“We do not want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” ~G. K. Chesterton
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
6. Evangelism’s perceived attachment to contemporary church growth: It seems natural to put church growth and evangelism together, and thus mutually and supporting each’s definition. Evangelism is “winning people to Christ” based on proclamation and church growth is increasing the size of our church. Herein is the problem and difficulty posed by this marriage: Anything that suggests evangelism is not proclamation with outcomes of “individual conversion” is an outright barrier to growing my church. (Furthermore, the alignment of these also points to the dilemma of discussing biblical church growth—is it numbers at one local, i.e., “my” church, or is it the rolling out and increasing geographically the growth of God’s community, the Church?) As long as the concept and activities called evangelism are related to individuals and numbers, there will be difficulty in any serious debate on the subject, even if the discussion is the search for a more biblical-theology of evangelism.
7. Untrained, lay-ministers filling the roles of pastor: This pushes the fourth referenced barrier mentioned above down to the grassroots, the laity. As with most well-known evangelists, lay-ministers, too, are some of the least likely to be willing to engage in serious discussion on the subject of evangelism. First, they are untrained and undisciplined at the lay-level for serious theological reflection, and are as a result, more concerned with the practical, the utilitarian, and the numbers (i.e., the increase of their church through the inclusion and conversion of individuals). The lay-minister is more apt to read “how-to” books, rather than material that forces one to develop foundational and exegetical skills that promote serious theological reflection. And, evangelism, again, is self-evidently a practical matter—all one needs to find is the right style, be charismatic (or at least be personable), and above all be practical and the result will be an evangelistic activity that will produce the outcome of “individuals saved.”
The seven items offer reasons why it is (and will be) difficult to reexamine the nature, content, and activities of evangelism. The concept, to many, is self-evident and evangelism’s very existence is so attached to our current experience as Americans, as “contemporary” church-leaders, and to the desire for church growth (read individual, local church growth) that it is virtually impossible to engage others in seeking an exegetically and theologically sound biblical-theology of evangelism that is not solely linked to “proclamation” with outcomes of “individual salvation.”
This thread is draft ideas for the beginning of “Wasted Evangelism,” a paper investigating the nature of evangelism based on its relationship to the kingdom of God (i.e., reign of God) revealed in Jesus Christ and Mark 4. In the next set I will posit three reasons why it is reasonable and relevant to open up the subject of evangelism and then offer a direction and approach that will help to point to new possibilities that we miss by limiting the definition of evangelism to one of proclamation. For the posts in this thread…1, 2, 4, 5.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
4. Popular, American Evangelistic leadership are the least equipped to think theologically about evangelism: As Abraham points out, there has been “steady decline in the theological abilities of better-known evangelists.” Think of most evangelists (including revivalists and televangelists), and a theologian does not come to mind. From D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday through our past century and into the twenty-first with the evangelistic mantels resting on people like Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Louis Palau, and Billy and Franklin Graham, the lineage of the evangelist indicate more populist Christian thinking and thin theological reflection. Those with the greatest interest in how evangelism is understood are among some of the Christian community’s least equipped to think theologically about the subject. Furthermore, when people think of evangelism, they cannot help but attach people—i.e., particular evangelists—to their definition for understanding the nature and content of evangelism. Typically the evangelist is known, not for developing biblical thought or theological insight, but for “preaching the Gospel” via proclamation in the form of crusades and other proclamation-centered activities (be it concerts, radio or TV). Evangelism becomes, again, self-evident because of who these “evangelists” are and their actions as evangelists indicate “proclamation of the Gospel” as the inherent definition of evangelism. This makes it difficult and presents barriers when offering new insights or reexamining a biblical understanding of evangelism.
5. Market forces prohibit contemporary “evangelism” from deviating in how it is understood as proclamation : People make their living on evangelism being proclamation. The view that evangelism is something said has developed into a market-niche for Christian retail, church growth (which is the next point), and mission—all of which reinforce that evangelism is self-evident and needs no debate, or reexamination of its biblical foundations. Again, especially among those most vested in the way evangelism is understood now and who are least equipped theologically to offer sound biblical reflection, there is a vested interest in not disturbing or opening up debate on what evangelism consists of, especially if any changes result in changed outcomes and results. That would change how they are perceived and what their product (i.e., their proclamation) is worth.
