Thursday, April 30, 2009

Perilous Exercise

I attempted press-ups today -- and I stress the word attempted -- for what was possibly the first time this millennium. It felt that long anyway. I'm not exactly sure why I felt the urge to get down on the ground and lift my less-than-considerable body weight off the ground with my less-than considerable arms. Perhaps I merely wanted to see if my arm "muscles" still work (incidentally, they don't, and if truth be told they never really did); perhaps I was giving into a desperate plea from a long-neglected part of me that is dying to be set loose - you know, that crazy part of you that wants to engage in physical discipline. It's in there somewhere, but thus far I've tamed it quite admirably.

But whatever the reason, I did it. I got on the ground and did some press-ups. 8 of them to be more accurate. Why a strange number like 8? Well, because I would have died if I did one more. If arms could talk then mine would have gone from berating me for my idiocy to begging me to stop, and finally to loud cries of utter despair, not unlike this one; and that would just have been after press-up number one. But like a man who just doesn't know when to stop, who doesn't know the meaning of the word 'quit', who won't take 'no' for an answer, I struggled on and did a whopping seven more of those perilous exercises until I came to within an inch of my life. Then I quit.

The message is clear. My arms don't like this. Though they may be subordinate to my will, the pain they can cause me is quite persuasive. Their voice echoes in my aching muscles. But I must press on with my press-ups. I have done 8; perhaps someday I will scale the heights of 10. Who knows? In time I may have things coming out of my shoulders that actually resemble a pair of adult male arms.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Here is the wonderful opening to a chapter in 'Echoes of Scripture...' which completely caught me off-guard:

'In a burst of retrospective candor, Paul tells the Philippians that he has now come to regard his whole prior religious orientation as "crap."'

Given how elegant the language of the book is -- the phrase 'hermeneutical jujitsu' is used seamlessly for example -- I think it's funny to find the word "crap" just thrown into the mix willy nilly. Granted Hays is in fact quoting Scripture with this odd choice of word. Skybala is the Greek term which is used in the Bible only in Philippians 3:8, where Paul writes regarding his former religious practices that he does

"...count them as dung/crap/rubbish, that I may win Christ."

Who knew the Bible could be so edgy and hip, eh?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Law and Gospel

'The witness of the Law and the Prophets to the righteousness of God is not merely, as Christians have sometimes strangely supposed, a witness concerning a severe retributive justice; it is a witness concerning God's gracious saving power, as Psalm 143 demonstrates.'

As I read Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul by Richard B. Hays I am continually beaten over head with this one truth: I don't have a clue how to read and interpret the Old Testament. Up until recently I wasn't too concerned with this. The Old Testament is, well, old, and large chunks of it don't apply anymore. I don't have to have bulls and goats sacrificed on my behalf, nor am I forbidden from eating my favourite of the meats - pig meat.

And yet as obvious as this sounds, the Old Testament was the only Bible the apostle Paul and all of the other Jewish Christians of his time knew. They had "the Scriptures" (what we call "the Old Testament"), and that was it. The Law, the Prophets and the Writings were Paul's bread and butter. He didn't have the Book of Hebrews to chew on, nor could he open up his Bible and read Romans. I mean he wrote Romans! And what's more, he didn't even write it thinking he was writing Scripture. Paul wasn't looking to render the Scriptures as he knew them obsolete by writing a "New Testament". Paul was writing a letter to the church in Rome in effect saying "This is what the gospel of God as found in the Scriptures is about. This is its fulfilment." That is why he could say in Romans 3:21,

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it..."

This sounds rather paradoxical, but what Paul is saying is that the Scriptures are like a signpost. You don't arrive at the signpost and think "I'm here. I've arrived." The signpost and the destination are not one and the same. They are necessarily "apart". However, they are by no means unrelated, and yet as Hays rightly points out, we as Christians draw lines between the signpost (the Law and the Prophets) and the fulfilment/destination (the righteousness of God found in Christ) and force people to pick sides. In our caricature, the Law and the Prophets bear witness to a capricious God who is fond of punishing people who disobey Him, but the New Testament? Well, God had a change of heart, and lets just be thankful for that.

For Paul, such a reading and interpretation of the beloved Scriptures he grew up on would have deeply offended him. His gospel was not plucked out of thin air. It was founded on 2,000 years of salvation history. It reverberated with echoes of the Old Testament, from the story of Abraham, to the prophetic writings of Habbakuk to the lyrics of the Psalms. All of these witnessed to the righteousness of God, which has demonstrated itself in Christ and is credited to us through faith in Christ. This is why Hays can say that Paul's gospel "does not annihilate the Law but establishes it".

There is much more to be said on this, and much much more to be mulled over from Hays' excellent book. To close this particular musing out, here is the Psalm which Hays says is echoed in much of Romans 3:

1Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

7 Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge!
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

Friday, April 10, 2009

God in Christ

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself..." - 2 Corinthians 5:19

This is perhaps one of the most significant verses in all of Scripture. This is how Jesus viewed the historical event of His crucifixion, and it's how His followers viewed it shortly after (give or take three days). John Stott has this to say about God in Christ:

" order to save us in such a way as to satisfy Himself, God through Christ substituted Himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy."

Karl Barth says it more succinctly:

"The passion of Jesus Christ is the judgment of God, in which the Judge Himself was the judged"

A friend of Dr Autry phrases it like this: The Judge took the judgment on Himself.

If the resurrection is the news that many of us hope is true, the cross is the news that many of us wish to be untrue. Paul calls it a "stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks". For those today looking for a reason to reject Christianity, here it is: God on a cross. The cross of Christ can antagonizes us, or it can reveal the truest love mankind has ever experienced. The paradox and the beauty is when it does both; when it is seen that "severity and grace" meet at the cross.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Why

I wanted to write something about my year in Scripture School. Something long-winded, detailing some of what I learned throughout the year. I may still do that, but yesterday's quote has given me some healthy perspective. Why did I go to Emmaus Scripture School? Why did I sit in front of the same man for over 200 hours, listening to him talk about the Bible? To gain knowledge? Yes, that's part of it. I like knowing things, and I like being able to encourage and challenge people by what I know...or at least by what others know and what I plagiarize. But why this? Why the Bible? Why Christianity? Do I like the information it provides? Sometimes, sometimes not. Does it give what I might consider generally good advice? I think so.

Still, though these might be okay reasons to devote myself to the study of Scripture for a year (and perhaps longer), the thing that makes any of it meaningful is the resurrection. to paraphrase yesterday's quote, if there is no resurrection then who really cares about what is in the Bible? It's of absolutely no consequence, and you're probably better off ignoring it since large portions of it are complete lies. However, if there is a resurrection -- and the very fact that I'm talking about it 2,000 years later stands as at least some kind of proof that there just might be -- then what the Bible says matters. Who Jesus was and is matters. In fact it matters more than anything else. Is it a step of faith to give your life to this pursuit? It is, but is also a step of faith to ignore the claim of the resurrection.

N.T. Wright says, "The message of the resurrection is that this world matters!" Scripture School has been a chance for me to hear and learn about what matters, and this is so because all of what I learned is based on the claim that Jesus died and rose again on the third day. As I dying human being, that sounds like news worth pursuing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Hinge

I'm almost done with reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. It's a interesting survey of the objections and defenses of the Christian faith, and certainly worth a read if you're into that sort of thing. However, there is one passage in the chapter entitled 'The Reality of the Resurrection' which both sums up the book, and sums up the Christian faith. It is the hinge on which everything turns. Everything.

'If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that He said; if He didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what He said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether you like His teaching but whether or not He rose from the dead.'