Monday, January 31, 2011

Sermon: In the Radiance of the New Jerusalem

You can listen to my recent sermon on the New Jerusalem here. Sermon was preached at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

20 Most Brilliant Christian College Professors

Here is a list of Christian College professors who are "all “brilliant” in the original sense of the word—they shine brightly among their peers as towering figures in the academic world. In addition, they are all Christians who do not hide their Christianity and see it as significantly impacting their intellectual work." See the list.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Antinomian Wars Continued

Jason's Hood CT piece continues to prompt controversy and discussion about the proud tag of being antinomian (see here, here, and here; and apparently Jason is even a United Methodist and an Arminiam too; note Jason's response to some here). Part of the problem is, I suspect, that there are schemes of theology that have an indicative but lack the grounds for articulating an ethical imperative that is based on the exhortations of Scripture (my earlier thoughts on this subject are posted here). Scott Clark responds to Jason Hood from a Reformed perspective in effect accusing Jason of promoting a theology of glory, perfectionism, and (heaven forbid) Weslyanism. Personally, I think it is clear that Jason is promoting none of these (though perhaps Clark is caricaturing for rhetorical effect and trying to warn of extreme versions of what Jason actually said). Any ways, a few thoughts in my polite rejoinder:

1. The "Reformed reading" of Romans 7 is rather elastic. Augustine initially regarded the wretched man of Romans 7 as a non-believer, but then switched to regarding him as a believer because it was just good ammo for ragging on Pelagius. While Augustine's latter view and Calvin's have mostly carried the day, it was not unanimous and not without significant variations on the details. I used to teach a course on "The History of Reformed Interpretation of Romans" and I always set my students the essay topic, "What is the Reformed View of Romans 7?". Their answer usually was that there isn't one. For instance, H. Ridderbos and J. Murray are not your standard candle bearers for Calvin, but are no less Reformed. Elsewhere I've listed what I think are some good exegetical reasons why Romans 7 is not talking about Christians who struggle with Law and Sin. Let's resolve this with appeals to Scripture and not just footnotes to Calvin as Calvin himself would have wanted.

2. My biggest criticism is reserved for what Clark says here: "Do I need exhortation? Sure, I need the law. It doesn’t produce perfection in me or even godliness, but it does drive me to Christ, who was and remains perfect for me. When the law and my sins accuse me righteously I confess but I also say, “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?”" As a preface let me say that Clark believes we should try to be better Christians and he rightly recognizes that Spirit and gospel are the instruments that achieve this in the Christian life. No disagreement here. Much like N.T. Wright the problem is not what he affirms, but in what he denies. If I read him correctly, Clark denies that exhortations in the OT/NT actually inspire us or drive us to do good. Now Imagine preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with this view. If I may caricature: "Don't worry folks, Jesus' doesn't actually expect any of you to do this stuff, he just said it to make you realize what rotten sinners you are and understand how much you need his imputed righteousness." Or imagine, preaching through James with this view. Hear again the fictive voice: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to believe more deeply in the doctrines of grace" (Jas 1:27 HPR [Hyper-Reformed Version]). Who could preach Matthew 5-7 or James 1:27 this way and get away with it? Jason Hood is not calling for perfectionism. Nor does prosecuting our sanctification with effort require a semi-Pelagian anthropology. To paraphrase Phil 2:13, we are to work out what God has worked into us.

Clark rightly captures Paul's anthropological pessimism about the nature of human sin and he wants to ensure the sola of sola gratia. I concur! Yet I think the perspective that he sets forth while big on sin and the need for the gospel, ultimately has a low view of the transforming power of the gospel itself. I have a hard time believing in a grace so radical that it will never change me. The exhortations we find in Romans 6 and Galatians 5 are there to be done, because they can be done, not perfectly, not infallibly, but in the power of the Spirit who indwells believers. The new creation actually creates good works in us. That ain't Wesley talking it's Jesus, Paul, Luke, John, and Peter.

