New Perspectives on Paul (I)

Been reading quite a bit on (St.) Paul and his theology of late.

[For a brief intro on some of these newer trends in Pauline theology here here and here].

These three links deal with the so-called New Perspective on Paul. The authors most associated with this trend are E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and NT Wright (the same Wright I wrote about on resurrection here).

The Old Perspective is the traditional Lutheran strict duality between the Law on one hand the Gospel on the other. Or Slavery/Freedom, Judaism/Christianity, Works/Faith, etc. The Law is a religion of slavery, works, oppressive hardship, while The Gospel is a religion of Grace, Freedom, and Joy.

These ideas come directly from Luther and set a major backdrop to the Holocaust and German anti-Semitism. Luther’s writings are also prophetic, mystical, and use the language of paradox, emotionally charged.

The other great Reformer, John Calvin represented a different tradition. For him the main Biblical theme was election and covenant; Calvin had a much stronger sense of the unity of the Old and New Testaments. Luther and later Lutherans more especially at times bordered on Marcionism (the OT god=Evil, NT God=Good). Calvin and the Reformed (not Lutheran) brand of Protestantism also emphasized that after election, life in the Spirit was one of discipline and work (Protestant Ethic, Max Weber, etc.).

What the Old Perspective taught was the Post Exilic Judaism taught the Christian heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagianism taught that humans could achieve salvation by their own works–not instead by the grace of God alone.

Along came EP Sanders who in the late 70s argued that in fact Second Temple Judaism did not teach works-righteousness (works salvation, Pelagianism) but rather than God choose freely and graciously Israel and his chosen people and then gave the Commandments.

The Book of Exodus: “I am the Lord your God who led you of Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me.” Gracious action of God then commandment. So for Sanders, the commandments and the Torah/Law (Torah is better translated as “Instruction” than “Law”) were not a means of gaining salvation or adoption into the Jewish world but rather the way of expressing such covenant relationship. Sanders called this position “covenantal nomism“. Nomos is the Greek word for Law/Custom. Interesting he choose a Greek word for Judaism, covenantal torah-ism might have been better, but so be it. So covenant + instruction law/commandment.

There are conservative theologians who do not accept the New Perspective on Paul–arguing for the Old. But Sanders has basically won the day. There are differences between Sanders, Wright, and Dunn, but that basic point unites them. So we see in covenantal nomism more the influence (in Christian terms) of Reformed Theology. Wright makes this point specifically. It is still negatively a Christian way of bringing Judaism back to a positive view–hence the Calvinist-like tone of covenantal nomism. Wright the cerebral professor much more Calvin-like than the fiery mystical-prone Luther.

It is still thinking in terms of grace/free will Augustinianism/Pelagianism; it has just said that it was incorrect to equate Pharisaic and Second Temple Judaisms with Pelagianism. It is right so far as it goes, but still is a fairly “from our point of view” view as it were.

And to the second (via Krister Stendahl, a Lutheran interestingly) major point in New Perspectives on Paul: sola fide (only by faith) or justification by grace through faith alone. What Paul meant by this according to Stendahl was that Gentiles who came to Christ needed only faith not to become Jews or take on Torah regulations. Stendahl further argued (correctly) that Augustine misread Paul adding a layer of introspective guilt and anxiety not in Paul at all.

That was broadened by the Reformers to mean that one needed only hear the proclamation of Christ and believe–not being held in by Roman Church–but it became a weapon used against other Christians, a dogma….one had to believe in belief alone. Justification by faith nor justification by grace through faith. It was simply about God accepted all who believed in him. Period. No extras, no prerequisites.

Another point following up on those, stressed by Wright, is that the Gospel of Paul is not an abstract theory of salvation but a proclamation, a summons to obey and believe. Justification for Wright is not what happens at the moment one is saved, but rather happens after being saved. Or rather incorporated into Christ.

This goes down a whole long road about whether individuals-communities can fall away from Christ after being saved or not…..Methodism, Calvinism, perseverance of the saints, etc. Don’t want to go there. But the main point is this from Dunn and Wright in their conversation linked above:

Wright: I am totally in agreement with that and I too have challenged my Roman Catholic friends with this. Justification by faith is not simply a doctrine about which we ought to be able to agree, it is the doctrine which says we are one in Christ, that all those who believe in Jesus belong at the same table. I do not see that as the El Dorado, the reward at the end of the ecumenical endeavor. I see it as a necessary step on the road of ecumenical endeavor, and I expect there will be warm agreement in some quarters in this room, and probably strong disagreement from other quarters.

Dunn: But I think the point has to be pressed even more. There is only the one thing necessary for us to worship together, to work together, to mission together, and that is that God accepts us, has accepted us, and accepts others on the same terms, by grace through faith.

