Saturday, December 31, 2011

Daniel Kirk on his new book Jesus Had I Loved, but Paul?

Here is J R Daniel Kirk has to say about his new book, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?

I haven't read the book and so I cannot comment further. But I think Kirk is on to something here. And Kirk is certainly a bright New Testament scholar. For years I have been thinking that Christians today do not fully understand Paul. I think it is worth checking out this book.

Income inequality in the ancient world and now (Scot McKnight and Tim De Chant)

In his recent blog post Scot McKnight points us to an interesting post by Tim De Chant, which is about income inequality in the Roman Empire in the ancient world. (Click here and here for the two blog posts.) Here are some quotes from the blog post.
"Over the last 30 years, wealth in the United States has been steadily concentrating in the upper economic echelons. Whereas the top 1 percent used to control a little over 30 percent of the wealth, they now control 40 percent."

"In total, Schiedel and Friesen figure the elite orders and other wealthy made up about 1.5 percent of the 70 million inhabitants the empire claimed at its peak. Together, they controlled around 20 percent of the wealth..."

"These numbers paint a picture of two Romes, one of respectable, if not fabulous, wealth and the other of meager wages, enough to survive day-to-day but not enough to prosper. The wealthy were also largely concentrated in the cities."

"Schiedel and Friesen aren’t passing judgement on the ancient Romans, nor are they on modern day Americans. Theirs is an academic study, one used to further scholarship on one of the great ancient civilizations. But buried at the end, they make a point that’s difficult to parse, yet provocative. They point out that the majority of extant Roman ruins resulted from the economic activities of the top 10 percent. “Yet the disproportionate visibility of this ‘fortunate decile’ must not let us forget the vast but—to us—inconspicuous majority that failed even to begin to share in the moderate amount of economic growth associated with large-scale formation in the ancient Mediterranean and its hinterlands.”"

"In other words, what we see as the glory of Rome is really just the rubble of the rich, built on the backs of poor farmers and laborers, traces of whom have all but vanished. It’s as though Rome’s 99 percent never existed. Which makes me wonder, what will future civilizations think of us?"
The gap between the haves and have-nots was huge in the Roman Empire as well as in many countries in the West today. Since the events of the New Testament took place in the Roman Empire, the socioeconomic context of the Empire is important for us as we read the Bible. (See my previous post about the economic profile of the earliest church in the Roman Empire here.) This, in turn, is important for us today as we try to apply the New Testament to our own contexts in the affluent West.

Why "social" justice? (Scot McKnight)

For a long time I have been thinking whether I should include the word "social" when I refer to "justice" in the Bible. In terms of biblical usage, "social justice" is not strictly speaking the language used in the Scripture. But on the other hand when "justice" is mentioned in the Bible, it has much to do with social and communal living.

In his recent blog post Scot McKnight discusses this matter. Here I cite a few things McKnight says.
Tim King is a former student of mine, works with Jim Wallis, and is pointing out something I would affirm. The word “social” has been added to the word “justice” because “social” has been too often neglected. Having said that, though, I would plead with us to learn to use the word “justice” biblically — it refers to being right with God, with self, with others, with the world — so that we don’t have to add “social” (with others, with the world) and so we can cease with our gnostic-like spirituality where it is only “me and God.”
I am ready to concede the point that if we properly define our terms, the “social” in social justice and the “personal” in personal salvation should both be dropped. But, I’m not willing to stop using the modifier “social” when it comes to justice until Christians fully engage the biblical definition of justice.
Someday, justice will be flowing like a river and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
On that day, we won’t be fighting about whether or not it is “social” justice or just plain old justice that is rolling.
I gather that the last two sentences echo Amos' words about justice. I think Scot McKnight has something for us to ponder here.

Click here for McKnight's blog post.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Apocalyptic and Salvation-History in Romans (Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner)

Sorry that this post is going to be a little bit too technical for some. But if you are working on Paul's letters, one thing that you need to constantly reflect on how his theology should be understood from salvation-historical and apocalyptic perspectives. In his recent blog post Michael Bird cited something from Ciampa and Rosner's commentary on 1 Corinthians (though it is about Romans). Something for us to think through...
"The salvation-historical and apocalyptic perspectives are not, for Paul, two irreconcilable outlooks standing in unresolved tension. Instead, the two perspectives converge in Paul’s thought such that he regards the history of the particular nation of Israel as finding its fulfillment, through Jesus Christ, in salvation for the entire world. The convergence of salvation-historical and apocalyptic motifs is nowhere more apparent than in the two ‘bookends’ to Romans 1:1-5 and 16:25-27. The gospel of Jesus Christ, descended from David according to the flesh yet declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, has cosmic significance. This ‘mystery’ was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings (i.e., the historical Scriptures of Israel) has been made know to all the nations, and must be proclaimed to the world and its authorities. It is the eschatological ‘power of God for salvation’ (Rom. 1:16). Paul the  regards himself as a herald who has been commissioned by Jesus to perform this task. Paul has been sent, through a special revelation of God’s Son, to preach to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:11, 16). He is one of two ‘point men’ in God’s eschatological mission, having been entrusted with the gospel to the Gentiles just as Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the Jews (Gal.2:7)."
Click here for Michael Bird's blog post.

The mission of God and participation (Michael Gorman)

In this blog, Michael Gorman has written a post that is really worth reading. It is about Paul's understanding of the mission of God. Here is what he says.

"What is God up to in the world? What is the missio Dei, the mission of God?

For Paul the answer to that question is clear: to bring salvation to the world. The means of that salvation is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Israel’s Messiah, and the world’s true Lord. This is the gospel, the good news. The mode by which that salvation is conveyed to the world is the preaching of this good news both in word and in deed. And the mode by which that salvation is received is described best not merely as belief in the sense of intellectual assent but as participation in the sense of a comprehensive transformation of conviction, character, and communal affiliation. This is what it means to be “in Christ,” Paul’s most fundamental expression for this participatory life that is, in fact, salvation itself…."

"According to Paul, God is on a mission to liberate humanity—and indeed the entire cosmos—from the powers of Sin and Death. The fullness of this liberation is a future reality for which we may, and should, now confidently hope. In the present, however, God is already at work liberating humanity from Sin and Death, through the sin-defeating and life-giving death and resurrection of his Son, as a foretaste of the glorious future that is coming. God is therefore at work creating an international network of multicultural, socio-economically diverse communities (“churches”) that participate in this liberating, transformative reality and power now—even if incompletely and imperfectly. They worship the one true God, confess his Son Jesus as the one true Lord, and live in conformity to the self-giving divine love displayed on the cross by means of the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son."

Click here to read Gorman's full blog post.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some reflections on different ways to see the world - Affluence, poverty, making a difference

Here are some reflections about how people in the West and those in low-income countries see things differently.

In the West, we want to see how we can make a difference. We want to see how we can fight injustice and alleviate poverty in the world. But for the poor in low-income countries, it is a matter of whether there can be any difference at all. If daily existence is a struggle, how can one find hope in the midst of injustice and poverty? Only a relationship with Christ and his identification with injustice and poverty can give us true hope and comfort.

