Apostle(!) vs. Genius :(

E of A

I just finished reading Myron Bradley Penner’s book, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context. Generally, I’m a fan of Christian apologetics so I knew I would disagree with the author’s main argument right out the gate. However, I’m open to changing my mind, and had heard decent reviews of this book so figured I’d pick it up as a sort of intellectual challenge.

Penner’s argument is that we shouldn’t do Christian apologetics anymore. Or at the very least, we should be doing it very different. He makes a pretty interesting argument on page 59 when quoting Terry Eagleton, Penner points out that,

Christian apologists and the New Atheists are, in fact, mirror images of each other. Faith for either side boils down to a kind of positive scientific knowledge that tends to reduce the substance of faith to an intellectual debate over the reasonableness of a theoretical entity: the proposition ‘God exists.'”

Penner can say this because he believes the overwhelming majority of Christian apologists rely too heavily on the epistemological paradigm of modernity (as do the New Atheists) and thus Christian apologetics is no longer very helpful now that we find ourselves living in a postmodern society. Penner would say in our (modernistic) attempts to justify (and prove!) Christianity to be logical, rational and “true”, we are missing our postmodern audiences. Penner believes we should switch from an epistemological to a hermeneutical strategy. Our Christian witness should be more focused on personal and meaningful appeals vs. debate-style coercions. We should focus more on edification rather than justification. Our witness should be characterized more by the sympathetic, prophetic, and apocalyptic than the logical, scientific, or rational.

While I agree that the majority of apologists probably (and unwittingly) behold themselves too heavily to a modernistic understanding of reality, I think Penner pushes his argument too far. It’s not as if there aren’t still major echoes of modernity in the hearts and minds of current audiences – even educated ones – whether we like it or not and whether that is a good thing, or not. Additionally, Penner makes it seem that we could pick between a hermeneutical stance and an epistemological one, as if one is NOT reliant on the other. Anyways, in the end I still think Christian apologetics is a worthwhile endeavor and so Penner hasn’t convinced me. But he did open my eyes to one of the strongest critiques of apologetics I’ve ever heard – he does this by pointing to Kierkegaard.

Penner argues Christian apologetics does more harm than good because the apologist debater functions something like an expert witness who is uniquely qualified and highly trained – and therefore especially qualified – to articulate and defend Christian truth in a way the rest of us cannot. Penner believes the apologetic industry buys into the “culture of experts” that in the end hurts us more than helps.

Kierkegaard addresses this modern secular condition by drawing a very careful distinction between a genius and an apostle. For Kierkegaard, a genius is something like our concept of an “expert.” A genius is the highest person on the intellectual totem pole, the first in our pecking order of whom to believe. They are the “leaders in the field.” They know more than the rest of their peers (and us), and their claims carry with them the weight of rational deliberation, insight and brilliance. What separates them from us is that they are MORE brilliant, intelligent, and rational than we are, and this supposedly puts them in a better position to ascertain the truth. They are ahead of the curve, so to speak, so these geniuses seek to speak authoritatively about how the rest of us believe.

Kierkegaard then connects the modern emphasis on genius and the modern concept of reason. At the end of the day, the modern appeal to genius (or expertise) as the final authority for belief and practice directly corresponds to the authority accorded human reason (as objective, universal, and neutral) which is of course, a primarily modern concept – separate from both premodern and postmodern viewpoints, respectively.

The apostle on the other hand, appeals not to reason but to revelation as the basis on which claims are warranted. A genius is born, Kierkegaard points out, while an apostle is called. Whereas genius is a quality that distinguishes a person from other humans comparatively – by being MORE rational or brilliant or intelligent – the apostle’s constitutive identity comes only from the call of God.

Subsequently, the apostle’s message is one that no one else can improve upon or add to because it is dependent on God’s action alone. There is nothing extraordinary about apostles prior to their call to apostleship. Apostleship does not depend on any particular human abilities. In this sense, every human being is equally capable of being an apostle, regardless of their circumstance or natural endowments – because their source is God Himself and God’s revelation. The apostle is authoritative NOT because it is demonstrably rational or exceptionally brilliant, but because it has a word from God.

