Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Some good quotes about the poor, the Bible, faith and discipleship (Fee, Gombis, Pahl, Barth, Willitts)

Some quotes I collected recently:
(1) Something about the Letter of James and the poor
"James is decidedly - as in the whole of Scripture - on the side of the poor. The rich are consistently censured and judged, not because of their wealth per se, but because it has caused them to live without taking God into account and thus to abuse the lowly ones for whom God cares." Gordon Fee, in Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to read the Bible Book by Book (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2002), page 399.
(2) On the "scandal of the empty tomb", Michael Pahl says, "To put this simply, everyone knows that dead people do not come back from the dead, let alone to some transformed human existence, but that's precisely the point of the Christian claim that God raised Jesus from the dead - the utterly impossible has in fact occurred. And the impossible has now become the norm, the standard by which all else is measured." Michael Pahl, From the Resurrection to New Creation (Eugene: Cascade, 2010), page 12.
(3) "God is as much present in the scientifically and historically explainable as he is in that which has not yet been explained. Nor should we expect to see God only in the "miraculous," or in the triumphs of life. God is as much present in the mundane and in life's tragedies as he is in those experiences which are typically seen as the more likely demonstrations of divine activity." Michael Pahl, From the Resurrection to New Creation (Eugene: Cascade, 2010), page 70.

(4) Two quotes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (via Joel Willitts)

True believers must participate in the suffering of Christ. This call to self-denial and suffering is the “hard word of grace”. "Just as Christ is only Christ as one who suffers and is rejected, so a disciple is a disciple only in suffering and being rejected, thereby participating in crucifixion." "Suffering becomes the identifying mark of a follower of Christ." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer via Joel Willitts) (Click here for Willitts' post)

"The call to discipleship is a commitment solely to the person of Jesus . . . It is beyond enmity between law and gospel. Christ calls; the disciple follows. That is grace and commandment in one." (Bonhoeffer via Joel Willitts)

(5) "The social dynamics of celebrity culture are now so familiar that they no longer shock us... I...  have thought often about the social and cultural forces that tempt us to focus on image-maintenance.  These dynamics make us inauthentic and lead to shallow and manipulative relationships.  Because we want others to be impressed with us, we’re tempted to craft public images that mask our failures and weaknesses and trumpet our strengths." Tim Gombis - Click here for Gombis' blog post.

(6) Quotes of Karl Barth (via Tim Gombis)

“God can be known only when those of the highest rank regard suffering with the whole social order of their age and bearing its heavy burden as the noblest achievement of which they are capable; when the rich in spirit think nothing of their wealth—not even in order to share it—but themselves become poor and the brothers of the poor..." (Karl Barth via Tim Gombis - Click here for Gombis' blog post)

A paradox of the cruciform God: “God gives life only through death.” (Karl Barth via Tim Gombis - click here for Gombis' blog post)

A paradox of the cross: “The cross is the bridge which creates a chasm and the promise which sounds a warning” (Karl Barth via Tim Gombis - click here for Gombis' blog post)

(7) "I am because we are, since we are, therefore I am." (John S Mbiti, African scholar) No individualistic religion there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On prayer: Some good points by Nijay Gupta

Nijay Gupta has posted some good stuff on his blog. It's in response to Daniel Kirk. I haven't read Kirk's posts on this matter. But in and of themselves Nijay Gupta's points are worth reading.

Click here for the post.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Joel Willitts' reviews on Rob Bell's Love Wins

Click here for Part 3 of Joel Willitts' review on Rob Bell's Love Wins.

Click here for Part 4 of Joel Willitts' review on Rob Bell's Love Wins.

Click here for Part 5 of Joel Willitts' review on Rob Bell's Love Wins.

I did not follow up on the other reviews done by Joel Willitts in his blog. But fortunately he recently (22nd June 2011) provided a document with all the blog reviews he posted . Click here for the blog post that has this document.

Click here for other reviews/discussions.

Reflection: Sin, grace, salvation and our attitude toward others

Just a few thoughts.

