Jesus: “An Unexpected Messiah”

Sunday, April 13th (Palm Sunday) 2014. Jesus: “An Unexpected Messiah”. Pastor Emeritus Rev. Dorman Quinton Preaching on Mark 11:1-17.

A (Sort of) Book Review: Inhabiting the Cruciform God

Michael J. Gorman. Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

This book had been on my “wishlist” for several months, and I finally grabbed it as my Lenten reading; a transition from the Pauline stuff I’ve been working through since last Spring, leading into the Lenten reflections of the movement to the cross (and specifically how it is protrayed in Mark’s gospel as an intentional journey into which we are invited). I ended up chewing through it about a week and a half into Lent. It was just that good.

What it’s about

In Gorman’s own words:

The basic claim of this book has been that Paul’s soteriology is best described as theosis, or transformation into the image of the kenotic, cruciform God revealed in the faithful and loving cross of Christ, and that Spirit-enabled theosis is the substance of both justification and holiness. Justification is participatory and transformative, accomplished by co-crucifixion with Christ and embodied as holiness. (p. 161)

That’s quite a mouthful. In other words, Gorman is arguing for an integrated view of justification, sanctification, christology, theology, pneumatology which all comes to us through union with Christ. The believer finds justification and sanctification by “inhabiting” the Messiah, and in so doing is transformed by the Spirit to become like God (theosis) because God is cruciform (cross-shaped). God’s character is revealed most fully in Christ and his crucifixion, which mean in becoming “co-crucified” we become like Christ, and thus, like God. Holiness is the reflection of this character. We become holy when we become like Christ, by the power of the Spirit.

Chapter 1 is an adaptation of an earlier article by Gorman on Philippians 2:6-11 discussing the translation issues with “although he was in nature God”, which Gorman proposes is grammatically correct, but when probed deeper, the rhetorical model of “although [x] not [y] but [z]” creates a situation in which it could be rendered causally- “because he was in nature God”, which would mean Christ’s kenosis is not in spite of his Divinity, but because of it. God is thus kenotic by nature. God is self-emptying, giving, sacrificial. This is not a case of the Divine Son acting differently than the Father, but being faithful to the Father’s character.

Chapter 2 is the main “guts” of the book, dealing with the idea of justification by co-crucifixion. Gorman argues that justification by faith was understood by Paul as “new life/resurrection via crucifixion with the Messiah” (p. 44). Here Gorman makes an important distinction between Sin and sins. Justification is sometimes reduced to payment of the blood-debt incurred by sins. But Sin in Pauline thinking is a personified power. In co-crucifixion the power of Sin is dealt with (the old self is crucified with [sustauroó] Christ [Rom. 6:6, Gal. 2:20]) , not simply Christ crucified as the payment for the debt owed by human beings (49-51). As a result justification consists not just in restoration of relationship with God by cancelling/paying a debt, but is about restoring right covenant relationship with God and other people. Justification is transformative, changing our interaction by Spirit-enabled love and righteousness towards others, thus enabling covenant fulfillment, ending Sin, and manifesting holiness. Thus, justification alters/heals/restores not just the Divine-human condition, but the condition of humanity within itself. This isn’t to say of course that justification is earned by our righteous behaviour to each other. It is still a passive thing, received from God, in Christ (via joining or participating in him and his crucifixion), enabled and encountered by the Spirit.

He continues in chapter 2 by depicting justification as theosis, becoming like God.  He argues “justification is participation in the faithfulness and love of God. It is thus a process of deification or theosis” (90-91). Justification must be applied in becoming conformed (by God as agent) into the image of Christ.

Chapter 3 develops theosis further, and explains the relationship of theosis and holiness. Gorman says “holiness, or sanctification, is not an addition to justification but its actualization” (111, emphasis original). Holiness is thus justification played out in reality; holiness is justification manifested/embodied. Human holiness is participation (koinonia) in God’s holiness (ie. by union with Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit manifesting itself in our living a cruciform life).

Chapter 4 turns to the idea of nonviolence as inherently part of God’s personality. It is through the non-violent response of the word that Jesus demonstrates God’s covenant faithfulness, and God’s solution is not to respond to violence with violence but with new life- resurrection.

The Good

Gorman’s depiction of Paul’s participatory view of justification by co-crucifixion is virtually identical to my own view, but also broader and better worded. I felt myself being in almost complete agreement with everything Gorman has proposed. This book is the one I’ve been wanting to read (without my even knowing it until I’d read it). I’ve always been unsettled with the idea of justification as a “balancing of the books”; a payment of debt. Skeptics of the penal substitution model often see in it an abusive father who has to do violence to someone, and Jesus as a lightning rod, misdirecting wrath (it’s obviously an unfair image but one can understand why people could get that impression). The Christus Victor model has been appealing to me, but not fully as it doesn’t embrace the fullness of the imagery in the New Testament. Gorman manages to bring various streams of thought together, and presents a beautiful image of salvation which is logically consistent, scripturally faithful, and without the sometimes fragmented view of justification and sanctification (the ordo salutis has never sat right with me, as I see a more integrated depiction in the NT and Paul especially).

By drawing together the various streams in a gracious way, Gorman is able demonstrate an integrated, holisitic view of God’s outworking of new life. Unlike other works, Gorman here is able to bring together a picture which, unlike some more terse depictions of justification, enable us to see a God “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in covenant love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6).

The Not-so-good

The only issues I had pop up more in stylistic features than theological one. Chapter 1 is very technical, and occasionally repetitive. When you read through the whole book, it does occasionally feel as though you’ve read the same paragraph several times over. He regularly comes back to the same point to remind the reader of the thesis and centrality of justification by co-crucifixion and cruciform character of God revealed in the kenotic work of Christ. This can be advantageous if done well. Gorman doesn’t do it as well as it can be done.

Secondly, because the first chapter is an adaptation a previously published work, and other portions are adapted from other research Gorman has done, it doesn’t hold together the way it could have; the flow between chapters doesn’t feel completely organic.

Overall:

Gorman does bring together intensely researched, and clearly conveyed technical work in the Greek text, with an array of research of recent Pauline scholarship to present a picture of Paul’s theology of justification as beautiful expression of an extension of the person of God fully and wonderfully displayed in the cruciform, kenotic Messiah Jesus. Gorman convincingly leads us to a God who, because of his covenant faithfulness cries out in the midst of the power of Sin to use Sin’s power against it. Through non-violence, Christ has demonstrated the power of love, and defeated Sin by drawing us into him, and through the Spirit, conforming us to him that we might share in his crucifixion and through that share in his resurrection.

What Gorman has given the reader (pastors, students, and well-read laity) is well laid out demonstration of the work God has begun in Christ and the means by which he will see it through to completion. While this won’t likely settle all debates about Pauline soteriology (published five years ago, and the battle rages on) but will encourage those sifting through the messiness of the heated discussion of the present scholarship and find a place where various threads meet. Gorman has argued well for a participatory reading of Paul in which his doctrine and the narrative of the crucified and risen Messiah are virtually seamless.

Murder in the Fifth

I love the oddities in the Bible; weird trivia, story-telling connections, stylistic weirdness. In my studies, one of the areas which took up most of my time and attention was Old Testament narratives, particularly in Genesis, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel (1 Samuel in particular took up a lot). This year, our Wednesday morning Bible Study group has been working through 2 Samuel (we did 1 Samuel last year). 1 & 2 Samuel are full of linguistic connections and oddities that only come to life if you read the narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures together, and do so carefully. Even then, if you’re doing it in English, you might miss these things.

This past Wednesday, we finished chapter 19, and began into chapter 20. This chapter begins with David returning to Jerusalem to put his house back in order following the coup by his son Absalom. David sends out his newly promoted nephew Amasa, commander of the Army (who just happened to have previously served in the same capacity under David’s son Absalom during the war against David) to round up a force to track down Sheba son of Bicri, a Benjamite who has called for a rejection of David as king. Amasa fails to return with the forces in the allocated time (three days), and so Abishai (David’s nephew and Amasa’s cousin) younger brother of Amasa’s predecessor, the recently demoted Joab, is sent out with Joab’s men to track down Sheba.

On the way, Joab and Abishai run into Amasa (coincidence?) at Gibeon. There, Joab holds Amasa’s beard with his right hand, and leans in to give him a kiss of welcome, but with his left hand, Joab stabs his replacement “in the belly” (NIV). Now, as unpleasant as stabbings would normally be to talk about, this one has some intrigue connected to it.

