When I read the letters of Paul, I often wonder whether he was a fan of athletic games - foot racing, at least. On several occasions Paul draws on the language of the races to illumine the nature of the Christian life. For instance, "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it" (1 Cor 9:24). Similarly in Philippians 3 Paul describes the Christian life in terms of straining forward towards the goal to win the prize. It's hard not to imagine an Olympic runner putting all of his energy into crossing the finish line to win the gold. For Paul, the gospel worthy life is fully focused on the finish, and that means knowing what the finish line is, namely resurrection union with Christ, and it means leaving the past in the past - all of it. On top of that, Paul's racing imagery helps us get a better sense of what we mean when we talk about Christian perfection. Take a listen to find out what Paul means when he counts himself among the "perfect" in Philippians 3:15. If you receive this post as an email, click here to listen on the podcast page. Previous sermons can be found here.
October 24, 2014
October 9, 2014
How would you like to be part of a group of people who were always concerned with your best interests? A group of people who were consistently and genuinely looking out for your well-being? They would be loyal to you. They would encourage you. They would build you up. That would be great. But you're probably thinking: what a longshot. Because, after all, we meet people all the time who are in it for themselves - only looking out for Number One. Wouldn't it be nice to be a part of group that was different, a group committed to other-oriented love? Longshot...right? Well, I believe that this kind of community life is a real possibility. And I believe it because that is the vision of community that Paul holds before the Philippian Christians in his letter to them. He tells them to regard one another with the mind of Christ looking not to their own interests but to the interests of others. It turns out that Paul thought the Philippians could actually live into this vision. And he commended Timothy and Epaphroditus as men who embodied this vision of what it looks like to be Christlike in real life. Check out this week's podcast for more on embodying the mind of Christ consistently...comprehensively...entirely.
October 7, 2014
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are full of remarkable passages. In fact, there are so many amazing moments that it can be difficult to narrow it down to a single favorite. But if I had to choose today, I would go with a scene near the end of The Magician's Nephew. The scene comes just after Aslan has sung Narnia into existence and after the boy Digory has managed to allow the evil Queen Jadis into the newly created world. As Digory is preparing for a task that will protect Narnia from the wicked Queen, he gathers the courage to ask Aslan to cure his deathly ill mother. Here's the passage as Lewis tells it:
"But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?" Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself.
"My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another."
I reserve the right to change my mind later, but for now that's my favorite moment in Narnia. What's yours?
September 30, 2014
One reason I love Philippians is the constant attention Paul gives to applying the gospel to all of life. He really wants to see the light of the grace of God shine into every crack and crevice of the human heart. He wants to see us work out the grace that God has worked in us. One way he does this is by holding up the example of Jesus, the one who did not exploit his divine status but instead emptied himself to become a servant, and a human servant at that! For Paul, the attitude of Jesus demonstrated in his other-oriented self-emptying is the same attitude that should consistently and comprehensively be demonstrated in the lives of believers. We Wesleyan Christians sometimes happily insist that "all can be saved to the uttermost," and this certainly reflects Paul's understanding of salvation all the way through Philippians. To update the language a bit, we might also say that Paul believes we can be saved all the way. Click play above to discover how it happens.
September 23, 2014
The apostle Paul said a lot of remarkable (and often surprising!) things. One thing that I find particularly remarkable is the fact that even in the midst of great suffering he was still able to find joy. This shows up with clarity early in his letter to the Philippians. Paul reports not only that he is in prison for Christ but also that some rival preachers are working to increase his suffering. Wow! Talk about tough times. And yet he still declares that he will rejoice and continue to rejoice. Apparently, Paul's circumstances didn't degrade his joy. He still found meaning and purpose in the gospel of Christ during great persecution. What was his secret? Simply this: Paul understood that the gospel worthy life is life worth living. And he wrote to the Philippians because they needed to hear that very message in the midst of their own suffering. Check out this week's podcast for more about how the gospel makes life worth living even when circumstances present challenges.
September 22, 2014
The following is from David I. Starling and seems to me remarkably clear and thoroughly Pauline:
At this point in the discussion, the topic of imputation arises - not only because it is a notorious point of contention between old perspective and new perspective but also (and more importantly) because of the language and imagery implied by words such as "righteous," "justified," and "condemned." In Rom 3:24, for example, the justification that is accomplished through the work of Christ is conferred on its recipients "by his grace as a gift" (δωρεὰν τῇ αὑτοῦ χάριτι) - language that anticipates the discussion in the following chapter, in which the justification of the ungodly is described as a metaphorical transaction in which righteousness is "reckoned as a gift" (λογίζεται κατὰ χάριν; Rom 4:4, 6, 12; cf. 5:16-15) and sin, conversely, is "not reckon[ed]" against the sinner (Rom 4:8; cf. 2 Cor 5:19).
Imputation, then (or "reckoning"), of one sort or another, is not an un-Pauline intrusion into the doctrine of justification; it is part of the conceptual array that the texts themselves bequeath to us as a framework within which to articulate our understanding of the righteous status of those on whom God's justifying verdict has been pronounced. If we are to follow Paul's lead in constructing our doctrinal formulations, the question is not whether we will have a doctrine of imputation but merely what sort of doctrine of imputation we will construct - which metaphorical credits or debits we will speak of as being imputed to whom - and how much work we will ask it to do within our doctrinal system. If Paul is happy to speak of God as "reckon[ing] righteousness," "as a gift," to "ungodly" people whose record of conduct could hardly warrant this verdict; if Paul speaks of this gift of righteousness as having been made possible by the faithful obedience of Christ, culminating in his atoning death; and if the forensic and covenantal background against which Paul makes these assertions is one in which "righteousness" is language not only for the status created by a judge's verdict but also for the record of conduct with which this sort of verdict ought normally to correspond, then surely, one might argue, we are only connecting Pauline dots, not drawing a whole new picture, if we speak in terms of God's imputing our sins to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us.
