N.T. Wright in Boise

Back in April of 2003 I was able to attend an all day seminar with N.T. Wright on the resurrection. He had just published his massive book defending the resurrection of Jesus and was lecturing on that subject. I took notes on the occasion and I don’t believe I put them up on my blog, so here they are, six years later.

About thirty folks met at First Presbyterian (PCUSA) church in Boise on Monday with N. T. Wright. We were seated on the platform of the church under an enormous cross with Dr. Wright seated at a desk with a few books in front of him. I noticed the Septuagint and his new book amongst others. He
lectured from 9 am to 3 pm with a break for lunch basically covering the material from The Resurrection of the Son of God and doing a Q and A every hour.

I talked to Wright beforehand and he said the next major book in the series would be on Paul. He is also working on Galatians and Philippians and does not know when he is working what article will go in which book. He mentioned that it will be more difficult to work as the Bishop of Durham, but that he is looking forward to doing pastoral work again. He said one of the problems of being at Westminster is that you are always just dealing with the next 500 tourists and that he looks forward to having an actual congregation. He mentioned Paul’s pastoral inspiration, how he founded churches and wrote at the same time. He also made an aside about how pretentious it is to be enthroned physically at Durham, but he has to sort of go along with it all.

He critiqued the modern, fuzzy notions of heaven and life after death, and made a point of calling the resurrection the real goal, which is “life after life after death.” He dealt extensively with what was expected in the hereafter in pagan literature and then in the Jewish world. He said that the early Christian belief was originally close to the position of the Pharisees within Judaism, but with key mutations, six of which follow:

1. No spectrum of differing beliefs about the resurrection. All Christians believed in the resurrection with the exception of Gnostics who came later.
2. Periphery to Center. The belief was peripheral in Judaism, but became absolutely central in Christianity.
3. Transformation. In Judaism there was not an expectation of transformed physicality—i.e. a new body that was the same, but on a higher level. But in Christianity, this was the expectation (I Cor 15).
4. 2 moments of resurrection. Jesus first, everyone else second. This was not known in Judaism.
5. Different metaphorical use of the word. In Judaism res. could stand for national restoration as in Ezekiel, but in Christianity this meaning ends and it is used of things like baptism (Rom 7) and holiness (Col 3).
6. Resurrection of the Messiah. Jews did not expect the Messiah to rise again, because they did not expect him to die.

Wright had a lot of positive things to say about Polkinghorne’s work on the new creation as Polkinghorne is coming from a scientific background and so has a lot of insight into such things.

Wright called Rev. 21-22 the ultimate answer to Gnosticism. He said that of all the modern writers he read in researching the new book, C.S. Lewis’ chapter on the resurrection in “Miracles” was the best he came across (I read it today, it is good).

On the subject of hell and damnation, Wright said that it is not only possible but also certain that some reject God and say no to Christ. He said that we should all want to be Universalists in the sense that we don’t want to see anyone go to hell but that we should realize that we cannot. He said that worship is the chief thing that humans do and that those who continue to worship something other than God may in some sense cease to bear God’s image and ultimately become what Wright called “ex-human.” Just as the redeemed will be human on a higher level, the damned will be “beyond hope, beyond pity” so that the saints in the new creation will be able to experience joy without regret for those who are lost.

I had Dr. Wright sign my copy of the new book and out of curiosity asked him if he had met Martyn Lloyd-Jones at some point. It turns out that indeed he had back in the 70’s. He said he reviewed a couple of the Romans series that Jones had put out. Though he did not agree with Lloyd-Jones conclusions at all points, he had immense respect for the man and the devotion and time he had put into the book of Romans. He said Lloyd-Jones was deeply suspicious of him because he was an Anglican, but that he had been over to Lloyd-Jones for lunch. He remarked that the movement at Westminster Tabernacle that was so energetic in the 50’s and 60’s was not meeting the current climate of London intellectually.

