Archive for September, 2012

The World We All Want – critique

Posted: September 18, 2012 by J in Bible, Book review

The World We All Want

There are two minusses. First, the structure of the course. Obvious options would be to either go for a ‘logical’  structure:

1. God promises a new world

2. we can’t achieve it ourselves because of sin

3. Jesus achieved it for us at the cross

4. now we can participate in the new world as God’s people in Jesus.

OR to take a salvation-history approach

1. God made a good world

2. We spoiled it

3. God promised a new world to Abraham, Israel etc.

4. They all muffed it, etc

5. Jesus finally achieved it

6. We are invited to join in

Either of these would be clear enough. The first maybe simpler for explaining Christian faith to inquirers, the second better as a bible overview maybe for new christians.

Now, here’s the thing: TWWAW tries to do both structures at once! With predictably confusing results. The thing oscillates back and forward a bit strangely. No doubt there’s a kind of logic to it, but not one easy to decipher.
Here’s the titles:

1. God promises the world we all want

2. Jesus shows us God’s new world

3. We have spoiled God’s good world

4. God promises a new world

5. We cannot create God’s new world

6. We can enjoy God’s new world because of Jesus

7. Christians are God’s people waiting for God’s new world

Notice how 1 and 4 seem to cover the same ground? And also 3 and 5 are pretty similar – 2 weeks on human sin and failure. Not what you’d call flow.

This structural convolution might be a refreshing change for those bored after many years of 2Ways2Live. But for the outsider, my guess is it’s probably confusing. Ultimately this backing and forwarding detracts from the clarity and power of the course. There’s not much momentum achieved.

Tomorrow: the other problem with TWWAW

The World We All Want – A Review

Posted: September 17, 2012 by J in Bible, Book review

The World We All Want

THE WORLD WE ALL WANT,  Chester and Timmis

I’ve been looking at this excellent and innovative bible study series again lately. Let’s call it TWWAW. It’s designed as an intro to the Bible course, over 7 weeks.

One of the course’s strengths is how it deliberately tackles gospel issues from a creation-wide perspective. In our massively individualised evangelical scene, that comes as a breath of fresh air. It also starts from a place of connection with ordinary people: there is a world you wish for, what is it like? The punchline of the series is not just you dying and going to heaven – it’s a restored humanity in Christ – brilliant!

Yes folks, the theology at work here is significantly superior to that of other similar courses. And it’s not just the breadth of its scope. Chester and Timmis have grasped that God is committed to this creation, and that his salvation is designed to redeem and rescue it, not throw it away. The world we all want is only going to arrive as God makes it through Christ.  Let’s call it big picture or big S Salvation. This message shapes the course from week 1 to 7. Finally – a biblical storyline maintained throughout an intro to the Bible course!

Of course the creation-focus is not only biblical, it is also engaging for 21st century post-modernists who care about  social and global issues. It gets traction where a traditional ‘God-is-angry-with-you-but-Jesus-can-fix-it’ approach would not. That’s not a bad thing, is it – traction? Why not start where people are at and head towards Jesus?

The concept is creative, insightful of our culture, and nicely presented. Each study presents  several decent sized chunks of Bible reading (all reproduced in the booklet) and just a question or two to follow each. This is a long way from the proof-texting approach we at the Grit dislike so much. The Scriptures get more of a chance to speak for themselves.

The first study is particularly good, using two passages from the end of Revelation to give people God’s vision of the world he is planning. It just works. This approach, starting at the end, has a lot of power to it. It creates the forward thrust that gives the whole series momentum. It sets up  right from the start the framework of God’s ultimate purposes for his creation (i.e. eschatology). And that’s where eschatology belongs: as a big-picture framework for the gospel message. I love it.

These are the main plusses.

Tomorrow: the minusses

Samson and the fall of the house of Israel

Posted: September 15, 2012 by J in Bible

Modelling his Gospel on the Samson story has other pay-offs. It also helps Luke emphasise the note of judgement, which is particularly strong in Luke. The death of Samson is the death of the people and their rulers and the fall of the house of Dagon. But when Jesus dies it is the Jerusalem temple that is symbolically torn apart. Luke has prepared us to see the rejection of Jesus as finally sealing or representing the fall of the house of Israel and of the temple (Luke 13:35, 19:44, 20:15-16). Now this is graphically confirmed by the Samson imagery. There is a secondary echo from 2 Chron. 3 (the other place where the phrase ‘one on the right, the other on the left’ occurs), and there the pillars are actually those of the Jerusalem temple, This reinforces the connection between the phrase and the temple in the mind of the reader. A house is falling, and it is the house of Israel, represented by the temple.