Here’s Wright once more on justification as vindication (and not conversion):

My proposal has been, and still is, that Paul uses ‘vindication’ language, i.e. the dikaioo word-group, when he is describing, not the moment when, or the process by which, someone comes from idolatry, sin and death to God, Christ and life, but rather the verdict which God pronounces consequent upon that event. dikaioo is after all a declarative word, declaring that something is the case, rather than a word for making something happen or changing the way something is.

The phrase “righteousness” then is about God not humans—it is God’s faithful adherence to the covenant (covenantal nomism, Gentiles brought into covenant by faith in Christ not Law but Law still good for Jews, see Paul’s Letter to the Romans). Wright and Dunn are right this is Paul for an ecumenical Christian (and Jewish-Christian dialogical) age.

All of this creates an important base for later explorations of other aspects of Paul. Topics to include: Paul as missionary to the Gentiles; Paul’s Political edge (if Christ is Lord, Caesar is not); his apocalypticism.

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Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bd. JP II?

She is coming to Rome this week for the anniversary of JPII’s death.

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ROME – It’s one of the Roman Catholic Church’s closely guarded secrets: the identity of the French nun whose testimony of an inexplicable cure from Parkinson’s disease is likely to be accepted as the miracle the
needs to beatify
Pope John Paul

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Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Worrisome Iraq

Violence is increasing.

From AP:

Iraqi police reported at least 109 people killed or found dead nationwide. The toll included two elderly sisters — both Chaldean Catholic nuns in the increasingly tense city of Kirkuk — who were stabbed multiple times in what appeared to be a sectarian killing.

100 bodies a day in the streets was the daily average count during the height of the sectarian violence. The pro-surge factions have talked about how the violence is down. Today is a particularly brutal day, but evidence is growing that the insurgents are finding their way around the surge. But that is not entirely clear at this point. If the violence does come back to 100 bodies a day for a month during the surge (I don’t know if that will happen) then what becomes of the surge? Especially in the post-deadline vote and inevitable Bush veto coming.

And this:

Two truck bombs shattered markets in Tal Afar on Tuesday, killing at least 63 people and wounding dozens in the second assault in four days on a predominantly Shiite Muslim city hit by a resurgence in violence a year after it was held up as a symbol of U.S. success.

The group fighting an existential fight targeted the ambulances. Reverse Maslow hierarchy–attack the lowest needs on the chain. Food, health, security, oil, etc.

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Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hmmm…..Republican Senate

Wondering why the Republican Senate Leadership is letting this go through. Is Bush really that isolated and they are letting him go down with this ship or they think the Democrats will be labeled the Defeat-ocrats? Or both?

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The key vote is over whether to strip from the Senate bill language that sets a U.S. troop withdrawal goal of March 31, 2008, and calls for that withdrawal to begin within four months of the bill’s enactment.

Republican critics trying to remove the deadlines from the bill accused Democrats of micromanaging the war. But Republicans have also decided not to filibuster the bill.

Senate Republican leaders have decided to let the process move forward because it is likely that a negotiated compromise between the Senate and House will result in a bill that includes a timetable for withdrawal, and it is just as likely that the bill will ultimately be vetoed by President Bush.

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Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 4:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Denis Prager Article on Iraq

Where he argues that no one could have predicted the savagery (e.g. using children as shields for suicide bombings) in Iraq prior to the invasion of Saddam Hussein. Article here.

Prager writes (my emphasis):

But neither I nor anyone who predicted a civil war had so much as a premonition of this unprecedented mass murder of the men, women and children among one’s own people as a military tactic to defeat an external enemy. It is, therefore, unfair to blame the Bush administration for not anticipating such a determined “insurgency.” Without the mass murder of fellow Iraqis, there would hardly be any “insurgency.” The combination of suicide terrorists and a theology of death has created an unprecedented form of “resistance” to an occupier: “We will murder as many men, women and children as we can until you leave.” Nor is this a matter of Sunnis murdering Shiites and vice versa: college students, women shopping at a Baghdad market and hospital workers all belong to both groups. Truck bombs cannot distinguish among tribes or religious affiliations. If America had to fight an insurgency directed solely against us and coalition forces — even including suicide bombers — we would surely have succeeded. No one, right, left or center, could imagine a group of people so evil, so devoid of the most elementary and universal concepts of morality, that they would target their own people, especially the most vulnerable, for murder. That is why we have not yet prevailed in Iraq. Even without all the mistakes made by the Bush administration — and what political or military leadership has not made many errors in prosecuting a war? — it could not have foreseen this new form of evil we are witnessing in Iraq. That is why we have not won. There are respectable arguments to be made against America’s initially going into Iraq. But intellectually honest opponents of the war have to acknowledge that no one could anticipate an “insurgency” that included people leaving children in a car and then blowing them up.

