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Archive for the ‘Soteriology’ Category

You may notice, from the poster below,  that I get to give a 10 minute response to what is sure to be a fascinating and controversial paper by Robin Parry.

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Here are a couple of videos which seek to explain some parallels between the gospel of Mark and Isaiah.

It is a little but rough and ready. The readings discussed are

Isaiah 40/Mark 1:1-3

Isaiah 48:20-49:11/ Mark 8:1-9,27-38

Isaiah 42:18-26/Mark 11:1-19

Isaiah 52:13-53:12/Mark 15:16-41

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

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‘Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross’  Seneca Dialogue 3 (De Ira I) 2.2.
γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν. Mark 10:45

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I have battled my way in the last few weeks half-way through this important study by Douglas Campbell. This book offers a serious challenge to justification by faith, whether one takes a ‘Lutheran’ of Wrightian New Perspective.  It offers a new paradigm rather than a new perspective.

I was pleased to see hear that a recent discussion of this book at SBL is available to listen to. It involves a discussion of this book from Gorman, Moo and Torrance with questions from Hays and Wright. Here is the link Thanks to Andy Rowell for making this audio available to those who couldn’t make SBL.

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John Piper, N.T. Wright, and Justification Mp3

Gerald Bray has a written a piece on the Piper/Wright debate here.

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The librarian at Trinity college, Bristol is excellent. I told her about the book ‘Deep Church’ by Jim Belcher which had recieved numerous good reviews. She ordered a copy  which I was able to pick up today.

Deep-Church-200x300The book explores a path, which he calls Deep Church,  which can be taken which avoids both  traditional evangelicalism and the emergent scene.  A friend pinted out to me that people in the UK may get a little confused as there is a ‘Deep Church’ movement/set of books/blogs in the UK.

There is a ‘Deep Church’ website and excerpts can be found here.

Why was I so keen to get my hands on this book?

Firstly, I appreciate the theological leanings of some of the main traditional evangelical preachers/teachers in the UK such as Don Carson, Wayne Grudem and John Piper. However, I do think that the emergent scene has rightly criticized, amongst other things, the impact of modernity in the formulation of rationalistic evangelical theology. This places me in a strange place. I spend half of my time defending a traditional evangelicalism but this, at times, leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps this book will help me be more comfortable with my posiition.  Secondly, a quick look at endorsements reveals that this book is spoken highly of by a wide ranger of scholars and practitioners. ie. Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball. If these people from different theological and ecclesiological positions are in agreement that this is a great book then it should be read. Thirdly, I want to have an ecumenical spirit (I really do) which seeks to build bridges and find unity in the Christian Church. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem Emergent to with Conservative Evangelicalism?… well for starters both camps claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. This book, which seems to be balanced, will explore and critique both traditional and emergent.

Here are some of the endorsements.

“Jim Belcher shows that we don’t have to choose between orthodox evangelical doctrine on the one hand, and cultural engagement, creativity and commitment to social justice on the other. This is an important book.”
—Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

“Smart, passionate, thoughtful, hopeful and Jesus-centered–this is the Jim Belcher I used to hang out with in the early nineties (like it was so long ago!) at the Huntington–and this is the Jim Belcher in this book. Lots of people are going to find this book very helpful.”
—Rob Bell, pastor, Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, author, Velvet Elvis

“Rising above the usual shallow, facile critiques of the emergent church movement, Jim Belcher has written for us a book that, indeed, goes deep. Jim took the time to listen to emergent voices, and as a result, he appreciates the movement for what it is. And, further, his admonitions ring true. While Jim and I have theological differences, I can heartily recommend Deep Church as an invigorating study of and healthy corrective to both the emergent and traditional church.”
—Tony Jones, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (http://tonyj.net)

“Deep Church is a thoughtful, helpful and practical addition to the growing field of missional church thinking.”
—Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, president, Acts 29 Church Planting Network, president, Resurgence

I have just read the first few chapters and am not disappointed. Here are some of the highlights so far.

His goal is to provide  ‘well rounded picture of the emerging community’s conviction’. After surveying many books and blogs he sees the emerging church as being critical of several aspects of the traditional church. (For ordinands we must recognize that this book is from a US perspective and that traditional means ‘traditional evangelical’ as opposed to Anglican traditional which means liturgy and bells and smells).

