Joseph Plevnik, Paul and the Parousia: An Exegetical and Theological Investigation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), 328.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Richard Hays lists six reasons why the church needs apocalyptic eschatology (includes my own summary, paraphrase, and additions to his chief articles):
1. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to carry Israel’s story forward. Without a future oriented hope one cannot affirm God’s faithfulness to Israel and God’s covenantal promises become unintelligible. Or even worse, a faithless God means we have fickle deity whom we cannot be sure abut. God intends to vindicate his peple (Deut 32:36) at the appointed time when the Redeemer comes to Zion (Isa 59:20). These promises find their proleptic fulfillment in Jesus Christ in the church as a prefiguration of the eschatological people of God, which is a sign in itself of the full divine embracing (proslēmpsis) of eschatological Israel.
2. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for interpreting the cross as a saving event for the world. If we are to grasp the centrality of the cross, then we must see it as more than a propiatory sacrifice for the forgivnesss of the sins of individuals. The cross should be interpreted as an atoning even within a larger apocalyptic narrative where God destroys the powers of the old order and inaugurates the new creation (Gal 6:14-16).
3. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for the gospel’s political critique of pagan culture. The biting edge to Christian eschatology is that Jesus is the Lord to whom every leader and government will one day bow (Phil 2:9-11). Christian apocalypticism reminds us that Caesar’s power (in whatever form it takes) might claim to be totalitarian, but in fact it is transient. Christian loyalty to the Lord means resistance to the power, politics, and pleasures of the world around us. If we train our eyes on the ultimate reversal of fortunes then we will never become accommodated or complacent with the status quo in an injust world.
4. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to resist ecclesial complacency and triumphalism. The looming reality of a final judgment – a judgment that begins with the church – strikes a chord because it prevents the church from having grandiose concepts of its own importance (see 2 Cor 5:11–6:2). The church is a provisional servant of God, a life boat between shipwreck and salvage, and so must avoid becoming fat, sleepy, or abusive.
5. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology in order to affirm the body. Apocalyptic eschatology is in one sense dualistic between certain temporal and spatial entities (e.g., heaven vs. earth, future vs. present, etc.). However, that dualism is never annunciated as a radical rejection of the material world in toto. For apocalyptic eschatology looks forward the the Creator’s redemption and renewal of the created order and his refusal to abandon it to decay. God redeemes what he creates. That is why Christians look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and not to the immortality of the soul (1 Cor 15:35-58).
6. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to ground its mission. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus was a sign that Israel’s restoration was indeed at hand (Acts 1:11). Yet it was also a call to engage in witness to the expanding kingdom. That witnessing inevitably brings the witnesses into conflict with a world hostile to the message of the lordship of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers the church and forms the community as a missional organism that works out God’s purposes for redemption and judgment. Without this endtime perspective the content and urgency of the Christian mission is greatly retarded.
7. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to speak with integrity about suffering and death. Those armed with an apocalyptic eschatology need not live in denial of the sufferings of this age and the groaning that accompany it. Cynicism nor despair takes over Christians because they know that their telos is the resurrection of their body assured by the resurrection of Jesus’ body. Christians therefore know how to grieve with hope in the face of the horror of death knowing that every tear will one day be wiped away their eyes in the new creation.
 Richard B. Hays, “‘Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?’ New Testament Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium,” in Theology at the Turn of the Millennium, eds. L.G. Jones and J.J. Buckley (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 113-33.
Monday, March 28, 2011
I grew up a Protestant low church Baptist so my understanding of the Lord’s Supper has always been very Zwingli-ish. In other words, I have understood the Lord’s Supper as primarily memorial. In the Lord’s Supper we “remember” and reflect on the death of Jesus. Brant’s provocative thesis in the book is that the traditional Catholic view of transubstantiation, which believes that the bread and wine in communion are transformed literally into the body and blood of Jesus, is rooted in Jesus’ own teaching and first century Jewish context. The book presses me, and all readers, to consider a fresh Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. However, this is more than a book about the Eucharist.
In the book, Brant shows the importance of understanding the Jewish context of Jesus. This, for me, is a lesson nearly as important as his thesis on the Eucharist. I will be reflecting on the book in a series of posts.
Brant begins in this introduction with a somewhat darkly comical but yet poignant story of a pre-martial interview with his soon-to-be wife's family's Baptist pastor over 15 years ago. Upon hearing that Brant was a Catholic, the meeting turned from a pre-marital interview into a theological interrogation. As Brant recounts it, the pastor "grilled me on every single controversial point in the Catholic faith". pulled no punches in his questions of Brant over all things Catholic: Mary, the Canon of Scripture, the Pope and the Eucharist.
