Sunday, August 24, 2014

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Post 8 – Postscript

In this blog series, I tried to put God’s historical story of Christ, the Law, and their relationship back together. That assumes, of course, that it has been taken apart. I then examined a prototypical Protestant Evangelical sermon exemplifying my point and proposed some practical implications for the church. That sermon that I examined was part of a sermon series at a particular church, which continued this morning on Galatians 5. I would like to here address how some of the points made in this blog series were affirmed by today’s sermon, which contained many of the same elements that made the previously examined sermon prototypical for today's Protestant Evangelical church. Today’s sermon also contained some elements that confirmed some points made previously that could not be as well supported at the time as I would have liked. For the sake of ease, I will simply list in numerical order the previous points of this blog series that I would like to here address on the basis of today’s sermon, which was on Galatians 5:

The political relevance and importance of the gospel. The blog series discussed the importance of the idea of Jesus as king. Further, it discussed the importance of Christ as representative king of the Jews. In other words, as king of his people, he represented them when dying on the cross and rising again, thus bringing the curses of their Law to their climax and fulfilling the promised blessings. This story, of course, implies that God, in and through Jesus Christ, worked and works within human history, that the message of the gospel has strong political meaning and importance. Part of the political meaning of the gospel discussed in this blog series was how the power of the Spirit helps fulfill the promise of glory and exaltation of God’s people that were part of both the original covenant with Abraham and also part of the blessings pronounced by Torah.

Contrary to those deeply seeded politics of the gospel, the pastor of today’s sermon on Galatians 5 had the following to say: “We understand freedom when it comes to America, but I don’t think we understand freedom when it comes to Jesus.” As part of the context established in the sermon, the pastor discussed how we are often thankful for our military men and women who sacrificially help ensure that we remain a free nation. This lead to a point being made that we often don’t understand the sacrificial gift of freedom that Jesus offers.

The most directly relevant passage from Galatians 5 discussed in today's sermon was from The Message: I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. As discussed in this blog series, a big part of the “slave life” to which Paul was here referring was the obviously observable historical reality of being enslaved to the likes of Herod and Pilate. In other words, the national or racial self-righteousness of using Torah as the marker for the people of God leads to destruction, slavery, and manifestation of the curses pronounced by the very Torah being abused in that way.

The problem, then, with the way this passage was presented in the sermon, however, was that, whether the pastor intended it or not, it implied the commonly heard refrain that goes something like this “Jesus saves my soul; the American soldier saves my freedom.” In other words, the gospel was made, in and of itself, to be essentially apolitical. The idea that God’s people are slaves (and I don’t mean freed slaves to God) so long as they are ruled by the likes of Pilate and Herod - which is a crucial and central part of the gospel as presented in the New Testament - is totally lost, forgotten, or maybe ignored. In this today’s sermon, on freedom of all things, It was never even hinted at. The translation into today’s world – that we are slaves to something or someone other than Christ so long as we are POLITICALLY ruled by something or someone other than Christ – is also long, forgotten, or totally ignored.

Why did Jesus spend very little time in Jerusalem and no time in any other big cities? Why did the Samaritan village not accept him when he had resolved to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51-53)? And, according to Wright, it is a matter of historical obviousness that when, in Luke 9, after Herod starting asking about him, his slipping off into the middle of no where was a sign of revolutionary intent of sorts. In other words, the location of the feeding of 5,000 – out in the wilderness where the people couldn’t buy food immediately – was part of why they immediately tried by force to crown him king (John 6: 15) and why Peter confessed him as Messiah just after (Luke 9: 20).

At one time this week, I walked into the office of a local Christian private school. In a central location where everyone could see as soon as they walked in hung a giant picture of the American flag. At each office worker’s private work station were private little personal reminders and affirmations of Christ and the gospel. Obviously, unlike Paul and the entirety of the early church, no one in that room had any problem with Christ not being our actual and presently ruling good and gracious King with all political power in his hands.