N.T. Wright on Predestination

In Wright’s commentary on Romans, he says:

Foreknowledge is a form of love or grace; to speak thus is to speak of God’s reaching out, in advance of anything the person may do or think, to reveal love and to solicit an answering love, to reveal a particular purpose and to call forth obedience to it…More particularly, this foreknowledge produces God’s foreordaining purpose…What we have here, rather, is an expression, as in 1:1, of God’s action in setting people apart for a particular purpose, a purpose in which their cooperation, their loving response to love, their obedient response to the personal call, is itself all-important. This is not to deny the mystery of grace, the free initiative of God, and the clear divine sovereignty that is after all the major theme of this entire passage, here brought to a glorious climax. But it is to deny the common misconception, based on a two-dimensional rather than a three-dimensional understanding of how God’s actions and human actions relate to each other, that sees something done by God as something not done by humans, and vice versa….Woe betide theology if discussions of grace take their coloring from the mechanistic or technological age where all actions are conceived as though performed by a set of machines. God’s foreknowledge and foreordination, setting people apart in advance for particular purposes, are not equal and opposite to human desires, longings, self-questionings, obedience, and above all love. You do not take away from the one by adding to the other….Christian faith, ultimately irreducible to any analogy, and certainly not reducible to terms of “yet another odd paradox,” involves wholeheartedly and responsibly answering the call of sovereign love, gratitude, and obedience that come from the depths of one’s own being and are simultaneously experienced as a response to sovereignty, a compulsion even, to which the closest parallel remains that of the highest love. (on Rom 8.18-30)

He affirms predestination, but seeks to guard from an overly-deterministic mindset – something where I believe the Reformers agree with him, despite perceptions to the contrary.

In a footnote of his Romans commentary, Wright comments on Douglas Moo’s recent commentary which adopts the standard view of predestination in Romans and says:

…Moo allows his discussion to be overshadowed by the anachronistic debates between Calvinism and Arminianism…

Some of his comments:

“Paul is not, then, producing an abstract essay on the way in which God always works with individuals, or for that matter with nations and races. This is specifically the story of Israel, the chosen people; it is the unique story of how the creator has worked with the covenant people, to bring about the purpose for which the covenant was made in the first place. It is the story, in other words, whose climax and goal is the Messiah;
…These sections tell the story of Israel’s patriarchal foundation (vv. 6-13), then of the exodus (vv. 14-18), and then of God’s judgment that led to exile and, through it, to the fulfillment of God’s worldwide promise to Abraham (vv. 19-24).
9:11-12. The second explanation occupies center stage in this brief telling of the Jacob/Esau story: it cannot be that God’s selection of Jacob had anything to do with Jacob’s merits, since the promise was made before he and his brother were born. God’s choice has nothing to do with merit observed.
Nor (to meet the objection of a latter theology) could it have been foreseen, and hence explained in terms of God’s knowing how the brothers were going to turn out; Jacob’s behavior as a young adult, cheating and twisting this way and that, would scarcely have earned him favor with an impartial deity. The point is, though, that Paul is not here discussing what an abstract, impartial deity would or should have done; he is discussing the long purposes of God for Israel, and through Israel for the world. Central to those purposes is the principle that all must be of grace, “not of works, but of the one who calls.”
Paul is not, then, using the example of Pharaoh to explain that God has the right to show mercy, or to harden someone’s heart, out of mere caprice. Nor is it simply that God has the right to do this sort of thing when someone is standing in the way of the glorious purpose that has been promised. The sense of this passage (9:17-28) is gained from its place within the larger story line from 9:6-10:21–that is, as part of the story of Israel itself, told to explain what is now happening to Paul’s “kinsfolk according to the flesh.”
As in the parable of the sheep and the goats, there is an imbalance between what is said about the “vessels of wrath” and what is said about the “vessels of mercy” (Matt 25:34, 41). The former are “fitted for destruction,” leaving it at least ambiguous whether they have done this to themselves by their impenitence or whether God has somehow been involved in the process. The latter, though, have been “prepared for glory” by God himself.
“It isn’t a matter of willing, or running, but of God’s mercy” (v. 16); that text alone, even without its context, can bring solace to a troubled and anxious heart. That, indeed, is part of the point of expounding God’s sovereignty: not to terrify us with the sense of an unknowable and possibly capricious deity, but to assure us that the God of creation, the God we know in Jesus Christ, overflows with mercy, and that even negative judgments have mercy in view all along, if only people will have the humility and faith to find it where it has been placed. To be able to rest in the sovereign mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ is one of the most valuable aspects of the Christian’s calling.”

Augustinian Platonism

My lovely wife picked up a cheap book for me yesterday at the library sale : The Age of Reform 1250-1550. [50 cents!]

The author, Steven Ozment, outlines Augustine’s modification of Platonism in a chart which I have reproduced here.