I often set my students this essay question: "What better describes the state of Christians: (a) Sinners saved by grace; or (b) Saints who sometimes sin?" You could say that both are true, but there are slightly different nuances to them. Is it our pre-gospel state that defines our identity and behavior, or our post-gospel state that defines our identity and behavior. I favor the latter. I am no longer who I was nor will I ever be that person again. He is dead, crucified, buried, and raised to new life. Yes, the old me steeped in sin tries to resurrect itself, and when it does I try my hardest to put it to death, for I know it pleases my Lord to do so. Or, as I've said elsewhere, beware of exploding wolves!

When Did Jesus Become the Messiah? (Part 1)

One of the problem in the origins of christology is the question, "When did Jesus become the Messiah?" Scholarship has often assumed that Jesus' life was non-messianic, not only that, but Jesus in fact repudiated the messianic role. His rebuke to Peter in Mk 8.27ff was for calling him the Messiah in the first place, or so it goes at least. The triumphal entry and cleansing of the temple were not originally messianic although messianic layers of meaning were added by the Evangelists later on. The accusation made at the trial that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah was a false charge. So Jesus was not a a messianic claimant, but Christianity became a messianic movement at some point, and the Evangelists read messianism back into his pre-Easter ministry. (For those who want an alternative scheme see my book Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question).

How then did Jesus become known as the Messiah? Well three main schools of thought are around. One view, going back to William Wrede, is that the early church inferred his messiahship from his resurrection. After all, a link is made between the resurrection and Jesus' identity as the Son of David in Rom 1.3-4. Criticism of this view has been brutal. First, how does "resurrection" equal "messiah". We have no example of a figure returning to life and then being called the Messiah. Second, messianic themes are mostly absent from the resurrection narratives. Third, as Johannes Weiss pointed out, only because Jesus' death counted against his messianic claim could his resurrection be proof in favor of it!

Others such as Ferdinand Hahn maintain that Jesus' messiahship was inferred from belief in his future parousia. Acts 3.20-21 is believed to hint in this direction. The concept of messiahship was introduced into the tradition to gave a title to his eschatological role in the denouement. There are problems again here. First, if Jesus' first coming was not messianic, what should necessitate that his second should be? Jesus' identity as Son of Man and Lord were sufficient categories to designate his eschatological role at his parousia. What need is there to make him into a Messiah? Second, one wonders if eschatology is being equated with messianism. But an eschatological agent does not have to be a messianic one.

Third, for many the designation "Messiah" was used to indicate in language popular in some circles that Jesus was a divine agent of some import. I think Maurice Casey takes this view though I need to double check with a re-read of From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God which I don't have on hand. Again, the problem is that there were many ways of indicating someone was a "somebody" in the eschatological storyline without recourse to messianism. What is more, introducing the notion of a crucified messiah would sound a bit like an oxymoron and create heaps of problems in Jewish communities. In fact, the early church had every reason to abandon the designation rather than to keep it. Some authors ranging from the proto-orthodox Epistle of Barnabas to the Nag Hammadi writings show that some Christians did abandon the Son of David/Messiah tradition as too Jewish.

So when did Jesus become the Messiah? For that see part two on Monday!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Being Called "Antinomian" is not a Sign of Orthodoxy

Jason Hood has another cool article out over at CT. This time he is arguing that being accused of being antinomian is not a badge of honor for orthodox Christians. Here's a quote to whet your appetite: "Jesus' requirements for any and all who wish to be his disciple and bear his name—self-denial and cross-bearing, holiness and purity—will inevitably sound like legalism in a restraint-free culture dominated by Eat, Pray, Love spirituality and Joel Osteen-grade theology."

NT Position

Lecturer in New Testament

The Reformed Theological College in Geelong, Victoria, Australia (i.e. Melbourne) is looking for a full-time NT lecturer starting in January 2012.

The position is suited to someone with a research degree in NT and is able to teach Greek, biblical theology, hermeneutics, and NT exegesis. Proven ability in teaching, extensive ministry experience, good communication and inter-personal skills are essential. Applications should be sent to by 39 April 2011.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Things to Click

Roger Olson calls for a summit of Calvinists and Evangelicals (yeah, good luck with that!). The Evangelical Alliance has poll results on the beliefs and habits of Evangelicals in the UK, an interesting contrast with the USA. Robin Parry points to a cute clip on the Apostles' Creed. Jason Hood writes a good article at TGC about Anglican Church Planting in Washington.