In the West, we get to choose. Yes, we don't always get to choose, and there are those among use who are marginalised and disadvantaged. But comparatively, many of us get to choose - to study hard to go to university or work hard to learn a trade, save up for a holiday overseas, go to church and spend time with friends on the weekend, etc. Yet for many who live in low-income countries, the only choice is to keep staying alive and not to give up hope. They don't really get to choose in the way we do. There is no such a thing as a holiday overseas to see what the world is like. There is no such a thing as going to university - that is, for most of them because there aren't too many places at university, if there is one at all.

Many of us (not all of us, of course) in the West live in affluence. With our money and relatively high social status, we have the power to help the poor. We find satisfaction and meaning as we give to them. But for many who live in low-income countries, they learn to share with others with the little they have. Sharing resources out of poverty and powerlessness produces a profound sense of grace, hope and love that those living in affluence cannot fully understand.

None of the above means that living in the affluent West is wrong. Nor does the above mean that the rich should all become poor. It is not about guilt. But I hope the above helps us to learn from each other - to see the world from another perspective. I think God sees the world from all the different worldviews, and he knows exactly what the poor have to go through.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflection: The word "truth" in the Bible

I have been thinking that "truth" is one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible, for we keep thinking about the "truth" in modernistic terms. But truth, truthfulness and embodying truthfulness are all interrelated within the biblical worldview.

And if you know Greek, check out Ephesians 4:15. The Greek does not literally say, "speaking the truth in love". Instead, it's "truthing in love", which means embodying and living out the truth in love!

"Speaking the truth" may be part of it, but there is so much more. If we only speak the truth without living it out in love, then we are quite hypocritical, aren't we? On the contrary, if we live out and embody God's truth and truthfulness in love, then what we say has credibility. Imagine that we can truly care for others, give them grace, and show them genuine love, then people can truly see some measure of who God really is.

I tend to think that what Christ did on earth was to embody God's truth in his life, suffering and death, and God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. I think Paul tried to follow Jesus' life pattern, and he asked his Christian communities to do likewise.

Cruciformity and being leaders - Part 4 (Tim Gombis)

In his fourth blog post on Christianity and Christian Leadership, Tim Gombis has the following to say.

Cruciform leaders do not view people as the means to achieve other goals.  The people to whom we minister are the goal.  The whole point of Jesus-shaped leadership is to take the initiative to see that God’s grace and love arrive into the lives of others.

Christian leaders are servants of others on behalf of God, so people are the point—not my goals, plans, vision, or ambitions.

This may be obvious, but there is a vocabulary set used among ministry leaders that very subtly perverts and corrupts our vision for cruciform ministry.

We talk about “results,” or we want our ministries to be “effective.”  We look for ministry strategies that “work.”

When we talk like this, we reveal that we are envisioning something bigger than or beyond the people to whom we minister.  We subtly become the servants of that other thing and we look at the people as the means to get there.

This is one way that pastors’ hearts function as idol factories.
He says it so well.

Click here for Tim Gombis' entire blog post.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The gulf between us and the poor

Sight Magazine has reprinted this article. Check it out here.

Here is a quote:
I do believe that Scriptural truths are universal and the poor do not have moral superiority over the rich, and hence at least in theory our material affluence should not adversely affect our ability to understand the Bible. But I wonder whether our wealth can be a hindrance that stops us from fully understanding the plight of the poor and the Scripture.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jesus-shaped leadership and today's trend in the Christian circle

His his second post on Cruciformity and Christian Leadership, Tim Gombis suggests that we should take a look at Mark 10:42-45 and Deuteronomy 17:14-20, and says,
Taking a cue from these texts, I will discuss cruciform Christian leadership by contrasting it with worldly leadership practices.  This may help us discern how perverted ambitions, hidden idolatries, and destructive practices subtly affect how leadership works in Christian communities.
And then he says that a Jesus-shaped leadership looks like this:

An unrelenting commitment to the delivery of the love and grace of God into the lives of others (or, the life of another), and taking the initiative to see to it that this happens.
For many years I have had the privilege of working with Christian leaders in churches, Christian organizations and even Christian ministry training colleges. What is disturbing is the increasing trend of importing leadership skills and methods in the corporate world into the Christian community.

What happens in practice is not the outright unrestrained pursuit of self-promotion or self-interest. Rather, the issue is the lack of an “unrelenting commitment to the delivery of the love and grace of God into the lives of others (or, the life of another), and taking the initiative to see to it that this happens.”

This is the trend I observe in recent years: Instead of treating people with grace and love, Christian leaders resort to policies and procedures – and all too often, statistics and numbers (which are used to measure the so-called “performance”). The rationale is that policies and procedures – and numbers – are not wrong. The Bible is not against them, they say. So, as long as they work for the “greater good” (e.g. more people to come to church, or more money to give to the poor), it is okay to use them, even though in the process love and grace are missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all Christian leaders act like this. Not at all. I love the church, and I hold nothing against those who have ill-treated me. There is no unforgiveness. My concern is the health of the church, and where we are heading.

Gombis says it so well, and is worth repeating. Jesus-shaped leadership is about
An unrelenting commitment to the delivery of the love and grace of God into the lives of others (or, the life of another), and taking the initiative to see to it that this happens.
(By the way, Dr Christopher Wright has something really good to say about Deut 17:14-20 in his commentary.)

Click here for Tim Gombis' entire blog post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cruciformity and being leaders (Tim Gombis)

For many years I have not been able to convince people in Christian leadership that to be a Christian and to be a Christian leader one has to start with following the Crucified Christ, so that we might experience the power of resurrection. But more than often people reject this notion, because they think it doesn't work in practice.

I am, therefore, glad that Tim Gombis is writing something in his blog about this. Here are some excerpts from his first post on this matter.

"By cruciformity I mean having every aspect of our lives and church communities oriented by the cross-shaped life of Jesus."

"Cruciformity is a powerful notion because it is the only way to gain access to the resurrection power of God.  When we shape our lives according to the life of Jesus, we experience his presence by the Spirit, and God floods our lives, relationships, and communities with resurrection power."

"When I talk to people training for Christian leadership about cruciformity, however, I discover the assumption that it isn’t easily practiced in ministry."

"I wonder if this is because our imaginations are shaped by worldly conceptions of power.  We assume that at some point cruciform leadership would fail."

Click here for the entire blog post from Tim Gombis.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reflection: The message of 2 Chronicles

Recently my son (who is in upper primary) was reading 2 Chronicles. As it happened, I finished reading 2 Chronicles not long ago. I said to him that I thought a message of the book is that we should rely on God rather than ourselves or other resources. (The successive kings of Judah - as recorded in 2 Chronicles - had to learn to rely on Yahweh. It's a point clearly made by the chronicler.)

Then my son said to me, "I think the message of 2 Chronicles is that people do sin against God, but God still forgives them." Then he said that the kings in the book kept sinning, but God is merciful.

