Monday, October 09, 2006

Books I Just Bought

Foolishness to the Greeks is one of those books I've been meaning to read, if for no other reason than to understand the footnotes in just about every OTHER book I've already read. In this most classic of his many writings, Newbigin details the stormy interface between the Gospel and Western culture, replete with discussions of science and politics. All of the hype surrounding the word "missional" finds its substance in Newbigin, and that from an experienced missonary in (from my experience, anyway) one of the most culturally Gospel-inocculated countries in the world - India.

The Drama of Scripture is among the first books I've recieved and it is the one I'm currently reading. In the tradition of Cornelius Plantinga's Engaging God's World it's intended as a primer for college students in which Bartholomew and Green give the basic framework for interpreting all of life's experiences. Taking its cues in part from N.T. Wright and Al Wolters, the concept of story guides this treatment of the Christian worldview in six (as opposed to Wright's five) acts. Though the authors are informed by such philosophical luminaries as Alasdair MacIntyre and Nicholas Wolterstorff technical discussion never ends up hogging the camera, as the Biblical story takes center stage. It's proving to be a highly recommended read already. If you're interested in the topic, check out their website, based on this book.

Being compared to C.S. Lewis in any light is high praise, and Wright's book has recieved plenty of it. With Lewis' Mere Christianity haunting every page, Wright gives compelling reasons for intelligent unbelievers to consider taking Christianity seriously. The primary differnce bewteen the old classic and Wright's likely candidate for future canonization is that the former attempted to reason from commonly held first principles to Christianity along a track of logical necessity whereas the latter simply (note the title) presents the essence of Christian belief with all its internal logical consistency. The result is something that may have been lacking by the end of Lewis' treatment, namely the aesthetics of Christianity. If Lewis addressed the issue of truth, Wright builds upon it an edifice of beauty.

Having read Francis Watson's impressive and astute Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith and being a huge fan of anything by Kevin Vanhoozer, I'm really looking forward to this little book. I've been interested in the topic of theological hermeneutics since I started reading the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series (I'm currently on volume six), and though I've seen others interact with him some, I've never read anything by Stephen Fowl. With the renewed interest in the topic (even recently spawning a new SBL study group) there's a torrent of literature available, which makes collections of essays one of the more efficient ways to keep up. Vanhoozer's recent book The Drama of Doctrine attempts to maintain propositional elements lost in postliberal approaches, and seeks to give standards for normative interpretation outside an often wayward Church without falling into the pitfalls of supposedly neutral "scientific" approaches. I'm interested in seeing his interaction with Fowl and Adam on the issue.

One of the recurrent themes in Joel Green's work, both exegetical and theological, is his attempt to bridge the gap between Biblical Studies and dogmatics. Historically at odds with one another, the divide is best seen by the distrust each discipline manifests toward the other. Commentaries repeatedly warn of the danger of importing one's theology into the text while theologians warn of the danger of atomizing the Biblical text, at the same time reminding us that without theology the Bible remains nothing more than an interesting archaeological artifact. In Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology, Green and Turner have collected several exciting essays both describing the problems and paving the way for possible solutions. Contributors include Stephen Fowl, Robert Wall, John Christopher Thomas, John Goldingay, Steve Motyer, Trevor Hart and N.T. Wright, as well as an introductory essay by the editors.

I pre-ordered this book by Norman Wirzba based on the title alone. I don't know anything about the author, and I wasn't really looking for something on the subject - but the idea of a Christian theology of enjoying life derived from Israel's Sabbath practices is just fascinating. Working with youth, I've encountered two sorts of kids, both of which see relaxation as a brief worldly respite from the rigors of Christian discipline. The difference is that one kind of kid is cool with the worldly nature of enjoying life (in moderation), while the other isn't. It's the classic divide between libertinism and legalism, and everyone I know (including myself) leans in one direction or the other. I'm hoping this book helps in filling out a third way to a very practical problem.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Being "Christian"

