The Carnival is Coming to Town!

974540It’s been a while since Cataclysmic last hosted the Biblical Studies Carnival, but the wait is now over: we are in the on-deck circle and will soon be offering the
September 2014 Biblical Studies Carnival.

Help me make this month’s edition a Carnival to remember! Please send me submissions for consideration throughout the month as you read a good blog post. Place your submission in a comment, email me at mike@fc3.org, or use the following contact form:

* PS # 1: Be sure you check out Rob Bradshaw’s Biblical Studies Carnival for August 2014.

*PS # 2: Phil Long is still looking for volunteers to host future carnivals. Let him know if/when you’re willing to step up!

Book Review: Christian Faith and Social Justice (Five Views)

A libertarian, a liberal, a liberationist, a feminist, and a virtue ethicist all walk into a bar. This is the basic premise behind Bloomsbury’s new offering Christian Faith and Social Justice: Five Views edited by Vic McCracken. This book is intended to serve as an introduction to and conversation between five distinctively Christian approaches to social justice. The five views represented are: Libertarianism (Jason Jewell), Political Liberalism (Daniel A. Dombrowski), Liberation Theology (Miguel A. De La Torre), Christian Feminism (Laura Stivers, and Virtue Ethics (Elizabeth Phillips). The result is a highly engaging book sure to stimulate and challenge one’s Christian approach to social justice.

The most helpful part of the book was witnessing the generous, yet vigorous, conversations between the respective authors. This interaction is what makes books of this variety (competing perspectives in dialogue) so valuable. It’s much easier to assess positions and arguments when you are able to immediately see the critiques posed to each position. I also appreciated that each author had one last chance to respond to the other writer’s critiques. I haven’t found this feature in all books that present multiple perspectives, but the longer the conversation goes the more able the reader is able to assess the arguments.

Each author did a fair job presenting their position and the main chapters thus serve as a good introduction to these different approaches to social justice. If one is unfamiliar with one of these positions, it’s possible to use the quotes and footnotes to compose a good list of primary texts for further study. A suggestion: it might be helpful to have each author provide a recommended reading list for their viewpoint. Two possible downsides to the book: first, one finds many different approaches (some more philosophical, some more exegetical, some more theological) throughout the book. I’m not sure that can be avoided with so many authors involved, but some readers might be disappointed if they are expected a discussion that is primarily philosophical, exegetical, or theological. Second, it is not always clear how the five viewpoints interact and overlap with each other. There are obviously many clear differences, but on many occasions the authors wish to point out the possibility that their view is compatible with certain versions of other viewpoints. To this end, it might have been helpful for each author to address a uniform and concrete example through the lens of their viewpoint. McCracken offers three “case studies” in her introduction and I would have been interested in each author specifically addressing these situations.

From my perspective, I found Elizabeth Phillips presentation and defense of virtue ethics to be the most persuading. To be fair, I read the book already very appreciative of the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. Likewise, I found the libertarian position to be most lacking, although it was presented much more attractively than it is often represented by its ideological leaders in the media.

I greatly enjoyed reading Christian Faith and Social Justice and would recommend it for:

- Individuals looking to learn more about the interaction between Christian faith and social justice (especially those who might benefit from seeing the actual diversity of Christian opinions on the issue)
– Supplemental reading for an introductory Christian ethics/political philosophy course
– An adult study group looking for an academically orientated look at social justice

9781623568184

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

Three Tips for Understanding Predestination

“Do you believe in predestination or free-will?”

I’m not a famous Christian leader by any means, but I do get asked this question at least two or three times a week. Most often it’s from the mouth of a young person, newly familiar with their “label,” who wants a quick soundbite to confirm my orthodoxy. They’re rarely satisfied with my answer: “It’s not that simple.”

I’ve been in Christian leadership for about seven years now and over the course of that time I have changed my mind repeatedly about how to interpret biblical passages describing God’s action of election, or predestination. Thus, I am fairly humble in my approach to the doctrinal debate. I am confident, however, that my ability to parse the issue has grown as I’ve been exposed to more and more of the church’s best theologians.

