Friday, April 27, 2007

The Power of the Powerless

I have been spending some time with Moltmann (the writings not the person) lately, and have been really blessed by what he has to say:

"The Son of man does not rule through acts of violence and subjugation, but through the giving of himself for the liberation of men and women...the only Lord - a servant of all; the ruler of worlds - a friend of sinners and tax collectors; the universal judge - the brother of the outcasts.

This changes our whole concept of glory, greatness, achievement, and the development of power. Normally we look upwards, to someone above us, when we are impressed by his glory. But in the case of Jesus we have to look downwards. We discover his glory in his humbleness, his greatness in his poverty, his power in his self-surrender, from the wretched manger in Bethlehem to the desolate cross on Golgotha."

If that were not enough to get the cogs of your mind humming, Moltmann goes on to add:

"We should really try to stop thinking of glory simply in terms of rule. We should add the idea of beauty,too. People are supposed to obey a ruler. But beauty confers joy and allows a person to grow and develop."

Jürgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983, 23-24.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul

In summary: (a) It builds on Sanders' new perspective on Second Temple Judaism, and Sanders' reassertion of the basic graciousness expressed in Judaism's understanding and practice of covenantal nomism. (b) It observes that a social function of the law was an integral aspect of Israel's covenantal nomism, where separateness to God (holiness) was understood to require separateness from the (other) nations as two sides of the one coin, and that the law was understood as the means to maintaining both. (c) It notes that Paul's own teaching on justification focuses largely if not principally on the need to over-come the barrier which the law was seen to interpose between Jew and Gentile,so that the 'all' of 'to all who believe' (Rom. 1.17) signifies in the first place, Gentile as well as Jew. (d) It suggests that 'works of law' became a key slogan in Paul's exposition of his justification gospel because so many of Paul's fellow Jewish believers were insisting on certain works as indispensable to their own(and others?) standing within the covenant, and therefore as indispensable to salvation. (e) It protests that failure to recognize this major dimension of Paul's doctrine of justification by faith may have ignored or excluded a vital factor in combating the nationalism and racialism which has so distorted and diminished Christianity past and present.

- James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays. WUNT 185, Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005, 15.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Quote of the Day

[T]o see others as essentially a threat to my own or my people's status (or rights/privileges), will always cripple and destroy mutual acceptance and community; to insist that others can only be respected and accepted if they share the same tribal loyalty, formulate their faith in the words that we recognize, or act in the ways we approve, narrows the grace of God and the truth of the gospel in ways that would cause Paul the same anguish and anger he experienced in Antioch.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rowan Williams and Scripture

Recently Rowan Williams gave a lecture on Scripture in Canada. I have not gotten around to reading the whole thing, but Michael Jensen over at The Blogging Parson highlighted the comments that were made about Romans 1, and proceeded to wonder about rhetorical effects of Paul's argument. Essentially I think Jensen is asking that If Paul is granting his readers something to make a bigger point, doesn't the thing he grant logically have to be true for the rhetorical argument to work. I think that is a good question!

But I don't think the answer is as easy as Jensen may suspect. The paradox that Williams highlights draws attention to the irony and at the same time points to the tension in the conservative position in attempting to read Paul's argument against the grain. It also opens up the question of who Paul's readers actually are (Jews/or gentiles) and what the rhetorical trap of 2.1 is actually being set for? I think it also brings up some questions between the use of ancient rhetoric and how we as moderns 'feel' about that when it comes to questions of Scripture.

Paul in the first chapter of Romans famously uses same-sex relationships as an illustration of human depravity – along with other ‘unnatural’ behaviours such as scandal, disobedience to parents and lack of pity. It is, for the majority of modern readers the most important single text in Scripture on the subject of homosexuality, and has understandably been the focus of an enormous amount of exegetical attention.

What is Paul’s argument? And, once again, what is the movement that the text seeks to facilitate? The answer is in the opening of chapter 2: we have been listing examples of the barefaced perversity of those who cannot see the requirements of the natural order in front of their noses; well, it is precisely the same perversity that affects those who have received the revelation of God and persist in self-seeking and self-deceit. The change envisaged is from confidence in having received divine revelation to an awareness of universal sinfulness and need. Once again, there is a paradox in reading Romans 1 as a foundation for identifying in others a level of sin that is not found in the chosen community.

