Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pausing the series until May

This series will be on hiatus until May while I am taking a bit of time off. In the meantime, feel free to catch up on earlier discussions.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

[Crosspost] Sermon: Living the Easter Life

I posted this sermon, preached at the Presbyterian Church, at my other blog. The primary text is 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, 16.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(4) Unity Revisited, Part 2

Outline: E1.4-Unity Revisited-2
Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:16
Discussion Audio (1h54m)

Christianity is not about who “I follow” but who “We imitate”

This session discusses the closing of Paul’s first essay in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul continues to focus on the cross of Christ event and applies its meaning as the solution to the problem of divisions.

At least some of the Corinthians had broken into factions, each looking to a different leader and placing him on a pedestal as above all the others. They thought they were doing the leaders a favor, but Paul writes that what in fact they are doing is attempting to elevate their own positions, using the leaders as weapons against one another. Paul denounces this anti-Christian behavior. Paul writes that ethical behavior must take priority over knowledge or doctrinal purity. When the question is on who is teaching a more pure gospel, it is not for him or anyone else to judge, but judgment is to be left to Christ. All who are faithful to their calling from Christ are building the temple of Christ. All who promote harmony in the community of believers are doing the work of building up. Any who foster strife, quarreling, and division are destroying the temple.

Paul writes that all teachers have something to contribute to the church. By claiming only one is worthy, or one is more worthy than others, Paul writes that the Corinthians are in fact rejecting God’s gifts.

The Corinthian error is an easy one to repeat… Our slogans take the form of "I am of the Presbyterians," or "of the Pentecostals," or "of the Roman Catholics." Or they might take ideological forms: "I am of the liberals," or "of the evangelicals," or "of the fundamentalists." And these are also used as weapons: "Oh, he's a fundamentalist, you know." Which means that we no longer need to listen to him, since his ideology has determined his overall value as a spokesman for God. It is hardly possible in a day like ours that one will not have denominational, theological, or ideological preferences. The difficulty lies in allowing that it might really be true that "all things are ours," including those whom we think God would do better to be without. But God is full of surprises; and he may choose to minister to us from the "strangest" of sources, if we were but more truly "in Christ" and therefore free in him to learn and to love.[1]

Paul writes that Christians are responsible to serve one another, but they are only accountable to God. The measure of evaluation is not what results have been achieved, but have they been faithful to God’s assignment. Paul’s employer is God, not the Corinthians. He serves the Corinthians, but he will not be dictated or influenced by their evaluations and criticisms.

In the concluding remarks on this first essay, Paul engages in strong irony and sarcasm to gain the Corinthian Christians’ attention. He repeats back to them statements they have made about themselves and infuses them with sarcastic irony. He then contrasts himself and his colleagues against what the Corinthians are saying about themselves.

Paul and the apostles live the way of the cross. The Corinthians (at least some of them) thought Paul’s way was weak and foolish. Paul cites scripture to show that his way is true and their way is false.

Paul describes his way as that of non-retaliation. He does not respond to violence and abuse in kind.

[Paul] knew what physical deprivation meant… His reward was often insult, persecution and slander; but Paul responded according to the irenic admonition of Jesus. The end result of all this was that the dirt scoured from the world was poured upon him and his apostolic co-laborers. They then acted as cleansing agents, taking to themselves hate, malice, and bitterness; and by absorbing this without violent or vengeful response, they took away those evils. Thus in a particular way they were carrying on the work of Christ.[2]

Paul’s final appeal is “imitate me.” He does not say “follow me” or “follow my teachings” or to follow anyone else’s teachings. It is “imitate me.” Christian discipleship is not all about gaining more knowledge, more book learning, more lectures, more sermons, but it is more about imitating Christians in our midst who have developed the character and display the glory of Christ.

What becomes transparent in this final appeal is that for Paul right thinking simply is not enough. The gospel must result in appropriate behavior as well.[3]

[1] New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First Epistle; entry on 1 Cor. 3:23.
[2] Orr/Walther, 1 Corinthians; quoted in Bailey, loc. 1748
[3] NICNT, 1 Cor. 4:14-21

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes

The following is copied from my review posted on Goodreads.

