Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joel Willitts' review on Rob Bell's Love Wins

Here is Joel Willitts' review on Rob Bell's new book Love Wins.

I haven't read the book myself and so I have no comments about the book itself. But I think it helps to see what Willitts thinks. Click here for his review.

Click here for my previous post, which has a number of other reviews from Scot McKnight's blog.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Idolary (Christopher Wright; Tim Keller; Brian Rosner; Greg Beale)

Jason Hood has written an article in Christianity Today entitled, Idolatry, the Gospel, and the Imitation of God: Why evangelicals have taken such an interest in idols. (Click here to view the whole article.)

With the help of the insights from Christopher J. H. Wright, Tim Keller, Brian Rosner and Greg Beale, Hood came up with some good stuff in his article. Here are some excerpts.

"Idolatry is dangerous because it almost always involves the offer of good things as substitutes for God. Wright highlights three pairs of idols: power and pride, success and popularity, and wealth and greed. Keller similarly highlights money, sex, and power, noting that even churches and efforts in ministry can become idols."

"Closer to home geographically, ideologically, and temporally, we find the same effect. The most famous statue in the United States is the Statue of Liberty. Many Americans are unaware that the image atop the base is the Roman goddess Libertas. Now we may not worship this goddess in the traditional manner. But it is not too much to say that our radical allegiance to self and independence is idolatrous worship... And if we worship freedom, we may become the personification of Libertas, unable to experience healthy dependence on God and others, even as others find they cannot depend on us. Freedom can ironically enslave us, crippling our service to God and others."

"We begin to destroy the power of idols by believing the good news of all that God offers his broken human images in the person and work of his Son. In Christ we receive a new adopted identity as God's beloved children who are assured of acceptance, forgiveness, resurrection life, and a global inheritance. This identity is available apart from success, popularity, creativity, and wealth. God gives redemption despite our failure, poverty, and spiritual barrenness. He holds out proof of his love in the bloody death of Jesus for sinners, in his life-giving resurrection, and in the empowering gift of the Spirit of adoption."

"Beale's thesis notes the possibility of "becoming what we worship" for ill and for good. "All of us are imitators and there is no neutrality," says Beale. "We are either being conformed to an idol of the world or to God." In the final chapters of his book, Beale begins to explore this neglected strand of biblical teaching: those who worship the God of Israel become like him, increasingly fulfilling their destiny as they conform to the righteousness and holiness of God and the Son who is his perfect image (Matt. 5:48; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:23–24; 4:32–5:2; Col. 3:5–10)."

"Repenting of idolatry involves actual turning, a change of one's mind and service away from idols and toward the worship and imitation of the Father and Son.Wright summarized the task in his reflections on Lausanne 2010: "Few things can be more important for the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ than that those who claim his name should be like him, by taking up their cross, denying themselves, and following him in the paths of humility, love, integrity, generosity, and servanthood.""

Let us take up the cross and follow Christ!

The Task of Our Generation (Daniel Kirk)

Daniel Kirk has posted The Task of Our Generation in his blog. (Click here for the link.) I think it is really worth reading.

As a bi-cultural person (Asian-Aussie), I do find that the dichotomies in our Western mindset somewhat frustrating. But it's our task to overcome that, so that we may proclaim the gospel and live it out at the same time (and to do so both as individuals and as a community at the same time!).

Here are some excerpts from Kirk's post.

"In the post-conservative Christian circles in which I run, people have often experienced a shift. From an entry into Christianity that is all about Jesus dying for my sins, people later discover a Kingdom of God that demands active engagement with the world."

"Within the world of Pauline studies a parallel distinction is sometimes highlighted. On the one hand, there is Jesus dying “for me,” with its concomitant substitutionary language of justification and the like. On the other hand, there is my “dying with Christ,” with its concomitant participatory language of co-crucifixion, co-glorification and the like."

"I see the [t]ask of our generation to overcome this false dichotomy by (1) insisting that it’s not a dichotomy after all; and (2) articulating atonement in such a way that action and transformation are inherent to the saving story of Jesus." (I think Kirk meant "task" in the first sentence here.)

"There are many ways to put the question we must answer.

At the Institute for Biblical Research this year, Tom Wright put the question, “What does the Kingdom of God have to do with the cross?”"

