Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit 4

Having just finished Gordon Fee's, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, I thought it might be cool to do a series of posts featuring quotes from the book on the Holy Spirit.

In this section, Fee comments on 2 Corinthians 5:13, "Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment." (NET)

And here is where our sentence fits in. Whether we die or are transformed, God has fashioned us for this future bodily existence, in which the present mortal body is swallowed up by life. The clearest evidence of for this is the gift of the Spirit, which functions for us as God' down payment that we shall indeed inherit the very thing God has fashioned us for, namely, a new form of bodily existence in a pneumatikon soma ('Spiritual body'; 1 Cor 15:44) or soma tes doxes (a 'body of glory'; Phil 3:21).

Two things need to be emphasized about the second appearance of 'down payment' imagery in the letter: First, as we have already noted on 1:22, this is a case where the Spirit serves as the evidence for Paul of our essentially eschatological existence. We are destined for a glorious future, which is guaranteed precisely because the down payment of that future, the Spirit himself, is already our present possession. In giving us his Spirit, God has guaranteed our future. Thus, we live in the present, 'already' but 'not yet.' (326, Greek transliteration mine)

Again, Fee points out that the "down payment" language is eschatological. The Spirit is evidence that we are living in the "latter days," and it is a foretaste of what is to come.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Prayer and the Spiritual Life

Last night my Spiritual Life Class talked about prayer. I opened with a discussion question:

Does prayer change God's mind? If not, why do we pray?

To help with the first question, consider the following passages:

He issued a proclamation and said, "In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles--Let neither human nor animal, cattle nor sheep, taste anything; let them not eat and let them not drink water. 8 Let every person and animal put on sackcloth and let them cry earnestly to God, and let every one turn (Hebrew shuv) from their evil (Hebrew raah) way of living and from the violence that they do. 9 Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind (Hebrew shuv) and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die." 10 When God saw their actions--they turned (Hebrew shuv) from their evil (Hebrew raah) way of living!--God relented concerning the judgment (Hebrew raah) he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them. (Jonah 3:7–10 NET)
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not establish it? (Numbers 23:19 NET)
Notice in the Jonah passage the parallel between the Ninevite's actions of "turning" from their "evil" and God "turning" from the "calamity" that He had promised. See also 2 Chronicles 33:10–13 and Luke 18:1–8.

Regardless of your answer to the first question, what about the second? Why do we pray?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

McKnight on the New Perspective

Scot McKnight has described the New Perspective on Paul in three sentences. It's clear and to-the-point. McKnight studied under James Dunn, who coined the phrase "New Perspective on Paul."

In other news, I am still working on my "New Perspective on Paul in 20,000+ words" series. It's not as clear and to-the-point (which is why I haven't posted it).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit 3

Having just finished Gordon Fee's, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, I thought it might be cool to do a series of posts featuring quotes from the book on the Holy Spirit.

In this passage, Fee comments on 2 Corinthians 1:21–22, "But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment." (NET)

The metaphors in this text also demonstrate in striking ways that the Spirit for Paul is principally an eschatological reality. The presence of the Spirit as God's seal and down payment is the unmistakeable evidence of salvation as 'already but not yet.' The future is already in evidence through the 'down payment,' the present guarantee; but he is present only as 'down payment': the final inheritance, which he guarantees, is yet to be realized. (294)
Fee describes the experience of the Spirit in "Already but Not Yet" terms. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God in the believer today--it is the primary way that we experience the eschaton. However, the Holy Spirit is not present in the complete way that He will be in the eschaton. It is a real presence, but not a complete presence.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Evangelical Untouchables 3 on iMonk

Michael Spencer has posted the third post in the Evangelical Untouchables series.

This time we were asked about converting and baptizing people of other denominations. How do we respond when someone from our church "converts" or gets baptized at another church? Do we try to convert people from other denominations?

The topic came out of one of Michael's recent experiences. A guy who used to be an elder at his church "became a Christian" at another church and was (re-)baptized. Michael says that the guy showed all of the evidences of being a Christian while he was an elder at his church. Is his (second) conversion legitimate? Is what that church did even acceptable?

Spiritual Life Question

My Spiritual Life Class met on Tuesday. This week I opened with the question:

Define relationship. What are some characteristics of a relationship?

