from Early Christian PrayersEdited by A. Hamman, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1961, 30-31)

  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 4: Monotheism Redefined in Light of Jesus and the Spirit

    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 fourth 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

    This section begins N.T. Wright’s discussion of Paul’s theology around three central themes: monotheism, election, and eschatology. This section discusses Jewish monotheism.

    Part 4: Monotheism Redefined in Light of Jesus and the Spirit
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 9

    I. Introduction to Paul’s Theology
    “Worldview and theology go together in a chicken-and-egg sort of way, as opposed to a fish-and-chips sort of way.” (609) Paul’s theology is shaped by his worldview and when we look at his theology we begin to see his worldview in vivid detail.

    Paul’s theology is built around three primary elements of Jewish theology: monotheism, election, and eschatology. Paul did not reject Jewish elements of life and thought, but he “rethought, reworked and reimagined them around Jesus the Messiah on the one hand and the Spirit on the other.” (612)

    A. Monotheism: the worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the creator God rethought in light of Jesus and the Spirit (Part 4)

    B. Election: God’s calling and vocation for Israel to be the one people of the one God reworked through Jesus’ work to build his church through the Spirit (Part 5-6)

    C. Eschatology: God’s future for God’s world reimagined through the coming of Messiah and the outpouring of the Spirit of Messiah (Parts 7-8)

    II. Jewish Monotheism during Second Temple Judaism
    “God the creator, God of Israel…is the constant refrain, not least for those who believe themselves to be living in a continuing ‘exile.’ Their God is the true God, and his rescue of Israel will reveal the fact to the nations.” (622) Jewish monotheism is connected to Jewish kingdom theology (i.e. the kingdom of God). The one God of Israel will rescue Israel and demonstrate his rulership over the nations. The oneness of God was not a reference to the inner nature of God (ontology), but to God’s supremacy over all other gods and rulers (politics).

    III. Paul’s Reaffirmation of Monotheism
    “Empires thrive on religious relativism; the more gods the better, since the more there are the less likely they are to challenge the ruling ideology.” (634) In the spirit of second temple Judaic monotheism, Paul expressed the cry of monotheism in a pagan world in passages like Roman 3:29-30: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, God is one—(and he) will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”

    If we take the Jewish Shema (Hear O Israel the LORD your God is one and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.) as the cornerstone of Jewish monotheism, we hear echos of it in places like Romans 8:28 “to those who love God….”

    Paul further affirms monotheism in his reference to God as the creator and judge of the world as Jewish monotheism is best expressed not in speculative thoughts about the nature of God, but the actions of God in history (e.g. creation and judgment). See Romans 1:19; 11:33-36; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28

    IV. Monotheism Rethought through Jesus

    A. Thoughts on Christology (the study of the person and work of Christ)
    Some have speculated that the early Christians, including those of the apostolic era of Paul, did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form because this was not a Jewish idea. There was a Jewish expectation of the return of Yahweh who would reign as king and rescue Israel from exile. Early Christians believe he had returned in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and “Jesus’ first followers found themselves not only (as it were) permitted to use God-language for Jesus, but compelled to use Jesus-language for the One God.” (655)

    B. A revised Shema with Jesus in it
    N.T. Wright chooses five texts as examples of monotheism rethought in light of Jesus: Galatians 4:1-11; Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Colossians 1; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Philippians 2:6-11. Here is one text: “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 ESV)

    In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul address the issue of eating food used as a sacrificial offering in pagan idol worship. He offers his pastoral guidance upon sound theology based in the Shema: “there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).  “To pray the Shema was to embrace the yoke of God’s kingdom, to commit oneself to God’s purposes on earth as in heaven, whatever it might cost. It was to invoke, and declare one’s loyalty to, the One God who had revealed himself in action at the Exodus and was now giving his people their inheritance.” (663)

    We worship the one God in a world with many gods, but for us “there is one God, the Father…. Everything Paul has written so far is in line with Jewish thinking, but he adds “…and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Compare the two lines (1 Corinthians 8:6):

    one God, the Father,     from whom are all things             and for whom we exist
    one Lord, Jesus Christ,       through whom are all things and through whom we exist

    Paul has intentionally (and shockingly for a Jewish reader) expanded the Shema to include Jesus. He adds no explanation or argument, so we can assume a theological revolution has taken place among the primarily Jewish followers of Jesus the Messiah. In the Greek translation of the Torah, the Shema uses the word “Lord” (Greek: kyrios) for Yahweh. Paul is now using the word “Lord” to speak of Jesus.

    Shema in Greek: akoue Israel kyrios ho theos hemon kyrios heis estin
    1 Corinthians 8:6: heis theos ho pater…..heis kyrios Isous Christos

    “Israel’s God has returned at last in and as Jesus, (this) anchors the key worldview-symbol, the single community of the Messiah’s followers. The revised Shema sustains both the unity and the holiness of the community.” (666) Not only has the one God returned in and as Jesus the Messiah, but the Messiah has been crucified (1 Corinthians 8:11), increasing the redefinition of monotheism in shocking terms.

    “Paul sees the community of those who live by the rule of the One God, One lord — which is the community of the crucified Messiah, defined by him in his death and resurrection — as the community in and through whom God’s sovereign rule is coming to birth. To pray the revised shema, just as much as the ancient one, was to take upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom.” (668) The coming Kingdom meant God had returned to his people, which Paul proclaims has happened in the coming of Jesus. He thought of Jesus in categories belonging to Yahweh.

    C. The resurrection of the one Lord Jesus
    Jesus embodied the return of the One God of Israel in life, death, and resurrection. His resurrection on the third day, revealed Jesus was indeed the Messiah. “(He) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4). “Son of God” was already used by the empire to speak of the Caesar, but for Jewish listeners the term spoke of the one sent from God. Jesus himself had called God his “Father,” so it seemed fitting to refer to Jesus as the Son. The resurrection did not create something new, but revealed what was already there.