This continues the thread started yesterday, a draft idea for the beginning of “Wasted Evangelism,” a paper investigating the nature of evangelism based on its relationship to the kingdom of God (i.e., reign of God) revealed in Jesus Christ and Mark 4. For the posts in this thread…1, 3, 4, 5.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Simply, most people understand evangelism to be some form of verbal communication, namely proclamation, witnessing, “sharing one’s faith,” or preaching the Gospel. In a book by William J. Abraham, Logic of Evangelism, he points out that it is an “undeniable” facet to “modern theology” that there is “scant attention” given “to the topic of evangelism.” It is almost as if we lack, in the modern (or should I posit, the post-modern) contemporary Church, the capacity to question the nature, content, possibilities, and range of potential outcomes of evangelism. Any talk that subtracts from “gospel proclamation” or the perception there of, automatically raises eyebrows of suspicion and eschews any suggestions that we might need to reconsider the biblical understanding of evangelism, least of all to articulate any critical debate on the subject. In fact, those most concerned about evangelism, as it is currently understood, are those least interested in or capable of any real “critical reflection” on the matter of evangelism, but are only apt to examine it in terms of practicality and its relationship to church growth.
Building off the thesis briefly mentioned above by Abraham, I’d like to suggest reasons why any discussion on evangelism is bound to be resisted. Then I’d like to suggest three reasons why it is reasonable and relevant to open up the subject of evangelism. Finally, I’d like to offer a direction and approach that will help to point to new possibilities that we miss by limiting the definition of evangelism to one of proclamation.
1. Christianity is part of the fabric of the American experience: It is hard to talk about anything which hints at diminishing our existence, or questioning our viability as Americans. Christianity is so intertwined—both positively and negatively—into our American experience, it is hard to re-examine something that is part of both our church heritage and American frontier-ism. Build on capitalism, democracy, as well as a reformed view of man and various forms of revivlaism, American society has been shaped by evangelistic appeal in the form of “Gospel proclamation” since Increase Mather on through Billy Graham. To question on both a popular level as well as an academic one, is to move the discussion in a terribly sensitive direction. Evangelism as traditionally understood is part of the defining character of being an American.
2. Thread of history in the study of theology militates against serious study in evangelism: The previous century’s push on fundamentalism and a (more or less) scientific approach to theology seems to have prohibited any investigation on a theology of evangelism. Books in methodology and history of evangelism (Michael Green’s study, Evangelism In The Early Church is an older example) perhaps popped up, but time and energy went into combating various worldviews, theologies, and skepticism stemming from the (so-called) Enlightenment that diminished the viability of Christianity at its roots (e.g., revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, etc.). Additionally there was a need to concentrate on the viability of Christianity. In the mean time, little to no work has been put forth for a serious comprehensive vision for the Christianity, except for attempts to make Christianity and the Church relevant, practical, and simple. Evangelism at this level, as currently defined, is more apt for “praxis,” and thus not foundational. This prohibits, even now, serious study, for evangelism is self-evident and is an “activity,” not a topic for the realm of theological reflection.
3. Definitions of “evangelism” prohibit new and biblical reflection: It seems both on the popular and academic levels, evangelism is somewhat a self-evident activity because its etymological roots are related to “proclamation” words and activities. Being related to “good news,” that is the gospel, and to preaching, evangelism is simple defined as the proclamation of the good news. To define evangelism any other way re-defines, to many, the nature of the gospel and diminishes the work of salvation in Jesus Christ.
This thread is a draft idea for the beginning of “Wasted Evangelism,” a paper investigating the nature of evangelism based on its relationship to the kingdom of God (i.e., reign of God) revealed in Jesus Christ and Mark 4. For the posts in this thread…2, 3, 4, 5.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Sometimes you can organize and plan out your worship service in great detail—everything timed and in its place, yet there will be undertones created by another dynamic, unseen to the human eye, but felt, seen, and heard, if we are paying attention. Please don’t take this as a comment that we shouldn’t plan out a service, giving direction and intention and purpose to every part. I whole-heartedly believe we should. What I am talking about or inferring are those underlining messages, the unintended consequences of God’s people gathered together and God wanting to talk to His people—all of them, together in a local congregation, at once.
