Best of the Blogs (28 May)

Michael Bird and the Old and New Perspectives: the benefits of seeing Paul through the New Perspective while not rejecting the Old Perspective; there’s a lot of baby in that bathwater.

There are some absolutely essential insights gained from the NPP which are much needed in churches.

First, if you want to get excited about the doctrine of imputation, remember, the first thing imputed to believers in Romans is not Jesus’s active obedience, rather, it is covenant membership, being regarded as a righteous Jew before God (Rom 2.26). …

Paul’s arguments in Galatians and Romans are a theological manifesto for the unity of ethnically diverse churches. This is the point of Rom 10.9-11 and Gal 3.28. Paul says there is “no distinction” between Jew and Gentile in the economies of condemnation and justification. Therefore, they should welcome one another just as the Messiah welcomed them (Rom 15:1)! Justification by faith cannot then be abstracted from Paul’s doctrine of election and the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ to bring the Gentiles into the family of Abraham.

Ultimately Justification by faith is not a subsidiary crater [PLS: this is an image N.T. Wright has used for clusters of theological themes; they are like craters within craters on the face of the moon.], it is Paul’s weapon to argue for the unity of a church of Jews and Gentiles against those who would divide them, segregate them, or assign some to a second-tier status. In which case, I would go so far as to say that justification by faith, with its corollary of fellowship by faith across ethnic and racial divides, is a necessary and non-negotiable element of gospel and is therefore crucial for all churches who aspire to live lives worthy of the gospel.

RJS on Darwin’s approach to the Bible & Darwin’s loss of faith: was Charles Darwin’s faith poisoned by the problems with his hermeneutic?

A person’s faith may be founded, for example, on a view of the Bible that demands that Genesis 1 teaches creation in seven days of 24 hours each.  What happens to that person’s faith when he or she becomes convinced that the world took millions of years or more to evolve?

Hermeneutics is complicated, and the effects of bad hermeneutics can be toxic.

Darwin’s view of the Bible did not encourage much nuanced thinking about the texts. In his autobiography he wrote that when contemplating a clerical career he “did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible.”  …

The question for us becomes one of foundations. Is our faith founded on such claims as those Darwin came to discard, or is it founded on something stronger than these? Is it possible to read the Bible faithfully, but also open to a subtle and patient probing of the text and our understanding of it? The answer is yes – but it will not conform to the ideal of “the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible” still clung to by many Christians.

Olson on American religion and the lowest common denominator: is the purpose of religion to help us feel better about ourselves?  Practitioners of MTD (moral therapeutic deism) appear to think so.  Part 1 and part 2; part 3 is coming.

Part 1: [Moralism] is the idea that the purpose of human life is to live up to a moral standard of thought and behavior through endeavor and discipline. It is (generally speaking) the idea that some set of ethical rules or principles provide the “telos” (goal, purpose) of life and that we are somehow or other judged by our living up to them. In religious moralism, it is usually God who is thought to be the judge. True religious moralism tends to emphasize that salvation is achieved through achieving the good life according to the moral code and that we are able to do that.

True moralism is actually a false religion—according to orthodox Christianity. And yet it remains and flourishes as one of the most common attitudes and beliefs among American Christians. What it leads to is either self-righteousness—in those who think they do live up to God’s moral standards of holiness—or defeat and doubt of salvation among those who know they cannot live up to God’s moral standards of holiness.

True Christianity includes morality without moralism. By God’s help, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are capable of improvement in “inward righteousness.” But God knows we cannot keep his will perfectly and has provided for forgiveness and reconciliation with him in spite of our moral failings.

Part 2: “Therapeutic” in MTD points to a solution to the anxiety created by moralism. It means (more or less) that even though we cannot live up to God’s (frowning) expectations he always forgives without consequences. And, taken to an extreme, it means that “God is your biggest fan” regardless of how you live (even if he wishes you lived a better life).


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