Notice, God’s word in this context does not come to us as the result of human calculation. It is not particularly brilliant but at the same time it cannot be improved upon, nor will it ever become obsolete. Because it’s God’s Word! Additionally, the apostle doesn’t need to play to the crowd en masse, while the genius must. The genius cannot ground its claims in any way that is final or absolute outside of the rational consensus of “the power-craving crowd”. The genius succeeds (or, is legitimized) when it achieves the widest possible number of adherents. All the while the apostle doesn’t need the crowd because the apostle is already speaking a different message anyways – a word from the divine outside.

Penner believes “the privileging of geniuses means apostles lose their voice.” And he also believes the Christian apologetic industry, with its tours, books, dvds, and degrees perpetuates the climate of geniuses and even encourages it. Another way of saying it is that Penner thinks apologetics is a celebrity-driven enterprise – which ends up more as a unique form of Christian idolatry vs an example of Christian salt and light.

Kierkegaard (and Penner along with him) believes Christians should be fighting AGAINST the modernistic phenomenas, not WITH it. Kierkegaard objects to Christian apologetics partially because it is reliant on the entire modern epistemological paradigm which was never Biblical to begin with! Penner despises the fact that “Christian apologetics” attempts to ground faith in genius or secular reasons. He believes modernity and all modern enterprises empty faith of its Christian content and robs it of its true authority. In this way the genius/apostle distinction suggests modern apologetics is ITSELF a symptom of the incipient nihilism at the core of modern thought. It is not the solution, Christian apologetics is the problem.

So, to summarize: We don’t need more geniuses, we need more apostles!

Now there is an argument of weight – I’ll be working on that one for the next little while. Gotta love Kierkegaard’s constant twists of insight.

 

10 Ways the Doctrine of Original Sin Helps Us

original sin

I was initially looking forward to reading this book more because of the author, less because of the subject. In seminary I was required to read Blocher’s, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis and found it really, really helpful as an overview survey of the different ways to interpret Genesis, respectively. I have ever since appreciated Blocher’s ability to express all vantage points of a topic, concisely, fairly and appropriately, with an analytical eye. Generally, I would describe Blocher’s writing style as intentionally focused. He doesn’t waste much words. He always seems to get right to the point, but he often has a really nice way of getting there. Some of his lines end up as virtuoso poetry. Reading Blocher reminds me of what it’s like to read works of a similar genius – the world renowned theologian, John Webster.

To no surprise, Blocher’s survey of views on how Paul is supposedly making sense of Adam in his Chapter three is masterful. But somehow I liked Chapter Four even more where Blocher surveys the history of mankind (pages 83-93) to show how the doctrine of original sin resonates with our own human experiences. Perhaps this is why the doctrine of original sin has always been the least interesting doctrine for me. Or maybe more honestly, why it’s always seemed least essential. Even though I subscribe to the doctrine myself, and I at the same time appreciate that different scholars have to articulate it in their own ways… I’ve not really been too interested in delving into the details. For me, to do so has always seemed a little bit too late.

Of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, I have yet to meet a person able or even typically willing to argue with the idea that all men are somehow united in their disordered desires. However we may parse it in the end, I’ve found the doctrine of original sin to be particularly resonant with universal human experience. As Pascal has once put it, “man is more inconceivable without the mystery than the mystery is to the man.” (84) So why spend time defending the doctrine or focusing for too long on the details? In the end no matter how someone may choose to express the doctrine (or claim to deny it), we all very quickly get to the same starting blocks: As humans, we aren’t always what we want to be. We keep messing up, and we keep needing help… And there you have it. Already we find the springboard has been sprung. We’re now off and running. And typically, in the same direction from the very start. So why pay sustained attention to this doctrine as such? Here we get to my favorite parts of the book. Something I wasn’t expecting.