Now this gives little comfort to either party in the current culture wars in the Church. It is not helpful for a ‘liberal’ or revisionist case, since the whole point of Paul’s rhetorical gambit is that everyone in his imagined readership agrees in thinking the same-sex relations of the culture around them to be as obviously immoral as idol-worship or disobedience to parents. It is not very helpful to the conservative either, though, because Paul insists on shifting the focus away from the objects of moral disapprobation in chapter 1 to the reading /hearing subject who has been up to this point happily identifying with Paul’s castigation of someone else. The complex and interesting argument of chapter 1 about certain forms of sin beginning by the ‘exchange’ of true for false perception and natural for unnatural desire stands, but now has to be applied not to the pagan world alone but to the ‘insiders’ of the chosen community. Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding.

Hopefully AKMA's Random Thoughts will touch on this!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cruciformity: In Christ Mysticism and Pauline Spirituality

Albert Schweitzer’s book The Mysticism of the Apostle Paul dared to argue that ‘justification by faith’ was not the center of Paul’s theology, but rather a subsidiary to the more important mystical doctrine of redemption through being-in-Christ. This point was taken up and modified slightly by E. P. Sanders some 40 years later and propagated as the center of Pauline theology and termed it participationist eschatology; essentially ‘participation in Christ.’ It is Gorman’s task in the second half of this chapter (3) to unpack exactly what Paul meant by the term ‘in Christ.’

The vast majority of the time the ‘in Christ’ phrase, Gorman argues, refers to existence in Christ, a spatial existence within the sphere of influence of Christ. ‘‘In Christ’ means to be under the influence of Christ’s power, especially the power to be conformed to him and his cross, by participation in the life of a community that acknowledges his lordship.’ It is important to note that in this definition spirituality for Paul is not solely a private affair but rather a thoroughly communal one.

This ‘in Christ’ spirituality is further unpacked by adding the narrative elements of the life and self-giving love exemplified in the crucified Christ. Thus Cruciform spirituality is a life-style of love and humility, in fact the ‘narrative of the crucified and exalted Christ is the normative life-narrative within which the community’s own life-narrative takes place and by which it is shaped.’

In this chapter the reader is shown the impact of Paul’s Damascus experience and shown how Paul conceives of life as being ‘in Christ.’ It must be noted that the key to Paul’s conception of ‘in Christ’ spirituality is the exalted Christ. Cruciform spirituality would make little sense if it was not the exalted Christ who indwells or is indwelt.

While I have given you a brief account of this chapter, I must tell you that this brief summation doesn’t really do the chapter justice, you really ought to read it yourself.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Politics and Faith

We live in a profoundly idolatrous world - economically, socially, politically, culturo-ideologically, and religiously. We live crushed under the idols of an oppressive and unjust system. To live the demands of faith in this context is not simply a "pious" or personal act; it necessarily entails a radical confrontation with that system. Idolatry is a question of politics and a question of faith.

- Pablo Richard

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Paul's Use of Scripture: a quote

I came across this quote form James W. Aageson that I rather liked:

Paul’s exegesis of Scripture is that scriptural interpretation ought not (perhaps cannot) be reduced to a mere task of trying to discover meaning in the texts of Scripture, as if Scriptures were something to mine for nuggets of truth. Rather, it is a generative and creative task that is invariably open-ended and that speaks to our own circumstance in the contemporary world....To seek to do otherwise may simply render the texts mechanical, archaic, and lifeless. This means that Paul’s own experience and context were as important in the interpretive enterprise as were the texts of Scripture; and, I submit, this is true as well for those of us today who take these texts seriously.[1]

[1] James W. Aageson, "Written Also for Our Sake: Paul's Use of Scripture in the Four Major Epistles, with a Study of 1 Corinthians 10." In Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, edited by Stanley E. Porter, 152-81. McMaster New Testament Studies; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006, 157-8.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut: So It Goes

One of my absolute favorite authors, I was introduced to Vonnegut in seminary by my best mate, it was a nice break from all that crazy theology. God bless you Mr. Vonnegut.
So it goes

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Exalted Crucified Messiah: Conversion or Call?

In the third chapter of Gorman’s work on cruciformity he deals with many contentious issues of Pauline theology in an effort to explain how Paul could contend that the crucified Christ was synonymous with the living Lord.