Karl Barth on the Virgin Birth

If anyone thinks Barth is an old-school liberal, they really need to read CD I/2.172-202 on the "Miracle of Christmas". I found his criticism of Emil Brunner most amusing [Brunner rejects the virgin birth]. Barth writes: "Brunner's contribution to this matter in his more recent book, Man in Revolt, is so bad that my only possible attitude to it is silence." That is a shalacking!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Latest Expository Times

The latest issue of ExpTim includes these articles:

Lisa Isherwood
Dancing Theology on Earthquakes: Trends and Direction in Feminist Theologies

Larry W. Hurtado
Early Devotion to Jesus: A Report, Reflections and Implications

Paul Foster
Q or Not Q (Review Article)

The Ehrman Project

Michael Gorman draws attention to the launch of a website dedicated to engaging/refuting the various works of Prof. Bart D. Ehrman. It is called the Ehrman Project and it was actually begun by Miles O'Neil who works for UNC Chapel Hill where Ehrman is a Professor. Ehrman has written a number of works about textual criticism, the historical Jesus, the early church, God and Evil, etc. and ordinarily with the aim of debunking Christianity and promoting unbelief. I respect Ehrman's works greatly, esp. his early TC stuff. But I confess that I simply find it astounding that Ehrman will argue in one book that the biblical manuscripts are unreliable and corrupted and then in the next book he'll use these corrupted manuscripts to reconstruct the historical figure of Jesus, Paul, Peter, Mary Magdalene, the whole early church. It is kinda like announcing that the emperor has no clothes in one book and in the next book criticizing what the emperor wore to the royal tea party. It's one or the other!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

John: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Mark Stibbe in an article entitled, "The Elusive Christ: A New Reading of the Fourth Gospels". Stibbe writes:

"Jesus is an elusive figure. Even when Nicodemus finds him, Jesus proves opaque to his understanding. When the crowds seek Jesus, he only allows them to find him when he is ready for them. And as for the Jewish authorities, I am reminded of Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel: 'they seek him here, they seek him there, those Jews seek him everywhere'".

Monday, January 17, 2011

Around the Blogosphere

Things to note around the blogs:

It must be approaching MLK day in the USA and Denny Burk links to John Piper's 2000 sermon on racial reconciliation based on Ephesians 2.11-122. A recommended read!

Rachel at re-vis.ingre-form has some links on Eternal Subordination of the Son.

Chris Keith asks if we will ever have another Martin Hengel.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Historical Jesus and the Parting of the Ways

Next week should see the publication of the massive tome Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, edited by S.E. Porter and T. Holmen (Leiden: Brill, 2011), which includes 4 volumes with over a 120 essays. Note, this will be a library resource as opposed to a personal buy at the bargain basement price of $1329 USD (but then again it's USD which ain't so bad these days). Still, this will be one of the definitive resources for study of the historical Jesus for decades to come, so you should at least know about it if you are involved in Jesus/Gospel studies.

However, with permission from Brill, I'm able to put on-line my own contribution to the volume in the essay, The Historical Jesus and the 'Parting of the Ways'.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Conversions to Eastern Orthodoxy

Here's an interesting article on conversions/defections by Christians into Orthodox Churches.

Review of Crossing Over Sea and Land

Brian Tucker provides a good review/summary of my book Cross Over Sea and Land at his blog Identity Formation in the New Testament.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Martin Hengel on on the Christ Hymn

Just reading the conclusion to Martin Hengel's The Son of God and this is what he says about the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 (p. 76):

"Now if Christ is identical with the heavenly, pre-temporal 'image of God', that also means that he was ' of divine nature', as we hear at the beginning of the Philippians hymn. Thus, although he is clearly subordinate, the Son no longer stood on the side of creation alone, but also on the side of God. Only through the incarnation, which is 'consummated' in his death on the cross, does he receive a share in human destiny and can he be regarded as reconciler and intercessor for men. Jesus was now no longer just the perfect righteous man, chosen by God, who was in complete accord with God's will, a model for discipleship, but in addition the divine mediator who out of the Father's love for lost men obediently gave up his heavenly communion with the Father and took on human form and human destiny, a destiny which led to a shameful death on the cross. Thus incarnation and death became an unsurpassable expression of the divine love."