Perhaps our reluctance to say sorry to others (for big and small matters alike) is a reflection of our lack of understanding of our own sinfulness - the very human condition that shows us how much we need God's grace.

Perhaps our tendency to see the faults, shortcomings and sins of others (rather than the good in them) is a reflection of our lack of understanding of God's sheer grace in rescuing us from the bondage of sin and death through Christ Jesus our Lord.

For if we realise how sinful we are we would not claim that we are always right, or more righteous than others. Likewise, if we truly realise how sinful we are and hence how amazing God's grace is for us, we would see our fellow human beings as fellow sinners who need God's grace (rather than "them as sinners" and "us as righteous people").

All these come back to how much we truly understand "salvation by grace", or, more precisely, "salvation by the costly grace" of the Crucified Christ and Risen Lord.

And as I wrote the above, I wonder how much I have fallen short of God's glory, and how thankful I am to God who has poured out his grace on me, a sinner.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Some good quotes from Karl Barth's commentary on Romans (via Tim Gombis)

Tim Gombis just posted some good stuff from Barth's commentary on Romans.

"A paradox of the cruciform God: “God gives life only through death” (p. 105).

A paradox of the cross: “The cross is the bridge which creates a chasm and the promise which sounds a warning” (p. 112)."

I often think that it is our reluctance to accept that there are paradoxes and tensions in Paul's letters that we end up twisting the apostle's words to suit our theology. But in accepting those tensions we find profound truths that are life giving. The paradox of the cruciform God above is a good example.

Click here for Gombis' post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paul wrote to the poor people in Rome (Tom Wright on Romans)

In N T (Tom) Wright's Paul for Everyone - Romans Part 1, he aptly describes the type of people his audience would consist of. I think this provides useful information for us to understand Paul's letter to the Romans, and what the gospel (literally means "good news") means for Paul's audience.

"In ancient Rome as today, of course, the rich people lived up in the hills, the famous seven hills on which the city stands. The original imperial palace, where the Emperor Augustus lived at the time when Jesus was born, occupies most of one of them. Nero was emperor when Paul was writing this letter; his spectacular palace is on another hill, the other side of the Forum. But then as now the poorer people lived in the areas around the river; not least, in the area just across the river from the main city centre. And that is where most of the first Roman Christians lived. The chances are that the first time this great letter was read aloud it was in a crowded room in someone's house in the low-lying poorer district, just across the river from the seat of power." (page 6; emphasis added)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Economic profile of the earliest Christians - Urban Jesus-followers in Paul's letters (Bruce Longenecker)

In his new book Remember the Poor (2010), Bruce Longenecker provides a picture of the economic profile of a typical urban group of Jesus-followers in the days of the New Testament.

Longenecker emphasizes that the following figures are only rough estimates. But it seems that he has done extensive research on this and there are good reasons to use them as fairly reliable background information when it comes to interpreting Paul's letters in the New Testament.

Here is what he says,

"1.  Roughly 10% of this community is among the middling groups of Roman urbanism (ES4), not without economic risk, but also with a relatively significant level of economic security...

2.  Roughly 25% of this community has some minimal economic resources (ES5)...

3. Roughly 65% of this community is marked out by subsistence-level existence (ES6 to ES7)."

It is clear that the majority of the Christ-community in Paul's house churches lived below, at, or near subsistence level. This, I think, means that we should read Paul's letters in light of this important background.

For example, when we see the words "suffering" or "affliction" in Paul's letters, at least one aspect of these words would be related to socioeconomic hardships from the audience's perspective (unless the context clearly says otherwise).

Also, financial generosity in Paul is not so much about the wealthy giving to the destitute. Rather, it is about sharing the scarce resources available in the community. That is, it is about the relatively "less poor" Christians sharing their resource with the poorest among them.

Some quotes in Walter Hansen's commentary on Philippians (from Mike Bird's blog)

In one of his latest posts Mike Bird has cited some good stuff in Walter Hansen's commentary on Philippians. Here are two of those quotes.

