Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Wright for Everyone

N. T. Wright has a New Testament Bible Commentary set that is intended for laypersons but it quite suitable for pastors. This set is titled the "Everyone" series.

As a preacher of the Gospel, I find coming up with sermon illustrations to be a challenge week in and week out. I spend more time thinking about illustrations than in understanding the text or even in coming up with applications of the text. Wright tackles my problem in these books.

At the start of each section of a passage Wright puts in an illustration drawn from common life (or in some cases obscure English history - remember I'm an American in the Midwest so some of this stuff can get obscure to us here).

In each case, his illustrations are worth their weight in gold if you have ever tried to find a teaching or preaching illustration. They are solid ideas and even if you don't steal the story, you can springboard off the idea that the story conveys. If for nothing else, Wright practices what he preaches when he says that stories subvert worldviews in a way that theology in other forms often don't or even can't.

Here's a list of these commentaries with amazon.com links to buy them. (Just so you know, I get 5% of the purchase price which helps defray my yearly and monthly internet bills and you pay nothing extra).

Matthew for Everyone (Volume 1)
Matthew for Everyone (Volume 2)
Mark for Everyone
Luke for Everyone
John for Everyone (Volume 1) - Special Order
John for Everyone (Volume 2)
Paul for Everyone Romans 1-8
Paul for Everyone Romans 9-16
Paul for Everyone 1 Corinthians
Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians
Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians
Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters
Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters
Hebrews for Everyone

Friday, September 16, 2005

Spending my money on Wright books

I've just ordered three more Wright books,

"Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters : Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon",

"The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary", and

"The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering who Jesus was and is".

Loaned out this past week Wright's "Commentary on Romans (New Interpreter's Bible)" and "What Saint Paul Really Said".

Reading more Wright

I'm now up to page 300 in "The New Testament and the People of God" (NTPG). This is the first book in the series of 3 or 5 volumes by N. T. Wright. The second and third volumes are now out as well; "Jesus and the Victory of God" and "The Resurrection of the Son of God".

These are all great books but none of them are a quick read. I haven't been counting but I am guessing that I have more than 20 hours into NTPG. It's about 2/3 done now. I haven't read all the footnotes, but I have been reading the chapters pretty slowly wanting to digest the materials. They are hard to get through the first part since that is about methodology which is all preliminary and necessary before the materials.

The chapter on the "Hope of Israel" has been interesting. We tend to think of the "Messianic Hope of the first century" in a monolithic way. Wright shows some tendencies, but there is far from a uniformity in this area.

Wanna Learn Greek?

The best way that I have found to learn Greek is the book "Greek to Me", by Lyle and I. K. Story. This book is great because it uses memory visualization techniques. For those of us who are visual learners, these pictures are something that we can relate to and are much easier to remember than the Greek paradigms.

Give it a shot. You can be reading from the text of the New Testament in a very short time with this book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Christian Socialists and the Jubilee

Christian socialists are fond of citing the Old Testament passages about the Jubilee in support of their socio-economic theories. Easton has the following definition for the Jubilee
Jubilee: A joyful shout or clangour of trumpets, the name of the great semi-centennial festival of the Hebrews. It lasted for a year. During this year the land was to be fallow, and the Israelites were only permitted to gather the spontaneous produce of the fields (Lev 25:11-12). All landed property during that year reverted to its original owner (Lev 25:13-34; Lev 27:16-24), and all who were slaves were set free (Lev. 25:39-54), and all debts were remitted.

Was the Jubilee Ever Actually Done?
There is no record in Scripture of the actual observance of this festival, but there are numerous allusions (Isa 5:7-10; Isa 61:1, Isa 61:2; Eze 7:12, Eze 7:13; Neh 5:1-19; 2Ch 36:21) which place it beyond a doubt that it was observed.
Christian socialists appeal to this passage for a variety of social agenda items including the idea of forgiving foreign debt. A careful reading of the passages on jubilee show that there is nothing in these passages about foreign debt, it is about individual debt, not foreign. It is at that point that the Christian Socialist's agenda becomes more clear as he/she then attempts to make a more general principle out of these specific passages.

Jubilee is not re-distribution of wealth
This is not a system of redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor. Rather, it is a system of ensuring that the land stays in the hands of the families who originally had the land. If your family in the beginning of such a system was wealthy, then they would remain wealthy. If your family had little land, this insured that they would continue to have little land. The only hope for gaining wealth was to work as a sharecropper on someone elses land, or lease that land.

A Question for the Christian Socialist
It would be an interesting question to ask a Christian socialist how and if the jubilee was fulfilled in Jesus Christ? Was it part of the ceremonial laws which Christ fulfilled? Would return to Jubilee be a return back to the Law?

Use of the Law as a General Principle
Certainly, the Christian socialist is not making the case that the Old Testament Laws should be the laws of the United States? That is where the appeal to general principles comes into play. The Christian socialist seem to be able to mine the Old Testament Laws at will, picking and choosing general principles out of the Law, without taking the entire Law. What is the criteria for this mining? Lacking support for a Christian socialist agenda from the New Testament, they are forced to make a case from principles (greatly stretched principle in this case) in the Old Testament.

