March 2010


So I found myself pronouncing Greek with an accent this morning as I was trying to memorize some more. It was somewhere between a modern Greek accent and the one I use for Spanish. I’m sure it wouldn’t be comprehensible to too many people, but I think it helps me remember the text better if I can pronounce it more prosodically, and less like a series of unconnected words. Hopefully it will continue to be helpful!

~alex

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I’ve decided to purchase Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God after working through nearly 200 pages of it so far (I have it on Interlibrary Loan right now). I’ve been amazed at the argument thus far. He’s done a very thorough job of highlighting the problems with the classic Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith. I’m not yet sure how persuasive I’ll find his proposed solution, but he has convinced me that we need a solution. I’ll be blogging on this work quite a bit. I’m hoping to offer some summaries and maybe a small bit of analysis as I work through the book. This is both for the benefit of my audience (the book is long and not cheap), but perhaps mostly so I’ll understand the issues better by engaging with them.

So, hopefully, there will be a series of posts on this work right around the corner ;-)

~alex

I loved this bit from Douglas Campbell’s The Quest for Paul’s Gospel, A Suggested Strategy

I resist a paradigmatic postmodernism not because I am a critical realist or a traditional modernist, or even because it is self-referntially incoherent (which it is), but because I am a Christian. And as such I must affirm the rationality, the order, and the basic communicability of the reality that I am now caught up in. These aspects of that reality have been increasingly revealed; I cannot deny them. …

However, also as a Christian, I must acknowledge that the intelligibility of the created and redeemed order is shot through with ambiguities and difficulties, and one of the most flawed and darkened corners of that reality remains my mind. So I endorse fully the provisional nature of all our theological claims, including what I claim theologically here – that is, their brokenness, fragility, and frequent inaccuracy. … In that sense then we are all now postmodernists; we are post modernists with a small ‘p’, so to speak.”

The bolded part shocked me! It’s not the thing I was expecting in a scholarly argument on Paul. I guess I knew Campbell was a Christian, as he does teach at a divinity school. But I was pleasantly shocked that he was so open with this little part of the book. May we be increasingly able to acknowledge our faith, (whatever they may be, though preferably Christian ;-) ) in our religious study.

~alex

As I’ve been thinking more about the topic of participation in Paul’s letters, I’ve realized that participation theology (that is, a solid understanding of the believer dying and rising with Christ), may serve as a needed corrected to some aspects of Charismatic theology. Let’s start with a bit of background. Protestantism historically has embraced a pessimistic attitude toward humanity, even toward the believer. Especially for Luther, the believer remains plagued with sin, while still a saint, and must cling by faith to the coming deliverance of Christ. Justification is something God does for the believer, once and for all, in the cross. It is imputed to the believer, but the believer’s is still torn between both flesh and Spirit (à la Romans 7). There may also be a tendency to delay the “good things” about believers into a future age, whether it’s inheritance, sanctification, etc.

What a lot of Charismatic theology has done is reclaim the good things the New Testament has to say about the believer. Charismatics love passages like Ephesians 2:3-10, where the believers are portrayed as being seated with Christ in the Heavenly realms. We love Romans 8, and the triumphant “Life by the Spirit.” We love 2 Cor 5:17-21, where the believer is called a new creation! We definitely love statements like, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” The miraculous aspects of Jesus’ ministry typically follow. Some Charismatics go so far to promulgate a “Dominion Theology” where Christians are supposed to “reign with Jesus” in places of leadership throughout the secular world. See this for a bit more info.

On the whole, I think this a good progression from Luther’s pessimism, but it does have some problems. First, there are a few practical problems. An exalted view of the believer is an easy recipe for spiritual arrogance and pride. The prosperity gospel probably came from this imbalance. Also, it can lead to some existential quandaries. Sometimes, life sucks. Even if I’m a son of God, I sure don’t always feel like it! Along with this, any struggle is automatically because of demonic oppression. Or, if God doesn’t answer my prayer, my faith is really shaken!

The traditional doctrine of justification actually encourages these, in my mind. The problem is that the cross is thought of primarily (or exclusively) as something that God did through Jesus for us. This is absolutely true! But it’s not the complete story. We are also called to emulate the cross, to participate in the dying and rising with Christ. We Charismatics love to emphasize the power of resurrection without the suffering of the cross, but God calls us to both. They’re definitely linked in Paul’s mind. Philippians 3:10-11 is a very good example of this, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This balance is absolutely crucial. It helps us make sense of the challenges of life (which sometimes get downright terrible; but then again, so was the cross!). I helps us make sense of the awesome points of life (after all, we’re sharing in the power of his resurrection!). It helps us remember that the way to exaltation and glorification is through the the Cross, the way of humility. We are heirs with Christ, but this involves sharing in his suffering (Romans 8:17).

