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.)