My concern is that we are there, at Church, as individuals, invoking privatized versions of religious experience. As you have heard me before In the Margins and elsewhere on this blog, even the preachers, pastors, worship leaders all—perhaps unintentionally—have a habit, a culturally formed inclination, to pitch songs, experience, application, and self-understanding toward the personal, the individual, the private rather than the corporate, the body, or the church as a whole. And this is where I believe we miss, all to often, what God is saying; what God is intertwining in an undertone through the whole of corporate worship service. Since the pastor is thinking individual Christians, and the service is designed to real the individual, and each component of the worship service is to address a privatize Christian life (and for that matter and privatized every-day-life in and out of the church), it is difficult for us to listen corporately as a body of believers.
We’d never hear what the Church in Acts 13 heard, as they were able to hear, together, God was able to speak to the whole congregation:
“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:1-2).
I recall hearing something at a worship service that I think, as congregation, must churches would not be able to hear together and respond together:
“Church is not for those who have it together. Love and pay attention to the unnoticed. God’s grace and redemption should reach, through us, to those who are poor, neglected, unwelcome, those out of reach that we must find a way to reach…”
There was probably more times God’s voice was in the undertone of the service. But my ears aren’t as good as they used to be. I was wondering if anyone else can hear these stuff, too?
Sunday, May 25, 2008
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD. People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst” (Amos 8:11-13).
In a current book on bible promises, you won’t find the promise described and alluded to in the above text. This promise is staggering. Hopeless. Devastating. And yet, we bring it on ourselves. How so? We exchange the words of the Lord for our words every Sunday morning, from the very place where there should thunder a Word from the Lord. We might use the bible, a text or two, a bible story or narrative, but it (the text) isn’t explained—exegeted—it is used to bounce into our thoughts and appeals. For sure, some of the things we hear from the Sunday morning pulpit is filled with good things, even right things, but unless the outcome of the preacher’s words are built on and are through the text of Scripture, that’s all they are, “the preacher’s words.” The sermon is replaced with a message, a speech, a personal description of who the preacher is and what he (or she) wants.
We are in the midst of a continued famine. We die a little more each Sunday. The problem isn’t that we—from time to time—have good words (good speeches) from our preachers, with words and nuggets of truth for us. Here’s the problem: When we, no matter how insightful and “applicable” or “relevant” the preacher’s words (i.e., speech) might be, there is a consequence for using a text and not explaining (i.e., exegeting) it. First there is no God-given authority (no, “thus sayeth the LORD); second because of the ability of the preacher there might be a sentimental response—which usually does not last or make for a lasting change in the hearer, sort of like just getting an “Amen” from the crowd; third, anyone, a politician, spiritual guru, self-help speaker, professor, journalist can get a response from insightful or motivating words—so what!; and finally, here’s the real problem, a crap-shoot in the meaning of the preacher’s own message as understood by the hearers.
What do I mean by this last comment? The preacher gets the same result from his listeners as he has shown in how he has used the text of Scripture. If a text can mean anything a preacher wants it to mean, then their words and message (i.e., sermon) will be received the same way: the audience will give whatever meaning they want to the preacher’s message. The same approach the preacher gives to proof-texting, word-attraction, bouncing off the text an idea—call it what you may—will be the same approach the audience will give to the “sermon.” That means there will be loads of meaning given to the “message” on any given Sunday morning. I can do whatever I want with the preacher’s words, give it any meaning I desire. That[‘s what the preacher is doing to the text of Scripture—why can’t I?
The result, a continued famine of the Word of the LORD in our midst. I included verse 13, “In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst,” because the ultimate, devastating consequence of a famine of the Word is the malnourishment and lack of stamina for our next generation (i.e., “virgins and young men”), which results in their inability to maintain faithfulness to the LORD.
Afterthought: If I took my pastor’s message and retold it, made it whatever I wanted it to mean, I wonder if the preacher would appreciate that, or would he (or she) say, “No, that’s not what I mean, you need to explain what I intended my words, syntax, grammar, context, to mean.” What an awful mess we have. I am so thirsty! How about you?
