April 28, 2011

A Good Prospect

James Dunn summarizes the section of his Pauline theology on "Christ Crucified" by saying poignantly:
At the end of all discussion, Paul's message as God's ambassador on Christ's behalf is stark. Christ's death offers an effective response to the power of death and its sting (sin). That response itself is death. Those who choose ignore that response will find that their death is their own, as they choose, and that's that - finis. But for those who find in Christ's death the answer to sin and death, who identify with him in his death, there is the prospect of sharing with him also in his resurrection beyond death (233).

April 27, 2011

Eschatology is Everything

I'm reading a lot on the Apostle Paul these days. And among the many things I'm learning, one stands out from the others: for Paul, eschatology is everything. His view of "last things" soaks his theological thinking. You cannot escape it. It's pervasive. I've read this before, of course. But it is now taking root in my own thinking in a new and exciting way.

Consider, for Paul that justification is the present faith-anticipation of the eschatological verdict. Sanctification is the Spirit-life of the future come into the present. Salvation itself is a matter of being united with Christ in his death and resurrection, which is the first fruits of the final resurrection of the people of God. The presence of the Spirit in the Church marks it out as an eschatological community. And the Mosaic Law, though it was a good thing, is now obsolete because it was intended for an age that has now ended with the coming of the Christ and the Spirit. More could be said, but you get the picture.

But why is Paul's theology so pervasively eschatological? I am persuaded that it is because of his all-consuming focus on Christ. The first coming of Christ was an eschatological event which inaugurated the eschatological kingdom of God. His death on the cross is the decisive end of the old age; his resurrection the decisive beginning of the new. As already observed, his resurrection is also the initial phase of the general resurrection, his new life the beginning of the new creation that will find its ultimate consummation upon his return. Let's not forget that Paul's eschatology is not fully realized; to suggest as much would be a grave misunderstanding of his thought. But Paul did believe himself to be living at the end of the old age and the beginning of the new. And the crucial difference was the presence of the Messiah, Jesus Christ the Lord. And because of that, for Paul, eschatology is everything.

April 26, 2011

St. Andrews on the Rise in New Testament Studies

The news out this morning is that Professor Scott Hafemann, currently of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has accepted a post as Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews. His prior work has focused on Pauline studies and biblical theology; he is currently writing a commentary on the Petrine epistles and Jude, along with a book on Pauline theology. Hafemann's responsibilities at St. Andrews will include teaching and research. 

With the recent addition of N.T. Wright to their faculty and now Hafemann, St. Andrews is quickly becoming a top-notch place to study the New Testament. I suspect their pool of applications will be getting much deeper, not least, I imagine, from students with an evangelical tendency. It should be interesting to see how things develop there over the next few years.
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April 25, 2011

Decarnating Jesus

Amidst the celebration of the death of death through the victory of God in Christ that is the joy of Easter, there sometimes come discordant voices who insist on twisting the scriptures and casting aspersion on the resurrected Lord. One of those voices this Easter season is Marcus Borg, a New Testament scholar who, for many years now, has been one of the chief antagonists of the bodily resurrection of Christ. Borg has gone on the offensive against the resurrection once again this year with a post entitled: The Resurrection of Jesus: Physical/Bodily or Spiritual/Mystical? The article claims that Jesus' resurrection should not be understood as a resurrection of the body but as a "really real" spiritual resurrection, and through mystical experience a person can come to know or experience the really real. This so-called "spiritual" resurrection is, for Borg, distinctly non-bodily:
[W]hat would it mean to say that the risen Jesus is a physical/bodily reality? That he continues to be a molecular, protoplasmic, corpuscular being existing somewhere? Does that make any sense? How can the risen and living Jesus be all around us and with us, present everywhere, if he is bodily and physical?
I intend to raise three points of response to this article - two critiquing aspects of the argument and one considering its implications.

First, the question of how Jesus can be bodily present in a place and yet "all around us and with us, present everywhere" is a relentlessly modernistic question that didn't seem to trouble the early church and, I suspect, doesn't trouble many post-moderns, who are often quite comfortable with mystery and tension. And the question is easily answered using the language of the New Testament authors themselves. In Acts, Jesus ascends bodily to the throne of heaven and the right hand of the Father, and there he is present, yet he sends the Holy Spirit to be his presence in the world to embolden and empower his disciples for the mission of making disciples. The New Testament affirms both the bodily nature of Christ's resurrection and the pervasive presence of God in Christ through the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit is even sometimes called the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9; 1 Pet 1:11). This is, of course, the kind of biblical language that led the early church fathers to begin using trinitarian language in describing the mysterious existence of the one God revealed as three persons. A truly trinitarian theology sees no problem with Christ being bodily present in heaven and yet widely present in the Spirit. Mysterious? Certainly. But neither meaningless nor contradictory.

