Sunday, November 22, 2020

Romans 14, Worship and the World to Come

 A write-up about church, followed by a brief book write-up:

A. Bible study today was about Romans 14. Romans 14 is about the strong and the weak believers and how the strong believers should be compassionate about where the weaker believers are. The pastor interpreted this in light of the return of Jewish Christians to Rome after their expulsion by Claudius. Jewish Christians were returning to churches where they once predominated and maybe even founded, and the churches now were run by Gentiles. Jewish Christians opposed eating improperly slaughtered meat, which had not been drained of blood, and they also refrained from pork and observed the Sabbath day. Gentile Christians lacked such scruples. Gentile Christians were to exercise tolerance and love towards the returning Jewish Christians. All of their focus was to be glorifying God: giving thanks to God and testifying to others about who God is to them. Righteousness is based, not on food laws, but on peace with God through Christ and the joy in the Holy Spirit that results from that.

The pastor was saying that such issues were adiaphora: things neither abandoned nor forbidden. The problem, though, is that the Jewish Christians believed that their scruples reflected God’s command. Or did they? The pastor talked as if they sincerely believed that God was the source of their scruples, yet he also referred, by analogy, to a woman in his past congregation who continued to use rosary beads. She was not praying to Mary, but, as an ex-Catholic who had become a Lutheran, she was holding on to a custom that had given her peace. Was that what the Jewish Christians were doing: holding on to customs that had given them spiritual nourishment, without believing that everyone was obligated to observe those customs?

The pastor also referred to I Corinthians 8, which is about meat sacrificed to idols. Corinth was a polyglot society, and various peoples brought their different gods and cults into Corinth. To financially support their temples, they sold the sacrificial meat on the market, and the meat was often cheaper than the “farmer’s market” meat. According to the pastor, both the “strong” and the “weak” acknowledged that the idol was nothing, but those who opposed eating the meat sacrificed to idols based their stance on their opposition to supporting pagan cults and their belief that such a purchase gave the idols credibility.

The pastor also brought up the issue of temptation. Churches may decide not to have dances so as to avoid tempting those who struggle sexually, or they may refrain from using only alcohol at communion so as to avoid tempting the recovering alcoholic. This brings me back to my question, though: did the “weaker” brothers sincerely believe that violating the Jewish law was a sin, not simply a matter of adiaphora? Why else would they worry about being tempted to eat pork or work on the Sabbath? Or did they recognize that such things were not sinful but that they had a difficult time moving on from them? But, against the latter possibility, Paul in Romans 14 says “to him it’s a sin.”

Another issue: according to Genesis 9 and the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15, even Gentiles are prohibited by God and the church to eat blood. So concern about animal slaughter should not just be a Jewish Christian issue but of concern to Gentile Christians as well. Or did Paul view aspects of the Acts 15 ruling as a tentative concession to Jewish sensibilities, not as a permanent law?

The pastor referred to the view that Paul’s language about “strong” and “weak” is based on Ezekiel 34, in which the strong sheep oppress the weak sheep. Paul wants the stronger Christians to be compassionate towards the weak, not oppressive.

B. Glenn Packiam. Worship and the World to Come: Exploring Christian Hope in Contemporary Worship. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

Glenn Packiam has a doctorate in Theology and Ministry from Durham and pastors at New Life Church in Colorado

This book attempts four tasks. First, Packiam nuances the definitions of hope and worship. Second, Packiam discusses the eschatologies of N.T. Wright and J. Moltmann. Third, Packiam looks at the worship songs used by a Presbyterian and a charismatic church. What he finds is that their hope is rooted in God’s activity in the present, not the future, and he speculates that this may be because of the churches’ well-off economic status in the West. Fourth, Packiam observes that the songs still minister to people in tangible ways, which he believes is from God’s Spirit, and he attempts to account for how God can use shallow lyrics. Still, perhaps because he sees a need to tie the book together, Packiam gives a nod to contemporary worship songs that actually manifest an eschatological hope.

The nuanced delineation of hope adds a depth to the book. Packiam’s discussion of eschatology refrains from being a solely banal account of how N.T. Wright believes in a physicalist eschatology (renewed creation) but gets into how Wright believes Paul recapitulates Old Testament hopes in Jesus, differences between Wright and Moltmann on the millennium, and the question of whether God will destroy the old earth and create a new one. The analysis of the worship songs raises noteworthy observations, though Packiam perhaps could have interacted more with why the Presbyterian congregation’s songs focus a lot on the past, not just the present. The stories about why people are drawn to particular church services, and how these services minister to them, is also worth reading.

