5143KzlPeDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you read the preface to my dad’s biblical theology, you will see that this book is intentionally less academic than some of his other works. He wrote it for the everyday church member. It is, as Spurgeon put it, John Ploughman’s talk in some sense.

My wife even had a Bible study with ladies in our previous church where they spent two years going through the book, reading it alongside books of the Bible. The regular comments I kept hearing was that they were really seeing the storyline of Scripture come alive.

Well in light of this, a friend has put together a few different reading plans together for the book which could coincide with one’s Bible reading plan.

No matter what method you use, I encourage you to regularly spend some time getting to know the whole story of Scripture. As my pastor regularly says, “It takes a whole Bible, to make a whole Christian.”

King in His Beauty – 1 Year Reading Plan

King In His Beauty – 2 Year Reading Plan

King In His Beauty Reading Plan (Excel)

 

 

 

Two people working with computer and book.

Here is an excerpt from Paul House’s book where he argues that the New Testament letters and recipients are quite different than what we call distance education today.

I have had conversations with individuals who suggest that the apostles taught people using the best distance education technology of their day, which was the epistle sent to far-flung congregations. In response, I agree that the apostles did indeed send letters, yet the letters were not like most sent today, and the recipients were not like most of today’s online students.

The Epistles were not sent to lone individuals who then read them in private. They were addressed to individuals and congregations. They were each carried not by a government employee, but by one or more Christians sent from the apostle. These carriers were there to discuss the contents, explain the apostle’s situation, and share fellowship with the recipients.

Thus these letters embodied a relationship already begun. Even in a letter like the one to the Romans, whom Paul had not visited yet, the apostle takes great pains to connect to the recipients through people known to both parties and through the ones bringing the letter.

So one would be on firmer ground to argue that the correlation between the use of electronic communication and the Epistles is one of supporting current relationships between known parties. Even then, the carrier of the letter is missing. The incarnational element is truncated at best, absent at worst.

Paul House, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 185-86.

 

 

Traces of the Trinity

April 27, 2015 — 3 Comments

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/518pkdNQSlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI agree with John Frame that Traces of the Trinity is one of the most delightful books I have read in a long time.

But I am a little upset about it.

Because I had a similar book planned for my future self. Peter Leithart beat me to the punch. Yet this is probably a good thing because Leithart is the theologian who takes seemingly separate strings and ties them into a theological tapestry.

The basic argument of the book is that there is a pattern to all of creation of mutual indwelling, reciprocal habitation, and interpenetration. In theological terms, there is a perichoresis (or perichoratic) pattern to creation. Yet giving the thesis up front like this seems almost immoral.

For Leithart weaves for us a picture of life before giving the theological punch. This allows the blow to come with more force. He has convinced you before you ever get to the argument.

This mutual indwelling pattern is seen in physical reality, language, sound, sex, personal relations, ethics, and concepts we form to understand the world. Humans are not the world and the world is not humans, but we don’t exist independently of the world. The world comes into us and we go into the world as we interact with it.

Example:

Our skin has pores; it is porous. Because it is, so are we.

You have to look closely to see your pores, but our bodies are pocked with larger holes, just as essential to life….We can live with our skin pores covered, but we cannot live if our giant holes get blocked. We breathe seven to eight liters of air per minute, which amounts to about four hundred cubic feet a day, 550 liters being oxygen. That’s a lot of the outside to welcome in every day, but it needs to be done. Cut off the flow of oxygen from outside into your lungs for more than a few minutes, and you die.

Space and Place

I could go on, but what struck me is how much this aligned with my theoretical view of space and place. For too long we have thought of space and place as external to us, but we form space and place, we interact with it, and it also forms us.

There is a mutual indwelling between us and space. Space for too long has been thought of as abstract and distant from us.

What if a theological view of space includes this idea of perichoresis? What if space is porous and open? What if it is moldable and has a transcendent, enchanted, and legendary purpose? What if it is not de-sacramentalized, but sacramentalized? The tendency remains to view humanity as adrift in a cold unenergized cosmos. This “coldness” can be seen in the concepts that arise when space/place are invoked. To be placed does not only imply geographical locations, but physical locations represent social, ideological, and mental places, or places of identity.

That just gives you a taste. I think this changes or at least gives us a new lens to viewing how Jesus is bringing the kingdom, our role in this process, and what it means to be image bearers of God.

I will trace this out more in the future, but for now go ahead and pick up Leithart’s newest book.

 

 

 

 

[A]ny account of inspiration must go beyond the ‘writers,’ a very limited circle of persons who committed the books to paper, and extend to the whole process of the production of scripture, including stages of oral tradition, editing and redaction, and transmission. To suppose that inspiration is a momentary process, guiding the writers once and for all at one decisive stage of the production of scripture . . . is on the one hand impossibly artificial and on the other completely lacking in evidence within scripture itself.[1]

[1] James Barr, Beyond Fundamentalism: Biblical Foundations for Evangelical Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), 125.