"And, until we can so tell the story of Jesus’ death such that his life is not only an anticipation... but inseparable from his atoning death, that we have not yet comprehended what it is to say that Jesus died for our sins."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Justice for the poor and oppressed: The law, the prophets and Matthew (towards a biblical theology of justice)

Micah 6:8 is a well known verse about justice. But do you realise that it is echoed by Jesus in one of his seven woes against the Pharisees and the Scribes? The very people who are supposed to know the Scripture and are in relatively high religious and social positions fail to understand God's purpose and his value system.

And do you realise that the words of Micah can trace back to the Law of Moses, and that Jeremiah has something profound to say about it? Indeed, both the Law and the prophet Jeremiah talk about the circumcision of the heart (or the lack of it) when they talk about the people's failure to seek justice for the poor and marginalised.

I think a careful study of these Scriptures will help us understand God's love for the poor and oppressed - that from ancient times he wants his people to live in such a way that will reflect his character.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Deuteronomy 10:12-22)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” (Jeremiah 9:23-25)

A careful look at these passages will reveal that they are connected with the following themes and biblical stories.
  • Yahweh is the Creator God and hence the Genesis story, and hence all praise goes to him
  • The Exodus story, in which the righteous, just and faithful God graciously rescued his people from social, economical, racial and political oppressions
  • The Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which is of course the greatest commandment according to Jesus, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." - And note how the next verse makes the heart the location of this love and how it is to be expressed, "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts."
  • The new (renewed) covenant foreshadowed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that one day God would circumcise the heart of his people through the outpouring of the Spirit
  • This in turn has now been fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah and the indwelling Spirit in the life of the Christ-community, who seek to follow Jesus and his self-giving and love-filled way of life.
We can see how these passages can form the basis of a biblical theology of justice for the poor and oppressed. It is about the loving and faithful God, his gracious saving acts, and the demand for faithful discipleship on the part of the Jesus-followers.

(All of these passages are taken from the NIV2011)

The word "hell" (ie. Greek: geennan) in the New Testament

It seems that Rob Bell's new book Love Wins will be a subject of debate/conversation for awhile, because he talks about the meaning of "hell". For those who are interested, here are the verses in the New Testament (NRSV) that have the Greek geennan, which is often translated as "hell" in the English Bible translations. It is interesting (and important) to look at the context of each of these 12 verses in the New Testament.

Matt. 5:22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matt. 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Matt. 5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matt. 10:28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matt. 18:9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Matt. 23:15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Matt. 23:33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?
Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
Mark 9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
Mark 9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,
Luke 12:5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.

I think every good student of the Bible should start with the Bible itself before entering into the debate about the subject. There are other places in the Bible that are important when it comes to the questions about love, "hell", judgment, etc. Let's start from the Scripture.

Today (14th April 2011) I want to add to this post the following from Scot McKnight's blog (viewed on 14th April 2011).

"Finally, and we’ve perhaps all made this mistake. Gehenna was not a dump outside Jerusalem. No matter how many times people say this — and it has become street truth — there is no evidence that there was a town dump outside Jerusalem in the first century. As Dale Allison puts it, “without ancient support.” That place, the Valley of Hinnom where there was an idolatrous high place called Topheth, was the notorious place of death and idolatry and fire and judgment, but it was not the town dump of Jerusalem. To use Gehenna for Jesus was to use a metaphor for divine judgment and destruction. See the OT uses in Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-9; 32:35; Isa 30:33. It is not only flippant but inaccurate to say Gehenna is the town dump — it is a metaphor for divine judgment." (Click here for McKnight's full post.)

Obviously Professor Scot McKnight is more qualified than I am to comment on this matter. I will do more work on this matter when I have time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Scot McKnight on some reviews of Rob Bell's new book Love Wins

In Scot McKnight's blog there are a few reviews on Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Click here for the link.

A few days ago McKnight said this:

"As you may know, I consider the issues surrounding universalism, the love of God and the justice of God, the relationship of our life now and our life then … I consider these issues to be the most significant challenge to the Christian faith today. Pounding the hell pulpit or knee-jerk defenses of what Rob says aren’t going to satisfy the aching questions so many have about this topic today." (Click here for the full post.)

I think the last sentence here is wise.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The divine drama and God's upside down logic (Some great quotes form Tim Gombis)

I am reading Tim Gombis' The Drama of Ephesians. Here are some really good quotes.

