PonderForth: Halloween and Soteriology

Go ahead an bookmark the new blog PonderForth.
You can thank me later.

Michael Forth, the author, is a good friend of mine and a bright doctoral student at Aberdeen University. This week he posted two blogs worth reading:

A Word About Halloween:
“The bottom line is that we are witnesses to Christ and His Kingdom.  All symbols that do not point to Jesus are not wrong; they have been twisted from their proper purpose of revealing Him to His world.  We are to untwist them; we are to bend them back into shape so they can reveal Christ and His Kingdom.  In the case of Halloween, is there anyone better to explain the true meaning of death and how it has been overcome?  How can we not embrace this opportunity to reclaim a symbol that has been illegitimately appropriated by an unbelieving culture, especially when it was done by means of such a silly subculture as the neopagans.

It would be improper, however, to use this line of thinking as an opportunity to browbeat our neighbors in the name of Jesus.  We are witnesses and ambassadors, not Gospel thugs.  When we use Halloween as an excuse for aggressive evangelism, we show that evangelism per se mean more to us than our neighbor.  Our neighbors feel as though we are using a children’s holiday to sell them a spiritual pyramid scheme.  Opportunistic evangelism never works.”

The Price We Pay for Soteriology:
“The more and more that I experience of the Evangelical world, both in the U.S. and in our new circumstances in Scotland, the more I am convinced of the dangers of soteriolatry (soteriology + idolatry).  Soteriolatry is a name that I have given to the Evangelical tendency to prize soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) above all else, functionally turning it into an idol with disastrous effects.  While I may have coined the neologism “soteriolatry” in a moment of self-congratulatory pseudo-insight several years ago, others with similar concerns may have coined the same term or something similar….

This overemphasis on soteriology in the Evangelical tradition may well be labeled as Neo-Lutheran, since it stems largely from one of the primary motivations of Luther (though without his nuance and balance).  Some may disagree with this label, but I will use ‘NL’ as shorthand for this perspective in what follows.  What am I offering in contrast to the focus?  What can I say?  I’m a kingdom guy.  I believe that when the New Testament refers to the gospel it is referring to the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  It is only within such a context that our salvation in Jesus Christ has its proper place.  Without such a context, it too often seems as though we are saved for the sake of being saved.”

What It Means To Be “Fishers of Men” (Mark 1:17)

In Mark 1:17 Jesus tells Simon & Andrew: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” But what exactly does this title, “fishers of men,” mean?

The “common-sense” reading of the text suggests that it simply implies that Jesus’ followers will come to have same mission that Jesus has (calling people to follow him). Indeed, this is how the text is normally read and preached. As those who follow Christ, we are called to be “fishers of men” and continue to extend the invitation of following Christ to those around us. However, at least two alternate or supplemental readings are possible:

1) The “Martyr” Reading

If you take the metaphor of fishing seriously, perhaps there is a note of implied suffering involved in the call to be “fishers of men.” Fishing is a somewhat violent activity which involves the hooking of an animal and, usually, it’s eventual death. Already in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, John has been arrested by the authorities, Jesus has been tempted in the desert by Satan, and Simon/Andrew/James/John have abandoned their financial and social security in order to follow Jesus. It won’t be long until Jesus reveals that the call to follow him is ultimately a call to martyrdom – a call to pick up one’s cross and die. Is Jesus playing on the metaphor of fishing and suggesting that the mission the disciples are called to join is one of bidding people to a life of temptation, suffering, and death? William Placher concludes: “Is such a connotation (of suffering) intentional? It is hard to tell. Those who are ‘caught’ in discipleship of Jesus will come to great joy, but only, we will learn, on the other side of suffering.” (Placher, Mark, 37).

2) The “Judgement” Reading

It’s possible, if not likely, that Jesus is drawing this title from Old Testament prophetic images of God “fishing” his people. Perhaps Jesus draws this title from Jeremiah 16:16, Amos 4:2, or Ezekiel 29:4. In these texts, “fishing men” is seen as a euphemism for God’s judgement on his people – the rich and powerful who have abandoned his call to obedience. If Jesus is intentionally drawing on these prophetic traditions, then perhaps he is inviting Simon/Andrew/James/John to “join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.” (Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 132). To follow Jesus, in this reading, is thus to become part of a people who by their very existence cast judgement on those living in disobedience to God’s true desires. It is to live a life of radical generosity and enemy-love which necessarily clashes with the world and its rulers.