Statements like “no one could imagine a group so evil” immediately make a warning bell go off in my mind. Particularly from a professed religious believer. [edit note: MD pointed out Prager is Jewish; I thought he was Christian. My mistake]. Millions scream out in pain daily, the Earth itself is crucified.

But more practically how do we determine which is more evil—the insurgency described by Prager or the machete-achieved murders of 300,000 in days in Rwanda? Or the 4 million killed in the Congo during the 90s while the world sat around did nothing and no one ever thinks about it.

Even more specifically, the charge that such an insurgency never existed, not true. During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong put grenades in the hands of their own children and sent them up to hug soldiers. Insurgents since time immemorial (read the Bible for example) have been killing in the most brutal of ways their own people deemed “collaborators” with the enemy.

And in Iraq of all places. A country where Prager and others correctly pointed that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on his own country, sent Shia to kill their Shia cousins in the Iran-Iraq War, kept a police state where he lined up 300 Shia men and boys executed them on the spot and left them in ditches across the country. In this country, with that much violence in the history, and the US was letting off the lid on that—on a country reduced to rubble by 2 wars, sanctions, children and elderly dying–and not expect a rupture of violence.

What could be considered new is the form of radical Salafi jihadism represented by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the use of YouTube executions and so forth. But I imagine Ho Chi Minh would have used such techniques had he had them at his disposal. Or Mao. Or Pol Pot.

As well the one genuinely new thing is the emergence of open-source insurgencies–a point far more important than the brutality. The source of the “defeat” for the American army Prager points to is not the viciousness alone of the fighters but the strategy/techniques employed. (For more information here and especially here).

Consider John Robb:

The paradox is that in order to pacify Iraqis under the current US strategy, they need to be isolated from the surrounding community. However, they cannot be isolated, because the very political goods that the government needs to deliver to gain their loyalty are inextricably tied to this connectivity. In short, while this connectivity brings progress, it will also deliver mayhem. There’s no easy way around it.

Prager believes in the myth of the invincibility of the American army. That does not square with the “facts on the ground” so he creates an epicycle to make the facts fix the pre-conceived notion: the utter immorality of the enemy. If it was only a regular insurgency even with suicide bombing the US Army would have won.

He should accept a simpler solution. The US Army won a commanding military victory in the war. The military was asked to do a job it was impossible for it to carry out: i.e. securing the peace with insufficient numbers, incompetent civilian leadership (both in Washington and Iraq). Not to mention that the overall goal of a democratically elected trans-partisan Iraq was not what the Iraqi people wanted. No one no matter how much power can enforce their will.

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Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 4:30 pm  Comments (2)  

Fingers Crossed for Condi

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JERUSALEM – Under U.S. pressure to answer increasing Arab flexibility on Mideast peace,
has agreed to resume face-to-face talks with a moderate, Western-backed Palestinian leader who is sharing power with Islamic Hamas militants, a U.S. official said Monday.

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Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Liberal New Way in Quebec?

Results in on the Quebec Provincial Elections.

The federalist Liberal Party got 48 seats out of 125–giving them a minority coalition government. The separtist Parti Quebecois 36.

And the stunning results: The newer party–Action Democratique de Quebec 41 seats. They are a split between the liberals and the separatists.

Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  


Guru Nanak

(Icon of Guru Nanak founder of Sikhism 15th-16th c.)

Went to a Siki Gurdwara (Temple) today. Beautiful building and space. Sikhism is a fascinating religion to me.

1.Against the caste system of India (why it got in trouble).
2.Emphasizes (like Islam) monotheism but allows for many names/ways to the one God (more Hindu).
3.Emphasizes justice and work in the world. Devotion to God.
4.God as Self-Existent and Union with God (not dissolution).
5.Young religion, relatively speaking. Only 500 or so years old.

I read a sign on the wall that stated:

The Grace of the Guru alone can reveal the Lord within the Self.


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Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seems right to me

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Some climates may disappear from Earth entirely, not just from their current locations, while new climates could develop if the planet continues to warm, a study says. Such changes would endanger some plants and animals while providing new opportunities for others, said John W. Williams, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

joe p response

Got a good response from Joe P to my recent post on the Episcopal Church (USA).

Here’s the response:

Hi Chris:

I agree with you 100% that it would be quite odd if the homosexuality issue breaks the Church whereas the slavery issue didn’t.

Not to disagree, but honestly it’s a pet peeve of mine when people discuss the homosexuality and Christianity issue by downplaying its significance. Spirit has chosen to make this issue absolutely vital to the unity issue in the Church right now, I believe. Failure to recognize its importance is really more of a failure to appreciate the mysterious workings of Spirit than anything else. What you or I feel are more important concerns that SHOULD be dividing the Church is irrelevant in the face of the workings of Spirit which has dictated that THIS issue right HERE and right NOW is going to divide or unite the Church.