The first, is something commented on by my former Old Testament Prof., Keith Bodner. The word rendered “belly” in the NIV is an interesting choice. The word (chomesh) is a rarely used word which means “fifth”. Amasa was stabbed “in the fifth”. The KJV translates more literally, with an interpretive assumption “in the fifth [rib]”. So, not really in his belly, but higher up in the torso (Amasa’s death is quick, not needing further jabs, so perhaps into the lungs or heart). The translators of the NIV tell us that Amasa’s intestines spill out (v. 10, “entrails” in the NRSV). That is unlikely given the location of the blade if chomesh in fact refers to the ribs (thus, above the intestines). Instead, what comes out of Amasa is not the intestines themselves, but the contents of the intestines (sorry for the grossness, but at death, this typically happens. In this case, death is presumably instantaneous). Bodner has written an article relating other stabbings[1] which use this same term, and all from 2 Samuel; Asahel (Joab and Abishai’s brother), stabbed by Abner in 2:23; Abner stabbed by Joab in retalliation in 3:27, and Ishbosheth is stabbed by two assassins “in the stomach” according the NIV of 4:6. These 4 stabbings use the same unusual term for the location of the blade, chomesh, thus linking them together. Three of the four involve the sons of Zeruiah (Joab, Abishai and Asahel) and three involve a member of Saul’s family (Abner, Saul’s cousin, and Ishbosheth, Saul’s son). Perhaps we can then speculate that the stabbing of Ishbosheth is perhaps somehow linked back to Joab? Whatever the case, there is definitely an affinity for precisely targeted stabbings.

The second interesting connection is the use of the left hand in the stabbing, which is strikingly similar to the depiction of the stabbing of Eglon of Moab by Ehud (Judges 3). There, Eglon is stabbed by the left-handed Ehud in the belly (actually his belly, not the fifth). Also, remember how the contents of Amasa’s intestines come out in 2 Sam. 20? Well, same thing happens to Eglon (different terms are used, but the same idea). So, a lefty concealing a dagger, stabbing an unsuspecting person of prominence in the belly, causing the bowels to empty. Clearly similarities are there.

Now, here’s where things get really weird. Lefties pop up a few times in the Deuronomistic History (the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). Ehud, Joab, and I am proposing another place. The next place we have to look is at Joab’s uncle. Presumably Joab is either left handed or perhaps ambidextrous, and this may be a family trait (I myself am left-handed, as is my mother, as was my grandmother). In the story of David and Goliath we find out some interesting data on David, which you might not notice. As David moves forward to engage Goliath in representative combat, we read of Goliath’s reaction to David’s appearance: “The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.” (1 Sam. 17:43). Seems pretty innocuous, right? But wait, back up a bit. In verse 40 we read, “Then he [David] took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine” (emphasis added). Why does Goliath state that David comes with sticks? David isn’t coming with sticks, but a sling and stones. Goliath apparently does not see the sling, but only David’s staff. Why? Goliath is likely looking to David’s right hand where a sword or javelin would be. Now, consider this; in Judges chapter 20 we read of inter-tribal war between Benjamin and the other tribes. When describing Benjamin’s army, the narrator tells us: “On that day the Benjaminites mustered twenty-six thousand armed men from their towns, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah. Of all this force, there were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss” (Judges 20:15-16, NRSV, emphasis added). Slings and southpaws go hand-in-hand (pardon the pun) and the irony in this case being the fact that left-handers from the tribe of Benjamin (benjamin meaning “son of my right hand”) are featuring in a special way. Joab’s possible left-handedness may be a family trait, shared by Joab and his uncle David.

As if that weren’t enough oddness, here’s two more things to ponder: 1.) Ehud, we are told is “Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man” (Judges 3:15). David, in chapters 16 of 2 Samuel encounters a Benjamite who curses David, and throws stones at him. The man is “a man of the family of the house of Saul [ie. a Benjamite]… whose name was Shimei son of Gera“! A descendant of Ehud perhaps? And of course, as expected, the stone throwing was not forgotten by the sons of Zeruiah; “Abishai son of Zeruiah answered, ‘Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?'” (2 Sam. 19:21). The sons of Zeruiah are out for blood once again.[2]

2.) Ehud’s victim, Elgon of Moab, didn’t conquer Southern Israel alone. He comes, allied with the Amalekites and Ammonites (Judges 3:13). These two nations factor significantly in narrative of… you guessed it Saul and David. Saul’s greatest success is against the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11) and his moment of disobedience/failure comes in relation to the campaign against the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15). David, on the other hand (pun intended!), has great success against the Amalekites (1 Sam. 27 & 30, 2 Sam. 1) and his moment of moral failure comes during Israel’s campaign against the… you guessed it- Ammonites! (2 Sam. 11-12). Then of course, after the coup by Absalom, David retreats to the East side of the Jordan to an area disputed between the Israelites and Ammonites, and receives help, ironically, from Gileadites, whom Saul rescued from the Ammonites, and still had sympathies for Saul’s dynasty. During the reign of Ishbosheth, the capital moved from Gibeah of Benjamin to Mahanaim in Southern Gilead, which is also the city where David retreats to, and is helped by an interesting cast: Makir (formerly custodian of Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth), Barzillai the Gileadite, as well as from Shobi, son of Nahash- Nahash being the king of the Ammonites defeated by Saul at Jabesh-Gilead, whose son (Shobi’s brother), Hanun, was defeated at Rabbah by Joab and David.

So what’s the point of all this? Just weird coincidences? Useless trivia? Probably not. The narrators of the Hebrew Scriptures are clever folks. They use these linguistic devices frequently, and presumably intentionally to demonstrate a point. So what’s the point they’re making? Well, the grotesque acts of violence are linked to one another through these vocabulary and motif choices, and I would argue (I think it’s certainly reasonable at least) that the narrator is drawing our attention to the systemic, repetitious nature of the violence in Israel’s history; violence begets violence. One of the stand out phrases of 1 Samuel is the request by the elders of Israel for “a king like all the other nations”. Israel was to be holy (Ex. 19:6, Lev. 11:44 & 45, 19:2), different, set apart. And yet, there is no discernible difference. The systemic assassinations and bitter, generations old rivalries demonstrate an ongoing destructive tendency even in God’s people; that is unless measures are taken (like those taken by David to protect Mephibosheth and Shimei or those taken to offer non-partisan help by Makir, Barzillai and Shobi, as well as Ittai the Gittite, the non-Israelite [Philistine?] general who refused David’s offer to join Absalom’s service). The narrator shares certain details, while withholding others, and it is probably not an accident. He could have just said Shobi and not revealed that Shobi is Nahash’s son. Or he could have neglected to mention that Joab used his left hand to stab Amasa. He didn’t have to tell us that Asahel, Abner, Ishbosheth and Amasa were are stabbed “in the fifth”. But those details are included that the original audience might learn something from this.[3]

[1] See also Bodner’s Power Play: A Primer on the Second Book of Samuel. (Toronto: Clements, 2004), p 47 & 204.

[2] For some key insights into the characterization of the sons of Zeruiah see Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation). (Louisville: WJK, 1990), a stunning, non-technical commentary which beautifully captures the literary nuances of the books of Samuel, or for Joab specifically Keith Bodner, David Observed: A King in the Eyes of his Court. (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008), chapter 8.

[3] If you’re interested in these linguistic techniques, perhaps the best places to go is Jewish Scholar Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative (BasicBooks, 1981).

A (Sort of) Book Review: After Our Likeness

Miroslav Volf. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Sacra Doctrina). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

I picked this up to help with a sermon on the Church and Trinity (and it did come in handy recently too, with the ReImagining Church series) and just finished it… finally. It proved to be a very, very helpful piece. It’s dense, thorough, and heavy packed (less than 300 pages, but very intense in the amount of content packed into those pages). I admittedly had only had limited interaction with Volf’s works prior to this, but the small amount of interaction was always positive, and his reputation for being engaging and wise had me confident going into this book, and I was not disappointed.

What it’s about:

In Part I Volf lays out the perspectives of Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and John Zizioulas (Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan and Bishop of Pergamon) with regard to the Church, personhood, sacrament, ecclesiality, etc. Thus, Volf generates a “conversation” between Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant depictions of the Church.  Part II is where the really helpful stuff lies (for the pastor at least), as Volf interacts with Free Church, Reformed Tradition, and the Catholic/Orthodox perspectives outlined in Part I to unpack the nature of the Church (and churches) and how they interpret catholicity, trinitarian participation and reflection, structures/offices, etc. (the chapters include: “The Ecclesiality of the Church”, “Faith, Person, and the Church”, “Trinity and Church”, “Structures of the Church”, and “The Catholicity of the Church”). Volf brilliantly takes the strengths from various perspectives, and critiques the weaknesses with grace.

Volf upholds a view which is a sort of “in between” view of catholicity. The Church is catholic, and each local congregation is catholic in some sense, participating fully and completely in Christ. Though all parts are diverse the church is a “differentiated unity” or a “heterogeneous totality” (borrowing from Thomas Aquinas); a unified collection of diverse parts (261-2).

The Church, argues Volf, is bound by the confession of faith that “Jesus is Lord” (145ff). This, argues Volf is declared and participated in (“a person gains access to salvific grace” [153]) through the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Thus the requirements of the Church to be the Church are public mutual profession of faith in Christ, identification with Christ as Lord (“commitment of believers to take the path of imatatio” [148]), “preformative” confession (149), and the sacraments.

