Archive for October, 2009

Already Glorified? (part 2)

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Here’s my own position (at least as of today!):

If (1) Paul can say that “in hope we were saved,” when “save” (sozo) language is always, even there, future in orientation for him, and if (2) future salvation includes glorification, then he could quite plausibly mean in saying “those whom [God] justified [God] also glorified” that believers were glorified in hope, that is, they were and are partially and proleptically saved/glorified in the initial and daily reality of justification, that is, of dying with Christ and rising to new life in Christ. Of course that new life is always in the shape of the cross!

If this correct, then the term “theosis” to describe what Paul is describing is quite appropriate—a process of being formed into the likeness of the Son of God, though in this life the “glory” is partial, proleptic, and cruciform.

One possible problem with this interpretation is connecting it to the liberation of creation. Is there any sense of proleptic salvation for the creation in Romans 8? Or could there be, implicitly?

(This post is expanded from a comment I made on my previous post on this topic.)

Already Glorified? (Rom 8:30)

Monday, October 19th, 2009

In Romans 8:30 Paul asserts that those who were predestined, called, and justified were also glorified. What could it mean? Many (though not all—see, e.g., Cranfield and Jewett) commentators argue that it does not refer literally to a past (or ongoing) event or experience. They stand on a rather firm foundation of texts such as 5:2 (“our hope of sharing the glory of God”) and 8:17-18 (“…so that we may also be glorified with him… the glory about to be revealed to us”)—plus a healthy fear of any “theology of glory.” They offer several different interpretations of the aorist:

• the proleptic, futuristic, or prophetic aorist: a future action is so certain that it may be narrated in the past tense (many)
• the properly theological use of the aorist (my term): a future action is already complete from the timeless, eternal perspective of God (Keck)
• the a-historical use of the aorist (my-term): like “predestined,” “glorified” expresses a view of salvation events that occur outside of time as we know it, unlike “called” and “justified,” which refer to events within time (Dunn)
• the punctiliar/non-temporal aorist: an action is perceived and described with respect to its aspect (one-time or completed character), not its temporality

While each of these interpretations could make sense of the text in isolation, or in connection only with other texts that clearly refer to the believing community’s future experience of glory, I wonder if these explanations sufficiently recognize the present reality of glory that Paul describes in 2 Cor 3:18 or, more importantly, whether they connect “glory” to the totality of that theme in Romans. Here is the question: Has the glorification of humanity already begun? Can it be said, in some sense, to be a past/present reality as well as a future reality? If so, what does that mean, especially in Romans?

What do people think about this?

More Online Reviews of “Inhabiting”

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Professor Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary has a generous review of Inhabiting the Cruciform God at the Denver Seminary site .  I’m grateful to Craig.

And here’s another, by a former student named Lyle Brecht, from a political angle. He told me a version of it will be published in Political Theology, too.

Seven Deadly Spirits in Revelation 2-3

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I first read Revelation seriously (or at least responsibly) with Dr. Bruce Metzger at Princeton Seminary, first as his student and then as his teaching fellow. I’ve been fascinated with the book, and the seven messages in chapters 2-3, ever since. And I am now finishing a little book called Reading Revelation Responsibly, which should come out from Cascade in the spring.

Meanwhile… in a recent book, Seven Deadly Spirits: The Message of Revelation’s Letters for Today’s Church, T. Scott Daniels suggests that five of the seven churches addressed in Rev 2-3 have a dominant, deadly sin—and hence a message for us about avoiding those corporate sins in our own context. The other two (Smyrna and Philadelphia), which are commended and not at all censured, could have developed a spirit opposite that for which they are praised. Daniels contends that each of the churches has, or could have, such a specific deadly sin because it has developed an ethos, a kind of corporate personality, and that every church in every age has such a distinctive collective spirit. These “unholy spirits” (my term) are:

• Ephesus: the spirit of boundary keeping, or ungenerous orthodoxy
• Smyrna: the spirit of consumerism
• Pergamum: the spirit of accommodation, or failed witness
• Thyatira: the spirit of privatized faith, or dividing body and soul
• Sardis: the spirit of apathetic faith
• Philadelphia: the spirit of fear
• Laodicea: the spirit of self-sufficiency

The point of Rev 2-3, when heard faithfully today, is to listen for the Spirit of God identifying our own church’s peculiar unholy spirit and offering us the presence and grace of Christ to transform us into a more faithful people of God.

The book is not cutting-edge scholarship, but it is excellent biblical interpretation grounded in good exegesis.

I am wondering which church I belong to… Are you?

Abraham our Prototype of Participation in Romans 4

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Some thoughts…

1. The traditional scholarly and reigning interpretation of the role of Abraham in Romans 4 is that of exemplum of justification by faith. This sort of interpretation is often quite thin, focusing merely on the claim that Abraham’s faith—not, as most Jews would have said, his obedience or faithfulness, or as others might think, his works/works of the law (whether deeds or identity markers)—was reckoned to him as righteousness. This approach assumes that faith basically means a non-doing trust (e.g., in the promise), without exploring in any depth the meaning of either faith or righteousness in the chapter, much less in Romans or Paul more broadly. The strength of this view is its apparent basis in the very Scriptural texts, especially Gen 15:6, that Paul cites. But this view over-privileges the accounting metaphor (“reckoned”) and sometimes neglects much of the second half of Romans 4, in which the language shifts from the accounting metaphor to language of death and resurrection. In other cases this sort of interpretation is much thicker, stressing at least the rather full picture of faith that emerges from this chapter: its relation to hope and its theocoentric focus on God’s ability to bring life out of death.