    In using the title “Lord” in reference to Jesus, Paul is implying that Yahweh himself is “arriving in the person of the Messiah, at the climax of the story of Israel” (705) For example, the confession “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) brings about salvation for both the Jew and the Greek because, in quoting from the Old Testament, the “same Lord is Lord of all” and “all those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “Lord” in the Old Testament is a reference to Yahweh.

    V. Monotheism Rethought through the Spirit
    “The spirit was not, for Paul and his contemporaries, a ‘doctrine’ or ‘dogma’ to be discussed, but the breath of life which put them in a position to discuss everything else — and more to the point, to worship, pray, love and work.” (710) An understanding of the full divinity of the Spirit came about in the fourth century, but the church fathers used the language of first century biblical writers to work out their descriptions of the Holy Spirit. For example, Irenaeus (second century church father) wrote: “For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, he made all things. This is to whom also he speaks, saying, ‘Let Us make man after our image and likeness.’”

    The Spirit, like Jesus, was doing the sorts of things a first century Jewish person would expect Yahweh to do. The Spirit dwelling in the temple of our bodies (1 Corinthians 3:16) is a picture of the long-awaited return of Yahweh to the temple. The Spirit here plays the role of the Shekinah presence of God dwelling on the earth. Yahweh has returned to Zion through Jesus and the Spirit as he promised (Isaiah 52:6-8).

    “The Spirit is the personal, powerful manifestation of the One God of Jewish monotheism, the God who, having given Torah, has at last enable his people to fulfil it and so come into the blessings of covenant renewal…” (719) The Spirit enables us to do what the Shema requires in a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) forming a new exodus out of sin and death and into the family of life (Romans 8). The new temple where the Spirit works out this new covenant and new exodus is the “fellowship of Messiah’s people.” (726)

    In identifying both Jesus and the Spirit as accomplishing the work of Yahweh, the one God of Israel, Paul has radically rethought and redefined monotheism using Jewish language, imagery, and intent. The oneness of God in Jewish monotheism was not theoretical speculation on the essence of God, but rather the rule of God as creator over the pagan gods worshiped by so many others. Paul redefines monotheism within this framework. “The kingdom has been inaugurated through the work of Jesus, who, both as the embodiment of Israel’s God and as the single bearer of Israel’s destiny, has defeated the old enemy, has accomplished the new Exodus, and is now, by his spirit, leading his people to their inheritance — not, of course, ‘heaven’, but the reclaiming of all creation.” (735)

    VI. Monotheism and the Problem of Evil
    “The stronger your monotheism, the sharper your problem of evil. That is inevitable: if there is one God, why are things in such a mess?” (737) Paul viewed the problem of evil through his redefined Jewish monotheism. Scripture does not provide a detailed answer to the the question, “Why is there evil and suffering in the world?” Paul works within the Jewish tradition of not providing answers to the “why” question, but offering responses regarding what the creator intends to do about evil in his world. “Paul’s radical rethinking of creational and covenantal monotheism contained within itself both an intensification of the problem and an equally radical solution.” (747)

    VII. The Plight in Paul’s Theology
    The problem of evil, that is the plight of Israel and humanity, have been rethought by Paul in light of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. Paul understood the problem of idolatry and injustice contributing to evil and suffering in the world, but he came to find the “solution” to the problem in the death/resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. If the solution required the death of the Son of God then the plight is far worst than Paul first imaged.

    A. The plight in light of the cross & resurrection
    If the plight was essentially a problem with pagan/Gentile nations oppressing and preventing Israel from fulfilling her vocation to be a light of salvation to the world, then why did the Jewish Messiah have to crucified? The problem was not merely the Gentiles not acting like Jews or the oppression of Jews by the Roman Empire. The problem was sin and death itself. Israel, while the chosen covenant people of God, had become a part of the problem. The Messiah is crucified so sin could be condemned and death could be defeated (Romans 8:3). The plight is both personal and cosmic, both individual and corporate, both a Gentile problem and a Jewish problem.

    B. The plight in light of the Spirit
    The Spirit came to do what the Torah alone was unable to do, transform and renew the hearts of God’s people. The transformational work of the Spirit would produce the life promised in God’s covenant with Israel. “The One God had revealed this ‘life’ both in the resurrection of Jesus, in the promise of resurrection for all Jesus’ people, and in the new moral shaping of their present lives. This was what the Torah could not do, because by itself it could not in fact deal with either sin or death.” (759) The problem revealed by sin and death is not simply that individuals were guilty and subject to the judgment (wrath) of God, but that sin and death prevented the covenant community of God from carrying out God’s purposes to save and restore the world.

    C. The plight in Romans 1:18-2:16
    The wrath of God has been revealed against unrighteous and ungodly men (Romans 1:18). For Paul the “wrath of God” is a picture of the divine punishment of sinners (Romans 1:32). This is future judgment coming upon those who are “storing up wrath yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). Gentiles are without excuse because they have seen God’s attributes in creation. Jews who practice evil and yet judge the Gentiles are equally complicit in the plight. “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:9-11).

    VIII. Final Thoughts
    What Israel and Torah could not do, the one God of Israel did in the coming of Jesus and the Spirit. “Idolatry-and-immorality was not simply a pagan problem to which Jewish Torah-possession and Torah-keeping would provide the answer, either in terms of protecting Jews from catching the infection or more positively, enabling them to bring the world back to its senses.” (770)


  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 3: Paul’s Worldview

    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 third 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: Paul’s Worldview
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapters 6-8

    I. The Convergence of Three Worlds
    “So what happens with the owl, the (rooster) and the eagle are met by the bird that hovers over Israel?” (351) Review: Owl: Greek philosophy; Rooster: pagan culture and religion; Eagle: Roman politics; Hovering bird: Jewish religion

    Paul remained a Jewish thinker whose worldview was shaped by Greek philosophy, Pagan religion, and Roman politics. These three were the “mental furniture” decorating Paul’s primarily Jewish worldview. Reconstructing Paul’s worldview is a necessary first step to understanding Paul’s theology. Worldviews “give flavor to culture on the one hand and worship on the other” (351).