Interview with Susan Eastman

Over at the JSPL Blog, there is an interview with Susan Eastman conducted by Nijay Gupta. The interview covers topics as diverse as imitation and participation in Plato and Paul, the Christ-Hymn of Philippians 2, and Christian ministry in Sudan.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

ESV Study Bible, the Cadillac of Study Bibles

It has been said, and is assumed by many, that every serious Christian (at least in the literate western/eastern worlds) should own a good study Bible. With this sentiment I must agree. At NPU we require students in our Intro to the Bible classes to purchase the NLT Study Bible. I've used this Bible extensively and find it to be a very useful tool. Moreover the NLT translation is perfect for our audience of undergrads many of whom have never cracked the spine of a Bible.

Recently I picked up the The ESV Study Bibleand I think it is the best study Bible now available. It has set the standard for all subsequent Bibles of its kind. Whatever one may think of the ESV as a translation, it is difficult to argue with the quality and quantity of background material that surround the translation in this Study Bible. There is more packed into this nearly 3000 page Bible than any other. There are elements in the Bible parallel with what one might find elsewhere [an example of this are the articles at the back of the Bible in a format similar to the Jewish Study Bible published by Oxford Press], but one will not find anything else quite like this available.

What sets this Study Bible apart from say the NLT Study Bible are a number of things. Among them are:

1. The topics covered by the articles in the ESV Study Bible are more wide ranging than what one will find in the NLT.
2. There are color graphics throughout the Bible - It boasts of over 200 full-color maps and 40 illustrations
3. There are more diagrams that useful present dense information - 200-plus charts

Friday, January 07, 2011

Review of Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission

Over at RBL, Craig Evans reviews my published dissertation Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission. He accepts the premise that Jesus should be situated in the context of Jewish restoration eschatology, but critiques my apparent claim that Jesus engaged in a mission to Gentiles. The only response I would make is that I don't think I ever said that Jesus engaged in a "mission" to Gentiles. Jesus' mission was to usher in the restoration of Israel yet a corollary was that a restored Israel would transform the world. Jesus' actions are the basis of the later Gentile mission. Or, I argued that the Christian Gentile mission has antecedents in Jesus' pre-Easter activities in his openness to sinners and Gentiles.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Trustworthiness of the Bible?

Does anyone know of a rather recent, brief essay on the trustworthiness of the Bible written for a popular audience?

Michael Horton on Jesus vs. Paul

Over at the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton chimes in on the Jesus vs. Paul debate. My own thoughts are in the comments section of the post.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Western Protestants Need to Remember their African Heritage

Mouneer H. Anis (Anglican Primate of Egypt and North Africa) has written a good article on Anglicans and Global Mission. He writes:

"The main focus of our reformed churches was directed towards the study of the Scriptures, mission and evangelism. As a result many generations emerged that are grounded and rooted in the apostolic teaching as written in the Scripture, but that are disassociated from the apostolic traditions which form the context in which the Scriptures were written and lived out."

It's a good read about how having a faith rooted in the apostolic and catholic tradition will naturally lend itself to seeking deeper communion with the more traditional (i.e., older) churches.

The genius of Anglicanism is striving to uphold the Reformation principles while remaining faithful to the Great Tradition of the Church.

Loving your Muslim Neighbours

Over at CT, Jason Hood has written a stimulating article on what it means to love our Muslim Neighbors in Muslims in Evangelical Churches. Would you allow Muslims to use your church as a worship sanctuary while their mosque is being repaired?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Musalaha - Israeli and Palestianian Believers in Jesus

For those eager for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, Musalaha is an organization that you should know about. Their mission is presented in this statement:

Musalaha is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus. We endeavor to be an encouragement and advocate of reconciliation, first among Palestinian and Israeli believers and then beyond to our respective communities. Musalaha also aims at facilitating bridge building among different segments of Israeli and Palestinian societies according to biblical reconciliation principles.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

CNN: 11 Faith-Based Predictions for 2011

Read the interesting piece (largely from an American perspective) at CNN on religious issues to watch for in 2011.