Turris_Babel_by_Athanasius_KircherTodd Wilson has an excellent review of Scot McKnight’s book Kingdom Conspiracy (which I also reviewed). He brought up two questions towards the end which were thoughtful responses.


First, he asserts the people of the kingdom are not to be equated with the kingdom although they are inseparable from it. People may be a concomitant of the kingdom without constituting the essence of the kingdom.

While I follow the distinction, I am not sure it works. A thought experiment clarifies this. Wilson is essentially arguing that the essence of the kingdom is the dynamic sense, following Ladd. But couldn’t we also say that power should not be equated with the kingdom but is inseparable from it? This then seems to be a distinction without a difference because it is hard to find that which is equated with the kingdom which is not also inseparable from it.

So proposing this distinction actually undercuts the dynamic sense as well as the people sense of the kingdom.

A little look at the history of the definition reveals that the dynamic sense has been the leading view since Gustaf Dalman’s study Die Worte Jesu in 1898. George Eldon Ladd popularized this view in his numerous works on the kingdom arguing that the abstract idea is the primary meaning. Even the dictionaries have followed suit. However, Ladd’s conception of the kingdom must be understood in its historical and geographical context. For Ladd was, at least in part, reacting to dispensationalism with its focus on land, and therefore was prone to downplay other features.

Second, there seems to be some confusion on whether Jesus himself is the embodiment of the kingdom, or if he is the proxy or agent of God’s kingly rule.

The presence of the king is the presence of the kingdom. Certainly not in full, because we are waiting for it to be consummated, but Jesus is embodying the kingdom in his ministry thereby being the proxy agent of God’s kingly rule. I don’t think we can or should separate the two.

Luke 17:20-21 in particular has a reference to this concept. The Pharisees ask when the kingdom of God will come (temporal question), and Jesus replies by telling them they do not understand the nature of the kingdom for the kingdom of God is coming in ways that cannot be observed. Jesus then says “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν). Although there is much debate whether this should be translated “within you” or in the “midst of you,” he seems to be correcting their view of the kingdom as not external, but localized.

So why can’t they observe it? Because they are blind. It is standing right there in front of them.

Interestingly, The Gospel of Thomas 113 has a parallel passage: Jesus’ disciples said to him, ‘When will the kingdom come?’ Jesus said, ‘It will not come by expectation. It will not be a matter of saying “here it is” or “there it is.” Rather the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it. The parallel ties the concepts of “spread out upon the earth” with it being ἐντὸς ὑμῶν. Could Jesus be saying the kingdom is spatial now in bodily form?

Both the Gospel of Thomas and Tertullian (Marc. 4.35) associate the saying in Luke 17:20-21 with Deut 30:11-14 (LXX), where the commandment is said to be not far away, or in heaven, or beyond the sea, but very near, in one’s heart, and in one’s hands. Deuteronomy casts the commandment in spatial terms, not far away, or in heaven, but near. If both Tertullian and The Gospel of Thomas tie this passage to the nearness language of Deuteronomy, then it would be fitting to tie such to the spatiality of Jesus’ body. The kingdom is in the midst of them in the person of Jesus. Thus, it seems from the surrounding literature that Luke is not giving a spiritualization or interiorization of the kingdom in the usual sense.

At some point we need to ask what embodiment actually means, but for most I think they are asserting that Jesus is picturing both what kingdom life is and what it will be like.

I could go on and speak much more about this. If interested see my forthcoming book for a whole argument concerning this issue from Matthew, but I will leave it here.

Overall I am thankful for Wilson’s response and maybe he has further thoughts that will help clarify my thinking on these issues.




Best Albums of 2015

December 11, 2015 — Leave a comment

I listen to music almost all day while I work so it is always fun to go back and look through some of my favorite albums of the year. Each year when I post this, I find myself regretting not adding an album and also repenting that I ever put one of these on here. Well hindsight is 20/20 my friends.

Without further ado, here is my list for best albums of 2015.

(P.S. I have not listened to Adele. And yes, I did not really like Kendrick’s new album, so sue me. Also all Drake’s songs sound the same, so there.)

(1) Tame Impala: Currents


(2) Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

(3) Dan Deacon: Glass Riffer

(4) Leon Bridges: Coming Home

(5) Josh Garrels: Home

(6) Sandra McCracken: Psalms

(7) Chvrches: Every Eye Open

(8) Justin Bieber: Purpose

(9) Grimes: Art Angels

 (10) Beach House: Depression Cherry

(11) Jamie XX: Colour

(12) The Weeknd: Beauty Behind the Madness

Notable mentions: Borns, Father John Misty, The Lone Bellow, Alabama Shakes.

