Saturday, February 16, 2008
Reflections on "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church"
N. T. Wright has proved to be not only one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the present generation but also a committed and passionate churchman. Few have had the impact on contemporary scholarship that Wright has had. One of the most articulate presenters of what has been dubbed the "New Perspective" on Paul, he is also probably the greatest authority on the "historical Jesus." There are few if any equals to Wright when it comes to mastery of the Jewish world of Jesus and insisting (rigorously so) that Jesus and Paul be understood in that first century context. Through such tomes as The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and the Resurrection of the Son of God Wright has basically set the agenda for contemporary NT scholarship. You either argue with Wright or against Wright but there is little middle ground.
Repeatedly though Wright has left the "academic" ring to join with Christians in articulating what that ancient faith means for the contemporary world and life. Here Wright is sometimes apologist (as in his exchanges with Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan and Judas and the Gospel of Jesus) and sometimes pastoral theologian. In this latter capacity Wright publishes sermons and books.
In his newest book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne 2008), Wright combines the hat of NT scholar and pastoral theologian to address the issue of the substance of the Christian hope. As Wright has argued in his academic books there is a constant connection between creation, covenant and eschatology throughout the Story of God in Scripture. In this work Wright gives the fullest exposition of any of his writings on what that looks like. He says he sets out to answer two questions of paramount importance:
1) What are we waiting for?
2) What are we going to do about it in the mean time?
Wright begins by examining contemporary beliefs about the afterlife both in the secular world and among the churches. He subjects the common equation of "resurrection" with the vague idea of "life after death" to severe criticism ... refreshingly and biblically so.
Wright then examines, from a historical perspective, what it was that early Christians believed about "hope." The look at the setting in Judaism and the contrasts with Paganism is well done. One of the questions that keep coming to mind as this section is ruminated upon is "Which of these looks more like what is commonly held by Christians today?" The answer is often disturbing!
Through a series of chapters Wright shows how Jesus himself is the embodiment of God's new creation. That new creation is wedded to the old through the incarnation itself ... and the bodily resurrection of the Son of Man. The doctrine of resurrection of believers both in the NT and in the early Fathers is directly tied to what happened to Jesus. Jesus is the New Adam and just as the fallen world is tied to the old Adam so we are connected to the New. Our bodies, like that of Jesus, are to be redeemed ... ahh ... What HOPE.
Wright so far, in my view, is not only convincing but expresses biblical faith wonderfully. But that only answers question one. In Part 3 of the book he moves to how that teaching effects the life of the sojourning People of God both in Scripture and (perhaps) more importantly NOW. Just how does eschatology shape what Christians teach, and PRACTICE, concerning justice, beauty, evangelism and spirituality. These are not mere esoteric subjects in Wright but rooted concretely in the bitter (at times) grind of life. Eschatology is not simply a peripheral issue but of incredible importance because it does teach us how to live, though contemporary Christians often turn it only into an argument about the millennium (sadly and mistakenly). To quote Wright,
"From Plato to Hegel and beyond, some of the greatest philosophers declared that what you think about death, and life beyond it, is the key to thinking seriously about everything else--and, indeed, that it provides one of the main reasons for thinking seriously about anything at all. This is something a Christian theologian should heartily endorse."
I think Moses, Jesus, and Paul would say "amen" to that opinion.
I cannot recommend Surprised by Hope enough. For those who do not want to wrestle (or are intimidated) with the massive tome The Resurrection of the Son of God this book is a refreshingly engaging text (Surprised, btw, is not simply a condensed version of RSG). It is laden with insight into the biblical text and into bridging the hermeneutical gap between the ancient faith and its contemporary meaning. Wright has no masters and few peers in this area.
There will be some who will not read this book simply because it is not written by a "Church of Christ author" as the phrase goes. This is, sadly, a purely denominational and sectarian stance. Our restoration fathers and mothers in the faith challenged us from Alexander Campbell to J. W. McGarvey to Everett Ferguson to interact with the very best scholarship in the world. In that tradition I recommend Wright as a way of seeing the biblical message afresh and critiquing the incipient paganism and neo-Gnosticism running through contemporary piety.
And from the standpoint of my own personal journey at the moment I found this book to be refreshing and encouraging. I think you will too.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Please Lord ... Send your healing rain ...[I]t is amid the disappointments of life, in the days of mourning and desolation, in the hours of self-abasement and penitential love, that we meet with Jesus. It is in the home of poverty and in the lowly mansion of the wretched that we have fellowship with Christ.
