Archive for September, 2013

Spirit“The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, played a most significant and extremely important role in the life of Jesus, in every part and at every phase of his life [i.e., according to the Gospels, these events in Jesus’ life cannot be understood without reference to the Spirit: conception and birth, baptism, temptation, public ministry, resurrection, ascension].

If all of this is so, if indeed Jesus was God having become truly human, if indeed Jesus really experienced the same kinds of things that all other human beings experience, suffered the same kinds of pains they suffer, felt the same emotions they feel, knew the same lure of temptation they know, and so on, and if indeed Jesus stood strong against all the kaleidoscopic adversities of human existence and resisted all the many pressures to cave in, quit, giving up the cause, and go his own way, and if indeed Jesus finally brought his God-given mission to a triumphant completion–and all of this because he was a person filled with the Spirit–then the followers of Jesus are faced with a stupendous fact: Not only is Jesus their Savior because of who he was and because of his own complete obedience to the Father’s will (cf. Heb. 10:5-7), but he is the supreme example for them of what is possible in a human life because of his own total dependence upon the Spirit of God.  Jesus is living proof of how those who are his followers may exceed the limitations of their humanness in order that they, like him, might carry to completion against all odds their God-given mission in life–by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus demonstrated clearly that God’s intended way for human beings to live, the ideal way to live, the supremely successful way to live, is in conjuction with God, in harmony with God, in touch with the power of God, and not apart from God, not independent of God, not without God.  The Spirit was the presence and power of God in Jesus, and fully so.  Thus the life of Jesus was the realization on earth, perhaps for the first time, of God’s ideal for human beings, the fulfillment of the divine intention for them when God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26).  But Jesus’ life was not only the realization of that ideal, it is the pattern to follow, the source of hope for every succeeding generation of Jesus’ followers.” (Gerald F. Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus, pp. 233-34)


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Wright“Kasemann’s insight–that Israel is paradigmatic for humankind in general–may yet have something to teach us, even if not exactly in the way he imagined.  And when the church really turns to face this task [i.e. unveiling and embodying God’s righteousness to the world], as it must if it is to be true to its vocation, it will find (as Paul saw in 2 Corinthians particularly) that its role is Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed…The church is called to do and be for the world what the Messiah was and did for Israel.  All that has been said so far must therefore call into question a good deal that is done in and by the church in pursuit of its own security and self-importance.  The church must find out the pain of the world, and must share it and bear it.

When that task is done, then Paul’s theology suggests that what we call ‘natural evil’ will also, finally, be undone.  God’s covenant purpose was to choose a people in and through whom the world would be healed.  That purpose, reaching its climax in the Messiah, is now to be worked out through his people.  The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and come to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God; and in the meantime the Church is to share the groaning of the world in the faith that her own groanings are in turn shared by the Spirit.  The Spirit thus accomplishes within the church what, mutatis mutandis, the Torah accomplished within Israel.  Just as the sin and death of the world were concentrated, by means of Torah, on Israel, so now the pain and grief of the world is to be concentrated, by means of the Spirit, on the Christos, the family of the Messiah, so that it may be healed (Romans 8:18-30).  This is the very antithesis of all Christian triumphalism or imperialism.

Paul thus offers in Romans…not only a theology of israel and her paradoxical fate and future, but also a theology of and for the world in its pain and longing for justice, and of and for the church in her vocation to share that pain and to work for that justice.  It is a theology which, based on a clear view of the transcendent God now made known in and through Jesus of Nazareth and the Spirit, calls and drives the church towards the twin goals of mission and unity, that God may be all in all:

And though the last lights off the black West went,

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

(G. M. Hopkins, ‘God’s Grandeur’)

N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, pp. 256-57

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Lord Over All

hood“Jesus’ humanity is often neglected and unexplored when Christians focus exclusively on his divinity. But the Christian faith stands or falls (1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Jn. 7) on the truth that Jesus ‘is man as man was meant to be.’ If the significance of Jesus’ humanity is often not fully appreciated, his status as a human king is also underplayed. Terms like Messiah (Christ), Lord and Son of God tend to be used without regard for the royal status those terms originally carried. But the gospel and the Gospels show us that God has not abandoned his plan to have humans rule the earth. His kingdom now as at the beginning is tied to his plan to fill the earth with his royal image. The great drama in Scripture revolves around the question, when will humans be the rulers God intended them to be? Because of humans’ inability, the Messiah is the substitute, the true human and true king. The arrival of the reign of God is the reinstatement of the originally intended divine order for earth, with man properly situated as God’s vice regent (number two ruler). In other words, what is new about God’s kingdom when Jesus is enthroned is not that God is on the throne in a new way, but that a human is finally enthroned with him…A human is now enthroned over all according to God’s original plan for his world.” (Jason B. Hood, Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern, p. 63)