Throughout the book, Blocher weaves in some apologetics, showing time and time again the values of the doctrine of original sin. That is, how does the doctrine of original sin help us to understand life, and also to live it properly? I counted at least 10 of them throughout the book. 10 different ways the doctrine of original sin properly articulated and understood helps us. Blocher would say the doctrine of original sin at the least helps us to: 

  1.  Answer important questions such as:
    1. Why is the perception of human evil, in the main, accompanied by feelings of indignation, guilt or shame? If human evil were merely “natural”, like the ferocity of tigers (or ants!), there would be no room for such feelings.
    2. If humans are capable of so much evil, how is it that they also reach heights of heroism, performing admirable deeds of selfless service and devotion to the truth? How can they bear fruits of beauty and wisdom? How can we explain this complex human phenomenon? (Pages 11-12)
  2. Unlock the tangles and knots of our human experience: that of both our misery and our nobility (Page 84)
  3. Locate the operation of evil. Through understanding this doctrine we come to an understanding of sin’s location. (Page 89)
  4. Make sense of our duality of experience of both personal responsibility and social solidarity… both our seeming determinism and our individual freedom. The tension is not burdensome for the Christian who believes in the doctrine of original sin. (94-95)
  5. Show us how sin can be both a necessity of will as well as a voluntary choice, all at the same time (99)
  6. “One should notice that the doctrine of original sin not only protects guilt or responsibility from its denial under the crushing impression of necessity; it also mitigates what could become inordinate harshness” (102)
  7. “This doctrine teaches us to think no worse of others, than of ourselves: it teaches us that we are all, as we are by nature, companions in a miserable helpless condition: which under a revelation of the divine mercy, tends to promote mutual compassion.” (131-132)
  8. Shows us how through Christ we cannot be condemned for our sin, yet we still must avoid the things that are condemnable, both those things from without and within. (134)
  9. Experiencing the doctrine builds faith and gives us solid ground for a sober, patient hope (134)
  10. See Christ more clearly. “In its teaching on original sin, Scripture seems to impose a bitter diet, which causes pain at the level of our emotions: but how sweet it is, in the sense of goodness, for those who can taste it – the life-giving truth of Christ!” (135, the last words of the book)

To see how exactly this doctrine does all-a-that, you’d have to read the book for yourself! Speaking for myself, I learned at least one new thing: The doctrine of original sin isn’t simply true, or just particularly resonant, it’s also really helpful.

 

What Singles Need From the Church

OnebyOne

Psalm 68:6 – “God sets the solitary in families” (So, it doesn’t say, God wants the “families” and the “singles” to stay separate from each other? Ohhhhhhhh!)

Single people are neither “problems,” (Ch.1) “pariahs,” (Ch.2) or “projects.” (Ch.3) Single people are people – people made in the image of God (Ch.4). This should be a given, a “duh.” But somehow, it isn’t.  Some of the people who were interviewed for this book said that they believed “marriage and families have been elevated to such a high status in the church that single people don’t always seem to fit anymore, or, at worst, seem to have less value than married people…” (25) How sad.

Somehow we’ve lost our way. The church needs to be reminded as important as it is to encourage and resource families – the Gospel is bigger. The full Gospel message encompasses, values and calls on all all members of a church body – both married and single (and can I add, “divorced” for a more explicit comprehensiveness?). In Gina Dalfonzo’s own words,

“The church is to be one great family in which everyone, single and married alike, can find a place and be cared for, so that they’re supported in doing God’s work and living for him” (173)

Gina Dalfonzo’s new book, One by One: Welcoming the Singles In Your Church reads like an insider’s view for how to get there. A sort of report from the front lines. 2/3 prophetic/critique, 1/3 exhortation/let’s fix this, it is a summary from someone who’s both been there for a while (has been single, and in the church for a while) and has been thinking and reading about it for about just as long. Dalfonzo’s aim in writing this book is to,

“…Help create a better climate within the church than in trying to give the whole church a makeover…it goes beneath the scenes, beneath the sociological and theological explanations, and explores some of what’s really going on with single ChristiansIt’s a way for us to tell our fellow Christians about what our real needs and desires are and how the church can help support us in reaching our goals, living our lives for Christ, and becoming fully functioning, supportive members of the church… (18)