Joe has a follow up thread here. He concludes:

My own intuition says that homosexuality is the BIG issue today not out of coincidence or meaningless chance, but because homosexuality is Christianity’s biggest shadow. Christianity is a religion dominated by homophilic symbolism and a homophilic story about the Love of a Father and a Son and how one day it became creative and produced the Holy Spirit. Homophilia is the heart of the Christian message, more so than any other major religion on the planet. Christianity’s failure to look at that issue square in the eye is the real reason why this issue has reached a boiling point in our time.

One slight correction. Joe mentions I am studying to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. Actually I am studying for the Anglican Church of Canada. While the two are in full communion with each other they are not just different branches of the same central bank/church as it were. The Anglican Church of Canada grows more out of the English experience while the Episcopal Church USA has closer historic ties to Scotland. Anyway not a big difference.

I’ll respond to the piece that Joe wrote directly to me in his comment.

As a background comment, I realize thanks to Joe’s comments given my life here and the circles I run in I assumed information I never shared on the blog. That being, that I am studying for the priesthood in the very diocese (New Westminster) that initiated same sex blessing rite that has along with the ordination of an openly gay (non-celibate) man Gene Robinson to the episcopacy of New Hampshire caused the current furor in the Anglican Communion.

So whatever had been my reservations and thoughts about how things might have turned out–which Joe correctly asked to shift to what is happening–the decisions about where I will be and which side I’ll be on once the chips fall is clear.

The Canadian Church has its General Synod (its highest legislative body) meeting this summer. The first one since it put the same-sex rite on hold in response to the World Primates Request from Dromantine. It is very clear where the American church is headed. Not at all clear to me where the Canadian one is heading. Canadians being generally more compromise-seeking, pacific than the Americans (for good and bad).

As I’ve said before the break has already happened, it is just a matter of what the fallout is. My desire is that some decision just be reached, even if it is divorce, and let’s just get on with it. The version of Anglicanism that has been in effect for the last 150 years since the Lambeth Quadrilateral is now dead. What the next iteration of Anglicanism will look like God only knows. I just want to know what it will be so we can start promoting the Gospel instead of these endless (in my mind) destructive debates where everybody loses.

The downplaying as it were, is my exhaustion with having to deal with something that for me is a non-issue. Full inclusion only occurs when it is no longer discussed–that is when it is no big deal to anybody anymore. When it is not discussed as if it is something “special”–i.e. not integral to the gospel proclamation and church ministry.

I’ll have to sit longer with Joe’s argument as to why this is the BIG issue as he calls it now (Trinitarian homophilia and equally large shadow). As I said before I think the issue of gay lesbian inclusion has actually broken the camel’s back and that the camel had been weighed down in increasing distance over a long period of time. Certainly the last 20-30 years. The effects of women’s ordination, divorce/remarriage, and so on have left wounds. Many of the US dioceses splitting or threatening to split from the leadership are still nursing wounds from the slavery debate.

And to be fair, as many bishops articulated at recent meetings, this issue is not on their radar screens (pro or con). For many issues like women’s empowerment, clean water, massive poverty and environmental destruction—these are the realm of Sin & Death that impede the Gospel message. A group of 80 Anglican women from around the world drafted this statement at the UN in New York to say in effect this whole issue was a male problem and has nothing to do with the empowerment of women. Statement here. Don’t know how or if that relates to the Father-Son beget Spirit homophilia argument or not.

As I also said there were ways around this issue I think. With any break down of a relationship, both sides have a part to play. But with the hardening of the lines that moment for the creative byways are lost. Partly I’m mourning that. And more practically as a seminarian I have no real influence in what is going to be decided for the Communion. I have my own moral, theological, and pastoral views, but the unclarity around the Church does cause me hurt and confusion. Only in so far as I said–the dead should be left to bury the dead. I’m interested in life and a movement, actually doing something. I don’t care if given the post-Christian world there is only 12 people as it were.

Nevertheless Joe is right all that aside, once it is all out, I can’t sit by. Inclusion of gays, lesbians, and transgendered (don’t know what I think about bisexuals) is part of Spirit’s evolution and the modernist (good) trend to human socio-political liberation.

But again I want to get that “over with”, not to sound too disrespectful because once the socio-political liberation happens to a sufficient degree including the church (it is never 100% nor need be) gays, lesbians, straights still have massive sin and ignorance to deal with, all of us. All of the inclusion for me would only be a step to square one, the beginning of the race not the end. I feel in the meantime this thing is stuck at square zero.

Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment