The Pauline Gospel

During the twist and turns of the past couple years of thesis research, I have collected lots of quotes that most likely will not make it into the final product. Some of the most fascinating are summaries of Paul’s gospel by different authors, and I thought I would share some of them periodical.  Occasionally, I will even ask a question that points toward an area I find to be a weakness in the summary (or larger proposal). Take note, for the most part I like these summaries but also enjoy asking questions.

What role does the past, the time from creation to Christ, play in either of these summaries?

The Pauline gospel announces a definitive, unsurpassable divine incursion into the world…that both establishes the new axis around which the entire world thereafter revolves and discloses the original meaning of the world as determined in the pretemporal counsel of God. So unlimited is the scope of this divine action that it comprehends not only the end but also the very beginnings – although it takes the highly particular form of an individual human life that reaches its goal not only in death but also in resurrection.

-Francis Watson

 

Nothing can be the same again. Both Paul and his fellow Christians are living in a new reality that, in a sense, only they can understand. In the light of this new reality they understand that Christ has rescued them from a tortured previous reality within which they were oppressed by evil powers. Christ and his followers are presently at war with that evil dominion, and to a degree the war extends through the middle of each Christian community and each Christian person in the form of an ongoing conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. Nevertheless, Christ has effected the decisive act of deliverance and victory. Christians are saved, and dramatically! They have been set free and must now resist the temptation to lapse back into the old, evil, but strangely comfortable reality from which they have been delivered.

-Douglas Campbell (summarizing J. Louis Martyn’s interpretation)

 

Book Review: Shaping the Prayers of the People by Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher

ResizeImageHandler.ashxSamuel Wells and Abigail Kocher have given the church an important gift with their recent work Shaping the Prayers of the People: The Art of Intersession. This book is a richly theological and immensely practical exploration of intercessory prayer in public worship. It is a short, yet highly engaging, read – 77 pages of exposition (chapters 1-5) followed by approximately 76 pages of example prayers. As the lead pastor of a Protestant church, I found my liturgical imagination ignited in a new way as I was led to think through the intentions behind our practice of corporate worship. This work will be more accessible to those from a liturgical tradition, but perhaps is even more important of a read for those who come from a tradition that lacks this intentional liturgical shape.

I found the book’s theology to be highly satisfying and informing. For instance, the authors give a reasoned exploration of the theology behind prayer. They especially explore the function of intercessory prayer in light of the Trinity:

“Prayer is a conversation between the Song and the Father in which the Holy Spirit invites the believer to participate.”
. . . . “The ministry of the Holy Spirit is, as it has always been, to make Jesus and all that God has given us in Jesus (sometimes called “his benefits”) present to us; and to make us, in all our humble and naked folly and need, but also in our faith and longing, present to Jesus.”
. . . . “Perhaps the deepest mystery is what takes place between the Son and the Father… There is a sense in which the Son who pleads with the Father on our behalf is always the Jesus we see on the cross. Because every petition is, on closer scrutiny, a plea for salvation – for safety, for healing, for reconciliation, for communion, for blessing – for all the things that Christ won on the cross. So every time we pray in the power of the Spirit – every time the Holy Spirit carries our prayer to Jesus and Jesus intercedes to the Father for us, the question for the Father is the same: “How much of your ultimate glory are you going to reveal and bestow at this present moment, and how much are you going to withhold until the last day?” (page 2-3)

The book is also bursting at the seams with practical insight for ecclesial leaders. Beyond the authors’ analysis of the shape, content, and form of intercessory prayers, I found the discussion on the “social location” of the prayer to be very helpful. They state, “The most dangerous word in liturgy, especially informal, spontaneous liturgy, is ‘we.'” (39) This is something equality true for preachers as for prayers, speakers must always mean the global Christian community with their “we” and not “our country, our troops, our children, etc.” This is a common and easy way that church leaders sometimes exclude portions of God’s people from our petitions and worship. Equally enlightening was the discussion on prayer (specifically intercessory prayer) as not being an alternative sermon. As the authors state, “How can one tell that intercessions are turning into a sermon? When the speaker drifts away from talking to God and starts talking to the congregation” (7-8) or begins to stop using the word “you” to address God and instead referring to him in the third person, as “God.” This is something I commonly see when folks are given the task to pray in public and one that ultimately leads to a confused prayer.

As mentioned, the book contains an abundance of example intercessory prayers. Most of these examples come with an identification of the season/place/intention behind the prayer. The book also ends with a masterfully condensed “checklist for preparing the prayers of the people.” (157-158)

As a church leader, Shaping the Prayers of the People is easily one of the best books I have read this year. I highly recommend it to all who are tasked with leading or participating in public worship services or those who simply wish to take a deeper look at intercessory prayer. I will be giving a copy to all of the pastoral and lay leaders at my church and am looking forward to working through it in community.

Note: I received this book from Eerdmans in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, my Lord and God,
let your saving plan be fulfilled in us all.
You drew God down from heaven and into the Virgin’s womb;
You are the love that moved God to become one with our own flesh.
You built for God’s Son a home in his mother:
built it on seven pillars, your seven gifts.
From the root of Jesse a shoot has sprung:
on it you would one day come to rest.

God, we have heard with our very own ears;
our fathers have told us
the work that you did
when you came in flame-tongues from your throne in the Godhead
to make earth a heaven and all of us gods.
From that moment on, as children adopted, scattered throughout all the earth,
through you we keep crying Abba, our Father! to God.
How great are your mercies, oh Spirit, oh Lord!
They revive me in hope; through them I entreat you.

Faith’s seal, of believers the counselor-helper,
light, fire, and wellspring of light,
oh, listen to us who call you, and come!
If you will but guide us
our Father’s face we’ll see, and also the face of his Son,
and know you too, who flow from them both,
life’s fountain and river of peace.

[The Prayer to the Holy Spirit by Rupert of Deutz]

More Thoughts – “A Brief Theology of Sports” by Lincoln Harvey

My last post looked at two ideas I found important and helpful in Lincoln Harvey’s book A Brief Theology of Sport. Overall, I enjoyed the book finding it accessible and timely.

Theology

Today, however, I want to consider a question I have about the book and I think it is a question Harvey expects because he seems to spend time offering an answer. At the beginning let me state, I am unsure if have I understood Harvey because at times I want to agree with his explanation and at other times I want to disagree (it could be that I’m confused!). Thus, I present this as a question seeking further explanation.

In the chapter on sport as “The Liturgical Celebration of Contingency,” Harvey makes a distinction between sports and worship. It is a distinction I find helpful for various reasons, one I discussed yesterday, but it also raises questions. Let me quote a few passages from the book:

“(Sport) is an event in which the creature, as itself, celebrates itself” (94).

 “Worship is the liturgical celebration of who God is with us. Sport is the liturgical celebration of who we are by ourselves” (94).

“In worship, God in his freedom is committed to being present to his people in this reality…In sport, however, the opposite is the case. God instead steps back, evacuating the space created by the liturgical action…He is in one. He is out of the other” (95).

“Sport is only for sport. It is the one thing that is not directed to the glory of God. That is what sets it apart” (96).

If I understand correctly, these statements arise from the premise that to make sport about something other than sport ruins it. Since sport is “autotelic,” meaning it has no meaning outside itself, to make sport about something changes it from sport to something else. Thus, sport cannot be a celebration of anything outside itself because to make sport about celebrating God, or for the glory of God, is to make it about something else. Sport, therefore, must be the celebration of who we are apart from God, a space where we can exist in nothing but our nothingness (our not ‘Godness’).

If these statements were allowed to stand alone, I would want to disagree with them, but here are a few quotes from the same pages that make want to agree:

“(Sport) is graced creatures living out grace. We chime with our own being” (94).

“(In sport) God instead enjoys watching us being ourselves as we pivot freely between himself and nothingness” (95).

“That is precisely what is so amazing about sport. It is not for God. It is simply the graceful creature” (96).

My question arises from how do the ideas of celebrating ourselves and living out grace fit together? Also, how does God’s enjoyment relate to God’s glory? The following is my attempt to answer these questions (these ideas are built upon Harvey’s points but they are not meant to reflect Harvey’s thoughts, as I said I’m still trying to figure out if/where we agree and disagree):

In a previous chapter, Harvey explained being graced as “we are held in existence only by the divine will that we be” (81). Graced then is the fact that we exist only in a space that is sustained “unnecessarily but meaningfully” by God and “the good news is that there is no territory that is not grace” (81). In this sense, if sport is “living out grace” then it is not a space outside God but the place we exist most completely as ourselves with God. Or to say it another way, the place we exist with God as God intended, unnecessary but meaningful.*

Sport is surely different from worship, as Harvey explains, because in worship we approach God in all his glory. On the other hand, sport is where we approach God in all our glory. Glory that because it is given by him pleases him. Thus, sport is a celebration of who we are in ourselves but not of who we are by ourselves. It is a celebration of ourselves as graced by God.** Furthermore, sport can be celebrated by God as we live out the unnecessary-but-meaningful existence he graced us with in the first place.