The class immediately shot off characteristics of relationships. We put together a pretty good list. But, when we moved to a definition of a relationship, the room got quiet. Eventually we hammed out something like "Two or more 'things' mutually interacting, connecting, and sharing with one another in varying degrees of commonality."

Fair enough. It's not poetic, but it articulates the main elements of a relationship.

I then asked:

One of the main metaphors for the Christian experience is "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." We often say, "Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship." What do we mean by that?

Can our experience of God be called a relationship according to the definition above? I have a relationship with my wife. I have a different kind of relationship with my boss. I use the same word "relationship" to describe my experience with both people. How are they both relationships? How are they different? Can I say that I have a relationship with God? If so, it certainly looks different than my relationship with my boss, not to mention my relationship with my wife.

Given that the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is not in the Bible, should we abandon the metaphor, or is there a way to justify it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A. N. Wilson on Returning to Theism

I am not familiar with A.N. Wilson, but I guess he was a fairly prominent atheist. He has since returned to faith, and has a written a beautiful article about it for the New Statesman.

Wilson says that the main reason he "reconverted" was his dissatisfaction with atheism. As an atheist he found some comfort in the writing of David Hume. But, he now writes, "Attractive and amusing as David Hume was, did he confront the complexities of human existence as deeply as his contemporary Samuel Johnson, and did I really find him as interesting?"

Wilson makes a great point. One of my major hang ups with atheism is atheists. Perhaps they can point out weaknesses in the Christian worldview, but can the offer a satisfying alternative--one that makes sense of the human experience? Wilson writes about them:

When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion – prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.

I couldn't agree more.

Read the whole article here. (HT: Scot McKnight)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bart Ehrman on Colbert

This is fantastic.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

The clip alludes to an earlier appearance of Ehrman on Colbert's show. Here is that interview from 2006:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tolstoy on Non-Violence

I am reading The Kingdom of God Is Within You, in which Leo Tolstoy argues that absolute non-violent resistance is the duty of the Christian. (Tolstoy had a tremendous influence on Ghandi, who in turn influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.) Tolstoy's key passage is Luke 6:27–31:

But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. (NET)

I have been involved in various conversations about non-violent resistance, and I argue that the command is not absolute. I think that Jesus commanded us to turn the other cheek when we are assaulted, but he did not command us to do so when others are assaulted. I typically say, "Turning the other cheek when you are assaulted is non-violent resistance. Turning the other cheek when someone else is assaulted is injustice." God calls us to be concerned about the plight of the poor and helpless. When they are assaulted, we are to rise to their defense.

I was pleased to see that Tolstoy addresses this argument head on in his book. He disagrees with me for the following reasons:
  1. "If every man has the right to have recourse to force in face of a danger threatening another, the question of the use of force is reduced to a question of the definition of danger to another." He cites examples of burning witches because they were a "danger to society."

  2. If Christ meant to limit his command to "not resist an evil person," he would have qualified his statement. He didn't, so we should take it as absolute.

  3. "Apologies for violence used against one's neighbor in defense of another neighbor from greater violence are always untrustworthy, because when force is used against one who has not yet carried out his evil intent, I can never know which would be greater--the evil of my act of violence or the act I want to prevent." He cites the example of shooting a ruffian who is harassing a young girl. Do we really know what the ruffian had planned? Could our response have been worse than the evil he had planned?

So Tolstoy says, (1) we will pervert what it means to be a "danger to others," (2) Christ didn't qualify his command, and (3) we don't know the future, but we have clear instructions about our behavior.

Are you convinced by Tolstoy, or do you see a difference between forgiving those who hurt us and forgiving those who hurt others?

Generations Sermon 3

Last week, I preached the third and last sermon in a series we called Generations. In it, we celebrated the generational diversity at our church.

Most churches today target specific demographics. They either have old school worship for the fogies or modern stuff for the whipper-snappers. As a result, everyone in the church looks the same--either all old with no kids or all young with no seniors. Neither of these situations is ideal. In his book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell says something like "The church is the place where two kinds of blue-haired people, old women and young men, can coexist in peace" (paraphrase). That should be the case. Churches need the energy and passion of youth and the wisdom and experience of elders.

