Peter Enns: Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical?

There has been some good stuff over at Peter Enns’ blog lately, and you will probably be seeing more in the days to come.

The answer:  No.  No self-respecting evangelical seminary would allow Paul on its faculty.  No high-profile evangelical leader would allow Paul to so much as lead a home Bible study.  Three reasons, which Enns sums up as follows:

For Evangelicals, the Old Testament leads to the Gospel story. For Paul, the Old Testament is transformed by the Gospel.

For Evangelicals, the Old Testament, read pretty much at face value, anticipates Jesus. For Paul, the Old Testament is reshaped in order to conform to Jesus.

For Evangelicals, the Bible is God’s final authority. For Paul, Jesus is the final authority to which the Bible must bend.

The underlying theme throughout the Old Testament is the importance of keeping the law of Moses.  These commands are doable, the Old Testament insists:  do them and you Jews will have a long and prosperous life in the land God has given you.  As you prosper, the whole world will notice and be drawn to God through you.

But Paul makes the point over and over again that the law is unattainable and only brings death, that Christ and the Gospel bring life.  The law is all about maintaining a rigid distinction between Jew and Gentile but in the new kingdom that Christ inaugurated, that distinction is irrelevant.  The blessings of Christ and the Gospel are for all people and are not tied to any specific land.  The law was only a temporary measure to hold us over until Christ came.

What’s more, Paul makes the case that the Old Testament itself says these very things.  In order to make this case, he has to get very creative in his handling of the Old Testament.  The ways in which Paul handles several key Old Testament passages to make his case would drive mainstream evangelicals completely and totally over the edge if it were anyone else.

The irony:  Paul, like evangelicals, has a high view of Scripture.  It’s just that his high view of Scripture looks a lot different from what most of evangelicalism would be comfortable with.

Read Peter Enns:  Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical?

 

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David Williams: Is The Gospel at Stake?

It is interesting to note how often evangelicals are willing to claim that “the Gospel is at stake” in a particular controversy.  Contrast that with Paul, who in the entirety of his epistles, only twice claimed that the Gospel was at stake in a given issue.  Once was in the letter to the Galatians, when Paul spoke into the controversy there over whether or not Gentile converts to Christianity had to first submit to Judaism and the males among them had to be circumcised.  In this instance Paul says that requiring Gentile converts to submit to the strictures of Judaism is “a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7).  The other time was in 1 Corinthians 15 when he spoke of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul speaks very strongly here, going so far as to say that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (verse 14) and “your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (verse 17).

David Williams, in the finale of a three-part series called “Credo”, a post entitled “Credo:  He was raised on the third day“, challenges us to not be so quick to claim that the Gospel is at stake in any given issue.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of our faith; everything else is secondary–even things we think are non-negotiable.  This post has been linked elsewhere in the blogosphere, by Peter Enns and by Chaplain Mike at internetmonk.com.  If you are interested in reading the other two installments of the Credo series, here is part 1 and here is part 2.

Here is a sample:

We evangelicals sometimes act like a flock of Chicken Littles, running around like we’ve lost our heads squawking, “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!  The gospel’s at stake!  The sky is falling!” at even the slightest rattling of our little hen-house of a subculture.  We could save ourselves a lot of grief by remembering the centrality and priority of the resurrection and by putting everything else in (that) perspective….

So ask yourself:  If it turned out that Jesus is risen but Darwin was right about human origins after all, would you give up your faith?  If it turned out that Jesus was risen but Protestantism was wrong and Catholicism or Orthodoxy was right (or the other way around), would you opt to become an atheist?  If it turned out that Jesus is risen and that the New Perspective is more right than wrong about Paul, would that be grounds to abandon Christianity altogether?  If it turned out that Jesus is risen but the doctrine of predestination is true (or false!), would you see no more point in following Christ?  If it turned out that Jesus is risen but Genesis 1-11 is ancient Near Eastern mythology, would you apostasy?  If it turned out that Jesus is risen but Mark and Luke made historical slips here and there and Jonah was actually a non-historical children’s story, would your faith be in vain?