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 CorinthiansPaul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians by Kenneth E. Bailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are plenty of other reviews that go in-depth, so I will limit my comments to a brief summary of my reaction and recommendation.

Dr. Bailey provides a perspective into interpreting 1 Corinthians that is different from most other commentaries. The rhetorical approach that sees the Hebrew rhetorical structure is valuable in uncovering meanings that may be missed or undeveloped in the typical linear reading of the epistle.

As some reviewers have noted, this book is much closer to a traditional commentary than some of his other works that focus far more on cultural background. At the same time Bailey provides cultural insights that are vital to interpretation that are often not found in other commentaries.

Bailey departs from the conservative, evangelical interpretations of several key topics in Christian doctrine. These include the role of women in the church, the theory/model of Christ's atonement, and the nature of the human soul/spirit. I believe Bailey presents his case expertly, using history, cultural studies, literature, and rhetoric to build his case for each. Will it convince everyone? Probably not. Yet the weight he lends is considerable simply by the weight of his background, expertise, and experience.

I emphatically recommend this commentary. It isn't something fro which one can directly create sermons, but used alongside more traditional commentaries and resources, it provides insight and understanding that cannot be found elsewhere. It fills in gaps that one encounters from more traditional studies. It helps the student see the epistle from a new perspective.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Paul does not teach substitutionary atonement

I realize this entry jumps far ahead into 1 Corinthians, but as it has to do with the past Easter weekend I felt I had to post this. The following is from Kenneth Bailey’s commentary on 1 Corinthians, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. The excerpt is from the chapter on 1 Corinthians 15:1-20. Through it Dr. Bailey appears to affirm the Christus Victor model of the atonement.

Two works I recommend on further study of Christus Victor include Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement and Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross.

Excerpts were taken from the Kindle edition of Bailey’s commentary, found at locations 5097 through 5121.

It is impossible to deal with this text without noting the work of the medieval theologian Anselm (b. A.D. 1033), who developed the widely influential substitutionary theory of the atonement… For Anselm "Christ died for our sins" meant that Christ was a substitute for sinful humankind. One of the major difficulties with this theory is that it has allowed the word for to take on commercial overtones. [Examples of commercial exchange of goods for payment]…

Anselm developed this theory in the eleventh century… How then did Christians for the first millennium become believers when they did not have the substitutionary theory of the atonement to help them understand the cross? The simple answer is, the early Christians did not need Anselm… [Reference to parable of good shepherd, Lk. 15:4-7.] The focus is on the rescue, not the penalty.

The father in the parable of the prodigal son thought only of his love for his son when he humiliated himself in public by running down the crowded village street to reconcile his son before the son reached the hostile village. As he ran he was offering a costly demonstration of unexpected love. He was not paying a debt…

In Luke 15, along with other parables and dramatic actions, Jesus was indeed interpreting his own cross. The father in the parable was able to reprocess anger into grace and offer a costly demonstration of unexpected love to his yet self-confident son. The son planned to “work and pay” for his sins. He thought the issue was the lost money, and surmised that if he could get job training he would one day be able to pay back everything that he had squandered. It was only when he saw the depth of his father's suffering love that he understood the depth of his sin, and only then could he accept to be found and restored by an act of pure grace.

"Christ died because of our sins" is the preferred (legitimate) Arabic translation of this text. Our sins caused his death. The grave danger in much popular reflection on the atonement relates to the introduction of a third party. The theory, in its simplest form, is as follows: God is angry over sin, and he could justly punish us. But Jesus enters the picture and takes the punishment for us. So far, so good. In this sense Jesus is rightly understood as a substitute for us. But is Jesus a third party? Is God the Father a separate God from God the Son?

To affirm for this view is to create a strong whiff of Zoroastrianism, where there is a good god (Ahura Mazdah), and an evil god (Ahriman), a god of light and a god of darkness. The believer's task is to serve the good god, who protects us from the evil god. But not so the New Testament. Paul writes, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). He also wrote, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor 5:19). There is no third party. God is the one who acts in Christ out of love to reconcile us to himself. There is no split in the heart of God, with God the Father opposing God the Son.