1) Captivity to Enlightenment Rationalism (Yep! evangelicals do like their water tight theological systems)

2) A narrow view of salvation (Being a Tom Wright and Neo-Calvinist fan I agree with this)

3) Belief before belonging

4) Uncontextualized Worship

5) Ineffective teaching. I have tried to deal with some of this here.

6) Weak Ecclessiology

7) Tribalism

He goes on to mention the three fold division which Ed Stetzer employs to describe the emergent church.

1) Relevants- Driscoll

2) Reconstructionists

3) Revisionists- Emergent Village

In this book Belcher will mainly interact with those of the reconstructionists and revisionist camps.

I am going to enjoy reading this book and may well blog my way through it.



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Vindication of the Son of Man

R.T France rejects a parousia understanding of this passage as the text does not speak of the ‘son of man’ coming to earth but on the basis of its Daniellic background is to be understood, with Mark 8:38, as ‘enthronement, of the the ‘one like the son of man’ coming before the throne of God to be given universal and everlasting dominion. It is the imagery of setting upon a new kingship to replace the failed regimes of previous empires, and it is located not on the earthly scene but in the presence of the God of heaven.’1 Likewise for N.T. Wright , ‘The ‘son of man’ figure ‘comes’ to the Ancient of Days. He comes from earth to heaven, vindicated after suffering. The Danielic story always was one of vindication and exaltation, and was retold as such in the first century.’2

N.T. Wright and R.T France, although as Beasley-Murray shows it does have earlier advocates3, aswell as more contemporary exegetes such as Hatina and Perriman4, follow their understanding of this text on the basis of Daniel 7, with the movement of the ‘son of man’ being from earth to heaven, rather than from heaven to earth.

The Cosmic and Visible ‘Parousia of the Son of Man

For many commentators Wright and France’s understanding is mistaken for the natural reading of Mark 13:26 seems to suggest that the Son of Man comes towards earth. As Morna Hooker states

‘Mark does not tell us in what direction he moves: in Daniel, the one like the son of Man comes to God, and in isolation the saying here could give have the same meaning; on the context Mark gives it, however, it is natural to think that they will see the Son of man coming towards them.’5

Robert Stein, although not unusual in this, argues that the shift of Mark 13 has moved away from the localised destruction of Jerusalem to the parousia of Jesus. This parousia is to be understood as being cosmic and public and on the basis of Matthew’s reading of Mark can arguably be called ‘the close of the age’ (13:39), a time of final judgement (16:27), a time of eternal punishment or eternal life (Matthew 25:31). ‘The traditional interpretation of this verse is more persuasive’ and allows a coherency to be made with ‘parousia’ texts found elsewhere in the the New Testament (1 Cor 16:22, Rev 22:20).6 It is, for Joel Marcus, nothing less, than ‘the glorious advent of the Son of Man.’7, although, interestingly, the witnesses to his descent to earth, the implied subject of ‘they will see’, is ‘the personified celestial powers through whose realm he will make his triumphal descent.’ His coming in the clouds will ‘mark the end of the veiledness that characterises both Jesus and the people of God.’8 For Beasley-Murray, who we may, on the basis of his work on the subject, see as a spokesman for the mainstream view, the parousia is cosmic, final and public,

‘The clouds of his parousia unveil his hitherto hidden glory, which is the glory of God, the Shekinah; he is seen to be the eternal son of God… he also come sin the clouds to effect the divine work of judgement and redemption… so his parousia witnesses the consummation…:the Son of Man calls the dead to judgement, confessing his acceptance of those faithful to him and banishing the faithless (Mt 25:31ff, Mk 8:38, Mt 10:32, his Kingdom triumphs over all and is revealed in power (Mark 9:1)….9

1 R.T France NIGTC see also France Jesus and the Old Testament

2 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. 361

3Beasley-Murray traces its interpretative history from Colani. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future, 259; Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen, 90-93.

4HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13”; Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man.

5Hooker, Gospel According to St Mark, 319.

6Robert H Stein, Mark (Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2008), 610-616.

7J. Marcus, Mark 8-16 (Yale Univ Pr, 2009).

8W. L. Lane, The gospel according to Mark (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 476.

9Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen, 89-90.

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‘The Coming of the Son of Man: Mark 13:24-27

Although popular and naive positivist readings from the text can lead us, at times, to similar interpretative conclusions as the most ardent hermeneutically sensitive scholar.1—I do not want to place authentic reading of scripture simply into the realm of the academy—the hermeneutical chasm, in passages, like Mark 13:24-27 is so great that extra caution, and sensitivity is not just ideal, but required, for the twenty first century interpreter reader simply does not read the text in the same way as the initial readership. 2 This hermeneutical chasm becomes evident in the language of cosmic catastrophe in Mark 13:24-27.

For instance when we hear that the ‘sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken’ we need to ask whether we are right to read this text literally, so that the fall of Jerusalem is followed by a ‘cosmic breakdown’. Or, do we adopt a different understanding of the nature of language and follow N.T. Wright and R.T France, amongst others3, in seeing that the cosmic catastrophe language of Mark 13:24-25 is being used symbolically to describe to describe historical and political events.

N.T. Wright warns us that ‘such language [Mark 13:24-25] cannot be read in a crassly literalistic way without doing it great violence’4 .In chapter ten of New Testament and the People of God, Wright in describing Jewish apocalyptic thought draws attention to two key points. Firstly, he argues that few Second-Temple Jews were ‘looking for the end of the world’–that is the end of the space-time universe. Secondly, he argues that Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature is ‘a complex-metaphor system which invests space-time reality with its full, that is, its theological, significance.’5. Likewise in Jesus and the Victory of God Wright defines Jewish second temple eschatology, and therefore that of Jesus, as being about,

‘the climax of Israel’s history, involving events for which end-of-the world language is the only set of metaphors adequate to express the significance of what will happen, but resulting in a new and quite different phase within space and time history’6.

Wright follows in the line of his teacher and mentor George Caird. However, we should note that Caird does not totally remove the cosmic breakdown language from the bible. Caird famously, in a highly influential book, The Language and the Imagery of the Bible7, wrote,

  1. the Biblical writers believed literally that the world had a beginning in the past and would have an end time in the future.

  1. They regularly used end-of-the-world language metaphorically to refer to that which they knew well was not the end of the world ‘8

N.T. Wright, it seems, takes part of Caird’s analysis very seriously (2) but downplays or rejects any notion of the dissolution of the cosmos (1). He states confidently ‘that there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space-time universe.’9 In stark contrast to Wright’s view Edward Adams in the recently published monograph ‘The Stars Will Fall From Heaven’10, with N.T Wright in his critical sights, has produced an excellent resource in attempting to bring under scholarly focus a variety of texts which refer to ‘cosmic catastrophes’. His conclusions show that Caird’s viewpoint described above (1) does have strong biblical and intertestamental support. After detailed interaction with may texts he reaches the conclusion ‘that the created universe is destined to be dissolved is clearly expressed in the Old testament….. Jewish apocalyptic and related writings.’11

          1. ‘in the light of the comparative evidence, language of a cosmic catastrophe such as we find in the New Testament simply cannot be regarded as conventional, first century language for referring symbolically to socio-political change.’14

        1. ‘In the end, we cannot be entirely certain how the writers (or redactors) of these texts meant the language of global and cosmic catastrophe to be understood.’13

          However, although Adams leaves the door open in some sense, it is closed firmly again for the ambiguity of these passages, does not lead Adams, on the basis of his other studies to allow a question mark to be placed over cosmic catastrophe language used in the New Testament. For ,

  1. If Adams is right, and the evidence certainly points in his favour, then it is clear that Wright has overstated his position. However, this does not mean that all language of ‘cosmic breakdown’ is to be taken literally, for Caird’s second point remains potentially valid for some ‘cosmic catastrophe language, does seem to refer to socio-political events within space and time, and anticipates the continuation, not the cessation, of the present created order. In other words, just because some second temple Jews believed in the end of the world, does not not necessarily mean, as we shall see, that all end-of-the-world language actually refers to the end of the world.

    Adams, himself, leaves the door open for such an interpretation when he, after discussing in a section ‘Global/Cosmic Catastrophe Language in Oracles against Specific Places’12 , concludes,

In contrast to Adams I do not believe that this is the case for Mark 13. A full discussion of Adams scholarly and provocative monograph cannot be given here. However some clarity can be brought into the situation by exploring some of the Old Testament allusions in verse 2415.