Robert Richardson, Communings in the Sanctuary, p. 77
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Marcionism & Churches of Christ: What Value, REALLY, is the "Old Testament?: #4 How Did We Get Here?
The dispensational hermeneutic first articulated by Alexander Campbell in his Sermon on the Law (read more here) has become part of the DNA of Churches of Christ. Classic hermeneutic manuals like Dungan's Hermeneutics devote considerable energy in establishing this hermeneutic while virtually ignoring "commands, examples and inferences." B. W. Johnson further inculcated this hermeneutic through his widely read and reprinted sermon (on both sides of the keyboard ironically) series in 1899 called "The Two Covenants." Probably among the most influential means of traditioning this point of view though has been the Jule Miller film strips.
There is a legitimate distinction between covenants. There is history, movement and development in the Story of God. Yet sometimes, it seems, that such emphasis has been placed on the distinction between the Testaments and even the radical abolition of the "Old" Testament that some (perhaps many) quietly developed the theology that the First Testament is irrelevant at best. Perhaps an example of this would be the famous preacher N. B. Hardeman in his Tabernacle Sermons.
Let it be remembered, brethren, that you and I, as Gentiles ... were never subjected to the law of Moses. It was never applicable unto us. Its promises were never ours, neither its threats nor punishments. Strange, it is not, therefore--passingly so--that, notwithstanding two thousand years have passed since it was taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, there perhaps are peopole to-night, never included in it, that are blinded, deceived, and deluded by the thought that they are amenable to it? ... On the pages of God's word it is clearly declared that the law is blotted out, wiped away, stricken from existence, become dead, that we might serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" ("Rightly Dividing the Word the Word of Truth," Vol 1, p.11)
The language of Hardeman is harsh and even extreme. How would folks in the pew hear this language directed against the "Old" Testament? There is no doubt that NBH believed the Hebrew Bible was inspired. But the impression left is one that says the OT is of limited importance. The tendency to codify positions arising out of debate is all to common yeilding woeful consequences.
It should be pointed out that Hardeman's position, as quoted above, rests on a serious misunderstanding of not only the "Old" Testament but also of Colossians 2.14. What was "nailed to the cross" was not the Old Testament but the cheirographon which refers to the I.O.U/sin-debt that we have incurred not the Hebrew Bible or even the "Old Covenant."
It is one thing to make the claim that we "believe" in the "Old Testament" and quite another to take it seriously enough to let it shape and mold our faith and life. If we take the "New Testament" seriously then we will have to take the Hebrew Bible seriously enough to let it even impart "doctrine" to us (cf. 2 Tim 3.16). Rather than being an addendum that we might get around to at some point the Hebrew Bible is essential to the Christian faith.
Monday, February 11, 2008
All Christians recognize the authority of the Bible. Some do not understand the nature of that authority the same way but it is recognized nonetheless. Various words like guide or model are sometimes used to help convey how biblical authority functions. Still others latch onto words like pattern, blueprint or constitution. Some postulate that the nature of this pattern is quite exact in its details. For example Roy Deaver wrote several years ago
"God has given mankind the pattern for building his life. God has given the pattern for Christian character (attitudes and conduct) and the pattern for the church (organization, name, doctrine, worship, plan of salvation, mission) ..." ("We Must Recognize That the New Testament Does Set Out the Divine Pattern," Firm Foundation [October 22, 1985], 2)
Deaver asserts that "the fact that the New Testament is designed to be our pattern is emphatically declared in numerous passages ..." he goes on to cite 2 Jn 9; 1 Cor 4.6; Gal 1.6-8; and Rev 22.18,19. One wonders if the New Testament, the book, is under consideration in any of these passages? I submit they do not. The Second John text has no "book" under consideration. First Corinthians has the Hebrew Bible under consideration (interestingly enough). And Revelation has only itself under consideration.
I embrace the idea that a "pattern" is testified to in Scripture. We need to let the Scriptures set our agenda and not our debate traditions. If the Pattern Principle is alive and well as it is articulated by many one has some difficult facts to account for in the life of the Living Word of God himself ... Jesus. I will share three such "anomalies" with my blog readers that need to be addressed. For each of these there is no "biblical" authority for in the sense that there is a book, chapter and verse authorizing these things.