Tied into point (1) is the fact that the gospel isn’t about going to heaven when we die but the fulfillment of the promised resurrection of God’s vindicated world wide people. It’s not about pie in the sky; it’s about the renewal of all things.

This blog post discussed the importance of mutually self-sacrificial love with the cross as its model. This was discussed as “mutual participation in Christ” and tied to the currently common problem in the church of triumphalism (also discussed in a recent sermon by Alistar Begg, by the way, on the Faithfulness of God in Afflication).

Today’s sermon discussed how we don’t like to feel weak, “but when I am weak, God is strong.” As the pastor said today, “If you are going through a season where you’re feeling weak and beat up, maybe we should embrace that for a little bit, for this season.” The problem there is, according to the gospel I have come to know in the scriptures, this Ragamuffin Gospel that the pastor noted should maybe be embraced for a season IS the very truth of the gospel that is to be preached ALL the time AS a centrally important component of said gospel. Obviously, Paul’s point about God’s strength being made perfect in weakness is being missed. I suspect our triumphalism might have something to do with that.

Also discussed in this blog series was the point that Paul was not arguing against nomism, against a “rule-keeping system”, which is how the Message paraphrases the relevant part of Galatians 5: 1-3. Of course, though, the sermon bulletin used The Message to quote that part of Galatians 5, as if Paul was, in fact, arguing against a “any rule-keeping system.” In explaining the desire of the Galatians in today’s sermon, the pastor noted that Paul said that all you have to do is love (Gal. 5: 14). According to today's sermon, the Galatians said, ‘Could we please get circumcised instead. Could we please go back to that rule-keeping system’ (Gal. 5: 1-6). Of course, because this makes no sense, no logical explanation was given as to why the Galatians wanted to get circumcised in the first place. The pastor did, however, infer that circumcision is bad because it is painful. “Who wants circumcision!?,” he asked. That only undermines his argument if no explanation was given as to why those Galatians did, in fact, want to be circumcised.

Of course, as discussed in depth in this blog series, the reason the Galatians actually WANTED to be circumcised was because a group of Jews were teaching that things like circumcision were needed in order to be accepted into the people of God. “The works of the law” was in reference to those particular aspects of Torah that distinguished Jew from Gentile, and circumcision was a central one. Paul’s point, of course was that faith rather than Torah was the mark of the one people of the one God. That – and not because circumcision is an arbitrary “rule” like any other “rule keeping system” - is why circumcision or uncircumcision is of no benefit (Gal. 5: 5-6).

One of the points made in this blog series was that the Protestant Evangelical church tends to, along with some of the genuine substance of the gift, present the gospel with foreign stuff wrapped up within. Because of this, for example, Paul gets accused of contradiction in Galatians, where he argues against keeping external systems of rules, and first Corinthians, where he apparently argues for an external system of rules. Is Paul a libertine or a legalist? The point of this blog series, of course, was that this has nothing to do with Paul’s point, and that this point infiltrates our gospel due to the haze that is our current Post-Reformation and post Romantic movement point of reference. The pastor affirmed the existence of this haze today when, in setting up his point on Galatians 5 that the Galatian church wanted circumcision because they wanted to follow a rule-keeping system, he said, “In life, there are the rule keepers, and there are the ‘others.’” Of course, it should be noted that the pastor never directly stated that Galatians wanted circumcision because they wanted to follow a rule-keeping system, because that would make no sense.

Another point of discussion in this blog series was the meaning of the biblical term “Justification,” which is, of course, tied to our understanding of the term “righteousness.” According to Wright, the term, when used in scripture, is most basically and commonly in reference to the idea of being included within the fold of the one people of the one true God. In today’s sermon, this point first arose in the bulletin’s quotation of Gal. 5: 5: But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. According to Wright, this means that the church awaits the final Day of Judgment when God will complete the recreation of all things and when his one world wide people will be vindicated by the promise of the bodily resurrection. Suffice it to say, this, although somewhat related, is not how “righteousness” is typically interpreted in the Protestant Evangelical church.