Mark 13

Is 13:9-10

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,

cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,

to make the land a desolation

and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light;

the sun will be dark at its rising,

and the moon will not shed its light.

Bearing in mind C.H Dodd, who said that a quote or allusion in the New Testament often presupposes the original Old Testament context behind the allusion and not just the allusion itself,16we must take the context of the Isaiah allusion seriously. When we do we find that Isaiah 13:9-10 is set within an ‘oracle concerning Babylon’(13:1). The focus of the prophecy does appear to be global in places for we have a prophecy of a coming day (v6,9) in which YHWH, as the divine warrior(v4c), will bring destruction to the nations of the world (kingdoms v4 , nations v4 , whole land v5). In contrast to the creative order of Genesis 1:14-18 there will, on the day of YHWH’s visitation, be, whether this is understood as literal or metaphorical, cosmic disorder (10:13). However, following the prophetic narrative flow of Isaiah 13 we see that this language of cosmic disturbances does not result in the disintegration of the cosmos, but in a new age, in which YHWH will restore the fortunes of Israel (Is 14:1-2). We may say then, that Isaiah 13 desribes a localised judgement on Babylon, using symbolically the language of global and cosmic destruction and judgement.

The larger context of Isaiah 13-14 shares a number of parallels with the larger context of the eschatological discourse at a number of levels.

Isaiah 13

Mark 13

YHWH is acting to destroy Babylon. Isaiah 13:1

YHWH is bringing destruction to the temple. (Mk 13:2)

Language of cosmic disturbances is used to set scene for destruction of Babylon

Language of Cosmic Disturbances are being used to describe the destruction of Jerusalem.(Mk 13:24-25)

This is the Day of YHWH’s coming

Jesus embodies the presence of YHWH (Mark 13:3 in the light of prologue.)

Destruction will be followed by restoration (Is 14:1-2)

Tribulation will be followed by the the restoration of God’s people (Mk 13:27)

It is likely, then, given the similarities between Mark 13 and Isaiah 13-14, that the allusion to Isaiah 13:9-10, is meant to evoke not only the allusion itself but its larger context. Although reference is being made in Mark 13:24-25 to ‘cosmic events’ the focus of the judgement is the locality of Jerusalem and the temple, the events of Mark 13:24-25 are part of Jesus’ answer to the disciples question concerning the destruction of the temple. In agreement with Hatina ‘The point which needs to be stressed …. is that the cosmic, universal-type language is used figuratively to describe the demise of a political entity within history. It is not a reference to the closing act of history.17

As YHWH came to judge babylon, he is also coming to punish Israel. As YHWH brought restoration to exiled Israel after the destruction of Babylon, YHWH will bring restoration, through the ‘Son of Man’, to his exiles.

It seems then that Jesus, or the final editor of Mark, intended the readers and hearers to recognise his allusions to Isaiah 13:9-10, and I suggest that it is plausible, and likely, that the readers were intended to also pick up the contexts of the Isaianic background. A similar point, although admittedly more tentative, can be made by comparing Mark 13:25 with MT Isaiah 24:4-5. I say more tentative as it lacks direct textual allusion but both passages evoke the imagery of disturbances in the skies. The target of the this day of vengeance in Isaiah is not Babylon, but Edom. Is Jesus, or the Markan editor, shaping his material in such a way to say that Jerusalem is now like Babylon and Edom ,and will face a judgement within space and time in the form of a socio-poltical catastrophe? To support an affirmative answer to this question we are reminded by Hatina that Isaiah 24:4-5 is followed by the gathering of God’s people, a theme which is also picked up by Mark 13:27. Other possible allusions include Ezekiel 32:7-8, Joel 2:10, 3:15, and Amos 8:9, which, although admittedly being linguistically weaker than Isaiah 13, also, arguably, use cosmic imagery to describe a localised crisis.