Overall, I think that a robust “participationist” reading of Paul will help us live much more effectively. It helps us remain humble in suffering while celebrating the glorious parts in the life of the believer. Charismatics heartily embrace the power of the Resurrection. Hopefully we can embrace the suffering of the Cross as well.

~alex

I read through a good bit of Keener’s 1999 long commentary on Matthew, and was quite impressed by it! Unfortunately, I need to focus my reading on Paul and Ignatius right now, but it was a fun diversion. Perhaps I’ll get to come back to it in the future…

~alex

As I’m thinking more about suffering in Paul’s thought and Ignatius’ thought, I’ve realized that I’m going to have to defend a “partcipationist” reading of Paul. Typically, this is done by arguing the “in Christ” notion of Paul as being more fundamental or important than his justification/legal language. I’m not terribly interested in attacking justification, but I do want the participation language to take its proper place. The early fathers read Paul almost exclusively on these terms, where as Protestants have done the complete opposite: we have read Paul exclusively from justification/legal terms. We need to understand both! As I’ve been working through 1 Corinthians and memorizing, I’ve been surprised by the participatory language that is present. It’s couched in very practical sections, but it’s there nonetheless.

The first thing I noticed was 1 Cor 6:17, “But the one who joins himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” The contrast here is with the prior verse, and the one “who joins himself with a prostitute.” Here, our union with Christ is compared to sexual union. If that’s not participatory language, I don’t know what is! Of course, as I’ve noted somewhere prior, I don’t want to run off to strange places with this metaphor. But what remains is that there is something “mystical” (for lack of a better word) going on here. There’s is more to conversion than simply what Christ accomplished on the cross (magnificent though it was!). In baptism, we die and rise with Christ. We become a part of his body. We participate in his suffering and in his glorification.

We see similar things a chapter later. After instructing believers married to unbelievers not to leave their spouses, Paul offers this little statement:
For the unbelieving man is sanctified by the [believing] wife, and the unbelieving woman is sanctified by the [believing] husband. If this were not so, your children would be unclean. As it is, though, they are holy”
and, after another verse:
how do you know, wife, that you won’t save your husband? how do you know, husband, that you won’t save your wife?”
1 Cor 7:14,16

What’s strange here is the “high view of the believer” for lack of a better term. Paul states that an unbelieving spouse is made holy by a believing spouse. He also states that a believing spouse may save an unbelieving spouse. I think this is difficult to make sense of in a traditional, justification-driven framework.

For example, if I lead a friend to Christ tomorrow, and then introduce to my pastor as “my friend who I just saved,” I’m probably gonna get a rebuke about how it’s only Jesus who saves people, not me. Likewise, If I pray for a sick person and they become well, it’ll sound strange if I say, “I just healed someone!” I’ve been corrected along those lines before, in my more youthful and zealous days. But whereas that kind of language makes us uncomfortable, it doesn’t seem to phase Paul here (though he does have problems when he’s mistaken for a Greek deity ;-) ). The New Testament occasionally will name an apostle as healing someone without making explicit reference to God, like in Acts 28:8: “Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. “

I think this make much more sense if we take Paul’s participation language into account. How on earth can a believer make an unbeliever holy? How on earth can a believer make their children holy? And how on earth can a believer sanctify an unbeliever? Well, if we’re “one with the Lord in Spirit” then it makes sense. If we’re participating with Jesus in the power of resurrection and the fellowship of sufferings (Philippians 3:10) then we can talk like this. It’s not me κατα σαρκα (according to the flesh) that saves or sanctifies someone, it’s me κατα πνευμα (according to the Spirit). It’s the me that has joined itself with the Lord, and become one with him in Spirit.

A high view of the believer (contra Luther, perhaps?) makes plenty of sense when we consider that we are μελη χριστου, members of Christ’s body. In some way we take part in the suffering and the glory of the risen Messiah. From this standpoint, I think we can begin to understand what’s going on here in 1 Corinthians regarding “saving” and “sanctifying.” The people correcting me were right to an extent, it is only the triune God that saves and heals. The funny thing is, we’re called into that triune fellowship, that communion, in Christ and by the Spirit. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it’s tremendously exciting. I’m looking forward to discovering more!

~alex

I love interlibrary loans. My university, NC State, does have a large volume of titles. However, we’re primarily an agriculture and engineering school, not a humanities one. Fortunately for me, the other triangle universities are very good about sharing books with one another, so I have access to the libraries of Duke and UNC. This is especially nice because I have access to the Duke Divinity School library! I recently requested Craig Keener’s long commentary on Matthew. The funny thing was, when I visited the Divinity School last week, I forgot that I had requested it and went looking for it in their library! I was a bit disappointed to not find anything, but pleasantly surprised a few days later when I got an e-mail saying that my interlibrary loan request was ready to pick up.

Perhaps I should lay off for a bit if I can’t even keep track of what I’ve requested.

But what’s the fun in that? ;-)

~alex

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