Gorman does this by first examining Paul’s encounter with Jesus, taking up the debate in Pauline Theology of whether or not Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus constitutes a conversion experience or whether it is more appropriate to speak of it as a call to a new vocation (namely to be the apostle to the nations).

I have always tended to play up the call aspect of Paul’s Damascus experience, namely because he is still firmly embedded in Judaism, albeit a different sect so to speak. What I dislike most about calling Paul’s encounter with Jesus a conversion, is the modern introspective claims that are usually applied to such an encounter. In such a retelling Paul is made to look like a modern guilt ridden man, stuck in a legalistic religion trying to work his way to God, feeling empty and desperately trying to fill that God shaped hole in his heart, bam, he encounters the living Lord, and experiences true religion… Now this picture rarely comes up in scholarly discussions, but it does tend to find its way in to far too many pulpits.

Gorman does a good job navigating through this discussion, seeing Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus as both a conversion and a call (also seeing in it a commission). Following Alan Segal’s penetrating work he sees enough evidence to call Paul’s apocalyptic encounter with Jesus a true conversion (in the context of antiquity of course). He explains that this conversion is not from one religion to another, but rather from one sect to another. This helps to contextualize the term conversion to help correct those who see Paul finally converting to the ‘true’ God. For Paul his encounter with Jesus was not information to learn, but rather a claim to be embraced.

Gorman goes on to explain how this encounter continued to shape Paul’s theology and ministry. Elucidating another big controversy in Pauline theology, namely Schweitzer’s “in-Christ mysticism”...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Influencers Survey

Here is a survey that I found at Jesus Creed (although I can't find it now) who found it via the Jesus Manifesto, so go ahead waste some time, and add this to your blog, leave a comment if you do here and at Jesus Creed.

“I’m interested in your perceptions of influence in contrast to those who have actually influenced you. Here’s how my little experiment will work. After each of the categories below, add people to the lists. If someone has already “taken your answer” add another “x”. Make sense? I’m assuming that some folks will add names to the list, but many others will agree…some folks will have lots of x-es after their names. [slightly edited; I’m a prof]

Once you’ve added to the list and posted on your site, please leave a comment here. I’ll try to keep the list updated. Oh, and please don’t list yourself or your own blog or your own community.”

Who do you think are the two most influential Christian spiritual leaders today (in North America)?

  1. Rick Warren
  2. Joel Osteen
  3. T.D. Jakes
  4. Joyce Meyers
  5. Jim Wallis x
  6. Bill Hybels
  7. Shane Claborne x

Who do you think are the two most influential emerging Christian spiritual leaders today (in North America)?

  1. Brian McLaren x
  2. Rob Bell
  3. Todd Hunter
  4. Tony Jones x

Which two Christian spiritual leaders (in North America) do you think are most worthy of being influential?

  1. Eugene Peterson x
  2. Ched Myers
  3. Rich Nathan
  4. Diana Butler Bass
  5. Jim Wallis
  6. Brian McLaren
  7. Rob Bell
  8. Richard Foster
  9. Stanley Hauerwas x

Which two churchy or theological blogs do you think are the most influential?

  1. The Jesus Creed x
  2. Real Live Preacher
  3. Tall Skinny Kiwi
  4. Jollyblogger
  5. God’s Politics
  7. AKMA's Random Thoughts x

Which two churchy or theological blogs have influenced you the most?

  1. Reclaiming the Mission
  2. Leaving Munster
  3. Internet Monk
  4. The Kinglings Muse
  5. Jesus Creed x
  6. Dylan’s Lectionary Blog
  7. Conversation at the Edge
  8. The God Hungry
  9. The Radical Pastor
  10. On Journeying with those in Exile x

Which two North American church communities do you believe are the most influential?

1. Willow Creek
2. Saddleback
4. Vineyard Columbus, Ohio

Which two self-described emerging/missional (North American) communities do you believe are the most influential?

  1. Solomon’s Porch x
  2. Mars Hill (take your pick)
  3. Imago Dei, Portland
  4. Vintage (Santa Cruz) x

Which two North American church communities do you think are most worthy of being influential?

