November 28, 2012

Incarnating the Righteousness of God: Richard Hays on a Controverted Phrase

The meaning of the apostle Paul's phrase "the righteousness of God" (Gk. δικαιοσυνη θεου) has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. Does it refer to justification? To God's own attribute of righteousness? God's covenant faithfulness? His saving righteousness, perhaps? One verse from Paul that, for various reasons, complicates the discussion is 2 Corinthians 5:21. Here's the distinguished Richard Hays on that passage:
The eschatological transformation of the community explains Paul's extraordinary affirmation that the purpose of God's reconciling work in Christ is "that we might become the righteousness of God" (5:21). He does not say "that we might know about the righteousness of God," nor "that we might believe in the righteousness of God," nor even "that we might receive the righteousness of God." Instead, the church is to become the righteousness of God: where the church embodies in its life together the world-reconciling love of Jesus Christ, the new creation is manifest. The church incarnates the the righteousness of God.
This is from Hays' The Moral Vision of the New Testament (1996), p. 24. Thoughts?

November 13, 2012

Review: The Lost World of Genesis One (John H. Walton)

The lines of the creation-evolution debate are boldly and firmly drawn and few plausible arguments have been made that carve a promising path forward. But with The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Kindle edition), John H. Walton provides just such an argument. Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Walton's evangelical credentials are substantial. In this book, he offers a reading of Genesis 1 that aims to take seriously both the trustworthiness of scripture and the original intention of the biblical author yet does not commit him to the view that the universe was created some 6,000 or so years ago.

The thesis of the book is that Genesis 1 is not (nor was it ever intended to be) an account of the material origins of the universe. Instead, he argues, it was intended to be an account of the functional origins of the universe. That is, Genesis 1 is not about how or when God made the stuff of creation but about the function God intends for the created order. 

This distinction will be very challenging for modern minds to grasp, if only because the notion of creation has primarily to do with the creation of materials. Walton argues, however, that ancient near eastern people understood the concept of creation in a very different way; namely, they thought of creation in terms of its God intended function. This is not to deny that God made all things or that he made all things out of nothing. No ancient Hebrew would deny that. It is simply to say that Genesis 1 is not about the creation of the material world. And, Walton insists, an ancient Hebrew reader would never have thought it was. 

So, what does it mean that Genesis 1 is about the creation of the functional origins of the cosmos? Walton argues that the creation narrative in Genesis 1 was intended to be an account of how God established the functions of his cosmic temple. That means that God intended the creation, which he had already made at a previous and undisclosed time, to be his own personal dwelling place, his own temple. And the events on the six days of creation are his work to establish the functions proper to that sacred dwelling place, not least the climactic moment when those who bear the divine image are placed within the temple. 

The reason this book is so important is simple: if Walton is right, then Genesis 1 makes absolutely no comment on the present day creation-evolution debate. Evolution is about the material origins of the universe; according to Walton, Genesis 1 is about the functional origins of the universe. To suggest that Genesis 1 provides an alternative account of the material origins of the universe against evolutionary theory is simply to make a category mistake. Genesis and science are making statements about two altogether different matters. Walton's contribution is to give us a serious and literal reading of Genesis that does not contradict modern science.

Throughout this book, Walton insists that he is firmly committed to the truthfulness of Genesis 1 and the original intent of its author. Unfortunately, I suspect many committed to a young earth may write Walton off as compromising scripture for the sake of science. To do so, however, will be a failure to take seriously the argument he is advancing. Indeed it is Walton's obvious love for scripture and his conviction that it speaks truly that led him to produce this interpretation that values so highly the authorial intent of the Bible. One may argue with his exegesis, but no one should suggest that he is not taking the text of scripture seriously.

Quite the page turner, this book is compelling both devotionally and academically. And if you are one of the many who struggles because you hold a high view of scripture and yet find many theories of modern science compelling, then this is the book you have been waiting for. You won't be able to put it down.

November 7, 2012

Review: Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Dever & Gilbert)

Books on preaching abound. And those of us who make a regular practice of reading such books must sift through the available volumes to decide which ones merit our attention and which do not. Full of homiletic wisdom and insight, Preach: Theology Meets Practice, co-authored by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, most assuredly falls in the former category.

The subtitle of the book is reflected in its three-part division: Part One: Theology, Part Two: Practice, and Part Three: Sermon Transcripts. Recognizing that the monologue sermon is scandalous in a culture saturated with images, Part One is a carefully composed and rigorous defense of Christian preaching. The argument is grounded in the basic observation that the God of the Bible is a speaking God. His word gives life to his people, and, as a result, his people are in desperate need of hearing his word. As the proclamation and explanation of the word of God, faithful preaching is, therefore, a necessity for the life and health of the people of God. Anyone interested in why Christians have, for centuries, engaged in and sat under preaching will find this part of the book valuable. And it is not written for pastors exclusively. Lay persons interested in what is supposed to be happening when your pastor preaches week after week will also enjoy and appreciate this part of the book. 

Taking up the topic of "Practice", Part Two includes chapters on what to preach (5), sermon preparation (6), structure (7), delivery (8) and review (9). I found this part of the book especially helpful, and have modified the way I prepare sermons as a result of reading it. I also particularly appreciated the section on application and have incorporated elements of the authors' method into my own work. 

Part Two would have been stronger had the topics of chapters six and seven been reversed. The discussion in chapter seven, which briefly introduced the parts of the sermon and their functions, would have led nicely into chapter six, which discussed the process of moving from biblical text to finished sermon. With the way these chapters are ordered in the published version of the book, the reader is instructed on how to prepare each part of the sermon before actually being introduced to the nature and function of those parts. This is no reason to pass over this valuable book. Simply know that chapter six will make more sense once you've read chapter seven; or, perhaps, simply read them in reverse order.

Part Three models the weekly sermon review process (introduced in chap. 9) in which each of the authors participate on Sunday evenings after they've preached. Two sermon transcripts are included, one from each author, along with comments, both charitable and critical, and feedback from the other. This final part of the book helpfully illustrates much of what has been taught in the first two parts. And, given that most preachers do not engage in a weekly review of their homiletic work, this section should prove interesting and instructive to many. Regular affirmative and corrective sermon review could go a long way in improving much of our preaching. 

This book is not just for preachers. Those who listen to preaching will better understand its necessity and importance. Those who do preach will learn and grow as practitioners of their homiletic craft. This is my new favorite book on preaching, and I am happy to commend  it to you.