Dalfonzo does this especially well in Part Three of her book, the section titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Pages 147-227) These last 80 pages are chock-full of good insights and recommendations, a few of my favorites included:

  1. The Church should feel free to hold people to standards that are realistic and Biblical. In discussing the “courtship” model so prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s, Dalfonzo argues we have taken the Bible’s balanced treatment of marriage and singleness, of men and women, and attempted to create something “better, holier, higher…but in trying to create something better than what God offered us, we’ve instead managed to create an unholy mess.” (137) Anyone still holding on to the courtship methodology would do well to challenge themselves by reading chapters 5-9 of this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if that little section is now the most sustained critique of the movement currently available.
  2. The Church should feel free to stop teaching singles to “play games and start teaching us to live in the real world.” (145) We single Christians don’t need fairytales, and we don’t need hoops to jump through or obstacle courses to conquer. We need to hear truly godly, practical wisdom on how to trust, how to respect, how to forgive, how to be patient and kind – all the things that go into creating and sustaining strong relationships with the opposite sex.
  3. The Church should feel free to include single people at all levels of involvement and leadership. As one woman says on page 150, “single women need to know there is a place for them at the grown-ups’ table.” Most people have sat at the little kids’ table at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at some point in their lives. The problem is, many singles feel as if they never get to leave it.” This will inevitably involve more complexity and nuance within ministry teams and the life of the church, but will be more helpful in the long run. As one woman puts it,

“It’s so easy to build a shiny, attractive children’s program, but a singles program is challenging because there is a different dynamic between twenty-five and thirty five than there is at the thirty-five-plus life stage, and often there’s one “college and career” group trying to meet everyone’s needs. Singles don’t want to feel like they’re not allowed at the “big kids’ table” because they’re not married with children, but that’s often what it feels like” (165)

And lastly, my favorite:

   4. The Church should feel free to facilitate, encourage and help maintain true friendship-relationships.  Of course, this cuts against our cultural grain. What Dalfonzo says is oh so true, “Unfortunately, we all seem convinced today that the number one requirement to get along with people is for them to be able to identify with every single experience we’ve had and to comprehend perfectly every facet of our character and personality.” (72) So, “you don’t understand” becomes an excuse to push each other away.  To not dive into actual, real, sometimes-difficult friendships. But the fact is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially in the church.

It’s certainly wonderful to be perfectly and thoroughly understood by another person who has gone through exactly what you have, but this should not be a necessary element (or requirement) of friendship. The church should be a place where friendships can be fostered within the beautiful diversity that exists within the body of Christ. As one woman put it, “My church body itself has been influential only at a relational level through mentoring relationships with older women – which have been much more valuable than any ‘retreats’ or ‘dating talks.'” (37)

These are the sorts of friendships that singles need with other married people, not the kind of friendship that’s based wholly on wanting to swoop in, fix their lives for them, and swoop back out…It has to be the kind of effort that flows naturally out of an established friendship, in ways that honor your friend’s good qualities and are sensitive to his or her needs and desires. A perfect example of the importance of a friendship-context is when married people are trying to “set-up” their single friends. It can’t just be a case of “he’s breathing and she’s breathing – it’s a perfect match!” Dalfonzo says, “Do that enough times and your single friends will start thinking you don’t actually know them at all, or else that you just don’t care about who they are and what they’re looking for in a partner.” (77)

On a more personal note: My wife, four kids and I “do life” with singles on a very regular basis and we see the desperate need for this kind of life sharing ALL.THE.TIME. CONSTANTLY. This is so valuable both for the single people, and especially for us. Who would my family be if not for the community of single people who surround us? We in the church should be the very best at facilitating true Gospel friendships. Praise God, it can be done. As long as we have the vision, and are willing to put in the work. Dalfonzo has laid out the vision-part for us. The only question remains. Are we willing to put in the work?

“What if we in the church saw each other not as people in different categories from us but as fellow human beings with needs – basic needs like comfort, affirmation and encouragement – we could help fulfill? What would our lives and our churches look like then?” (157)

*Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied*

Neither Poverty nor Riches – A Short Summary of a Summary

NP or RICHES

This book is the most impressive summary of a Biblical theme I’ve ever encountered. Having already read and reviewed Blomberg’s other book in the same series, I was expecting something pretty good from this one. After all, I had (along with many other people who are much smarter than I) already decided that Blomberg is one of the very best writers on the New Testament living today. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how good this book was. But still, I was. I couldn’t agree more with DA Carson who says, “In my view, this is now the best book on the entire subject.” It took me three times longer to get through this book than any other book I’ve read in the series because there was just so much good stuff to take in. Blomberg is original, articulate, studied, personal and pastoral all at the same time.

Blomberg has some sort of gift I’ve rarely seen. In this book he is somehow able to cover an overwhelming amount of material while at the same time maintaining oodles of nuance, description, and fresh insight. All the while writing in a very condensed straight-forward, easy to read fashion. Blomberg’s summarizing Scripture passage on this entire theme is highlighted in the title of the book, which comes from Proverbs 30:8b-9. It says,

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” 

Blomberg highlights this verse and many others like it to show that the avoidance of extremes of wealth and poverty is a consistent recurring mandate (68). Blomberg shows how in Scripture we are not always called to renounce our material possessions, but we are always called to “sit very loose” with respect to them (185). Actually, neither the amassing of riches nor their lack is seen as a necessary good (or evil) in Scripture (82). Instead, generous giving amidst contentment, rather than selfish hoarding, and accompanied by compassionate commitment to doing what will most help the genuinely needy, is to be one of the main priorities for God’s people (175).

As the Apostle Paul said, we are to be content with either poverty or riches (Philippians 4:11) while we are now living in the “not-yet”, but Scripturally, the ideal on earth is neither poverty NOR riches. So for now, while we may in God’s freedom enjoy the fleeting pleasures that wealth can provide for a short time in this life, we dare not put our trust in material possessions. Instead, we must lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (211). Trusting in God (not money) is another major theme throughout…

For me, highlighting just a few of Blomberg’s conclusions doesn’t do near-enough justice to the book. I mean, how do you summarize in words a work of word-art? However, it’s all I can do in the time I’ve got. So I’ll conclude this short blog post with some of the main conclusions of the book.

But before I do that, I would like to say that I recommend every one who can, to buy this book and have it on their shelf. This book is such a valuable resource not just for the answers and conclusions contained. But much more than that, there is a lot of value in just following Blomberg in the process he takes to get there. He is an expert, expert Bible-guide. So now for the overly-simplified summation:

In summarizing the entire OT message on riches and poverty, Blomberg shows how the 5 main categories of sin of Israel are (as shockingly contemporary as they are):

  1. Worshipping idols made of costly materials
  2. Trusting in ritual rather than in repentance
  3. Extorting, robbing and oppressing to gain more land
  4. Boasting in wealth, and
  5. Corrupt financial motivation for leaders’ ministry.

God then offers the Israelites 5 primary alternative responses throughout the OT:

  1. Seek justice for the marginalized
  2. Rather than boast in riches, be generous in giving them away
  3. Lament as a way of repentance
  4. Seek the welfare of the city you are in
  5. Cling to God’s promises of restoration

That’s the first 100 pages of the book, or so. Then later, after going through all the relevant passages in the NT, Blomberg points to 5 similarly unifying motifs of Scripture on this topic as a way of trying to capture the diversity of the whole Scriptural witness:

  1. Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for people to enjoy.
  2. Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.
  3. A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.
  4. There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable, and,
  5. Above all, the Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more “spiritual” matters (243-246)

Therefore, five contemporary applications can be the following:

  1. If wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy…
  2. If wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.
  3. If stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives.
  4. If certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of this book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world.
  5. If holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances (247).

