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 30, 2014
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.
August 19, 2014
click here to listen.
August 11, 2014
What do you think of when you hear the word "God"? Believe it or not, different people have many different ways of thinking about God. We don't all have the exact same notions about what God is like or who God is. Sometimes our understanding of God is too small. Sometimes our understanding of God hinders knowing God. Sometimes people think of God as a cosmic cop just waiting to bust you for breaking his law. Others think of God through the lens of their experience with an abusive or absent father. This is why it is important to understand that our perception of God will shape our expectations of God. If we have a diminished view of God's character, then we will expect him to act as small our our perception. So we need a big vision of a big God. And that's just what we get in the opening chapter of Ephesians. This week's SermonCast is an invitation to a bigger vision of a bigger God with big grace, big plans, and big glory.
August 8, 2014
authority in the sexuality debate. Drew mentioned me in a Tweet about the post. His main point is that conservatives and evangelicals are not taken very seriously when they appeal to scripture to oppose same sex practices because they do not take seriously what scripture says about other sexual sins like adultery and divorce. That is, evangelicals look the other way when someone in their church when a man cheats on his wife but get all hot and bothered when two men show up together. This is a double standard, and nobody like a double standard. Drew and I have discussed this issue before, and I think we stand in basic agreement. A couple of ideas came to mind as I read, though, so I thought I'd share those here. I'm not disagreeing with Drew's main assessment, but I would want to put a couple of things slightly differently. Here goes.
Grace never looks the other way
In the course of his argument, Drew suggests that evangelicals have long stalled over one question in particular. He writes:
"The question that evangelicals, as best I can tell, have not been able to answer is: why is compromise acceptable for adulterers and divorcees in the life of the church, but the idea of extending that same grace to LGBT persons is off limits?"
I would urge caution in putting the question in a way that suggests evangelicals have extended grace to adulterers and divorcees by compromising on and ignoring something that scripture clearly forbids. In the Bible, adultery is always condemned, and divorce is condemned in most circumstances. (Even in cases where scripture allows for divorce, it is never seen as good, right, or God honoring.) Ignoring sin is never a grace-filled way of dealing with that sin. When one of my children sins against another one, it is grace to lovingly discipline and teach them to confess their sin and seek reconciliation with the one they have wronged. It's not fun and often tries my own patience, but this sort of instruction is a means of grace to help my kids grow in Christ likeness. To ignore their sin and give them the impression that their errant behavior is acceptable would be sin against them on my part, as would losing my temper and dealing harshly with their sin. Either path would only lead them further into the destructiveness of sinful habit. Ignoring sin is never grace. If the cross teaches us anything, it should be that the triune God never ignores sin. He would take the weight of the penalty on himself rather than ignore our transgression. Grace always deals with sin and never looks the other way. Any attitude among evangelicals that does look the other way on some (but not all) sexual sin is cowardice, not grace.
When going forward means going back
That sets up the next point. If grace means dealing with sin rather than ignoring it, then the answer is not to ignore what scripture says about one action because we've already ignored it on other actions. We do not now compromise on same sex practices because we've already compromised on adultery. Two wrongs don't make a right. Few have put the principle more clearly than C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man" (Bk. 1, Ch. 5).
If evangelicals have taken the wrong road by compromising on biblical sexuality when it comes to adultery and divorce, then it is not progress to likewise compromise on same sex practice. The answer is not to continue down the wrong road; it is to go back and take seriously all of scripture and seek to apply it to the Church and ourselves for the sake of the world and for the glory of God. If evangelicals want to answer Drew's question, it means confessing and repenting of the sin of cowardice and gracelessness. It means being faithful to all of scripture, not just our favorite bits. Sometimes going forward requires turning around.
Image: manostphotos via freedigitalphotos.net
Image: manostphotos via freedigitalphotos.net