Saturday, May 07, 2011
The perfect textbook for an undergraduate introductory course on the New Testament in an evangelical setting! The New Testament in Antiquity is handsomely produced, highly accessible and sufficiently indepth without overwhelming a reader with detail.
The major focus of the book is clear from the subtitle A Survey of the New Testament Within Its Cultural Contexts: a student comes away from the book aware of the importance of the historical and cultural setting of the New Testament documents for its interpretation. The book is probably not a sufficient introduction for a graduate and seminary level course, although as a supplemental text it could serve quite nicely. I used it in conjunction with one of my favorites: Oskar Skarsaune's In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity.
Friday, May 06, 2011
Are fraternity members really more apt than their male peers to tolerate sexist attitudes and sexual misbehavior? What role does drinking play, given its role in inciting aggression? Should colleges be doing more to prevent sexual offenses?"
From the NY Times.com
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
John 10 centers on the singular suitability of Jesus to be the leader of God’s people on account of his self-giving actions. The climax of the discourse is obviously the ‘I am’ statements that ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ (10:11, 14). The shepherd metaphor concerns the intimate care and sacrificial protection that Jesus gives to the sheep as their leader. However, no one can escape the regal imagery because in the ancient near eastern sources and in Graeco-Roman traditions a ‘shepherd’ was primarily an image for kings. The Egyptian monarch Amenhotep III (1411-1374 BCE) was called: ‘The good shepherd, vigilant for all people, whom the maker thereof has placed under his authority’. The Homeric phrase ‘shepherd of the hosts’ referred to a commander of military forces. In the Old Testament, the metaphor of a shepherd is applied to both Yahweh and to ancient kings. To give a few examples, first, concerning Yahweh, Isaiah contains the words, ‘See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young’ (Isa 40:10-11). The Lord of the nations guides them into the pastures of a restored land like a shepherd directing a flock. Second, it is interesting that Cyrus is labeled as ‘my shepherd’ in Isa 44:28 and then ‘my anointed’ in Isa 45:1. He was the anointed shepherd used by Yahweh to end the exile of the remnant in Babylon. Third, the quintessential shepherd king was David, the shepherd boy who became a king. At Hebron the tribes reminded David that, ‘The LORD said to you: “It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel” (2 Sam 5:2). The hope for a new Davidic king was the hope for a new shepherd king to guide Israel into its day of restoration (Jer 23:1-6; Mic 5:1-9). In fact, Ezekiel 34 depicts of the coming of Yahweh as Shepherd in and through the raising up a new Davidic Shepherd-King (Ezek 34:16, 23-24).
 Chae, Jesus as the Eschatological Davidic Shepherd, 19-25 (esp. 21-22).
 Cf. survey of the OT imagery for shepherds in Chae, Jesus as the Eschatological Davidic Shepherd, 25-172.
 John A. Dennis, Jesus’ Death and the Gathering of True Israel (WUNT 2.217; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2006), 270-71.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
“We have been studying cheerfully and seriously. As far as I was concerned it could have continued in that way, and I had already resigned myself to having my grave here by the Rhine! …And now the end has come. So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! Keep to the word, to the scripture that has been given to us.”
Karl Barth on the occasion of his farewell to his students in Bonn prior to his expulsion from Germany in 1935.
Principle #1: A sentence seems clear when its important actions are in verbs.In lesson four the focus is on the second of the two principles: “Make the subjects of most of your verbs the main characters in your story”.
Principle #2: A sentence seems clear when its important characters are subjects.
Now you might be saying to yourself, I don’t write stories; I write non-fiction essays or blog posts or something other than narrative. But before you stop reading, consider this: every sentence is a story with actors and actions. It is true that sometimes our “characters” are abstractions like “the argument” and “my thesis”, or “freedom of speech” or “the incarnation”. Nevertheless, our sentences tell stories about those subjects.
Readers expect to find characters expressed in simple concrete words early in a sentence. Williams and Colomb’s put it this way:
Readers want actions in verbs, but even more they want characters as subjects. We create a problem for readers when for no good reason we do not name characters in subjects, or worse we delete them entirely (47).Williams and Colomb’s recommend that whenever possible, we use flesh-and-blood characters as our subjects. Often, even when we’re using abstract nouns as subjects, we can convert them into flesh-and-blood characters.
Consider my silly simple examples:
My argument is dogs are better than cats.
* I argue dogs are better than cats.
It has been shown that people find more enjoyment from dogs than cats.
* Researchers conclude that people gain more enjoyment from dogs than cats.
These are very simple examples admittedly, but the principle can be applied to the writing on the most complex of subjects. It is not the subjects so much as it is the style of our writing that is at issue. One qualification: when your main characters are necessarily nominalizations (verbs or adjectives made into nouns), be sure to use as few around as is possible. Keep the nominalizations to a bear minimum.
