Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

“The Death of the Messiah” is Out

Friday, July 11th, 2014

My newest book is now in print:

You can get it at Wipf and Stock, Hearts and Minds Books in Pennsylvania, or Amazon.

More from “The Death of the Messiah…”

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

As previously noted, my new book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, should be available by the end of the month (by June 30) from Cascade/Wipf and Stock. Here is another excerpt, this time from chapter 1, “The Promise of the New Covenant”:

The Need for a New, More Comprehensive Model
There are at least four major problems with the traditional models of the atonement as a group. We will consider each of these problems briefly.

• The first problem is the isolationist, or sectarian, character of the models. Each one is constructed as a kind of stand-alone theory that supposedly tells the whole (or at least the most important) story and requires the exclusion (or at least the marginalization) of other versions of the story. In sympathy with certain postmodern complaints about the very idea of a doctrine of the atonement, Kevin Vanhoozer says [in “Atonement in Postmodernity], “The problem is that theologies of the atonement seem unable to articulate a theory that explains the saving significance of Jesus’ death without betraying the rich testimonies to the event of his death.” Only rarely, as in the case of Colin Gunton (The Actuality of the Atonement), does a theologian try to appropriate and integrate various traditional models.

• The second problem derives from the first: the atomistic, or nonintegrative, character of the traditional models. They do not naturally pull other aspects of theology into their orbit. “Atonement,” however interpreted, often stands apart, separated from ethics, spirituality, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and missiology. In some cases atonement becomes a narrow branch of theology that is almost irrelevant to the actual life of Christian individuals and communities.

• The third problem is individualism. The traditional models have a nearly exclusive focus on the individual, rather than on both the individual and the community, as the beneficiary of the atonement. Scot McKnight (in A Community Called Atonement) and others have, of course, also recognized and begun addressing this problem.

• The fourth problem we might call “under-achievement.” That is, the models do not do enough. We may summarize a model of the atonement in terms of its understanding of the fundamental effect of the cross on a person (or on humanity). In the satisfaction-substitution-penal model(s) the effect is propitiation, expiation, and/or forgiveness; in the Christus Victor model the effect is victory and liberation; and in the “moral influence” model the effect is inspiration. As I suggested in the Introduction to this book, the under-achieving character of these models means that, on the whole, they focus on the penultimate rather than the ultimate purpose(s) of Jesus’ death. In the new-covenant model I am proposing, the purpose (and actual effect) of Jesus’ death is all of the above and more, but that effect is best expressed, not in the rather narrow terms of the traditional models, but in more comprehensive and integrative terms like transformation, participation, and renewal or re-creation. The inclusion of terms like these in a discussion of atonement will seem odd to some readers, but I will introduce them because they capture the spirit of the new covenant promised by the prophets and inaugurated by Jesus’ death. It is precisely certain elements of the promised new covenant (which we will consider in the next two chapters), such as the coming of the Spirit and empowerment to fulfill the law, that are generally not considered to be aspects of atonement per se in traditional theories. This is, in part at least, why the traditional theories fall short of a fully biblical interpretation of the atonement.

My Spring Course on N.T. Wright

Friday, November 30th, 2012

If you are anywhere in the Baltimore–DC–Wilimington–York, PA–Northern Virginia area and you appreciate the work of N.T. Wright, you may wish to consider my spring course at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University. This is a graduate course, but there are no prerequisites other than having a bacherlor’s degree with a decent GPA. The course is available for credit or audit.

BS/ST509/709 The Writings of N.T. Wright

Thursday, 6-9 p.m., January 14-March 21 (3 graduate credits)

[This is a combination biblical and systematic theology course offered at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.]

Course Description:

An exploration of some of the biblical, theological, and pastoral writings of the contemporary British Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, with attention to the significance of his work for the life of the church.

Course Requirements for all students:

1. Regular attendance and prepared participation in class discussion.

2. Five 100-word reaction posts online (not due when doing discussion-starter paper).

3. Two one-page discussion-starter papers, with summary and discussion questions.

4. One book review of 2,000 words.

5. Class presentation and final, synthetic paper of 2,000 words on some aspect of N. T. Wright’s writings.

Additional Requirement for 700-level students (matriculated degree and certificate candidates):

Same as above plus one additional book review on an additional book by N.T. Wright.

For C.A.S. (Certificate of Advanced Studies) students, the additional book must be a major work approved by the instructor.

Required Texts:

Kurt, Stephen. Tom Wright for Everyone: Putting the Theology of N.T. Wright into Practice in the Local Church. 978-0281063932.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). For All God’s Worth: The Worship and Calling of the Church. 978-0802843197.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. 978-0061920622.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. 978-0062084392.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. 978-0061551826.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? 978-0802844453.

Some additional online reading and video viewing.

Recommended:

Perrin, Nicholas and Richard B. Hays, eds. Jesus, Paul, and the People of God. 978-0830838974.