The Good:

Volf is respected in a whole host of different circles/traditions. He is able to speak with integrity, grace and influence to various audiences, and be received cordially in various communities of faith (even being known as a key voice in interfaith relations, writing and editing several works on Christian-Muslim dialogue). His conciliatory tone has allowed him to welcome various perspectives into an honest discussion, and he is able to draw from differing views to create a beautiful image of the Church as a beautiful mix of varied persons connected by a mutual observance of Jesus Christ as Lord. Volf’s reputation is one of praise for his ability to generate honest, respectful, ecumenical discourse. This volume certainly lends to that reputation, as it is in itself an ecumenical project.

Volf is both a passionate, practical, interactive, even pastoral person, but also an accomplished scholar. Both sides comes through in After Our Likeness. It is an intensely researched tome, showing Volf’s abilities as a researcher, exegete, and systematic thinker. He capably handles difficult concepts (like the relationship between catholicity and individual personhood) and presents them with precision. He shows his capabilities in systematizing thought well, breaking the discussion into a well laid out argument.

His depiction of the Church as a people drawn together under the profession “Jesus is Lord” is faithful to the biblical witness (in my humble opinion). The chapter “The Ecclesiality of the Church” alone makes this book worth getting. In that chapter, Volf lays out the biblical depiction of the Church as the assembled people, such that the local church is not a piece of the Church, but each church is fully the Church participating in the fullness of communion with the Trinity. Each congregation is “a church in the full sense of the word… a holy, catholic, and apostolic church” (158). Each congregation possesses the marks of the Church “on the basis of the constitutive presence of Christ.” (Ibid.)

The intensity of the research is remarkable (over 20 pages to the bibliography) as is the vast diversity of sources which Volf draws from and interacts with. The integrity with which Volf has presented various opinions and evaluated claims is commendable. Volf has created a piece of work where various voices are heard, integrated, and become parts of a beautiful whole. The way in which the book is written even backs up the thesis of a varied but united whole; multiple, varied voices coming together to create a harmonious depiction. If only the whole of the body of Christ would “buy into” Volf’s symphonic picture of the Church.

The Not-so-good:

The key issue for me is that there are many parts which are invaluable, while others are partially unnecessary, or at least prolonged and perhaps hide the more helpful portions. Part I is a tad dry, and difficult at times. It is needed to a degree, laying foundational depictions, which the later chapters interact with and reference the preceding groundwork. But it does cause the book to drag somewhat, especially since the book leads with this. It could have been leaner in this section.

The only other qualm I have is the lack of a concluding chapter to provide some closure. Because of the denseness, I was reading over a longer period of time, and would have liked a chapter at the end to “sum up”.

Overall:

The book is dense, so not for the timid. Most laity would get bogged down and lose interest. This is more for grad students, pastors, and trained denominational leaders. The back cover blurb on the series (Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age) suggests it is aimed also at “educated laypeople” which may be the intent of the series, but this volume may be for only the most educated among the laity. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Volf sets a beautiful vision for the Church as a place where individual persons meet as one through the confession of faith in Christ as Lord, reflecting the image of the Trinity as three persons, sharing one nature bound in perfect love. Volf’s research presents a Church where the gracious and loving nature of a God who has distinct persons is actualize in the diverse but unified assembly of people serving one Lord, sharing in one Gospel, and recognizing one holy, catholic and apostolic body. Volf gives us a model of how diverse opinions within Christianity can be drawn into one place, sit at one table and whose differences can become a symphony of diversity which come together to become one masterpiece in the hands of the gracious and infinitely creative composer.

A (Sort of) Book Review: Paul Women and Wives

Paul, Women & Wives

Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004).

Originally published by Baker in 1992, republished by Hendrikson, with a new preface, I picked this book up because a. Keener is a phenomenal scholar b. a lot is being said about gender roles, and I wanted to interact with someone I know I can take seriously as an exegete c. I’ve been chewing through lots of Paul over the past year, and general Pauline theologies don’t get into specific issues in comprehensive ways d. it was on sale, and people like me can’t pass up inexpensive books by great authors.

What it’s about

Paul, Women & Wives is divided into two parts, part 1 examining the Pauline texts which speak of women’s roles within the context of the church meetings, and part 2 which examines the role of women within the context of marriage. Both of these topics are of course controversial in some circles. I have my opinions on the topic (on women in ministry, and on marriage). Keener approaches the key texts on women’s roles, and does so by placing Paul within the context of the culture of first century Jewish and Roman societies, and also opens up the small passages (in some cases isolated verses) within the broader context of the Epistles in which they are located, and Paul’s corpus as a whole. In doing so, Keener treats these statements with an understanding beyond the proof-texting approach these verses are often victims of.

Keener is perhaps the authority when it comes to the historical context of the New Testament. He literally wrote the book on New Testament background. So, with a mind-boggling high number of primary source materials, Keener unveils the views held by Jewish and Roman writers regarding the role of women, both in household roles, and religious roles, and then presents them side by side with key Pauline texts.

In part 1, Keener examines the pertinent texts which on the surface appear to limit women’s participation in Church (1 Cor. 11:1-16, 14:34-35, 1 Tim. 2:9). He argues that these are situational, not universal commandments (ie. the directions given to the Corinthian church are in response to the behaviour of women in the Corinthian church, and his directions to Timothy are a response to what was happening in the Ephesian church where Timothy is leading). Keener ultimately concludes that the “silencing” of women in the Church which many attribute to Paul is wrongly understood, and that Paul is suggesting that women, because of their lack of previous training/experience are not yet suited to teach, because they themselves had not yet been properly/fully taught. The appeal in 1 Tim. to Eve’s creation after Adam does not subordinate her to Adam, but points out that Eve was not present to receive the commandment from God, and apparently did not receive adequate guidance from Adam, which then accounts for her being susceptible to deception. In other words, women in Ephesus were not to teach because they were uneducated, but they should instead learn. This is not a critique or declaration of the ineptitude or unfitness to teach, but a critique of the culture which has left women out of study. This means that in the future, trained women could be seen as able to teach. He writes, “If Paul does not want the women to teach in some sense, it is not because they are women, but because they are unlearned.” (120) The Corinthian women were instructed to be silent, not because all women women everywhere are under the divine assignment of being silent, but because the Corinthian women were disrupting the worship of the Church (the whole section of 1 Cor. 11-14 is about orderliness, propriety and attentiveness in worship). Thus, women should not speak during worship (although, as Keener notes, Paul recognizes that female prophets were present, and encouraged to speak, as long as it is in an orderly fashion), but hold any questions until later to ask their husbands, who presumably have had greater access to education.

In part 2, Keener places the “household code” of Ephesians 5:18ff in its broader context. He points out the grammatical issues (the often quoted verse 22 is a dependent clause, “borrowing” its verb [submit] from verse 21, which instructs all believers to submit to each other). Thus, verses 22-24 cannot be read in isolation as the proper place for women in marriage, but must be understood as part of a broader context which calls on all Christians to practice grace, submission, love, compassion in all their relationships (157-159). Instead, “we must take verse 22 as an example of verse 21’s mutual submission” (169). Men are called on to love their wives, as Christ loved the Church, and in 5:1-2 Paul had outlined what that relationship looks like; serving, giving, selfless ie. submissive (166-167). Paul, far from upholding archaic patriarchal views, is described like this: “His social statements are among the most radical of his day” (139).

Keener also includes a helpful appendix which illustrates from other portions of the Pauline corpus that Paul commended several women leading within the Churches he founded/interacted with (Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, and the explicit reference to female prophets in 1 Cor. 11:5, which makes it clear that women were permitted to speak in the church at Corinth).

The conclusion of this book is not a bold declaration that egalitarianism is the only biblical option, but is meant to help us reinterpret the passages used to bolster a non-egalitarian position. Keener challenges the usual arguments which limit women’s roles, but does not build a case for women’s full participation (but of course, if the argument against full equality is invalid, equality is the logical next step).

The Good

Craig Keener is, without a doubt in my mind, a master of the sources of the period of the composition of the New Testament. His immense research, and overwhelming use of primary sources is mind-boggling at times. But it is clear that he has taken into account as vast an array of material to get the most comprehensive picture of Paul’s contemporaries possible. Nowhere have I seen this kind of detailed presentation of the period’s material depicting the attitudes towards gender. Keener demonstrates that both pagan and Jewish writers are highly critical of women as weaker, gullible, and the potential source of ruin for men who do not master their wives. The general assumptions of the ancient world are regularly challenged by Paul who calls on men to love their wives as the love their own bodies (ie. treat her as you would treat yourself, hence as your equal). This would certainly be a radical argument for Paul to make with a pagan or Jewish audience. Keener overwhelming makes his point, that although exceptions exist, overall, the situation for women in the first century was certainly a lot more restricted than anything Paul proposes.

Keener’s style, while contain a bewildering array of citations and references and material to absorb, is still somehow accessible. He does not write with dry, detached, scholarly arrogance or assumptions. This book would be readable and helpful to a huge audience. It even contains a few light, humourous moments. While the book looks like a bit of a long read (278 pages without bibliography and indexes), a significant chunk is actually endnotes, so the actual text of the book itself is significantly smaller than it would appear. It is just incredibly well researched, and all scholarly standards for citation have been met or exceeded. No one could possibly accuse Keener of not citing sources (btw, to give you an idea of the quantity of sources, his bibliography is just shy of 40 pages).