"[B]ecause we are not the only actors on the cosmic stage and because the powers and authorities who rule the present evil age are intimately bound up with cultures in every part of the world, skillful and faithful performance of the drama of God's redemption is necessarily going to involve our being cultural critics. Culture is not neutral, and the various, multifaceted, complex and subtle ways of life and thought that are up and running in our culture at every level are perverted on some way by the fallen and malignant powers and authorities." (p 32)

"God defeats the powers through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a radically subversive way of doing things. The cross turns everything on its head - God wins by losing; the powers lose by winning. The powers' triumph over Christ on the cross was their own defeat; and Christ's defeat won him victory." (p 88)

"This is radically subversive of the normal way of doing things. According to corrupted social logic of how things work in the world, we get things done by winning or by dominating others. We typically manipulate situations to bring about certain ends and goals. We win by winning. We triumph by triumphing. If that means that there are losers or that we have to step on people as we advance our goals, so be it. We win in personal encounters through power moves and intimations. We must dominate others, grab for power and exploit the weak.

But this is not God's way. God does not act according to the conventions of perverted human imagining. God comes in weakness, and his logic is upside down if we look at it in human terms. Jesus speaks from this logic when he says that the one who seeks to save his life will lose it and the one who loses his life will save it (Mk 8:35). Elsewhere, Paul draws out this subversive way that God works when he says that God's way of working is foreign to the power-hungry cosmic rulers. In 1 Corinthians 2:8, he says that if the rulers of this age had understood God's upside-down logic, God's wisdom of working his power through weakness, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory..." (p 88)

"Ephesians is not a doctrinal treatise in the scholastic sense of that term. It is, rather, a drama in which Paul portrays the powerful, reality-altering, cosmic-transforming acts of God in Christ to redeem God's world and save God's people for the glory of his name." (15)

On Ephesians 4:15, most English translations have "speaking the truth in love". But Gombis thinks that "Paul uses it [ie. the Greek word for "truth"] in a verbal sense, indicating that truth is something that the church is to do, not just to know and to speak." Then Gombis uses 4:20-21 to show that "Paul is referring to Jesus' life as the master performance of the truth and the church's task of studying Jesus' life - his words, his actions, his way with people. Studying Jesus, according to Paul, gives us wisdom as we set about to perform the drama of the gospel." (p 16)

Church, community, being counter-cultural

I found the following from Scot McKnight's blog. Is the church about community? Does it have the courage to be counter-cultural?

(Click here for the post.)

"[The] church is and will remain at the epicenter of Christian community, it is the community, essential for worship, for sacrament, for fellowship, but the work of the church, the work of the pastor, is not to lead or cast vision or draw people in, but to equip, disciple, and send Christians out."

"We need to be counter cultural in approach to the church as committed community and as the body of Christ."

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Resurrection and God's justice for the oppressed and those who suffer unjustly

Some time ago I posted the following quote from Joel Green's commentary on 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007). I think it's worth posting it again. It is about the resurrection.

Three interrelated motifs help to structure our understanding: (A) Resurrection signals the restoration of Israel. (B) Resurrection marks God's vindication of the righteous who have suffered unjustly; having been condemned and made to suffer among humans, the righteous will in the resurrection be vindicated before God. (C) Resurrection marks the decisive establishment of divine justice; injustice and wickedness will not have the final word, but in the resurrection will be decisively repudiated. To proclaim the resurrection, then, is already to proclaim a new world, and to call for a "conversion of the imagination." (page 28)

I have been thinking that in Acts the apostles' preaching was often about the resurrection (and, of course, the death) of Christ. It's good news for all. But for the poor and oppressed, this is especially comforting, for it is about God's justice and vindication for the suffering righteous. Injustice does not have the final say. God reigns. It is good news indeed.

Book notice: Dialogue with Tom Wright at Wheaton

Last year a number of respected Christian leaders met at Wheaton College to dialogue with Tom Wright about his view on Jesus, Paul and the church. I listened to a few presentations at this conference and it was really good. Here we don't just hear theology, but Tom Wright's pastor's heart. The speakers do disagree with Wright on several points, but they are very gracious.

They have now published a book based on the presentations at the conference. It's worth buying, I believe.

Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright (Edited by Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays)

Here is the content of the book:

Part One: Jesus and the People of God

1 Jesus and the Victory of God Meets the Gospel of John
Marianne Meye Thompson
N. T. Wright's Response

2 Knowing Jesus: Story, History and the Question of Truth
Richard B. Hays
N. T. Wright's Response

3 "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends": Jesus and the Justice of God
Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh
N. T. Wright's Response

4 Jesus' Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet
Nicholas Perrin
N. T. Wright's Response

5 Whenece and Whither Historical Jesus Studies in the Life of the Church
N. T. Wright

Part Two: Paul and the People of God

6 Glimpsing the Glory: Paul's Gospel, Righteousness and the Beautiful Feet of N. T. Wright
Edith M. Humphrey
N. T. Wright's Response

7 The Shape of Things to Come? Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies
Jeremy S. Begbie
N. T. Wright's Response

8 Did St. Paul Go to Heaven When He Died?
Markus Bockmuehl
N. T. Wright's Response

9 Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation?
The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and Protestant Soteriology
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
N. T. Wright's Response

10 Whence and Whither Pauline Studies in the Life of the Church?
N. T. Wright

(Click here for the link to this book.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kavin Rowe's book: World Upside Down

I really want to buy C. Kavin Rowe's book World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.