Inspiration Must Go Beyond the Writers

Reviving Friendship

April 22, 2015 — 3 Comments

https://spiritualfriendship.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/sf-book-cover.jpg

In the church we talk about singleness, about marriage, about having kids, about being kids, about raising teenagers, but we rarely speak of a theology of friendship.

Wesley Hill has just published a book exploring this theme from a historical, theological, biblical, and personal perspective. His aim most generally is to begin a conversation about friendship, more specifically to argue that friendship can and should be understood along the lines of a vowed or committed relationship, much like marriage or a kinship bond (xix).

The questions the book seeks to answer are the following:

Should we think of friendship as based, above all, on personal preference? Should we think of it as preserving its voluntary character and thereby vulnerable at every point to dissolution if one of the friends grows tired of or burdened by the relationship? Should we consider friendship as always freshly chosen but never incurring any substantial obligations or entailing any unbreakable bonds? Or should we begin to imagine friendship as more stable, permanent, and binding than we often do?

Myths About Friendship

Friendship, according to Hill (and others), has been eclipsed or pushed to the margins of contemporary life by a myriad of myths. These myths obscure the truth about friendship. Hill identifies four myths that have pushed friendship out of the conversation.

First, sex is a threat to friendship because it is hard for us to imagine an intimate but non-sexual same-sex relationship. Second, the myth of the ultimate significance of marriage and the nuclear family. Thus friendship’s number one enemy is the elevated importance of spousal, parental, and extended familial bonds. Third that all human loves must be understood in terms of hardwired self-interest. The final myth is the one of freedom. We believe that the less accountable and anchored we are to particular relationships the better able we are to secure real happiness.

The Genesis of This Perspective

Hill’s book is not just unique because he brings up a neglected topic but he does it from the perspective of a celibate gay Christian. (I know there is a lot of debate about this phrase. I am using it because it is how Hill describes himself.)

Hill is seeking to “steward and sanctify [his] homosexual orientation in such a way that it can be a doorway to blessing and grace.” He is seeking to harness and guide the energies that God has given him into something good, intimate friendship. His homosexual orientation has lead him to be more of a friend and not less of one.

Biblical Support

Most readers will rightly ask if friendship is an emphasis of Scripture? While some might think it plays a minor role, a little deeper reflection reveals it has some significant support.

Jesus and the apostle Paul were both single, and Paul says that he would prefer more people to be single (see 1 Corinthians 7). Jesus himself had some counter-cultural attitudes about the family, and he ended up relativizing its importance (Matthew 12:46-50).

What seems to ultimately mattered to Jesus was not marriage, but absolute loyalty to himself, and for some people this meant renouncing marriage and childbearing for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12).

The pairings of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, and Jesus and Lazarus (the one whom you love) show key examples of deep human intimacies within friendships. Further, in the New Testament, friendships within the Church are associated with familial relationships, such as “brother and sister,” terms that are meant to show commitment. Love, Jesus explains, is most highly expressed within friendship, as “no one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

Aren’t We Talking About This Already?

Some might object that the church is already talking about this but in the terms of unity in Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. But I actually think Hill is getting more specific and more theological with his analysis.

We can speak about loving one another in the abstract, or even being involved in a local church, but we all know there are certain relationships that solidify in the midst of obeying those commands. Hill’s book therefore digs deeper into those issues and he dips his toe into undisturbed water in terms of evangelical discussion.

This makes Hill’s book worthwhile in my mind. He introduces a topic probably too few of us are considering.

Final Thoughts

There are a few parts of the book which I am sure will raise a few questions and even raised some questions in my mind. For the most part though I am giving Hill the benefit of the doubt (which in my mind is the best way to read). So I close with a few of the more controversial claims and offer responses.

First, although Hill calls for committed friendships some rightly will wonder if there should not still be a category difference between spouses. For spouses do make covenantal pledges to one another which make the relationship unlike friendships. Hill’s language is that friendships should be akin to marriage or kinship. The question becomes what akin actually means. Yet Christians should remember that in the body of Christ certainly there is a covenantal commitment to one another. In fact we are eating of the same body uniting ourselves together. The more I thought about it the more I realized that Jesus’ emphasis was not so much on the nuclear family, but the body of Christ.The two should not be seen in opposition for Paul still speaks of relationships between spouses and believes it is a picture of the Gospel, but the church is also a picture of the Gospel and friendships are part of this picture. I don’t think we need to resort to an either or here, and Hill is definitely right that the spousal relationship has had all the love (to speak metaphorically).