Here are my lists for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.







Of the writing of books on homosexuality there is no end.

Authors can set off on one of two trails. Either they can try to argue their way around Scripture presenting new research or they can respond to the latest arguments defending the more traditional and historic view of homosexuality.

But a third path has appeared in the woods as well. Recently the conversation has turned to more detailed and pastoral issues.

One of these specific issues in the historic view is whether same-sex attraction is sinful (SSA is a common euphemism for homosexual orientation). Does the object of the desire make it sinful? Did Jesus ever desire a sinful object? Or does a desire become sinful only when it gives birth to sin?

This is a practical issue for counseling situations and simply in terms of having well-reasoned biblical and articulate views of sexuality. Should pastors and leaders be urging those with SSA to be repenting of an orientation? Or should we simply tell them to repent when the desire has given birth?

I have been following this debate for a little while and have not seen a succinct summary of the issues, so I thought I would compile a primer on “who’s who” of this debate. I will give my opinion at the end but the aim is not necessarily to convince you. The aim is more modest: to provide a summary of the the main talking points in a succinct post.

Any short excerpt has the possibility of distortion, so I have tried to provide the key points acknowledging that more could be said. That is why a link is provided with each name. There are other people I could list, so forgive me if I missed anyone, but I think this gives an overview of where the argument stands.

Homosexual Orientation is Sinful

Denny Burk

The Bible says that our sexual desires/attractions have a moral component and that we are held accountable for them.

Paul says that the desires themselves are morally blameworthy and stand as evidence of God’s wrath against sin: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions… and [they] burned in their desire toward one another” (Rom 1:26-27). Sexual desire that fixates on the same-sex is sinful, and that is why God’s judgment rightly falls on both desires and actions. Again, the issue is not merely sexual behavior but also one’s enduring pattern of sexual attraction.

My conclusion is that if sexual orientation is one’s enduring pattern of sexual attraction, then the Bible teaches both same-sex behavior and same-sex orientation to be sinful.

Many say that “being gay” is not “reducible” to same-sex sexual attraction. In a limited sense, I would agree with that. I do not dispute that gay people report heightened emotional connections with the same sex that are non-sexual in nature. So maybe we would agree not to say that sexual desire is the only element that gay people experience as a part of their SSA. Nevertheless, sexual desire does seem to be the defining element.

Kevin DeYoung

What does that say about orientation? Well, it would certainly suggest that the sexual desire for somebody of the same gender is sin, if it arises to the level of lust (just like lust for somebody of the opposite sex would be sin as Jesus says in Matthew 5). And I think we go a little farther to say that the desire itself—the kind of attraction—is disordered, meaning it’s not the way that God designed things from the beginning.

So is homosexual orientation sinful? I wouldn’t want somebody watching this who has a struggle with same sex attraction to think that they are beyond the pale of God’s mercy or forgiveness. At the same time, I want them to know that Scripture clearly says that to act upon those attractions and to engage in that behavior is sinful.

* With DeYoung’s language, it is not clear that he sits squarely in this camp.

Albert Mohler

The Bible speaks rather directly to the sinfulness of the homosexual orientation — defined as a pattern of sexual attraction to a person of the same sex. In Romans 1:24-27, Paul writes of “the lusts of their hearts to impurity,” of “dishonorable passions,” of women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature,” and of men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.” A close look at this passage reveals that Paul identifies the sinful sexual passion as a major concern — not just the behavior.

When it comes to a same-sex attraction, the orientation is sinful because it is defined by an improper object — someone of the same sex. Of course, those of us whose sexual orientation is directed toward the opposite sex are also sinners, but the sexual orientation is not itself sinful.

Homosexual Orientation is Distinct From Sinning

Nick Roen

The Bible does not seem to explicitly mention same-sex attraction. It is possible that the “dishonorable passions” in Romans 1:26 could be dealing with SSA, but it’s unclear whether this is a reference to simply experiencing an attraction, or following the attraction into active lusting.

Our passions may be disordered by the fall of this creation, and yet be distinct from active sinning.

Given the above realities, it seems right to say that while homosexual practice is active sinning, the experience of same-sex attraction need not involve active sinning.

Wesley Hill

I think it may make sense to view the differences between us as differences between multiple models/definitions of homosexuality. It seems to me that some view homosexuality much more like a pre-modern Christian might: to be homosexually oriented is to experience discrete moments of temptation, forbidden desire, and (perhaps) to perform certain actions or behavior.

But we live in a constantly changing world, and many modern Westerners—especially, but not only, younger people—recognize that “being gay” today is a cultural identity.