In the Generations series, we looked at the benefits and challenges of a multi-generational church. Gary taught the first two messages (an intro and a message to the older people) and I did the third message (to the young people). I spoke from 1 Timothy 4 on the need for leaders among the younger generation.

You can listen here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit 2

Having just finished Gordon Fee's, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, I thought it might be cool to do a series of posts featuring quotes from the book on the Holy Spirit.

In this quote, Fee comments on 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body." (NET)

The message of this text needs to be resounded repeatedly in the face of every encroachment of Hellenistic dualism that would negate the body in favor of the soul. God made us whole people; and in Christ he has redeemed us wholly. According to the Christian view there is no dichotomy between body and spirit that either indulges the body because it is irrelevant of punishes it so as to purify the spirit. This pagan view of physical existence creeps into Christian theology in any number of subtle ways, including the penchant on the part of
some to 'save souls' while caring little for people's material needs. Not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body, is the Christian creed, based on the NT revelation. That creed does not lead to crass materialism; rather it affirms a holistic view of redemption, which is predicated in part on the doctrine of creation--both the physical and spiritual orders are good because God created them--and in part on the doctrine of redemption, including the consummation--the whole of the fallen order, including the body, has been redeemed in Christ and awaits its final redemption. (137)
Fee correctly speaks against the dichotomy between "body" and "spirit." Gad has created us body and spirit and He is redeeming us body and spirit. Thus we can't just talk about "saving people's souls" while neglecting their physical needs.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ben Witherington on Jesus, Interrupted

Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, is reviewing Bart Ehrman's new book, Jesus, Interrupted.

Ehrman is a graduate of Wheaton College who has since lost his faith. He is now chair of the Religion Department at UNC Chapel Hill. He has written several books on the New Testament and the Historical Jesus targeted at popular audiences. Ehrman admits that his arguments are nothing new. He just wants the public to know what convervative scholarship "ignores."

Dr. Witherington is a top evangelical New Testament scholar, and his critique of Eherman is fair and informed.

Part 1

Part 2

Spencer on Watchbloggers

This is great. He compares watchbloggers to kids with weed-eaters. Yeah you need them, but they often get overzealous and do some serious damage.

Before I worked for Believers Fellowship, my full-time job was to proof read everything coming out of a Christian counseling ministry to make sure we didn't end up on a watchblog.

Acts Enters the No-Spin Zone

I just received my copy of volume 2 of James Dunn's Christianity in the Making, Beginning from Jerusalem. It is fantastic. In volume 1, Jesus Remembered, Dunn gave his take on the "quest for the historical Jesus," and in volume 2 he introduces the "quest for the historical early church." How can he get 1300 pages out of that? you might ask. After all, Acts is only 28 chapters long.

Have you ever wondered about the differing pictures of the early church in Acts and in Paul's letters? In Acts, the church is a bunch of shiny happy people holding hands. They live together, share their property, help orphans and widows, and God adds to their numbers daily those who are being saved. In Paul, they shack up with their step-moms, judge one another about eating meat, deny important doctrines like the resurrection, force each other to be circumcised, and bicker over who is a better teacher--Paul, Cephas, or Apollos. Paul can't get along with Peter. Paul can't get along with "some people from James." Paul can't get along with Barnabas. (Ancient church leaders generally disliked Paul.)
How do we reconcile these pictures? What was the early church really like? This is the task that James Dunn has taken on--reconciling the early documents to get a clearer picture of the "historical early church."
Consider this from Beginning from Jerusalem:
No doubt it is necessary to discount, or at least to take account of, the 'spin' which Luke puts on his narrative, but the twenty-first century reader (or viewer) of historical studies and portrayals is well accustomed to doing so. It is of first importance in all this that we neither attribute to Luke an unrealistically idealistic quality as an ancient historian nor assume that his mistakes and Tendenzen show him to be unworthy of the title 'historian'. (87)
Dunn makes a good point. Acts makes no attempt to present an unbiased interpretation of the "Acts of the Apostles." Luke wants to show the world that God is behind the movement. Thus, he includes what helps him show this and he omits what doesn't help show this. In effect, he puts a 'spin' on the story. Are we comfortable with that?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pannenberg on the Purpose of Creation (Contra Piper)