Another function of this intertextual link is to identify the role of the Jews in Luke’s story. They play the part of the Philistines in Judges 16, gloating over the judge of Israel and sending him a death which is ultimately their own. This is of a piece with the numerous reversals in this part of Luke, where Jerusalem and its inhabitants and particularly their leaders are several times cast as enemies of Israel – Babylon etc. Jesus has come as the true judge to conquer the enemies of God’s people – but it turns out to be those in Jerusalem, not the Romans, who are the real enemies. It is for this reason that the promised ‘redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2: 38) requires a complete reconfiguring of the people of God, ‘the falling and rising of many in Israel’ (2:34) – a national death and rebirth, in fact.

How Samson helps Luke with Jesus

Posted: September 14, 2012 by J in Bible

Theological/narrative significance

What’s the point of all this?

By framing Jesus’ story with the story of Samson, Luke achieves two big things. First, he paints Jesus as true ruler and judge of Israel. Throughout Luke, Jesus has described his arrival at Jerusalem as the time of judgement and salvation. However, his crucifixion by gentiles seemed to invalidate this claim (24:21). The Samson connection is highly relevant here, as it suggests to readers that, like Samson’s, Jesus’ death was actually his greatest act of judgement/salvation.

Second, the Samson analogy also helps us understand the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life. Samson’s prodigious strength was explicitly not his own. Also, the Nazirite instruction to avoid wine and strong drink makes it clear that Samson’s strength was not from that source: it was a different spirit, the ‘Spirit of Yahweh’ who would come upon him. These themes are repeated throughout the Samson story. More than any other OT figure, Samson is portrayed as Spirit-empowered. When the Spirit departed, he was weak like any other man (Judges 16:20).

This link helps us to know what to make of Jesus’ extraordinary power and wisdom: it is not native to him, either, but is given him by the Spirit (cf. Luke 4:1,14; 11:20). In Luke we are not taught to see Jesus as powerful in himself: quite the opposite, Luke emphasises how completely dependent his power is. Jesus is the Spirit-filled man par excellence. His power and wisdom remain with him precisely and only because the Spirit remains upon him (cf. Luke 3:22, 4:18, 10:21). This is seen in the fact that his power does vary from time to time (e.g. Luke 5:17). And more than any other factor it is this empowering and leading of the Holy Spirit that enables Jesus to carry out the mission of the Messiah.

Jesus as Samson – Luke’s crazy idea?

Posted: September 13, 2012 by J in Bible

The evidence we’ve seen is overwhelming: Luke models his Gospel on the story of Samson. This much is clear. But this leaves us with some questions.

Is this just Luke?

Well, no – but it is mainly Luke. While the other Gospels obviously contain narrative elements analogous to the Samson stories, Luke is the one pursuing the connection consciously and consistently. He deliberately includes elements in his story which emphasise the analogy with Samson. As an example, only Luke records the angel’s visit to (childless) Zechariah and the Nazirite instructions he gives for the child. Luke shows that he is aware of the analogy with Samson at this point, by using the characteristic phrase from the Samson story, ‘not to drink wine or strong drink’ (Luke 1:15).

Luke also strengthens the link with Judges by altering the language of stories he borrows from Mark. Mark records that two bandits were crucified with Jesus ‘one on his right and one on his left’. Luke takes this from Mark, and changes the word for ‘left’ from the more common euonumos to the rarer aristeros.  This latter is the word used in Samson’s death scene in Judges, and is a more common word than euonumos in the Greek Septuagint version of the OT. In this way Luke adapts Mark’s language to make a connection with the OT, and in particular with the Samson story. Having changed this phrase he then highlights it by adding an emphasising construction (men…de).

Luke is also unusual in making use of rare vocabulary from the Samson narratives. For example, in the Septuagint the word ugros meaning ‘green’ is unique to Judges 16, where it occurs twice. Luke uses this rare word at Jesus’ crucifixion (23:31), its only use in the NT.

Tomorrow: So what?

Jesus as Samson – the rest of the story

Posted: September 12, 2012 by J in Bible

Jesus as Samson – Luke’s Intertextual Analogy

Posted: September 11, 2012 by J in Bible

Luke models his Gospel story on the narrative of Samson from Judges 13-16. He does this plainly and relentlessly throughout his account, but especially at the start and end of the Gospel. There’s so much material drawn from Samson, so many connections made, that you can’t help stumbling across them everywhere.

The fact that no one much in modern scholarship is talking about this narrative technique of Luke’s gives you an idea of the state of Lukan studies. They’re in a sad and sorry state.

Consider these facts:

More of the facts tomorrow.

Thank God for twitter

Posted: September 10, 2012 by deadfliesmike in General

Thank the God of Israel for twitter,
the creative potential of aphorism.
Let there be….. and it was good
The first to see the world spins on the turn of a phrase

Romans in a nutshell by Andrew Errington

Posted: September 10, 2012 by J in Bible

I liked this summary of Paul’s letter to the Romans so much, that I stole it off Andrew’s blog.

