Archive for January, 2010
Perhaps the following excerpts from (1) a chapter of my forthcoming book on Revelation and (2) Udo Schnelle’s New Testament Theology might have something to say to the church, especially to the American church. (It is only coincidental that this appears on the day of the “State of the Union” address in the U.S.*):
It is critical that we not miss the paradoxical significance of this Lamb of God sharing in the identity and sovereignty of God. In his exaltation Jesus remains the Lamb, the crucified one. He participates in God’s identity and reign, making him worthy of worship, as the slaughtered Lamb, and only as such. This is the consistent witness of the New Testament: that the exalted Lord remains the crucified Jesus. When this witness is neglected or forgotten, trouble follows swiftly. Any reading of Revelation—and any doing of theology more generally—that forgets this central New Testament truth is theologically problematic, even dangerous, from its very inception. It is doomed, not to failure, but to success—and that is its inherent theological problem. Human beings, even apparently faithful Christians, too often want an almighty deity who will rule the universe with power, preferably on their terms, and with force when necessary. Such a concept of God and of sovereignty empowers its adherents to side with this kind of God in the execution of (allegedly) divine might in the quest for (allegedly) divine justice. The reality of the Lamb as Lord—and thus of Lamb power—is, or should be, the end of all such misperceptions of divine power and justice, and of their erroneous human corollaries. Of course, both historically and today, it is not.
Revelation is often misread as a demonstration precisely of this kind of divine power in human history, especially in interpreting the visions of judgment. We will need to return to this issue in a later [post]. For now, however, we need especially to say that only when chapters 4 and 5 are read as Revelation’s hermeneutical key to reality, divinity, history, and ethics will we be able to place the visions of judgment in proper perspective.
—M. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly (Cascade, forthcoming)
[I]n worship, the community of faith realizes its new identity under the lordship of the Lamb and under the conscious, intentional rejection of the claims to lordship made by Babylon/Rome. As the place where the new being is repeatedly practiced, worship is also a locus of resistance against the anti-God powers, and, since the Apocalypse was read out in worship, also a place of hearing, seeing, learning, and understanding/insight.
—Udo Schnelle, New Testament Theology, 767
Does this sound like your experience of worship??
*Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
Why are so many Protestants afraid of theosis? This is the term, used primarily in the Eastern Christian tradition but now enjoying a revival more widely, for becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter): becoming like God, a process that begins now and culminates in eschatological glory. Other terms for theosis are deification, divinization, and christification. We come to share in God’s life especially God’s holiness, and immortality. Some of us even argue that there is a spirituality of theosis in Paul.
I have heard or inferred the following objections to theosis:
1a. OBJECTION: Theosis blurs the distinction between humanity and God, implying that humans become God/gods. (Subtext: theosis sounds like Mormonism.)
1b. RESPONSE: The Eastern tradition has always denied this claim and reminded us that creatures always remain creatures and never become God. Theosis does not negate the ontological difference between humans and God.
2a. OBJECTION: Theosis misrepresents the appropriate relationship between humans and God, which is to be primarily one of recognizing the difference and distance between us as sinful humans and God as the Holy One.
2b. RESPONSE: Theosis does not negate the moral difference between humans and God or deny the importance of worshiping God as the Holy One in this life or the next.
3a. OBJECTION: The idea of theosis—even the term—is especially dangerous for people who live in contexts of great political power because they will be tempted to adopt a kind of spiritual and political megalomania.
3b. RESPONSE: When an important theological term or concept poses problems, the solution is not to jettison the term or concept but to define and articulate it carefully and, if necessary, polemically in order to prevent misunderstanding and misuse.
4a. OBJECTION: Theosis is not the language or theology of the Reformation. (Subtext: if we give on this, we’ll soon be either Orthodox or Catholic.)