Following on from what we have suggested should be understood as the loclaised destruction of Jerusalem we read of ‘ the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.’ (Mark 13:26). Turning to the main commentaries we may feel that an interpreter is basically faced with a choice of either going the way of France and Wright and see this passage as referring to vindication of the Son of Man before the ancient of days, or by following a mainstream position of seeing this passage as prophecy of the visible parousia. Although we shall briefly explore both options, I suggest, that a false choice lies before us, and that the meaning of this passage lies somewhere in between both options, in that Mark 13:24-27 s calling attention to a non-visible parousia, in which Jesus, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated.

1I follow N.T. Wright in adopting a critical-realist reading of scripture which steers a middle course between the extremes of positivism, and naïve realism on the one hand, and extreme post-modern suspicion on the other hand. See Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 31-44.

2 R.T France, before commenting on Mark 13:24-27, rightly points out, “The key to this understanding in particular of vv. 24–27 lies in our willingness and ability to hear the prophetic imagery as it would have been heard by those in Jesus’ day who were at home in OT prophetic language, rather than as it is ‘naturally’ heard by Christian readers for whom the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ has since gained a different connotation through its association with the idea of παρουσία (a word which is conspicuously absent from this discourse in Mark)France, The Gospel of Mark.

3Andrew Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church (Paternoster Press, 2005), 38-47.

4 Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 284.

5 Ibid., 299.

6 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 209.Also of note is his response to criticism of Dale Allision in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press).

7G. B. Caird, “The Language and Imagery ofthe Bible,” London: Duckworth 1: 980.

8 Ibid., 256.

9Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 299.

10Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven.

11Ibid., 252.

12Ibid., 35-44.

13Ibid., 44.

14Ibid., 253.

15See the detailed analysis provided by Rikki Watts in G K Beale and D A Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Apollos, 2008), 225-227.

16 The biblical writers often worked with an illusion in its original context. This does not mean that they could not creatively transpose it do a different key, its original context often steers the transposition. As Dodd days ‘In general, then, the writers of the New Testament, in making use of passages from the Old Testament, remain true to the main intention of their writers. Yet the actual meaning discovered in a given passage will seldom, in the nature of things, coincide precisely with that which it had in its original context. The transposition into a fresh situation involves a certain shift, nearly always an expansion, of the original scope of the passage.’ C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: the sub-structure of New Testament theology (Nisbet, 1952).

17HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13,” 53-59.

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Universalism and Logic

I thought that the debates of Calvinism and Arminianism were a thing of my past. Yet today at college the debate has once more reared its head. The Rev. Ravi Holy offered in a lively passioante presentation a case for universalism. In 2.5 hours so much ground was covered. He sought to distinguish universalism from pluralism and in a philsophical/ethical/theological tour de force he put forward the poposition that ‘all people, through Christ, will be reconciled to God.

To arrive at his conclusion he anaylsed the logic of calvinism and arminianism.

Calvinism:

a) God is sovereign,

b) he desires some to saved.

a+b= Some are saved

Arminianism:

a) God is not soverign in salvation due to freewill

b)he desires all to be saved.

a+b= Some are saved.

Ravi then critiques each position. He thought the restrictivism of the Calvinist position (b) to be unbiblical and not something which can be harmonised with the idea of God being pure love. (an attribute which he think is the bedrock for discusses all other attributes). Likewise he rejects the anti-soverign (a) position of Arminianism.

Putting the other points together (Calvinist a and Arminian B) he hold to the posiiton of God loves and desiring all to be saved and also God soverignly bringing this to pass.  He agrees with Tom Talbot

‘If you simply take the Augustinian idea of God’s sovereignty in the matter of salvation… and put it together with the Arminian idea that God at least wills or desires the salvation of all, then you get Universalism, plain and simply’

What was missing from the presentation was any sustained exegesis of scripture. Logic seemed to play the dominant role. It seems to me that soteriology does not find authority by the laws of coherence or logic. The norm of Soteriology must be taht of scripture. In the exegesis of scripture we see that our minds cannot comprehend of put together in a logical synthesis all of its divergent voices. In my reflections upon Romans 1-4 (amongst others) I cannot see universalism as an option but this does not mean that my position is logically watertight. Does theology have to be logically watertight (trinity, dual nature of Christ) 

All in all an interesting afternoon with plenty of soteriological food for thought.

Here is a couple of links on universalism.

Richard Baukham ‘History of Universalism’ 

A page at theological studies website on universalism. and a review of the Evangelcial Universalist

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