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PDF of The Future of Justification

PDF of The Future of Justification

I missed this earlier, but there is a PDF of the full book available on the Desiring God web site. I must admit that a couple of books by N. T. Wright still remain above it on my reading list.

Administrative Note: I will be upgrading this blog to WordPress 2.3.1 in the next half hour. If you see this post you either snuck in before me, or I’ve finished. I have the process streamlined, so there should be minimum disruption.

Update: Upgrade is complete. Also, I should have given a hat tip to Metacatholic on that PDF.

New Perspectives on Paul – Shifting the Paradigm

New Perspectives on Paul – Shifting the Paradigm

I find myself commenting a bit on this topic before I really feel ready to do so, but there are certain things I’d like to insert into the conversation that is being generated from Adrian Warnock’s blog, through the discussion of John Piper’s book The Future of Justification. (Some preliminary notes on the new perspectives may be found on my participatory Bible study blog, category New Perspectives on Paul. All these are just my notes as I journey through some of this interesting writing.)

Adrian has put a good deal of emphasis on what he sees as the gracious approach that John Piper has taken toward N. T. Wright’s work, and how accurately, in his view, Bishop Wright has been portrayed. I have no reason to believe that Piper is intending to be anything but gracious and accurate, and yet there are some things that bother me just a bit. (On these, see below.)

I’m going to outline the points here, but much of my reading on the new perspective has been from sources other than N. T. Wright, so I want to emphasize two things. First, I am in no way trying to characterize Wright’s views on this. I think those who really want to understand him should read what he has written. I linked to an excellent paper he wrote in my previous post on this topic, Justification: The Biblical Basis and its Relevance for Contemporary Evangelicalism (PDF). Second, I am myself exploring these ideas, and my training was primarily Old Testament, though I did a considerable amount of exegesis in Greek in school, and afterward. But even so I think I can perhaps help clarify a couple of things.

I started from Adrian’s post today, Legalism Versus Grace in First Century Judaism, in which he says:

Anyone who has read anything about the New Perspectives on Paul will realize that one of the key arguments is that we have misunderstood the Pharisees through the perspective of the Reformation. The first century Jews were never legalists, we are told. . . .

But there are a number of problems with this claim as well. First, it is not essential for the New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) that one assume that there were no Jewish legalists, or that there were no legalistic Pharisees. The key position is that Judaism was and is not a legalistic religion, and that in it favor with God was based on grace. I can find any number of legalistic Christians, plenty of whom would fit as targets of some passages in Luke 18 (cited by Adrian later in the paragraph), but they do not make Christianity into a legalistic religion by nature.

Jesus can encounter dozens and hundreds of legalistic Pharisees, and yet the essential foundation of Pharisaism need not be legalistic, nor does it have to carry over into modern Judaism in a legalistic fashion. Just how far one goes on this issue is another matter, and one which I am studying. I definitely believe that the religion of the Mosaic covenant, Israelite religion, was founded on grace expressed through the covenant. That has been my position long before I read any NPP material.

I tend to see first century Judaism as both a bit more corrupted and also more fragmented, so that I find it questionable to make many generalizations about first century Judaism. One could make a few generalizations about groups. Having said that, the Pharisees were probably one of the less corrupt groups. I suspect that they often disputed with Jesus because they were able to connect more frequently, while still not agreeing with him.

But this whole debate illustrates one of the problems I’m seeing with the online critique. (And again I must emphasize that I have not read The Future of Justification, and thus am not commenting on Piper’s own work, but only on Adrian’s presentation of it on his blog.) This issue of legalistic Pharisees as opposed to the legalistic nature of Judaism (or not, as Wright would maintain), illustrates the major paradigm shift that Wright and others are making. They are not seeing justification as dealing with whether an individual is “saved” or not, but rather as proclaiming/acknowledging that person’s entry into God’s people as a group. It is an individualistic perspective that, in answer to the claim that a faith position is based on grace, points out individuals who are legalistic.

For the NPP, we have been reading Galatians and Romans from the wrong perspective, asking the wrong questions. This was drilled into me both as an undergraduate Biblical languages student and in seminary: The message of Galatians is that we are saved by grace through faith and not by the works of the law. Essentially, in that case, Galatians is written in opposition to legalism, and particularly Jewish legalism.

Since first reading a bit about the NPP, I have worked through Galatians twice in Greek, using two different commentaries that at least partake of portions of the NPP. Each time through has been a bit mind twisting. But as I teach at the most basic level of Bible study methods, your questions often determine your answers, so it is very important to ask the right questions. In the case of Galatians, in the seminary classroom, I asked the question “How can I be saved?” I found an answer there–not by the works of the law, but rather by faith.