Also discussed in this blog series is the related point that said “justification” or “righteousness” is determined not by Torah but by faith. This, of course, was Paul’s point in Gal 5: 7-8: You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. The sermon used this scripture to make that point that Christian freedom is freedom to defeat distractions. The examples used to illustrate the point painted such “distractions” as lapses in concentration that we all experience in our daily lives. This, of course, only misses the point. The other examples of distractions – alcohol, unhealthy relationships, ect – come closer to the point, muddled though it was in the first place.

The pastor here took some time to make a point about the problem of racism. His point was that Christian freedom is the freedom to love (Gal 5: 14), and such love is the solution to the racism that should break our hearts and that has been exemplified this week in Ferguson, MO. Ironically, this point, although being far closer to Paul’s real point about the Law than any ideas about “any rule-keeping system,” seemed like a random aside and totally disrupted the flow of the sermon. Since it was much closer to Paul’s real point, then, it is not surprising that the pastor’s beef with racism also hit harder, much closer to home, and with more force than the his point about “any rule-keeping system,” even though the pastor’s condemnation of racism did seem random and out of place in the sermon.

This blog series made the point that the mega-church attractional church model is extremely detrimental to the church’s fully carrying out it’s call to play its proper role in God’s plan within and for human history. To this point, it was mentioned at the end of today’s service that last weekend – “bring a friend weekend” – featured almost 70 souls giving their lives to Christ. Also, we were told that about “300 people walked through those doors for the first time.” These are two strong indicators that said mega-church attractional model is, in fact, the model of the particular Protestant evangelical church where this sermon series is occurring. How this is detrimental was discussed in depth previously. In context, as well, this implies a lack of discipleship.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Index for Series on N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together

Part 1a - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together: Failure of Torah - Part 1a

Part 1b - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together: Failure of Torah - Part 1b

Part 2 - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 2: Vindication of Torah

Part 3 - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 3: A Bountiful Harvest

Part 4
- N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 4 – Summary of a Prototypical Protestant Evangelical Sermon on Christ and the Law

Part 5 - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 5 – Commentary on a Prototypical Protestant Evangelical Sermon on Christ and the Law

Part 6 - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 6 –Practical Implications for the Church

Post 8 - N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Post 8 – Postscript

Repost of INDEX for “The History of Heaven and Earth” Series

INDEX for “The History of Heaven and Earth” (with links)

01: The Quest-ion at Hand

02: Behold A Man

03: The Dawn of Speculative Thought

04: The Music of the Spheres

05: From Appearance to The World

06: Roman “World Views”

07: The First Scientific Experiment

08: From Weight to Light

09: The Beginning of the Modern Project

10: “Progress”

11: One Giant Leap for Mankind

12: History’s Conclusion

13: Visits from Angels

14: The Coming Appearance

The Fulfillment of the Covenant

16: Conclusion

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 6 –Practical Implications for the Church

The medium is the message. – Marshall McLuhan

So far in this blog series, I have summarized a baseline picture of N.T. Wright’s way of looking at Torah, Christ, and their relationship. I have also begun to compare the differences between what we see and hear in the protestant evangelical church today and what Paul is saying, at least according to N.T. Wright. To serve that purpose, I started by summarizing a sermon I recently heard on Galatians 3, which was part of a series on Galatians in general. That sermon served as a prototypical Protestant Evangelical body of thought on Christ, the Law, and their relationship. I then, in the last post, explored how Wright’s thought either does or may provide commentary on that sermon. In this blog post, I will provide some thought on extended application points concerning where I see the rubber meeting the road for the church in light of all of that.