    Worldview is comprised of praxis, symbol, story, and question. N.T. Wright joins together praxis (practices) and symbols in order to provide a “thick description” of Paul and his mindset.

    II. Paul’s Symbolic Praxis
    A. Jewish symbols in Paul’s mind
    1. Temple: the dwelling place of Israel’s God upon the earth, redefined by Paul as Jesus in his incarnation and, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the church as the body of Messiah on earth.

    2. Torah: instructions for God’s people to live as a worshipping and just community; think of the Torah in terms of symbols (pictures in action) more than a list of rules. At the level of worldview, these symbols indicated what it looked like to people the people of God.

    a. Food became a symbol
    b. Table fellowship became a symbol
    c. Circumcision was a primary symbol
    d. Keeping Sabbath was another primary symbol

    3. Prayer: connected to both temple and creational monotheism, i.e. the practice of turning one’s self to the one true living God, the creator God; the shema was central

    4. Land: Abraham was told that through him all the families of the earth shall be blessed. This promise included land whereby Abraham and his descendants, “would be heir of the world” (Romans 4:13). God’s rule on the earth is not a “spiritual” rule, but an earthly, global one.

    “For Paul, God’s kingdom — as we see clearly enough in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 — is not a non-material, postmortem destination, but is rather the sovereign rule of the creator over the entire created order, with death itself, that which corrupts and defaces the good creation, as the last enemy to be destroyed. In other words, the final ‘kingdom of God’ is the whole world, rescued at least from corruption and decay, and living under the sovereign rule of God, exercised through the Messiah’s people.” (367)

    5. Family: the people of God, reimagined as the community of the baptized by faith in Messiah

    6. Zeal: i.e. battle, the willingness to take up arms to establish worship and justice, redefined as a battle against sin and death

    7. Scripture: the sacred text of the people of God, the story of Israel, a story in search of an ending, an ending ultimately found in Jesus the Messiah

    B. Pagan symbols in Paul’s mind
    1. Pagan gods: “man-made monstrosities” (375); to be rejected in light of Jesus the Messiah

    2. Roman festivals: honor, but don’t worship, those in authority; work for the good of the world

    3. Greek philosophy: pursue wisdom rooted and grounded in Jesus; no anti-intellectualism (In an interview with Michael Bird, Wright says, “Paul ranks with (Plato and Aristotle) as a thinker” as Paul wrestles with big ideas and conversations and synthesizes them in a new way.

    C. Imperial symbols in Paul’s mind
    “Paul did affirm the goodness, the God-givenness, of human structures of authority, even while at the same time undermining, through central aspects of his theology, the hubris, idolatry, blasphemy and other wickednesses which, as a Jew never mind as a follower of Jesus, he associated with the arrogance and swagger of Rome.” (381)

    All the phrases used to exalt the emperor: “son of god,” “lord of the world,” “savior,” “bringer of peace,” and the rule which is “good news,” Paul used to describe Jesus the Messiah.

    III. Paul’s Reconstructed Symbolic Praxis
    Wright argues that traditional approaches to Paul’s theology have screened out what Wright considers to be the primary symbol-in-action in Paul’s mindset: the community of the baptized, the ekklesia (the Greek word translated “church”). (Warning: do not make modern assumptions about the “church” in Paul’s world.)

    Paul’s letters were not practices in self-understanding or detached philosophical investigations into the nature of God. Paul’s letters were instructions for the lived-out practice of small communities of baptized followers of Jesus the Messiah spread out through the Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire.

    A. The one people of the one God: “The ekklesia and especially its unity stand at the centre of Paul’s newly framed symbolic universe.” (387) Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 ESV).

    This symbol of unity remained an essentially Jewish vision. God’s intention in his promise to Abraham was to have a single family who would worship Yahweh and love one another justly.   “For Paul the symbolic power of the unity of the church is grounded on the equally symbolic power of the oneness of God, not as a mere dogma to be learned or affirmed, but as the sustaining and stabilizing force for the life of the community.” (392-393)

    “The central symbol of Paul’s newly formed world, the ekklesia, the Messiah’s body, is nothing short of a new version of the human race.” (396)

    B. The people of Messiah: The people of God were not Jewish people and Gentile people but Messiah-people, Christ-people, Christians, so Jewish markers of identity had to be taken down and reworked. Wright prefers to use the word “Messiah” instead of “Christ,” so we do not lose the sight of the Jewishness of Jesus’ vocation. Jesus is the “strange and unexpected fulfillment of the story of Israel.” (405) Messiah is the central focus of the unity of God’s people.

    “Faith in Messiah” functions at one level as a symbol, it is the badge or sign of membership in God’s people.

    C. The Gospel: (a) Cross: Messiah dies for the sins of the world, including his own people, and provides the people of God a way to live in the world. Messiah is crucified, subverting both the Jewish expectation of a zealous (violent) King and the Roman authorities who used the cross to punish enemies. (b) Resurrection: The triumph over sin and death is put on display by the resurrection, where Jesus is vindicated and made Lord and King. (c) Lordship: the subversive symbol of Jews and Gentiles abandoning their traditions and imperial loyalties to become a new, holy, and distinct people

    D. Messianic monotheism: Followers of Jesus the Messiah did so as an act of worshipping the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as seen in their prayers, reading of Scripture, baptism, and communion.