Keener’s presentation is convincing, well argued, and hard to refute. His hermeneutical approach takes into consideration the historical and literary contexts. His is able to frame the sections used in proof-texting in ways which open up their situational meaning. He is able to make sense of the incredible tension which comes from a surface reading of Paul, where he applauds the work of his female co-workers on one hand, but then appears to force women into passivity, submission, and out of leadership roles. By digging further to surrounding texts, and the historical realities of the communities to whom Paul was writing, we see that the tension is not really with Paul, but with our distance from Paul and his audience.

The Not-So-Good

It’s hard to find much fault with this book. On almost every level it is a resounding success. The only nit-picky flaw I can pick out is my neurotic hatred of endnotes following each chapter. I am adamantly pro-footnotes, and if endnotes must be used (although I can’t think of any reason to believe endnotes must get used) I would prefer to see them at the end of the book. But that’s my own issue as a reader, and I can’t really fault Keener or his publisher for using this style (but it sure would be nice if publishers used one style across the board, and preferably make that one style Chicago footnotes).

As I’ve noted in other reviews, I have my own system for marking up books (I know some people hate marking up books, but I need to, especially when I plan to go back and review). I have symbols, and words/phrases I use in the margins. A great book will have fewer of the negative symbols, and this one had only one or two question marks (indicating I’m not fully following the argument or that something needs more clarification) in this whole book. It is outstanding in style, argumentation, research, and overall impact.

Perhaps Keener could have been more strong in his argument in favour of women’s full inclusion in all aspects of the ministry of the Church. He exposes the weakness of the traditional arguments, but doesn’t present a forcefully articulated alternative. In his concluding remarks he admits “The number of ‘mays’ and ‘possibles’ in my own arguments indicates that I myself am not settled on every detail… although I am convinced that the case as a whole is sound” (225). He does affirm that “Because women are men’s equals spiritually and intellectually, they are also capable of fulfilling the spiritual and intellectual roles” (225). This affirmation is encouraging, but could be more direct and emphatic.

Overall

I would say this is a must read for Pauline studies and gender studies within the Church. I would encourage anyone with any interest in Pauline ethics- pastors, denominational leaders, etc.- to read this, and take it seriously. Keener has masterfully demonstrated that many long-held assumptions, rooted in proof-texting approaches, are problematic, and need to be readdressed. Although many in various Christian traditions would adamantly disagree with Keener’s conclusions, it is impossible to not take him seriously, and ask the tough questions about certain assumptions. Even (or perhaps especially!) those who argue for male-only clergy and male head of household should heed Keener’s call to wrestle with the underlying assumptions behind those arguments, and take seriously the Pauline corpus as a whole, and to place oneself in the context into which Paul was writing to see what Paul is actually saying to the women of the Church and the men who interact with them. In doing so, we may be surprised what opens up to us- not a Paul who imposed limitations on his sisters in Christ, but a Paul who called for all to listen, learn, and take on the responsibility of teaching only after achieving a mastery of the material, so as to avoid confusion in the church.

A (Sort of) Book Review: Rekindling Advent

“Rekindling Advent” by John Allen Bankson

Bankson, John Allen, Rekindling Advent: Rediscovering the Season of Joyful Waiting (Doulos Resources, 2013)*

This small (88 pages) resource by John Allen Bankson came to me at an appropriate time. While prepping and leading advent services at Centre Street, I began working through this book with high hopes for orienting the worship and sermons for the Advent Season. Bankson (pastor of First-Trinity Presbyterian Church in Laurel Mississippi) apparently has earned the nickname “the Advent Guy” because of his emphasis and resource collection with regards to following Advent. He makes reference to his “manilla envelope” of Advent stuff (ideas, readings, hymns, visuals, etc), which he unpacks in this book, and his somewhat against the grain approach to Advent for many protestant traditions (including his own).

What it’s about

Basically, Rekindling Advent is an apologetic of sorts for the Liturgical Calendar. Bankson advocates for the use of the traditional practices of marking seasons, and following the preparation-celebration-reflection pattern of the Church Calendar. Baptists typically don’t follow the calendar strictly (or not at all). We “observe” Advent and Lent, Easter and Christmas, but not in the traditional sense of the calendar. Advent often becomes the “Christmas Season” (an extended Christmas lasting 4+weeks) in which we reflect on the incarnation. This, as Bankson points out, is not the traditional way of Advent. Advent is preparation, almost lamenting, a longing for God’s work. It is a time of pausing, stillness, waiting expectantly. Yet, most Westerners fill the pre-Christmas season with shopping, baking, visiting, celebrating (not bad things per se, just not really Advent). Bankson draws us back to the calendar. Advent is the beginning of the Church year. A time we are to pause, look to God with hope and stillness, expecting him to act in history. It is a time when we connect to pre-Christ times in longing for the arrival of Messiah, and long for the second coming. Christmas celebrations are therefore to begin at sundown on December 24th, and last until Epiphany (12 days later- hence the 12 days of Christmas, something I ashamedly was not aware of). Epiphany then lasts until Lent, the preparation for Holy Week (Palm Sunday-Holy Saturday) followed by Easter which lasts until Pentecost. Pentecost then concludes on Christ the King Sunday (last Sunday before Advent). Bankson includes this helpful graphic (pg. 50):

St. Thomas-20131220-01243

Chapter 1 asks “Should we celebrate Advent?”. Bankson obviously says yes. Although not biblically mandated, the tradition is very earlier, and designed with the intent of remembering and recalling the Gospel story. Bankson counters the arguments that the calendar “binds the consciences” of the people, by saying no moreso than the pastor’s selecting of texts and worship songs. In chapter 2 (“Why Should We Celebrate Advent”), Bankson argues that by continuing to recall to mind the mighty and gracious works of God, we create a rhythm of remembering, and celebrating. We embed the gospel proclamation into our lives. Although not required by any specific biblical texts, Bankson looks to 1 Cor. 10:23 “all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial” and asks, is the liturgical observance of Advent beneficial, and concludes that yes it is, because it “fills out the gospel story” (p. 33). He further argues that observing Advent will help resolve the tensions of “Christmas Creep”- the phenomenon of commercialism driving Christmas shopping season earlier and earlier. If we define the period before Christmas as a time of longing, waiting, hoping, praying, we can avoid the risks of the cultural norms of Christmas commericialism.

Chapter 3 (“When Should We Celebrate Advent”) directs us to the natural rhythm of the Liturgical Calendar (see graphic above). The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday following Christ the King Sunday, and Advent encompasses the four Sundays preceding Christmas (typically). Although variations are used by some, this is the typical pattern of things.

In chapter 4 (“How Should We Celebrate Advent”) Bankson opens us his manilla envelope and outlines some of the options for different types of Advent observances. He outlines the various Advent wreath traditions, readings, hymns, liturgies, etc. which he has collected over his years in ministry. He provides examples of Advent service outlines, the “Jesse Tree” (which I had never heard of), the O Antiphons, and various celebrations used in some traditions.

The Good:

As I noted, Baptists rarely (if ever) stick to the Liturgical Calendar. We generally create a rhythm of the ministry year, marking the kick offs for kid’s programs, church picnic in June to mark the slowing down for summer, etc. Many do Advent wreaths, Christmas Eve services, some sort of Lenten observance, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But beyond that, we generally don’t interact with the traditions associated with the calendar. We may do a Pentecost Sunday, but Epiphany, Christ the King, etc are typically not used. I began in 2012 doing Trinity Sunday, which was new for most (perhaps all) in the congregation. But I do like the idea of having some rhythm to the year, as Bankson is arguing for (especially since we all too often integrate secular holidays into our worship; eg. Mother’s Day, see pp. 17-18). His reasoning is solid- embedding in our lives the playing out of the Gospel is a beautiful way to bring to mind the various means by which God has made his mercies known and available.

Bankson’s resources are helpful, especially for those only beginning to interact with the Liturgical calendar. Recognizing the difference between an Advent Hymn and a Christmas Carol is new to many in some circles (like us at Centre Street). A gentle introduction, and simplified instructions is wonderful for newbies. He doesn’t assume that the reader knows the terminology (e.g. he provides a simple, one sentence explanation of antiphons). He also introduces these practices with built-in flexibility. He doesn’t imply that there is a “right way”, but emphasizes that depending on the needs, desires and experience of those coming to worship, most or all Advent traditions can be modified to fit better.

The Not-so-Good

It does feel a tad lacking. At only 88 pages, it’s pretty light. A committed and fast reader could handle this in a single sitting perhaps. It’s not designed to be an academic (theological or historical) investigation into Advent, but a resource to help worship leaders and pastors to begin introducing congregations to Advent in a traditional manner. Even so, a little more “meat” would have been helpful. More historical research into the way these traditions came to be introduced and modified might bring more light on them. It would lend to the argument for using the calendar in general, and Advent specifically if some more in depth research was provided.

One small nit-picky thing does need to be noted, as it almost derailed my reading of this book (luckily it didn’t, as it didn’t become an issue in the unfolding of the book, as I initially worried it might). On page 18 we read:

When I was a teacher at a Christian school, I consistently found that children from liturgical churches grasped the story of the Bible, while those from non-liturgical church knew only the stories of the Bible. That’s an important distinction.