Second, Borg insists that resurrection is not about what happened to Jesus' corpse. Strangely, though, he goes on to reflect on the importance of Easter by saying that Jesus could not be held by the tomb:
The central meaning of Easter is not about whether something happened to the corpse of Jesus. Its central meanings are that Jesus continues to be known and that he is Lord. The tomb couldn't hold him. He's loose in the world. He's still here. He's still recruiting for the kingdom of God.
This is a most peculiar way of speaking. If resurrection is not about what happened to Jesus' corpse, then presumably his corpse would have remained in the tomb. And would not the tomb have continued to hold him? And when his disciples began to go around saying that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had been resurrected, would not a simple inspection of the entombed corpse of Jesus put an end to all that fanciful talk. The reality is that if resurrection is not about what happened to Jesus' corpse, then there is no resurrection. He is not Lord; the tomb has held him; he is not loose in the world; he is not here; and the kingdom of God is a farce. Borg's argument virtually deconstructs itself.

Third, what are the implications of this allegedly non-physical resurrection? There was a common axiom among the early church fathers that provides a helpful angle into this discussion. In describing the relationship between incarnation and redemption, the fathers often said: whatever is assumed (in the incarnation) is redeemed, and whatever is not assumed is not redeemed. This is a helpful perspective for considering the implications of a non-bodily resurrection, because if the resurrection is only spiritual/mystical and not physical/bodily, if a body has not been assumed in the resurrection, then it is far from clear that redemption extends to embodied life, which is bad news for all of us who live as embodied persons. If Jesus does not assume a body in his resurrection, then it is unclear how redemption can have anything to do with us. In fact, it would seem that it does not, and we are left helpless in our sinful state. 

Further, if the resurrection is non-bodily, then it is difficult to understand why the incarnation was necessary in the first place. This point is behind the title of this post: Decarnating Jesus. If incarnation is to take on human flesh, then decarnation is to cast it off. If the resurrection and redemption are non-bodily, why did the Son of God need to take on a body in the first place? In Borg's line of thought, the incarnation seems to be something of an add-on that doesn't really have much to do with anything.

Also, a non-physical resurrection denigrates physicality. That is, if redemption is a purely spiritual and non-physical reality, then why should we think physicality and the physical world matter at all? Forget stewardship of creation. Forget feeding the hungry. The sooner they starve to death, the sooner they are delivered from this lowly physical state to a higher spiritual salvation.

The bodily resurrection of Christ is the ground of embodied dignity, the ground of serving and ministering to other embodied persons. The resurrection of Christ's body is God's declaration that bodies are important; creation is important; physicality is important and good. 

Borg's decarnational theology is basically warmed-over gnosticism, the implications of which denigrate embodied life and undermine the goodness of God's physical creation. This leads logically to an escapist theology in which bodily existence is bad and spirituality is good, and hope is for freedom from the former for the pure experience of the latter. The problem is that God said his physical creation was good. God imprinted embodied human beings with his own divine image. God likes bodies. And God raised Jesus' body from the dead for our full redemption and for the full redemption of all that he made. Anything less is decarnating Jesus. 

April 24, 2011

An Easter Hymn by N.T. Wright

Yesterday, I featured the opening chorus from N.T. Wright's Easter Oratorio, a moving piece that is devotionally meaningful, biblically faithful, and theologically substantial. As I looked through the rest of the oratorio, I discovered the final verse is an appropriate reflection for the celebration of Easter morning that is likewise meaningful and substantial. So, I thought I'd share this Easter Hymn from N.T. Wright:

Ye choirs of new Jerusalem
Your sweetest notes employ
The Paschal victory to hymn
In strains of holy joy.

How Judah's Lion burst his chains,
And crushed the serpent's head;
And brought with him, from death's domains,
The long-imprisoned dead.

From hell's devouring jaws the prey
Alone our Leader bore;
His ransomed hosts pursue their way
Where he hath gone before.

Triumphant in his glory now
His sceptre ruleth all,
Earth, heaven, and hell before him bow,
And at his footstool fall.