One final thought from the lesson: In summing up the main point, Williams and Colomb’s refer to something Albert Einstein said. Einstein used to say that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. They develop that one step further to make their point: “a style should be as complex as necessary, but no more” (64).
Here’s the Writer’s Golden Rule:
“Write to others as you would have others write to you”.See first post: Writing Style 1, 2, 3.
Monday, May 02, 2011
I think this is probably the best chapter of the book because the argument is tight and the question is significant.
So what do you think?
Does God get what God wants? Is this answer obvious? But perhaps a more important question is: What exactly does God want? Is it presumptuous on our part to state is so simply? Could it be there a number of different answers to the question depending on the point of view or subject?Rob asks: “Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity in conscious punishment and torment, suffering infinitely for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth?” (102). Great Question. And this really is the central issue of the chapter.
Rob surveys biblical evidence of an inclusive salvation of every person who has ever lived. On reading the list, the conclusion seems obvious: God wants to save everyone. Yet, when one drills down, it becomes a much more complicated picture. Of these complications Rob seems completely unaware. When the Bible speaks of the pilgrimage of the nations to God in the OT, does this mean every person on the earth at the time, let alone every person who's ever lived? There is a difference in the way writers can use the word “all”. “All” can mean: (1) all without exclusion of any one [this is the way Rob takes it] or (2) all without distinction between parties. While not taking the time now to show this exegetically, it is clear from the OT contexts that the second of the two is most often meant. In other words, the prophets are not predicting that every person who ever lived will come to God, but that when God visits in the last days, all the “nations” will come to him. Revelation 5:9 captures this idea in the NT: “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”. Notice that text doesn’t say every person from every tribe, language, people and nation, but representatives, a remnant, of every tribe, language, etc. This is “all with out distinction”. Besides in the very concrete perspective of the OT, there’s no conception of an afterlife salvation. This picture is in purely earthly terms. When God acts in history in bringing salvation, this act will be inclusive of a remnant of people of every nation not only the remnant of Israel.
Now for the sake of argument, it may be true that God will save everyone, but that is not the point of these passages. It seems to me that if one wishes to conclude that God will save all without exception, this is a deductive conclusion because no biblical passage teaches this explicitly. One needs to theologize to this conclusion. This is not a criticism, we do this on plenty of important issues (e.g. Trinity), but it is not specifically stated in Scripture. Thus, an argument like Rob’s doesn’t hold up to scrutiny because his evidence doesn’t actually support the claim. This by the way, goes for the NT evidence as well. Did Jesus and Peter and Paul and James and John believe that every person that ever lived would be saved in the end? Does Jesus’ statement in Matt 19:28 and Peter’s in Acts 3 and Paul’s in Col 1 mean that every person who ever lived will be saved? Again this theological claim may be right, but not based on the evidence given.
God doesn’t get what he wants in salvation from a biblical perspective, only if you define what he wants wrongly. God’s aims are universal, yes cosmic. God’s intentions are inclusive; yes they will reach every nation. And yes, God attains his universal aims and his inclusive intentions.
In order to answer the apparent issue of between God’s universal salvation purposes and the traditional doctrine of hell, Rob lists five options for understanding how to reconcile this contradiction. The options range from the traditional evangelical view, to extreme universalism. Rob maintains that all five of these are comfortably within “orthodoxy”: “Serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions in a number of different ways”? (109) This conclusion is of course questionable as I've stated elsewhere since it includes the word "orthodox", although it is true that "serious followers of Jesus" have believed these things and one's view on this question does not make or break one's Christian identity.
Any reader will be able to discern that it’s the fifth option (universalism) that Rob likes best and is most convinced by, although others seem to at least be amicable to him. You even think that the fifth option is what he opts for. But before you can feel that you have got him pegged, he pulls back from that fifth choice in the subsequent paragraphs (pgs 113-17). Rob does not appear to be a universalist because for him human freedom trumps even God’s unrelenting love. But as it turns out, this circumstance is not contrary to what God wants because God wants to love. God’s love has consequences. Love wins, but it doesn’t mean that hell will ultimately be evacuated. Rob may hope for this and surely does, but he’s apparently a realist. Rob says, “Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want" (113).
In the final analysis according to Rob the question of the chapter “Does God get what he wants?” while a good, interesting and important one, is fraught with speculation about the future. It is no doubt true that God gets what he wants; the precise manner of it is concealed. However, there is a question that he thinks is much easier to answer and no less important. The question: “Do we get what we want?” To that question the answer is absolutely yes. Yes we get what we want, because “God is that loving” (117). So as C.S. Lewis said, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who say ‘Thy will be done’ and those who say, ‘My will be done’.