The NPP suggests that Paul is answering a different question: How does one become a part of God’s people, i.e. how does one come under the covenant? Paul’s enemies say it is by becoming Jews, with the sign of circumcision; Paul says that incorporation takes place because of the death and resurrection of Jesus and through faith. We are looking here much less at individual salvation, and much more at the definition of community. Neither side believes that being part of the covenant people can be earned by works. The sign and the means of incorporation are different.

This is over-simplified, partially because I haven’t incorporated the vocabulary myself, but after two passes through the book of Galatians trying to answer those questions I think I begin to see how the categories work. If you really want to try to understand the NPP, one good exercise is to ditch the “how does an individual become righteous in God’s eyes?” question, and replace it with “how and why does a person come under God’s covenant?” Then read Galatians looking for the answer to that second question. I’m not saying give up your view ahead of time. Just tentatively ask yourself how the book would work if you were asking a different question.

Ironically, it looks to me like Piper might have erred in an attempt to be as gracious as possible. He attempts to read Wright as favorably as possible from his own perspective. In Adrian’s post John Piper: Is N. T. Wright Preaching Another Gospel?, he quotes Piper noting the areas in which Wright would agree with the reformed view, and then the single item on which he disagrees. From Piper’s point of view, making Wright agree in most senses with the reformed view appears gracious. But it looks to me like he is missing the point. It is not that Wright goes along with the standard view and then disagrees because he does not believe righteousness is imputed or imparted. Rather, he is defining righteousness in a different way, and therefore the declaration that one is righteous means something different. It is a paradigm shift in which almost all definitions are adjusted, not a minor alteration.

I think we need to understand the NPP, and particularly Wright’s view of all of this carefully as a whole. Picking it apart in a point by point comparison with the reformed view, or any other for that matter, will not work well, because Wright is shifting the categories. Justification doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it does to a traditional reformed theologian.

Theological Arguments Against Evolution: Sin and Death

Theological Arguments Against Evolution: Sin and Death

Yesterday I wrote about the senses in which the phrase “bad theology” is used in the creation-evolution debate and in particular on the question of ID. To call something “bad theology” generally requires either a challenge to the internal logic of the statement, or a reference to a particular faith community, because there is no single “good theology” against which theological statements can be tested.

I’d like to follow up by looking at a theological argument against evolution, and how it relates to the some faith groups. While there has been considerable argument against intelligent design on theological grounds, the theological objections to evolution have been addressed less frequently.

In fact, I am frequently told that a belief in evolution really doesn’t have any theological consequences. The Bible tells us that God created the world, science tells us how. The only folks who have a problem with this are a few who incomprehensibly treat the Bible as a science textbook. There are two problems with that. First, there are quite a considerable number of folks who believe that the Bible is true in a sufficiently literal sense that they expect to connect the factual dots of Genesis to scientific data. They are frequently addressed with the rather inadequate statement “You shouldn’t take the Bible so literally!” Second, an excessively literal reading of scripture is not the sole theological problem with the theory of evolution.

Regarding the first point, the issue is a bit more complex than simply “not taking the Bible literally.” One has to ask just how one is to take it. I’m not going to address this in detail in this post (I talk about it a great deal more in my book When People Speak for God), but at a minimum one needs to specify how someone ought to take the Bible. For example, assuming Genesis 1 is not narrative history (one of the things loosely grouped as literal) what is it? I would suggest that it is liturgy, and that in turn suggests some things about how to understand it.

But today I want to look at a theological argument in a different form. Instead of arguing that evolution must be incorrect because the Bible makes certain historical claims, one can argue that evolution must be incorrect based on certain theological claims. These theological claims may be derived from the Bible, but the important issue is that they seem to contradict certain things derived from evolution.

Those who are not religious, or specifically not Christian will find this a strange form of argument, but it is valuable to see how certain people think about these issues in any case, and to realize that there are many for whom evolution poses substantial theological problems, quite apart from the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 as narrative history.

Sin and death is such an issue, and in my experience, it is the key issue. The theological proposition involved states that physical death is the result of human sin, and that had human beings remained loyal to God, there would be no death. Now I’ve discussed this position from the point of view of theodicy in Theodicy: Taking a Stab at Natural Evil. Since some may have a hard time comprehending this argument, it states that evolution cannot be true simply because it involves creatures dying before there were human beings to have committed sin. As I discuss in the referenced post, this is a problem for old earth creationism as much as it is for evolution, and Dembski has proposed an alternate suggestion, that God created physical death as a sort of pre-emptive response to sin, which God’s foreknowledge told him would occur.

But I’m dealing here solely with those who hold a chronological relationship. In this view human beings are created perfect in a world without death, they rebel against God, and death results. Obviously, for someone who holds that position, evolution cannot possibly be true. I grew up with that view as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church. It took me some time to step away from it, as it can get pretty much ingrained.

I can now argue against the theology involved, pointing out that Genesis doesn’t actually say that, but in fact suggests that barring the way to the tree of life is a way to prevent human beings from becoming immortal. One can understand spiritual death in many other passages that relate to death. None of that really matters for my purposes here; this particular position demonstrates that there are theological consequences to belief in evolution, and the presence of physical death as a fundamental fact of the universe is one of those.

