Christmas Greeting!

23 12 2008
Baby Jesus in the manger
Image by javaturtle via Flickr

Dear readers,

just a quick (belated) note to say that we are all still alive (all three of us), and are planning to start blogging again after the Christmas, season in early January. Hope you have a good Christmas remembering that in Jesus, God became a human, to live a perfect life, to reveal the Father to us, and to be  “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).

Have a blessed Christmas,

Bruce (on behalf of us all).

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Keeping in step with the Spirit – Christologically

15 12 2008
Depiction of the Trinity

Image via Wikipedia

Do you think Christologically about the the Holy Spirit? Suppose we’re talking about our New Testament freedom, in the Spirit, to learn to live as God intends. What difference does Jesus make to that freedom (over and above the difference made by, e.g. Moses or Isaiah)? Is it just that Jesus made Pentecost possible – and so the Holy Spirit was given after him – and the Spirit makes obedience possible?

If so, your understanding of the Spirit isn’t Christological.

Revival movements – even ones which start well – need to beware of this danger: rightly speaking of the inward moral power of the Holy Spirit, but doing so unchristologically. That way lies the worst sort of legalism. (The Montanists1 were an early example.)

The antidote? Reflecting more deeply on what it means for us to be in Christ. Through his Spirit, we enter into Christ’s freedom. We participate in Christ’s authority within the created order.

Or, to put it in Paul’s words, we are no longer slaves, but sons.2


For more on this, see Oliver O’Donovan’s book, Resurrection and Moral Order, p22-27.

Posted by Rick Creighton


1 Montanism was a prophetic movement within Early Christianity, dating from approx. 150AD. (See EarlyChurch.org.uk for more.)

2 Cf. Galatians 4v1-7: ‘What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.’ (NIV)

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From ethics to the gospel (04) – via the Fall

8 12 2008

[Catch up on the whole ‘From ethics to the gospel‘ series]

//pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.

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What’s wrong with the ‘moral universe’ of most Hollywood movies? The trouble is, it’s not true to life. Most films present you with a world that breaks down into goodies and baddies. The goodies are basically good, and the baddies are basically bad. Once you’ve worked who’s in which category, movie-life becomes simple.

But life’s not that simple. So how do you explain the good and bad in our world? There are plenty of options:

  • The Hollywood option. The world is a mix of good and bad. Some things are good, others are bad.
  • The Disney option. The world is basically good (with minor bad bits). All it takes is the right attitude, and everything will be OK.
  • The Pessimist option. The world is basically bad. There’s no hope, so just get used to it.
  • The Buddhist option. There’s no such thing as good or bad. Such categories are an illusion. Learn to move beyond them.

None of these stack up to reality. In the world we know, you find good and bad mixed together in everything. Even the best people can have terrible flaws. Even the worst people can show flashes of goodness. (And even Hollywood reflects this sometimes: Peter Parker desires vengence; Doc Ock shows remorse.)

The Bible explains this in a way nothing else does. It tells us of a good-world-gone-wrong. It tells us about Creation and Fall. God created a good world; that good world has gone wrong. In everything around you, you’ll see evidence of both truths. You’ll see echoes of the original goodness, of what might have been. You’ll see evidence of the corruption, how far short things have fallen. You’ll see both together in same object, the same person. You’ll see them together in every person and every aspect of our world.

That’s a message worth proclaiming. And it’s a message that will be heard. The very cosmos itself is on your side when you proclaim it. This message makes sense of people’s world in a way nothing else does.


The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

From Mythopoeia, by J. R. R. Tolkien


Posted by Rick Creighton

The next item in this series (‘From ethics to the gospel’) will be posted next Monday.

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Philippians 1:1-5 (Graeco-Roman Commentary)

7 12 2008
same books, different light
Image by trollshard via Flickr

I’m developing (what I think) is an interesting angle on PhilippiansPaul’s concerned he’ll lose their support because he’s (supposedly) “out of the Ministry” (i.e. in prison where he can’t preach the gospel). Not totally new, but don’t know of a commentary taking this line. So why not start writing one?!! Would love your questions & comments!!! Note v3f. IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING (if you need to jump to there):

Phil 1:1
Παῦλος καὶ Τιμόθεος δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus)
Paul begins (as usual) Introducing himself & (for whatever reason) Timothy. Maybe a “Macedonian thing” (c.f. 1&2Thessalonians).

πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Φιλίπποις (to all those who are set apart in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi)
The “From A… to B” common formula in Paul, standard letter form for the day. Greek most resonant with Rom 1:7… interesting… Rome & “little Rome.” No mention of “church” in either letter… maybe Christians not a registered society… Maybe ekklesia too provocative a term for a Roman.

σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις· (together with overseers and deacons)
This is interesting. Why make a distinction with those in office – is he asserting his authority, but in a softer way than starting “Paul an Apostle”?

Phil 1:2
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Grace & peace to you from Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah)
Very interesting verse, but standard greeting for Paul. Read any good commentary on Paul for more.