Augustinian_Platonism_Picture.001

Ozment writes:

Augustine replaced the Platonic doctrine of reconciliation with his own distinctive doctrine of “divine illumination,” one of his most influential teachings. This doctrine placed the eternal forms of the Platonists within the mind of the triune Christian God, thereby making them truly divine ideas. Hence, when one plumbed the depths of one’s own mind in search of truth, one found there, not an innate ability to recollect eternity, as the Platonists had taught, but Christ, the eternal wisdom of God, the second person of the Trinity, whose very name was Truth. Through the illumination of Christ, indwelling truth, the mind received divine light by which it could know truly. Whether pagan or Christian, people understood and functioned within the world around them, thanks to this special grace of God. Without such divine illumination, all they would know was a chaos of phantasms. According to Augustine, just as God frees the will so that people can truly do good things, so he enlightens their minds so that they can surely know.

On Purgatory

In her book Consorting with Saints, Megan McLaughlin discusses the development of purgatory in relation to prayers for the dead. She writes:

Historians have traditionally sought the meaning of prayer for the dead in the medieval West within the theological tradition, as formulated in the later middle ages and debated during the Reformation. In other words, prayer for the dead has been associated primarily with the doctrine of purgation after death.Souls Released from Purgatory

She has a footnote at this point which is also worth quoting:

This is true of the most important recent treatment of the ideas associated with prayer for the dead in the early middle ages, Arnold Angenendt’s “Theologie und Liturgie,” in Schmid and Wollasch, Memoria, pp. 79-199. The title of this essay is somewhat misleading, since in fact Angenendt is concerned with the ways in which the commemoration of the dead was understood during the period of theological decline between the death of Gregory the Great in the seventh century and the revival of theology in the twelfth.  Continue reading “On Purgatory”

Romanism and Orthodoxy

Steven Wedgeworth’s lectures on the subject are now available here. The subjects are:

“Why I’m Not A Roman Catholic”
“Lost in the Shamayim: A Psychology of Conversion”
“The Eternal City and the Seven Councils: Just Who is the Church?”
“What’s a Reformed Catholic to Do?: Towards an Equilibrium of Christendom”
“Why I’m Not A Roman Catholic”
“Lost in the Shamayim: A Psychology of Conversion”
“The Eternal City and the Seven Councils: Just Who is the Church?”
“What’s a Reformed Catholic to Do?: Towards an Equilibrium of Christendom”

The Essence of Theonomy

Theonomy boils down to this statement, made by an old friend:

If Christ is God, and if Christ is Lord, then His Lordship extends to all areas of inquiry: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. And so, the assumption, if one affirms ethical absolutes, is necessarily one of “theonomy” broadly construed in opposition to autonomy, as Cornelius Van Til indicated. Therefore, the question is whether one is a “consistent” theonomist or an “inconsistent” theonomist.

…one better presuppose a theonomic ethic (in a broad sense not necessarily ala Bahnsen), or otherwise, one is left without ethics, and therefore, without Lordship. The details of a theonomic ethic need to be determined through careful exegesis. But, what we cannot do is say that God has no claim on how we are to live – whether privately or publicly; he does have a claim, and that claim is a theonomic (God’s law) claim.

And, given Romans 13 and other passages, the notion of justice is never abstracted from God and His character, even if public justice is in view. Consequently, public justice exhibits a theonomic dimension.

Baptism, Salvation

Writing on the Wrightsaid e-mail list, James Jordan addresses several topics and interacts with Wright a bit:

1. “Baptism saves.” But when someone affirms or denies this, it matters what he thinks “salvation” is, and whether a person can lose it. Consider the OT usage. The word yasha, found in the name Joshua and Jesus, does not imply a change of heart, but a transfer of a person from an old world into a new world. That’s just what Joshua did. I myself would say that baptism transfers a child — any child baptized — out of the old world of Egypt into the new world of the New Creation. Whether he will grow up and remain there is another question. But whether he does or not, he has objectively been given this gift from God, sovereignly bestowed on him by God via the church and because of who his parents are. If he grows up and rebels, that is also in the sovereign plan of God.

2. I would view baptism as God’s sovereign gift and call, which calls for us to respond in faith. And that faith is not a one-time acceptance, but is daily. Other Presbyterians seem to think that baptism is a sign of a person’s own personal faith, and is given to infants as a kind of exception. Well, these aren’t the same theologies of infant baptism. I imagine Wright thinks more along the former lines than the latter.