Applications for the Ecumenical Institute’s 2013 spring term are due by Monday, December 3, though late applications will be considered. For admission requirements, go to http://www.stmarys.edu/ei/ei_adm_overview.htm, or contact Zenaida Bench at zbench@stmarys.edu or 410/864-4202. Registration continues until spring-term classes begin. See the course brochure at http://www.stmarys.edu/ei/ei_semester.htm for an overview of all of next term’s course offerings.

We believe there is no better way to begin study at the Ecumenical Institute than walking and talking with a friend (see Luke 24:13-14). To encourage that, we offer a one-time tuition incentive for new students who begin together: a tuition remission of 50% for both of you on your first “E.I.” course.

If you and someone you know are considering theological study, this is your opportunity to encourage one another to explore and discern together. You can take the same class or try different courses and compare notes.

Your walk begins with just one course… and may lead to…

  • more courses…
  • or perhaps a certificate in Biblical Studies, Faith Community/Parish Nursing, Religious Education, Spirituality, Urban Ministry, or Youth and Family Ministry…
  • or even a Master of Arts Degree in Theology or Church Ministries.

For more information, please contact the Ecumenical Institute office at ei@stmarys.edu or 410/864-4200.

Theses on Reading and Preaching from the Gospel of John

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Following is the outline of my final lecture on the Gospel of John for my seminary course on Johannine Literature:

  • The best way to read and preach John is to enter its narrative, symbolic, and theological world, and to invite your hearers to do the same.
  • The jury is still out, and perhaps always will be out, on certain so-called “introductory issues”—the author(s), the precise historical situation of the community (if there was one), etc. Do not build your preaching and teaching on these matters.
  • There is an increasing scholarly acceptance of the historical basis in the life of Jesus of many of the events and sayings in John. Again, the jury is still out on many issues and details, but there are two mistakes to avoid:
    • Don’t say, “This is a spiritual gospel that is not intended to depict the real, historical Jesus as the Synoptic Gospels do, but only the Christ of faith.”
    • Don’t say, “This is an exact word-for-word account of precisely what Jesus said and did without interpretation.” This claim is not true of any canonical gospel because in antiquity oral transmission lent itself to both faithful transmission and appropriate interpretation.
    • The main purposes of the Gospel of John are christological and soteriological: to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, Messiah/King of Israel, and Savior of the World who was sent by God the Father to give the world eternal life (life in intimate knowledge of Father, Son, and Paraclete/Spirit) now and forever.
    • This joy-filled and peace-filled life is offered as a gift that must be believed and received; nurtured by word and sacrament; and embodied in such concrete practices as love, unity, forgiveness, evangelization, and pastoral care.
    • The spirituality of John is rich, deep, and multifaceted; it may perhaps be summarized as the mutual indwelling (abiding) of believers and the Triune God that creates a community of disciples, the people of the new covenant, that worships God and participates in the divine mission of bringing abundant life to the world through witness in word and deed to the self-giving love of the crucified and glorified Jesus.
    • The gospel of John is both an invitation to life in the Father/Son/Paraclete and a word of reassurance that, in the physical absence of Jesus, believers can rely on the Paraclete as their teacher, guide, inspiration, and aide, even in times of persecution. It is a gospel for non-believers, but also for new believers, doubting and fence-sitting believers, missional believers, persecuted believers—in other words, a gospel for all people.

    Interpreting the Psalms at SBL

    Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

    SBL members who are interested in theological interpretation of the psalms–the Theological Interpretation of Scripture seminar of SBL will have an open session on theological interpretation of the psalms at the November meeting in Chicago. It’s not too late to submit a proposal. Visit us at the SBL web site. (The deadline is March 1.) Questions? Email me!

    Revelation, Civil Religion, and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

    Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

    I am assisting my pastor in a series of sermons on the messages to the churches in Revelation in connection with the lectionary reading from Mark for the day. So far it’s been a fascinating intertextual experience!

    Last Sunday I preached on the message to the church in Smyrna:

    8“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.


    My main point was that in order to be ready to suffer faithfully, this church had escaped the temptations of the two cousins Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and Civil Religion. The former was documented as the religion of most American teens (and, I would suggest, adults) by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Of course I had to show how a form of this disease already existed in the first century in the sacrificial systems meant to keep the gods blessing us with fertility, prosperity etc. As for civil religion, that was the imperial cult.

    In any event, the sermon was a sermon, not a lecture. But I think I was successful in helping people see the the gods and narratives that these ultimately non-Christian “spiritualities” depend on and embody:

    Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
    There is a god who created the world, looks down on us from heaven with a smile, wants to bless us, wants us to be good to ourselves and kind to others, is there for us when we are in a jam, and promises us a place in heaven if we are good.

    Civil Religion
    There is a god who created the world, looks down on our country (fill in the blank) with a big smile, has blessed us more than any other nation, thinks our values are his values, wants to expand our influence around the world, wants us to be good to our friends but helps us defeat our enemies, and expects us to love our country as a way of loving God.

    Revelation is a manifesto against TMD and Civil Religion.