In the last blog post of this series, I noted that the teaching on Gen. 15: 1-5 and Gen. 17: 5 that you “don’t get the stuff God has for you” by being good but, instead, by faith: a) makes an argument against nomism that misses the mark, and b) decontextualizes the blessings of the covenant and recontextualizes them into what can only be heard by consumers. Such a montage of the gospel leads to the sacrifice of church unity in favor of competition over systematic theologies (which implies different factioned gods). It also leads to incorrect teachings on faith that come wrapped up together with triumphalism and imperialism. All of that commentary could more or less be said to come from N.T. Wright’s body of thought as I know it.

Even further than that, though, I would like to address how such commentary has further points of application for where the rubber meets the road, primarily in a particular church model that employs the teachings discussed in the last blog post. That model I would like to address is the attractional meg-church model, which can also be said to be “inviting.” So, to begin with, and specifically relating to concerns about that church model, why was the gospel – in which you don’t “get what God has for you by being good enough” – associated with “getting stuff”?

During the service containing the sermon discussed in the last post, the front of the T-shirts advertising the “bring a friend weekend” that came the week after had printed no them “God people vs. Good people.” During this “bring a friend weekend,” the Lego movie was played. A disclaimer was given in the video advertising said Lego movie, which had to clarify that the Lego movie does not necessarily reflect the views of the church, but that the church believes that the event will bring people to church who would normally not come. Why do I tell that story? What is the connection between that story and talking about the gospel in terms of “getting stuff”? The connection is that both fit with the rather pervasive construct of the attractional mega church model. Give away free T-shirts, because it will get people in the doors. Talk about the gospel in terms of “getting stuff,” because that’s what people understand. In the process, the gospel is castrated. The powers of the world remain, and the gospel has no power, other than to get individual souls to heaven. To that end, at least there were at least twenty five “decisions” to follow Christ that Saturday night of the Lego movie, which was the week after the sermon discussed previously.

Now, to be clear, I don’t hear the prosperity gospel in the church where this sermon was preached. What I think is true about this church, however, and not only this particular church exclusively, is that “getting stuff” is assumed to be the only thing to which people can relate. Even if the gospel were explained on the basis of Christ’s vindication of Torah and the resulting blessings proclaimed by Torah being poured out on Jews and Gentiles alike, then, based on this church model, the relationship between law and gospel would still have to be explained in terms of “getting stuff.” Or, at least that’s what most of the Protestant evangelical church would likely think. In other words, in this attractional church model, if one decided to present the gospel by referencing the blessings of life and glory pronounced by Deuteronomy 27-30, then said blessings would still have to be explained with the fact of getting them as the starting point rather than “if you submit and obey.” “Getting stuff” of course, however, implies the context of our consumerist society – without, I should add, challenging it as a “power of this world” by changing how we think.

I should also add that, in the following week’s sermon (the week of the lego movie), “getting stuff” (in terms of material possessions) was explicitly challenged – rather effectively, I might add – in the teaching of the sermon. To quote Marshall McLuhan, however “the medium is the message”, and the medium of the attractional mega-church in which that teaching occurred strongly undermined the content of the message spoken from the podium. The shallow soil with rocks that choke out the roots might just be the foundation of the church model. Why attract people by giving away free T-shirts and then teach about the slavery of “getting stuff”?

As discussed in the last blog post, as well, the teaching offered on Gal 3: 11-12 followed the same pattern. Paul was teaching that the church’s persecutions were not in vain, because faith in Christ and the resurrection life given by the Spirit are the mark of the people of God. Related to the Law, Paul was teaching that submission to the law in the specific ways discussed in the first three parts of this series would mean that those persecutions, along with Christ’s death on the cross, were, in fact, in vain. Instead, borrowing from the post-Lutheran and Romantic haze to which we can identify the pastor’s thought, in a generalized way, the sermon taught against a set of external rules that can run contrary to a “personal relationship with God.” What I would like to add here is how this relates to our Protestant evangelical mega-church attractional and “inviting” church model.