3. Can a person lose this salvation? Clearly, yes, in the sovereign plan of God. The parables of the sower and of the unrighteous steward who had his debts forgiven and then put back on him, make this clear. So does the book of Hebrews. But it’s all predestined. Continue reading “Baptism, Salvation”

Augustine’s On Christian Teaching

I finished reading St. Augustine’s “On Christian Teaching.” Like all the books of Augustine that I’ve read, it has flashes of brilliance and times where you can really feel his personality and picture him as a person talking to you. But it also has stretches that bore me to tears and probably demand a better grasp of life in Rome than I have.


His discussions of rhetoric at the end of the book were mystifying and dull to me.  The discussion of exegesis were far more interesting and shed light on how he approached the Bible. There are several sections that I love and which make me think that he is my favorite writer. Here he discusses the final day:


And as he is expected to come from heaven as judge of the living and the dead, he instills great fear into the uncommitted, so that they may develop a serious commitment and yearn for him in lives of goodness rather than fear him in lives of wickedness. For what words can express, and what thoughts can conceive, the reward which he is going to give at the end?

The Church is the Temple

James Jordan expounds on the origins of the Church:

I think a watershed in our  understanding of the Epistles is what kind of context we put them into. To  be crass about it (I intend no insult; I just want to get on with it): Either

1. The apostolic church started from scratch after the OT order  was cancelled, as a bunch of believers (new converts with no background)  sitting around in various houses and gradually coming up with new orders  that had no continuity with the OT orders; or,

2. The apostolic church was made up 99% of converted Jews and  God-fearers who were fully at home in the OT order and simply transformed  it, who used various homes as temples, who used temple worship in these homes on those occasions, and who very rapidly set up separate houses of worship when they could.

In my circles, this comes down to whether the Church “grew out of” the synagogue or the Temple.

For my money, it’s obviously the latter. The NT does not say that  the Church is the new synagogue, but the new Temple. Her worship consists  of living sacrifices and sacrifices of praise. All of the language about the Church is taken from the OT Tabernacle/Temple order. (The synagogue was never anything but a partial extension of the Temple anyway.) Unlike the synagogue, the church has two major temple elements: song with musical instruments and the breaking of bread as a covenant-renewal. ( Gasp!

Breaking bread at places other then the Jerusalem Temple! Hey, Josiah put people to death for that! So did Paul. But this only shows that these churches were TEMPLES!! If they’d just been synagogues there’d have been no scandal.)

The word kohen in the OT simply means “palace servant,” and is used occasionally of secular servants of David’s palace, but 99% of the time of the servants of the Temple (= Palace in Hebrew). Everything in the NT epistles sets a context in which there would be such special servants in the new Christian Temple. And that’s what we find.

When Paul and Peter tell these Christian Jews that they are a Temple of God offering sacrifices, he does not need to spell out to them that their meals should be supervised and initiated by Temple servants (Christian kohanim), nor that such must be men.

More, for a very long time protestants (at least) have ignored the “apocalyptic” context of the NT revelation. (I reject “apocalyptic” since the symbolism of such literature is actually “liturgical” and entirely comes from the Temple and sacrifices.) If this context were better known, however, we would know that all Jews knew that the Temple was an image of heaven, that the shoeless wing-dressed priests were angels, that the objects in the Temple stood in the place of worshippers, and that the entire liturgy took place “in the heavenlies.” Now in Rev. 2-3, the pastors of the churches are called angels. This is not some Brand New Idea, but is completely in continuity with the Temple/priestly tradition. Unlike, however, the Old order, where only such angelic priests might enter the Temple heavens and the rest of the believers were located there only symbolically in the various items of furniture, now in the fullness of time the symbolic furniture is gone and believers are able to enter the Temple heavens along with their “angelic” palace-servant special-priests.

Rev. 2-3 are not letters to churches. They are letters to the priest-pastor-angels of the churches. Jesus threatens THEM. If you want to understand this, read Numbers 18. The people will be punished for their sins, yes, but the Levites will be punished if they fail to warn them.

I submit that if the NT epistles are read in their actual Biblical and historical context, then it will be very clear that Apostolic worship looked a whole more like liturgical and even Eastern orthodox (sans icons) worship, and not in the least like Puritan, Anabaptist, or Brethren worship.