What do you think?
How do you read the call to be “fishers of men”?
What do you think about these alternative/supplemental readings?

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Book Review: Deviant Calvinism (Broadening Reformed Theology) by Oliver D. Crisp

BOOK REVIEW
Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology by Oliver D. Crisp

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Oliver Crisp’s latest book, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, is an attempt to demonstrate that the Reformed tradition is much broader and wider than it is commonly characterized. His book succeeds in accomplishing this task. Indeed, I was eager to read this book because of my own theological history. I was once part of the young, restless, and Reformed crowd. Gradually, I grew out of my hyper-calvinism and into a gray area that was difficult for me to define. I thought perhaps I could (or should) no longer claim the title of “Reformed” … but I often found much of my theological inspiration from Reformed thinkers such as Barth. Crisp confirms my suspicions: Reformed theology is much broader than the neo-puritan calvinism that most people think of when they hear the title.

Reader be warned: this book is not for the faint of heart. It is a work of analytical theology and thus reads very philosophically. For one not familiar with reformed theological jargon or interested in “variant” strands of this tradition, it might be a difficult or tedious book to read. Crisp explores concepts such as eternal justification, libertarian calvinism, Augustinian universalism, and Barthian universalism. His focus is not so much on the Scriptural warrant (or lack thereof) for certain doctrinal claims as it is on the logic which lies behind them – noting what truth claims a doctrine necessarily requires or denies. Much of the book revolves around a discussion of various ways one in the Reformed tradition might hold to the belief in universalism. Thus, it was a helpful addition to my current interest in the presence of universalism in evangelicalism.

I recommend this book as a thought-provoking read to all those who are invested in the Reformed tradition.


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

Paul and Prayer

I’m teaching a class on the Holy Spirit this Fall, and this week the subject was The Holy Spirit and Prayer. These two quotes from Gordon Fee’s Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God caught my attention:

One of the more remarkable inconsistencies in studies on Paul is that thousands of books exist that search every aspect of Paul’s thinking, while only a few seek to come to terms with his life of prayer. Indeed, most people’s understanding of Paul is limited to Paul the missionary or to Paul the theologian. But what is clear from Paul’s letters is that he was a pray-er before he was a missionary or thinker…Paul did not simply believe in prayer or talk about prayer. He prayed, regularly and continuously, and urged his churches to do the same.

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It is probably impossible to understand Paul as a theologian, if one does not take this dimension of his “Spirit-uality” with full seriousness. A prayerless life is one of practical atheism. As one who lived in and by the Spirit, Paul understood prayer in particular to be the special prompting of the Spirit, leading him to thanksgiving for others and petition in the Spirit, even when he did not know for what specifically to pray. Whatever else life in the Spirit meant for Paul, it meant a life devoted to prayer, accompanied by joy and thanksgiving.

 

Michael F. Bird on the Fourfold Gospel

“The four Gospels exhibit a plurality and unity that both encourages and restricts christological reflection. As a plurality, they demonstrate that no single Gospel, no one narration, and no solo story possesses a monopoly on describing who Jesus is. It takes the richness and diversity of four different accounts to come close to penetrating into the mystery of the man and his mission. In fact, the plurality of the Gospels stimulates us to write, preach, teach, paint, and sing about Jesus in ways that are far from monolithic but celebrate the diverse ways that Jesus Christ quickens our hearts, fills us with joy, drives us to Godward devotion, and inspires us to love others. At the same time, as a unity the four Gospels are in a sense constricting, setting the boundaries as they do for all christological discourse. They mark out the theological zone in which our discussion and devotion to Christ takes place. This proves that certain images of Jesus are out of bounds. The purely human Jesus, the phantasm Jesus, or the Jesus as an angel view, or the neo-liberal California Jesus, or the ultra-conservative ant-big government Jesus, or the Nazi Aryan Jesus, or the armed communist liberator Jesus – all these are moving beyond the playing field.”

- Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord, 326.