4b. RESPONSE: Yes and No. No, because recent interpretations of the Reformers and their theology suggest something more like theosis, or at least participation and union, was at the heart of Reformation theology. Yes, because the Reformation did not get everything right–or even get everything. There are aspects of salvation that have been overlooked by the Reformation and especially its heirs. Yes again, because the pre-occupation of some with a juridical approach to justification and salvation has made them blind to the inadequacies of that approach and to the strengths of other dimensions of salvation.
5a. OBJECTION: Theosis is not the language or theology of the New Testament.
5b. RESPONSE: Again, Yes and No. Like many other important theological terms, such as Trinity, eschatological, Christus victor, participation, etc., the word “theosis” does not appear in the NT. That does not mean, however, that the reality to which the term points is absent. If people of antiquity, Gentiles and Jews alike, were preoccupied with becoming like God/the gods, as many people have observed, it would be odd indeed if the early Christians did not share this concern and goal for human existence. If one looks carefully at the NT documents, one finds again and again language about sharing in God’s life, holiness, and immortality—which is the essence of theosis. Or, as I have argued in my book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, in Paul (and throughout the NT, I would add) becoming like Christ, cruciformity, is really becoming like God. That is, cruciformity is really theoformity, or theosis.
Readers of this blog will know of my deep respect for the Duke NT scholar, and good friend, Richard Hays. His graduate student Andy Rowell, whom I got to know at Duke last year, posted some resources related to Richard, including video of a recent sermon at Duke chapel. Have a look!
PS My son Mark has the privilege of being in Richard Hays’s course on 1 Corinthians this term.
Here is the first part of my sermon, “Lamb People, Lamb Power (Rev 7:1-17),” delivered at Union Baptist Church on January 17. The pastor of the church is a former student, Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway, and it was an honor and pleasure to be there.
He was a man of deep conviction… of fervent passion. A man of vision and of visions. His vision was of a beloved community that included people of all nations and races. A vision of unity and equality.
He was an eloquent speaker and gripping writer, with a gift for words like few people of his time. A man who gave speeches and wrote texts sprinkled with allusions to Scripture, words that challenged the system and gave great hope to the oppressed. Words of comfort to the afflicted and words of affliction to the comfortable. Words of a prophet.
He was a teacher, a preacher, a leader of The Movement. Some claimed he was a subversive. Some claimed the whole movement was subversive, dangerous.
He was a man of power. Not ordinary power, but power nonetheless. The power of conviction, the power of powerful critique of the powerful, the power—ultimately—of God, the power of the Spirit, indeed, the power of Jesus. His was the power of suffering love, the power of nonviolence, the power of faithful witness and resistance.
He was, therefore, a threat. A great threat. A threat to the status quo. A threat to the powers-that-be and that were and that are. So the powers, of course, took him out of commission, or so they thought. They put him away. But even there he dreamed and he had visions and he prayed and he wrote—he even wrote a now-famous letter, a classic epistle full of his vision and his visions, full of his passion and his passions, full of his convictions and his convicting words to the churches and to the civil authorities, full of his own hope and his words of hope to those he had had to leave behind.
Today, we remember his legacy, and we celebrate his vision, his passion, his commitment.
His name, of course, is John. John the Seer, John the Revelator, John of Patmos, John who penned that famous visionary letter that concludes the Scriptures: the book of Revelation from which we read a portion, chapter 7, together. John the servant and witness, as he calls himself (Rev 1:1), John the exile, banished by government authorities because of his faithful preaching of the word of God and his faithful witness to Jesus (1:9). John the subversive and troublemaker.
You, of course, thought that I was speaking, not of John, but of Martin, of Dr. King. I was not, and yet I was. For you see, John and Martin have much in common. They are both visionaries inspired by Jesus with a vision of God’s desire for the world and given power in and by the Spirit to articulate that vision for their peers and for all who come after.
It is easy to forget 40-plus years later that Dr. King was not merely a political figure but also a spiritual figure. Indeed, he is recognized by the Episcopal and Lutheran churches as a martyr, a witness to God and the Lamb who paid the ultimate price. And it is easy to forget nearly 20 centuries later that John—like Paul and like Jesus—was not merely a spiritual figure, but also a political figure. His was the politics of God, and that meant that the politics of Rome were in trouble. His vision was of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10 NRSV).