What I had a problem with is not the suggestion that some churches (he would probably include Baptists under “non-liturgical”) teach isolated stories and fail to tie them together. My issue is the designation “non-liturgical”. Although many folks proudly boast the title, and insist that they aren’t liturgical, there is in reality, no such thing as a “non-liturgical church”. We all have liturgies. Liturgy is simply a set of customs used to express worship. It has come to associated with a specific set of customs, which some Christian traditions are not fans of (vestments, incense, processionals, recessionals, readings and scripted prayers, etc.). But all congregations have a set of things that they use to set aside worship as worship. We may make distinctions about types of liturgies or characteristics of liturgies, but when a congregation gathers for worship it has a liturgy, whether or not they admit to it. Not using the calendar does not mean “non-liturgical” but means the liturgy of that church is not bound by seasons (for better or for worse). The fact that I don’t wear robes to preach, does not mean I don’t have a liturgy, but means my liturgy does not include a dress code (a divisive issue for many, which I realize and respect). I think the terms therefore can become needless boundaries between congregations. It suggests an antagonism which is not really there. It’s a variation not polemic. It’s this or that style of worship and this form of liturgy or that. By making distinctions like this we risk demeaning the other. When one boast about being liturgical and describes another as “non-liturgical” one risks being perceived as saying “your form of worship is less because it doesn’t conform to my (superior) standard”. Just as, when a professing “non-liturgical” person refers to another as liturgical, it can contain dispersion against the other as “hollow superstition”. It happens. Too often, sadly.</rant> Fortunately this was a passing comment and not core to the book’s argument. Bankson advocates for the use of the calendar, arguing that it is beneficial, but he is certainly gracious to recognize that many may feel too bound or restricted by this tradition, and so each can select how much or how little of the resources available from the various traditions to incorporate.

Overall 

Bankson (and Doulos Resources) has put together a fine tool for integrating various liturgical elements into the season. I would certainly recommend picking it up, and reflecting on how you and your faith community “do Advent”. This little resource is a good tool; not a be-all-end-all in terms of the theology of Advent (not that it tries to be), but a good piece to have on the shelf to glean ideas, and bring creativity and fullness to worship.

*A free copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Doulos Resources.

A (Sort of) Book Review: “Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels”

James D. G. Dunn Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

As I noted last week, I’ve been doing an in depth look at the Pauline corpus, which is also working itself out in our current sermon series through Philippians. I picked up several Pauline resources, trying to grab from differing viewpoints. One of the scholars I turned to was James D.G. (aka “Jimmy”) Dunn. Dunn (currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Durham) is a widely known, and occassionally controversial scholar. He has advocated for the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP) which suggests that the traditional Protestant view of Paul’s theology (Paul abandoned the assumed legalistic works righteousness of Judaism, embracing justification by grace through faith alone) requires revision. The NPP began in the late 1970s, mainly stemming from E.P. Sanders’ tome Paul and Palestinian Judaism. In that work, Sanders suggests that Judaism in Paul’s time doesn’t fit the characterization of later Christian assessment. He argued for what he dubbed “covenantal nomism” what said that salvation and justification was accomplished through the agency of God alone, who covenants with his people and law obedience does not earn acceptance, but simply flows from covenant relationship and marks those in the covenant. In other words, Sanders suggested that Jews did not actually believe that Torah obedience would “earn” salvation. Dunn, though not in complete agree with Sanders on everything, has advocated for the view of Paul’s theology as in continuity with the Jewish view, except that entry into the New Covenant is by the gospel not identification as an Israelite. In other words, the gospel which Paul preached, says Dunn, is that the covenant promises once believed to be for the seed of Abraham alone, has through the gospel become available to the Gentiles also.

So, I recently purchased Dunn’s 2011 release Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels to bridge some of my thinking about how the New Testament holds together as a whole. This book is based on a series of lectures which Dunn gave to a mixed audience of Jewish and Catholic folks, adapted into book form. It is meant to be a “compact theological primer” (back cover) on the relationship of Paul’s writings to the Gospels.

What it’s about:

Dunn’s main argument here is developped in 3 parts. First (Part 1; chapters 1-4), Dunn asks “What are the Gospels?” in which he investigates the nature of the 4 books we call the Gospels. Where did they come from (Dunn has also presented more of his research in a new work, The Oral Gospel Tradition [Eerdmans, 2013])? How do they function as a genre of writing? How does John’s structure and theological thrust relate to the synoptics? Dunn’s basic thrust is that Mark uses the oral Jesus tradition to develop a genre, called Gospel, which communicates both the kerygma of Jesus’ death and resurrection (passion narrative) along with the oral Jesus tradition (teachings, ministry miracles) as background (or “an extended introduction” to the passion narrative [p. 54ff]). Dunn suggests that it is through the writing of Mark’s Gospel that the Jesus tradition came to be considered “gospel”. So although the term Gospel doesn’t refer only to the “container” but to the content, Dunn makes a clear distinction that in the composition of this new genre, “gospel” is somewhat redefined to include the “extended introduction”. Matthew and Luke make use of this new Gospel genre and build on Mark’s content, incorporate additional portions of the oral tradition. This is, according to Dunn a modification of term gospel (euangellion) which Dunn suggests Paul uses in the Isaiahnic sense (from the LXX of Isa. 52:7 & 61:1-2) which sees the good news that God has accomplished reconciliation for his people- thus the gospel in the way Paul uses the term refers to work of the cross and resurrection (46-50).

John however works in a different structure and style. He tells the Jesus tradition from a different methodology altogether. Thus, the historicity of John’s Gospel is not to be understood in the same way as the synoptics. John is not trying to put the Jesus tradition into a structured presentation (i.e. he is not writing “an extended introduction” and passion narrative), but is “presenting Jesus as the one who above all others had brought revelation from God, and as one, indeed, who had revealed God most clearly.” (p. 84, emphasis Dunn’s). John is reacting to the apocalyptic texts of Second Temple Judaism and their “visions” and merkabah mysticism. He is arguing that God comes to reveal himself to us, not that we are “caught up” to him.

Second, Dunn then investigates the movement from the ministry and proclamation of Jesus contained in the oral Jesus tradition to the gospel proclamation of Paul (part 2; chapt. 5). Why is Paul’s writing so dissimilar with what we see in the Gospels? How did the oral Jesus tradition produce the Pauline proclamation? Dunn emphasizes three aspects: 1) Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, Paul proclaimed Jesus. 2) Jesus’ proclamation was mainly to Israel, whereas Paul translates it for the Gentiles (i.e. what does the Jewish Messiah do for Gentiles?). 3) Jesus taught Jews as a Jew, using Jewish methods and Paul, a Jew relating to Gentiles used a mix of both Jewish and Gentile images and methods.

In this, Dunn argues we see the transition- the Jesus message of the offer of grace to repentant sinners among Israel and Paul offer of the gospel which declares Gentile sinners to be welcomed into the covenant of the Jewish Messiah. Both Messages speak of the royal ascendancy of the Messiah (Jesus through the language of Kingdom of God, Paul through the declaration “Jesus is Lord”). Both are “good news for sinners”, and both also have attached to them movement of social justice/action (“good news for the poor”) (pp. 95-106).

Third, Dunn addresses the issue of how did Paul understand himself and his mission. Did Paul understand himself as an apostate Jew (i.e. did he reject Jewish identity and Judaism?) or as Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles? Dunn of course decides the latter. He suggests Paul would probably have been viewed as an apostate by Pharisaic Jews. Pharisees (the word presumably coming from the Hebrew/Aramaic term for “to separate”) would have been exclusive, so Paul’s ethnically inclusive message would be seen by his peers as a violation of purity rules, and law obedience (i.e. he had broken with the identity markers as a member of the covenant community by intentional breaking legal obligations of separation). Paul however still identifies as Jewish (mainly when it is to his advantage) but an apostle of Christ sent to bring covenant blessings to non-Jews. Paul’s gospel, therefore, is that the divisions of Jew and Gentile are no longer and Jews and Gentile can, through the Gospel share fellowship while remaining Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles can fellowship as Gentiles with Jews, and Jews as Jews can fellowship with Gentiles. Paul’s “conversion” is not from Judaism to Christianity, but from zealous segregationalist to inclusive Jew of the fulfilled messianic prophecy.

The Good

Dunn, and the rest of the NPP advocates, are needed voices in our overall assessment of Paul. For all the strengths of traditional protestant readings of Paul, we have to be honest to blinders created by Luther and Calvin’s readings of Paul. They read Paul within their own context, and reacted against the “popish” late medieval Roman Catholicism, and saw Paul as enemy of the religious trappings of that theology. They found in Paul freedom from that mentality. This created an interpretation of Paul as anti-legalism (he is, just not necessarily in the way Luther understood it). Therefore Paul’s detractors (Second Temple Jews) were painted in a certain light, and certainly Paul is at odds with all forms of legalistic works-righteousness.