On the latter topic, the Eucharist, the pastor asked/asserted "How can Catholics teach that bread and wine actually become Jesus' body and blood? Do you really believe that? It's ridiculous!" Brant reflected on the fact that in the moment he was unable to provide a biblical and theological response. He left the meeting devastated. To make matters worse, the pastor said to Brant's fiance that "he has serious concerns about yoking you with an unbeliever".
Brant reflected that this experience was a "major turning point" in his life. He shares that this event became one of the reasons he is a biblical scholar today. Brant writes, "In effect, my exchange with the pastor poured gasoline on the fire of my interest in Scripture". One of the major lessons he learned as he pursued a biblical studies in undergrad, graduate and post-graduate work was this:
If you really want to know who Jesus was and what he was saying and doing, then you need to interpret his words and deeds in their historical context. And that means become familiar with not just ancient Christianity but also with ancient Judaism.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Decisions about the book, about Rob, have been rendered and sides have been taken. Some have been generous in their disagreement, some vicious in their attack. A few have found it to be a refreshingly positive message. In writing a review of such a provocative book, one puts oneself in a position to get shot at from several directions. Well so be it.
I don’t at all think this book is an especially important book on the subject. I think in fact that this will be little more than a “flash in the pan”. But the book has received a tremendous amount of buzz and I have found that people want to read it and talk about it. I think this is a great opportunity to take seriously the views offered here and engage them. I think this has at least two benefits: (1) the topic of heaven and hell and the salvation are extremely important--perhaps the most important topics in the Bible; and (2) such topics deserve attention and rigorous thinking. Again, this book is not important, but the topic and discussion is. To the extent that Love Wins has raised the discussion, it is beneficial.
I am going to avoid discussing or naming Rob Bell directly in these posts. I think it is more prudent to address the book and the ideas contained therein and not to discuss Rob or to make personal statements about him. There is too much of this going on in my view. Let's talk about the ideas!
I will begin in this post by listing in random order some affirmative statements about the book by way of introduction. This list will serve to show what I think about the book generally.
- I don’t think this book is well written . . . surprisingly. It doesn’t seem to flow well. Sections in the chapters don’t move seamlessly. I found myself at many points asking “how did we go from there to here?” It feels very “cut and paste”.
- The introduction is a confusing barrage of questions and seems to not really lead anywhere.
- It took me 5 hours to read the book carefully.
- I believe there are errors in the interpretation of the biblical texts in this book.
- I don’t think the book roots the discussion enough in Jesus’ first century Jewish context as perhaps ironically as that may sound.
- I believe the book mischaracterizes the history of the church in suggesting that the orthodox Church (Chalcedonian church [West and East]) allowed universalistic views. This of course does not include the church in the East and Far East.
- I believe the book is right in the general contours of its understanding of heaven eschatologically (in the final analysis) will be a renewed earth.
- I believe the book is right to describe the hellish nature of some of this world and folk’s experience of it.
- I’m not sure I understand the significance of these complementary observations:
It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die (45).
Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death (79).
- I believe the book does not place hardly any emphasis on final judgment (the kind of emphasis the NT puts on it—e.g. read 2 Thes 1:5-10) although talking about the need for justice and the work of God in bring about a just world in the future (37).
- I agree with the opinion that God gets what he wants, but I don’t believe we know fully what God wants or exactly how he gets it.
- I agree that not every person that ever lived will enjoy heaven with God one way or another.
- I don’t agree that humans can exercise total freedom in their choices.
- I think the presentation of Atonement in the book (ch 5), while mentioning the full range of biblical images for the significance of the work of Jesus, ends up deficient because it settles on just one.
- I believe that the book presents the hope of universalism, but is not in the end universalistic.
- I believe that the book teaches Christological pluralism (many ways to heaven) and not universalism.
- I believe the book presents a deficient doctrine of hell by narrowing it to “the refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” (170 [whole ch 7]).
- I agree that the we are invited to "trust" God's love; to "entrust" ourselves to Him.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
 Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 176.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
After viewing the interview, I have this to say. It seems that Rob’s greatest concern in raising the issue about hell and salvation has come from his pastoral ministry. I believe him. Rob said in the interview that he has grown concerned from his pastoral work that the Gospel retold as it has been in effect paints God into this person with polarity disorder. On the one hand, the Gospel says, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life", on the other, "if you don’t believe in him at this moment, that loving God will reek havoc on you for eternity." "If you don’t pray these words after me, you could die tonight and suffer for an eternity in hell being tortured because you rejected God’s free gift." Rob thinks this telling of the Gospel story is not at all good news because of what it presupposes about God. The God of that story is not a God who loves by any human measure, according to Rob. As I recall, Brian McClaren made nearly the same point in Generous Orthodoxy.
The understanding of the Gospel in fact is perhaps the key issue for many emerging Christians. What I took away from the interview is that it seems that the central question for Rob Bell is "what is the Gospel?"
