Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Morning Prayer from the Common Worship of the Church of England
The prayers of the Church are a gift.
Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Morning Prayer from the Common Worship of the Church of England
If you’re waiting to get out of trouble to praise God, you will never praise God.
—Tony Merida, sermon on November 20, 2016
It turns out the fastest way to get me to write 1,700 words on hermeneutics is to misread Tolkien.
I am reading John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision for the independent study on hermeneutics and theological method I am doing this summer. I have found the book fairly helpful overall, and think the authors are right to commend the church Fathers as models for Biblical interpretation in many ways. The authors do good (albeit somewhat tendentious) work arguing for whole-Bible/“intensive reading” strategies and the validity of typology as part of theological method. When they come to allegory, though, their argument almost immediately goes off the rails with a deeply misguided interpretation of The Lord of the Rings….
You can read the rest over at Mere Orthodoxy.
No one is ‘not worthy’ of our service in the body of Christ.
—Tony Merida, sermon at Imago Dei Church on March 6, 2016
N. T. Wright makes it painfully clear that it’s difficult (if not impossible) to understand Jesus fully and rightly without having a deep knowledge of the Old Testament:
Equally impressive are the strong hints, throughout the gospels, that Jesus was modelling his ministry not on one figure alone, but on a range of prophets from the Old Testament. Particularly striking is his evocation of the great lonely figure Micaiah ben Imlach (1 Kings 22), who, when asked about the coming battle, predicted the death of Ahab, king of Israel, by saying, ‘I saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no sheperd.’ Jesus, looking at the crowds, takes pity on them, because that is what they remind him of: leaderless sheep. Like Ezekiel, Jesus predicts that the temple will be abandoned by the Shekinah, left unprotected to its fate. Like Jeremiah, Jesus constantly runs the risk of being called a traitor to Israel’s national apsirations, while claiming all the time that he nevertheless is the true spokesman for the covenant god. This, as we shall see, lies behind a good part of the story of Jesus’ action in the Temple, and his subsequence ‘trial’: Jesus has predicted the destruction of the Temple and is on trial not least as a false prophet. Jesus replies to earlier critics and questioners with the sign of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was predicting immenent judgment on Nineveh, following his adventure with the fish; Jesus is predicting imminent judgment on Israel, and a similar sign will validate his message too. He is constantly redefining what the coming day will mean for Israel, warning her, like Amos, that it will be a day of darkness, not of light. Like Amos, too, he implies that the people of god are to be judged as the climax of the divine judgment upon all nations. The judgment which he announces upon Israel is sketched with the help of prophetic passages relating to the judgment of Jerusalem by Babylon, and also, more terrifyingly, passages which speak of the divine judgment upon Babylon itself.
Above all, Jesus adopts the style of, and consciously seems to imitate, Elijah. Here we are again in an interesting position vis-à-vis the sources. It is clear from all three synoptics that they, and presumably with them the early church as a whole, regard John the Baptist as in some sense Elijah redivivus. They nevertheless portray Jesus as acting in Elijah-like ways, and show that the disciples were thinking of Elijah-typology as giving them a blueprint for his, and their own, activity. Jesus himself, explaining the nature of his work, is portrayed using both Elijah and Elisha as models. Again, it is highly unlikely that the early church, seeing Jesus as the Messiah and hence John as Elija, created this identification out of nothing. However, at the same time, though John himself seems to have thought that Jesus was to be the new Elijah, Jesus actually returned the compliment. We begin here to see both parallel and distinction. Jesus’ ministry is so like that of Elijah that they can be easily confused. He too is announcing to the faithless people of YHWH that their covenant god will come to them in wrath. But at the same time he is also acting out a different message, one of celebration and inauguration, which bursts the mould of the Elijah-model.
From all of this it should be clear that Jesus regarded his ministry as in continuity with, and bringing to a climax, the work of the great prophets of the Old Testament, culminating in John the Baptist, whose initiative he had used as his launching-pad.
—N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
The pro me of the gospel does not further an autonomous individualism. It brings it to an end.
—Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians
It would be pleasant if, for once, the historians and the theologians could set the agenda for the philosophers, instead of vice versa.
—N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996, p. 8.
This is one of the single most beautiful sentences in the Bible, and it is incredible in the original:
τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ.
He made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us—so that we might become God’s righteousness in him.
—2 Corinthians 5:21 (SBLGNT and my translation)
You don’t just use illustrations in preaching; you illustrate something. You don’t just offer applications in preaching; you apply something. That something is the word of God, rightly applied.
—Jim Shaddix, lecture, August 19, 2015
Internet acquaintance and generally solid thinker Derek Rishmawy hits this nail right on the head:
And here’s where I just want to say, if your first instinct when you watch or read about these videos is to think, “Geez, are you telling me they lied to get the footage of these people sorting through these fetal parts, or discussing prices non-chalantly over lunch? Woof. That’s a bridge too far”, then you’re reading the story wrong.
Holy Scripture is more than a watchword. It is also more than ‘light for today.’ It is God’s revealed Word for all men, for all times.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 50.