Here’s the kicker: If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, not only are you needlessly worrying yourself over secondary matters, you may have adopted “another gospel.”

 

Les Miserables 74: The Elderly Are Made to Go Out When Convenient

We have just seen how Marius’s cousin Theodule attempted to pursue Cosette and how she responded.  She felt love for Theodule but wasn’t sure what she was feeling, as if there was some memory deep down that gave her caution.  We noted the contrast between Marius and Theodule.  Now we will see how Marius attempts to pursue Cosette.

Strange things began happening to Cosette.  Every so often, Valjean would take a couple of days and go away somewhere without ever saying where he was going.  These trips usually happened whenever there were household expenses coming due.  Alert readers will remember that Valjean had all the money he made at MSM stashed away in the woods outside Montfermeil, and connect the dots.

During one of these trips, Cosette was by herself at the house.  She heard footsteps in the garden, but when she went to the window to look there was no one there.  She had been singing and playing a particularly intense piece of music on the piano; she just chalked it up to the mood she was in as a result.

But the next night another strange thing happened.  She was out in the garden when she thought she heard footsteps again.  She walked around the garden and saw what appeared to be the shadow of a man wearing a hat in the moonlight next to her own shadow.  A moment later the shadow was gone.

When Valjean returned she told him about what had happened.  She expected him to reassure her and say it was nothing, but he was troubled.  He camped out in the garden to watch for a couple of nights.  One night he woke Cosette up to show her the source of the shadow she had seen:  a stovepipe on the roof of a neighboring building which had a round cap on it; this could easily have looked like a man wearing a hat.  Everyone was reassured.

But a couple of days later another strange thing happened.  Cosette was in the garden, sitting on her bench.  She got up to walk around, and when she returned there was a large stone on her bench.  She was afraid and did not even touch the stone.  The next morning she was curious.  She went down to check it out and found a long letter under the stone.

She took it up to her room and read it.  She wondered who could have written this to her, then realized it had to be the man she had seen and loved at the Luxembourg.  We know him as Marius, but at this point Marius and Cosette don’t know each other’s names.

When Cosette had just finished reading Marius’s letter, Theodule came by again on his daily rounds.  Cosette looked at him and thought him hideous.

At the very moment she raised her eyes from the last line of the last page, the handsome officer, it was his time, was passing triumphant before the grating.  Cosette thought him hideous.

…As she finished it for the third time, Lieutenant Theodule came back past the iron gate, rattling his spurs on the pavement.  Cosette automatically raised her eyes.  She thought him flat, stupid, silly, useless, conceited, odious, impertinent, and very ugly.  The officer thought it his duty to smile.  She turned away insulted and indignant.  She would have gladly thrown something at his head.

Here the contrast between Theodule and Marius is brought back around full circle.  Theodule attempted to pursue Cosette by passing in front of her gate and making a big show of himself, projecting himself triumphantly, clicking his spurs and even smiling when she looked his way.  At first she was enchanted and possibly attracted to Theodule, but now she thought him so awful that Victor Hugo cannot come up with enough adjectives to describe what she thought of him.

What had happened to change her opinion of him so drastically?  She had received the letter from Marius.

Marius’s pursuit of Cosette took a much different course.  Marius first saw her at the Luxembourg; he didn’t even look directly at her when he passed her the first day.  On his next visit Cosette looked at him and he was transfixed.  One day he attempted to approach the bench where Valjean and Cosette were sitting but he could not bring himself to pass by it.

Now, he was approaching Cosette by stealth.  He watched her but could not bring himself to allow himself to be seen by her.  First she heard his footsteps in the garden, then she saw his shadow, then she saw the stone that he had left on her bench with his letter under it.  There was nothing brash, nothing triumphant or conceited in Marius’s approach to Cosette.

After Cosette read Marius’s letter and remembered that it was from the man she had seen and loved at the Luxembourg, she remembered all she had felt for him, and Theodule was nothing in comparison.