    Reclaiming Advent

    Saturday, December 17th, 2011

    I know it’s a bit late for this year, but here’s the outline of my talk from a few weeks back, as there have been several requests. This talk was given by me (a Methodist) at an event sponsored by three Catholic churches. There were several people from other kinds of churches present. Unfortunately, there is no audio and no full text.

      “Reclaiming Advent: A Spiritual Season for a Secular Age”

    ? The Secularization of Advent
    o Shopping season: consumption
    o Christmas songs as a seductive marketing device
    o Focus on the coming of a day/gifts, not a person; non-religious “advent” calendars

    ? The Season of Advent
    o The word: “coming”
    o The season: since late 5th c.; wreaths since about 9th c.
    o The colors: purple, rose, blue, white, green

    ? The Sundays of Advent: hope, peace, joy, love
    o Advent I = Hope/prophecy
    o Advent II–IV = peace, joy, love or other themes (e.g. Prophets’, Bethlehem, Shepherds’, Angels’ candles)

    o III (sometimes IV) is joy/rose (Gaudete Sunday = Rejoice Sunday)

    o Lectionary Gospel readings
    I Jesus’ second coming/coming of God’s kingdom in its fullness
    II John the Baptist
    III Jesus’ identity (JBapt in year C)
    IV Jesus’ birth OR annunciation OR incarnation

    ? Some Things to Remember
    o Christmas is not your birthday.
    o Presence is more important than presents.

    ? The Spirituality of Advent
    o Hope/watchfulness
    o Preparation/repentance
    o Faith
    o Joy
    o Love/service
    o Welcoming Jesus
    “Advent… helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an “advent,” in vigilant expectation of Christ’s final coming… Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.” (Pope John Paul II)

    ? Some Practices to Reclaim Advent
    o Speak Christian: “Advent Blessings”; “Merry Christmas”

    o Write Christian: Christmas cards / sharing your faith

    o Sing Christian: learn new Advent hymns and Christmas carols, go caroling, listen to a concert of sacred music

    o Take the Christian calendar to heart
    ? New year
    ? Advent calendars

    o Participate in an Advent spiritual discipline/adventure
    ? Reading Scripture texts
    ? Family Advent wreath with readings and prayers
    ? Reading a book
    ? Contribute to and/or use a church-based Advent book of devotions/ meditations

    o Simplify and renew gift-giving
    ? Cut back
    ? Make gifts
    ? Give gifts of time
    ? Give gifts that benefit others
    • Catholic Relief Services “Joy to the World Alternative Christmas”
    • Heifer International, World Vision, etc.
    • Fair Trade shops: SERVV, Ten Thousand Villages (Baltimore), church fairs

    o Practice acts of kindness and hospitality (Where is Jesus already present?)
    ? Buy gifts for those in need (“giving trees,” etc.)
    ? Volunteer somewhere

    o Other ideas to share with one another

    ? Some Resources
    o www.thechristiancalendar.com
    o www.adventconspiracy.org: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all
    o www.crs.org/act/advent: prepare prayerfully, shop responsibly, give generously
    o www.worldvisiongifts.org
    o www.heifer.org/catalog
    o www.servv.org

    Civil Religion (again)–and an Antidote from Allan Bevere

    Sunday, August 14th, 2011

    On a church sign in rural Delaware (seen returning from a day at the beach):

    Jesus is the only way to salvation.
    Thank you, troops.

    Thank God (literally) for the new little (in size, not impact) book by Allan Bevere, a Methodist pastor with a Ph.D. in NT from Durham (England), called The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World.

    It’s published by a small press but will, I hope, get some significant attention in the church. Here’s the text of my endorsement for the book:

    Allan Bevere has written a timely, eye-opening, and thought-provoking book for Christians, whether they consider themselves conservative or progressive. He calls on us to forsake the seductive, insidious error of Christendom and civil religion in order to follow Jesus and bear witness to the reign of God. May this book contribute to the renewal of the church for the sake of the world and the glory of God.

    Tolle, lege!

    Civil Religion Undone

    Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

    Although we seldom see success stories in the uncivilizing of Christian faith in the U.S., here’s heartening news from one of my students, who also happens to be a reader of this blog:

    After numerous conversations with my pastor and occasions when I shared your words and those of others, as well as my reflections on other churches, this July 4 Sunday [2011] was different at my church. My pastor did not lead a pledge to the flag and made no reference to the flag. He wished the congregation a pleasant holiday, and included in the prayers those who are ill at home and abroad in various capacities, and did use as a recessional hymn one verse of Eternal Father. That was it, and I was so proud of him for his willingness to change after 11 years of pledging and hauling out the flag [emphasis added]. The pastor was concerned that some in the congregation would take him to task for not doing the flag thing, but it seems that no one said a word, at least not yet.

    My response was, not surprisingly, “Hallelujah!” Both this student, for such a witness, and this pastor, for such courage, deserve our admiration and gratitude.

    Thoughts?

    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.


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