  1. Church of the Savior (Washington, D.C.)
  2. A Catholic Worker house…take your pick
  3. Oscar Romero Catholic Worker, Oklahoma City
  4. Koinonia, Georgia
  5. Apostles Church, Seattle WA
  6. Vintage Faith
  7. St. Sabina (Chicago, IL)
  8. Mars Hill, MI
  9. the simple way, Philadelphia PA x
  10. Irving Bible Church
  11. Rutba House, NC x

Cruciformity: The Cruciform God (part 2)

On the basis of the Christ event, Paul infers not only the depth of human lostness . . . but also the depth of divine grace and love. . . . [God] does not wait until he can let the principle of poetic justice rule. Rather, according to Paul, his nature consists in re-creating the unlovely so that under his love they become lovely, in turning enemies into reconciled people, in giving worth to the worthless. This is the self characterization of the Father of Jesus.[1]

The section I found to be the most interesting in the first chapter was Gorman’s teasing out what it means to say that ‘God is for us’. Essentially God is for us because God loves us, and this love is God’s way of being, and it corresponds to the self giving love of Christ on the cross. Gorman explains this further by relating the relationship between God and Jesus to the proverb ‘like father, like son’. Its reflexive: if Jesus is like God, then God is like Jesus.

‘For Paul, there was a necessary ‘family resemblance’ between the Father and the Son. The Father was like the Son, and vice versa. If the Christ of Paul’s experience was the faithful, obedient Son of God, then he acted in life and especially in death according to the will and character of God. That is to say, the Son’s act on the cross was an act of ‘family resemblance’ of conformity to God. If so, Paul would have reasoned from his experience of Christ, God must be a God who by nature wills and does what the Son willed and did. God is, in other words, a god of self-giving love whose power and wisdom are found in the weakness and folly of the cross.’

The powerful implication for those who seek to follow the crucified One is that all praxis must now pass the test of conformity to the cross of Christ.

[1] Jürgen Becker, Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles, trans. O.C. Dean jr. (Louisville: Westminister/John Knox, 1993), 378-79.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The Cruciform God: Chapter One (Part 1)

Gorman starts chapter one with a minor but very important point concerning the ‘new perspective’. He states that, ‘Knowing God – having an appropriately awe -filled yet intimate relationship, or partnership, with the creator, redeemer of Israel, and sovereign of the universe – is and was the life goal of faithful Jews.’

This is an important caveat in discussing Paul’s view of God, because often in such discussions where talk of Jesus and God take place it is the Jewish people and the Jewish God who are made into caricatures so as to show the greatness of the Christian god. Gorman takes pains to show what most biblical scholars concede, namely that Paul’s talk of God is within the scope of Judaism(s).

That caveat being made the purpose of this chapter is to show that for Paul, God and the cross were inextricably interrelated. It is not just Jesus who is defined by the cross, but also that God himself is defined by the cross.

Gorman argues this in a rather logical way (or perhaps linear is the better word here). Gorman sets up the reader with the understanding that Paul’s knowledge of God is shaped from beginning to end by Jewish categories. He does this by emphasizing the role of (a) the Shema (Deut 6.4) in Paul’s talk of God. (The Shema obviously focuses on the oneness of God) (b) the faithfulness of God to his promises (Rom 3.3-4), and (c) God as a relational God (Rom 1.8). Gorman offers plenty of proof from the Hebrew Scriptures to substantiate these claims about God, and elucidates the reader of how Paul used these same categories. Gorman then expands on point 1.c (God is relational) by focusing on Paul’s view of God as father, although there are places in the Hebrew Scriptures where God is seen as a father, Gorman makes the case that Paul is following Jesus’ own example here. Gorman expands this relational aspect by tying in the ‘Son of God’ tropes with Jesus’ own ‘Abba’ traditions, tying this in to the peculiar way in which Paul sees the followers of Jesus as children of God (obviously the rub here would be the fact that Paul included the Gentiles). Paul uses adoption language here to make his argument. This moves Gorman to his next position, namely that, God the father is for humanity.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Holy Week/Weak

Reflections to end your Holy Week:

AKMA on ideas to keep in mind for a good Good Friday homily.

And an excellent series by Daniel Kirk over at Sibboleth: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 , 6

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Evolution out of Business

I love the irony of the 7 days in the corner!

