Introduction: Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?

Welcome to Day 1 of the blog tour for Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christiaminnity!

I get to help introduce the book, and Nijay Gupta will be blogging his thoughts on ch. 1, “Jesus Stories in the Gospels and Paul.” (Update here’s Nijay’s post.)

Also, Julie Clawson, who will be blogging on the women chapter next Monday, has an overview post today.

If you haven’t had a chance to peruse the book yet, you can download the introduction and a sample chapter here.

There are two things going on in this book at the same time.

As the title indicates, the book is for everyone who has ever thought to themselves, “Jesus have I loved, but Paul… well… not so much.”

I have been there myself.

One of the first memories I have of reading Paul was going through his “foolishness of boasting” chapters at the end of 2 Corinthians. I thought he did sound foolish, and arrogant, and otherwise unlikeable.

Other folks have had deeper issues with him.

I begin the book with a story about my grandfather, who grew up in Holland in the early part of the 20th century. He is a fan of Jesus’ “true Christianity,” and not so much a fan of “that rascal Paul.” The rise of liberal theology in Europe trickled down to his understanding of who the Jesus of the Bible is, and how that Jesus contrasts with who he understands Paul to be.

Others of us rebel against the angry Paul of Galatians, the misogynist Paul of 1 Timothy, the Reformed Theologian Paul of Romans, and the judgmental Paul of… well… everywhere.

So what hope is there for reclaiming Paul for followers of Jesus? The answer to the problem of Paul opens into the second task the book hopes to accomplish.

I hope to show through the book that Paul is, at root, a narrative theologian, reframing the stories of God, Israel, Messiah, and Salvation around Jesus as crucified and risen king.

As I do this, I lay out the story that Jesus enacts in the Gospels and set it side-by-side the story that Paul himself tells. Both are stories of God’s renewal of the cosmos: Jesus using the language of the Kingdom of God, Paul using the category of new creation. Both envision the family of God being reformed around Jesus–so that community is a core component of the salvation Jesus brings. Both summon would-be Jesus followers to obedience–and hold up Jesus’ self-giving love as the heart of Christian faith and practice.

Thus, the book is not only for people who don’t like Paul. It’s for everyone who wants to wrestle with, and learn together about, larger questions of how the Bible as a whole, and the New Testament in particular, hold together.

It is in light of the shared story of the God of Israel redeeming the world to Godself in Jesus Christ that I argue for a Paul who is much closer to Jesus than often imagined. And, Paul is a surprising ally for the mission of Jesus in general, and for important issues such as equal treatment of women and social justice in particular.

Enjoy the tour, check out the giveaway, and happy reading!

Jesus Laden with Sins

Great words from Karl Barth posted by Halden:

as the Son of His Father, elected and ordained from all eternity to be the Brother of these fatal brethren, caused them to be His own sins, confessed them as such, and therewith confessed that He was baptised in prospect of God’s kingdom, judgment and forgiveness. No one who came to the Jordan was as laden and afflicted as He. No one was as needy. No one was so utterly human, because so wholly fellow-human. No one confessed his sins so sincerely, so truly as his own, without side-glances at others.

More context here.

Idols, Sex, and Rock ‘n Roll

Observation:

In stereotypical anti-pagan polemics in the ancient world, Jewish argument would go something like this: those guys worship idols, which leads to all sorts of sexual lasciviousness, which (of course!) leads to the further degradations we see in society such as thieving and drunkenness and rebellion.

You can see this reflected in Romans 1: they rejected God, served the creature and images of it; therefore God gave them over to shameful lusts; moreover they are treacherous, reckless, conceited, and the like. This, in turn, seems to be riffing off the wisdom of Solomon. See also 1 Thess, where turning to the living God from idols (1:9) entails, first and foremost eschewing sexual immorality–not living in lustful passion like those Gentiles (4:1ff.)!

Observation:

This is the exact opposite of how many of us in evangelical-like church circles think.

For us, it’s get those kids under control (they’re doing all these little tell-tale things like disobeying their parents) or next thing you know they’re going to be having sex, which is the step on the slippery slope that will keep them from church forever.

I’m not saying that the ancients or us were right or wrong, and I can set the countdown timer at 10 seconds, at which time I know there will be a comment telling me that people who have done these smaller things we look at have abandoned worship of God already.