I reckon a summary like this that actually gives a coherent reading of the letter, is a huge achievement. There’s many, many hours of study and reading and thought behind this little paper. There’s a lot of greek skill involved too.

Check it out, it’s gold.

Romans in a nutshell
1:1–17 You want to hear some good news? It’s found in Jesus, the Saviour King. In him and his story God has acted to save people like you and me precisely by being righteous.
1:18–32 But first some bad news. God is justly furious at human wickedness, especially human failure to honour him as Creator; and unfortunately, people have no excuse.
2:1–11 Those who see this and cast judgment, though, are equally without excuse, because no partiality on God’s part will alter his judgment according to how lives have been lived.
2:12–29 There is, that is to say, no a priori distinction between Jews and Gentiles: judgment is by works. So the mere realities of circumcision and possession of the Law do not save of themselves!
3:1–8 That doesn’t mean the Jews have no privilege at all. Yet they are not thereby safe. Stay posted on this one!
3:9–20 What this amounts to is that when it comes to ultimate judgment, the Jews have no advantage, for all are under sin. No one, even and indeed especially (!) those under the Law, is righteous before God.
3:21–26 But the good news is: God’s righteousness, by which through the atoning death of Christ he is both just and justifies everyone who has faith in Jesus.
3:27–31 But emphatically, this means there is no room for Jewish boasting about their status before God. having God on your side is not a Jewish prerogative!
4:1–25 This truth is in fact in accordance with the experience of the great father of israel, Abraham. He was justified by faith, not works, making it a work of God’s grace.
5:1–11 The truth, therefore, is that we are justified by the grace that flows from God’s astonishing love. Reconciled to God through Jesus, we are given a sure hope for a secure future.
5:12–21 What Jesus has done, in fact, is no less than to create a whole new life-and-grace-governed humanity, of which the old, condemnation-and-death-bound humanity is a pale reflection.
6:1–14 Does this mean actual sin in our lives doesn’t matter now? No way! We have died and been raised again with Christ and so are in a whole new situation, under grace, not law.
6:15–23 But does sin matter if we’re under grace? Of course it does! To go on in sin would be to literally self-destruct and completely undo the trajectory we’re on to life and holiness.
7:1–25 The Law, therefore, no longer calls the shots. Though in itself it was a good thing, it belonged to the time of enslavement under sin. Indeed its purpose was precisely to reveal sin for what it was, a corrupting, insidious power that destroys the integrity of the human subject and draws her deathwards.
8:1–17 But that time of condemnation has passed for Christians, because God has condemned sin in the humanity of Jesus Christ, his Son so that his people might live in a new way, by the Spirit rather than the flesh, on a wonderful trajectory that ends in the glory of sonship and inheritance.
8:18–39 And that changes everything about life in the present: we groan and suffer, but all without fear, and with deep assurance of God’s love and goodness, because we know he has chosen us.
9:1–29 But what about God’s original chosen people, the Jews? We need to slow down a bit. First, it’s not as though God had ever said every blood descendant of Abraham would be saved. Mysterious though it seems, and hard to stomach as it may be, we’ve always known God chooses.
9:30–10:21 Second, the fact is, the Jews are rejecting God’s actual saving work, which is to save everyone who has faith in his Son Jesus. This means the Jews (and everyone else) needs to be told about him (though we mustn’t pretend they haven’t heard at all — there is real rejection going on).
11:1–36 But third, this doesn’t mean God has rejected his people. There are Jewish Christians now, perhaps many, and moreover, the mission to the Gentiles will eventually lead to Jewish inclusion. God hasn’t given up on the Jews: the Olive Tree of Israel will flourish again and it will be glorious.
12:1–21 In the present, therefore, we who belong to Christ have a new way to live life: love. Love that honours God, rejoices in others, serves their needs, and patiently endures.
13:1–14 And we who know Jesus can engage with our world in a new way, happy to respect authority and joyful in loving our neighbours. We know things are different to what people mostly think.
14:1–15:6 As for relationships with other Christians, there is no place for pride. Opinions will differ, but that must not undo us: judgment belongs to God, each of his people matters to him, and he has entrusted us to each other.
15:7–13 In particular, this means the end of Jew–Gentile hostility. In God’s purposes the two groups are linked through Jesus; both matter.
15:14–33 So, therefore, do Paul’s plans for mission to the Gentiles on the one hand, and aid for the poor in Jerusalem on the other.
16:1–27 Keep going, be careful, and be hopeful. Isn’t the news about God’s work in Jesus to save all nations wonderful!

A Good Protestant Membership Class

Posted: September 9, 2012 by J in Church, Church history