More recent (by recent I mean late 20th century onwards) research (like Sanders’, Wright’s, Neusner’s, and Preston Sprinkle’s recent contribution which I am reading right now) has shown a lack of uniformity in Judaism of Paul’s day. We probably shouldn’t speak of 1st century Judaism, but Judaisms. This is where NPP is helpful. What was Saul of Tarsus like, and what did he leave behind (and not leave behind)? How was he programmed to think and talk and write? This will colour how we read his writing. To read Paul may require we know the world of Saul of Tarsus.

Dunn’s contribution to the discussion (here in this volume, and also his many other works) is perhaps still up in the air. This volume is perhaps a good place to start investigating some of the issues of Gospels and Paul (although I think J.R. Daniel Kirk’s, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? is more successful and helpful than this book). Dunn’s depiction of the Jesus tradition preserved in the Gospels is in many ways helpful. Dunn unpacks the nuanced usages of the term gospel by the synoptics and Paul and John. Matthew, Mark and Luke didn’t have material fall from heaven 30 years after Jesus’ ministry ended (not that scholars have really argued that). So we need some sort of understanding of how the 4 books we call “Gospels” came into existence. And it’s important to track Paul in this early Jesus movement; how his message grew up within the Jesus tradition, and yet seems on the surface to be so different from James, Peter, Jude, John, Matthew, Mark and Luke. How did these two (the Pauline gospel of God’s fulfillment of the promise to bring Gentiles to himself and the Jesus tradition of God working to bring the lost sheep of Israel back from theological exile) co-exist and compliment each other? Did they compliment each other? Is there a discontinuity between Paul and the Palestinian Jesus Movement? Some readings of Paul can be somewhat misleading, as they paint Paul’s message as a reckless abandon of all things Jewish, which can hardly be said of James or the Jesus presented in the Gospels. By framing Paul as the one who took the Messianic message into a new context, we see how Paul is both very much in continuity with the apostolic movement in Palestine, but also an innovator in a certain sense. This “both worlds” approach to Paul is something which proves helpful, as Paul retains his Jewishness but also reworks his identity around the Messiah and the new inclusive community which emerges as a result.

Dunn’s contextual research is incredibly helpful, framing Jewish usages of certain terminology and themes in ways which illuminate the scandal surrounding Jesus (e.g. the role of Isaiah in defining the gospel in Paul’s mind). By opening Pharisaic segregation and the implications of the label “sinner” as one in collusion with lawlessness and thus a threat to the purity of God’s people, Dunn is able to bring to life what the synoptic writers are trying to tell us of this Jesus and the boundaries he began breaking, which find further description in the Pauline proclamation of a breaking down of boundaries separating Jew and Gentile, in contrast to his earlier life as a zealous Pharisee.

Certain sections (esp. chapter 2 which is made of a number of charts comparing parallels in the synoptics) get into nitty-gritty linguistic comparisons of synoptic transmission and how Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to share material, but with variations. This can be helpful if you’re into nerdy language stuff like that. It helps us to understand how the final product of the New Testament comes together the way it does. Of course, for some this becomes needless technical jargon.

The Not so Good

Dunn’s conclusions, while thoroughly researched, and persuasively argued still lack a certain something. I find his overall point reductionistic; that Paul’s gospel is basically that ethnic separation is over and God’s covenant promises flow freely among all people. I just can’t get where Dunn is trying to lead me. I find myself seeing a valid point, but that point doesn’t invalidate other assessments of Paul, and what he means by “gospel”. Paul’s letters, by nature of the fact that they are letters, can’t be reduced and systematized like this (both NPP and traditional protestant thinking have done too much of this in my assessment). Any Pauline theology is going to be somewhat messy. Dunn tries to do a bit too much tidying up. That Paul advocated for a removal of the barriers of segregation and opened the promises of the covenant to non-Jews is of course an obvious yes. But I appreciate what Blake White wrote regarding his appreciation of N.T. Wright (also lumped in with NPP): “I agree with many who have noted that the so-called “new perspective” is not so much wrong in what it affirms as much as in what it denies.” (White is also critically engaged with Dunn’s writing, and is certainly better qualified than I am to comment in a more educated way than I can here). This point is something I really have to agree with. Dunn’s conclusions are largely true, but here he offers them as the conclusion and dismisses other conclusions about what Paul has in mind when referring to the gospel which may compliment his own.

Also, I have a problem with the discussion of Mark as founder of the Gospel as genre. The designation “The Gospel According to Mark”, I would argue doesn’t indicate a claim of genre, but of content. What Mark has recorded is the gospel, not a prototype of a new genre of literature known as Gospel. Mark (and I think Paul too, following Dunn’s former student, Scot McKnight) saw “the gospel” as the retelling (or heralding) of the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the copyists who assigned the title “The Gospel According to Mark” were not recognizing a unique genre, but saw that Mark 1:1-16:8 (or whatever ending of Mark is authentic) is the gospel. Gospel in the sense of the synoptics does not really indicate a shared genre, but a shared declaration, which is why John as gospel makes sense. If the synoptics embody the genre of “Gospel”, John hardly fits the designation “Gospel”.

In terms of style, I struggled a bit with some elements. There are frequent bullet point lists. Because this book is based on a series of lectures, some of that book style is lacking. At times it looks like lecture notes which haven’t been effectively converted over. This comes out further is the final chapter (“The Church- Paul’s Trinitarian Ecclesiology”) which isn’t necessarily a bad chapter, it just doesn’t really lend much to the overall impact of the book. The Holy Spirit, which had been somewhat absent in earlier chapters (the Spirit features prominently in the section of chapter 5 “Eschatalogical Tension and the Spirit” [106-110]) is treated in a limited way here, almost feeling like an afterthought. It feels like an add on, not supporting argument in his overall trajectory. While the church is part of his intention (the inclusive nature of God’s new covenant people) this chapter fits very awkwardly.

Overall

Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels is a decent book, and well worth a read. It makes some important comments on the apparent discontinuity between the Jesus material of the Gospels and the gospel which Paul proclaimed. I wrote a paper for the one course I took on Paul on the topic of Paul’s usage of historical Jesus/Jesus tradition stuff. In that paper I argued (largely supported by W.D. Davies’ Paul and Rabbinic Judaism) that Paul not only did bring the Jesus tradition to bear in his writing (through rabbinic allegorical-interpretive method instead of narrative-historical methods) Paul’s paranaesis, although not quoting directly, is absolutely complimentary to the teachings of Jesus on several occasions. So, while I won’t be so arrogant as to say Dunn is wrong in his assessment of Paul’s gospel vs. the Gospels, I will simply say Dunn is one voice among many who present valid statements about the relationship between the Jesus tradition and the missionary work and writings of Paul. This book is by no mean conclusive and comprehensive (I don’t think it’s meant to be) but is a good introduction for a newcomer to the Pauline discussions and students and pastors who want to be critically engaged with scholarship. This isn’t something to hand to anyone. It also should be read in conjunction with other views (for instance I am working through Frank Matera’s God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology and just began Sprinkle’s Paul and Judaism Revisited and completed NT Wright’s What Saint Paul Reall Said and Kirk’s Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? just prior to beginning Dunn). If held up alongside other perspectives we can better appreciate the complexities of doing Pauline theology, which, as noted above, is, and probably will remain a messy business.

Canon within the Canon?: Thoughts on Reading the Bible Better

We all have certain portions of Scripture we focus on more than others. We know that, right? I’m not being presumptious in saying we’re aware of the fact we do this? I hope not. I hope we all recognize that we do it. We all create a “canon within the canon” a section or sections which we elevate as the climax or pivot or cornerstone of the Bible.

For a certain reformed leaning crowd Romans 3-8 and Galatians 2-3 is it. That’s the summation of the gospel. For anabaptists, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is where it’s at. For some dispensationalist folks Rev. 14ff, Matt. 24-25 and Dan. 12 take centre stage. Luther called Galatians his Katy Von Bora (the book he was “betrothed” to).

Recently (this past spring), I contemplated my own canon. I have this theory that a pastor’s commentary and biblical theology collection reveals their canon within the canon. I browsed over my shelves, and wondered what does this collection of books I own say about where I put my emphasis? I’m still a newbie in pastoral ministry, so my collection is relatively small comparatively. It’s getting there, but needs some more work.

But as I scanned over it, I noticed that my collection still reflects my schooling- which courses I took and studied in formal ways. And what I preach and teach on has a lot to do with what I’ve studied more intensely. For instance, I spent a lot time studying 1 & 2 Samuel, so I have tons of book relating to Davidic stuff, and several commentaries on these books. I also seem to lean heavily on Matthew, Luke and John. My preaching has somewhat more frequently landed in the gospels, and my collection of books reflects this (I have 5 commentaries on John and 5 on Matthew but until recently, I had only 1 on Galatians, and 3 on 1 & 2 Corinthians combined). I went through the sermon folder on my desktop, and confirmed that this is absolutely the case. Here’s some stats on how many sermons I’ve been preaching from different portions of Scripture since coming here to Centre Street:

Penteteuch: 0

Old Testament history books (Josh.-Neh.): 0 (although it should be noted I have been leading a bible study through the books of Samuel for over a year now).

