17 June 2007

Remembering the Forgotten

"Forgiveness through Christ is the gentle schoolmaster who does not have the heart to recall the fogotten, but does recall it sufficiently to say: 'Remember, however, that it is forgotten. It is not forgotten, but it is forgotten in the forgiveness. Every time you remember the forgiveness, then it is forgotten, but when you forget the forgiveness, then it is not forgotten and then the forgiveness is forfeited.'"

--Soren Kierkegaard, "The Gospel of Suffering and the Lilies of the Field," p. 43

16 June 2007

JE: 90th Most Influential American

Acording to the Dec 06 Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Edwards is #90 on the list of the 100 most influential Americans in the nation's history. Mark Noll was one of 10 historians asked to compile the list.

"Forget the fire and brimstone; his subtle eloquence made him the country's most influential theologian." True enough (though something tells me it wasn't 'eloquence' that empowered his writing and preaching), and good to see the longtime stereotype continue to be overturned.

But 90? Really? Behind Mary Baker Eddy (#86), Babe Ruth (#75), Elvis Presley (#66), and Walt Disney (#26)? I like Mickey Mouse and home runs are fun in a way, but none of these people have given Americans a life-transforming vision of a Reality-encompassing and -sustaining God while simultaneously delineating the key to human happiness in the quiet contemplation of God's beauty. Heaven will adjudicate significance differently, I think.


15 June 2007

The Next Christendom

One of my brothers recently pointed me to Philip Jenkins' *The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,* a fascinating exploration of the shift of the nexus of world CHristianity from the northern to the southern hemisphere. The last two paragraphs of the book fascinate me, in light of the past year of my studies, which were focused on arguing that paradox (strength thru weakness) is the hermeneutical key to the theological unlocking of 2 Corinthians, rooted in Corinthian worldliness and climaxing in, and being crystallized by, 12:10 ('When I am weak, then I am strong'). Jenkins writes:

'Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and persecuted, while it atrophies among the rich and secure. Using the traditional Marxist view of religion as the opium of the masses, it would be tempting to draw the conclusion that the religion actually does have a connection to under-development and pre-modern cultural ways, and will disappear as society progresses. That conclusion would be fatuous, though, because very enthusiastic kinds of Christianity are also succeeding among professional and highly technologically oriented groups, notably around the Pacific Rim and in the United States. Yet the distribution of modern Christians might well show that the religion does succeed best when it takes very seriously the profound pessimism about the secular world that characterizes the New Testament. If it is not exactly a faith based on the experience of poverty and persecution, then at least it regards these things as normal and expected elements of life. That view is not derived from complex theological reasoning, but is rather a lesson drawn from lived experience [this is a false dichotomy and is, in my mind, patently theologically demonstrable in NT exegesis rooted in the crucifixion, but we appreciate Jenkins' point nonetheless]. Christianity certainly can succeed in other settings, even amid peace and prosperity, but perhaps it does become harder, as hard as passing through the eye of a needle.

'A healthy distrust of worldly power and success is all the more necessary given the remarkable reversals of Christian fortunes over the ages, and the number of times that the faith seemed on the verge of destruction. In 500, Christianity was the religion of empire and domination; in 1000, it was the stubborn faith of exploited subject peoples, or of barbarians on the irrelevant fringes of the great civilizations; in 1900, Christian powers rules the world. Knowing what the situation will be in 2100 or 2500 would take a truly inspired prophet. But if there is one overarching lesson from this record of changing fortunes, it is that (to adapt the famous adage about Russia) Christianity is never as weak as it appears, nor as strong as it appears. And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see that time and again, Christianity demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength.' (p. 220)

12 June 2007

Spurgeon: Preaching Defined

"True preaching is an acceptable adoration of God by the manifestation of His gracious attributes."

--C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 53

09 June 2007

Those Sneaky Galatian Infiltrators

Interesting description from J. Christiaan Beker on Paul's antagonists in Galatia--perhaps formulated a bit over-confidently, but fascinating nonetheless:

"The argument of the opponents runs along the following lines: You Galatians were Gentiles when, though the gospel which Paul preached, you turned to Christ. This turning away from idols and the "elemental spirits of the universe" (Gal 4:3,9) is an important first step. It is like the step Gentiles take when they turn from idols to the God of Israel and attach themselves as semiproselytes or God-fearers to the synagogue. However, do not mistake the first step for the end of the road (Gal 3:3). Paul misled you when he told you that your new status as sons of God in Christ depends on faith alone. This is an opportunistic misconstruction of the gospel and short-circuits its full implications. You realize--of course--that our Christ was the Messiah promised to the people of Israel, the true sons of Abraham. Jesus Christ is indeed the messianic fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, and therefore the promise pertains to those who belong to the people of Israel. It does not mean that Gentiles are excluded from the promise: They can participate in the full blessings promised to Abraham if they join the people of the promise. When Paul opposes the Torah and Christ, he is not only wrong but also opportunistic, because he wants to make it religiously and sociologically easy for Gentiles to become Christians, in order to enhance his apostolic grandeur. It is simply false that Gentiles can remain participants in pagan society without the "yoke of the Torah." The Torah and Christ cohere, because it is only within the realm of the Torah that the promise is fulfilled in Christ. To be sure, the observance of the Torah does not mean the observance of all its statutes and ordinances. Although Jesus Christ, the Messiah, acknowledged their validity, they have been fulfilled by him in his death for us. Nevertheless, "Torah-keeping" means the obligation to become a member of the Jewish people and therefore circumcision marks your entrance into the l;ine of salvation-history that started with Abraham and finds its fulfillment in Christ. The Torah, then, has primarily salvation-historical significance; it assures your participation in Christ by placing you in the correct salvation-historical scheme. What counts is its cosmic-cultic meaning as law of the universe. Therefore circumcision and Jewish calendar-observances (Gal 4:10) complete your status as full Christians and guarantee God's divine blessing upon you as true sons of Abraham. Paul should have taught you the gospel in this way. His claim to apostolic independence is actually a combination of opportunism and disobedience. His opportunism is directed at painless mass conversions, which must enhance his ego, whereas his disobedience is apparent when he--contrary to directions from Jewish-Christians headquarters in Jerusalem--preaches an abbreviated gospel. . . . this latecomer to the apostolic circle acts illegitimately and disobediently when he preaches a gospel that rests on sola fide, ignores the law and the Jewish antecedents of the Messiah, destroys the community of Israel wih the church, and lacks a proper ethic."

--Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, 43-44

02 June 2007

Pride's Subtleties

A good reminder for those of us in pursuit of theologically-kindled joy (strawberry-rhubarb theology):

"Pride is hard to subdue, and none so hard as the joint pride of piety and learning, and where men have made painful effort to eradicate their pride they may become inordinately proud of their humility."

--G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 2:275