2. Dissatisfaction with certain aspects of these two versions of the reigning interpretation has led some scholars to look for another dimension of Abraham’s role in Romans. They would argue that Abraham’s faithfulness is in fact the focus of Romans 4, and that the chapter serves as a means of connecting the faithfulness of Abraham to the faithfulness of Christ displayed on the cross. It is this kind of faith—that is, faithfulness—that is exemplary in Abraham and that is Paul’s desideratum for the communities in Rome. Other interpreters may focus less on the nature of Abraham’s faith and more on its universal role in Romans 4, that is, to serve Paul’s thematic argument that both Jews and Gentiles who have Abraham-like faith are part of the new covenant community in Christ.

3. As tempting and promising as the “faithfulness” solution may be for those of us who prefer the “faith of Christ” interpretation of pistis christou, or as self-evidently correct as the focus on universality may be, I think we also need to look at another dimension of Romans 4 that has been neglected. I want to propose that Paul wants us to see the actual content of Abraham’s faith and the experience of that faith as a prototype of death and resurrection with Christ. If this is correct, then Abraham serves as an exemplum of Paul’s unique participatory understanding of justification by faith as co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ.

4. The basic argument here is very simple: Abraham’s faith was not merely an attitude of trust versus a doing of deeds or faithfulness or confidence in possession of a “boundary marker” (circumcision); nor was it merely a general theological belief in, or even a trusting posture toward, God as the one who can raise the dead or bring life out of death. Rather, because Abraham himself was functionally dead—along with his wife’s womb—his faith was that God could bring life out of his death, could transform his dead-ness into life. In other words, his faith was completely self-involving and participatory. That he was justified by faith means that he trusted the promise of life-out-of-death given to him, and that he was justified by faith means not merely that he was fictitiously considered just or righteous, but that he was granted the gracious gift of new life out of death, which was concretely fulfilled in the birth of a descendant—a very Jewish notion of life. In retrospect, from Paul’s own position of having died and been resurrected in Christ, Abraham’s experience is prospectively analogous to what Paul says about all baptized believers in Romans 6: their justification by faith means a participatory experience of resurrection out of death.

5. All of this helps us understand, in part, why the resurrection is absolutely essential to justification (Rom 4:25).

Any thoughts about this?

A Fun “Reading Paul” Story

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

My mother-in-law (still an Energizer bunny at almost 81) just returned from a 10-day Mediterranean cruise that included Rome, Rhodes, Ephesus, Athens, Capri, Santorini, etc. While eating lunch with her excursion-mates near Ephesus, she discovered that one young woman on the trip was a rabbinical student in the U.S. My mother-in-law said to her, “Paul really made a huge impact.” The rabbinical student agreed, adding that she was currently taking a course on Paul. My mother-in-law responded, “Oh, my son-in-law writes books about Paul.” “Really?” replied the rabbinical student. “What’s his name?” When my mother-in-law told her, she said, “Oh, we’re reading his book Reading Paul in my course!”

A rabbinical student!

Conversion Once Again

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

At the North Park symposium (see previous post and all the great comments) we had lots of energetic conversation about conversion. Some common elements that emerged:

1. Conversion is about transformation.
2. Conversion is a process, even when it appears to be more instantaneous and dramatic.
3. Conversion is adoption of (or incorporation into) a new master story. For Christians, it is an initial and ongoing experience of death and resurrection.
4. Conversion involves activity on the part of the one being converted, God, and the community into which conversion is happening.
5. Conversion does not necessarily mean a change in “religion.”
6. Conversion is a radical reorientation, not only to God, but also to others.
7. Conversion, in some sense, means whatever someone says it is; it’s in the eye of the beholder. (I would add that this descriptive account is insufficient for Christians, and that a more prescriptive account is needed.)

At the conference I gave a fairly substantive response to a fascinating paper on “Peter’s Conversion(s)” by Oxford’s Markus Bockmuehl. He looked at the “memory” of Peter in early Christian art and writing, proceeding backward from about the fourth century.

My response concluded as follows:

The church in its wisdom celebrates Peter and Paul on two days in the same month, days that now open and close (January 18, 25) the week of prayer for Christian unity, and again in June on the same day (June 29) to remember their martrydoms. Perhaps, in addition to symbols of Jewish and Gentile unity, and maybe today also especially Catholic (Peter) and Protestant (Paul) unity, these symbols of unity can also celebrate the unity-in-diversity of two sorts of conversion: the instantaneous, more or less, and the prolonged, or the one that has several significant moments of transformation. This too may represent a more Protestant versus a more Catholic understanding of conversion, on the whole, though there are plenty of Catholics with Paul-like stories and Protestants with Peter-like stories. Perhaps we can learn from one another on this matter of Petrine-Pauline similarity and difference. Conversion is incorporation into the master story of Christ’s death and resurrection. It can happen instantly, or in fits and starts. In either case it either is, or becomes, a process of ongoing death and resurrection, of living into the initial experience, whether we identify that initial reality as baptism or conversion or salvation or being born again or whatever. Even Paul acknowledged the need for ongoing conversion, both for his churches (especially the Corinthians, as Stephen Chester has shown in Conversion at Corinth) and, in some sense, for himself: “I die every day; I press on” (1 Cor 15:31; Phil 3:12-14). Which means also for us.