Friday, May 23, 2008
“What is the connection between these two points, the kingdom of God and the stories of Jesus? I would suggest that the connection is summed up in the maxim: Parables give God room. The parables of Jesus are not historical allegories telling us how God acts with mankind; neither are they moral examples-stories telling us how to act before God and towards one another. They are stories which shatter the deep structure of our accepted world and thereby render clear and evident to us the relativity of the story itself. They remove our defences and make us vulnerable to God. It is only in such experiences that God can touch us, and only in such moments does the kingdom of God arrive” (John D. Crossan, The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story, pp 99-100.)
Even before I began studying the “nature” of parables and stories that Jesus used for “Wasted Evangelism” paper and Mark 4, I had wrote down in my outline as my point IV, ‘Evangelism as parable & mystery.’ Throughout the last 30 years of being a Christian, I was always suspicious of many (popular) interpretations of the parables of Jesus. I can remember being asked to teach a Sunday School class on Luke’s parables—that was the first time I had studied them and found I wasn’t at all that comfortable at even my “teacher study guide” book’s interpretations, or its methodology for that matter. At the popular level, I was suspicious of the easy, the way too easy, way people made each of the parables into allegories, with deep hidden meanings in every word and phrase. Each word and turn of phrase had some corresponding meaning—many times outside the obvious referent in the story. The other thing that always seem to bother me was how each parable seem to speak only to the private world of the Christian, as if Jesus was some 20th century (now 21st century) pop-psychologist. Crossan’s little book, The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story, was very insightful as I head into the issue of “parable” as a way of explaining the kingdom of God and the gospel. I am not quite ready—and don’t think I will ever be totally—ready to accept the total deconstruction-view of the parables, as often over emphasized by Crossan. But certainly, he is right in the idea that the parables are subversive in nature, confronting the world as we like it to be or as we want to experience it. That’s why we turn them into fables, myths, allegories—we want them to speak to our needs.
We like to read the parable of the prodigal son and make it about how God loves us, let’s us go off on our on way only to love us when we finally come to our senses. This is the world as we want to experience it, so the parable is turned into a fable, an allegory, and myth that “speaks” to our need, comfort, and desire for stability and security. Whereas, as a parable it confronts us at our very core as Christians, informing us that we are more like the homebound son refusing to restore the ones we hate, welcoming back the other “sons” who have lived ungodly lives. The parables are designed to subvert our world because the kingdom of God has arrived, and we are defenseless and vulnerable before the King. The parables expose to us how the world works where God is seated as king.
In terms Crossan used to illustrate this idea, reading the parable as fable or myth is like someone telling us, “You have a lovely and beautiful home.” But, reading them as parable is as if someone pointed out, “Your house is built on a major faultline.” No wonder we change the nature of parables.
(I will be applying this view of parable to the Mark 4 parables in my paper)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I prefer the third option (# 3). It is not that evangelism is a subset of social action (# 1); nor, is social action a subset of evangelism (# 2). Whereas all evangelism is related to the arrival, revelation, and affirmation of the presence of the Kingdom of God, all social action might not necessarily be such a confirming or promoting activity. However, when social action affirms the principles, intentions, realization and aspirations of the rule and reign of God, it is, as such, evangelism. When social action promotes the realities of the Kingdom of God and seeks to bring the world (in and outside of the church) in line with God’s righteous reign, social action is indeed evangelism. This understanding leaves room for other forms of evangelism, such as proclamation, preaching, witnessing, casual conversation and, perhaps, even “lifestyle.”
In the literature I have been reading, those debating the subject, that is whether evangelism is social action, usually offer lists of possibilities. Many just say no. Some, actually, only a few say yes. To get around actually answering the question, some posit the idea that social action is the consequence of evangelism (after someone is “saved” as it were) or “pre-evangelism.” These latter proposals, in my opinion, only skirt the issue, are purely semantics, and miss the point of social action all together. Also, not including social action as a possible form and/or activity of evangelism limits the possible outcomes where God’s rule and reign can be expressed, realized, and/or experienced. Such limiting tends toward a privatized and dualistic understanding of Christianity, rather than its fullness being realized and expressed in individuals, groups, structures, systems, and even culturally.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
“…the primary and essential reference is to the sovereignty of God conceived of in the most concrete possible manner, i.e., to his activity in ruling… The kingdom of God is the power of God expressed in deeds; it is that which God does wherein it becomes evident that he is king. It is not a place or community ruled by God; it is not even the abstract idea of a reign or kingship of God. It is quite concretely the activity of God as king” ( Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the teaching of Jesus (p. 55).