A gay orientation can be understood as an overall draw toward someone of the same sex, which is usually a desire for a deeper level intimacy with those of the same sex. Just like a heterosexual orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for straight sex, a gay orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for gay sex.

I want to suggest—and I do so tentatively, as a sort of thought experiment—that when people like Julie (and I) say that their “being gay” can be the time or the place where they experience redemptive grace, they’re speaking very much within a contemporary framework of thinking about homosexuality. They’re recognizing that not all aspects of this new social construct—“being gay”—are reducible to what the Bible names as lust or what pre-modern Christians (and modern ones) recognized as sin. There’s a whole raft of experiences and social connections and relational histories and aesthetic sensibilities that go under the rubric of “being gay” for many of us moderns. And when we suggest that our coming to Christ doesn’t simply erase all that but instead purifies and elevates parts of it, we’re not suggesting that the inclination to have gay sex somehow gets sanctified. Rather, what we’re trying to articulate is that much of who we were as gay is somehow made Christian.

Preston Sprinkle

We can quickly dismiss Romans 1:27, since it’s not talking about same-sex attraction but same-sex lust.

I don’t think it’s accurate to equate what people mean by same-sex attraction to what the Bible says about sexual desire. SSA is a general disposition, regardless of whether someone is acting on, or even thinking about, it.

It would be wrong to reduce same-sex attraction to a desire to have sex. Same sex attraction refers “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to” someone of the same sex and includes other non-sexual relational bonds such as “affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment” (APA). SSA is not just about actively wanting to have sex.

Romans 1 appears to conflate desire and action. That is, Paul doesn’t seem to view a naked desire apart from a sinful action. (But SSA is something that is not acted upon.) Notice that when Paul mentions the “passions of dishonor” in 1:26 he immediately explains these desire by describing an action: “for even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” Paul is talking about women having sex with women. And he doesn’t consider the “passions of dishonor” separate from the act. It’s the whole entire event—the act and the desire that fueled the act—that’s condemned as sin.

Summary and Reflection

So where are we today? First, there seems to be some difference in how people are using words like “orientation”, “desire”, “lust”, “inclination” and “attraction.” For a few there appears to be some assent and involvement if a desire is there. For others orientations and inclinations are uncontrollable and therefore held at some distance. To my knowledge Burk never distinguishes attraction from desire.

But it seems to me that there should be a difference between “desire/lust” and “orientation/inclination.” Orientation/inclination should not be considered sinful in of itself, while lust would obviously put someone into the category of sin giving birth. The hardest word, both in the bible and in contemporary use, is the word desire. But James 1:14-15 pushes me towards thinking that there can be desires that are not sinful, until they give birth to sin.

It is true, in a sense, that SSA is one dimension of what it means to have a sinful nature, just as heterosexuals have sinful desires within the sphere of their heterosexual desires. The question Christian’s must wrestle with is the moral status of “orientation” not only “same-sex orientation.” Heterosexual orientations can also be sinful. But this is different from seeing the orientation as sinful in and of itself.

Although we could spend quite a bit of time on terminology this is not where the center of the debate is. The major question of this debate is whether SSA can be reduced or defined by a sexual desire. If SSA is not reduced to the sexual act then the orientation itself is not sinful. This circumvents the terminology question and asks a deeper question of orientation itself. Could it be that we are defining orientation using the sexual revolution’s map?

It is related to anthropology and whether we follow Augustine and see every sinful desire as a disordered good and even holding onto some remnant of good. So does a “same-sex orientation” preserve goodness in that the desire for mutuality, friendship, and companionship are good desires? Therefore if “same-sex orientation” is not reduced to the sexual act then the orientation itself is not sinful.

As a friend pointed out, we Christians have a vested interested in defining something like orientation in ways that explicitly call attention to its redeemable facets that are common to all orientations. If not we will have a two-tiered sexuality.


Trends at ETS 2015

November 23, 2015 — Leave a comment


I was not able to attend all or even most of the sessions at ETS in Atlanta this year but here is a short summary of the topics that I both heard and heard about.

First, as expected, and as Denny Burk points out, the discussion surrounding homosexuality continued. Included in this were debates, implied questions, and remarks about the following.

Is same-sex orientation sinful?

Should evangelicals condemn reparative therapy?

Can one be an evangelical and affirm gay marriage?

Evangelicals need more theological and thoughtful dialogue and teaching on celibacy and singleness.

On the first issue (SSA) I am working on a primer to help people catch up on the debate. For the rest it is probably best to just go and read Denny’s blog. I won’t repeat here what he says.

Second, while homosexuality was a topic, it was not the only topic of interest nor the only thing spoken about. Evangelicals seem to be increasingly interested in ecumenicism how to incorporate tradition in more of our thinking. This was highlighted in a review of Scott Swain’s and Michael Allen’s book where Peter Leithart, Stephen Fowl, Timothy George, and Mark Bowald presented. Ecumenicism is not an issue that is going away.

Third, hermeneutics continues to be refined at ETS. More and more people are warming up to the idea of allegory, fewer speak of literal interpretation or nuance it, and the debate endures surrounding the benefits and limits of the grammatical-historical form of exegesis. Included in this is how Evangelicals should approach the issue of biblical theology and speak of the relationship between the two Testaments.

Fourth, Evangelicals continue to speak about and even disagree about how exactly to engage culture. All affirm we are now living in Babylon, but disagreement exists concerning what “option” we should take. Should we dis-engage, re-engage, be more pessimistic, or be more transformative? There is a lot of common ground between most people but also differences in both rhetoric and the underpinning convictions for the role of Christians in the world.

Fifth, Scott Rae gave a fascinating presidential address where he detailed some of the upcoming issues in bio-ethics. He rightly noted that most pastors and even scholars are not equipped to answer recent medical advances and it is one of the issues Evangelicals need to be constantly revisiting and applying a biblical and theological perspective.

I am sure there were other conversations that I missed or simply were not on my radar. Let me know if you saw any other trends that are worth noting.

  • Update: I did notice more female involvement this year. That does not mean there was a lot, but genuinely more. I also heard that there were some talks on hip-hop this year.




Blog comments are usually the worst, but every once in awhile you can find gold in them.

Scot McKnight and Douglas Campell had a little back and forth about the Apocalyptic Paul and on reading narrative on Scot’s blog the other day which I thought was instructive in terms of their different approaches to narrative.

I have reproduced the discussion below.

SCOT: Richard, I’ve observed the same and queried the same. In the intro to my Colossians commentary I say the apocalyptic Paul group is the most supersessionistic of the Pauline interpreters.

The old perspective was indeed supersessionistic; the new is less so; the apocalyptic revives the old on this one.

However, the one thing I’ve noticed is that the apocalyptic group tends toward more pluralism so they may see Tom as too evangelical for their pluralistic tastes.. so the charge comes perhaps from that perception more than the narratival vs disruptive side.

DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: Umm. This really isn’t it. The charge against Tom is that he erases torah-observant Jewish Christians in particular. Which he does. This is a bad sign, and what most of us are upset about. Good history suggests that the early church – at least arguably – comprised torah-observant messianic Jews and non-torah-observant (or less torah-observant) converts from paganism. This is a much more inclusive position than either the old or the new Lutheranism. It’s not pluralism for the sake of pluralism. It’s just good theology and good ethics, and provides very important resources for combating things like racism (“whiteness” anybody?).

The Apocalyptic crowd really don’t erase Judaism, or creation, despite how they are depicted. I should know. I am one of them. The Apocalyptic claim is simply that the truth about God is known definitively in Jesus. Everything is then clarified in the light of this. It’s an epistemological claim, and to a certain extent a phenomenological one. It’s not an ontological claim, which would lead directly to Marcionism. The persistent misrepresentation of Apocalyptic readers in radically discontinuous ontological terms is simply an attempt to discredit their approach in obvious terms, and thereby to remove them from further consideration for those who don’t know better. It’s a fundamentally dishonest – or, shall we say, unfair – move, although it’s rhetorically very effective. (I did discuss all this at SBL in 2002, published in Quest in 2005. And I was by no means the first. Lou Martyn was sitting next to me and liked the paper by the way. But really, you just have to read one of the main figures and it’s obvious they’re not Marcionites after about five pages.)

SCOT: Thanks Douglas, I read your piece in the LA Times about salvation history in NT Wright (quite exasperatingly critical, if I may) — narrative continuity, and I’ve read your three books … I see more than Torah-observant Jews not being observant in Christ in your critique of Wright in that approach, and I see the same in your Quest’s approach to salvation-history (Rom 9-11) vs. apocalyptic (Rom 5-8).

On inclusion of Jewish believers as Torah-observant… I suspect that is the case, at least for some (though 1 Cor 9:19-23 has some serious tensions), but the issue is just as much must all Jews believe in Jesus for redemption, right? Isn’t that also another cutting edge on the supersessionism debate? I see Tom’s so-called supersessionism to be a messianic eschatology making claims about the reorienting of Jewish history.

When I read the apocalyptic folks I confess I feel all sorts of discontinuity and all sorts of supersessionism. Saying one isn’t supersessionistic isn’t enough — one has to show continuity in spades and affirm Christ in spades and see where it all lands on the table.