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“The world of the Enlightenment has been ready with its counter-Christian polemic.  ‘What good,’ it asks, ‘has the church ever done for us?  It’s produced nothing but squabbles, crusades, inquisitions, and witch burnings.  The church is part of the problem, not part of the solution.’  Well, of course you have to tell the story that way if you are Voltaire, eager to wipe out the ‘scandal’ of the church, or indeed if you are a postmodern journalist ready to sneer at God’s apparent representatives (the oftne muddled clergy) to stop yourself from having to take God himself seriously.  But the failure of Christianity is a modern myth, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of telling the proper story of church history, which of course has plenty of muddle and wickedness, but also far more than we normally imagine of love and creativity and beauty and justice and healing and education and hope.  To imagine a world without the gospel of Jesus is to imagine a pretty bleak place, the cultural and ideological equivalent of those horrible 1960’s buildings that were structures without spirit, boxes without beauty, all function and no flourish.” (N. T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, pp. 162-63)


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“It must be remembered that the meaning of a word is not fixed and unalterable, but changes and develops when the word receives a novel application: this happens above all when something radically new comes into being and has to be described.  To take a trivial case, the English word ‘car’ acquired a significant extension of meaning through the introduction of the internal combustion engine.  Infinitely more radical in its effect upon the relevant language was the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: the meaning of the words which the Christians applied to Him was not merely extended, but basically transformed…In Christ St. Paul was a new creation, and his vocabulary also was created anew as familiar words were enhanced by novel applications.” (D. E. H. Whiteley, The Theology of St. Paul, p. 101)

“If the early Christians needed the Scriptures to make sense of their experience of Jesus, they also needed their experience of Jesus to make sense of the Scriptures.” (Sean M. McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine, pp. 235-36)


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hays“What appears explicitly in Paul’s arguments is really directed by what seldom appears explicitly and directly but is always present implicitly, namely the story of Jesus the Messiah…Unless we understand that Paul and his readers share a story and that Paul seeks both to allude to and to apply that story in ways that correct their misapprehensions and clarify the story’s implications, we do not read him right.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, “Foreword” to Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, 2nd ed., xi, xv)

“The framework of Paul’s thought is constituted neither by a system of doctrines nor by his personal religious experience but by a ‘sacred story,’ a narrative structure.  In these texts, Paul ‘theologizes’ by reflecting upon this story as an ordering pattern for thought and experience; he deals with the ‘variable elements’ of the concrete situation (for instance, the challenge of his opponents in Galatia) by interpreting them within the framework of his ‘sacred story,’ which is a story about Jesus Christ…Paul does not, of course, simply retell the story in his letters, although he alludes to it constantly.  He assumes that his readers know the gospel story, and his pervasive concern is to draw out the implications of this story for shaping the belief and practice of his infant churches…The story provides the foundational substructure upon which Paul’s argumentation is constructed…We can best ‘follow’ Paul’s thought when we know the outline of the story; otherwise, when we read a Pauline letter, we are overhearing one side of an argument over the interpretation of a story that we have never heard.” (Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, 2nd ed., pp. 6-8)

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“The heart of Paul’s strategy for self-defense in this letter [2 Corinthians] is his claim that his very person serves as a ‘rhetorical abbreviation” of the gospel.  We see this especially in 2 Cor. 4:10, where…Paul explains how his very real life and self constitute a synecdoche of the gospel: through the apostle’s likeness to Jesus’ dying the full incorporation and depiction of the entirety of the gospel, including resurrection, is represented in Paul’s very body for all to see…The apostle, by holding unwaveringly to the unity of death and life in the gospel…reinterprets his sufferings over and against his opponents.  His sufferings, far from repudiating his authenticity as a [servant of Christ], are instead his very marks of apostolic identification with his Lord, not only in death but also in the resurrection which it must imply.” (Margaret M. Mitchell, “Rhetorical Shorthand in Pauline Argumentation: The Functions of ‘the Gospel’ in the Corinthian Correspondence,” in Gospel in Paul: Studies on Corinthians, Galatians and Romans for Richard N. Longenecker, eds. Jervis and Richardson, pp. 78-79)

“Paul’s suffering has come to function as a visual counterpart to the oral proclamation of the gospel.” (P. B. Duff, “The Language of Processions in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10,” BTB 21 (1991), p. 163)

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