While joyful thus his praise we sing,
His mercy we implore,
Into his palace bright to bring
And keep us evermore.

All glory to the Father be,
All glory to the Son,
All glory, Holy Ghost, to thee,
While endless ages run. Alleluia! Amen.

April 23, 2011

A Meditation for Holy Saturday by N.T. Wright

I mentioned in yesterday's post that N.T. Wright is a prolific writer of books. It turns out that he is something of a poet as well. Working with composer Paul Spicer, Wright has written the text for an Easter Oratorio that tells the story of the resurrection from chapters 20 and 21 of John's gospel. The opening chorus is a fitting meditation for this Holy Saturday:
On the seventh day God rested
in the darkness of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
all his work of joy and doom.
Now the word had fallen silent,
and the water had run dry,
The bread had all been scattered,
and the light had left the sky.
The flock had lost its shepherd,
and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave-clothes and the spices
cradle him we did not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar's Lord and Israel's King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
in the darkness of the spring.
Rest well, indeed. For tomorrow there is work to be done and a grave to be conquered.

April 22, 2011

N.T. Wright on Biblical Universalism

Here's another resource for those who might find themselves engaged in the recently revived Universalism debate. Also from Themelios 4:2, this one is by N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham and now of the University of St. Andrews. Wright is a widely known and respected New Testament scholar, who, I am persuaded, is able to write books faster than I am able to read them.

The article is called Towards a Biblical View of Universalism, and Wright's aim is twofold. He intends first to dismantle universalistic interpretations of some New Testament texts that are commonly marshaled in favor of universal salvation for all people without exception. He intends second to interpret those same texts in light of their contexts as describing a salvation that is universalistic in that it is not restricted to a single ethnicity.

Wright argues that a major issue in early Christianity was Jewish particularism, the belief that God's saving purposes were limited to their own people-group, and that one needed to become a Jew in order to become a follower of Christ. Another problem was Gentile snobbery, the belief that God was quite done with the Jews and had expanded his purposes beyond their borders leaving them all behind. Against both these views, Paul believed that the God revealed in Jesus Christ was God of Jews and Gentiles (Rom 3:29). So, biblical universalism is not the belief that salvation is given to all without exception, but that salvation is available in Christ to all without distinction.

Wright summarizes some implications of the distinction:
Biblical 'universalism', therefore, consists in this, that in Christ God has revealed the one way of salvation for all men alike, irrespective of race, sex, colour or status. This biblical 'universalism' (unlike the other sort) gives the strongest motives for evangelism, namely, the love of God and of men. (This itself is evidence that we are thinking biblically here.) This view specifically excludes the other sort of 'universalism', because scripture and experience alike tell us that many do miss the one way of salvation which God has provided. This is a sad fact, and the present writer in no ways enjoys recording it, any more than Paul in Romans 9-11 looked with pleasure on his kinsmen's fate. Yet it cannot be ignored if we wish to remain true to scripture or really to love our fellow men. If the house is on fire, the most loving thing to do is to raise the alarm.
The article is not all that long and contains a great deal of help on how better to understand the passages often used to support Universalism of the usual sort. It's well worth a read and will be helpful when you find yourself sipping a hot coffee and engaged in charitable debate.

Have you heard this alternative reading of the 'universal' passages before? Do you find it helpful? Unhelpful? Do you agree with Wright's suggestion that Universalism undermines evangelism? Why? Why not?

April 21, 2011

Richard Bauckham on the History of Universalism

In light of the recent buzz over Universalism, I want to call attention to Richard Bauckham's article Universalism: a historical survey. As the title indicates, it surveys the general approaches to and important historical representatives of Universalism. Bauckham, formerly of the University of St. Andrews and an internationally respected scholar of the New Testament (and many related fields), makes a couple of points that I have found quite helpful.

First, Bauckham opens the essay discussing whether Universalism has really been an orthodox option for Christians in previous centuries. In this discussion, he says that throughout history there were a few Christian theologians here and there who held to Annihilationism and even fewer that held to universal salvation. Eternal punishment even appeared in several creeds (e.g. Athanasian Creed, Fourth Lateran Council, Canon I), which indicates to Bauckham that "It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation." Only since the 1800's has this situation changed with many Christians adopting Annihilationism or Universalism.