Sin is at the root of every problem in our lives and everything that’s wrong with the world. As Christians, we are saying, by God’s mercy, that we’ve come to realize that all of the death, destruction, chaos and pain that we see on a daily basis and that we hate with intensity actually begins with us – our idolatry, our anger, our lusts, our pride and our selfishness. Sometimes its intentional, sometimes it’s not, and even we ourselves are bewildered by what comes out of our hearts – but we’ve come to see that in turning away from our Creator we have made an awful mess of this planet, of our nation, of our relationships with others and of our own lives – and it’s a mess so big and so a stain so deep that we can never clean it up on our own.

We can’t just “be better” people, because being “better” doesn’t mean that we’re “right” – right with God, right with one another, or right with ourselves. In all of our thoughts and actions we have cast Him aside, we have turned from our Maker to the things He has made in order to get direction for our lives, and in doing that we have so violated our relationship with God, so offended Him with our sin – the effects of it, the willfulness of it, the betrayal in it – that we stand in a state of total guilt and total worthiness of His just retribution. We are responsible. We are to blame. There is nowhere else to point the finger - and we must pay.

But judgment isn’t our only problem with our sin. We haven’t just come to realize that we are worthy of judgment, we’ve come to realize that our sins are, in fact, killing us. They’re destroying us. Everything that God has made, in all its beauty: food, drink, sex, the glories of nature, the creativity of human expression, all varieties of human relationships – all of these things which God has given us to enlarge our souls, to increase the capacity to have intimacy with Him, to reflect His own beauty – they’re tainted by our sin. The good in these things haven’t been destroyed by our sin, but they’ve been distorted and we abuse these things to our own hurt, which has led to the shrinking and shriveling of our souls. So instead of liberating us, we become enslaved to them.

And so our sin doesn’t just cause us to perish in judgment, it is the reason we ARE PERISHING, even now. We must answer Our Maker for our sins, and in the meantime we are being dehumanized by them. We’re not just the perpetrators of sin, we’re victims of sin – even our own. We’re not only awaiting eternal death in judgment, we’re dying now. We’re slaves to sin and the fear of death. So, what will we do?

God’s answer to that question, of course, is "nothing". There’s nothing WE can do. So He did it. Because of God’s love for the people He made, He sent Jesus to die in our place and to rise on our behalf. Jesus’ life demonstrated the freedom and beauty of man without sin. He offered Himself to God on our behalf and died on our behalf, taking the judgment we deserve and rising again in order to give us new life, a life not dominated by evil. Jesus has dealt with our sin in his death and is now dealing with our sin in the power of His resurrection. He is the lamb of God who [PRESENT TENSE] takes away [IS EVEN NOW TAKING AWAY] the sin of the world. He cancelled its penalty once and for all and He’s conquering its dominion over us even now.

Christians need the Father’s mercy to continue forgiving us for our sin, His Son, Jesus Christ, to continue interceding on our behalf and you the Holy Spirit to continue washing and sanctifying us from sin. And that’s exactly what God is doing in the Church. The Church is the place where sin is being defeated, and God’s righteousness is gaining a foothold, a beachhead, in the world. And when I say righteousness, I don’t mean some “on your high-horse” fussy, finger-wagging perfection – I mean what the Bible means by that word. I mean “rightness”. Everyone, both Christian and non-Christian, knows that something is wrong with the world. It’s broken. It’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not “right”. But in the Church God is making things right – He’s making right relationships, right living, right thinking, right loving, right hoping, right feeling, right sorrow, right pain, right suffering, right joy. That’s righteousness – not some weird abstract standard that’s meant to squash everyone – but the life-giving, relationship restoring “rightness” which reflects who the Creator is, and what every person and culture on earth desperately hungers for (and yet violently opposes) – it’s what Christians call “the kingdom of God” - God’s righteous rule. It’s a wonderful thing.