In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper writes:

What I am claiming is that the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism is the same when asked concerning God as it is when asked concerning man. Question: 'What is the chief end of man?' Answer: 'The chief end of man is to glorify god and enjoy him for ever.' Question: 'What is the chief end of god?' Answer: 'The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.' (16)
In his book, Don't Waste Your Life, he writes:
Contained in these sentences were the seeds of my future. The driving passion of my life was rooted here. One of the seeds was in the word 'glory'--God's aim in history was to 'fully display his glory.' Another seed was in the word 'delight'--God's aim was that his people 'delight in him with all their heart.' The passion of my life has been to understand and live and teach and preach how these two aims of God relate to each other--indeed, how they are not two but one. (28)
I don't think I am misrepresenting Piper in saying that to him, the chief end of God's work in creation and redemption is his own glory. Perhaps that is the case. But I ran across this in volume 2 of Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology:
It is our human destiny and the goal of our existence to glorify God by our lives. Or sin is withholding from God the honor that is due him as Creator (Rom 1:21). Nevertheless, it is rather a difficult thing to maintain that the basis of God's resolve to create the world was that thereby he might glorify himself. Certainly that work that God created redounds to his glory. We may say this at any rate in the light of the eschatological consummation of the world and in believing anticipation of this future of God, which will resolve all doubts concerning theodicy. Every creature should confess, then, that the world was made for God's glory.

Nevertheless, the creature was not created in order that God should receive glory from it. God does not need this, for he is already God in himself from all eternity. He does not need to become God through his action much less become sure of his deity in the mirror of creaturely praise. A God who first and last sought his own glory in his action would be a model for the attitude that in us constitutes the perversion of sin in the for of self-seeking (amor-sui). As the activation and expression of his free love, God's creative action is oriented wholly to creatures. They are both the object and goal of creation. Herein is his glory as Creator, the glory of the Father, who is glorified by the Son and by the Spirit in creatures. (56–57)
Later, Pannenberg talks about the purpose of God's world government (his phrase for the kingdom of God):
World government relates to integrating into God's purposes for the world the actual results of the independent conduct of creature, namely, their failures and the evil that these failures cause. The central theme of the divine world government is God's supremacy over the misuse of creaturely independence. It is here that the idea of world government most clearly goes beyond what we find in the concepts of creation and preservation. World government contradicts the claim made by wickedness and evil that they can oppose God's will as Creator. (58)
The difference in the two views shows itself in theodicy. Why did an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God allow evil to infiltrate his creation? According to the older Reformed view, "Because God is glorified in the redemption process." According to Pannenberg, "Because God is showing that free creatures can exist without opposing his will."

What do you think about that? Is Pannenberg's view different than the Reformed view? Does the Reformed view make God out to be a model of narcissism? Does Pannenberg offer a better solution?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Scot McKnight on Convicted Civility

Scot McKnight has a great post on the need for convicted civility. The post is a commentary on Richard Mouw's statement, "one of the real problems in modern life is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions and people who have strong convictions often lack civility." It's worth a read.

Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit 1

Having just finished Gordon Fee's, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, I thought it might be cool to do a series of posts featuring quotes from the book on the Holy Spirit.

Today we will look at Fee's words on 1 Corinthians 2:14, "The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (NET)
This sentence in particular, along with Galatians 3:2–5, demonstrates that in Pauline theology, the Spirit is the sine qua non, the absolutely essential, crucial matter, in becoming a part of the people of God. The Spirit--alone--distinguishes believer from nonbeliever. This is why the latter 'are perishing' and consider the cross foolishness; this is why they do not understand the ways of God in Christ. The Spirit differentiates between what is of Christ and what is not. (107)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pannenberg and Augustine on Miracles

Here is an interesting thought about Creation and miracles from Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology vol 2:

By rejecting the concept of an order of nature which lay behind Spinoza's criticism, Clarke in fact went beyond the Christian Aristotelianism of High Scholasticism back to the view of Augustine, who saw no invasion of the divine world order in miracles but related them simply to our limited knowledge of this order. Unusual events do not breach natural laws but manifest the working of hitherto concealed parameters. According to Augustine, the existence of the world and humanity is a much greater miracle than all the spectacular events that astonish us because they are unusual. The only problem is that our minds are too dulled to perceive the miracle of creation in what takes place every day. The contingency of creation as a whole expresses itself in each detailed event. Since every moment and every event is contingent, it is ultimately nonderivable. Its occurrence is thus a miracle.
Essentially, Augustine argued that God's sovereign preservation of the world meant that the burning bush was no more "miraculous" than the blooming of flowers in the Spring time. Both occur by the preserving work of a sovereign God. Because we see flowers bloom every Spring, we are dulled to its miraculous nature.