I think he has a point, and in fact spot-on.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Is the Mission of the Church? (Tim Gombis's interactions with De Young and Gilbert)

My previous post referred to Joel Willitts' review on the book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. Here I will provide links to the various posts in Tim Gombis' blog, where Gombis interacts with the book. Gombis sometimes interacts with the book directly, and sometimes indirectly. I will try to list both types of posts below.

First post.
Second post.
Third post.
Fourth post.
Fifth post.
Sixth post.
God's Love for Creation.
Seventh post.
Receiving Service to the Poor and Needy.
Eighth post.
Ninth post.
Stetzer's review.

(This list is not meant to be exhaustive. I may have missed some of Gombis' posts here.)

What Is the Mission of the Church? (Joel Willitts' review on a book by De Young and Gilbert)

The questions around social justice and the mission of the church are important. A new book came out this year by the following title.
What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.
Joel Willitts has been blogging on this book in Euangelion, and yesterday he summarised his posts in one post. While I do not totally agree with Willitts on everything, especially his understanding of social justice (although I don't totally disagree with him on that topic either), most of the time I really like what he says in his blog posts. His review is well-written, important and really worth reading. Thank you indeed, Joel, for writing this up for the church today.

Click here for the entire review by Joel Willitts.

(Tim Gombis has also been blogging on this book. Click here for more info.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interpreting Revelation - Two of Michael Gorman's suggestions

In his book, Reading Revelation Responsibly, Dr Michael Gorman suggests five concrete strategies to approach the Book of Revelation. Here I would like to mention two of them.

"Recognize that the central and centering image of Revelation is the Lamb that was slaughtered. In Revelation, Christ dies for our sins, but he dies also, even primarily, as the incarnation and paradigm of faithfulness to God in the face of anti-God powers. Christ is Lord, Christ is victorious, and Christ conquers by cruciform faithful resistance..." (page 78)

"Focus on the book's call to public worship and discipleship. Revelation calls Christians to a difficult discipleship of discernment - a non-conformist cruciform faithfulness - that may lead to marginalization or even persecution now, but ultimately to a place in God's new heaven and new earth. Revelation calls believers to nonretaliation and nonviolence, and not to a literal war of any sort, present or future. By its very nature as resistance, faithful nonconformity is not absolute withdrawal but rather critical engagement on very different terms from those of the status quo. This is all birthed and nurtured in worship." (page 79)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Australian survey identifies key "blockers" to embracing Christian faith

Sight Magazine has an article on a recent survey on Australians' attitude towards Christianity. The survey collated data from over 1,000 Australians across the county.

According to the report, 23% of "Protestants/Evangelicals" are not at all active in practising their faith. On the other hand, 23% of them are extremely active in doing so.

Also, Christianity's top 10 belief "blockers" are:

1.   Church abuse
2.   Hypocrisy
3.   Judging others
4.   Religious views
5.   Suffering
6.   Issues around money
7.   Outdated
8.   Hell & condemnation
9.   Homosexuality
10. Exclusivity

These are, of course, not surprising. The list here reflects what we already know as we interact with people. It should be noted that the list above does not necessarily reflect the actual beliefs of Christianity. (For example, Jesus was totally against hypocrisy.) But the issue is about how Christians live out their faith.

Click here for the full article in Sight Magazine and here for links to the report itself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Capitalism, democracy and slavery (Clarke and Dawe on ABC)

Last Thursday John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on ABC 7:30 (10th November 2011) was really good. They talked about the current international economic problems, with reference to democracy and slavery in the ancient world in (Western) civilization. Take a look!

Click here for the link to the clip. (It's 2 min 31 sec long).

Will the earth be destroyed, according to 2 Peter 3:10? (Tom Wright)

It is often thought that 2 Peter 3:10 speaks of the earth being burned up in the future. In a previous post I referred to Dr Christopher Wright's view on this matter. In this post I will refer to Bishop Tom Wright's view on this verse. The following is taken from his devotional commentary, Early Christian Letters for Everyone, pages 119-120.

"As with the rest of the New Testament, Peter is not saying that the present world of space, time and matter is going to be burnt up and destroyed. That is more like the view of ancient Stoicism - and of some modern ideas, too. What will happen, as many early Christian teachers said, is that some sort of 'fire', literal or metaphorical, will come upon the whole earth, not to destroy, but to test everything out, and to purify it by burning up everything that doesn't meet the test. The 'elements' that will be 'dissolved' are probably the parts of creation that are needed at the moment for light and heat, that is, the sun and the moon: according to Revelation 21 they will not be needed in the new creation. But Peter's concern throughout the letter is with the judgment of humans for what they have done, not with the non-human parts of the cosmos for their own sake.

The day will come, then, and all will be revealed. All will be judged with fire. That is the promise which Peter re-emphasizes here over against those who said, at or soon after the end of the first Christian generation, that the whole thing must be a mistake since Jesus had not, after all, returned. Many in our own day have added their voices to those of the 'deceivers' of verse 3, saying that the early Christians all expected Jesus to return at once, and that since he didn't we must set aside significant parts of their teaching because, being based on a mistake, they have come out wrong. But this merely repeats the mistake against which Peter is warning - and, in fact, this is the only passage in all first-century Christian literature which addresses directly the question of a 'delay'. It doesn't seem to have bothered Christian writers in the second century or thereafter. They continue to teach that the Lord would return, and that this might happen at any time (hence: 'like a thief', in verse 10, picking up an image from Jesus himself)."

(Click here for the previous post on this topic.)

Will the earth be destroyed, according to 2 Peter 3:10? (Christopher Wright)

In his book, The God I Don't Understand, Dr Christopher J H Wright has the following to say about 2 Peter 3:10. Dr Wright challenges the thought that the earth will one day be destroyed entirely (ie. "burned up").

"At the time of the King James Version, the only available Greek manuscripts had the final verb of that sentence as 'will burn up', and so this thought entered Christian expectations. Much earlier manuscripts that have since been discovered indicates that the original word was 'will be found'. What this probably means is that as the purging fires of God's judgment do their work, the earth and all deeds done on it will be fully exposed and 'found out' for what they really are. The same Greek word 'found' is used in a similar way in 1 Peter 1:7, also in the context of the purging judgment of fire: '... so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which purges even though refined by fire - may be proved [found] genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed' (same word, my emphasis)." (pages 199-200)

Dr Chris Wright then cites the newer English translations, NET, NRSV and ESV, to illustrate this point. Then he says,

"So we should understand the destructive fire of this passage as the fire of God's moral judgment, which will destroy all that is wicked. In this sense it is exactly parallel to the destructive water of God's judgment at the time of the flood, which Peter uses in the preceding verses as the great historical prototype for the final judgment to come: 'By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed [same word as in vv. 10 and 11]. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly' (2 Peter 3:6-7, my emphasis).

"The language is the same: destruction. But what was destroyed in the flood? Not the earth itself, but the wicked people on it at the time. Likewise what will be destroyed in the fire? Not the earth itself, but all that is sinful upon it. That is why Peter can urge his readers, in view of the coming destruction, not to try to escape out of the world but to live morally godly lives in it (2 Peter 3:11), in preparation for the new creation, 'where righteousness dwells' (v. 13). Thus, we should not see in this passage an obliteration of the universe, but a moral and redemptive purging of the universe, cleansing it of the presence and effects of all sin and evil." (page 200)

(Click here for another blog post on this topic, which refers to Tom Wright's book.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Embracing both victory in Christ and his cruciform life (Tim Gombis)

Tim Gombis' recent post in his blog is again insightful. Here is an excerpt.