I have been researching a wide range of material for my paper, “Wasted Evangelism,” which I hope to present this coming November at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. My tentative thesis is that we truncate the concept of biblical evangelism when we define it in terms of mere “communication” of the Gospel (i.e., the preaching of the Gospel, witnessing, sharing our faith). I have always been troubled by the definition of evangelism that seem to run along the lines of simple cognitive activity, a mental function in both the “evangelist” (i.e., the proclaimer or one witnessing) and the “hearer” or receiver. My paper seeks to investigate a different path, namely the relationship between evangelism at three points: 1) evangelism and the kingdom of God, 2) evangelism and eschatology, and 3) evangelism and parable. I am specifically analyzing, interpretation, and building off of the Mark 4 set of parables and teachings. My tentative conclusion—the aim of my own pursuit on this matter—is to answer the question, “Can evangelism be social action?” Of course I need to define social action, but put simpley, social action is the activities which address the causes of poverty and seek to assist the poor in moving out of poverty.” I hope my definition moves us beyond mere charity and the transfer of wealth, but in concrete activities that, well, address the causes of poverty and move people out of poverty. In order to support my understanding of evangelism and its relationship to social action, I am most interested in how people perceive the biblical concept of the kingdom of God. This is important for determining what evangelism can consist of, what activities—communication and action (i.e., deeds)—may be considered evangelism. Perrin’s understanding of the “Kingdom of God” moves us toward a more concrete view of evangelism (assuming that evangelism is at a minimum associated with the Kingdom of God and at most is enacting the Kingdom of God). Although proclamation-evangelism is indeed a pattern and example in, it is the arrival of God’s kingdom into time and space that demands more than verbal communication, cognitive recognition, or mere mental ascent. Evangelism must, as well, be activities that promote, reveal, and concretely demonstrate “God’s rule.” I believe this implies that social action can be evangelism.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I made any interesting observation and contextual discovery with a link between a teaching and a parable of Jesus in Luke 14 and the warning and exhortation Daniel gave to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon in Daniel 4. The king had seen a vision of a large and wide reaching tree with many branches. The tree was to be cut down—a sign that the God of Heaven would send judgment upon the king and his kingdom for his arrogance and pride. Read Jesus’ parable of the banquet invitation in Luke 14 and then note the words with which Daniel exhorts the king to fulfill in order to put off the pending judgment on him and his kingdom:
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner’” (Luke 14:7-24).
I know I made it easy—the bold “the poor”—but with that, I just wanted to make it harder to casually read-over, gloss-over, or ignore the words in the text. Simply, Jesus expected that those that follow him would invite all to His banquet, but there would be those who’d expect places of honor, yet the instruction to the followers, “the inviters,” “the heralds” were to call—invite—to the banquet those who would never expect such an invitation, nor would they assume places of honor, nor have need to prove their status. Later, we discover that there would also be those with invitations who had other things to do—some legit, some no so, but still in light of the invitation to this particular party, all things are to be put on hold. Since those with excuses will not come, the Lord of the banquet instructs his heralds to invite those that can’t afford to be there, those who are the least and have no status in the community. Fill up the banquet table with the vulnerable and marginalized of the community! How contrary to much of church growth—we are so dependent on attracting those that can pay for the larger church ministry, bigger buildings, and higher salaries. Build the church on those who can support the place and the status of that church or that minister. The link I made with Daniel 4 might actually connect and give basis, foundation, and background (even a promise-fulfillment context) to the parable. There is obviously “a kingdom” connection between the texts. After the warning of judgment, we read Daniel trying to persuade the king to repent. Here’s the content of what that repentance was to consist of:
“‘Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity’” (Daniel 4:27).
Maybe we should have some church growth books with a different spin: Church Mission According to the Parables and Daniel’s Blueprint for Church Growth. There is no doubt that many need to reevaluate church ministry, the church’s mission, church vision, and our outcomes for church growth less we end up the recipients of a similar Daniel judgment and warning.