There is a vague sense of justice in the chapter’s conception of restoration, but it is the weakest part of the chapter and Rob’s whole proposal in my view. Rob writes
This is important, because in speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God’s love, namely God’s desire and intention to see things become everything they were always intended to be. For this to unfold, God must say about a number of acts and to those who would continue to do them, “Not here you won’t” (113).
But simply saying it’s “perfectly logical” does not actually deal with the question. To growing number of people it's just not. While it in fact may be reasonable, the biblical argument needs to be made today in a way that is freshly compelling and grounded in Scripture. I don’t completely know where I am on this and I haven’t thought enough about it to offer anything of a thoughtful cohesive view. I think there are fundamental parameters, however, within which one must work. In spite of arguments to the contrary, biblically the afterlife of the unrighteous is:
(1) eternal—final and unalterable,
(2) conscious—there is a person, mind and body, and
(3) retributive—there’s no reformation
The actual working out of these is where things are fuzzy for me. In addition, the extent of the actual punishment in this eternal, conscious and retributive state is also something I continue to mull over.
Recently, Scot McKnight in his book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Followhas given us a proposal to consider. First Scot rejects the idea of infinite punishment for finite sin, although he maintains, I think, the three fundamentals above. This leads him to the second part of the proposal. I’ll let him speak for himself:
So where are we? I have thought long and hard about hell and have come to a view that modifies the second above: hell is a person’s awareness of being utterly absent, which is what “death after death” means, but yet in the presence of God, like C. S. Lewis’ wraiths yearning to be observed and present but deeply aware that they have declined both options. I am unconvinced that annihilation fully answers all that Jesus says, but I also believe that the second view doesn’t contain enough mercy and grace (165).I can’t say I’m convinced by his view. What’s more, I have not rejected the idea, as Scot seems to have, of infinite punishment on the basis of it being unjust. Yet, Scot exhibits the kind of fresh thinking on the question that I think is beneficial. I think we need to go back to the Bible and present its view of ultimate punishment of the wicked in a convincing well-argued manner. Simply appealing to the old argument of an infinite God who, because of his infiniteness, punishes infinitely is not adequate.
For earlier posts for Love Wins see: Post When your wife . . ., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
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Sunday, May 01, 2011
A common theme in recent theological work is to stress God’s justice as restorative rather than retributive. The underlying assumption appears to be that retribution is mean, nasty, and unnice and therefore unworthy of a God of love, grace, and mercy. For instance, Tom Smail comments: “God’s justice is concerned less with punishing wrong relationships than with restoring right ones. Like the heroes of the Book of Judges, Jesus is concerned with freeing the land from the evil forces that have infested it and setting our humanity free from the personal and social twistedness that is corrupting and destroying it.” Stephen Travis believes that “Retributive concepts are forced toward the edges of New Testament thought by the nature of the Christian gospel. It is a gospel that proclaims Christ as the one through whom people are invited into a relationship with God. Once the relationship to Christ and to God is seen as central, retributive concepts become inappropriate. The experience described by such terms as forgiveness, love, grace and acceptance overrides them. And the experience of those who refuse to respond to this gospel is not so much an experience of retributive punishment as the negation of all that is offered in Christ.” He points out that the biblical imagery for justice contains warnings of retribution against the wicked, but they are largely metaphors for exclusion from God’s presence rather than speculative descriptions of postmortem torments like that found in some Jewish literature. Moreover, retributive judgment is frequently juxtaposed with wider visions of the triumph of God’s glory and love. In his conclusion he asks whether “retributive language should be displaced from Christian vocabulary” in favor of “the language of a relationship to Christ”.
Now I can genuinely sympathize with a desire to escape the western captivity to a contractual understanding of divine-human relationships and the limitation of justice to recompense of deeds. Aristotle and Anselm have set the agenda and grammar for theology for too long. So instead may God give us a covenant relationship rather than a contract. May his justice be transformative rather than punitive. But the more I think about this the more baby and bath water comes to my mind. God’s covenants are intimately relational, but they are also legally binding, hence the law-suit motif one finds in the Pentateuch and Prophets. God’s justice will transform the world, but a transformed world must be one where the most insidious of evils and their perpetrators are not lightly rinsed with a perfume of goodness. Evil is such that it must be destroyed or quarantined if the goodness of God has utter supremacy in the new creation. Precisely because God condescends to covenant with creation is why he can prosecute his contention when his covenant partners fail to follow the obligations in that relationship. Precisely because God is love is why he must not allow evil to have the last enduring word in any corner of the galaxy.
 Tom Small, Once and For All: A Confession of the Cross (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1998), 95.
 Stephen H. Travis, Christ and the Judgment of God: The Limits of Divine Retribution in New Testament Thought (2nd ed.; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008), 325,327.
 Henri Blocher, “God and the Cross,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, ed. B.L. McCormack (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 140 (125-41).
 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 302.