"God has come in triumph and Scripture expresses this reality with the rhetoric of victory.  But there’s something wrong about triumphalism.

On the other hand, we are saved by the cross of Christ and our existence as Christian people is cruciform.  Our lives are patterned after the cross-shaped life of Jesus.  But there’s something wrong about extreme asceticism and self-loathing.

So, which is it?  What mode of life should the church adopt?  Is it okay to celebrate creation and enjoy life without feeling guilty?  Alternatively, should we really seek out suffering and be purposeful about lament in light of God’s deliverance in Christ?

It seems to me that the church’s task is manifold because of the complex character of creation and especially its current condition of brokenness.  It’s the global church’s task to understand, live into, and speak truthfully about the character of the world in all its facets."

Click here for the entire blog post.

A comprehensive understanding of sin (Tim Gombis)

Sin manifests itself in many ways at many levels, resulting in a web of evils that destroy humanity and God’s good creation.

Here are some excerpts from Tim Gombis' blog (8th November 2011) about what sin is. Very helpful.

"Personal idolatries and ambition drive people to sin, which often draws others into participating in the destruction and self-destruction.  Others who find out about wrongdoing have their own motivations for responding rightly or wrongly, choosing either to participate in cover-up and denial or to exploit the situation to their advantage.  The multiplication of these motivations and decisions results in a bewildering web of deception and staggering personal, inter-personal, and institutional destruction."

"Personal, inter-personal, and systemic dynamics of corruption are all involved."

"The brilliant horror of the cosmic power of Sin is that sin begets sin on a massive scale and pervades everything. Sin invites and provokes sin. Sin runs down social networks and multiplies exponentially, destroying lives, reputations, and institutions, without respect for reputation or past credentials of honor."

Click here for Tim Gombis entire blog post.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Greek Evangelical view of the Greek economic crisis (in Michael Bird's blog post)

Mike Bird posted something really interesting in his (and Joel Willitts') blog. The economic crisis in Greece is affecting the whole world at the moment. In this blog post Mike Bird has asked Dr. Myrto Theocharous (M.A. Wheaton College. Ph.D Cambridge Uni ), Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Greek Bible College in Athens, to be a guest writer.

She provides some reflections from Habakkuk as a Greek evangelical herself. Here are two excerpts of what she has to say.

"In the crisis that we face today, although all have sinned, some have sinned to become wealthy and some have sinned to survive. Lots of Greeks see that not everyone is paying to make things right, thus perpetuating an unjust system where the elite always manage to escape with their funds unscathed. It is the lower strata of society that have to carry the burden for the sins of the powerful: their salaries are slashed, thousands have lost their jobs, cannot pay for their rent, stores are closing down one after the other – all sheep to the slaughter for saving the banks."

"How does the evangelical religious minority react to this? On the one hand, the traditional approach continues: the church remains focused on spiritual issues and individual guilt, while passively submitting to the government (appealing to Romans 13) and trusting the EU’s “roadmap” on how to get out of the financial mess. Some tend to emphasize the church’s “heavenly” citizenship and the imminent coming of Christ, which render political involvement futile. Evangelistic efforts and charity continue, both of which focus on saving individuals from the clutches of what seems to be an irredeemable society. Without discounting the traditional approach, some are beginning to place greater focus on systemic evil, assessing what should be the level of their political involvement and what direction it should take. For some the evil lies in the productivity-killing corrupted socialist system of Greece, while for others it is to be found in the poverty-generating greed inherent in global capitalism." (emphasis added)

Click here for the entire blog post. See especially how Dr. Myrto Theocharous applies Habakkuk to the situation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Serving the poor through incarnational love (Tim Gombis)

Tim Gombis recently posted an excellent post in his blog (on 2nd November 2011). Here I cite from his post some profound insights about serving the poor. I will highlight a few things in this colour.
If we seek to help others motivated by guilt or emotion, we will typically seek to pacify our own immediate feelings rather than seek to do what’s in the long-term best interest of others. 
Doing good that ultimately helps is something radically different.  It requires incarnational love and boldness to get involved personally with difficult situations.  It may also take long periods of time to build trust and establish healthy relationships of mutuality.  Further, most ministry situations will require that we relate from our weaknesses rather than our strengths. That can be very disorienting.
Perhaps most difficult—and why guilt and sentiment hinder rather than help—doing good challenges us to discern when and how to act in ways that benefit others in the long run.  We may have to fight our impulses and resist the manipulations of others in the interests of avoiding doing immediate and long-term damage.
Beyond all this, Scripture doesn’t motivate service to the poor and needy out of guilt.  Solidarity with the suffering and service to the poor and needy are motivated eschatologically and sacramentallyThat is, we are motivated by a future-orientation toward the day of Christ and by an awareness of where we have access to the life-giving and sustaining presence of Jesus.
We could look at a number of texts, but I’ll just point to John 12:25-26:
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
If you grasp too tightly to stuff and give yourself to lustful accumulation, you will lose your life.  But if you let it go in service to Jesus, you will honored by God himself!  That’s the eschatological orientation.
But Jesus goes on to say that “whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”
Where is Jesus?  Read the Gospels.  Where is he? 

Jesus spent his days on earth with the poor, the outcast, the shamed woman in the Samaritan village, the despised and traitorous Zaccheus, the single mother from the red-light district in Syro-Phoenicia.  Jesus goes on to say in John 15 that when we serve others we are sustained by Jesus’ own joy.  There’s a “sacramental” character to serving those in need.  That is, those actions and patterns of life are encounters on earth with the very presence of Jesus.
We serve others, especially those in need, because that’s a pattern of life that is sustained by the life-giving and joy-generating presence of Jesus.  And we serve because that’s the mode of life that has its end in exaltation with Jesus himself at the final day.
....... Christian leaders would do well to cultivate language that expresses these motivations, shaping the imagination of God’s people to serve the world joyfully in the name of Jesus.
Click here for the entire post by Tim Gombis.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The reign of God and the Lamb (Michael Gorman)

I am reading Michael Gorman's Reading Revelation Responsibly. There is so much in this book. I will try to cite a few quotes of the book in the future. Here is the first installment.

The Throne: The Reign of God and the Lamb [as a theological theme in Revelation]. God the creator reigns! Jesus the redeemer, the slaughtered Lamb, is Lord! The reign of the eternal God, the beginning and the end, is not merely future or past but present, and it is manifested in - of all things - the slaughtered Lamb. God is inseparable from the Lamb, and vice versa. Each can be called the Alpha and Omega, and they rule together on one throne. This is a cruciform (cross-centred and cross-shaped) understanding of divine power.
(See Nijay Gupta's review of the book here.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bible's grand narrative and mission - A book by Christopher Wright

If you have not come across Christopher J. H. Wright's The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative, you may want to take a look. Here is a summary of the book's message from the IVP website.
Most Christians would agree that the Bible provides a basis for mission. Chris Wright believes that there is actually a missional basis for the whole Bible - it is generated by, and is all about, God's mission.