Monday, May 19, 2008
“I occasionally wondered if the gospel was myth, but I came to see the gospel as myth fulfilled in reality—in a real time, place and Person. Science and art reveal the reality of the biblical story. Astrophysics reveals a beginning and the necessity of an immaterial first cause. Biochemistry and DNA reveal a ‘language’ of encoded instruction, a logos becoming flesh and blood. Archaeology and history reveal the Bible as accurate eyewitness accounts of real events, people and places. What—rather, Who—I experience behind all the beauty seems too good to be false. Sometimes it’s a haunting. Sometimes a glory. The story has what C. S. Lewis called ‘the ring of truth’” ~Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee C. Camp. Brazos Press (December 2003)
Any good book that forces us to think about—and rethink about—the biblical concept of discipleship is worth considering and should be read. Mere Discipleship is such a book. Lee Camp has produced a serious book on Christian discipleship where his major premise is that the modern world, and in particular American life, has subverted the biblical concept of true discipleship. Granted Camp’s perspective is hinged on his own Anabaptist church background, but his critique of how we apply Christianity today rings true—and at times, terrifyingly so. You’re not going to agree with everything Camp presents. And at times he seems to choose some parts of Scripture over others (e.g., you can tell he likes the revelation of God in Christ as the peacemaker, but not the wrathful God of the OT that smote godless armies through Israel; he is partial to the passive Lamb of God, but not the table over-turning Jesus in the temple). Nonetheless, Camp is right—our church-life and concept of discipleship is tainted by our American-way of life. He attempts to help us decompartmentalize our faith, especially at the levels where our Christianity intersects with our public life. Although a bit on the intellectual side, still I highly recommend working through Camp’s argument. Your commitment to discipleship will be enhanced and bettered as a result.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
I still find it amazing that both popular exposition and even noted commentary assert, but do not exegetically demonstrate, that 1:16-17 is Paul’s thematic statement for his exposition in the Letter to the Romans. It seems more reasonable, both exegetically and thematically to see Paul utilizing his opening as his thematic—his what’s all about—statement (1:1-6). For a further explanation of this, see my article, “Rom 1:1-5 and the Occasion of the Letter: the Solution to the Two-Congregation Problem in Rome” (Trinity Journal, Sp ‘93). But what is the function of Romans 1:16-17?
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “he righteous will live by faith.”
These verses actually come in a series of statements or propositions that grammatically begin with the Greek word γαρ (gar), usually translated for. In fact, interestingly enough, in Romans 1:16, the New International Version “forgets” to render the gar—it is left out of the English rendering of verse 16 all together. But it is there—and should be translated in some way—as do most of the more literal translations. Nonetheless, it seems the gar (theforgar) is still overlooked in how this text is understood, and how it functions in these verses. Gar, the Greek word, carries a transitional tone and mostly functions in a “why…because” connotation. The statement, I pray, followed by for God is listening, shows the idea, and is totally understandable even in English. Why do I pray? Because God is listening.
Verses 16 and 17, as significant as they are to our Christian faith, especially in the reformed tradition, these verses, nonetheless, are part of the reason the apostle seeks to go to Rome, why he wants (desires) to visit the Church in the capital of the world and “impart some spiritual gift to make [them] strong” (1:11). (I use the NIV here since that’s the version with the missing gar. The NASB translates strong here with the word “established,” but it is the word for strong used elsewhere—cf. 4:20; 14:1; 15:1.)
First, we read that Paul has a remote (i.e., in terms of distance) relationship with the Church in Rome and now seeks to visit them:
“God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you” (vv 9-10).
Then Paul allows us to see his heart’s desire, a statement—a propositional statement—that sets up this long string of gap statements, answering why he wants impart “some spiritual gift” that will make them strong (vv 11-13):
“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”
Then Paul moves into the why-because series…“Why do I want to preach in Rome, i.e., come to you to impart some spiritual gift to make you strong, because…”
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome (vv 14-15).
[For] I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (16).
Why, am I not ashamed of the Gospel, because…
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (17).
[For] The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them (18-19).
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (20).
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (21-23).
As a consequence…
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts (24-25)
[For] Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (26-32).
Paul is eager to go to Rome so he may assist (encourage) their Christian growth and make them “strong,” (why) because he is not ashamed of the Gospel, (why?) because it is the revealed righteousness of God and that man is under the wrath of God. Although I find that Paul’s thematic statement comes in 1:1-6, Paul’s rhetorical devise here in 1:9ff not only connects him to his audience, it begs the question, namely why does Paul need to go to Rome to make the Church strong and receive a harvest “of Gentiles” among them as he has in other churches. It is in 1:1-6 as to why Paul desires to go to Rome and why this letter, i.e., Romans, precedes that visit.