I agree that how we as evangelical Christians understand and frame the Gospel is an important and relevant question. And I'm just post-modern enough to believe that our cultural influences can shape how we understand the Gospel such that a constant evaluation of our understanding of the Gospel is essential. As early as Paul's day, there were "culturally conditioned" alterations of the Gospel with which he had to contend (Gal 1:6-9). And while Rob’s proposal is seriously flawed and dangerous theologically, that does not take away from the truth of his pastoral observations. When the Gospel is put in these terms it can lead in fact to equally flawed and dangerous theological points of view.
So, I agree with Rob, “the Gospel is good news indeed!”. But it’s not likely for the reason Rob proposes. I don’t intend a full discussion at the moment, but after watching the interview, I think at least one thing that is missing in Rob’s proposal is that for love to win, something or someone has to lose. With biblical salvation comes judgment, as my friend Jim Hamilton in his recent book, God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, has eloquently made plain:
In the powerfully redemptive story that Rob told about the “Cutter” in his congregation, the men who perpetrated the abuse which led to the woman's psychological pain need to be brought to justice. At least part of the good news of the Gospel that Jesus told is that those who commit such things will meet justice if not in this life, than in the “death after death” to use a phrase from Scot McKnight in One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, in which Scot has a nice short discussion of hell (160-65). A Gospel which doesn't announce justice is no Gospel.
Rob also appeared this morning on ABC's Good Morning America.
HT: Jameson Ross & Taylor Clausen
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Saturday, March 05, 2011
Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and Early Christianity: Studies in Memory of Graham N. Stanton.
Here is the description:
The passing of Professor Graham Stanton, former Lady Margaret chair of divinity at Cambridge University, in 2009 marked the passing of an era in Matthean scholarship and studies of early Christianity. Stanton’s fifteen books and dozens of articles span thirty-four years and centre largely on questions pertaining to the gospel of Matthew and early Christianity. The present volume pays tribute to Stanton by engaging with the principal areas of his research and contributions: the Gospel of Matthew and Early Christianity. Contributors to the volume each engage a research question which intersects the contribution of Stanton in his various spheres of scholarly influence and enquiry. The distinguished contributors include; Richard Burridge, David Catchpole, James D.G. Dunn, Craig A. Evans, Don Hagner, Peter Head, Anders Runesson and Christopher Tuckett.The book is in the LNTS series published by T & T Clark. See the book here.
But when your wife tells you to write a comment about about something you do! Karla, my lovely wife of nearly 18 years, is not one to engage in theological debate. She has been my greatest supporter through my theological education, but her eyes glaze over within a few seconds of hearing a theological or biblical debate. She's practical and no non-sense. But on the issue of heaven and hell and God's will in allowing people entrance into heaven or sending people to hell she is always frustrated. She believes the Bible, she loves God, but she hates the doctrine of hell. and she doesn't understand the God behind it. She cannot understand how God could send a person to eternal torment because they did not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But she is not a universalist. She won't be. And my guess is neither is Rob.
When Karla heard about the book Rob has written she immediately wanted to watch the promo video. Not because of Rob (who the heck is Rob Bell?!!) but because the questions Rob is asking are her questions. The tensions Rob is willing to entertain in a public forum are exactly the ones she struggles with. And apparently so do thousands of other biblical evangelicals.
I have two thoughts for what its worth.
1. I think this book is important. Not because Rob will somehow set the record straight or because he has some new insight on the age old issue, or because he is in some papal position to render the final word on the issue, but because he is raising the issue for discussion. A discussion that is going on all over our country in living rooms, dorm rooms, coffee shops, driveways, bus stops, pubs and anywhere else where there are believers in Jesus who care about people.
2. I think we need to wait to read the book. There's no sense prejudging. It seems to me that what his critics are up in arms about is that he asks questions. But since when are questions out of bounds? Are there any questions that are "off limits"? I hope not. While the particular social contexts within which we are raising questions matter (e.g. church, academy, etc), the minute we put a limit on the kinds of questions we are allowed to ask, we've ceased being people of the book. We've become instead a people of dogma. For the life of me I can't figure out why John Piper would say something like "Farewell Rob Bell"? Was it because in the promo he asked "Will only a few select people make it to heaven and will billions and billions of people burn in forever hell "? Was it because he raised provocative questions that everyone is asking? Was it because he hinted at answers that press traditionally articulated answers?
Rob Bell may offer heretical views in this book, we won't know until it is read. But my suspicion--grounded as it is like everyone else's on almost no evidence--is that Rob is less a heretic and more a critic of biblical answers that don't speak in ways that make sense to people. Again my very uninformed guess (and we'll have to see if I'm a prophet or not) is that Rob will greatly nuance a traditional opinion on the matter in which he will be willing to let things that are unknowable remain so while emphasizing primary NT themes.
I suppose both sides will just have to wait an see. I will review the book when it comes out for the blog.