Second, he argues that after the upheaval of the nineteenth century, the twentieth century brought general  acceptance that any case for Universalism made on the basis of the biblical text would be an artificial one. Universalists basically agreed that responsible biblical exegesis would conclude that scripture taught a final judgment and ultimate division of humanity into the saved and the lost. In short, Universalism is not a defensible biblical option. At this point, the Universalist's strategy simply became to disregard those biblical texts which speak clearly of eternal punishment in favor of those which seem to support universal salvation.

At the end of the day, for Bauckham, Universalism is outside the bounds of historic Christianity and generally characterized by disregard for serious interaction with the Bible.

The article, published in Themelios 4:2, will benefit non-Universalist Christians who may feel themselves the minority in today's cultural climate by showing just how insignificant is its number of adherents through history. Bauckham argues that Universalism has never been held by anyone in the main stream of Christian thought. For Universalist leaning Christians, the article will be of benefit in providing a broad scope lay of the land on which they can then place themselves, and it is helpful in recognizing that serious Universalists don't try to make the case biblically. Either way, the article is well worth reading in full.

Do you agree with Bauckham? Is Universalism really outside the mainstream of historic Christianity? If it is, how important is that? Is Universalism biblically defensible? Or do Universalists need to admit that it isn't?

April 20, 2011

What is a Theologian?

According to James Dunn, it is someone who:
Belongs to that group of Christians who have seen it as part of their calling to articulate their faith in writing and to instruct others in their common faith, and who have devoted a considerable portion of their lives to so doing (The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 2).
And for Dunn, Paul is "the greatest Christian theologian of all time" (3, italics original).

What do you think of this definition of a theologian? Would you want to modify it in any way? How does this definition relate to the work of the pastor? Is the pastor chiefly a theologian? Or something else?

April 18, 2011

Can Wrath Be Righteous? And Are We Blinded by Culture?

There's been a lot of talk, as of late, asserting that any God who is good and loving cannot also be a God of wrath. These attributes are mutually exclusive, or so these voices would have us believe. We should remember that such talk is not new, and that it may very well serve us by bringing greater clarity by sending us back to the scriptures for a closer look as we seek to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ and better understand the way he has made himself known.

The question as to whether God's wrath could possibly be righteous was raised by Paul in the middle of the first century. Paul sets out his intention to describe God's righteousness in Romans 1.17. He then immediately begins describing God's wrath in Romans 1.18. The parallel is striking: "For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed (1.17)...For the wrath of God is revealed (1.18). Key is the causal connective "for" at the beginning of 1.18, which indicates that the latter verse (18) is substantiating the claim made in the previous verse (17). The revelation of God's righteousness is substantiated by the revelation of God's wrath. So, did Paul think that God's wrath is righteous? If his letter to the Romans is any indication, he certainly did. In fact, not only did he think of God's wrath as righteous, he considered God's wrath to be exhibit A of the evidence that substantiates the revelation of God's righteousness. There is other evidence as well, not least the putting forward of Jesus as a propitiating sacrifice, but that is beyond the scope of the present question. The point here is that God's wrath is not only righteous, it is an essential element in the manifestation of God's righteousness.

James Dunn makes the interesting point in his massive book The Theology of Paul the Apostle that Paul's understanding of God's righteous wrath is typical of his Jewish context:
Not least of importance for Paul at this point are two fundamental axioms of the Jewish concept of divine justice: that God "will render to each according to his works" (2.6) and that God's judgment will be impartial (2.11). God's wrath must be just, "otherwise how will God judge the world?" (3.5-6) [41-42, emphasis added].
This raises the question as to why it was axiomatic to Paul's second temple Jewish sensibilities that God's wrath was distinctly just while to our modern sensibilities God's wrath seems distinctly unjust. We don't want God to judge justly; we want him to look the other way. Could it be that there is a bias characteristic of modern Western sensibilities that wrath and justice are antithetical when taken as attributes of God? And could it be that this is one reason we have so much trouble coming to terms with what scriptures say about these things? That Paul was on the same page as his Jewish contemporaries with regard to the compatibility of wrath and righteousness suggests that the current struggle with this issue is a matter of cultural tunnel vision. We have difficulty seeing things any other way.

In all these things we must remember that the scriptural imperative is to have our thoughts and biases shaped by scripture. We must endeavor to see the world the way the Bible sees the world, even if it means casting off some of our cultural presuppositions.

What do you think? Do we have a cultural bias against righteous wrath? Do you think Paul has the same bias? Or is there other evidence that he thinks righteousness and wrath are incompatible? Why might we think God unjust to punish sin and simultaneously think governing authorities unjust when they fail to punish lawbreakers?  