I can't wait to see where Pannenberg goes with this, because I have heretofore argued that "miracles" are the proof of God's intervention in history. But, if Augustine is right, then the resurrection of Jesus wasn't a "miracle," it was just an instance of "the way the world works" for which we previously lacked a category.

I have to say, the logic makes sense, but I don't know where that leaves me apologetically.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Young Christians and Credibility

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about getting older Christians to treat us more than like kids.

I said, "90% of my job is establishing credibility."

Is that true?

God's Empowering Presence by Gordon Fee

I just finished a monster book--God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul by Gordon D. Fee. I am not going to turn this blog back into a series of book reviews, but I have to mention this. It is 903 pages of goodness. New Testament theology is my "specialty," and this is a top 10 NT theology book in my opinion. The book is technical (it assumes a knowledge of Greek), so it's not for the casual reader.

Gordon Fee is Professor Emeritus of New Testament studies at Regent College. He comes from a Pentecostal background. He also wrote the industry standard on 1 Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament).

After plowing through every mention or hint of the Holy Spirit in Paul, Fee concludes:
  1. The Holy Spirit is crucial to Paul's understanding of the Gospel and the Christian experience. Christ may be the center of Paul's theology, but the Spirit isn't far from center.

  2. The Spirit plays a leading role in Paul's eschatology. It is the "down payment" and evidence of what is to come.

  3. The Holy Spirit is dynamically experienced in the Christian life and in the life of the Christian community.

  4. The Holy Spirit is God's personal presence dwelling in His people.

  5. Paul is trinitarian (may sound trite, but a number of New Testament scholars doubt this).

  6. Salvation in Christ is trinitarian. (By this he means that the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in the salvation process. "The effectual realization and appropriation of the love of God as offered by the Son is singularly the work of the Spirit.")

  7. From beginning to end, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to the Christian life.

  8. The Holy Spirit is key to Christian spirituality.

I was introduce to Fee's work through James Dunn's The Theology of Paul the Apostle. When it comes to Paul's theology of the Spirit, Dunn more or less endorses Fee. Indeed, Fee's work fits nicely within the New Perspective on Paul (although I don't know if Fee would call himself New Perspective).

Reading Fee's work has opened my eyes to the role of the Spirit in the Christian life. It's not that I doubted it before, but I don't think I grasped the prominence that the Paul gave the Spirit in his theology. The work of the Holy Spirit in the church and in our lives is the primary way in which we "experience" God today. I don't think that it is inappropriate to say that our faith is in some ways grounded in our experience of the Spirit.

I just bought James Dunn's new book on early Christianity, volume 2 of his Christianity in the Making series. Volume 1 was about "the search for the historical Jesus," and volume 2 is about "the search for the historical early church." I am excited about it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spiritual Life Question

I asked a question in my Spiritual Life class on Tuesday, and I was surprised by the responses. I started the class by playing a clip from M. Night Shyamalan's Signs in which Mel Gibson's character talks about his disbelief in God. The most chilling line of the movie is when he looks at the camera and says, "There is no one watching over us. We are on our own." It is powerfully delivered.

After playing the clip, I asked the class, "What spiritual experience have you had to justify belief?" In other words, "How do we know that God is looking out for us?"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Evangelical Untouchables 2

iMonk has posted the second discussion in his Evangelical Untouchables series. This discussion was about how the "seeker" movement has affected our worship. You can see my response and that of the other untouchables here.

This Site Is Obnoxious . . .

. . . and yet I cannot look away. Props on the photoshop work throughout. And the po-motivational posters are hilarious. That is all I endorse.