Wisdom (Job-Song of Songs): 2

“Major” Prophets (Isa.-Dan.): 3

“Minor” Prophets (Hos.-Mal.): 4

Matthew: 10

Mark: 3

Luke: 5

John: 7

Acts: 3

Romans: 5

1 & 2 Corinthians: 4

Galatians: 1

Ephesians: 3

Philippians (excluding the current series): 2

Colossians: 1

1 Thessalonians-Titus: 1

Hebrews: 1

James: 1

1 & 2 Peter, Jude: 1

1-3 John: 1

Revelation: 4

I found this rather revealing. Clearly the Gospels (hate using the plural term Gospels but that’s another issue for another day) have occupied the greater amount of focus in my preaching and study. Beginning last spring, I decided to bulk up my Pauline stuff, and over the past several months, I’ve purchased several solid commentaries on the Pauline corpus (I’m planning some posts on commentaries for the near future) and a few Pauline theologies from different perspectives (Kirk, Dunn, Matera, Wright, Sprinkle and Sanders) to try and balance out my ratio. I don’t dislike Paul, I just hadn’t really studied his writings in a formal and structured way to the same extent I had done for the Gospels and some Old Testament narrative portions. I only took one course in all my years of schooling on Paul ( a very good overview of Paul course at McMaster Divinity College, taught by Andrew Pitts).

This fall, I’ve also been preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s been a very valuable exercise. This is the first time I’ve preached through a book start to finish. One advantage of doing this is reading Paul’s letters as letters. Often we isolate sections and chop up Paul’s letters into neat and tidy portions and miss the way Paul builds an argument. And the more I read the more I realize that the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the traditional Lutheran and Reformed reading of Paul both have strengths and really significant problems. But the same can be said of many readings of the Gospels and of the New Testament in general. A while back I heavily criticized Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel for a plethora of problems, the biggest being a far too narrow reading the Scriptures. He focused so much attention on Romans 8-11, and very little on the Gospels. Why? Because he has an assumption that the penal substitution = the centre of the gospel. His chapter on Christ is essentially a reflection on the cross. There is no mention of the incarnation, teaching, miracles, and even the resurrection.

This self-examination process I try to do regularly has revealed my own bias, and has shown the importance of rounding out my focus. My study of Paul over the summer and into the fall has been very informative. However, I am still inclined to view Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in a special way. The earlier copyists labelled these books the “Gospel According to           “. I admit that I tend to lean a little more towards Wright and McKnight on this issue (but not on all issues I should note) by saying that in the proclamation of Jesus, his person, his ministry, his teaching, his suffering, death and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s work of bringing New Creation lies the gospel. However, Paul is an important component. Dunn, for all the issues which I have with his book Jesus, Paul and the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2011; I’m just about done, and hoping to have a review up next week) he does articulate how without the Pauline corpus, it would be hard to view Christianity as something other than a Jewish Messianic faith and not an ethnically inclusive, global faith, available to all.

For most of Protestant history, we’ve read Paul as articulating the way to God, and the Gospels as the back story. Where the New Perspective is very helpful is reorienting our focusing towards Paul as one who worked out and articulated the implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think reading all of the New Testament together in this way helps us to see gospel better. Instead of starting with the Roman road and calling that the gospel, what if we start with look at Jesus? And when we see how God is revealed in Jesus, suddenly Paul takes on a new value and one who says “this is what it means” and “this is what is available because of Jesus”.

So what’s the point of all this jibber-jabber here? Ok, here it is; what if instead of reading chapters and isolated verses, we actually sat and read a biblical book start to finish and then ask what it means? What if we read all of Romans and then decided what the message of Romans is? Suddenly we might realize that justification by grace through faith, a clearly biblical doctrine, is less of a thesis and more of a supporting argument for unity in the gospel. What if we read Mark in one sitting? Would we read it and say “that is good news”? What if we read the whole of the New Testament as a unit instead scanning for stuff that I want to read? What if Lutheran pastors preached as much from James as they do from Galatians? What if Reformed pastors took a year off from preaching from Paul? What if we viewed 3 John and Jude as equal to 1 Corinthians and actually treated them that way? What if I gave Hebrews the same attention I give Matthew? And what if we included the Old Testament in all this? Duh, right? Can we read the Bible that way? And can we talk about the bible that way?

Camping With God

Sermon from our 174th anniversary celebration. Guest speaking is Rev. Jim Clarke of Poplar Hill Baptist Church.

“Do this in Remembrance”: An Invite to the Table

Before the actual post begins, I need to give thanks for the great help which I received on this from Joel Burdeaux (Pastor of New Life Community Church in Farmington, Maine) and Alastair Roberts (a student in Durham, England). These two fine (and well-bearded) gentlemen I consider friends (although we’ve never met in person). But they graciously engaged in an online conversation which helped immensely, and I unashamedly “borrow” (read lifted) much from their side of the conversation. Although I don’t agree with these gentlemen on several finer points of theology (they both have more Calvinist leanings), I found the conversation delightfully helpful.

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sfw1-aa612Once a month, year in and year out, we take some time to observe the Lord’s Supper. We’ve done this thing so many times, but do we ever stop and really wrestle with what’s happening here. I am not about to provide a comprehensive theology of the Lord’s Supper. That would be unrealistic. Just to give you an idea of how huge a task that would be, I once partook of a two hour lecture just on the theology of how the preparation for the Lord’s Supper happens. The mechanics of this event speaks volumes about what we believe it to be. But what I want to do is give a brief introduction to the key ideas we need to make note of as we think about this ordinance. In order to frame it, I borrow some terminology and themes from Stanley Grenz’s, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994). Grenz outlines the three orientations of the Lord’s Supper (past, future, community). But I want to propose 5 (re)orientations of the Lord’s Supper. 5 theological themes which we are drawn into in this practice (the other three fall as subpoints in Grenz’s work).

1. New Covenant (oriented to relationship)

“When the church takes this meal looking back to this event, it becomes a statement of solidarity with Jesus, a public covenant renewal” (Bock, Luke [IVPNTC], 350). Jesus initiated this observance declaring it to be the inauguration of a New Covenant. Alaistair Roberts mentioned to me the vital importance of emphasizing “the notion of covenant memorial.” First and foremost, what we do here is publicly declare our place as being under the new covenant. When Jesus spoke of the new covenant, his disciples would have immediately jumped to Jeremiah 31. In that passage Jeremiah outlines some of what a New Covenant will consist of. I generally like to break it down into four main components (verses 33-34).

1.a. Writing or imprinting of his Word/Torah/Wisdom. Bread and food is associated with Wisdom and with Torah. For example, when speaking of the Torah, the book of Sirach says “Those who eat of me will hunger for more, and those who drink of me will thirst for more.” (Sir. 24:21). Elsewhere there are connections between bread and life and the word. “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3). When Jesus takes bread and says “this is my body which is for you.” He is speaking of himself. He is referring to the gift of his incarnation. I am here for you. And he then points to the crucifixion and resurrection. All this is so that he can be present with us always. The bread is a symbol of his life; the life we find in him.

1.b. Personal knowledge of and participation in God through Jesus. The act of eating together demonstrates a familiarity and friendship with the company you are in. Ancient Middle Eastern cultures didn’t not view meals as simply ways to nourish the body. Meals were places to offer friendship, closeness, connectedness. It was a gathering of people who shared life. Ever wonder why in our culture when young infatuated folks work up the courage to ask another on a date, it usually consists of a meal? It’s a place to build a relationship. That Jesus regularly eats in the New Testament narrative is vital. He invited people (and by extension us) to become friends with him and each other.

1.c. His people. The promise of the God and human relationship echoes down through Scripture. He is God, we are his people, and the Scriptures reveal God’s pursuit to reconcile that relationship through any and all means. That God and his people relationship is vital to the unfolding of Scripture. In the Lord’s supper, in the blood of the Lamb and the participation in the fulfilled Passover story we see who we are as his redeemed people. Remember, Jesus died during the Passover/festival of unleavened bread. We often look at this as indicative of his “dying for our sins”. But, let us not forget that Passover is not about sacrifice for sin. That’s the Day of Atonement. We do see Jesus’ death equated with atoning sacrifice in the New Testament (most notably in Hebrews 12). But Jesus’ death during the Passover should draw our attention elsewhere. Passover was about the separating out and redemption of God’s covenant people and their relationship to God. The blood of the Passover lamb was not about cleansing from sin, but was a marker of belonging to God’s covenant people (see Ex. 12). The blood on the door posts differentiated Israelite from Egyptian. Then, after the Exodus, Moses took the blood of oxen and marked the Israelites themselves. The blood marked the people as being the redeemed of YHWH and the people of the covenant (Ex. 24:1-8). So when we see the connection of Jesus to the Lamb of God (John 1, Rev. 5 etc) we are not actually talking about atoning sacrifice. When in Revelation we are told that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb, what is meant is that we overcome because we belong to him, we are the bride of the bridegroom. Atoning sacrifice was not done with lambs but with goats and rams. The blood of the covenant is not primarily about atonement for sin. Instead, the blood of the covenant is about identifying as one of God’s covenant people. Of course, being one of God’s people means being forgiven and atoned for, so the two are interconnected, but the connection is at best implied by Mark, Luke and Paul in their sharing of the Last Supper events (Bock, Luke [IVPNTC], 350).