I managed to find a few quotes from Daniel Kirk's blog post. (Click here for the post.) Here they are.

“To see the potential of the Christian mission for cultural demise is to read it rightly. Indeed, this is but the flip side of the reality that God’s identity receives new cultural explication in the formation of a community whose moral or metaphysical order requires and alternative way of life” (146).

"In Luke’s telling of the story, the formation of alternative communities, with alternative cultures, is inseparable from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to be lord over all. Moreover, the existence of such communities, with their alternative forms of life, become the context within which the truth can be spoken and known. Thus, the Christian claims are “madness”–but only to those without eyes to see." (161-162)

“Acts narrates the life of the Christian mission as the embodied pattern of Jesus’s own life… Put succinctly, according to Acts, the missio Dei has a christological norm” (173).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Being a missional church: Being known for their community service

Two members of our Christian community were nominated for the Honouring Women in the City of Moreland Award for their wok with women in the local community and the world. We are very proud of them.

This is great Christian witness. They are inspiring people!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dealing with the cause of poverty and social injustice:Power imbalance between the poor and non-poor

When it comes to serving the poor, what Jayakumar Christian says here, I think, is vital.

"The concrete expressions, or symptoms, of poverty are familiar to us all - social and economic deprivation, low income and unemployment. The causes of poverty, however, are flawed relationships. Poverty is about the oppressive relationships between the poor and the non-poor - how the poor and the social systems relate, and how the poor relate to civil society and government. Within the context of these flawed relationships, power is abused. This abuse of power is then expressed in low income, lack of food security, lack of nutrition and all those usual ways we measure poverty." (Excerpt from Another Way to Love, edited by Tim Costello and Rod Yule; Dr Jayakumar Christian is National Director of World Vision India.)

The ultimate cause of power abuse and unjust systems is of course sin. It is not only that individuals (including Christians) sin, there are also unjust social, economic, religious and political systems that are oppressive - even though some individuals in those systems are godly people. Christians must learn to recognise the existence of these systems and learn to discern who abuse power in those systems. (And sometimes we can be - unknowingly - involved in those systems.) We need to name them and seek ways to deal with them with God's help.

A heart of compassion and generosity are good and important. But they do not deal with the cause of poverty and injustice. Three examples in the Bible will help us here.

(1) The story of David, Bathsheba, Uriah and Nathan (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15). Here the sin of David is not just adultery and murder, but the abuse of his power. He who is in a position of power uses it to take someone's wife through an act of violence. The prophet Nathan's parable is telling, for it is about a poor man's own possession (an ewe lamb) being taken by a rich man who has plenty of flocks. The narrative here demonstrates that all sorts of (individual and social) interconnected evils exist through the abuse of power.

(2) Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-29). Here Naboth refuses to give his vineyard to king Ahab because it is the inheritance that Yahweh has given his household. According to the Law of Moses, Israelite households are not to lose the land Yahweh has given them as a gift. But Ahab uses his power (via Jezebel) to kill Naboth and take his possession. Power is abused by someone in a position of power. The powerless person loses his possessions and his life. Here is a good example where compassion and generosity alone do not deal with the cause of injustice. Sin and power dynamics are at play.

What the prophets Isaiah, Amos and Micah say explicitly against social injustice are said implicitly by the two stories above.

(3) The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Here the rich man is considered wicked, while the poor man is seen as righteous. (This is of course where the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26 makes sense.) To understand the story one has to read what Jesus has to say just before he tells the story. (Take a look at Luke 16:14-18 and you will see!) One thing that comes out from the story seems to be: The rich and powerful fail to understand the value system of the kingdom of God, despite the fact that they have the Scripture; but God shows mercy to the poor and powerless. (See my other article here for more about the rich man and Lazarus.)

In each of the above stories we see power imbalance. All too often human's desire for more stuff manifests itself throught a web of sin, social evils and oppression against the poor. This can happen in a local village in a low-income country, where the rich locals oppress the poor in the land. This can also happen when those who live in rich countries are unwilling to care for the poor in the world.