Phil 1:3(-5) HERE’S WHERE IT STARTS TO GET INTERESTING!!!
Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶνἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν (I give thanks to my God upon your every remembrance… [and] upon your partnership)
Seems to me that the parallel ἐπὶ phrases suggest he is giving thanks for parallel things… and quite possibly the same thing! If this is true, the first bit means “I give thanks every time you remember me [with contributions]” because what he is going to go onto say about partnership is their support of him.

THAT’S ENOUGH TO STIMULATE SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS… MORE SOON!

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Understanding Faith (05)

7 12 2008
The Crucifixion, central panel of the Isenheim...
Image via Wikipedia

Well the time has come to bring this discussion back to the Pistis Christou Debate. If pistis (faith) is a word like “Charis” (grace/thanks) and “eucharistow” (thanks/grace) who’s meaning is determined by the position of the different parties in a relationship, then what would we expect in a relationship like God ↔ people? In Rom 3:1-8 Paul claims that the Jewish promotion of the law has turned it into a contractual relationship. But this is not the way it should be. Rather, over and again, God is presented as the great patron who freely gives in grace to people, so they may honor him. Under this perspective, we would expect God to be performing acts of Pistis towards people (=kindness, faithfulness) because that’s what patrons do. And we would expect people to be expressing Pistis back towards God (=trust), because that’s the appropriate response from people who have a patron. This would then account for pistis Christou. It is Christ’s pistis not towards the God but towards us! To which Christians then respond in a reciprocal way with trust. So pistis Christou may be subjective genitive, but of a sort which actually doesn’t turn human pistis into a following of Jesus’ example… rather, most naturally, it is defined by the relationship itself as trust! Ironically then there is a way of taking pistis Christou as a subjective genitive, but arriving at a place where most proponents of the objective genitive come to!

Posted by Bruce Lowe.

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“Big Headed” Boasting & 2Corinthians

7 12 2008
Th05RexBigHead
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It’s very easy to have a “big head”… to be proud,  and for this to spill over into boasting about your achievements before others. In the period of the New Testament this was an even greater danger because it was a society where your honor meant everything. People were trying to promote their honor in everything, and so there was a real danger they may end up promoting it themselves. Not that this was acceptable. A reading of Plutarch’s comically titled essay “On Praising One’s Self Inoffensively” makes it clear (contrary to Jewett and Esler’s recent discussion on this subject) that boasting was not allowed, except in certain circumstances. Paul boasts in his letters and speaks of others boasting, particularly in 2Corinthians. In my opinion Plutarch’s essay is one of the best preparations for understand 2Corinthians. It is essential reading for the exegete, and anyone who wants to promote themselves without others hating you :)!!! Here is a quick summary of the essay to get you started:

It was permissible to boast when “defending your good name or answering a charge” (540C). Also when a person was downcast by circumstances, it is right for them to rise again and triumphing over disaster by standing “upright in fighting posture ‘Like a boxer closing in,’ using self-glorification to pass from a humble and piteous state to an attitude of triumph and pride” (541B). More subtly, “by most harmoniously blending the praises of his audience with his own [a person removes] the offensiveness and self-love in his words” (542B). Then again, by “letting part of it rest with chance, and part with God” a person may rightly boast of what they have done (542E). Someone may also “throw in certain minor shortcomings, failures, or faults, thus obviating any effect of displeasure or disapproval” (543F). In yet another way, one ought to consider “whether a man might praise himself to exhort his hearers and inspire them with emulation and ambition… For exhortation that includes action as well as argument and presents the speaker’s own example and challenge is endued with life: it arouses and spurs the hearers” (544). “But there are also times when in order to overawe and restrain the hearer and to humble and subdue the headstrong and rash it is not amiss to make some boast and extol oneself” (544). It was also appropriate to speak of one’s achievements “where important issues are at stake” and the errors of some other boastful person must be undermined. In this case “Such praise is best shown for what it is when true praise is set beside it” (545E).

Posted by Bruce Lowe.

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Union with Christ: prepositions (2)

3 12 2008

 

img_3696The theme of Union with Christ is conveyed by a series of phrases that employ different prepositions: ‘in Christ’ (ἐν Χριστῷ); ‘into Christ’ (εἰς Χριστόν); ‘with Christ’ (σὺν Χριστῷ); and ‘through Christ’ (διὰ Χριστοῦ). An important question to ask is: what do the prepositions mean within these phrases? Take ‘in’ (ἐν) for example. This is the most common preposition in the Greek New Testament (by far), and is enormously flexible in its usage. It’s difficult to know how best to read it within the ‘in Christ’ phrase. Is the ‘in’ like ‘in New York’, or ‘in command’, or ‘in an hour’, or ‘in jeans’? In fact, the word is even more flexible in Greek than it is in English. It could also be translated as ‘with’, ‘by’, ‘into’, ‘on account of’, or ‘while’. And that’s a shame, because this is the key phrase related to union with Christ. I’m sure that one of the reasons union with Christ is such a puzzling theme is that the key phrase, ‘in Christ’, includes this ambiguous preposition.

Con Campbell