What is the Center of Paul? A Three Corded Rope?

21 05 2010
Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854
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A friend of mine (Jason Hood) is in the process of writing an article about the kingdom of God as the center of Paul’s thinking -If I’ve understood him right. This is an age old question, but after I wrote a response to Jason, I thought it might be worth posting it for others to interact with…

Jason, you have emphasized the continuity of the concept, i.e. suggested how other key ideas and expression (eschatology, union with Christ) may be consumed under the kingdom of God. I would like to hear about the discontinuity too – why in the  Pauline corpus do we see him choosing this expression when he does, over against another descriptor. I.e. in the absence of a passage which explains why this particular expression IS a summary of these other ideas (I don’t know of any passage that brings them all together), why does Paul choose to use other expressions besides this one and why does he choose to use this expression where he does.

My only concern as I have thought about this subject myself (I start my lectures on Paul’s letter with three full weeks on the center of Paul) is a pedagogical one. Kingdom is quite an impersonal concept, as are redemptive history and eschatology. Union with Christ is a REALLY personal way for Paul to say things. Maybe this (in part) answers the question of “Why this expression?” (above), but there is also a pedagogical rub with what you are trying to say in your article. If someone says to me that “kingdom of God is the center of Paul” It sounds very corporate – which of course many today would be happy about! But given the VERY personal nature of “with/in Christ” how in your article can you capture the idea that the center of Paul is (in fact) very personal?

For what it is worth, I teach that the center of Paul is a three corded rope – union with Christ, redemptive history & eschatology. You may then state this three different ways depending (pedagogically) on what you/Paul wants to emphasize 1) The center of Paul is Jesus, who fulfills redemptive history by ushing in the eschaton; or 2) The center of Paul redemptive history, which now finds its fulfillment in Jesus ushering in the eschaton; or 3) The center of Paul is eschatology, which in Christ is the beginning of the end for redemptive history. Perhaps the redemptive history side could be restated as kingdom, since this is OT language for the hope of Israel, which finds finds a subversiveness expression in Christianity in that the way the eschaton works out and also the nature of God‘s Christ. It is this subversive edge as well as Paul’s desire to be personal, which perhaps explains why he must add the other two cords to this rope.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Every blessing? (2)

4 03 2009
Visiting Writtle during the Starburst activity...
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The quickest way into the Prosperity Gospel issue that I’ve found is to up the stakes – and talk about death.  Consider this statement:

Jesus has won every blessing for us at the cross.  In particular, Jesus has defeated death at the cross.  He has won for us victory over death.  So that means no Christian should ever have to die, if they’re putting their faith in Jesus.

I haven’t yet come across anyone who’s willing to let that argument stand without modification.  But once someone’s accepted the principle that this argument needs qualified in some way, then that often opens the door for a productive discussion about how “already/not-yet tensions”1 apply to blessings in general.

Sickness is small fry compared to death.  Yes, Jesus came to defeat sickness – but even more importantly he came to defeat death and sin.  So if the argument above needs modified in regard to death, it will need modified in regard to sickness as well.  (And also sin: the holiness movement2 made the same sort of mistake, but with sin instead of sickness.)

Now in some ways, this goes against my instincts.  My instinct is to begin with a verse from the Bible – that’s our ultimate authority after all!  But, on this Prosperity issue, I’ve found that people are more willing to take on board a specific Bible verse, after they’ve wrestled with a more general biblical concept first.  (Like the issue of death, above.)

In the next post, I’ll try to sketch out why I think that is.  Again, I’d value your thoughts on that in advance – so let me ask a specific question:

2 Tim 3v12 is pretty clear: “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” – but quoting it, or verses like it often isn’t enough.  Why not?

1 The language of “already/not-yet tensions” is a way of trying to describe how everything in history pivots around the coming of Jesus.  The Bible speaks of this “present age” and also of the “age to come”.  And it’s Jesus who moves us from one to the other – but with an overlap.  The cross and resurrection marked the beginning of the new age to come; but the present age won’t come to an end until Jesus returns.  So now, we are living in the overlap between those two ages.  The new age is already inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  The blessings of the new age are already inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  E.g. we are already co-heirs with Christ, but we have not yet received the full inheritence that will be ours in the new creation.  Death has already been defeated, but it has not yet been banished.

2 The holiness movement said that if you were really trusting Jesus then you should be able to eliminate sin entirely from your life, because Jesus has defeated sin at the cross.
Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiness_movement

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