"One of the biggest highlights of the book is the discussions on “The Gospel of Christ” (pp. 31-32). Hansen writes: “The content of the gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. Pulsating with praise for the humility and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Christ hymn (2:6-11) is the heart of the letter … Living according to the gospel is a process of pressing on to apprehend the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ and being apprehended him him (3:12). Progress in the Christian life is not measured by ‘righteousness based on the law’; instead, it begins with the gift of ‘righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ’ (3:6-9).”"

"Enjoyable also is the discussion of the meaning of union with Christ (pp. 87-90). Hansen writes: “When he looked at the cross of Christ, Paul thought, ‘That is my destiny! As Christ embraced the cross in humble obedience to God, so I desire to embrace my death as a witness to my union with Christ.”"

Click here for more from Mike Bird's post.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The resurrection as missional paradigm - An Indian perspective

From Michael Gorman's blog he points us to something an Indian New Testament scholar says about the resurrection being a paradigm for mission.

Here is what he says,

"The significance of the resurrection of Jesus in my Indian context is multi-faceted. When I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus in our multi-religious, multi-cultural and pluralistic culture of India, I have to re-interpret the significance of Christ’s resurrection for our diverse communities. The salvific significance of Christ’s work on the cross, and his resurrection should first and foremost be taught and proclaimed, as the good news of salvation for the various religious and ethnic communities. As a second order to this, when I am witnessing Christ for instance to the Dalits, Tribals and the Adivasis (the poor and marginalized, also called the dust of the dust), I use Christ’s resurrection as a model for liberation out of the clutches of oppression and dehumanization. As Christ was humiliated on the cross, and was raised by the Father from the grave, so also, Christian mission should focus on the upliftment of the oppressed out of the bondages of poverty, casteism, sin and injustice."

Click here for Gorman's post.

Gordon Fee: A professor on fire (filled with the Spirit)

In the Charisma magazine there is an article on Professor Gordon Fee, who is one of the most respected New Testament scholars today. I like Gordon Fee because he endeavours to read the Scripture on its own terms, rather than through the lens of a particular theology. I still find his commentaries and books most helpful.

Here are some excerpts from the article.

"Gordon Fee knows how it feels to be a lone ranger. Regarded as the first Bible scholar of the modern Pentecostal movement, Fee is a maverick. For 40 years he has fought an uphill battle in Pentecostal circles, within a movement that has been traditionally wary of theological endeavors and has placed far stronger emphasis on spiritual experience. "

"Yet his insights into the apostle Paul’s teachings have influenced thousands of believers. And his writings have opened up the New Testament for Christians across the theological span."

"As he pursued opportunities to teach and write, his reputation as an independent thinker and New Testament scholar grew quickly. Many Bible scholars, Fee says, write books to fit their theology. He strives to plumb the Scriptures without a preconceived Pentecostal bent, an approach known as exegesis in scholarly terms."

"“I don’t think of myself as a Pentecostal scholar,” says Fee, who today holds a dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship and lives in Vancouver, Canada. “I think of myself as a scholar who happens to be a lifelong Pentecostal.”"

Click here for the article.

Scripture, God's authority and his mission (Scot McKnight on Tom Wright's book)

Scot McKnight has written a post in his blog about N T Wright's book Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today.

Two excerpts from McKnight's post.

"The expression “authority of Scripture” is shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through Scripture” (21). There is something important here, for Wright acknowledges that authority is God’s — and derivatively of Scripture. Any time someone equates the two, there opens the possibility for idolatry to occur. Furthermore, Wright is keen on showing that this authority of God is God’s authority in working out the Kingdom mission for his people and creation. Scripture, then, is a sub-branch of mission, the Spirit, eschatology, and the Church itself (29). Again, very important."

"When Wright comes to sum up his entire argument, on pp. 115-116, he says this: The authority of Scripture is “a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” Thus, the “authority of Scripture” is put into action in the Church’s missional operations. Scripture, he says, is more than a record of revelation and was never simply about imparting information — it is God’s word to redeem his people as God works out his plan for the entire created order. And you may know how the Bible teaches what Tom calls a 5-Act play: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, Church. We are in the 5th Act now."

It is a book worth reading.

Click here for McKnight's post.