In order to understand the Bible, we need an interpretative perspective that is in tune with this great missional theme. We need to see the 'big picture' of God's mission and how all parts of Scripture fit into its grand narrative.

In this comprehensive and accessible study, Chris Wright begins with the Old Testament understanding of who God is, what he has called his people to be and to do, and where the nations belong within God's mission. These themes are followed into the New Testament. Throughout, Wright emphasizes that biblically-defined mission is intrinsically holistic. God's mission is to redeem his whole creation from all that sin and evil have inflicted upon it, and the mission of God's people must reflect the breadth of God's righteous and saving love for all he has made. 
(Click here to the link to the IVP website about this book.)

Reflection: Some Scriptures that I have been reflecting on recently

I've been working on 2 Corinthians. What an amazing letter written by the apostle Paul! Here are a few verses that I have been reflecting on lately.

This one is really good:

2 Cor 5:14-15 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. (NRSV)

The following verses are rather counter-cultural, I think.

2 Cor 1:5-6 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. (NIV2011)

2 Cor 1:9-10 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. (NIV2011)

2 Cor 1:12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. (NIV2011)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal (Christianity Today article)

Christianity Today in the US just published an article entitled "Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal". Very interesting findings from a survey in the US, and here are some on the issues of consumption, and social and economic justice.

"Some of the most interesting findings relate to moral attitudes. "How important is it," the survey asked, "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?" Again, as would be expected, those with more liberal political leanings were more likely to say it's very or somewhat important. And those who read the Bible more often were more likely to agree. Indeed, they were almost 35 percent more likely to agree at each point on Baylor's five-point scale... Likewise, contrary to liberal media stereotypes, those who are most engaged in their faith (by directly and frequently reading its source material) are those who are most supportive of social and economic justice."

"Likewise, the survey asked whether one must consume or use fewer goods in order to be a good person. Political liberals and frequent Bible readers are more likely to say yes. A conservative Bible reader might not be as prone to say yes as a liberal non-reader, but think of it this way: Ask an evangelical who is politically conservative, has some college education, has an average level of income, is a biblical literalist, and does not read the Bible, and you'll have only a 22 percent chance he or she will say reducing consumption is part of ethical living. Ask the same person, only now they read the Bible, and you'll have a 44 percent chance they'll say so. It's still not a majority, but the swing is dramatic."

The author of the article, Aaron B. Franzen, makes the following observations at the end.

"But frequent Bible readers don't just see the Bible as personal. They also see it as authoritative, written by an author who had a specific context and intent, and they want to conform to its message. After all, why read the Bible with no desire to embrace what it teaches?

In short, sometimes reading the Bible can change views and attitudes because readers are surprised by what's in it. Other times, it's just a matter of discipleship."

Click here for the article in full. (A friend of mine pointed out that the labels of "conservative", "liberal", "literal", etc., are unhelpful. I tend to agree with him.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paul and the faithfulness of God (Tom Wright)

Just found this on YouTube (apparently produced by St John's Nottingham). It features N T Wright and the topic is the shape of Paul's theology. For those of you who want to have a succinct overview of Tom Wright's understanding of God, this is a quick 15-minute clip to watch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Performing the divine warrior - Tim Gombis

In his book The Drama of Ephesians, Tim Gombis says the following in a chapter entitled "Performing the Divine Warrior" (page 156). I will highlight a few things in this colour in italics.

"According to Ephesians, the church performs the cosmically significant role of divine warfare through mundane embodiments of God's life on earth. Cosmic conflict does not involve defiant chest thumping in the face of the defeated powers. On the contrary, we are called to purposeful, humble, cruciform faithfulness as we perform Jesus for the good of the world. As we will see, the church participates in this transformative process, it harnesses and radiates God's resurrection power, which has a transformative effect on outsiders. This is how the people of God transform their surrounding cultures. This is in direct contrast to the church's long tradition of aggressive coercion and harsh denunciation. Such strategies are surrenders in divine warfare, since they are capitulations to worldly community dynamics. The church must also be a community of wisdom and discernment. And finally, the church must be a culture of justice. When the people of God cultivate these patterns of life, the church performs the role of divine warrior in the world." (Emphasis added)

Gombis goes on to say that Ephesians 6:10-18 has more to do with Isaiah 59:15-19 than the armour of a Roman soldier. (pages 157-8)

Then Gombis says,

"The enemy in the church's warfare is not the world or people in the world but the powers. And, as we will see, the strategy is not militant. In fact, Paul's instructions for engaging the spiritual conflict are quite subversive, upending notions of militancy. But we should expect such a move by this point. Throughout the Old Testament, human actors in divine warfare episodes subvert expectations by taking on postures of weakness. Paul performs his role in continuity with this theme through cruciformity; he imitates the earthly performance of Jesus by inhabiting a role of humility, self-sacrifice and weakness. Paul purposefully performs a cruciform role so that God's triumph might be seen clearly by the powers he has defeated in Christ." (Page 159; emphasis added)

"Our warfare involves resisting the corrupting influences of the powers. The same pressures that produce practices of exploitation, injustice and oppression in the world are at work on church communities. The church's warfare involves resisting such influences, transforming corrupted practices and replacing them with life-giving patterns of conduct that draw on and radiate the resurrection power of God. Our warfare, then, involves purposefully growing into communities that become more faithful corporate performances of Jesus on earth." (Pages 159-160; emphasis added)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What the ministry of reconciliation requires - 2 Corinthians (Capes, Reeves and Richards)

In their Rediscovering Paul, Capes, Reeves and Richards, provide us with some great stuff about 2 Corinthians (pages 160-1). I will highlight a few things in blue.

"According to Paul, his converts had failed to recognize what the ministry of reconciliation required. It meant 'carrying in the body the death of Jesus' (2 Cor 4:10), and 'walk[ing] by faith, not by sight' (2 Cor 5:7), 'regard[ing] no one from a human point of view' (2 Cor 5:16) and living as 'having nothing, and yet possessing everything' (2 Cor 6:10). In other words, it meant living like Jesus ('though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,' 2 Cor 8:9), and emulating Paul ('as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way; through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments,' 2 Cor 6:4-5). The Corinthians needed to learn what it meant to become living sacrifices for the welfare of others. This is why the paradox of Christian existence is the leading motif or 2 Corinthians: 'for whenever I am weak, then I am strong' (2 Cor 12:10). The strength-in-weakness theme pervades the entire letter in a variety of apparent contradictions, including joy in suffering, generosity in poverty and life in death. For Paul the theological basis for this paradox is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In weakness and suffering Jesus descended into death; in power and joy God raised him from the dead. Therefore, weakness is strength, death is life, and humiliation is glory."

Major demographic change in Christianity (Sight Magazine)

Sight Magazine has a new article about the major demographic change in Christianity. Here are some interesting observations. (I will highlight a few things in blue.)