And bringing all this back to Wright, while I don’t know what on earth Wright would say to this, the fact is that he is part of a movement to recover the so-called apocalyptic and Jewish context of the NT writings. The more this context is recovered, the more it will be clear that this “Church came from the synagogue” stuff is nonsense, that this “believers sitting around in homes” stuff is nonsense, and that the epistles mean something very concrete and liturgical when they refer to the Church as temple, worship as sacrifice, leaders as men (women could be everything else in the OT, so saying men-only MEANS “priest”), etc.

Or do we continue the sad rationalism of the last few centuries, and see “temple” and “sacrifice” as mere theological ideas, and not whole-life liturgical matters? There’s about 90% of the trouble, you see. All of these “Levitical” matters are taken as nothing but snapshots of Jesus’ coming work. They are that, but they are also ritual processes that take place in time, means of worship. This is why the Church continues to “move” in a “sacrificial” manner. In Leviticus 1-3, the worshipper Ascends (ch. 1), with Tribute (ch. 2), and then sits down for Communion (ch. 3). This is what the Church also does: Enters, has Offertory, and then Communion. This is not some speculation on my part. It is what the epistles mean when they refer to offering ourselves as living sacrifices. This and nothing else is what the first hearers of these epistles would have understood.

But this is set aside. What WE hear is that these Levitical rituals were just ideas, just pictures of Jesus. And now our worship consists of sitting around and thinking and talking about it. That is NOT what the 1st century hearers and readers of the epistles would have taken from them. I promise you. Believe me. (Trust me!) They would have heard something quite different.

And this is why the Church, as soon as she was able, built Temples for worship, and instituted what to many of us is quite ritualized and liturgical forms of worship. This was no “fall.” It was simply the Church filling out in practice what the epistles teach.

This is NOT to say that anyone TODAY “has it right” or that the Reformers “had it right.” But it is to say that the epistles need to be read in context.

I’ll give one more example. When Jesus broke bread and said “Do this for My memorial,” the apostles knew exactly what that meant. It was the new form of Leviticus 2, something they were very familiar with since it happened every morning and every evening. But how many people today think of that? Precious few. Why? Because they do not put themselves into the shoes of being Jews of the 1st century listening to what Jesus said. They hear this completely out of historical context.

It would not have occurred to anyone in the 1st century that Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” to remind yourselves about Me. Not after 1500 years of bread broken as memorial, as something done to call upon God, to remind God, and to ask Him to come to us! “Do this in memory of Me” is utter nonsense. “In death there is no remembrance of Thee” says the psalmist? No way. “In death there is no performance of Memorial to Thee” is what he said. Memorializing is by RITUAL LITURGICAL ACTION. Don’t believe me? Look up the relevant Greek and Hebrew words. “Cornelius, your  prayers

have come up before God as a Memorial.”

We need to stop reading the epistles as if they dropped out of  heaven onto a blank-slate, and read them in the whole-life liturgical context into which they were written. They look rather different when we do so.

Calvary Chapel Weirdness

A few weeks ago I listened in to the Calvary Chapel Network on the radio as I was driving around. Despite disagreeing with them on many things, I usually enjoy listening to them practice verse by verse exposition of the Bible. But on this day I heard a couple of weird things that tell me that maybe it’s been a long time since I paid attention to their preachers and what they think.

First, I heard a guy saying that being vegetarian would be the best diet for us. The context was talking about God’s law and how God wants the best for us. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, he reasoned that vegetarianism would be the highest form of diet for a Christian. I think he was basing this on Adam’s diet before the Fall or something. He wasn’t saying that you have to be vegetarian, but that it would be the best possible state if you could handle it. I found this bizarre and assumed the guy was in California somewhere.

Next, I heard another preacher say that he believes that when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “receive the Holy Spirit” they were born again. I find that to be wrong for a couple reasons:
[1] The Bible does not teach this.
[2] Entrance into the covenant people of God (Israel) was via circumcision. Of course I wouldn’t expect a Calvary Chapel guy to really agree with this, because they don’t baptize infants and have no good framework with which to understand circumcision.

This got me to thinking about circumcision and “getting in” to the Old Testament Church. Why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again if he was already in the covenant by circumcision? Someone helpfully pointed out to me that “…Jesus is not talking about individual regeneration in John 3. Rather, he is talking about the need for a new Israel, a new humanity. Nicodemus needs to follow Jesus into the new world through death and resurrection. Being baptized will unite him with the disciples of Jesus, with those who are following Jesus into a new world.”

See this post for more on the topic.