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.