"According to Peter Crossing of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, in 1910 about 66 per cent of the world's Christians lived in Europe; a century later it was only 26 per cent."

"He added that Christians in the northern hemisphere still dominate financially; 60 per cent of the world's Christians live in the southern hemisphere, but they generate only 17 per cent of Christian income."

"The global reconfiguration raises critical questions for all churches, said Dr Robert. "Contemporary Christians are focusing on mission for multiple purposes--both to recover tradition and to recover from tradition."

""Conversations about mission and witness have become an urgent agenda for declining mainline they struggle to reframe their identity in a global marketplace. At the same time, adherents of new ministries often see their witness as a recovery of primitive Christianity that challenges the older denominations," he said."

A few thoughts: (1) Financial prosperity does not mean a vibrant faith. (2) Tradition has pros and cons. (3) The Christianity in the earliest church (as in the New Testament) seems to be the best frame of reference for the church today.

(Click here for the full article.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce Longenecker (A book review)

Sight Magazine has just published a book review I just wrote. It is a review on Bruce Longenecker's The Lost Letters of Pergamum (Baker, Grand Rapids, 2003). Here are parts of the review.

"The genius of this book is Professor Bruce Longenecker’s ability to narrate a powerful tale through the lens of early church history. At the same time the story of Jesus is retold through the fictional accounts of Antipas and the early Christians in Pergamum. As a result, we modern readers reap the benefit of learning from Longenecker (a prominent Biblical scholar) important elements of New Testament history through a very user-friendly story. We are indebted to Longenecker for teaching us something about Luke’s Gospel, the background of Revelation, and the ancient letter writing style that shaped much of the New Testament."

"The Lost Letters of Pergamum is not so much a light bedtime reading. But neither is it an academic book that demands a heavy intellectual engagement. Rather, it is for Christians, pastors, theological students, and even children (from upper primary onwards), who want to gain insights into the New Testament and the power of the Gospel through a superb storyline that is both intriguing and engaging. I highly recommend this book."

Click here to read the entire book review.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wealth, poverty and being servants

A friend pointed me to David Chronic's article about Jesus' being a servant. I think he makes some very good points here. Although some may disagree with his view on economics, he is right about exploitative power dynamics and the sinful human nature that tends to misuse power. Here is an excerpt.

"Early in my Christian walk, Jesus’ words, “Go and sell what you have, give to the poor, and then come follow Me,” challenged me to simplify my life in order to serve God. I didn’t hear these words as a harsh, top-down command; rather, I saw how Jesus modeled this message and invited me to walk after Him. He gave up the riches of heaven to “take the nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). His actions encouraged me to give up my comforts and to become a servant. In my experience of “downward mobility,” I identified myself with Jesus’ move from master to slave or royalty to servant — or at least, so I thought. Focusing on Jesus’ actions, I missed something essential about the nature of God. And it has been among socially and economically excluded peoples that my eyes have been opened to see beyond God’s serving actions to God’s servant nature.

I had thought that the move of Jesus was one from lord to servant, a sort of trickle-down movement. Margaret Thatcher, a former British prime minister, is quoted as saying that if we want to serve the poor, we need to empower the rich. When the rich have wealth, they, like the Good Samaritan, take care of the poor. Since Thatcher said that, the trend of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer has debunked her trickle-down theory.1 Never having “enough,” the rich tend to serve their own interests — without “taking the form of a servant.”

Not only do we rarely see servanthood modeled by the upper classes in the stewardship of their power and possessions, but it is among the marginalized and oppressed that we find amazing lessons of servanthood. One of our friends, a mother of five, awakens early to go to the market. She spends the days cooking, cleaning and caring for her kids. On top of all this, she is always looking for odd jobs to bring some income to the family, often working late into the night. Although extremely poor, she is one of the hardest-working people I know, and she does it for the love of her family."

(Click here for the entire article.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Mission of God (Rev Dr Christopher Wright)

This YouTube clip summaries Rev Dr Christopher Wright's view on the mission of God. It's really worth watching.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Identity formation (by Tim Gombis)

Tim Gombis posted a post entitled "Identity Formation" in his post yesterday. Here is an excerpt. I really like it.

"Jesus is God’s solution to the brokenness of the world, and he redeems and saves by becoming brokenness, by going to those that are broken and beaten-down, by becoming the outcast and the stranger, by dying.

God shouted a resounding “YES” to what Jesus did by raising him from the dead and installing him as King over all creation.  When Jesus sat down on his heavenly throne, he sent his Spirit to dwell among us.  Not someone else or something else, but Christ’s own Spirit—Christ Jesus himself is here among us."

(Click here for the entire blog post by Tim Gombis.)

The "grammar of the gospel" (Tim Gombis)

In a recent post in his blog, Tim Gombis says something profound about the gospel. He makes six points in his post, I am citing the first three here (and I will highlight a few things in this colour).

"First, because the gospel is the announcement of the arrival of the Kingdom of God, talk about any part of that multi-faceted redemptive and world-altering reality is “the gospel.”  All of these, then, are proclamations of the gospel: forgiveness in Christ for the guilty; a warm welcome among the body of Christ for the lonely and alienated; God’s defeat of Sin and Death in Christ; a satisfying meal among God’s people for the hungry; liberation from bondage through God’s Spirit and God’s people; reconciliation in Christ for formerly alienated groups.  These concrete realities, and so many others, are instantiations of God’s Kingdom as it invades and begins to transform an enslaved cosmos.

Talking about any of them is talking about the gospel.

Second, the “call” of the gospel is the call to turn from sin, selfishness, and idolatry, and to take on Kingdom practices that enact, embody, activate, and participate in that reality.  The call of the gospel, then, is exhorting all people to receive forgiveness in Christ, to forgive others in Christ, to serve the poor in Christ, to reconcile with former enemies in Christ, to stop oppressing and manipulating others in Christ, to receive others as gifts in Christ, to celebrate redemption in Christ, to give thanks to God in Christ.  Concrete practices such as these are embodiments of Kingdom participation that draw upon and radiate God’s presence and power by God’s Spirit.

To do any of them is to respond to the gospel.

As I said previously, the gospel speaks with a variety of voices depending on the situation.  To those oppressing others, the gospel will speak a word of rebuke and a call to inhabit the life-giving Kingdom of God along with others.  To those trapped in despair, the gospel sounds a note of sweet grace, relief, and comfort.  Christian people must inhabit and explore the richness of the gospel to learn how it overwhelms and transforms any and all situations for the glory of God and the good of the world.

Third, to respond to the gospel is to be compelled by this Kingdom reality and to begin enacting Kingdom behaviors among God’s people in Christ."

Tim Gombis refers to Scot McKnight's new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. It seems that there are points of contact between his and McKnight's understanding of the gospel. I have previously blogged about McKnight's new book, which can be found here and here.

(Click here for Tim Gombis' entire blog post.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

God chooses the weak and the despised

I'd like to share a bit more from Professor Bruce Longenecker's book The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World

This book consists of a set of fictional letters between a number of people in the first century. Here is an excerpt from a letter written to Luke (the writer of Luke's Gospel) from a nobleman in Pergamum, after reading the last chapters of Luke's Gospel. The nobleman is not a Christian at this point.