    E. Baptism: a new Exodus for the people of God, a rite of passage into the Messiah-family

    “The primary point of baptism, then, is not so much ‘that it does something to the individual’, it does, but that it defines the community of the baptized as the Messiah’s people.” (426)

    F. Love: Greek word: agape; Love was not an emotion but a practice and thus symbolic praxis, celebrated in the Eucharist and lived out in the partnership of the lives of the family of God. “The Messiah is both the model and the means of love.” (431)

    G. Renewed humanity: All humanity bears the image of Adam; the one people of God are to bear the image of God, including a certain kind of lifestyle inherited from the Jewish people. “Paul not only redefined the Jewish praxis, leaving behind elements that were now irrelevant in his Messiah-based inaugurated eschatology and unified ecclesiology; he also intensified it.” (445) Let’s define some of these phrases:

    1. Jewish practice = not a list of rules, moral codes, but conduct lived in community

    2. Inaugurated eschatology = the kingdom of God breaking into history making available the life of the age to come

    3. Unified ecclesiology = one church without racial, ethnic, or social division

    “The community is supposed to live in reality how all humanity is supposed to live in theory.” (447) We are to be an example of the life of the age to come, where human being live and love the way God designed. We are from the future.

    H. Summing up Paul’s symbolic praxis
    These symbols-in-action are mental navigation points in Paul’s worldview, shaping how he see’s God, God’s actions, God’s world, and God’s future. These symbols shape how Paul does theology as seen in his letters to the churches. Paul was not a detached observer of these things, he was personally involved as a pastor. He was not a stoic (everything is god) or an epicurean (the gods are far away and in concerned). He was an active member of the Messiah-family.

    IV. Paul’s Story and Questions

    A. A Jewish story
    Paul’s worldview contained not only moving symbols, but a story, a framing narrative that put the symbols together in an organized and coherent way. It was the story of Jesus the Messiah, not as a timeless-sage teaching universal truths or a rogue revolutionary starting a new religion. Jesus burst upon the scene as the Jewish Messiah in a specific socio-political context who came as the long awaited conclusion to the story of Israel. “Without the story, we cannot be sure we have discerned the meaning of the symbolic praxis.” (467)

    The Old Perspective on Paul tended to reject or minimize the story of Israel in Paul’s theology. The New Perspective on Paul tends to elevate the story of Israel in Paul’s theology.

    B. The story of creator and creation
    The framing narrative for the Jewish story is the larger story of the creator God and his creation. “The creator God made a world with a purpose, and entrusted that purpose to humans… (and we are) presented with the fact that things are wrong, and that the creator needs to put them right.” (476)  Creation and things going wrong are the essence of Genesis 1-11. Genesis 12, with the call of Abram, is the beginning of the creator making things right.

    “One of the standard Jewish ways of addressing the problem of the creator and the cosmos was to speak in themes of two epochs of world history: the present age and the age to come.” (476)  See Rom. 8:34-39; 1 Cor. 2:1-10, 15:20-28; Col. 2:14; Eph. 6:10-20

    The present age is the age of sin, evil, and death.
    The age to come is the age of justice, peace, and life. (Eternal life=the life of the age to come.)
    These two ages overlap. The age to come has broken into the present age. “The creator intends to create a new world, a new kosmos, out of the womb of the old.” (478) See Romans 8:18-25.

    God is not abandoning his creation, but will be faithful to his original intent. God’s faithfulness to his creation (and later to his covenant with Israel) can be described as God’s righteousness. Setting things right in a world gone wrong includes judgment, which “is what restores health to a society, a balance to the world. It replaces chaos with order.” (481) God’s righteousness, that is his faithfulness to creation, reveals his restorative justice. (See Isaiah 11:1-10)

    C. Sub-plots in Paul’s storied worldview
    1. Humanity: Human beings were created to bear God’s image and care for God’s world, but they failed. We have become part of the problem; we need to be set right. God rescues us individually, not only for our individual benefit, but for the sake of our created vocation. God cannot set the world right without humanity rightly reflecting his image and rightly tending to his world. All of this is lost if we reduce “salvation” to merely human beings having a right relationship with God.

    2. The story of Israel: God chose Israel not merely to be in right relationship with him, but to reclaim humanity’s original vocation to bear his image and tend to his world. God’s choosing and election of Israel is a matter of vocation not salvation. God has one single plan to save the world and it begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus the long-awaited Messiah. “Paul reaffirms God’s vocation to Israel, the vocation to be the means of rescuing humanity and thus creation itself, even though he radically redefines that vocation around the Messiah.” (501) Israel failed in their vocation. They suffered in exile, waiting for Messiah, but God did not abandon them. Messiah comes while they were still in exile.

    3. The role of Torah in Israel’s story: Torah played different roles in the story of Israel according to Paul. “Torah is a good gift from God.” (506) Torah sets out to form Israel into the covenant people of God. It is a temporary guardian and is unable to produce the life of the age to come (Romans 8:3). The sinful tendency (“flesh,” Greek word: sarx) of humanity, including Israel, frustrates the purpose of Torah, causing it to play the role as agitator. Torah is not the bad guy in the story, but it plays the role of the instigator, arousing sinful desire (See Romans 7:5). Torah only makes sense in the story of Israel which reaches its culmination in Jesus the Messiah.

    4. The story of Jesus (the Gospel): Jesus is Israel’s promised Messiah, the seed of Abraham bringing the fulfillment of ancient promises, the prophet like Moses leading Israel out of exile, and the Son of David restoring the kingdom to Israel. Jesus is “Israel-in-person” fulfilling Israel’s vocation. “He is Adam; he is Israel; he is the Messiah. Only when we understand all this does Paul’s worldview, particularly its implicit complex narrative, make sense.” (521) Jesus is doing for Israel (and for the world) what Israel could not do itself. As Adam, he is rescuing this present evil age of sin and death and inviting people to enter into the new age of righteousness and life. Jesus is a demonstration of God’s love and faithfulness to Israel and the world.