The point, really, was simply an observation: we see things flowing uphill from little, pervasive failures, through the biggies like sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and finally up to a denial of God.

In the context where alternative worship, through idols in particular, was a live option, the ancient Jewish people (including Paul) saw things flowing downhill, from a fundamental denial of God through “big sins” like sleeping with your step-mom, and on to a life filled with every little annoyance and perturbation and sin you could think of.

Knowing God?

The question of whether, and how, we can know God has been very much alive for the past couple hundred years. It’s been a problem philosophically, as the gulf between a supposedly transcendent God and the world in which we find ourselves has proven too much, say the philosophers, for the God on the other side to do us much good.

God got sent to the in-law suite in the attic whilst we went about our daily business of cooking and cleaning and loving and warring.

With Freud and Feuerbach, the problem came closer to home. Maybe the problem isn’t that God is too much “out there” to do us any good. Perhaps the problem is that God is far too much “inside.” Perhaps God is a projection of our needs, of our desires.

We are living, now, in a somewhat peculiar moment. The information age has made the musings of the phiolosphers more readily available; the education age has made advanced study of theology and philosophy more extensively enjoyed (or, at least, performed!); and people with philosophical and theological training are bringing their message to the masses both in books and in freely available popular media (return here to point 1: information age).

Where this is all going is here: over the past two weeks I have read Peter Rollins’ Insurrection, heard him with Barry Taylor on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast, engaged with Rollins’ “love is God” philosophy with friends on Twitter–only to turn to the first 30 pages of Karl Barth, Year 2, and find his insistence that there is a God who is objectively known and knowable, because this God is, in fact, known in the church.

Barth Experiences God by Listening to Homebrewed Christianity on His iPod

Here, Barth does not argue against the position that God as such is truly known, if mediated, God makes Himself known and people hear with faithful obedience. Instead, he begins with the assumption that because there is a God made known through Jesus Christ in the church, that God is, in fact, knowable.

Barth’s argument is circular: God is knowable because we know God. He does not attempt to enter the circle by way of argumentation, but begins within the Christian story where God is made known in Christ and in scripture, and uses this story to tell us what it is to know God.

But I agree with Barth in the necessity of this circularity: you do not arrive at the God of the Christian story by starting with an idea of God in general and working your way in. You either believe in this God or you don’t; you either believe in this particular God, or you believe in another. The unmoved mover is not the God of Israel.

I found Barth more satisfying than those who suggest that God is of ourselves rather than made known according to God’s own decision.

In short, the notion that God is of ourselves, or found in our actions, or project of our desires, is not the God of the Christian story. If God was not in Christ reconciling the world to Godself, then the story is simply false. To confess resurrection is to look to a moment in time when God broke into history and vindicated the crucified Christ–truly overcoming death and taking Jesus out of the world.

The God found in my acts of love does not have this power, the power of the gospel, which is real power for salvation.

Barth manages to hold onto both the uniqueness/otherness and true knowability of God. God chooses to reveal Godself as an object that we can know. This knowledge is always mediated: ultimately through the Word of God in the flesh.

Knowledge is true because God chooses to make Godself object. It is unique because we are dependent on this self-disclosure and cannot know the true God without such disclosure. It is true knowledge when we not only believe that this God has spoken, but obey the summons that the voice brings.

The self-involving God is an object of our knowing through a self-involvement of us as knowers. Thus, while the truth of the notion that God is known when we love in obedience to God is maintained, so is the otherness of God who is not identical with that love of neighbor itself.

****

Jerry has his Barth Together thoughts here.

And Brain Maiers is back in the game!
Anyone else?

Behold the Man

If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus.

This is the claim that my Fuller colleague, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, works out briefly, clearly, and beautifully in the January issue of Christianity today. [I'll post a link when it becomes available.]

Veli works out this claim in between our contemporary cultures turn to the scientist to help us answer the question of what it means to be human, on the one hand, and the creeds’ silence about Jesus’ life, on the other.

“…we know who we are becaue we have been created in his image, in the image of the one who became one of us and into whose image we out to be conformed until the day when we see him face to face.” (30)

He goes on to highlight how the New Testament speaks “in very concrete terms having to do with the actions of Christ”: we know Jesus through his enfleshed actions here on earth.