(It must be noted that none of what I said above means that the rich are more sinful than the poor. All have fallen short of the glory of God, and all need the grace of God for salvation. But the above highlights the complexity of our broken world, and what can be done about it when it comes to poverty and injustice.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Walking with the poor cross-culturally in Melbourne

In the latest issue of UNOH's Finding Life newsletter (March 2011), I read the following article by Peter Dekker, which is really worth reading. As a bi-cultural person I can testify that Peter and his family's dedication to Christ and the poor in a non-Western culture has set a good example for us.

From “FOR” to “WITH”

The most crucial change that must take place in our adjustments to a new culture is to learn to see its people as “people” – as human beings like ourselves – and their culture as our culture.
(Paul G. Hiebert. Anthropological Insights for missionaries, 1985)

There is a massive difference between doing something FOR someone and doing something WITH someone. As a Westerner in a Western context, it is easy to do a lot of things FOR a refugee group that is settling into your neighbourhood. We can get results, we know the system, we know the ways to get things done... we know what is best for them. What this sort of an attitude boils down to however is imperialism, and we are all well aware of the sins of the past committed by colonising countries and even missionaries in the name of “knowing what is best”.

2010 was a real time of spiritual growth and formation for Naomi and I as our team was reduced from 5 or 6 down to just 2. God was teaching us an important lesson; through team-mates leaving to pursue their callings in other places, and reducing our team from a well oiled machine that could get things done, to a married couple faced with more work than they could possibly handle alone. We could no longer run around and do things FOR people, if we did this we would have burnt out in a couple of months. Rather we were forced to slow down and do things WITH people. This involved coming along some close relationships and going much deeper than we had before, seeing these people as more than just a ministry opportunity, but beginning to see them as friends and even family. It involved grappling with both the beautiful and ugly sides of their culture, and struggling to understand those parts that seemed most foreign to us, so that we could call their culture our own. It also meant humbling ourselves, and allowing those we were working amongst to do things for us so that our relationships could become truly equal.

As 2011 begins with our team growing from 2 back to 5, and with our work in the neighbourhood gaining more momentum, we thank God for the growth that occurred in 2010 with all its highs and lows. Though there is still a lot to be learnt, 2010 truly was the year we moved from “FOR” to “WITH”.

Peter Dekker.
Springvale Neighbourhood Team Leader.

(Reproduced with permission from the author.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent’s Witness by Brian Gorman

I found this Lent reflection in a post in Michael Gorman's blog. It's quite a good reflection on the testing of Jesus by the devil in Luke 4. Here is an excerpt.

"Temptation #2: The offer of the kingdoms of the world. Jesus is here offered the chance to take over the government and thereby bring God’s kingdom to earth in an authoritative way. The parallel for the church is obvious, that we are offered and tempted for the chance to reform the empire as a means to achieve God’s work in the world. But just as Jesus rejected the kingdoms offered to him, we the church must also reject the temptation to believe that we can bring the kingdom of God through the government. Jesus’ way is the way of death, of weakness and rejection. We must take up that cross daily (the word “daily” is added in Luke’s Gospel from Mark’s). Milton sees this temptation as the temptation to overthrow Rome on behalf of the Jewish people. The fascinating thing about Milton is that his Satan is acutely aware that the restoration and salvation of Israel from Roman Empire is an important part of Jesus’ mission, but his temptations are temptations to not use his divine power (the way of weakness) to achieve the ends. Luke’s answer to this temptation is in Jesus’ anti-triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, where Jesus creates almost a farce of a coup d’etat, coming in on a donkey."

Click here to read the entire post.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An article about Ephesians, the empire and resistance (Nijay Gupta and Fredrick Long)

Nijay Gupta and Fredrick Long have written a good article about Ephesians, the empire and resistance. (Follow the link here to get to the article.) Here is an excerpt.