Review: The Pastor Theologian

PT

I am involved with a reading group at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Our most recent assignment had been to read Hiestand and Wilson’s, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. I was then to discuss this with another member of the group, and write a 400-500 page response. Below is part of that response, for anyone interested:

…Both of us enjoy learning, studying in our free time, and thinking theologically and so this book was an appropriate one for us to discuss together.

We both felt like this book was written to a very niche audience. Ben noticed that almost all the endorsements in the beginning of the book were from Professors, not Pastors. Having read the book, we weren’t too surprised at that. We did not feel like the book could be generally handed out to most of the people (or even Pastors) that we know. We were left wondering, “is this vision even attainable?” The authors included “steps” for how to attain the status of “pastor theologian” but with the first one as, “Get a Ph.D.” we thought it a bit idealistic – and not sensitive to the realities of most peoples’ lives [A book better suited to this task is Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan’s, The Pastor as Public Theologian, (to see my previous response to that book) especially pages 23-24 on their definition of an “intellectual.”].

For example, how intellectually capable is the average reader to pursue a Ph.D.? Or how much time and finances are available? What is the atmosphere and activity level of the church at the moment which would affect both the Pastor and the congregants? All of these questions relate to issues of discernment and properly applying wisdom – but insight into these matters were conspicuously absent in the book.

As well, these critiques about the book haven’t yet included a conversation that could be had about the changes in society which affect the changing perceptions of what a Pastor is – some people being skeptical of education vs. the value of experience. All in all, the book seemed a bit “tunnel-vision-y” and not quite connected to the actual, real world as far as Ben and I experience it.

However, we both appreciated some of the practical tips such as, “call your office a study” and “make time for a study sabbatical.” Good reminders of the importance of studying and continual learning. To these sentiments, both Ben and I responded with a resounding, “Amen!” If only now we could figure out how to actually do it J Ah, there’s the rub and the difficulty of balancing life amidst all these other important priorities!

Lastly, the authors do well in reminding the Pastor-Theologian of some of our primary responsibilities and priorities as the theological leader and articulator in the church. So, even when life is busy, we should continue to value solid, deep, Biblical thinking and theological reflection – and we should make time for it as much as possible. I think a book that would pair well with this one (and is preferable to it) is William Still’s now-classic, The Work of the Pastor.

P.S.: Just saw the same authors in 2016 came out with a recent summary from their most recent conference on this topic. Not sure I would buy it based on their initial work, but perhaps there are some redeeming qualities in the new book? Involving contributions from people such as Vanhoozer, KA Smith and Leithart couldn’t hurt… but I’m like, “dude, where are the Pastoral contributions?” If this book is meant for academics, then I get all the professorial additions – but supposedly this book is for the Pastor – interesting how I haven’t heard too many Pastors raving about it as of yet. Am I missing something here?

Biblical Adoption Is…

Adopted-into-Gods-Family

 “…You received the Spirit of Adoption.” (Romans 8:15)

This book was the 12th book I’ve read in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Set and by far, this one was the most academic of them all. This book is a barely-simplified version (of only 200 pages!) of Trevor J. Burke’s doctoral dissertation. The author isn’t afraid to “show his work” as he goes through and so I found this one to be a pretty slow, dense read. Plenty of scholarly detail that I didn’t necessarily need for my own purposes. What I did enjoy though, was that throughout the book, the author lays out a theology of adoption firmly rooted in Biblical exegesis. As there are only five passages to go to in the New Testament on this theme – this book ends up with a lot of thought for each section of Scripture discussed. Very focused research, filled with in-depth analysis and robust explanation.