These days, I generally give three “theological guidelines” as a general rule of thumb for how I approach the biblical notion of election/predestination:

1) Election is primarily Christological

“Jesus Christ is the basis of the doctrine of election. All its statements must be statements about Him.” – Robert Jenson

The heart of God’s eternal choice consisted in choosing to be radically for us in the person and work of his Son and through His Spirit. Christians are chosen “in him” (Eph. 1:4) and are predestined to be adopted as sons “through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5). Before election/predestination has anything to do with specific human beings, it concerns God’s choice to love, pursue, and redeem his creatures through his love for his Son. God’s “choice” is not a mystery – but is revealed through the person and work of Christ. If you want to know God’s eternal decision about you, it is that he has chosen to relentlessly pursue your rescue no matter what it may cost him. Martin Luther says it beautifully: “When wondering where and how to find the Creator God of predestination and majestic holiness, remember there is no other God besides this man, Christ Jesus. See God revealed, hanging on a Roman cross, for your sins.”

2) Election is primarily Corporate

We often approach the Scriptures with an inherited worldview of hyper-individualism. However, election (in both the Old and New Testaments) is a corporate concept. God elected Israel to be his “chosen” people. But there were ways that individuals could get into the chosen community and ways that they could get out of it. Similarly, Paul uses inclusive pronouns to refer to election – “us” – and never tries to distinguish between individuals in a local church. He assures the baptized, believing, Spirit-filled community that they are the chosen ones. A corporate understanding of election doesn’t deny that humans have legitimate free will. The crisis that election creates is not contemplation over whether God chose you behind some secret curtain before history, but over whether you have joined the chosen community. God has not chosen between Sally vs. John – he has chosen to redeem all those who are in Christ. He desires that both Sally and John are united to Christ, though they have legitimate freedom to reject the offer. Even when I was a hyper-calvinist, I agreed that “no one who believes and follows Christ will come to find that they have not been chosen.” Thus, the world God has created is not one in which Sally or John might join the believing community only to have an angelic bouncer tell them that unfortunately they weren’t “on the list.”

3) Election is primarily Doxological

When the Scriptures speak of predestination, it is almost always in the context of overflowing praise. That is to say, the doctrine of election is intended to be unequivocally good news. The moment that it becomes bad news, or cause for worry and sleeplessness, it has been horrendously misunderstood. Israel is constantly reminded that they were not “chosen” because God loved them more than the other nations or because they were his favorite – their election was actually good news even for the nations around them (“I’ll bless you to be a blessing.”)  This doctrine is not meant to be a mystery that causes fear in the hearts of Christians, but a truth that is recognized by believers that causes unexplainable joy. Likewise, it is not meant to create an “us” versus “them” mentality or to divide the world neatly into two groups: the people God loves and the people God hates. Hans Urs von Balthasar summarizes this point nicely: “How can a person seriously believe that God is love and has given himself up for us on the cross, because he has loved and chosen us from all eternity and has predestined us for an eternity of bliss in his presence- how can anyone seriously believe this ‘to be true’ and at the same time refuse to love God in return or despair of God’s love?”

On Predestination

Two quotes worth pondering:

“How can a person seriously believe that God is love and has given himself up for us on the cross, because he has loved us and chosen us from all eternity and has predestined us for an eternity of bliss in his presence – how can anyone seriously believe this ‘to be true’ and at the same time refuse to love God in return or despair of God’s love?”
– Hans Urs von Balthasar

“When wondering where and how to find the Creator God of predestination and majestic holiness, remember there is no other God besides this man, Christ Jesus. See God revealed, hanging on a Roman cross, for your sins.”
– Martin Luther

Making the World Right

In light of the events of this week, a few quotes on God’s making the world right.* I hope this vision captures the church, myself included, and we become God’s people – a people working to make what is wrong right.

 

In Galatians, the cross is interpreted not primarily as an atoning sacrifice for forgiveness of sins, but as a cataclysmic event that has broken the power of forces that hold humanity captive, brought the old world to an end, and inaugurated a new creation.

Richard Hays

 

Paul takes his bearings from the good news that in Christ – and thus in the act of new creation – God has invaded the cosmos. Paul does not argue, then, on the basis of a cosmos that remains undisturbed but on the emergence of the new cosmos with its new elements.

J. Louis Martyn

 

In Christ’s death the whole world has been put to death and a new world of possibilities come to birth.

James D. G. Dunn

 

God’s gracious will is to create life, to call into existence things that do not exist…Far from repairing the old cosmos, God is in the process of replacing it. 

J. Louis Martyn (partial summary, partial quote)

 

The new creation is not, however, merely a dream or a vision it takes on empirical reality in the community of God’s people.

Richard Hays

 

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

 

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*All quotes from commentaries on Galatians.