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*Harvey seems to make a similar point, “When we play – unnecessary but meaningful – we are living out our deepest identity as unnecessary but meaningful creatures” (84).

**Harvey seems to make a similar point (although on this point I’m not sure we are meaning the same thing), “When we play sport, we are celebrating our freely determined form as these particular creatures through a freely determined rule-governed unnecessary-but-meaningful activity” (93).

 

“A Brief Theology of Sport” by Lincoln Harvey – Thoughts

Disclaimer: I bought this book.

Theology

I love sports! I loved playing them competitively, I enjoy playing them recreationally, and I have three little boys for whom I am their coach, their second biggest fan (can’t compete with mom), and often serve as the replay review booth for backyard disputes (takes some imagination but it works!).

Therefore, I was excited to finally get a chance Lincoln Harvey‘s book on celebrating “sport for what it is without confusing it for what it isn’t” (xv), and I wasn’t disappointed. Harvey has written an excellent book, both easily readable and deeply informative.

 

Over the next couple of days, I will offer some thoughts on the book but these posts are not meant to be a full review. Today will focus on two central ideas stemming from the book and tomorrow will ask one question about the book.

For Harvey, sport is “a subspecies of play” (70). Harvey describes play as “a fundamentally unnecessary-yet-meaningful activity” and explains what distinguishes sport from other types of play is it involves physical prowess and rules (60-72). Most important for Harvey’s theology of sport, however, is the basic characteristic “unnecessary-yet-meaningful activity.” Drawing from the Christian understanding of creation, specifically humanity was created by God as “unnecessary-yet-meaningful” creatures,* Harvey suggests “that when we play – unnecessary but meaningful – we are living out our deepest identity as unnecessary but meaningful creatures” (84). Thus, Christians can celebrate sports as “The Liturgical Celebration of Contingency” (88-96).**

With these basic ideas in mind, I want to draw attention to two ways Harvey helps us think about sports as Christians. First, sports is not worship. Although the two have a “strong family resemblance” (93), Harvey explains, “Worship is the liturgical celebration of who God is with us. Sport is the liturgical celebration of who we are by ourselves” (94). This distinction, which I will question somewhat in my next post, helps us to see one way sports is tainted by sin. Rather, than being a celebration of who we are as God’s “unnecessary but meaningful creation” sport can easily become self-worship. Harvey writes, “Because the Fall impacts our deepest identity, our playfulness is corrupted. Instead of being non-serious, we instead take ourselves too seriously, even to the extent of deluding ourselves that we are God” (103). This advice is needed in the church today and especially for parents, like myself, who are raising children who love sports. We must be able to teach our children how to rightly relate to the sports they play and perhaps even more importantly have the language to teach ourselves how to rightly relate to two of the biggest idols in the church, our children and the sports our children play.

The second distinction is that sports is not a civilized form of war. Here I want to quote Harvey at length:

Sport is often thought to be a civilized form of war, a domesticated outlet for the pre-programmed genetic struggle for survival in the cultivated terrain of civil society, But, because the state of (original) nature is not war but peace, we can say that this way of seeing things is upside down and back to front. Of course, our fallenness means we are constantly at war with ourselves, which makes war seem primary to our twisted minds. But on a properly Christian reading of creation, war would be much better understood as the a fallen state of sport rather than sport being seen as a domesticated form of war.

Though I have thought a lot about the ways I engage in sports as a Christian, I have not given as much thought to how I define sport. After reading Harvey’s book, I started to listening to the ways I, and those around me, talk about sports, and war terminology is by far the most commonly used descriptions. Thus, regardless of whether or not I knew it sports as domesticated war is my default definition of sport. Harvey’s book has made me aware of the fundamental ways this definition shapes the way I talk about and engage in sports. It has also made me begin questioning these ideas and changing the ways I think about sports, talk about sports, and engage in sports.

In the end, the highest praise I can offer the book is that it has changed the way I engage in a very crucial part of my family’s life. Thus, Harvey’s description of the theological task rings true as he has given “voice to reality by speaking in tune with the event of God’s own self-introduction in Jesus Christ” (xiii).

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*”Creation may not be serious, but it is not meaningless. Instead, the Church believes that we are created freely out of nothing and for something” (81).

**This quick recap cannot do justice to all of Harvey’s ideas. My suggestion is if you find it interesting read the book!