April DeConick recently started a new series of posts entitled Jesus on the Road to Nicaea. The series explores the issues, both theological and sociological, that influenced Nicaea. While definitely a quick overview, she provides some food for thought. You can read her posts here:
The latest Nooma offer, Whirlwind, has been posted by the good people at Flannel on their website to watch in its entirety. It beautifully explores suffer and Job. If you have ever gone thorugh difficult times, this is a much watch. Don't know how much longer it will be up, so swing by and enjoy.
I'm spending the day doing some much needed writing on my thesis. [More on this later...]
In the meantime, I've been chewing a bit on this post by Robert Cargill. Maybe you're like me, I grew up hearing "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" until it became a mantra. I've always felt a bit uncomfortable with this kind of thinking. It seems so trite and so self-centered, like God exists for me and my "wonderful plan." I've also never really been satisfied with how we reconcile the issues of pain and evil into this "wonderful plan" thing. Seems like our efforts are all to fraught with mental and theological gymnastics.
Cargill answers the pressing question, "Does God really have a wonderful plan for our lives?" His answer and thoughts may surprise you. It is a read well worthy of your time and pondering.
My copy of Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision
arrived this week on my doorstep. I've been waiting to clear some room in my reading calendar in order to jump into this one. Before the book was released, Jamie and I had dinner with Tom and Maggie and asked him about the book. He said he was perhaps one of the most important books he had written. I'm sure I'll have more to add when I get some time to digest the book.
Until then, Scot McKnight has offered up some insightful posts and thoughts on the book in his series Justification and New Perspective [now up to thirteen posts]. You can follow and be a part of the discussion here.
But if intention to remain “true” to a “tradition” (which already assumes its non-growth) drives an academic assessment of real evidence (most of which was wholly unavailable when the tradition’s trajectories were set), one runs the risk of adjusting evidence to what one already “knows” to be true. We do not tolerate such sloppy thinking in any other area of human discourse, but when it comes to theological discourse in some circles, it seems to be the preferred method of interaction. When one’s position is by definition unfalsifiable, any meaningful exchange of ideas functionally ceases. Any tradition that aims to promote truth rather than obscure it must be eager to be open to critical evaluation.
Scott Bailey over at Scotteriology had this to add to the "inerrancy discussion" as of late:
There is one giant problem I see with many discussions on inerrancy. On one level this problem is so insurmountable it is a discussion I don’t even bother having anymore with those of differing views because at the end of the conversation the beginning assumptions are so different that any “common ground” is almost impossible.
In a nutshell, one side of the discussion, conservative inerrantists, prefers a deductive synchronic approach to the text and the other, biblical scholarship, prefers an inductive diachronic approach to the text. These interpretive assumptions and methods are so different as to leave the opposing camps with essentially different Bibles, hence, the arguments.
I think he has hit upon something. When we enter a discussion with an a priori assumption, or pre-arrived understanding, we hinder ourselves from having our assumptions and understandings refined. In the case of the scriptures, it is all too easy to come at the text with a preconceived understanding of the nature of the text based upon a theological position, rather than one derived form the text itself.
Inerrancy is an implicit theological position in regards to the text, but is it explicitly demonstrated in the text?
In light of some recent conversations [here, here, and here], I've been doing some extra thinking about the issue of inerrancy. [And yes, this might be a controversial post for some...]
I grew up in a tradition that highly valued the scriptures and highly valued inerrancy. The reasoning went something like this: If the Bible contains errors and contradictions, then how can we trust God? In other words, if the Bible was not "truthful" in everything, then God, as author, could not be trusted as "truthful." Closely behind was the following: If the Bible does indeed contain errors, then God is either not all-powerful [as he cannot somehow keep these errors from occurring], or he is not all-good [as he does not care enough about the witness of the text].
Both of these arguments are admittedly tenuous at best, but that is not the issue here. What I have been pondering lately is the doctrine itself, especially in what the term "inerrant" is meant to convey about the text.
When we speak about the idea of inerrancy, what quality are we trying to bring to the text? Are we saying that the text is "perfect" and without "error"? If this is the case, what are we to do with apparent discrepancies in the text? Do we attempt elaborate harmonizations in order to rectify seemingly contradictory accounts or data?
For some, discrepancies concerning geneologies, names, numbers, and locations are to be accepted, but not when it comes to matters of theology and ideology, which raises the question of whether such separations can even be so cleanly divided in the text. How can we accept some discrepancies one place, but not another? By definition, it seems that the text needs to be either completely inerrant or not.
I think this leads us back to the larger question - What do we mean by characterizing the text as "inerrant"? What are we trying to communicate concerning the nature of the text? Should the discussion and nomenclature we use be nuanced better than it is currently? [Is it anachronistic to use a modern ideological category upon a text and a people who do not carry the same concern with "historicity"?]
It seems to me that this issue has some very profound ramifications attached to it.
I have my own suspicions, but would love to hear other's journey with this. Feel free to jump in, just be civil and play nice...