A book like this is a bit more difficult to summarize than others because of how nuanced and comprehensive it is. However, I’m gonna give it a shot. At the least, I’ll present what seemed to me to be the most generally important findings. Essentially, Burke argues that Biblical Adoption (Greek: huiothesia) is…

A legal act or transfer from an alien family into the family of God (27). Adoption is thus its own thing – tied to but also distinct from other theological themes such as regeneration, for example (which is a renewal of our human nature occurring within us through the Holy Spirit). We find also that Biblical adoption is distinguished from justification (which emphasizes the penal aspect of salvation connoting the drama of the law court); redemption (which emphasizes deliverance as from the realm of the slave market), and propitiation (which emphasizes the cultic and is a metaphor stemming from Jewish sacrificial practice). So, uniquely, Paul’s adoption term underscores the notion of transference from one family to another. The act of adoption would happen typically when an adult son is taken out of one family and placed into another with all its attending privileges and responsibilities. As Francis Lyall puts it in describing the Roman socio-legal practice of the day:

“The profound truth of Roman adoption was that the adoptee was taken out of his previous state and was placed in a new relationship of son to his new father, his new paterfamilias. All his old debts were cancelled, and in effect the adoptee started a new life as part of his new family.” 

While some metaphors, such as propitiation, underscore the objective side of salvation, huiothesia tens to focus more on what happens to us – that is, it looks at salvation from the subjective or experiential side and thus focuses more on the result of what is achieved for the people of God. As an organizing metaphor, huiothesia (adoption) for the Apostle Paul (1) centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; (2) shares a moral focus evident in other soteriological expressions; and (3) is eschatological in nature – expressing the already/not yet tension (41).

At the time Paul was using the term, adoption oftentimes secured the lineage of a family and was essentially a family term. As such, adoption was not entered into lightly (68) because of the effect adoption had. As Berger and Nicolas explain,

“The effect of adoption was to place the adopted person for all legal purposes in the same position as if he had been a natural child in the potestas of the adopter. The adopted son took his adoptive father’s name and rank. He acquired rights of succession on death in his new family and lost all such rights as he had in his old family.” 

We find out in Scripture that when God justifies people, God also adopts them as his children and favorably places his own life within, the life-giving power and energy of the Holy Spirit (See Romans 8:14-15 and Galatians 4:4-6 especially). As with all of God’s soteriological benefits, his giving of his Spirit to his children is an honor bestowed upon them and not something that can be earned or boasted about. Put simply, Biblical adoption is a beautiful, undeserved gift of God. Adoption as a divine selection takes place in eternity past and is provoked not by historical contingency or human merit, but solely by God’s sovereign grace. For God to predestine us to adoption is not a cold, calculated act of God. Quite the opposite, God predestines us “in love” to underscore the Father’s deep affection in marking us out as his adopted sons. As James I. Packer puts it,

“God adopts us out of his free love, not because our character and record shows us worthy to bear his name, but despite the fact that they show the opposite. We are not fit for a place in God’s family; the idea of His loving and exalting us sinners as He loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sound ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means.” 

So our honor is not acquired, it is ascribed by the Creator and Savior of the universe, initiated by Him before all of time began! This ludicrous and wild idea gives us great expectations: If we truly are sons and daughters of God – then our future is sure. We read in Scripture that our adoption leads to, one day, a perfect and imperishable glory of sharing in God’s life, forever. As adopted children, our inheritance becomes not just God’s good gifts or even just an association with God. As God’s adopted children, we will one day get God himself! Adoption is then for us humans an “unsurpassed honor” (157) since we become associated with the highest and most honorable “head of the household” in all the cosmos (158). Ultimately, as Alister McGrath puts it:

“Adoption is about being wanted. It is about belonging. These are deeply emotive themes, which resonate with the cares and concerns of many in our increasingly fractured society. To be adopted is to be invited into a loving and caring environment. It is about being welcomed, wanted, and invited. Adoption celebrates the privilege of invitation, in which the outsider is welcomed into the fold of faith and love.” 

Christian, this adoption is yours!

From God the Father, in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit!