Jesus and the Cup of Thanksgiving
All three Synoptic Gospels testify that Jesus took the "cup" and gave thanks for it (Mt 26.27; Mk 14.23; Lk 22.10-23). Indeed in Luke we have the presence of two cups that were of the four on Passover's table in Jesus' day. This cup(s) which was part of the Passover ritual during first century Judaism became part of the Lord's Supper as Paul testifies in 1 Cor 10.15 and 11.24,27. The question that the rigid patternist must deal with, if they are to face the issues with integrity, is where did that cup come from and who gave the authority for it? One will search in vain in the Hebrew Bible for a command from God to have a cup (much less four of them) in the Passover meal. The cup became traditional for Jewish observance during the intertestamental period. There is no record before the second century B.C. for the cup as part of the meal. In fact the very first time the cup is mentioned is in that popular book known as Jubilees. In Jubiless 49 there is a lengthy discussion of the Passover and its proper observance. In verse 6 we read of eating and "drinking wine and praising and blessing and glorifying the LORD the God of their fathers ..." This, as I said, is the first time in history wine/cups are a part of the meal. Yet Jesus embraced this tradition without even raising an eyebrow as far as the record shows. Did Jesus not know that adding a cup to the meal was a violation of the pattern principle?
Jesus and the Synagogue
The synagogue figures prominently in the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. We read in Luke 4 that it was Jesus' "custom" to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath (v.16). The book of Acts also testifies to the importance of the synagogue for even diaspora Jews. The Talmud claims there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem alone prior to the destruction of the Temple.
Like the cup in the Passover, the synagogue presents certain anomalies to the one who sees the Scripture through pattern eyes. There is no doubt that the synagogue was of vital importance to Judaism in Jesus' day. There is no doubt that Jesus voluntarily and, apparently, approvingly associated himself with the synagogue. The question to be asked is where was the biblical authority for its existence? There is not a shred of evidence of the synagogue in the "Old Testament." There is no evidence that it existed at all in what we might call "Old Testament" times. The synagogue was a post-exilic religious development among the Jews. No one knows who started them or why ... though there are speculations. The first mention of a synagogue in an inscription comes from Egypt (not Palestine!) and dates to the 3rd century B. C. (cf. Eric M. Meyers, "Synagogue" Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 6, p. 252).
Why did Jesus participate in this unbiblical institution?
Jesus and the Festival of Lights
The last anomaly I call attention to is Jesus' participation in the unbiblical religious festival of Lights. The imagery of this festival dominates John 10.22-39 and is mentioned explicitly in v.22 (i.e. Dedication, NIV). This fest celebrated the liberation and salvation of the Jews from the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes. The Temple was defiled by pagan sacrifices (the abomination of desolation of Daniel). In 167 B.C. the Maccabees regained control of the Temple which was celebrated in the Festival of Lights. One can read the adventures that lead up to the liberation of the Temple in 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha. There is no biblical support for this celebration. There is no command, example or inference by which the Jews could have justified the creation of this religious holy day. Yet Jesus is in the temple for this feast. John fashions his story of Jesus with that festival as the backdrop to teach the truth about Jesus. I can only conclude that Jesus did not have a problem in praising God for the deliverance brought about by the Maccabees! There certainly is no record of him saying this was wrong.
The claims of those who assert that the NT itself is a constitutional pattern/blue print fail to demonstrate their case exegetically. Jesus certainly respected biblical authority as he was the Living Word itself. Yet he did not have a problem participating in the traditions of his people even when there was clearly no authority, as some want to define it, for that tradition. Thus he drank from the cup, he taught in the synagogue, and he celebrated the feast of Dedication.
Friday, February 08, 2008
I learned on Wednesday that the Christian Chronicle published a review of A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter in the February 2008 issue on p.36. Mark Powell, professor at Harding Graduate School, penned an article nearly an entire page for the Chronicle.
I must say that I was delighted with the positive tone that Powell takes with our book. I think he correctly sees that we articulate an alternative vision of worship to what has been foisted on the Stone-Campbell Movement through the "Five-Acts Model" and the "Edification Model." Powell's only real criticism is that we did not wrestle with the issue of congregational singing in public worship. That is an omission but we were seeking to wrestle instead with the fundamental nature of the assembly. I like the closing two paragraphs of Powell and will quote them here
"Too often discussions of worship revolve around peripheral issues that, even if important, never lead to a deeper understanding of the assembly. Hicks, Melton and Valentine have provided a valuable service by transcending the worship wars and presenting a compelling theology of worship.