Building on the church father Irenaeus, and his idea of recapitulation, we learn what it means to be truly human by looking at Jesus: “we discern that being a real human means having a life shaped by dependence, service, and ultimate self-offering to the Father—and all this in the face of the temptations and trials of life” (30).

Taking full stock of the incarnation helps us to unravel misguided notions about “who we really are.” There is not some disembodied “soul” within us that is “us,” to the expense of our confounded bodies.

No, the Word became flesh to be human among us.

There is also no isolated “I” who is truly human.

No, the Word is second Adam and thus human as one of the member of new humanity. We are saved into “the communion of believers of all ages.”

There is one particular direction I would have liked to see Veli discuss in brief, and that is the connection between image-bearing and rule. Jesus not only proclaims, but inaugurates the Kingdom of God as its King, a role originally given to Adam that he recapitulates. And, this rule over the earth is part of the destiny awaiting those who are Christ’s: if we endure, we shall also reign with him, says 2 Timothy 2.

All Christians have a theology of Jesus. And most of us need a good infusion of understanding of the rich significance of Jesus’ humanness. He did not become flesh and blood simply so that he could die. He became a man so that he could show us what it means to be fully and truly human.

The Failure of Individualism

Ok, so here’s the story.

Yesterday I saw this tweeted and flipped my lid: “If you want to stop human trafficking, make disciples.” It was attributed to Francis Chan at Passion 2012.

As a self-contained statement, I find this admonition to be incredibly damaging. What better way to distract people from the real human needs in the world than to spiritualize the needs of the people around us?

In the immediate context of the talk, Chan went on to speak of the people around us as possible perpetrators. And so, within these few sentences, the way we’re supposed to understand the world seems to be something like this: If everyone loves Jesus, we won’t have to deal with human trafficking and sex slavery anymore.

Such an assessment is naïve, to say the least. There are greater powers at work in the world than the power of individual human hearts that act out of accord with the will of God.

On Monday I was talking about the hot topics before us, and mentioned “the gospel” as a holistic entity as one of those hot topics. We continue to need to learn that the purposes of God are bigger than simply the rectification of persons.

I found that 90ish seconds of Chan’s talk to be dangerous for this reason. People who already assume an individualistic gospel hear an individualistic means toward overcoming a pervasive evil, and are sent on their way to ignore the problem by telling people God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.

We hear what we already know, and I worry about how 40,000 college students and 1.5 million online viewers heard that snippet, or read it in Tweet form.

If you want to end human trafficking, work to end human trafficking. Give to International Justice Mission. Learn from Not For Sale, and support their work. Find out where human trafficking is likely at work in your area (find someone to show you the “massage parlors” with the bars on the windows and inward facing security cameras).

Disciple making in itself, keeping Christians from soliciting prostitutes, is never going to solve the problem of human trafficking.

Now, having said all that, the larger context of Chan’s talk leads me to believe and hope that he would agree with my concern, and with the trajectory of sending people to work, truly work, for the freeing of prisoners.

The talk itself was about believing the Bible and doing what it says. He tells a story about throwing a banquet for a bunch of poor people as a self-imposed exercise in obeying rather than explaining-away Jesus’ instruction to do so.

He exhorts the audience to believe that the power we see at work in Jesus is still at work today–to heal, and to free the captive!

The very beginning of the talk was Chan celebrating a talk that had come before his, one in which someone was talking about kids trafficked for sex, and he was passionately responding, stirring the crowd up again with the desire to respond and act to free those kids from slavery.

So what happened in that 90 second piece that got me riled up?

One more piece of context: the entire talk was shaped as a call to passionate, faithful, believing discipleship propelled by an individual’s own reading of the Bible without anyone telling us what it says other than what we can see for ourselves.

Individually faithful discipleship. Driven by individual Bible reading. We could talk all day about his hermeneutics and the like, but here’s what I think happened: the “stand against sex trafficking” piece was not part of the planned talk, but was something Chan was passionate about and worked into his talk at several points because of the previous, powerful speaker.

And, as several folks have alerted me to, Chan does tons, including giving millions of dollars, to help rid the world of this scourge.