"Clearly, the punch of your narrative comes at the very end, with the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension into the heavenly world. These acts seem to be more than a simple vindication of one who claimed to act on behalf of his god. They reveal that Jesus can fill the role he predicted for himself - that of the ultimate and sovereign judge of the world, the Son of Man exalted to the right hand of the mighty god. I noted that this provided the narrative with a fitting point of closure, with the resurrection of Jesus highlighting the point he had made throughout his life: Jesus' god chooses the weak and despised as the favored vehicles of divine power and mercy. That a crucified outcast is resurrected by divine power is itself a most dramatic example in the theology of reversal that Jesus espoused throughout his life."

By the way, if you are wondering where Pergamum is (in the Bible), check out Revelation 2:13.

Counter-imperial gospel (?) - Some interesting thing from Michael Bird

In a recent post in his blog, Michael Bird said that he's increasingly convinced that the gospel would have been perceived as counter-imperial. Here is an excerpt from his post.

"Paul’s colleagues in Thessalonica were mobbed because: 'They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus' (Acts 17:7).  This story reminds of an an episode from Caligula’s life described by Suetonius (Caligula 22):

'Upon hearing some kings, who came to the city to pay him court, conversing together at supper, about their illustrious descent, he exclaimed,
Eis koiranos eto, eis basileus.
Let there be but one prince, one king...'"
Click here to see the rest of Michael Bird's blog post (6th September 2011).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Australians (generally speaking) are not poor

Recently the ABS released the results of a survey on Australian Household Expenditure on Goods and Services for the 12 months prior to June 2010(Click here for the link to the ABS survey.) Here are some of the stats from the survey.

This means that the annual expenditure of an average Australian household is over $64,000, and that of a household with children is over $106,000.

Let me put this in perspective. For our family, our net income (after tax) is less than the average household expenditure ($1,236), and hence is much less than the average family expenditure ($2,046). How do we survive? By having a weekly expenditure that is closer to that of a household which relies on government pensions and allowances ($613).

(Both my wife and I work in Christian organisations. That explains our salary rates.)

As Christians, we have financial commitment to our church, mission, and overseas relief and development organisations. We also provide financial support for a parent overseas. But overall we are surviving (well, not very easily, and with a level of stress).

And, amazingly, our life is still much better off than the majority of people in the world, where 22,000 children in low-income countries die before the age of five because of preventable diseases.

Australians, in general, are not poor. Of course, there are those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale who suffer - and we need to stand in solidarity with them. But for the rest of us, let us be loving and generous to those who are less fortunate than we.

Turning away from racism - The candid confession of John Piper

Christianity Today just published an article online. It is an excerpt from John Piper's new book. Here are some excerpts from the article.

Piper tells stories about the early part of his life, and confesses that he was racist. But many years ago, Piper moved into a multi-ethnic city. This is what he has to say about the city.

"We moved into the city and have lived within walking distance of the church in Elliot Park and Phillips ever since (now almost thirty years). The 2005 ethnic breakdown of our neighborhood was 24.6 percent Caucasian, 29 percent African American, 22 percent Hispanic, 11 percent Native American, 5.9 percent Asian, 7.4 percent other. Immigration patterns have changed over the years with various groups swelling and shrinking from time to time. But that is pretty much what I see out of my study window on 11th Avenue South."

At the age of 50, Piper and his wife were asked to adopt an African American girl. This is what he says.

"Noël and I took long walks together in those days as we sought the Lord together. Finally, I knew the answer. Love your wife, love this little girl as your own, and commit yourself to the day of your death to the issue of racial harmony. Nothing binds a pastor's heart to diversity more than having it in his home. That was over fifteen years ago. In those years, we have tried to pursue as a church a deeper and wider racial and ethnic diversity and harmony." 

But this candid confession of Piper is most interesting.

"If any of this sounds valiant, don't be too impressed. I am not a good example of an urban pastor. Because of the way I believe God calls me to use my time, I don't have significant relationships with most of my neighbors. Nor does our church reflect the diversity of this neighborhood.

There is diversity, but nothing like the statistics above. Probably I could have been far more effective in immediate urban impact in this neighborhood if I had not written books or carried on a wider speaking ministry. Some thank me for this ministry, and others think I have made a mistake..."

I think there is much to ponder.

Click here to read the whole article.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Galilean life from a peasant's perspective (Bruce Longenecker's book)

I am enjoying an excellent book written by Professor Bruce Longenecker called The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World.

It is an excellent book that will help you to understand the New Testament. The following recommendation by Professor Stanley Porter tells us what the book is about.

"This fictional correspondence is not true, but it certainly could have been. Longenecker writes a very engaging account of several characters who, in their different ways, came to experience and respond to the risen Jesus Christ through Luke's narrative. I was especially moved by the character of Antipas as he is ennobled by being transformed from a Roman dignitary into a model of Christian self-sacrifice."

The book consists of many letters written by Antipas, Luke, and others. Here is an excerpt from one of the digests, in which Antipas gives an account of what Galilean life was like from a peasant's perspective.

"Like most other sectors of society throughout the empire, Galilean society is marked by two tiers of position: those in secure positions and those in insecure positions. Those enjoying a high degree of security are members of the elite, the ruling class and their high-ranking retainers. Those in an insecure situation include the peasants, most artisans and merchants, along with the unclean, the degraded, and the expendables. Although those in secure positions of wealth and power are few in number, they control the majority of the wealth of the society. The elite enjoy an extremely extravagant lifestyle, while the majority of the peasants live the most meager existence.

The elite have the luxury of establishing profitable relationships with other members of the elite, usually facilitated by means of lavish banquets that parade their wealth and opulence in contests of consumption. A member of the elite continually seeks ways of increasing his influence through investment opportunities, business partnerships, patron-client relationships, currying favor with imperial officials, or serving lucrative ambassadorial function on behalf of his city... The elite portray themselves as favored by the gods and go to great lengths to ensure that the religious institutions of the society promote this claim...

Rural peasants, conversely, expend significant energy simply trying to ensure the survival of themselves and their families. They usually live meager lives at subsistence level, having just enough food and resources to get by. Many fall below that level. Their poor standard of living is not the result of laziness or ineptitude, since a peasant's workday is long and hard. Nor is it the result of poor harvesting techniques, since peasant farmers reap significant gains from agricultural production. Instead, subsistence living is the result of imposed dues, tributes, and taxations, which peasants usually regard as excessively harsh because these expensive burdens extract everything over and above what is required to sustain the peasants' meager existence."

Tim Gombis on the pre- and post-conversion Paul

Tim Gombis has written some really good posts in his blog. Yesterday he posted something on "Paul the Pharisee", which says some very good stuff on the pre- and post-conversion Paul. Really worth reading. Here are some excerpts. (The "blue" highlights are emphases added by me.)

"Before his conversion, then, Paul was part of an effort to bring about a renewed nation, to present to God a purified people, zealous, like Paul, for the “traditions of the fathers” (Gal. 1:14).  He was likely convinced that once the nation was pure and obedient, God would be moved to send Messiah who would bring God’s salvation.

