Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

Good Friday Reflections 2013

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Following is my annual set of brief statements about Good Friday, with some additions for this year:

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation. This is the essential meaning of “cruciformity”–daily likeness to the self-giving, life-giving divine love manifested on the cross.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is not only a christophany but ultimately a theophany–the ultimate divine self-revelation.

5. Thus cruciformity is ultimately theoformity; Christlikeness is Godlikeness; through participation in the cross of Christ, we are transformed most fully into the image of God. This is sometimes called theosis or deification.

6. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

7. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

Finally: When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Good Friday Reflections

Friday, April 6th, 2012

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

‘Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is a theophany.

5. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

6. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

7. When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Family Radio: Inside the Church There is no Salvation

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Family Radio is proffering a dangerous ecclesiology. No, that is not a typo. I did not mean to say “eschatology.” A number of people have been wondering why I have not blogged about the eschatology of Harold Camping and Family Radio. My answer would be that its obviously misguided character does not need another critique from me. But I think we should be much more concerned about the “movement”‘s ecclesiology, or lack thereof, because that is what will not be left behind when we are all still here on May 22.

A few days ago I received in the mail, with no return address, two pamphlets from Family Radio, each dated 2009. One announces the coming end of the world on May 21, 2011, gives the biblical “proof” for this date, and recommends that all readers beg God for mercy.

The other pamphlet is entitled “Does God Love You?” In a series of 14 questions and answers, the pamphlet begins with a quote of John 3:16 before quickly shifting focus to God’s anger and judgment. The word “love” with God as subject does not appear again after question 1. The “good news” is that if readers diligently read and study the Bible, they might eventually find out that God will be merciful to them, because (how or why, is not clear) of Christ’s substitutionary death, and they may be counted among those upon whom God will be merciful–the saved. In the meantime, all that sinners can do is read or listen to the Bible, God’s “Law book,” so they will be in a “place” where God can save them. There is no assurance of salvation, only the possibility that God might save us; obedience to the Law book is the evidence that one might be among the saved.

That “place,” however is not the church. The answer to question 13, “Should I attend a church?” is “Definitely NOT!” For 2,000 years, the Bible tells us, church membership was good for believers in Jesus, but now

we learn from the Bible that God is no longer saving people through the ministry of the churches. The church age has come to an end. Fact is God commands in His Law book, the Bible, that true believers are to leave their church. This is because God’s righteous judgment is upon all local congregations as God is preparing the world for Judgment Day…. The Bible teaches that at this present time, when we are very near the end of time, that it is outside the churches that God is saving a great multitude of people.

A quotation and misinterpretation of Matt 24:15, 16 (identifying Judea as “the local churches”) and quotations of 1 Pet 4:17 and Rev 7:9 underwrite this (non-) ecclesiology.

I do not have the time or energy to critique the problems with this soteriology and non-ecclesiology. But if you ever wonder after May 21 why so many people are absent from church, it will not be because they have disappeared into the rapture zone. It will be, in some cases, because they have disappeared into the wrath-filled zone of certain forms of “Christian” radio.

The Date of the Second Coming, Etc.

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

In case you were wondering, here it supposedly is (actually more than one date), courtesy of Harold Camping’s ministry. HT Trey for the link.

More on Campbell’s “Deliverance of God” (3)

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

At the end of the book, Douglas summarizes his view of Paul’s gospel as “the countervailing gospel [i.e., contra Justification Discourse] of sanctification, ethical efficacy, and ecclesial community” (p. 935); I think this is a fabulous summary of Paul. In the same context he claims that his argument

is meant to be an important moment in the advance to ecclesial and scholarly triumph of the participatory and apocalyptic gospel, which is also really to say, of the Trinitarian gospel—an ecumenical gospel that both Protestants and Catholics can presumably affirm (obviously in accord with both the Orthodox and most post-modern Protestant traditions), a gospel both old and new…. an authentic and orthodox Pauline gospel. (p. 934; cf. my similar comments in the Introduction to Inhabiting, p. 8, n. 22)

Douglas has indeed rendered a tremendous service both to Pauline scholarship and to the church. He rightly insists that the material content of Romans 5-8, transformation or sanctification or “ontological reconstitution” (e.g., p. 185), is not supplemental to the gospel or to justification but constitutive of them:

Paul’s account of sanctification is his gospel. His description of deliverance and cleansing “in Christ,” through the work of the Spirit, at the behest of the Father, the entire process being symbolized by baptism, is the good news. It requires no supplementation by other [e.g., “contractual”] systems. (p. 934; cf. pp. 187-88)

However, Douglas believes that his thesis about 1:18—3:20 as “alien discourse,” and only this thesis, elevates Romans 5-8 “to its rightful status” (p. 934), because his thesis, and only his thesis, makes it possible to “affirm coherently that ‘God justifies the ungodly,’” that is, that God unconditionally delivers those enslaved to Sin (p. 934). While I strongly affirm his overall interpretation of Paul’s gospel, I think Douglas’s reading of 1:18—3:20 is wrong, and that his reading of Paul’s gospel does not depend on his reading of 1:18—3:20.

More to come…

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?

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?

God’s Mission: Righting or Writing the World?

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

A few months back I gave a major public lecture on Paul called “Justification and Justice: Paul, the Mission of the Church, and the Salvation of the World.” In the lecture I picked up on NT Wright’s theme of God’s “putting the world to rights.” Deciding to avoid the British idiom, I said (perhaps several times) that according to Paul God is “righting” the world, as in righting a capsized ship or setting right that which is out of alignment.

A journalist heard my talk of God’s “righting the world” as God’s “writing the world”—and was apparently quite taken by the idea. (OK, I confess: Yes, I am a closet process theologian. Just kidding. :-) ) In fact, it turned her on to Paul once again, and she wrote about that at length.

This little episode raises all kinds of interesting questions about hermeneutics, etc., but most importantly it raises the question, “Did the journalist have an unintentional brilliant insight into Paul and into God?” Is that what the missio Dei is in some sense? Writing the world? What might that mean?

The Nonviolent Missio Dei

Friday, June 26th, 2009

A number of people, not least John Howard Yoder and Richard Hays, have made the case that the NT does not give support to Christian participation in violence but, rather, leads us to practice nonviolence. Glen Stassen and others argue rightly that hearing the NT as a call to nonviolence alone is insufficient, and that we must also practice just peacemaking.

I am not disputing either of these claims and would in fact support them. Without going back and looking at each of their writings in detail, I would also add that each also says, implicitly or explicitly, that the mission or story of God is in fact a mission/story of nonviolent action centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If we think, then, of participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—that is, of participating in the story and mission of God—as the goal of human existence and the meaning of salvation, then nonviolence is not a matter to discuss or debate as one of so many possible topics in Christian ethics. Rather, it is at the very heart of what it means to be Christian, to be saved, to be a disciple.

Over at Getting Free, T has a brief but excellent post about this very topic: “The Cross and the Plot-line of our Time.” He says:

If this is a Story that we’re in, then the plot of how good beats evil in this world must be central to it. From what I can tell from the New Testament, generous love for people who are (currently) agents of evil (even to the point of giving one’s blood or money in love) is the central strategy of God in this plot line.

If T is right, and I think he is “spot on,” then the way Tom Wright and others tell the story of God in five acts (creation through recreation/redemption) needs to be more carefully articulated with an emphasis on God’s nonviolent, nonretaliatiory enemy love that is the central act of the story.

I wonder if Rev. Pagano and friends (see previous post) have thought about this? What’s the story of God they believe in and tell week in and week out?

T (and I) welcome responses there or here.


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