“What’s so threatening about that vision?” we might ask, and understandably so. Here is what’s so threatening, very simply: it is not Rome’s vision! Rome imagined itself as the bringer of salvation, and the emperor as the Savior. Rome had its own plan for obtaining and maintaining peace and security and unity throughout the empire, and it had nothing to do with a foreign deity or a crucified lord from Israel, from the east, which the Romans thought to be the source of most cultural scum and political sedition.
John’s vision was also his power, it was the power of the Lamb, the power of suffering love, the power of nonviolence, the power of faithful witness and resistance. The power of the Lamb that was slain.
Tonight my counter turned to record the 50,000th visit to this blog. I am humbled that so many people, over time, would look at what I have had to say, especially in the last 6 months or so since I have been blogging regularly. This number is nothing for some bloggers, but it’s a milestone for this one. Thanks to all readers, commenters, and other friends.
I was resisting the urge to comment on the sick, sad comments by certain alleged evangelists and political commentators. Then I began reading some of the completely understandable–but in some cases quite hateful—responses, on TV, on the Internet, on Facebook, etc.
So how does crux probat omnia (“the cross probes everything”) work here?
1. For our dear brothers and sisters in Haiti: Romans 8:18ff / In Christ we learn that suffering does not mean the punishment or absence of God, for Christ embodies the love and presence of God for us even in suffering. // 1 Corinthians 12.26 / If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…. We are crying and praying with you.
2. For those speaking and spreading such unChristian and inhuman things: Luke 23:34 / “Father, forgive them, for they have no clue what they are saying and doing.”
3. For us in our safe places: Give up something; be sacrificially generous.
Classes begin for me today, with the following lineup:
Pauline Spirituality for Church and Ministry, a course I first taught at Duke last spring. We will read some recent works on Paul’s spirituality, pastoral vision, ecclesiology, and counter-imperial theology:
—Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross
—Kent E. Brower and Andy Johnson, eds. Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament
—James W. Thompson, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul: A Biblical Vision
—Richard A. Horsley, Paul and the Roman Imperial Order
—some articles by Kathy Grieb, Morna Hooker, and Beverly Gaventa
In addition, students will be doing some practical case studies and panel presentations on the intersection of these topics in Paul and in the life of the church.
The Book of Revelation and its Interpreters, which I have taught numerous times here and also taught at Duke last year. I only have three students, so it will be a small seminar, but very interesting: two of them are advanced students from Africa. Focusing on the text with them will help me finalize by little book on Revelation. The students will read the fantastic commentary by Mitchell Reddish and the fine theology of Revelation by Richard Bauckham.
The Cities of Paul and John, my bi-annual study tour to Turkey and Greece. We have 24 people going in February, and it is always a wonderful experience. (See the link to the right.) Reading includes parts of my Apostle of the Crucified Lord, the little commentary on Revelation by Gonzalez and Gonzalez, and the superb guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey by Mitch Reddish and Clyde Fant.
Over at the blog Hesed we ‘emet, my good friend Richard Hays of Duke Divinity School has been interviewed by a former student, John Anderson, now a Ph.D. candidate at Baylor. We learn something of Richard’s spiritual and theological journey, gain insight into his interests, and receive a foretaste of his forthcoming book on the use of the OT in the Gospels. A fine interview of a fine man and scholar.
There is a fine post by Nick Liao over at Duke Divinity’s Faith and Leadership blog on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s triennial conference on Christian mission that just ended. “Urbana,” as it is called (named for its location at the University of Illinois until it moved, this year, to St. Louis), has had a profound effect on many young Christian leaders, including some of my friends as well as my own children and their friends and spouses.
Nick works for IVPress, but I think his piece is a fair and helpful analysis of what IVCF is up to these days—all very positive in my view.