Further, this was done through violence, coercion, and persecution of sinners among the people.  This explains Paul’s persecution of the early Jesus-followers.  Because they were worshiping the one whom God had cursed (Gal. 3:13/Deut. 21:23), they were standing in the way of God fulfilling his promises.

After his conversion, of course, Paul’s ultimate aims don’t change.  He is still passionate about the resurrection of the dead and God fulfilling his promises to the fathers (Acts 26:6-7).  It’s just that now Paul knows that this eschatological orientation involves suffering with the persecuted, multi-national people of God, praying and longing for Christ’s return, and participating with the Spirit’s project of producing cruciform, non-violent love among the people of Jesus.

But the contrast between pre- and post-conversion Paul is not that he once was a legalist and is no longer.  The contrast had to do with the manner in which he conceived of God fulfilling his promises to Israel.  How would this come about?  Does God act to restore his people by his own grace?  Or can you violently coerce conformity to the Law to produce a people that will move God to act?

The contrast is between coercive and manipulative treatment of God and others, on one hand, and self-giving love for God and others, on the other.

Previously, Paul violently coerced others and sought to manipulate God to act.  He now loves others, suffering on their behalf and praying for their good.  And his posture toward God is one of deference, praying for and longing for the day of Christ, knowing that God in his wisdom will come to save in his own time."

Click here for the entire blog post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Lament for a Neighbourhood" by Tim Gombis

Here is a profound prayer by Tim Gombis in his blog on 3rd September 2011. (Click here for the post.)

"Father, we hate that your world is broken,
and we confess that we are broken, too.
Our hearts break at the brokenness of this neighborhood,
and at our own inadequacy to fix any of it.
How long, O Lord, will you let your people suffer,
and let those created in your image languish in poverty,
fear, rejection, abuse, imprisonment, addiction, relentless sorrow?
Come and save; come and restore;
heal our hearts; without you we are completely lost."

Joel Willitts' comments on Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel

Joel Willitts has posted two posts in Euangelion about Scot McKnight's book The King Jesus Gospel, which I mentioned in my previous post. Here is an excerpt from Willitts' comments.

"Here’s the central issue Scot is tackling in the book, and its one that has been a perennial discussion since at least the time that I’ve been an adult Christian: Evangelism as a call to decision versus evangelism as a call to a life of discipleship. The former has led to the problem of having “The Decided” in our pews who are yet “The Discipled”. According to Scot, this problem has been created by our “Plan of Salvation” gospel theology. While in no way downplaying the need for a decisive action as a first step, Scot argues that the biblical gospel must be defined such that the end goal is not only or singularly “personal salvation” from sin, but salvation from sin so to participate in God’s epic story of world rescue."

Click here and here for Willitts' posts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scot McKnight's new book The King Jesus Gospel

Mike Bird just posted this promo clip of Scot McKnight's new book The King Jesus Gospel.

It is really worth watching.

(Click here for Mike Bird's blog post.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

God uses the weak and lowly to show us profound truths

Sight Magazine has just published my latest article. Here is what the editor says.

"I think the educated, the unlearned, the rich, and the poor, all have gifts and talents to build up the body of Christ. The most important person in the Bible is Jesus, and He does not grade people according to their social or economic status. Our pastors, teachers and conference speakers should be people who can help us know Christ and the Scripture. Their qualifications and ministry success – or their lack of them – simply cannot be our primary focus."

"The most inspirational people are often the least known people, including those at the margins of the society."

I then survey the New Testament and find some "unknown" people who have been most inspirational. After that I look at two communities that I participate in, and show that God does speak through the weak and lowly.

Click here for the full article.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bonhoeffer on the Cross and Truth (from Nijay Gupta)

Nijay Gupta just posted this great quote from Bonhoeffer.

"The only basis of the disciples’ truthfulness is that Jesus, while we follow him, reveals our sinfulness to us on the cross. The cross as God’s truth over us is the only thing that makes us truthful. Whoever knows the cross no longer shies away from any other truth."

(Click here to Nijay Gupta's post.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Forgiveness is powerful, beautiful, messy, and risky - Tim Gombis

Tim Gombis has written a really good blog post about forgiveness.

Everything in the post is good. Here are some excerpts.

"Forgiveness is so profoundly powerful and beautiful... Forgiveness doesn’t ask for guarantees... Forgiveness takes the risk... Forgiveness doesn’t fix everything... Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee a Disney ending... Forgiveness doesn’t clean up the whole mess... Forgiveness remains difficult, complicated, risky, and profoundly beautiful."

Click here for the entire post.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Some thoughts on mission (especially cross-cultural mission) - Part 2

This post continues from my last post on my thoughts on mission (which can be found here.)

The proclamation of the gospel is found throughout the narratives in the Gospels and Acts. Cross-cultural mission (and mission in general) can especially be found in Acts. But I think we need to note the content of the gospel message. The gospel message is multifaceted. Here I will list a few Scriptures. In Athens, Paul says,
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.   (Acts 17:24-25; emphasis added)
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31; emphasis added)
Later in Acts Paul recalls what Jesus said to him,
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:15b-18; emphasis added)
Paul, who was Jewish, was sent to the Gentiles and Jews alike to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Note that it is a message of the lordship of the Creator God, God's judgment with justice, repentance, forgiveness of sins, and, most importantly, the death and resurrection of Christ. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4,
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...
Here I want to point out a few things about the proclamation of the gospel.

(1) My former religion was a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and ancestral worship. One of the most significant Christian experiences for me is the fact that I am a sinner and that by God's grace my sins are forgiven. To me, Jesus is my Lord, my King and my Saviour. The lordship of Christ, I think, should be at the heart of our proclamation.

(2) The gospel message contains many elements, and should never be reduced to a simple formula. For example, the preaching of the gospel is not about "a ticket to heaven". In fact, even a casual look at the Bible passages cited above will show that the New Testament Christians did not reduce the gospel to "a ticket to heaven".

(3) In the Four Gospels we find that Jesus' call is that people may follow him as their Lord and King. The gospel is about the call to follow the crucified Christ and risen Lord - that is, the call to discipleship. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, discipleship is about costly grace, not cheap grace. (Click here for my post about that.) The fact that proclamation of the gospel is about discipleship is evidenced by the so-called Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus asked his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. This is not about an intellectual understanding of some formulas to get a ticket to heaven, but about proclaiming the crucified Christ and risen Lord so that people will follow his self-giving way of life.

(4) Michael Pahl speaks of our call to proclaim and live out the resurrection of the crucified Christ, and that "the church is called to enact God's program of creation renewal in this age in anticipation of the fulfillment of the renewal of creation in the age to come." I have previously blogged on what Pahl says in his book From Resurrection to New Creation (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2010). I think it is really worth reading. Click here for the blog post.

(5) It is absolutely important is that we do not see ourselves as superior to those who do not know Jesus. Christians are fellow sinners who need the grace of God for salvation. We have come to know Christ because of God's grace, not our righteousness. We are to proclaim the gospel with humility, and with sincere love for those who are living in darkness.

(To be continued.)