 

“Thanksgiving” is More Than Politeness

Thx

“Be thankful” (Col. 3:15) is a recurring plea of the Apostle Paul. The verb appears sixty-two times in the New Testament alone. But to be honest, I never really thought too much about it until I read this book. “Thankfulness” as a concept had always seemed to me like a sort of nicety – so it was never for me much more than an afterthought. You know, like, we should say “thanks” to be nice – or when someone is nice to us. What else value does it have? Honestly, thankfulness has always seemed to me a helpful action of etiquette and good manners (after all: it’s what mama and daddy always told me to say when someone did something good to me!) but besides that – thankfulness as a concept was “whateva.” “Of no consequence” so to speak. But, as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more theologically and Scripturally incorrect.

In this book David W. Pao persuasively shows that actually, Thanksgiving has much more to do with an ethical life than it does with polite etiquette. Pao shows that at the heart of a God-centered life, is thanksgiving. He writes about how thanksgiving is used as a summary term to characterize all proper behavior of the people of God. And he shows how in Scripture, thankfulness is contrasted with idolatry, forgetfulness, and ingratitude – which are some of the distinguishing marks of non-believers. After all, “To be ungrateful is not simply a state of harmless absentmindedness. It is the failure to acknowledge God as the creator and Lord of all. As such, ingratitude leads to a host of other sins” (157). So, thankfulness is a very significant Scriptural and theological concept. In Pao’s own words,

“Thanksgiving is not simply a reaction to random acts of kindness, it is a way to affirm the supremacy of God the Creator and the mighty acts He has done on our behalf.” (25) 

And so, thanksgiving belongs properly not only to ethical concern, but to theological affirmation (33). To give God thanks to God is to acknowledge that Yahweh alone is the one powerful God. It is also a humbling act to thank God because when we do, we admit to Him the dependency of our own human existence. Thanksgiving is the proper theological response which when directed towards God is transformed into what Christians call, “praise” and “worship.”

To thank God is to affirm that God is not only THE God, but he is OUR God. It is the precise, personal, proper response to the divine initiative. To thank God is to remember what He has done, it is to trust Him with the now, and it is to look forward to what He will do in the future. To live a life worthy of the Lord is to live with the constant awareness of God’s grace, mercy and love. Thanksgiving is at the core of a God-centered life. So ungratefulness, forgetfulness, and idolatry is the opposite.

This was the most personally convicting book of the series so far for me. Unfortunately, in thinking about how important thankfulness is, I realized how often I don’t do it. So I’ve got lots to learn.

In conclusion, I’d like to simply highlight a few Scriptures Pao exegetes in His work and ask you to notice that little concept in the midst of each passage: “Thanksgiving.” If you are like me, you had missed it before. But emphasizing it (or its opposite) in its context shows just how important thankfulness is to God. Rather than “thankfulness” being a random insert into an otherwise important passage: Thankfulness often works as the central solution, or even contrast. Check it out:

Romans 1:21: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

II Corinthians 4:15: All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

II Corinthians 9:12-15: This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Ephesians 5:3-4: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Colossians 1:10-12: And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Colossians 3:15,17: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful...Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Philippians 2:14-15: Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

II Timothy 3:1-5: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

I Thessalonians 5:18: Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

In ending: I can’t help but highlight what Pao says in regards to this last passage. It’s just so good. He says,

“The phrase ‘in all circumstances’ also points to the same vision from which no aspect of life is excluded. The call to the church to give thanks in all circumstances stands in contrast with the occasional cultic celebration of ancient Israel. In 1 Thessalonians 5, this will of God is expressed in terms of thanksgiving. To further define what this will is, one may wish to refer back to the same epistle in which the content of this will of God is explicitly emphasized: ‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ (1 Thess. 4:3). The connection between 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18 is further established by the fact that this construction (‘It is God’s will’/’for this is God’s will’) appears only in these two places in the Pauline epistles.

If we read 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in light of 4:3, to give thanks to God is to be holy. While on a linguistic level these two cannot be equated, on a theological level the relationship between the two cannot be denied. As we have discussed in the earlier chapters, to give thanks is to set our focus solely on God. For Paul, to give thanks ‘in all circumstances’ is not a call for us to remain in a certain emotional state all the time. It is a call to lead a God-centered life. To give thanks in all circumstances is to live under the Lordship of Christ in all that we do (cf. 4:1-2).”