"In the course of this article, we have engaged passages in Ephesians that have been problematic insofar as they have been interpreted to support an accommodationist reading of the letter. Specifically, we have investigated those passages concerned with rulers and authorities (1.15-23; 2.1-3; 3.10; 6.10-13) and the Household Code (5.15–6.9). Certainly other texts could have been included in our analysis. Our conclusion is that far from supporting the status quo, Ephesians often confronts and trumps imperial prerogatives and titles while also subverting conventional wisdom about household relations. This is achieved by featuring as the head of the church body a political leader and ruler, Jesus Messiah Lord, who himself modeled sacrificial love (1.4-8; 3.15-19; 5.2, 25, 29) and expects such from his followers (4.20-24; 4.32–5.2; 5.25-29)." (Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism, 7 (2010) 112-36, page 135)

I tend to think that as we follow Jesus' self-giving way of life and seek to embody his sacrificial love, we will find ourselves living a life that is counter-cultural. We do not live counter-culturally for the sake of being counter-cultural. But Christ's sacrificial love is in itself counter-cultural, and if we follow him we learn to do what he did (even though only in small measures). There are many powers (political, social, economical, religious) that seek to dehumanise God's image-bearers, and it is through Christ's love, his death and resurrection that people can find hope.

Scot McKnight's comments on the discussion about Rob Bell's new book

Just read Scot McKnight's blog post about the recent discussion on Rob Bell's new book.

Here are some excerpts from McKnight's post.

"My horror, then, was three-fold: first, the image of God that is depicted when hell becomes the final, or emphatic, word and, second, the absence of any context for how to talk about judgment in the Bible and, third, the kinds of emotion expressed: we saw too much gloating and pride and triumphalism on both sides. I felt like those who watched the sinking of the Titanic and who didn’t cringe at the thought of thousands sinking into the Atlantic to a suffocating death. They were instead singing and dancing to a jig that they were right or had been predicting the sinking all along."

"If there is an eternity, and I believe there is, and if there is a judgment, and I believe there is, then let us keep the immensity and gravity of it all in mind and refrain from flippancy, gloating, triumphalism — and let it reduce us to sobriety and humility and prayer. When Abraham faced the prospects of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18, he didn’t gloat that he was on the safe side but supplicated YHWH for mercy for those who weren’t. We need more Abrahams."

"To talk about wrath apart from this depiction of the grace-consuming God is to put forward a view of God that is not only unbiblical but potentially monstrous. And, to put forward a view of God that is absent of final judgment, yes of wrath, yes of eternal judgment, is to offer a caricature of the Bible’s God."

I think McKnight has a lot for us to consider. I was going to post something myself on God's judgment and mercy, but I think McKnight has already said much for us to think about.

Click here for his full blog post.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Some concluding remarks from Bruce Longenecker about Paul and poverty

I am still reading Bruce Longenecker's new book Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty and the Greco-Roman World (Grant Rapids: Eerdmans), 2010. But here is what I found from a quick look at the final pages.

We have seen that Paul's concern for the poor had considerable impact on the way that he lived his life, to the point of risking his own life in "putting his money where his mouth was." This should surprise us only if, unlike Paul, we imagine the "good news" that transformed Paul from persecutor to apostle to be devoid of an economic dimension. But since Paul envisioned an economic component to lie deeply embedded within the good news of the Jesus-movement, the fact that his concern for the poor influenced his manner of living and his approach to peril falls wholly in line with all that we know of this man who, when committing himself to a cause, did so wholeheartedly, and with spirited enthusiasm. (page 316)

I have long been thinking that it is hard to read the stories of Jesus and Paul's letters (and Paul's life story in Acts) without being challenged to live a self-giving life as Christ's followers. And this self-giving life can hardly not include some kind of sacrifice in terms of lowering one's socioeconomic status. I think Longenecker's detailed analysis affirms this rather obvious observation.

(So far - I'm reading chapter 4 - I find Longenecker's analysis of the economic situation of Pauline churches very thorough. He interests with the most recent and the earlier scholarship really well, and has come up with a balanced view on the matter.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Climate justice: Some reading suggestions

The Evangelical Alliance is running a seminar at Ridley College on climate change this weekend. (See here for details.)

I am slowly working through Romans 8 (and hence Genesis 1) and try to make sense on this issue from a biblical perspective. I find this issue exceedingly complex because it cuts across several disciplines: Bible, theology, economics, climate science, and indeed politics.

The following are some suggested readings (especially for those from an evangelical tradition, and most of my friends are in that tradition).

  • Creation in Crisis edited by Robert S White. I haven't read this yet. But I have read Robert White's Cambridge Paper at The Jubilee Centre in the UK about a Christian view on creation care. I think it's of very good value. The contributors to the book include scientists, theologians, and development practitioners from different continents. They include C Rene Padilla, Michael Northcott, Richard Bauckham, Douglas Moo and his son Jonathan Moo.

  • Christopher J H Wright's Old Testament Ethics and the Mission of God both have a chapter on the issue. I find Christopher Wright a gentle and careful scholar who can communicate at a popular level.