Trevin Wax: What would you say are the key differences between you and Piper on justification?
N.T. Wright: Well, I set justification within the
larger Pauline context, where it always comes, of God’s purposes to
fulfill his covenant promise to Abraham and so to rescue the whole
creation, humankind of course centrally included, from sin and death.
Piper holds that Abrahamic context at arm’s length.
Second, I understand justification as basically a law-court term,
where it means the judge’s creative declaration that a person is ‘in
the right’ in terms of the lawcourt, whereas Piper holds that
justification involves the accrediting to a person of the moral, not the forensic, ‘righteousness’ of Christ – something Paul never says (as J. I. Packer admits).
Third, I understand Paul’s doctrine of justification as eschatological,
that is, the justification of the faithful in the present time is both
the fulfilment of the long story of Israel and the anticipation of the
eventual verdict to be delivered on the last day, as in Romans 2.1-16
Fourth, in line with many Reformed readers of scripture, including
Calvin, I understand Paul’s doctrine of justification to be of those
who are ‘in Christ’, whereas Piper and others don’t make that a central
element in justification itself. Conversely, for Piper the center of
justification is the ‘imputation’ of ‘the righteousness of Christ’,
seen in terms of ‘righteousness’ as a kind of moral achievement earned
by Jesus and then reckoned to those who believe. I believe that this is
an attempt to say something close to what Paul actually says in Romans
6, namely that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is
‘reckoned’ to those who are ‘in him’. Putting it the way Piper (and one
part of the Reformation tradition) puts it is a pointer to something
which is truly there in Paul, but one which gives off misleading
signals as well.
Finally, for Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in
the future (on the last day) as in the present, whereas for Paul, whom
I am following very closely at this point, the future justification is
given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the
justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives. In fact, the
omission of the Spirit from many contemporary Reformed statements of
justification is one of their major weaknesses.
Closing out the interview, Wax ask the question:
Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate
over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours,
what would they be missing?
N.T. Wright: What’s missing is the big, Pauline
picture of God’s gospel going out to redeem the whole world, all of
creation, with ourselves as part of that.
What’s missing is the big, Pauline view of the church, Jew and
Gentile on equal footing, as the sign to the powers of the world that
Jesus is Lord and they aren’t.
What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the
already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that
they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as
Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in
What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let's move on. I have to say that I've really been enjoying Rohr's book, Things Hidden: Scripture As Spirituality. It has challenged and pushed me to think deeply on a variety of issues. This morning I sat with my cup of coffee and read the chapter "The Resented Banquet," which I think is one of the best in the best in the book.
The chapter is a discussion on the issue of grace, where he likens the larger narrative of the scriptures as an invitation to banquet with our Creator. [More on this in another post.] In the middle of the chapter, while talking about our mindset of works and performance-based Christianity, he makes a few comments on the nature of heaven and hell that I found fascinating, if not a little provocative...
Instead of images of states of life, they [heaven and hell] became both threats and carrots on a stick. Most religions seem to have similar metaphors symbolizing the ultimate imperatives; it is an important way of saying that our decisions do have consequences and meaning in eternity...
Unfortunately, we made them into physical places instead of descriptions of states of mind and heart and calls to decision in this world. That is precisely what John Paul II's point. We pushed the whole thing off into the future, and took it out of the now. Inasmuch as we did so, we lost the in-depth transformative power of the Christian religion. Threat and fear is not transformation. It became a souls-saving society for the next world, instead of a healing of the body, soul and society now - and therefore - forever!
All of Jesus' healings, touchings and "salvations" (Luke 7:50; 17:19; 19:9) were clearly now. He never once said, "Be good now, and I will give you a reward later." Show me one prerequisite that Jesus ever has for a single one of his healings. The healing now seems to be an end in itself and has nothing to do with earning it.
For Jesus all rewards are inherent to the action itself, and all punishments are inherent to the action itself, but we largely pushed all rewards and punishments into the future... It is clearly "Now and forever" talk in Jesus, but we made it into "Not now, but perhaps forever if you play the game right."
What you choose now, you will have then. God is giving everyone exactly what they want. Mature religion creates an affinity, a connaturality, a kinship between this world and the next. One is not a testing ground for the next, but a "practicing" and choosing for the next. Christianity is quite simply "practicing for heaven." If you want it later, do it now, and God seems to be saying, "I will give you whatever you want."
You do not transform people by threatening them with hellfire, because then the whole thing is grounded in fear and not love, and heaven is not fear. Remember, how you get there determines where you finally arrive. You cannot prepare to love by practicing fear. Means determines the end: Fear creates hell; love creates heaven. No one will be in heaven who does not want to be there. No one will be in hell who does not want to be there. [pp. 173-4]
Now, before you post a comment in haste, stop and think about the quote. Perhaps you want to give it 24 hours before you comment. Read the quote a few times. Ask yourself some questions. Let the quote ferment a bit...
This morning we sang these words as a community. It was a great reminder of the hope we have for this season:
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.