One more, Douglas. If the Jewish believer remains observant, isn’t that observance in the Spirit and in following Christ a kind of new Torah observance out of sync with typical Torah observance? So I still see a kind of supersessionism even in Jewish believer Torah observance.

DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: Hi Scot. Not sure what piece you’re refering to here in the LATimes. I did something for Marginalia. Does that come out in something to do with LA? If it isn’t then it isn’t me.

You’re probably right to detect some other problems that I have at this point with Tom as expressed in other places, but the post was specifically responding to “supersessionism.” So that’s why I addressed the erasure issue.

In terms of the other problem with “salvation-history”: that’s not an issue of supersessionism for me primarily, although it leads that; it’s a more basic problem of theological foundationalism. If salvation-history is treated in the wrong dogmatic location it tends to function as a theological foundation. You must treat salvation-history at some point, obviously, but that needs to take place in second position, under Christological control. Then things should all unfold quite healthily and constructively – and inclusively.

I would also reiterate what I said below in response to Richard: I do affirm and at times applaud much of Tom’s oeuvre. I just don’t sign off on all of it. But this is just what scholars do, right? We scrutinize each other’s positions very carefully because a great deal is at stake.

SCOT: Douglas, thanks for this. You reviewed PFG in the LA Times (at least in my memory!) — Gorman and I both commented in the comments. (I’ll dig into finding where it was.) You were very critical of the continuity-narrative/salv hist approach of Tom in that setting.

Yes, Richard brought up the supersessionism issue — which operates at a number of levels, some criticisms are to the point but miss others, and while those who level criticisms have others kinds of supersessionism at work.

I’m for a priority in christology but “christ” means nothing apart from a narrative and salv-hist, right? It is a claim that Jesus is the fulfillment of a promise/narrative. So without the narrative, no christology; christology having priority? I’d agree with that, but I get nervous about disruptiveness.

Found it: LA Review of Books. Marginalia.http://marginalia.lareviewofbo…

DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: Well, I have no problem with the importance of explicating Christ within a narrative. The key question, however, is, to put matters at their absolute simplest: Who is in charge of the narrative? For me it’s absolutely crucial that Christ is in charge of his own narrative. That he would use prior narratives and resources is fine, but they must be under the control of Christ as and when he arrives. And some things are new at that moment. Newly perceived, etc.

Critically, it follows from this that we don’t formulate a narrative in advance that he then fits into. Then we take control of the narrative and take control of him. This is what I see Tom doing at times.

Do we, for example, formulate a problem in advance of Christ and independently of him that he then comes to solve? We have thereby, with the best of intentions, taken over his meaning in advance of his arrival. (Every problem contains an implicit solution.)

So it’s all very well to talk about narrative and salvation-history. But there are fundamentally different ways of formulating these. Which direction is “the pressure of interpretation” coming from? Tom’s tends to flow “forwards,” from plight to solution, whereas I would suggest the correct disposition is “backwards,” from solution to plight. More of a Damascus Road approach we might say. “I was blind, but now I see.”

SCOT: Douglas,

If I may: that approach is precisely the problem by formulating the hermeneutical posture as a false dichotomy. Either it is backwards (you) or it is forwards (Tom). The reality is that it is a both-and: both an existing narrative and one that gets singularly advanced with newness (and revolutionary at that) in Christ. Christ is in charge of how we frame the narrative, but the narrative he is in charge of is an already existing narrative he fulfills and expands. As in Luke 24?

DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: But these are not the same thing Scot. The first “forwards” refers to narrative resources that exist in history. The “backwards” move is epistemologically sovereign. There’s not epistemologically sovereign move working forwards. Putting things like this just confuses matters I’m afraid.


George Hunsinger gives an overview of different Protestant views of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. These categories come from Brian Gerrish (1966).

Category Description Adherents
Symbolic Memorialism the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are simply signs or reminders of a salvation accomplished by Christ in the past and communicated to believers in the present through the Word of God. Zwingli

Markus Barth

John Howard Yoder

Stanley Grenz

Symbolic Parallelism As the bread and wine are received by the faithful, so also does Christ impart himself spiritually at the same time. Christ is present with (but not in) the consecrated elements. Calvin

Otto Weber

Herman Bavinck

G. C. Berkouwer

T. F. Torrance


Symbolic Instrumentalism the consecrated bread and wine become mediators of Christ’s body and blood. The bread and wine do not cease to be bread and wine, but Christ joins himself as they are received. Luther

Calvin (sometimes)

Wolfhart Pannenberg


Source: The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology, p. 410-12.