But, the message of “be and make faithful individuals” is actually a poor container for holding the social justice message that Chan also finds to be biblical. In this brief, 2ish minute riff, the theme of his talk itself (be and make faithful disciples) was brought into conversation with an issue that didn’t fit the topic (end human trafficking), with unfortunate results.

The 90 seconds troubles me, because it captures one possible way of construing the relationship between personal discipleship and the world “out there” that I think too many Christians buy into. I fear that hearing those words from Chan has the power to perpetuate not merely wrong-headed engagement with human trafficking, but a divinely approved withdrawal from the issue. I don’t think it was the best of what Chan had to say that night about human trafficking.

Much better was his strong affirmation at the end: this Jesus we serve really does have the power to free prisoners–so let’s go do it.

Peliculate with Me

As those of you who are attentive to my Facebook or Twitter feeds already know, a new word has entered the English language this week.

The word is peliculate.

peliculate. verb. intransitive. to watch a movie. (from the Spanish, película: movie)

Why introduce another word into the English language? Because we have no elegant verb for watching movies.

Consider, for example, the song lyric, “Won’t you Charleston with me?” Note how seamlessly we could sing, “Won’t you peliculate with me?” whereas, “Won’t you watch a movie with me,” is entirely too clunky.

And although movie revenue might be down, most of us still peliculate on a regular basis, and peliculation remains an important dynamic in current American culture.

So please, let’s adopt this neologism as a salutary addition to our vocabularies. I don’t know about you, but after a long week there’s little I like better than crashing with the wife for a little peliculation.

On Trusting the Bible

Funny, just yesterday I post a few musings about what might be hot topics, I sort of give B list status to “what’s the Bible and what are we supposed to do about it,” and then the onslaught.

First, there was Rachel Held Evans’ indication that this is going to be a big topic for her this year: we need to learn to love the Bible we actually have.

Then there was an email message from someone taking a church history course that had come to the point of dealing with Neoorthodoxy and Karl Barth in particular.

Here’s how it’s all connected.

The student taking the church history class was getting an assessment of Neo-Orthodoxy from a prof at a school with an inerrancy statement. So there’s a presumption of a high view of scripture here–which is a point at which more conservative Evangelicals have routinely chided the Neo-Orthodox.

A summary of his assessment was this: the Neo-Orthodox were reacting against historical Jesus scholarship, and separated actual history from interpreted history. In retreating from actual history, Barth, Bultmann and Brunner severed the link between what actually happened and scripture. As a historian, this prof says that we have to affirm the actual history relayed in the text.

Here are a few thoughts: first, Barth and Bultmann were doing very different projects. Bultmann was moving away from a historicized Jesus in favor of a demythologized Jesus who confronts believers in an existential moment of decision. He is intentionally recontextualizing Jesus into the framework provided by existentialism.

Barth was doing something very different, inasmuch as he was calling the church back to scripture as the authoritative witness to Jesus as the incarnate word of God.

But here’s the more important point for today’s discussion: the inerrantist church history professor is calling us to a Jesus we have no access to, in denial of the Bible we actually have, in order to uphold his “high view” of scripture.

In reaffirming the centrality of the historical Jesus, the professor has done several things at once. First, he has affirmed the centrality of a kind of access to Jesus that God has not seen fit to give to the church. We do not have a historical Jesus record, we have theologically crafted narratives that interpret Jesus for the church.

Second, in so affirming this need, he denies the sufficiency of the Bible we actually have. Barth was right: the Gospels are witnesses to the incarnate logos, and this is what God has given us. To insist on the centrality of the historical Jesus is not only to clamor for what we do not have, it is to misunderstand the nature of the Gospels as historical documents that tell about historical events.

It’s both as historians and theologians that we must acknowledge that the Gospels are interpreted, theologically laden narratives–and that this is just what God wanted us to have.

Ironically, the conservative rejection of Neo-Orthodoxy in the name of a “high” view of scripture, at least in the case of Barth, ends up as a rejection of the Bible we actually have in favor of a man-made construct that does not match up with it.

We do not need to fear the theologically-laden, deeply interested, and individually shaped narratives of Jesus that God has given us. We need to find ways to celebrate that our God has given us precisely this Bible rather than the one we so often would prefer.

Telling the story of the story-bound God