    D. Five Questions in Paul’s Worldview
    1. Who are we? We are the one people, Jew and Gentile, of the one God; we are Messiah’s people bearing the mark of faith; we are the church.

    2. Where are we? We live in God’s world where Jesus the Messiah has begun his reign.

    3. What’s wrong? Sin, death, idolatry, and injustice have marred God’s good world.

    4. What’s the solution? Prayer, the Spirit, and resurrection are the way forward.

    5. What time is it? We live in the overlap of ages; the kingdom has already come/ the kingdom has yet to come (the already and not yet). God’s future is here and it is coming.

    E. Final Thoughts
    Worldview is not what you are looking at, but what you are looking through. A worldview shapes how you interpret, evaluate, and draw conclusion based on what you see. For Paul, his worldview was thoroughly Jewish formed in light of Jesus the Messiah who has come to save the world: both Jewish and Gentile (pagan). As we will see, this worldview shapes Paul’s theology.

  • N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 2: Birds in Paul’s Head

    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 second of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. 

    N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul
    Part 2: Birds in Paul’s Head
    Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapters 2-5

    I. Paul’s Historical Context
    “Paul lived and worked, in fact, in at least three worlds at once, each of which is subdivided. His life and work must sometimes have appeared just as bewildering to those who lived in those worlds as it does to us in our attempts to reconstruct them (and to understand him). In fact, much more so. We have two dangerous advantages: length of hindsight, shortage of material.” (75)

    A. These worlds are Jewish, Greek, and Roman
    They were each distinct, but deeply intertwined worlds alive in Paul’s imagination & thoughts.

    B. A review of worldview within a cultural setting
    1. Praxis: What were the common practices?
    2. Symbol: What were the key symbols?
    3. Story: What narratives shaped the culture?
    4. Question: What were the BIG questions people were asking?

    II. Hovering Birds: The Jewish World
    “What I am…concerned with here is certain emphases and angles of vision, rather than a major retelling of the story of the Jews in the first century or a major new sketch of their worldview, beliefs and hopes. I hope in particular to bring out the way in which the faithfulness of Israel’s God functions as a theme throughout so much of the period.” (77)

    A. The Pharisees
    Pharisees were a popular and influential movement of Jews in the first century concerned with religious and civic/social purity, not in terms of personal holiness, but as a “sign and seal” of loyalty to Israel and to Israel’s God.

    The heart of Pharisaical life was prayer, rooted in the Shema (Hear O Israel the LORD is our God, the LORD is one), but Pharisees were a kingdom-of-God, and thus political, movement. They shared with the Zealots a “zeal,” for the Kingdom of God, meaning they were prepared to enter in a holy war as instruments of the reign of Israel’s God.

    “Zealous” did not mean wholeheartedly devoted or passionate, but willing to become violent. N.T. Wright points to the use of the “zealous” in the Maccabean revolt.

    Paul, after being arrested in Jerusalem, writes: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.” (Acts 22:3)

    B. The Torah
    The Jewish law (Torah) was a matter of both praxis and symbol. It contained “precise patterns of behaviour” (91) and it served as a powerful symbol in Jewish imagination. The Torah was designed to form Israel into a distinct people separate from the pagan Gentile nations. For example, it contains strict laws regarding who you share your table with or what kind of food you eat.

    C. The Temple
    “The Temple in Jerusalem was the focus of the whole Jewish way of life. A good deal of Torah was about what to do in the Temple, and the practice of Torah in the Diaspora itself could be thought of in terms of gaining, at a distance, the blessings you would gain if you were actually there – the blessing, in other words, of the sacred presence itself, the Shekinah, the glory which supposedly dwelt in the Temple but would also dwell ‘where two or three study Torah’.” (95)

    The Temple is where heaven and earth met. The backbone of Israel’s prayer life was the picture of Yahweh (the LORD) dwelling in the temple. For example: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” (Psalm 63:1-2)

    “The Temple was a microcosm of the whole creation.” (101) It points to new creation, where God will dwell with his people forever (Revelation 21:3).

    The symbols of “temple, presence, glory, kingship, wisdom, creation, exile, rebuilding, and unfulfilled promise —would be part of (first century Jewish) mental and emotional furniture.” (107)

    D. Jewish questions asked in the first century
    The Jewish people felt like they were “living in a story in search of an ending” (109). So they were asking: We are still in exile. When will Yahweh return to the temple? How could this God not act at last to fulfil his promises?

    Groups like the Pharisees, were not looking to the Torah or the Temple asking, “How do we earn God’s favor so in the afterlife we can avert God’s anger?” They were asking, “When will Yahweh come rescue us, renew the covenant, and thus rescue the entire world?”

    E. The Continuous Story of Israel
    “The (Hebrew) Bible was not merely a source of types, shadows, allusions, echoes, symbols, examples, role-models and other no doubt important things. It was all those, but it was much, much more. It presented itself as a single, sprawling, complex but essentially coherent narrative, a narrative still in search of an ending.” (116)

    The story of Israel, or at least large portions of the story of Israel, are told and retold throughout the Old Testament. This tradition is carried on by Paul and other New Testament figures (e.g. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, Stephen’s sermon before his stoning, Paul in Romans and Galatians). The prophets begin to look forward to the coming of Messiah.

    There is no one single picture of what Messiah looks like, but in many of the retellings of the story of Israel there is a longing and waiting for Messiah.