Occasionally, Packiam refers to skeptical positions: the view that hope is escapism, and the view that the positive feelings that people get from church services is psychological rather than caused by the Holy Spirit. Packiam could have interacted with these views more, but, as it is, the book is deep, insightful, and inspiring.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Romans 13 and Approaching the Atonement

 A write-up about church today, followed by a brief book write-up:

A. Bible study was about Romans 13, in which Paul exhorts Christians to submit to the governing authorities. Paul’s exhortation is in line with the fourth commandment, which, in Lutheranism, is “Honor your father and your mother.” The primary unit of society is the family, with the parents at the head. Because a parent cannot govern an entire nation or congregation, parents devolve their authority to governments and pastors, respectively. The governing authorities, in effect, serve as the parents of the nation, and pastors act as parents to the church. God gives governing authorities as a gift, that there might be societal order. Christians are to obey this order, so long as the Gospel is not at stake or the State’s law does no harm to one’s neighbor. Because Christians may arrive at different conclusions as to what policies do this, refusal to obey the State is a matter of personal conscience, based not on selfishness but rather on love of God and neighbor. Luther taught the doctrine of two realms: there is the realm of the State and the realm of the Gospel and the church. Both can support each other, but they are separate realms. Calvin, by contrast, sought to create the Kingdom of God on earth, with the governing authorities serving as priests. Such a mindset influenced America, particularly the Puritanical conception of New England as a new Israel and as a city on a hill, manifesting God’s righteousness to the nations.

B. Oliver D. Crisp. Approaching the Atonement: The Reconciling Work of Christ. IVP, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

Oliver D. Crisp is professor of analytic theology at the University of St. Andrews. This book covers different models of the atonement, as well as attempts to integrate them with one another.

This book is not a mere rehash of atonement models. Crisp probes deeper, as he asks how each model accomplishes atonement. When he discusses Irenaeus’s doctrine of recapitulation, that Christ in the incarnation recreated humanity, Crisp inquires how exactly the incarnation did so. Crisp also draws distinctions. He states that the ransom model is technically distinct from the story that God fooled Satan through Christ’s death, causing Satan to overreach. Crisp also distinguishes between Anselm’s satisfaction model and penal substitution. Penal substitution is based on Anselm but is distinct from his model, for Anselm depicted Christ paying a price owed by sinners (death) with abundant merit, whereas penal substitution states that Christ was actually punished in place of sinners. Crisp’s step-by-step articulation of Anselm’s model impressively demonstrates how intricate it is. Ultimately, Crisp seems to lean towards a “union with Christ” model, in which believers, by union with Christ, become transformed humanity and are seen by God as righteous.

Crisp’s chapter on whether the atonement glorifies violence could have been better, for it fails really to account for why God would choose a violent means to reconcile humanity with him. Perhaps the book also would have been stronger had Crisp addressed how the cross humiliates powers and principalities, a la Colossians 2:15. Still, the book is excellent due to its nuanced discussion.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Romans 12:1-2

 Some items from church:

Sunday school covered Romans 12:1-2. In the KJV, that reads: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

—-The pastor treated “by the mercies of God” as the key to understanding and applying Romans 12-14. Apart from that phrase, he said, those chapters become a bunch of laws. “By the mercies of God” provides them with a Gospel context. Because of, in light of, and shaped by the mercies of God, Christians love each other, their enemies, and outsiders (Romans 12). “By the mercies of God,” they behave as good citizens (Romans 13). “By the mercies of God,” they take into consideration where each other is spiritually and take heed not to make their Christian brother or sister stumble (Romans 14).

That reminds me of what the pastor said last week about Romans 11: that Christians are not to look down on one another because all of us are sinners in need of God’s mercy. That Gospel is to shape how we see ourselves and one another.

Looking at the Greek, though, “by the mercies of God” is dia plus a genitive. Dia plus a genitive is “through the mercies of God.” Dia plus an accusative is “on account of.” The pastor’s interpretation would make more sense if the phrase were dia plus an accusative. But how do we understand it when it is dia plus a genitive? Is Paul’s point more consistent with a Roman Catholic concept: God, by means of infusing grace, enables Christians to do all of these things? Or is the pastor’s interpretation consistent with “through the mercies of God”: through God’s mercy and our reception of it, Christians have the mindset that helps them to do those things?

—“Reasonable service.” The word translated “reasonable” is logike. The pastor said that is a hapaz legomena: it only appears in Romans 12:1, though II Peter 2:2 has a similar word. It is almost as if Paul made it up. The reason that the KJV renders it as “reasonable” is that it is related to “logos,” which denotes structure, order, and the organizing principle of the cosmos, what gives order to all else. The pastor proposed another interpretation, however. He said that he personally dates John’s Gospel earlier than most scholars do. In light of that, Paul may have known of John 1’s identification of Christ as the logos. Therefore, logike in Romans 12:1 means Christ-effected and Christ-shaped worship and service. A student offered that perhaps “reasonable” still makes sense, though: in light of Christ’s mercy to Christians, it is appropriate and reasonable for Christians to offer themselves as living sacrifices.

—-The pastor noted that “conformed” and “transformed” are passive. These things happen to us. Due to our ruined nature and the messages that come to us, we become conformed to the world, the flesh, and the devil. In so doing, we are allowing something that is passing away—-the world—-to shape and influence us, our desires, and our choices. But, because of the mercies of God, the Holy Spirit transforms Christians. Light breaks into the crevices of our hearts when the law breaks and convicts us, but the Gospel of God’s love and grace is what transforms us.

—-The pastor defined Greek anthropology as a trichotomy of mind, spirit, and body. The mind is the seat of intelligence and will. The spirit is what animates the body. The body is the physical part of human beings and the seat of their passions. When people die, however, it is their spirits that go to Hades or the good realm. Can a spirit exist apart from the mind, however? I should note that Plato treated reason and the passions as parts of the soul.

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