From "Covenants and Courtrooms, Imputation and Imitation: Righteousness and Justification in Paul and the Faithfulness of God," Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters 4:1 (2014): 37-48, here 43-44. This issue of JSPL was devoted to reviewing N.T. Wright's recent and substantial Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
September 12, 2014
I'm grateful to the team at Seedbed for the opportunity to contribute to the Seven Minute Seminary series of short videos. Here's one on the biblical, theological, and pastoral importance of the Trinity.
September 9, 2014
I've recently had the pleasure of attending the 34th British New Testament Conference (BNTC) held this year at the University of Manchester. Our hosts at the University did a wonderful job putting on the conference and are to be commended. It's always great fun to renew old friendships, make new ones, hear about new research, and participate in some stimulating conversations about all things New Testament. At many academic conferences you have the opportunity to move in and out of various sessions to catch the papers that interest you. One of my favorite things about BNTC is that everyone is encouraged to attend the same seminar group throughout the duration of the conference. The advantage is that seminar members have the opportunity to spend a couple of days reflecting together on a particular area of New Testament, which usually results in a more fruitful and less fragmented conference experience.
I was in the Paul Seminar, which is one of the largest seminars at the conference and always has a number of world class scholars in attendance. The seminar chairs, Peter Oakes and Sarah Whittle, put together a very well-balanced combination of papers and group discussion in each of the sessions. The first session was of particular interest with a paper on divine wrath in Paul by Dorothea Bertschmann, which was followed by a panel discussion on divine wrath with Dorothea, Francis Watson, Simon Gathercole, and Michael Thompson. You won't be surprised to learn that it got a bit energetic at points, and it was certainly refreshing to hear this discussion since the wrath of God is not a subject often broached by New Testament scholars. The second installment of the Paul seminar focused on various issues relating to the ever present pistis Christou (faith of Christ) debate. Jeanette Hagen introduced some helpful evidence from 2 Corinthians, which is not often brought into the discussion, and Jonathan Tallon gave a very interesting paper on the richness of pistis and cognates in the sermons of John Chrysostom. This was followed by another vigorous open discussion. I had the pleasure of participating in the third session of the Paul seminar along with David Harvey, who gave a paper on honor and ethics in Galatians. My own contribution was titled: "Embracing Resurrection: Temporal Aspects of Social Identity in 1 Corinthians 15." I'm grateful for the substantive, constructive, and charitable engagement with my argument. We followed up with an open discussion on the place of social identity in Pauline studies.I was grateful for the opportunity to emphasize that social identity readings of Paul need not be pitted against theological readings, as is sometimes suggested.
In addition to the other seminar groups, there were three plenary sessions with invited papers.. The first was a lecture by Joan Taylor on "Mary Magdalene and the Case of the Missing Magdala." She spent some time dismantling various misconceptions about Mary Magdalene's background and argued that we cannot know with certainty where Mary was from. She also made the interesting suggestion that the name Magdalene should perhaps be read with a view to its meaning of "tower" and that it might even be a personal nickname that carried symbolic significance. As Peter was known as "Rock", so Mary might have been "Tower." The second plenary was from Judith Lieu on "Marcion and the Contradictions of the Gospel." The third plenary from Simon Gathercole was called, "Jesus, the Apostolic Gospel, and the Gospels," in which he argued that the canonical gospels shared certain theological characteristics in common that were not shared by most of the apocryphal gospels, and that those common characteristics derive from the earlier regula fidei. I found this discussion particularly interesting and helpful in emphasizing what the gospels hold in common. It was something of a courageous lecture given the current trend in the guild to elevate the differences between the four evangelists over what they hold in common.
All in all, it was a fine conference. I'm grateful to have had opportunity to attend and participate. And I look forward to my next opportunity to do so. Next year will be in Edinburgh, and, as was observed a few times, it could be the first international BNTC depending on a certain upcoming vote.
September 4, 2014
Did you know that there are basically two kinds of people in the Church? Those who like to talk about sin and those who don't. And you've probably noticed that those who like to talk about sin typically don't want to talk about their sin. They would much prefer to talk about yours. Among those who don't like to talk about sin, there are two more groups: those who don't like to talk about it and so they don't and those who don't like to talk about sin but know it's necessary. Just as a patient must be willing to have the hard conversation with a physician about the diagnosis before the pursuit of a cure can begin, so human beings must be attentive to the hard reality of our sin if we are to benefit from God's transforming grace. When we come at it from this angle we discover a trajectory that should characterize all our talk of sin, from diagnosis to cure, from sin to holiness. This same trajectory is seen in Ezekiel 36, in which the prophet declares the various ways that the people of God have profaned God's name only then to point forward to the coming gracious act of God to sanctify his people. Along the way the Israelites needed to learn what God's people must always be learning: God's reputation is our responsibility.
August 25, 2014
What do you want in a church? It's a common question with almost limitless answers. Traditional. Contemporary. Liturgical. A church with ministries for children. Ministries for youth. Seeker. Missional. The way we answer reveals a lot about our understanding of the Church. There's another question that we need to ask, and this one is even more important: What does Jesus want for his Church? This question is important because it shifts the focus from our desires to Jesus' desires. This question highlights the reality that Jesus is the head of his body, which is the Church, and he calls the shots. In this week's SermonCast, we dig into Ephesians 4:10-16 in order to explore this all-important question. As we do, we will find that, when it come to his Church, Jesus desires mature disciples. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Listen here.