Second, and related, some might wonder if Hill is substituting friendship for erotic love or even downplaying the importance of erotic love. Yet, I don’t think that is what Hill is aiming at. Friendship is not a substitute for erotic love, but it is a way of expressing love. Love can certainly exist without erotic love, and  those committed to celibacy are called to give up one form of intimacy, but we must remember it is only one form.

Third, Hill spoke of sanctifying, harnessing, or guiding homosexual orientation. Some may wonder if this is the right way to speak about it? Shouldn’t we want to rid ourselves of everything opposed to God? Should an alcoholic  seek to harness this part of them? Once you start filling that blank with more categories it actually starts to become clear that we do this all the time. Can people sanctify their pornography? Their anger? Their depression? Well it somewhat depends on what we mean by that word “sanctify.”

We tell married folk who are tempted with pornography to find satisfaction in their spouse. We encourage the angry to not get rid of the passion in their life but to direct it. We plead with the depressed to turn to God and then turn and comfort others with the comfort they have received. My point is that this is a good way to think about one’s orientation in light of the Gospel, not a bad one. It represents mature thinking, not sophomoric thinking. This last point is probably effected by Hill’s recognition that the social construct of “being gay” is not reducible to what the Bible names as lust or sin. “Being gay” cannot be reduced only to the sexual act, it is also a cultural identity.

Conclusion

I was happy to wander into the theme of friendship with the help of Hill and be challenged in some of my preconceived culturally bound thoughts. I think Hill is moving the discussion forward and pastors need to begin considering how they can be sensitive, thoughtful, and biblical in light of changing cultural tides.

 

Map-of-Jesus-MinistryIntroduction

Geography in the Ancient Near East was a physical representation of transcendent reality.

Mapping things geographically was a visible form of Israel’s theology.

For example since Jerusalem was central to Israel’s worldview, it was also central to the cartography of the time. The temple therefore was not only at the center of religious, economic or political life, but the center of the cosmos, the axis mundi (the axis of the world), the point of junction between heaven, earth, and hell.

The more I have thought about geography, the more I realize its theological importance. History, theology, and geography are not separate but intertwined. Geography is not only a setting for history but an articulation of theology and history.

To illustrate this I want to briefly explain how the geographical overlay of Matthew communicates theological truths.

Luke’s Gospel is famous for his journey to Jerusalem, yet Matthew also has a journey to Jerusalem. Most of Jesus’ ministry according to Matthew takes place in Galilee and then Jesus turns to Jerusalem to go to his death.

This is interesting because John’s Gospel has Jesus going back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem throughout his ministry. So why does Matthew construct his narrative in such a way?

 

Matthew’s Geography

Jesus is born in the city of the king. He is born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

Jesus is the Son of David (chap 1) born in the city of David (chap 2). Yet the pseudo king of Jerusalem, Herod, is threatened by this upstart and therefore sends servants to end the life of this  rival king.

Yet Jesus escapes, and his family moves him north, to Nazareth in Galilee. He was in a real sense exiled from his home, his kingdom. Thus Jesus, in Matthew’s presentation, spends most of his time ministering in Galilee (4:17; Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς).

Yet the goal of his ministry is to return home and complete his mission as king.  So after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah Jesus begins to return home.

From that time on Jesus began (Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς) to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (16:21)

Matthew thus assigns the city of Jerusalem a dominant role in the plot of 16:21-25:46. In 19:1 Jesus returns to Judea. This brings the story full circle, with opening and closing mirroring each other geographically.

Arriving at the goal of his journey, he approaches the city gates with the royal “Son of David” acclamation once more on prominent display. The blind men scream it out and the crowd praise him as the Son of David when he rides into the city on a colt. The scene, as Verseput has put it, can be appropriately described as the return of the exiled king to confront the city of his forefather’s throne.

Theological Implications

Matthew has Jesus walking this geographical map because he is communicating that Jesus is walking in the footsteps of Israel. He is exiled from his home, he returns from exile, and brings his people with him out of exile. Yet coming home means coming to his death. The Jews never thought their return from exile would come through sacrifice, although there were hints of it in the OT.

Matthew is a scribe bringing out treasures both old and new. The Gospel is about fulfillment and the Jewish king fulfills his ultimate role in the city of king. Yet what is shocking is that the city with their religious leaders reject their own king.

So Jesus expand his mission to the whole world. He will be a light to the Gentiles. The Gospel ends with Jesus on the mountain, like Moses, looking out over the land and giving commands for reclamation of it. Now the land is not just the geo-political dirt of Israel, but the whole world. Matthew completes his geographical framework with Galilee as the place of departure for the worldwide Christian mission.