Poetry, as I have been arguing throughout this study, is not just a set of techniques for saying impressively what could he said otherwise. Rather, it is a particular way of imagining the world—particular in the double sense that poetry as such has its own logic, its own ways of making connections and engendering implications, and because each system of poetry has certain distinctive semantic thrusts that follow the momentum of its formal dispositions and habits of expression.
—Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 151.
What I would like to suggest about the effect of the language of poetry in this [Isa. 1:2–9] and most other Biblical prophecies is that it tends to lift the utterances to a second power of signification, aligning statements that are addressed to a concrete historical situation with an archetypal horizon. The Judean contemporaries of Isaiah the son of Amoz become the archetypes Sodom and Gomorrah in respect to both their collective destiny and their moral character. If one considers, as the metaphors of the poem require one to consider, how God has treated them as beloved sons, then their exploitation of the poor and the helpless in their midst (1:23 and elsewhere), in flagrant violation of God’s commands, becomes a paradigmatic instance of treachery, of man’s… capacity for self-destructive perverseness. In this fashion, a set of messages framed for a particular audience of the eighth century B.C.E. Is not just the transcription of a historical document but continues to speak age after age, inviting members of otherwise very different audiences to read themselves into the text.
—Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 146.
No matter that Deuteronomy had envisioned it and the prophets had foretold it; nothing could prepare one for the ruel reality and the apparently finality of the situation. The burden of Lamentations is not to question why this happened, but to give expression to the fact that it did. At certain moments the book seems to look beyond the destruction, to hold out hope for the future, but in the end despair overcomes hope. Past and future have little place in the book. It centers on the “present”—the moment of trauma, the interminable suffering. The book is not an explanation of suffering but a re-creation of it and a commemoration of it.
Why immortalize this moment of destruction? Because in its own way it signals the truth of the Bible’s theology, and it points to the continuation of the covenant between God and Israel….
This explains why the poet can cry out to God and expect a response, why can vent his anger at God, why he can declare that God continues to exist even though his temple does not (Lam 5:18–19), why God is portrayed as so strong and the enemy gets no credit for the destruction. The suffering is, as it were, an affirmation that God is still there and still concerned with the fate of Israel. He may hide his face, but he has not ceased to be Israel’s God. Lamentations contains the seeds of comfort and religious rebuilding that the exilic prophets (especially Second Isaiah) developed more fully in the aftermath of the destruction.
—Adele Berlin, Lamentations: A Commentary, 18–19.
… Lamentations more than anything is about formation: discovering what it means to be human in a world where things often times seems [sic] upside down. Lamentations squares off with this reality and responds with artistry and humanity before God.
—Heath A. Thomas, Poetry and Theology in the Book of Lamentations, p. xi.
For as when a figure painted on wood has been soiled by dirt from outside, it is necessary for him whose figure it is to come again, so that the image can be renewed on the same material—because of his portrait even the material on which it is painted is not cast aside, but the portrait is reinscribed on it. In the same way the all-holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came to our place to renew the human being made according to himself, and to find him, as one lost, through the forgiveness, as himself says in the Gospels, “I came to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19.10)…. So, rightly wishing to help human beings, he sojourned as a human being, taking to himself a body like theirs and from below—I mean through the works of the body—that those not wishing to know him from his providence and governance of the universe, from the works done through the body might know the Word of God in the body, and through him the Father….
Now then, if they ask why he did not appear through other more noble parts of creation, or use some nobler instrument, as the sun or moon or stars or fire or air, but merely a human being, let them know that the Lord came not to be put on display but to heal and to teach those who were suffering. One being put on display only needs to appear and dazzle the beholders; but one who heals and teaches does not simply sojourn, but is of service to those in need and appears as those who need him can bear, lest by exceeding the need of those who suffer he trouble the very ones in need and the manifestation of the divine be of no benefit to them….
Properly, therefore, the Word of God took a body and used a human instrument, in order to give life to the body and in order that, just as he is known in creation by his works, so also he might act in a human being, and show himself everywhere, leaving nothing barren of his divinity and knowledge. Again, I repeat, resuming what we said before, that the Savior did this in order that as he fills everything everywhere by his presence, so also he might fill all things with the knowledge of himself, as the divine scriptures say, ‘The whole earth was filled with the knowledge of God’ (Isa 11.9).
—St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 14, 43, 45.
A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.
—Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters, p. 55.
Doctrine is not merely an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart…. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful.
—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:6.4.
I spent a good bit of time working on this over the last week, and I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Last week saw the premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, and with it a (predictable) storm of controversy from the evangelical community. Reviews have ranged from predictably critical to outright disdain to hostile readings, and from strongly (though not unreservedly) positive to more restrained restrained affirmation of the film on aesthetic and spiritual grounds to especially measured theological and artistic engagement. In short, the responses spanned exactly the range one would expect from the evangelical community, which is itself deeply divided on the purpose, value, and meaning of the arts—decades of conversation on the topic notwithstanding. Noah works as a sort of theological-artistic Rorschach test. We seem to find it in what we expect given its origins and our disposition.