    F. The second-Temple period was a continuation of the exile
    The Jews of Paul’s day (a period of time N.T. Wright calls “second temple judaism”) were back in their homeland after the Babylonian/Persian exile but living under the boot of the Roman Empire symbolized the continuation of the exile.

    Many determined from studying the Torah that they were still in exile, because they had not been faithful to the covenant. Therefore groups like the Pharisees were encouraging strict adherence to the Torah so as to be saved. The second-temple Jewish understand of salvation was not “other-worldly” (i.e. going to heaven after death). Their view of salvation was earth-bound. They wanted to be saved from Roman oppression, saved from sin (idolatry and injustice) in order to be the agency for God to do his work of saving the world. “The rescue of human beings from sin and death, which remains vital throughout, serves a much larger purpose, namely that of God’s restorative justice for the whole creation” (165).

    The coming of the day of salvation was seen as the coming of a new age, a new epoch of human history. The salvation life they expected to live was the life of this coming age, that is the life of the age to come, or “eternal life” for short.

    G. The theology of a Pharisee: Three categories: monotheism, election and eschatology
    1. Monotheism: the worship of Yahweh, the one true living God who is the creator of all, yet distinct from his creation, and the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, et. al. Pharisees believed in a “creational and covenantal monotheism” (180).
    2. Election: Israel was chosen by God to live in covenant with him as a part of his plan to rescue and redeem the whole world.
    3. Eschatology: God’s future for God’s world, God making the world right

    To sum up these three in the context of Paul’s Jewish world, we could say: Yahweh, the God of Israel had chosen Israel to be the people through whom God would use to fill the whole world with his glory. (Psalm 72:18, Num 14:20-23, Hab 2:13, Is 11:9)

    III. Athene and Her Owl: The Greek World
    “Paul did not derive the central themes and categories of his proclamation from the themes and categories of pagan thought, that doesn’t mean that he refused to make any use of such things. Indeed, he revels in fact that he can pick up all kinds of things from his surrounding culture and make them serve his purposes….All wisdom of the world belongs to Jesus the Messiah in the first place, so any flickers or glimmers of light, anywhere in the world, are to be used and indeed celebrated within the exposition of the gospel.” (201)

    A. The symbol of the owl
    The owl in Greek (hellenistic) culture came to represent “seeing.” The Greek philosophical tradition was built upon seeing what others could not see.

    B. Religion or philosophy?
    From a Greek point of view, Paul was doing three things which would be perceived more as philosophy than religion. (1) Paul presented a different order of reality beginning with a creator God who had broken into creation. (2) Paul taught and modelled a particular way of life quite different than the way of life known by the Greeks. (3) Paul established and maintained communities resembling the many philosophical schools of the ancient world.

    C. Popular Greek schools of philosophy
    1. The Academy (Plato; Platonism): The world of space, time, and matter was an illusion and less real than the world of “forms” or “ideas,” which is ultimate reality. (e.g. The Allegory of the Cave)
    2. The Lyceum (Aristotle; Aristotelian thought): The material world should be analyzed and categorized in the pursuit of virtue and human flourishing (Greek word: eudaimonia).
    3. The Stoics: All material things are indwelt with divinity (Greek word: pnuema) (pantheism). The goal is to become a sage, wise, self-sufficient, and in harmony with the way things are.
    4. The Epicureans: The gods are far removed (dualism); we have no eternal soul, so pursue tranquility and happiness in this life. (Note: This was not hedonism.)
    “Whereas the default mode of most modern westerners is some kind of Epicureanism, the default mode for many of Paul’s hearers was some kind of Stoicism.” (213)

    D. Greek praxis
    Philosophy, even for Platonists, was not detached from everyday life. Philosophy was a way of life. The goal was to be able to see in the dark.

    E. Greek symbols
    Stoics, as one example of Greek culture, wore simple clothes, ate plain food, lived without much luxury.

    F. Greek stories (myths)
    Platonists told creation stories. The Allegory of the Cave became a founding myth. Stoics told stories of creation by the logos or pneuma working with the primary elements: fire, air, earth and water. Many Greek stories focused on the hero, becoming the invention of the modern individual (e.g. Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus, Perseus).

    G. Greek questions
    What is there? (physics) ⁃ What ought we to do? (ethics) ⁃ How do we know? (logic)

    IV. A Rooster For Asclepius: Pagan Religion
    There was a overlap between philosophy and religion in the pagan, Gentile world of Paul. The Philosophers often spoke of the gods. There were a number of religions being practiced in the ancient world of Paul. His pattern of religion was different than those around him. His proclamation of a crucified Messiah was “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

    Religion was not separated from public life. Religion was the very fabric of society. Pagan religions had temples, sacrifices, festivals, and the like. Religion was a matter of action more than belief. Paul’s preaching challenged people to a new and different life.

    V. The Eagle has Landed: The Roman Empire
    Rome took the eagle as its symbol for its power, beauty, and prestige. Rome in the day of Paul was ruled by the Caesar who installed local governors to oversee law and order throughout the empire. Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, was called “Son of the Deified” (Latin: divi filius). Caesar ruled the land promised to Messiah.

    “Rome brought ‘peace’ to the world, at the usual price: submit or die.” (284) “After sixty years (of Roman civil war), they were ready for (peace). Ready, too, to make it divine, and to associate it with the man who had brought it: pax Augusta. It was this ‘peace’ that allowed the apostle Paul, under Augustus’s successors, to travel the world announcing a different peace, and a different master.” (288-289)

    A. List of first century Roman Emperors

    27 BC-14 AD Augustus (Adopted son of Julius Caesar)

    14-37 AD Tiberius (Ruled during the life of Christ)

    37-41 AD Caligula

    41-54 AD Claudius (Ruled during the early ministry of Paul)

    54-68 AD Nero (Ruled during the later ministry of Paul)

    69 AD Galba (Ruled for 7 months)

    69 AD Otho (Ruled for 3 months)

    69 AD Vitellius (Ruled for 8 months)

    69-79 AD Vespasian (Ruled during the fall of Jerusalem)

    79-81 AD Titus (Son of Vespasian; was the general in the siege of Jerusalem)

    81-96 AD Domitian (Arguably the beast from the bottomless pit in Revelation)

    B. Roman symbols
    The fall of the republic led to the Pax Romana under the Caesar, the Roman emperor, so every cultural tool from literature, to coinage, to art and architecture was used to promote the power and presence of Caesar. For example, a bust of the emperor could be found everywhere in the empire.