Indeed, one key mental exercise I propose to such people is to propose a universe in which there is no death and yet there are things such as “fruit” to eat. How exactly does such a thing work? In particular, choice seems to be a fundamental of the universe and of the Bible, and what exactly is choice without a chance of failure?

I heard this very recently presented in quite different terms, dealing with God’s care, grace, and gentleness. How could a God who teaches the law of love create by means of such violence? Then there are those promises of a future, peaceful world where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.” Isaiah 65:25 (ASV). Surely if it’s promised for the future world, it must also have been true of the past!

Now I personally would compare this approach to a belief in verbal dictation of scripture, for example. People accept this position while ignoring the abundant evidence of different writers, backgrounds, perspectives and so forth throughout. Don’t come to a conclusion of how something ought to be, and then assume that it is that way. The physical evidence for evolution is extremely strong, and for an old earth it is overwhelming, either of which would require substantial modification of this particular doctrine.

The key thing to remember, however, is that for someone who holds the specific form of this doctrine I cited, there is a serious theological impediment to accepting the theory of evolution, and this is based not necessarily on reading the Bible literally, although the sequence is. You can argue the evidence for evolution as much as you want, but they won’t be moved, because they have a key theological proposition that directly contradicts it.

I have been interested to note as well that my own view of God is perceived as more distant, because I believe that God honors choice and allows the consequences to take place. In fact, I believe those who suggest I see God as more distant are quite correct. I believe God is distant enough to allow human responsibility to be meaningful.

This separates me just a bit from the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) approach, since I hold that the discoveries of science can have a substantial impact on one’s theology. They certainly have had such an impact on my own theology. In general, I believe NOMA to be the correct approach, and theology and science must clearly be separated to prevent theology from attempting to predetermine the results of scientific research. (I’m reminded of the notice at my graduate school offering grant money to those who would do research “to support a 6,000 year model of the earth’s history.) But physical reality should have an impact on theology.

Taking Care of Veterans

Taking Care of Veterans

I linked yesterday to a story about PTSD related discharges, and today I found this Newsweek article on problems with the [tag]Veterans Administration[/tag].

I believe people from all across the political spectrum should be able to agree that we must take good care of our troops and our veterans.

But I want to point out something else. The figure given in the Newsweek article is that [tag]veterans[/tag] care resulting from the wars in [tag]Afghanistan[/tag] and [tag]Iraq[/tag] will be at least six times the official estimates. I can’t confirm the accuracy of those figures, but it does fit in with a constant refrain from these wars–they cost more than is projected, and the actual cost is extremely high.

Jesus used preparation for war as an example of the need to count the cost (Luke 14:31-32). I’m not using this as a call to cowardice, but rather as a call to use such resources as we have effectively and wisely. Just looking at the costs of the two wars we are in right now should let us know that a strategy of attacking and occupying every country that promotes terrorism in any way is not going to be cost effective. Continuing even further to reform their governments into an image that we prefer is well outside any range.

I’ve heard Iraq advocated as a base to fight terrorism elsewhere. But what sane strategist would suggest a base that costs more resources to maintain than those that can be projected from it?

One of these costs that must be counted is the care of veterans. It’s a moral duty. But even more it’s a practical duty. If people come to understand that if they sacrifice themselves for their country they and/or their loved ones will not be cared for properly, it will become harder and harder to find the necessary quality of troops. Loyalty will only carry people so far when it is not reciprocated.

Lectionary Category

Lectionary Category

I have added a category “Lectionary” to all the (relevant) blogs to which I contribute. That includes my big three (see the sidebar) along with a couple of group blogs, one merely shared with my wife.

Some years ago before I had a blog I tried to keep up with creating a new page each week on the lectionary texts for a couple of weeks ahead. I didn’t keep up with it for very long. Since then, I have continued to use the lectionary texts in my devotional reading, and occasionally I write something about them. I notice that this has been increasing.

So what I have done is modified my lectionary page on to reflect an RSS feed of all these lectionary entries. I left the index to the older pages there in case someone wants to look at any of the old passages.

There will be an explanation on the page soon of the type of entry to expect on each of the blogs in question.

This doesn’t really reflect a change in blogging. It’s just a new tag and a new aggregator to present the material in a bit more organized of a fashion.

Free Burma Day

Free Burma Day

I will be participating in Free Burma day tomorrow. There will be a banner reading Free Burma, underlined for the full day and I will not be posting.

You can find more information on this action here.

Blogrolling Blogrolls Temporarily Disabled

Blogrolling Blogrolls Temporarily Disabled

I have temporarily disabled my based blogrolls due to very slow loading. I will look into what can be done. Some blogrolls can probably be restored using another method.

For the moment, however, the site was unusable with those blogrolls enabled.