Rather than offer another review (which would add nothing to the conversation at this point), or decry once again the predictable evangelical response to the arts, or even critique reviews with which I disagreed, I thought it might be useful instead to ask where we stand today and point to a few places we might grow from this.
I think you’ll find the rest of the piece salient and helpful.
This bit by Alastair Reynolds is an excellent summary of the position to which I have slowly come over the last few years of reflection on the question of physical death before the Fall. It shows the influence of patristic thought in the best way possible, and also demonstrates a great handle on the bigger picture of salvation history in the whole of the canon.
A few salient quotes. First, on moral and physical perfection:
Perfection was not the creation’s natural state, but its intended destiny (and salvation is not a ‘rebooting’ of creation to its primary state, but the restoring of creation to the future that God originally intended for it)….
With perfection, our wills will be so capable of apprehending our good that we will no longer be capable of willing to do evil, not by virtue of some external compulsion, but by virtue of mature wills and natures and their appropriate mutual correspondence.
And then from the conclusion, which I positively loved:
First, Christ’s obedience is not about ‘innocence’ but about ‘perfection’. Christ brings humanity to the height and fullness of its divinely intended moral stature. He gives us, not merely innocence or obedience, but full maturity.
Second, humanity was always intended to die and rise again to a more glorious form of life. Christ death and resurrection achieves this destiny.
Third, as the last Adam, Christ will pacify and tame the entire creation, ruling until every enemy is placed under his feet.
Fourth, as we are in Christ, the bad character of death is minimized. We are not unclothed to be left naked, but in order to be more fully clothed, to have death swallowed up in life. We are still subject to the hostile attacks of the world and to the possibility of death within it, but Christ is the Tree of Life and we have unrestricted access to him. Death is no longer the alienating power that it once was.
This is a great read, start to finish. “Death Before the Fall”
The short story is the pastoral form for narrating Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) in the vocabulary of Seelsgeschichte (soul history). In the Heilsgeschichte of Judges, for instance, the enmity of the Midianiites is kerygmatically integrated into the historical narrative and shown to be a part of salvation; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth the bitter emptiness of Naomi is pastorally attended to under the dynamics of providence and guided to a concluding fullness. In the Heilsgeschichte of Exodus the formidable and unyielding Egyptians are judged and defeated in the catastrophic plagues and miraculous sea crossing; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth the everday ordinariness of gleaning in the barley fields is used as a means for accomplishing redemption. In the Heilsgeschichte of Joshua the gigantically walled fortress Jericho is surrounded and conquered by the total community of God in colorful parade, accompanied by brilliantly sounding trumpets, and the promised land is entered; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth an old levirate law is patiently and quietly worked through by some old men at the city gates of provincial Bethlehem, and a link is forged in the genealogical chain of the Messiah.
—Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, pp. 84–85.
My latest piece over at Mere Orthodoxy (and the first such in too long):
It has been common these past few years to speak of “incarnational theology” as a way of describing the Christian mission to the world: we ought to “incarnate” Christ to the world as Christ “incarnated” the Godhead to us. There is much to appreciate in this sentiment…. Yet for all that, I think that applying the language of incarnation to believers is a serious mistake.
The Incarnation matters, and it matters as more than a means of getting Jesus to the cross so that he could die for our sins. We evangelicals too often reduce everything to penal substitutionary atonement. Yes, the atonement is incredible and amazing. It is one of the central affirmations and joys of the Christian faith: our sins are paid for! Glory to God! But Jesus did more than that, and he is worthy of yet more praise. He did not stop at paying the price for our sins while leaving our bodies subject to corruption. He did not content himself with performing a judicial act while leaving our wills broken, certain to turn again to the same sin that led to our death in the first place.
I think this is the best thing I’ve written so far this year; I hope you find it stimulating.
Christ and Pop Culture has some great follow-up on the link I posted last week:
If you run in certain Facebook circles, you’ve likely already read that North Korean leader Kim Jung-un has called for the execution of 33 North Korean Christians. According to the widely circulated reports, these 33 people were detained after it was discovered they had ties to Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean missionary whose arrest for religious activity last year has made international headlines….
But here’s the thing: No one can verify this call for executions actually took place.
A great example of journalism done right, and of how Christians ought to carry ourselves in the public square. It matters whether our facts are right or not— even when the “message” might be right either way. The whole thing is worth your time.
Great piece here from Alan Noble, who is increasingly showing himself to be one of the sharpest guys around.
It seems inevitable that our country will try to combat generational poverty and all its great harms by investing heavily in early childhood intervention. We already see signs of the State moving towards such programs with President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address and Mayor de Blasio’s expanded pre-K. Tragically and despite enormous costs, de Blasio’s pre-K initiative in New York will most likely have very modest results, particularly since it begins intervention at age four, so late in the child’s mental development. The question for the church is, will we allow the state to take the initiative, or will we take up this task and engender the kind of deep, redemptive healing that the state can only dream of?
The Washington Times reports:
North Korea tyrant Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered that 33 Christians believed to be working alongside South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook be put to death.
N.b. the source is Breitbart, which I usually take with a very large grain of salt—but this is not exactly surprising for Kim Jong-un or North Korea, so it is deserving of further investigation and prayer in any case.