HT: Boing Boing

Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross: Some Definitions

Michael J. Gorman’s book, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, was one of the few books that I read whilst working on my doctoral thesis that both made me understand Paul better and made me want to follow the Crucified Lord in a whole new way. I thought I would take some time to highlight some of the things I found really useful in this book.

The introduction of this book does a good job of laying out what exactly the author is trying to accomplish in this book focusing both on the early Christians experience and on what the modern interpreter can gain from focusing on the cruciformity. It is obvious that what can be found by both groups is that in the crucified messiah there is a model of humility, self sacrifice, and suffering worthy of imitation.

In the rest of the introduction Gorman lays out a series of definitions essentially exegeting the title of the book so the reader can have a clear idea of the terms involved in such a study, a couple of import include:


Gorman describes this as the lived experience of Christian belief, or the experience of God’s love and grace in daily life. An experience that includes both receiving love and responding in love.

The purpose of Paul’s letters:

Gorman sees the various kinds of narratives within the letters of Paul, not as theology per se but rather as a means to mold behavior. The purpose of his letters, in other words, is pastoral or spiritual before it is theological.


Gorman defines cruciformity as conformity to the crucified Christ. He elaborates further stating, that this conformity is the dynamic correspondence in daily life to the strange story of Christ crucified as the primary way of experiencing the love and grace of God. Cruciformity is, in other words, Paul’s oddly inviting, even compelling, narrative spirituality.

Gorman closes that introduction stating, ‘For Paul, “to know nothing except Jesus Christ – that is, Jesus Christ crucified?’ is to narrate, in life and words, the story of God’s self-revelation in Christ. We attempt in this book, then, to understand Paul’s experience of God, mediated by the cross of Christ, as one of cruciform faith, love, power, and hope, and to do so with an eye on how that experience may challenge us today.’

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Isaiah 42: The Servant and The First Servant Song

The identity of the servant is an enigma, I believe that the text is ambiguous for a purpose; it allows the actions and the mission of servant(s) to be the focal point, rather than on the identity of the servant. The role of the servant(s), as we will see, is filled with paradoxes and problems, and naming the servant simply adds to the confusion.

To add to the confusion here are translations of the LXX, The Isaiah Scroll, and the NRSV:


Jacob is my servant, I will aid him: Israel is my chosen, my soul has received him; I have given him my spirit; he shall bring forth judgment to the nations….He will shine like fire, and will not be broken, until he has set up judgment upon the earth: and upon his name the Gentiles will hope… and I have given you as a covenant to descendents, as a light to the Gentiles.


Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I put my spirit upon him: and his judgment will go out to the Gentiles…. He shall not falter nor be discouraged, until he puts judgment in the earth: and the islands shall inherit his Torah…and I will give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;


Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations….He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching…I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,

While the servant(s) certainly seems to be an individual, in the NRSV and in Qumran, the text of the LXX still insists that the servant is Jacob and Israel.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Servant in Isaiah 40-55?: Some Minor Observations

Isaiah 41 continues in the rhetorical courtroom (introduced in 40.27), in which the text envisions the nations coming before YHWH to give testimony, and ultimately YHWH pronouncing a verdict. While the verdict is important, the real purpose of the courtroom drama is to allow Israel the ability to peer into such events, and to see how YHWH is working.

The content of the argument against the gods of the nations is that they are unable to not only predict the future, but are equally unable to interpret the events of the past. The Babylonian gods seemingly have defeated YHWH in the last battle, resulting in the exile of Israel. However, the evidence presented in the courtroom is about to turn that obvious interpretation on its ear.

YHWH is actually in control of the nations, not the actual gods of those nations. It is YHWH who summons Cyrus from the east, and will bring this mighty warrior to defeat the Babylonians. In fact YHWH has always been in charge of the nations (and history; see 41.4). The major implication of this is that it was YHWH who allowed the nation Israel to be defeated and exiled, and it was not a result of the YHWH’s defeat.

The context shifts from the courtroom to that of comfort, where YHWH assures his SERVANT(s) that they have nothing to fear, that YHWH is reliable, and that with the same power used at the time of exodus Israel will be once again delivered (41.10).

The point in which I am interested in, is that in the first use of the term SERVANT (41.8), in Isaiah 40-55, its referent is that of the nation (Israel, Jacob, offspring of Abraham).