April 16, 2011

Pauline Eschatology: A Question on the History of Interpretation

It is now axiomatic in Pauline studies that eschatology is central to the Apostle's theologizing. Any serious study of his thought must reckon with his belief about the future; it is pervasive in his thought.

Such was not always the case in critical studies of Paul, though. Indeed, it was not until the early 20th century that Pauline scholarship really began to wrestle with the eschatological dimension of Paul's letters. Albert Schweitzer is largely credited with establishing the importance of eschatology for the study of Paul, but, as far as I can tell, Geerhardus Vos was doing the same thing at about the same time. Vos' monumental volume, The Pauline Eschatology, was first published in 1930, the same year as the German edition of Schweitzer's influential The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle. In the foreword of the 1979 reprint of Vos' book, Richard Gaffin suggested that while Schweitzer is more frequently credited with "leading the way in bringing about a widespread awareness of the pervasively eschatological character of Paul's teaching," Vos did so more faithfully to Paul without some of the weaknesses Gaffin finds in Schweitzer's understanding of Paul's Christ-mysticism. Gaffin goes on to point out that Vos articulated many of the central issues in his 1912 essay, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit." Schweitzer, however, also raised the issue in that same year with his Paul and His Interpreters, in which he concluded that Paul's theology is essentially eschatological.

So, here's the question: Did Vos and Schweitzer place this initial emphasis on the importance of eschatology for Pauline theology simultaneously, or did one of them publish something prior to 1912 that should be credited as being the pioneer study on the matter? Some of you Paul scholars out there, help me out.

April 12, 2011

Life in the Spirit

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you." Romans 8:9

It's easy to forget sometimes that the Christian life is about more than forgiveness of sin. Don't get me wrong! Forgiveness is hugely important. But it's not the end of the story; it's only the beginning. One of the ways that scripture describes the ongoing process of Christian discipleship is with the language of living in the Spirit. But what is life in the Spirit? How is this new life nurtured and developed? What is it's goal?

Romans 8 is one of the chief places that the Apostle Paul develops the theme of life in the Spirit, and he does so in contrast to life in the flesh. When Paul uses these terms flesh and Spirit, he is referring to opposing powers or principles of control. The Spirit is God's own Holy Spirit who indwells believers and empowers them to live transformed lives that honor and please God. The flesh is the opposite controlling power that is antagonistic to the work of God's Spirit. In developing these concepts Paul invites his reader to ask: Am I controlled by the flesh or the Spirit? He also wants his readers to begin reflecting on what it looks like to live under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit as they seek to live in ways that are honoring to God.

Life in the Spirit begins with the life of the mind.
Paul makes just this point when he says, "For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom 8:6). Being transformed into the likeness of Christ begins with the life of the mind, which means that as believers we need to be intentional about the way we order our habits of thinking. There are innumerable voices out there vying for a piece of our thought life. From radio to TV, billboards to social networking, someone wants us to think about their show, their product, their idea, or their agenda. The question for us is whether our thoughts will be shaped by those voices or by the Spirit of God.

But how do we develop habits of mind that are shaped by the Spirit? The Church has often pointed to the means of grace as concrete and specific tools used by God to transform our thinking and our living. Regular study of scripture alone and with a group, prayer, corporate worship, and sharing in the sacramental life of the Church are only a few ways that we can develop a disciplined thought life. Memorizing scripture is enormously important as well. My grandfather has made a habit of memorizing several chapters of scripture at a time (and sometimes even whole books!). It's not hard to guess what occupies his thinking most of the time. Life in the Spirit begins with the life of the mind. Who is shaping our thinking?

Life in the Spirit is life free from sin.
The struggle against sin is sometimes so profound that it's almost impossible to believe that God's Spirit intends us to live lives that are pleasing to God, lives free from sin. But no matter how tough it may be to believe, Paul makes just this point by implication in Romans 8:7-9. He claims that the mind of the flesh is hostile to God. It is not willing submit to God; indeed, it is not able to submit to God. Then Paul says something staggering: "You are not in the flesh." Here's the logic: those that are in the flesh are unable to please God. You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Therefore, you are able to please God. If Paul is right that those in whom the Spirit dwells are able to please God, then he must mean that those who have the Spirit are able to successfully resist temptation to sin, because sin is not pleasing to God.