Economics and Theology Mixed
It is tempting to dismiss Christian Socialists as merely naive thinkers when it comes to issues around economics. After all, many of them have spent a large portion of their adult lives in the ivory towers of academia. The knee jerk reaction is that perhaps they should stick to theology rather than economics. But these questions are all theological ones which ultimately hinge on questions of exegesis of Scripture. The real problem here is how to move from Scripture to application and how far a stretch we can go in our application of Scripture.

What Does the Jubilee Call for?
The Jubilee calls for two things, freedom for slaves and return of real property to the original owners or their heirs. The timeframe of the return is so long (every fifty years) that it would have little relevance for most slaves, unless they were in slavery at or near the end of the fifty year period. A man could become a debt slave at age 40 and remain one until age 90 if he just happened to hit things right. Slaves were to be freed since it was to be made clear that everyone in Israel was God's property. Land was to be returned so that it could not be taken away forever.

What did the Jubilee do?
The Jubilee requires the return of personal property to the individual who owned it at the beginning of that fifty year period. This shows God's support for property rights of individuals. No one could permanently sell his/her birthright. In effect, they were leasing it out for a term up to the next Jubilee. This would clearly affect the lease price of property since leases closer to the term would be of much less value than leases at the start of the new fifty year cycle.

The Jubilee Effect
The Jubilee had the effect of making the value of slaves and property variable depending upon the time to the Jubilee year. Slaves were mostly debt slaves. People who wanted to borrow money would have found it easy to borrow money immediately after the Jubilee year since the money borrowed was secured by their person. As the time got closer to the Jubilee year it would become increasingly harder to borrow money in significant sums since the security of the person themselves becomes less valuable closer to the Jubilee year.

Even Wright is not Right on this one
As much as I respect N. T. Wright in every other area, in this area, he is quite dreadfully mistaken. His position on debt forgiveness of the Western States for the third world is off base and has the same Christian Socialist agenda. Dr. Wright should re-examine his position on these issues. If we are to pick up Jubilee, should we pick up Passover and the other festivals? It seems that Wright is clear enough on those issues, but unclear on these other issues.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Christian Socialism

There is a species of socialism which has survived the fall of the Soviet Union. This form of socialism is to be found primarily in the ivory towers of academia.

The mantra of the Christian socialist is that of Carl Marx, "From each according to his ability to each according to his need". In order words, wealth should be forcibly redistributed, at the point of a gun if necessary from the rich to the poor.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The two issues in Romans 14

Exactly what is the nature of the two issues that Paul is referring to here in Romans 14?

Eating meat is almost certainly not an issue of vegetarianism or eating meat, but rather of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul is saying that since an idol is nothing in and of itself, there is no problem with eating the meats sold in the meat market which may well have been sacrificed to idols.

The problem with this is that the decision of the early church in Acts 15 appears to be at odds with what Paul is saying. The early church at their first council decided that eating meat sacrificed to idols was not acceptable and gave it as a commandment to the new Gentile Christians. Maybe this tension is alright just as it is. It may be nothing more than evidence that Paul got what he wanted on the circumcision issue and was willing to be flexible on the issues that were not as pressing. If that's the right reading, then it weakens the authority of the first council for those who consider church councils to be infallible (typically Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians).

The second point revolves around the day that one celebrates. Here the issues seems to be Sabbath vs Sunday worship, although I'd like to hear from our Seventh Day Adventist readers if that is they way that they view this passage. There is much New Testament evidence, as well as the evidence offered from historical continuity that there was a change in day of worship in the early church away from Saturday (to be more precise Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset). The church seems to have started worship on Sundays in celebration of "The Lord's Day", i. e., the day that Jesus rose from the dead.

Don't Judge

It seems to me that this text is saying that if Jesus is the Lord, then who are we to judge others?

This is true, according to the text, whether they are even a Christian or not.

We will all appear before the judgment seat of God [Christ].

The New Testament and the People of God

Presently I am doing a very hard task.

I am reading from the very first page with the intention of getting to the last page, Dr. Wright's book, The New Testament and the People of God. This book is a lot of work. The first 144 pages of the book are prelimary to the tast. They go over Wright's methodology. If you buy into his methodology - and it's hard not to buy into it - then most of the rest will follow.

The philosophical terms are hard to follow, namely that of critical realism as the proper foundational method of reading the New Testament. But, again, they seem quite sound. I'd be interested in hearing from any philosophy majors out there on this one.

Lectionary Text for week ending 9-11-2005

Romans 14:1-12
Rom 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
Rom 14:2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
Rom 14:3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Rom 14:5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
Rom 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Rom 14:7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
Rom 14:8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
Rom 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Rom 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Rom 14:11 For it is written,
"AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME,
AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD."
Rom 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.