July 31, 2008

EFCA Statement of Faith

The EFCA (Evangelical Free Church in America), the denomination to which I belong, has recently updated its Statement of Faith. Collin Hansen at CT wrote a short article praising the church for being proactive in modifying its statement. And I tend to agree that the new statement is an improvement. David Neff has a great piece on his blog about the change in the statement with regard to the "ordinances" (sacraments for those of you in other traditions). I think this helps fill an important hole in much evangelical theology, with a tendancy to ignore the sacraments for fear it will look like they convey salvation. I do think they have an important role to play in the life of the church as they enact the gospel message in a tangible way and as they serve as a vehicle that the Holy Spirit uses to work in people's lives. I haven't had time to go over the statement in detail, but there was one thing that jumped out at me, which is the inclusion of premillenialism in the statement, an article I'm going to need to think more about. But overall I think the EFCA has a very strong statement of faith, partly because of its brevity.

July 15, 2008

Reflecting on the word gospel (euangelion) in Paul

I'm preaching next weekend (May 27) at my home church, Oxboro Evangelical Free Church, in Bloomington, MN. I'm excited about the prospect, especially since God had just been laying something on my heart the day before I was contacted by the pastor last week about filling the pulpit while he is on vacation. One component of what I'm speaking on has to do with "gospel" in Paul. (My main thrust has to do with faith, but we'll get there later.) So I've been reflecting on what Paul means by "gospel" or "good news." So here are some beginning thoughts on how Paul uses this word, specifically in Romans.

1. It can refer simply to the preaching about Jesus Christ, that is, the "good news" of Jesus and his death and resurrection. And it should be said it is always intimately connected with Jesus Christ.
2. The gospel is Paul's purpose and mission, the goal of his apostleship and the message he is to preach.
3. The gospel is the revelation of God's purposes, from time immemorial; it is the culmination of the disclosure of what God is about in the world.
3. The gospel is the means of salvation, it is the way to be come acceptable before God; the converse is also true: it includes judgment upon those who do not believe.

Here are some preliminary thoughts. It is amazing how much content is connected with this word, not that it is surprising. And this short little list certainly doesn't exhaust the nuance Paul gives. I also will be looking at Thayers and other lexica as well as TDNT, but I wanted to do my own leg work first. (Any thoughts, disagreements, or contributions are of course welcome.)

July 11, 2008

Scripture's authority and its humanity

My own continuing investigation into a robust doctrine of Scripture continues (it's an investigation that goes in fits and starts, but is always ongoing, I think). Coming as I do out of a relatively conservative evangelical tradition (my own church home is the Evangelical Free Church) I received and assumed a very conservative view of Scripture, one in which it was all God's Word to me here and now, with it's original context as more of a curiosity than a vital component of study. Saying I received and assume this is to say that it is what I took from what I heard in church, Sunday school, and other places; it isn't to say that is what my pastors and teachers necessarily believed (though I'm sure it is true of some of them). There was a real common-sense approach to Scripture that assumed its perspecuity. I'm greatful for that heritage, and still believe that a strong devotional use of Scripture is essential to the Christian life as we hear how Scripture speaks to us. But I've also been working for the past ten or more years to round out my understanding of Scripture by really coming to grips with the God who speaks in Scripture and by the ways God has revealed himself through its authors and pages. That has meant acknowledging and appreciating the human aspects of God's revelation. They are undeniable, and are often paid lip service, but I think a better appreciation for the phenomenon of Scripture (that is, paying attention to the books we have and how we got them) can heighten our appreciation for how God acts and for what God has chosen to give us. To that end, Peter Enns has a post on his blog from last month that discusses how Scripture's humanity relates to its authority.

Enns writes, "Scripture is God’s word because it is of divine origin. That is the locus of authority, and no discussion of its humanity in any way compromises that authority. What a study of Scripture’s humanity does do is help us see the manner in which the divine author speaks authoritatively into particular ancient cultures. How this authoritative Scripture translates to different times and places, in both its timeless affirmations and contextualized particularity is (I trust this is not too reductionistic) the task of theological study. It is my firm experience, however, that evangelical lay readers, those to whom the book is addressed, are not accustomed to understanding the nature of Scripture this way."

Well said.

July 08, 2008

Vanhoozer MP3s

I'm always on the lookout for great MP3 lectures to listen to in the car or while I'm busy with other things. I've also found lectures are a great way to learn. And there is so much out there. I recently came across two lectures by Kevin Vanhoozer at Asbury Theological Seminary regarding doctrine and discipleship that I highly recommend. In the first lecture he goes through the basic thrust of his book The Drama of Doctrine (which is high on my Amazon wish list). In it he discusses the import of doctrine for evangelicalism and the church and explains how the metaphor of drama is a useful way to approach what theology is and does. The second lecture continued these themes with a discussion of how doctrine and theology should play a vital role in our church life. He then uses the doctrine of atonement as an example of how doctrine provides direction and helps us live out the "script" in a faithful way. I think Vanhoozer is an important and vital voice of a renewed and resurgent evangelical theology and I appreciate his keen insight into how doctrine must be lived.

July 04, 2008

Mark Noll on the Revolutionary War and the Bible

CT has a great little piece by Mark Noll, the eminent American religious historian, about the Revolutionary War. He begins with the question of whether Christian colonists were justified in participating in the war. His well-reasoned answer is basically that while there were clear abuses by Britain, it was really only African American slaves who were justified in making war on Britain. This in and of itself makes for an interesting (and important) discussion, as the Revolutionary War is part of our national ethos and certainly informs our self-understanding and how we see the world (the myth of American exceptionalism pitted against the evil powers "out there," often turning a blind eye to the ambiguities of the situation in reality). But I think the most interesting part of the article comes at the end, when he notes that probably the most significant aspect of the Revolutionary War for subsequent Christian thinking had to do with the precedents it set for how the Bible was used in public discourses. Instead of careful exegesis of important texts and dialog concerning careful application of these principals, Noll asserts that the Bible was merely used as a means to justify positions arrived at based on other principals and arguments. That's a dangerous precedent, but one that has certainly been often followed in American public discourse. Noll's book on the Civil War (see my review) shows that this was certainly the case in some parts of the discourse surrounding the Civil War, and careful reading of much argumentation today (whether for free markets or lower taxes or universal health care) probably often fits in this category as well. This obviously isn't to say that thoughtful exegesis can't bring great Biblical wisdom to bear on these topics, because it certainly can, but that isn't always the loudest or clearest voice in the conversation.

July 01, 2008

N. T. Wright on the Colbert Report: Resurrection

N. T. Wright appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss his take on resurrection, heaven, and new creation. I haven't gotten to Surprised by Hope yet, but this little clip is an entertaining way of getting at his main points. And Wright sure handles himself well. It makes for fascinating watching.

I think the main thrust of Wright's arguments are spot-on. I especially like that he is seeking to recover a new-creation thrust to the doctrine of last things, reclaiming this important facet of the biblical teaching that is often ignored in a "heaven is a great place up there" theology. Paul, among others in the Bible, obviously has a strong eschatological vision of heaven as fellowship with God (I think especially of Philippians, with its sweeping vision of a better life beyond this one), but I think this vision makes the most complete sense, and the best theological sense, when completed with a connection to resurrection and new creation. If Christ had just been glorified but not resurrected (what seems to be more in line with the thinking of someone like J. D. Crossan), then an idea of heaven as a great place up there would fit pretty well. But the resurrection is decisive for how we think, and Wright seems very good on this point.