See my post A post-script to my review of Paul’s Rhetoric In Its Contexts for more explanation on Romans 1:1-6 and 1:16-17.
Friday, May 16, 2008
“I occasionally wondered if the gospel was myth, but I came to see the gospel as myth fulfilled in reality—in a real time, place and Person. Science and art reveal the reality of the biblical story. Astrophysics reveals a beginning and the necessity of an immaterial first cause. Biochemistry and DNA reveal a ‘language’ of encoded instruction, a logos becoming flesh and blood. Archaeology and history reveal the Bible as accurate eyewitness accounts of real events, people and places. What—rather, Who—I experience behind all the beauty seems too good to be false. Sometimes it’s a haunting. Sometimes a glory. The story has what C. S. Lewis called ‘the ring of truth’” [Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas, p. 21].
Kullberg, as someone who went through the battle of keeping her faith at Harvard and fought in the trenches as one who sought veritas, truth, reveals both the positive of debate for the Christian faith and is cryptic in her exposure of atheistic scientism’s weakness. I found what Kullberg said in her introduction here a great way of expressing that Christianity is open to debate, examination, and tests for validity, empirical consistency and experiential relevance. Albeit, ultimately the Bible’s message is a matter of faith, but it is not absent reason, nor reasonable proofs.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
“Send me.” First, we like the idea of God talking directly to us. So preachers know that if they personalize a text, you know, placing your name in the text or in this case, trading Isaiah for you, then they’ve got us—got our attention and have made us seem as important as, say, an Old Testament prophet. So we have here, instead of God interacting with Isaiah, we have Him addressing me, Chip. And I hear the text differently than what was originally given:
In the year of President W Bush’s last year in office, I, Chip, saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the culture and congress trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the church was filling with smoke. Then I, Chip, said, “Wow God is speaking directly to me. I am something special. Not everyone gets this experience!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and now, you are forgiven and very special and a prophet of God.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I, Chip, said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Yes, we get all sentimental about seeing ourselves “in the text,” replacing the prophet for us. And I know, this is hard to take, for so many missionaries responded to the call to the mission field because someone explained the text of Isaiah 6 in this way. But that does not make it any more correct or proper.
We like the first set of verses—they can be made so personal. And the “sending” can be adventurous, noble, extraordinary, honoring…but it’s the next set of verses that tell us what the sending is for. These verses don’t make it sound promising. The prophet is going to be humiliated—and as we know about Isaiah’s history, he will be sawn in two (cf. Hebrews 11:37).
“He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed”’” (Isaiah 6:9-10).
God does not intend a huge return on this investment in terms of numbers. In fact, the message was intended to cause the hardening of people’s hearts. And then Isaiah (the one God is actually addressing here) asked, “Lord, how long?” How long will I have to proclaim this hard and harsh message where no one returns to You? And the promise is given, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate…” Tough verses. Harder to find a joy in ministry. The actual “sending” doesn’t seem as self-aggrandizing at this point.
So you see, we like to personalize (and preach) the verses that make for good feelings of importance. It is harder to see this in the tough verses—so we ignore them, take them out of the text, so we can do as we please with the nice verses. This is not only poor exegesis of Scripture, it is disingenuous and, really, deceitful to those we are preaching to.
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- Wasted Evangelism - Barriers militating against an open discussion on evangelism
- A thought on atheism’s problem with time
- L&S Quote - Thrust forward to a total testimony of salvation
- The Wasted Evangelism thesis—social action can be evangelism
- Wasted Evangelism-A long argument (my introduction)
- A working definition of biblical social action
- L&S Quotes - Dare to be right when the majority is wrong
- L&S Quotes - Evangelism isn’t table talk, it’s an emergency bulletin
- L&S Quotes - Don’t be pushed off your story
- A conclusion for my wasted sigificance and the Mark 3 commission
- L&S Quote - How holy women and men show their inner spiritual lives
- L&S Quote - This sounds odd: who lives, who dies
- Noah and the flood isn’t a children’s story (revised-reposted)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer and getting our hands dirty
- Using Bertrand Russell’s own logic
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