    C. Emperor worship
    The growing popularity of Caesar led to the development of imperial cults, the worship of the Emperor as divinized. There was no one single unified cult, but many different imperial cults throughout the Roman Empire. The imperial cult was not a religion in the modern sense, but an interwoven part of life in the empire where religion, culture, and politics were interconnected.

    The Roman Senate voted to divinize Augustus, giving him the title divi filius, meaning “son of God” or “son of the deified one.” Augustus did not want public worship. His was more of an honorific title. The announcement of his rise to power was called the “good news” (Latin: euangelia) that brought salvation to Rome. The worship of the emperor started small and began to grow.

    Tiberius was called “son of god,” son of the divine Augustus. Titus demanded to be called “lord and god” (Latin: dominus et deus). By the rule of Titus, “Worshipping the emperors was well on the way to becoming a central and vital aspect not only of life in general but of civic and municipal identity. Whatever we say about either the intentions or the effects of Roman rulers from Julius Caesar to Vespasian, the richly diverse phenomena we loosely call ‘imperial cult’ were a vital part of a complex system of power, communication and control, in other words, of all the things empires find they need to do.” (341)

    D. Jews in the Empire
    Jews had an eschatological objection to the Roman Empire. (Eschatology=”God’s future”)

    “Rome’s claim to have brought the world into a new age of justice and peace, flew, on eagle’s wings, in the face of the ancient Jewish belief that these things would finally be brought to birth through the establishment of a new kingdom, the one spoken of in the Psalms, in Isaiah, in Daniel. Thus, though their resistance to empire drew on the ancient critique of idolatry, the sense that Israel’s god would overthrow the pagan rule and establish his own proper kingdom in its place led the Jewish people to articulate their resistance in terms of eschatology. ” (343)

    VI. Final Thoughts
    Paul remained a Jewish thinker who communicated to Christian congregations spread out in a pagan world. He may choose imagery from either the Roman or Greek world in his writing, but he does so from the position of a Jewish thinker.

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

    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

    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


  • 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:

    (*List complied by Justin Taylor


  • 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.

  • NT Visits KC


    N.T. Wright speaking at Christ Church Anglican (Overland Park, KS)

    Yesterday was (for me) N.T. Wright Day, the long awaited day when I had the opportunity to both meet and listen to N.T. (Tom) Wright lecture live in person. In looking forward to this event I felt like a 14 year-old girl preparing for our One Direction concert. In meeting Tom, I felt like a pastor from the 20th century meeting Karl Barth. I think Tom Wright is important. In a hundred years when the history of theology is written about the early 21st century, I think Tom Wright will stand head a shoulders above the rest as the most influential theologian of our generation.

    I thoroughly enjoyed both the morning and evening lecture. Ellis Brust and the St. Mellitus Theological Centre did a wonderful job hosting the event. Hats off to them and the staff and volunteers of Christ Church Anglican for their hospitality and work in putting together the logistics for this one-day event in such a short time. They announced the event a couple of months ago and it sold out in three weeks.

    While thoughts are still fresh in my mind, I want to share some of the notes I took from both lectures. As all Tom Wright devotees know, he talks fast. He spits forth truth with rapid-fire accuracy. There is no way I can transcribe the entirety of his lectures, but I can share a few notes.

    The evening lecture was a hurried overview of his massive work on Paul’s theology, Paul and The Faithfulness of God. I am finishing the book during Lent. I should be done by Easter Sunday. My goal is to create an extensive outline of the book over the summer and then teach a 10-12 week class on the book in the fall. Tom has interpreted Paul for the church and I want to interpret Tom for you. So if N.T. Wright has left you wanting more, hold on. A class is coming soon to Word of Life Church.

    Here are some of my takeaways from N.T. Wright Day at the St. Mellitus Theological Centre in KC.

    Morning Lecture

    The Gospel is good news. We cannot assume people are asking the questions that make the good news really good news. People in the Western world today are not walking around asking, “How can I know I am saved and am going to heaven when I die.”

    The gospel is a new way of looking at the world.

    The resurrection is like a strange, but beautiful gift that causes us to remodel our house to be shaped by it.

    The gospel is scandalous and foolishness, but to those of us who believe it is the power of God.

    We need to preach the gospel more than prove it. We do not need to prove it according to the values of Western rational enlightenment.

    The word “god” is a question mark in our culture. Often when people say “I don’t believe in god,” we should say “I do not believe in that kind of god either, I believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ.”

    God is not distant. (Deism/epicureanism are the dominate views of god in our world.)

    There are many tombs to the unknown god in our world.

    Jesus reveals God. Jesus exegetes God for us.

    Many people in our culture have a passion for justice. We can capitalize on this passion as justice is connected with the Gospel.

    Liberal democracy has NOT brought us utopia.

    Western democracy does not have a narrative to do justice. Progress, yes. Justice, no. God is about bringing a new world of justice and peace. (Isaiah 11)

    We need not a happy triumphalism over the other ways of being human, but a travail in prayer with those who suffer. (This is a picture of doing justice.)

    The 18th century dismissed political theology. Religion was to be private, spiritual, and about heaven. The thought was “let us enlightened, reasonable human beings figure out how to run the world.”