Let me be clear. I'm not saying that it's impossible for Christians to sin. I am saying that life in bondage to sin is not God's design for the normal Christian life. Life in the Spirit means that the Spirit empowers people to obey God, to honor God, to resist those things that bring feelings of guilt and condemnation. It turns out that the good news is better than we could of imagined. Not only is the penalty of our sin forgiven, but the power of our sin is destroyed. Life in the Spirit means life free from sin.

Life in the Spirit is holiness now and resurrection later
Many times when we talk about life in the Spirit and the holiness that is the fruit of life in the Spirit, we forget that this life is driving forward towards a goal, and that goal is nothing less than resurrection from the dead. We catch a glimpse of this in Romans 8:11 where Paul says, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you." For Paul, God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. Thus, if the Spirit of God dwell in us believers, then we have the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead along with Christ. The presence of the Spirit in the present produces the transformed life of Christlikeness and holiness; the presence of the Spirit also guarantees the future resurrection of the body when Christ returns. This is important because death is a consequence of sin, and until death is defeated and its effects reversed, the consequence remains. Life in the Spirit means the full overthrow of all the effects of sin. Bondage to sin is broken in the present; the death that is the result of sin is reversed in the future. And that is good news.

So, life in the Spirit begins with the transformation of our thinking and works its way out into every aspect of our living as we await the day when death will be fully and finally overthrown and our bodies raised from the dead. Christian discipleship is about much more than forgiveness. The question is: Are we living in the Spirit?

Thoughts on Love Wins (3): Theology (Im)Proper

This is my third and final (planned) post reflecting on Rob Bell's Love Wins. Follow these links to find earlier posts for what I like and what I don't (and more of what I don't). As Bell pointed out in the now infamous promo video for the book, what you believe about heaven and hell is important because it is related to what you think about God. And that is my interest in this post: what understanding of God emerges in Love Wins? Theologians use the term "theology proper" to refer to the specific branch of theology that relates to the doctrine of God. So that's what I want to consider, some aspects of the theology proper of Love Wins

As an avenue into this discussion, I want to take a look at something Bell says in chapter 7. He raises the fact that the gospel has often been cast in terms of a rescue. God is holy. Therefore, God must condemn sinners. But Jesus takes our place so that we can have eternal life. Bell is concerned that this telling of the story subtly suggests that Jesus rescues us from God, which is a problem for him. He says, "Let's be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer" (182). Two observations are worth making in response to Bell's argument as it relates to the doctrine of God.

First, Bell rightly points out that God rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. What he fails to recall is that death is the consequence of sin because God has determined that it should be. God is the one who stipulated to Adam, "If you eat, you will die." And when Adam ate, God implemented the curse of which the man had been warned. Death is God's judgment against sin, and it is the judgment from which we need to be rescued. Therefore, in needing to be rescued from death, we need to be rescued from the penalty of God's curse against sin. We need to be rescued from God.

Second, Bell's concern that we not suggest that Jesus rescues us from God is insufficiently trinitarian. It is most certainly true that Jesus rescues us from God. But we must also remember that we are trinitarians; Jesus is fully divine. So, Jesus' rescuing of us from God is really God rescuing us from God. In Christ, God rescues us from himself by taking God's wrath onto God's self for our sake. It is not as if God is sending Jesus as some detached and unlucky fellow who somehow got conscripted into this rescue plan and ended up with the short end of the stick. So, inasmuch as God was in Christ reconciling us to himself, God rescues us from God. And that is love that wins. Bell has yet to grasp the trinitarian nature of the God's work of salvation.

Further, if God has indeed appointed Christ as judge of all people (Acts 10:42), and if it is the case, as Jesus says, that he determines who enters eternal life and who is condemned, then we need to take on board that Jesus actually rescues us from Jesus. Indeed, scripture even speaks of "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:16) indicating that there is no reason to think that God's wrath against sin is not also Jesus' wrath against sin. Father and Son do, after all, share the same divine essence. This, then, is the result of a robust trinitarian theology: Jesus saves us from Jesus' wrath. In light of these considerations, I can only conclude that Love Wins is deficient in that it fails to take on board the soteriological implications of a deeply trinitarian understanding of God.

At the end of the day, it appears Bell's authority for developing his own theology proper is not scripture but his own personal creativity, which is too bad in that it misrepresents scripture and is highly misleading. My only conclusion can be that Bell's theology proper simply isn't.
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Thoughts on Love Wins - Part 1
Thoughts on Love Wins - Part 2