And she said to herself that an intervention of angels, a celestial chance, had restored him to her.

O transfigurations of love!  O dreams!  This celestial chance, this intervention of angels, was that bullet of bread thrown by one robber to another, from the Cour Charlemagne to La Fosse-aux-Lions, over the roofs of La Force.

Here Victor Hugo brings us back to Eponine.  The bullet of bread was the biscuit that originated with her, which was supposed to signify “no-go” to the possibility of criminal activity against Valjean’s house on the Rue Plumet.  In the course of scouting out this property, Eponine learned that Cosette was living there and passed that information on to Marius.  That is how he was able to find Cosette again.

But was Eponine’s biscuit the final word on the subject?  We shall see later on.

One night Valjean went out.  Cosette dressed up and went down to her garden.  Marius came in, and in a powerful love scene, they talked to each other for the first time.  At the end they gave each other their names.

Before we move on, it is worthwhile to look at the letter that Marius wrote to Cosette.  The text of this letter is reproduced in the story and contains some of Hugo’s most beautiful prose.  But we will save that for next time.

The Lord Led Me to Write This

I am not a fan of saying “The Lord led me to…” or “The Lord told me to…”  An example:  The person who changes churches and then says “The Lord led me to [my new church]”.  Or the person who says “The Lord told me to move to Bolivia and be a missionary”.

This phrase is WAY overused in contemporary evangelicalism.  It’s like we have to have this spiritual justification for every little thing we do.  One more way to show that we are REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY committed to Jesus and REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY serious about the things of God and that our hearts are REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY set on God.

Uh…who exactly are we trying to convince here?

The world?  I don’t think all this talk about how the Lord led me to do whatever I’m doing now is going to convince them that we are REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY serious about the things of God.  If anything, it is quite likely to convince them that we are REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY trite and superficial, or worse, that we are just REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY weird.

Other believers?  Come on, people.  Is it really necessary for us to try to convince other believers that we are more spiritual or more committed to Christ or more after the heart of God than they are?  Isn’t this an exercise in completely and totally missing the point, when the point is that none of us can be spiritual enough or committed enough or surrendered enough or after-the-heart-of-God enough or whatever, and besides it’s not about how spiritual or committed or surrendered or sold out or after-the-heart-of-God or whatever we are, it’s about what Christ has done for us when we were none of those things?  If that is so, then don’t put that on other believers.  Don’t beat them over the head with how superior we are because we are so spiritual or committed or sold out or whatever.  That sort of thing is completely and totally out of place.

Come on, people.

Ourselves?  More likely.  And this is troubling.  Think about it:  If we have to convince ourselves that we are REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY committed to Christ or after the heart of God or whatever, then doesn’t that show that we are really not?  I mean, if we really were, then we wouldn’t have to work so hard to convince ourselves that we are.

God?  Come on, people.  You know you can’t convince God.  God sees everything and knows everything inside of you.  If He isn’t convinced, then nothing whatsoever that you say or do can convince Him.

I am done with trying to convince myself, others, or God that I am more spiritual, committed, or whatever than I really am.  I know I am not spiritual enough, committed enough, surrendered enough or whatever to pass muster with God.  You aren’t either.  And you never will be, no matter how hard you try.

So don’t put that on yourselves.  Don’t put that on other people.  Quit trying to live up to something you know that neither you nor anyone else can live up to.  Quit acting like you are living up to it, because you aren’t.

Jesus Christ lived the perfect life that we could never live, died the death that we could never die, and He is still alive.  He is committed enough.  He is spiritual enough.  He is surrendered enough.  He is sold-out enough.

Isn’t that enough, people?

They Will Know that We Are Christians by the Fact that We Don’t Cuss

There are two kinds of people in the world:  those who are saved by the grace of God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, and those who are not.  And there is one sure-fire way to tell them apart:  The ones who are saved by the grace of God don’t cuss.  The ones who aren’t, do.

Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Dallas preached a sermon on cussing this past week.  The upshot:  Crude or vulgar language has no place whatsoever in the life of a Christian.  Here is a link to the actual sermon; can’t make any promises about how long it will be up there.  (Look for “Cool-Aid – Part 2”).  And here are some choice quotes:

We have been drinking the ‘cool aid’ of our culture, which has been laced with the toxin of vulgarity….  We slurp it. We guzzle it. We sip it without even thinking about it.

…Every single person on planet Earth knows that what they are saying is either right or wrong. Where do we get that from? It comes from God. Scientists can’t explain it. Psychiatrists can’t explain it. Even the most spectacular sinner in the world has a conscience that comes from God.

…We’re made in His image. We have this God conscience. So when we hear or we say something, we know down deep that it is wrong.

Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.  No one on the face of the earth has any chance at being in a relationship with God, but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes this possible.  Young went on to argue on the basis of Matthew 15:18 (“But the things that come out of the mouth, come from the heart”) that if you are in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, you will want to commit yourself to God by cleaning up your language.  Except that this isn’t just about cleaning up your language or deleting certain things from your laptop, this is about your heart.  And if your heart is right before God, then you will live in purity and leave vulgarity behind.

Wonderful.

Evangelicals talk an outstanding game when it comes to the grace of God, how we are saved by grace, and how the life we live as Christians is marked by grace.  But when it comes down to it, there are all sorts of things you have to DO to show that this grace is a reality in your life.

Come on, people.  Do you really think life is that simple?

Do you really think that our human condition and the condition of this world is so un-fallen, so un-broken (at least when you have come to accept Christ) that any response whatsoever that does not smack of complete, unbridled cheerfulness is inappropriate and out of place–especially when that response involves what we would call crude or vulgar speech?

Really, people?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  So says Paul in Galatians 5:1.  The tenor of the Christian life is freedom, not restraint.  So if someone comes along and wants to argue that we should do something or avoid doing something if we are Christians, then he/she had better be prepared to give good reasons for this.  And Young’s arguments against vulgar language just don’t rise to that level.  The most anyone can say against vulgar language is that it is inappropriate in certain situations, and I would agree with that.  But to say that vulgar language is wrong at all times and all situations for all Christians?  I do not accept that.  And neither should you.

Come on, people.

For a thoughtful discussion on bad reasons and good reasons to refrain from using vulgar language, check out this article by Eric Rigney at internetmonk.com.

 

Rachel Adams on Disability and Suffering

Today I invite you to check out an article by Rachel Adams over at The Huffington Post in which she argues vociferously against the idea that disability is equivalent to suffering.  This is a common misperception, the idea that those with a disability such as Down’s syndrome must be sick.  Also common is the misperception that such people are perpetual dependents who are incapable of adult relationships and opportunities.

But the greatest misperception of all, in her view, is the idea that a disability means suffering for the family of the affected individual.  This is not correct.  It is a different experience; the family of a person with a disability is subject to hardships that normal families don’t have to experience but they also experience blessings and opportunities that normal families don’t get to experience.

The Bible Codes: A Lie That Just Won’t Go Away

Back in the late 90s, the Bible Codes were a big deal.  Seems somebody figured out a computer-based algorithm by which certain letters in certain biblical books could be arranged to spell out prophecies, such as, among other things, the assassination of Yitzak Rabin.

The Bible Codes got a lot of play on TBN and in other parts of evangelicalism as well, because this was yet another way to prove to a watching world that we really did have it right, that our book (the Bible) was really really inspired and you’d better just shut up and believe.

The Bible Codes have long since been refuted–it has been shown that by using the same methods you can find hidden prophecies in works like Moby Dick–but this nonsense just refuses to go away.  Jay Michaelson at the Jewish Daily Forward gives a critique of the Bible Codes and their continuing appeal among a certain segment of the Jewish population.

An interesting aside:  Though the peeps at TBN liked to claim the Bible Codes as proof for the Bible’s authority and validity, Jewish supporters of the Bible Codes claim that they only work for Old Testament books and that they therefore prove that the New Testament is a fraud.  Thoughts on this, anyone?