    The church is to speak to power. (The cross was the voice of justice to the powers that be.)

    We get our atonement theology in the redefinition of power.

    We have idolized our modern culture. We have become smug and self-serving.

    Christianity is rejected by modernism and postmodernism for different reasons. They both deny the Christian narrative. We say history turned a corner not in the 18th century age of enlightenment, but at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Postmodernism rejects all meta-narratives. Postmodernism never sees a turn in human history.

    The big story of Christianity is not a power story but a love story.

    Thoughts from the Q&A after the morning session….
    Paul layers the Jewish narrative for us in Romans that we look through in order to see his point.

    Romans 7 is a retelling of Israel’s story/struggle.

    In a strange way, Israel was to be the Isaiah 53 people suffering in order to bear God’s image.

    Evening Lecture

    Everywhere St. Paul went there was a riot. Everywhere I go they serve tea.

    Paul pitched his tent near the fault lines between Jewish culture, Greek philosophy, ancient religion, and Roman politics.

    God’s new creation has launched through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

    In starting communities loyal to Jesus, Paul started a new discipline, what we call Christian theology. This is the central thesis of Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

    Diverse people come together to be a family in Christ, holy and united, and they need to be sustained by something new…new symbols.

    Paul believes unity happens as these communities practiced what we call “theology.”

    Jews did not do theology, not the way Christians did/do.

    Be ignorant of evil, but be mature in your thinking.

    After Paul says everything he has to say in Romans 1-11 about the Gospel, Jesus’ death, justification, the unity between Jews and Gentiles, etc. he then says in Romans 12 “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

    People take doctrinal questions to Paul (and he does in fact have many answers to these questions), but Paul does not simply want to give us a list of answers he wants us to teach people to think Christianly.

    Teach a person to think Christianly and you will build up the church for generations to come.

    Every generation needs to think fresh and new, to face new challenges in the light of Christ.

    Christianity is a new sort of knowing. It is a new epistemology. 2 Corinthians 5 calls this “new creation.”

    Every person in Christ becomes a little model of new creation.

    God is not an object in our universe; we are objects in his universe. He wants us to become thinking objects in his universe, thinking according to a new kind of knowledge.

    What does it mean to be a human being? We reflect God’s love and stewardship to the world, and then we return back the praises of creation.
    God wants people not puppets.

    What is launched in resurrection is transformation.

    Paul’s writing is rooted in Scripture, Paul may quote a line from Hebrew Scripture, but he has the entire context in mind. He was not proof-texting the Old Testament to prove things like justification by faith. Rather, in Romans, he was thinking about the entire Jewish narrative.

    The whole world is to be God’s holy land.

    Genesis 15: Abraham – This is God’s plan to save the world.

    Biblical theology is narrative theology. How does the narrative work? We are invited to participate in it.

    Daniel 9: Daniel’s prayer in exile

    Combine Daniel’s prayer with the expectation of covenant renewal (Deut. 30) and the promise of a new covenant (Jer. 31) and we see the Jewish expectation in Paul’s day. They were expecting liberation and new way of living as the people of God.

    First century Jews were not asking, “How can I know that I will go to heaven and not hell?” They were asking questions about the renewal of the covenant.
    What Israel thought would happen at the end of the age, happened in the middle to one son of Abraham.

    Exodus is retold by Paul, rethought through Jesus and the Spirit.

    Ezekiel 1 is a vision of God’s throne; God taking off (abandoning) the temple.
    Ezekiel 43 speaks of the return of God to the temple.

    Isaiah 40 speaks of the time when the glory will come back.

    First century Jews looked for the return of Yahweh to Zion and none of Israel’s prophets said it has happened yet. It was still a future event. John announces “IT HAS HAPPENED!” John 1. The Word became flesh and tabernacle among us.

    Paul says in him dwelt (this is temple language) the fullness of the God bodily.

    In order to understand Paul, be so soaked in Scripture (Old Testament) that you know where Jesus is going.

    1 Corinthians 8:6: Shema language: The LORD is one. The answer to what to do with eating meat is found in doing theology. God is one. One Lord Jesus.

    Philippians 2: Jewish monotheism and layers of theology

    “Work out your own salvation.” This is not a call to pull yourself up by your bootstraps…rubbish!

    Paul’s task: The new vision of God seen in Jesus and the Spirit.
    Galatians and Romans: A new story of Exodus

    Romans 8: “led by the Spirit” is language from the exodus (pillar of cloud by day / pillar of fire by night)

    Theology is the central task of the church.

    Election: Who are the people of God?
    In Paul, election is renewed. God has ONE family. (Galatians 3) A new people who inherit the promises given to Abraham.

    Justification: not a mechanism for going to heaven

    God’s purpose is to put the world right. This action requires God putting people right.

    Start with God’s people redefined through Jesus and that helps sort out theological problems related to justification.

    Every Christian must learn how to think through:

    Eschatology in Paul has little to do with the American fascination with the rapture. A caller to a radio show asked: “How does Mr. Wright think he will get to heaven if he is not raptured?”

    Phil 3: Our citizenship is in heaven, but we are to colonize the world with the culture of heaven.

    Paul redefines monotheism, election, and eschatology around Jesus and the Spirit. This is all political dynamite.

    Power gets redefined around the cross.

    Acts 17: Paul in Athens. He spoke longer than 2 minutes. He probably spoke for 2 hours or more. He navigates between religion and philosophy in order to preach the gospel.

    Theology is joined up for Paul in prayer.

    Romans 9-11 opens with a lament and closes with praise, just like many of the Psalms.

    Paul includes his own prayers in his writing to the Ephesians.

    Our theology does not lead us to know it all, but it leads us to worship.

    Me and Tom, my theological mentor

    Me and Tom, my theological mentor