1.d. Forgiveness of Sin.  Sin is only mentioned in Matthew’s telling of the last supper events (Mt. 26:28, cf. Heb). We generally speak about communion with reference to the forgiveness of sin accomplished by the death of Christ on our behalf. But in the texts which speak of the Lord’s Supper (Mk. 14, Lk 22, 1 Cor. 11) only Matthew mentions sin at all. And when it is mentioned in Matthew it is done so with a certain lack of clarity. Is Mt. 26:28 a reference to substitutionary atonement? If that is so vital, why did Luke, Mark and Paul leave it out? Elsewhere in the New Testament (esp. Heb. 12, also Rom. 3) this theme of substitution and atonement as part of the purpose of Christ’s death are examined. Substitutionary atonement can be drawn out of the New Testament, but the Last Supper texts themselves don’t make that connection. Forgiveness of sins is implied, because the reference to New Covenant would immediately draw the Jewish memory to Jer. 31:34. But none of the biblical authors tells us that Jesus teases that out in those instances. Instead, I would argue that the emphasis of the Last Supper texts is actually on the theme of covenant participation. The covenant promised by Jeremiah mentions the forgiveness of sins, but notice the “for” in there (“for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more”). Covenant participation begins with forgiveness. We can freely participate with God in covenant fellowship because we are forgiven. But the Lord’s Supper points to more than that forgiveness itself; it points beyond to the fellowship we have.

2. Gathering of the graced (oriented to community of grace)

Community or Individual
Community or Individual?

2.a. “Communion”. Paul wrote to the Corinthians “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1 Cor. 10:17. The term communion used to refer to the sharing of the bread and fruit of the vine is a fairly recent designation, historically speaking, but was started to capture this aspect of what we do in this celebration. We celebrate the personal relationship with Christ, but also with each other. By calling it communion we capture the sense of community. In many Christian communities this communal aspect is demonstrated more fully in how communion is done. Here, and in most baptist church, we each have our own little individual piece of bread, and our own little cup of grape juice, and we can lose a sense of the togetherness of it. It’s me, my bread, my cup and Jesus. But even here, we divide up one loaf (makes you wonder how that works in megachurches). In many traditions, there is one cup shared by all. For health and safety it might be best to not do that. But when Jesus had that upper room gathering, he would have used one cup shared by all who were there. We, as the covenant community are such because of grace. Grace doesn’t simply pertain to individual salvation. The community we have is a gift of grace. When we gather together as community we acknowledge the graces offered to us through Christ. Christ’s covenant is given to his people.

2.b. Mephibosheth and David (2 Sam. 9). Now Joel brought this one out, which I thought was outstanding. Never have I seen 2 Sam. come out in a conversation of communion. But there, David, after consolidating power over Israel remembers his relationship to his beloved friend Jonathan.

Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. David said, “Mephibosheth!” He answered, “I am your servant.” David said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.

Mephibosheth is the grandson of Saul, who attempted to kill David on several occasions. David, in taking the throne would be rivals with Mephibosheth. In ancient kingdoms, Mephibosheth and David would be enemies, and since David is the one on the throne, Mephibosheth would be dispensed with, and Mephibosheth would likely jump on any opportunity to assassinate David and claim the throne. But David extends hesed (loving-kindness or covenant love). He extends loving-kindness to Mephibosheth, who would expect nothing but death from his grandfather’s replacement. But notice how that kindness is shown- I’ll give you all the family land back, but you’ll stay and eat with me. If he has land and wealth, why would he stay and eat with David? Because loving-kindness is shown in an ongoing faithfulness and hospitality and friendship. This is the offer extended to us from God, through Christ. We’ve done nothing which would warrant loving-kindness. But David made a covenant with Jonathan, binding himself to Jonathan and Jonathan’s descendants to show kindness (1 Sam. 18, 20 & 23). God opened his covenant to all people who would accept his over of loving-kindness. We have been graciously invited to the table of the king. When we gather, we gather as the graced people of God.

3. Remembrance (oriented to past events)

3.a. “Do this in remembrance”. We all have memory issues. We forget things. We wander. As the hymn says “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Robert Robinson). We need markers to remember- Ebenezer’s if you will (1 Sam. 7:12). People have created monuments to recall to mind events and people. We need memory aids. We need to be reminded over and over of God’s great compassion. We need to retell ourselves and each other of the covenant we’ve been drawn into. That’s why Passover was supposed to happen annually. Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget what God did in bringing you safely from Egypt. The Lord’s supper says similarly to us don’t forget what God did in bringing you out of darkness into his light.

We all need to be reminded of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1).

3.b. “You proclaim the Lord’s death”. When we gather at the table we look back. We reflect on something which occurred long before we were alive. We declare that Jesus’ death is unique. It was not like any other death and it was not meaningless. Lots of people die for a cause (political, humanitarian, good, evil, loyalty to someone or something). A lot of people have died sacrificially (soldiers dying to protect civilians from foreign aggression and violence). Those deaths are something we should give thanks for, but Jesus’ death is bigger and much more far reaching than that.

When we commemorate this, we proclaim that Jesus death wasn’t just a commendable and honourable thing to do. We proclaim that it has ramifications for us now.

4. Participation (oriented to the present)

4.a. “as many times as you do this”. Each and every time we do this, we connect the past to the present. We draw a link between Jesus life, death, resurrection and my life now. Each time this is done, we declare that we identify ourselves with an event which has already taken place. It is finished. What happens now is shaped by the completion of the death and victory of Jesus. We claim that for our now.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). Coming to the table means coming to share with Jesus. While Baptists generally speak of communion as symbolic and the real presence of Christ is not in the bread and fruit of the vine (as in Catholic theology of transubstantiation and Lutheran consubstantiation). But at the same time, biblically, we have to affirm that there is something about this event in which we encounter Christ. We don’t literally eat his flesh or drink his blood, but we participate in him now. We affirm our belief in his death which relates to us now. His life and death resurrection means something and impacts this moment. We partake of the bread to partake of him.

4.b. “Bread of Life”. Jesus called himself the “bread of life” (John 6:35). What this means is “He is claiming to be that which one needs in order to have life and continue to live” (Whiteacre, John [IVPNTC], 159) You see, bread is often a symbol of life. So it’s curious that we read the bread as symbolic of physical death. Part of that is rooted in a bad translation in the old KJV- “This is my body which is broken for you.” That word broken is nowhere in the Greek. More recent translations correct this. “This is my body which is for you.” Jesus is offering himself. Not just his death, but his incarnation, life and resurrection also, to us. He offers us Jesus. He offers us his sonship, his glory and righteousness, his eternal life. “Jesus is himself the gift of which he is the giver” (Lindars, quoted in F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983. p.153).

Ever wondered about why Jesus uses bread to symbolize being killed? Why not use the lamb? Wouldn’t that make a better illustration of being killed? I am arguing that he’s alluding to something more than his death. He is saying that he brings life. “In him was life and that life was the light of mean. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Yes, his death is present in that, but even in his death, he offers life. His death accomplishes life. Life wins.

5. Trust (oriented to the future)

We proclaim the past, and participate in the present and we do so “Until he comes”. This ordinance points back to the incarnation and life and death of Jesus, it declares the life received and made manifest in the present and it points ahead to the future. It proclaims hope and trust that Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits, and a taste of what’s to come for us. Jesus’ death and resurrection secures our hope for eternity in fellowship with him. We are now the bride of Christ, his covenant people, waiting for the final consummation. We are like the Israelites after the first Passover, clinging to the bread from heaven, wandering in between the great and decisive act of God, and the prize which awaits us at the end of the journey- the rest in the final and fulfilled Kingdom.

Matthew’s account says “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (Mt. 26:29). You see, in the Passover dinner there were four cups. Most agree that the cup which Jesus offers is the third (in Luke’s version two cups are mentioned, presumably the second and third). A Passover meal began with a cup of wine, followed by vegetables dipped in saltwater (to commemorate the red sea passing), then another cup, then the main meal lamb and unleavened bread with bitter herbs, followed by the third cup, then bread and then the final cup before singing the haggadah (believed to be the hymn sung before the disciples go out the Gethsemane) with readings and prayers interspersed. Jesus though says I won’t finish this, I won’t consummate everything today. The end isn’t here yet. The feast reaches its climax later. This feast continues as the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19).

Conclusion:

As we prepare to gather for the sharing of the table, it would do us good to reflect on what we’re being offered. God has issued an invite to join him, to share with him, to encounter him through a covenant relationship. We in return receive that offer, and find our life in him. We abide in him. We pull up a chair, and participate in the covenant life which Jesus has opened up to us.

Our sins are forgiven, and we have been offered life and light to replace the death and darkness which comes from sin. Now, we can know him. We can have his life live in us. We are marked by the blood of the Lamb which means we are his people. We shall overcome even death by the blood of the Lamb.