Our corporate assemblies would be richer and more spiritually forming if every minister and informed church leader would read and prayerfully meditate on the vision of worship presented in this book."
I am grateful to Dr. Powell for his kind words and I thank God for putting a little bright light into my life right now.
If you do not get the Chronicle you can read all of Powell's review here.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Marcionism & Churches of Christ: What Value, REALLY, is the 'Old Testament?" How Did We Get Here, Campbell & His Sermon
Marcion & Churches of Christ: What Value is the “Old Testament?” Pt. 3 How We Got Here?
You can read part 1 and part 2 through these links
“[T]here is an essential difference between law and gospel—the Old Testament and the New. No two words are more distinct in their signification than law and gospel. They are contradistinguished under various names in the New Testament. The law is denominated ‘the letter’ … The gospel is denominated ‘the Spirit’ …” (Alexander Campbell, Sermon on the Law)
Alexander Campbell’s sermon on the Lord’s Day, September 1, 1816 at the annual meeting of the Redstone Baptist Association was a pivotal event in the hermeneutical and theological development of the Stone-Campbell tradition. Dubbed “The Sermon on the Law,” this speech has wielded as much in influence among the heirs of
At heart the “Sermon on the Law” is a polemic against prevailing uses of the Hebrew Bible on the Frontier in
The main body of the sermon covers four points. First AC establishes his meaning of the word “law” which covered both the Torah and the OT canon itself. He rejects the idea of “moral” law and ceremonial law. Second he discusses what law could not accomplish. Third he explains why law could not do what is described in #2. And finally he pointed out that Jesus brought an end to the law.
From these AC draws five conclusions about the role and nature of the Old Testament in the church. First he draws a sharp distinction between law and gospel. The old covenant was law and the new was not pure and simple. Second Christians are no longer under the law as a rule of life. Third, the preaching of law to prepare a person for Christianity is not necessary. Fourth, all arguments drawn from the OT to support a wide array of practices are illegitimate. Finally, Jesus and not Moses is the supreme object of love, affection and obedience for disciples.
In this Sermon, and in various other essays, AC develops the notion of three dispensations: the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian in place of the prevailing Calvinistic point of view.
Despite its strengths there are a number of serious shortcomings to ACs hermeneutical and therefore his theological approach. The first is that it is simplistic at best, and wrong at worst, to simply equate the “old covenant” with the “Old Testament.” And though the dispensational grid can help the student remember historical setting this approach also, ironically, ignores context in two areas. First this approach almost always (as it did in AC himself) reads the “OT” through the eyes of Paul or Hebrews. This causes the student to forget that Paul and the Hebrew writer had his own historical context that needs to be taken seriously in interpreting what each says about the Hebrew Bible … in the end the OT itself is nearly silenced as a witness to its own purpose(s). Second it ignores the literary context that demonstrates there are profound continuities between these “dispensations.” They are not simply fresh works with no connection to what was before.
Another critical failing in
In addition to the covenant of love there are several other trajectories that are dependent upon the Hebrew Bible for grounding in Christian life, reflection and practice. Here is a short list for your own reflection
The Goodness of Creation
Community/People of God (the solidarity of the people of God)
Worship (yes … worship!)
Christology (the story of the Savior is impossible without the Hebrew Bible)
Our religious tradition (yes it is a tradition) has lived with a polemically driven hermeneutic for reading the Hebrew Bible … and even the Gospels. This debate reading has resulted, often, in a limited understanding of huge portions of the Story of God in Scripture. And as true children of
There are major weaknesses in the prevailing view of the role and authority of the Hebrew Bible in most Churches of Christ. Yet there are also some helpful pointers in Campbell himself to a richer, and more nuanced, place for the “OT” in the Christian faith. Embracing the redemptive-historical framework and unified narrative of the Story will pay rich dividends for our spiritual health in the 21st century. There are two Testaments but there is only one Bible. There are stages and development in Scripture but there is only one Story. In future blogs we will explore this in more detail.
Bobby ValentineP.S. I have been doing my morning prayer time using Gary Holloway's new Daily Disciple: A One-Year Devotional Guide which includes daily meditations from writers like Campbell, Stone, Scott, Garrison, Johnson, and Richardson. So far the selections have been meaningful to my life journey. Daily Disciple is published by Leafwood Publishers.