Firstly, although disdain for external rules in general has little to do with Paul’s teaching, and, in some ways, is even contrary to it (where does obedience fit into that picture?), it appeals to us precisely because it is one of the “principles” by which our world runs. Again, the attractional church is found to emulate and capitulate to the world rather than challenge it. Secondly, the church’s basing its operations on such appealingly worldly principles, in this way, helps – along with a number of other ways – ensure a lack of persecution. Thirdly, outside of how the worldly principles of the church prevent persecution, a church that sets out to be “attractional” would, of course, tend to avoid the topic of persection of the church. Such unpleasantries might cause people to head out rather than in the door.

Discussing Abraham’s becoming a “father of many nations” as “leaving a great legacy” follows the same pattern, as well. That’s what people want to hear, and it is distanced from the work of digging into the real story. You end up with a church full of consumers who get the gospel fed to them in an easily relatable way rather than a mutually self-sacrificing embodiment of the glory of God on earth that reveals Christ’s love to the world, because what Paul was really saying is ignored in favor of candy and theological competition. You end up with a church that embodies the broken and fragmented world and its powers rather than challenging them with the unity of the church (one of the ends of the real story) that is only possible within the mutually self sacrificial love that is the fruit of the Spirit, which is what really was Paul’s concern.

If we were to pay real attention to Paul’s real concerns, it would mean a number of things. Do we present the gospel as individual pie in the sky, or as resurrection life with Christ as part of God’s family to be vindicated when things, in the end, are made right? It also effects a shift in priorities, of what is important. Paul (and Wright) highlights the importance of unity of the church, as opposed to the often bitter tribalism that appears to rule the church currently.

Because Torah is not a bad thing and was part of the plan all along, Wright’s take on it effects the importance of mission to the Jews (Romans 10 and 11). Because we have generalized and decontextualized the message, we have largely abandoned Paul’s strong concern for reaching the Jews. This was Paul’s concern, because, as Wright says in discussing Romans 11: 25-27 “’Whenever’…Jews come to believe in Christ and so enter the family of God, in that moment, the promises of God made long ago to the patriarchs are being reaffirmed” (p. 251, The Climax of the Covenant). Notably, in that context, the “hardening” of verse 25 is in reference to the Jewish attitude of exclusivity and racial/national self-righteousness discussed above. And, in line with the faith that leads to self sacrificial love modeled after the cross discussed and mentioned in previous blog posts, the proposed reading of Paul by N.T. Wright emphasizes the importance of exactly that kind of love as opposed to the triumphalism and imperialism against which Christ warned in the sermon on the mount, which are pervasive in the Protestant evangelical church today.

If, in the Protestant evangelical mega-church model, the Law means “external rules,” then we end up emphasizing feelings and a “personal relationship with God.” If Torah is thought of in terms of racial or national self-righteousness, as Paul did, then we end up emphasizing church unity and mission to the Jews. If faith is defined as “belief in the supernatural,” as the evangelical church currently does, then we teach dying and going to heaven. If faith is what Paul teaches it to be, which is belief in God’s faithfulness and justice, we end up living a resurrection life – which is strongly akin to the blessings pronounced by Torah – as a recreated human beings living out God’s plan in the belief that God has fulfilled his promises and will, in the end, complete the recreation of all things. This includes the believers sharing in the glorious blessing of the life of bodily resurrection.

In other words, as is taught in the Protestant evangelical church, it can be said to be true that we are saved from a state of individual sinfulness, as Wright notes. Paul, however was not asking the Reformation questions of whether or not the law is abolished. Paul was also not asking whether the “deeds” of humanity in general are what save us. Again, consider “this is not your own doing…so that no one may boast” in the context of Paul’s concern for Israel’s racial and national self-righteousness.

Wright teaches that Paul was answering questions about the faithfulness, justice, and righteousness of God. Paul was asking if God was faithful to his original covenant if a descendant of David cannot be seen sitting in the place of Herod and Pilate. Paul is asking if God is fair and impartial in carrying out the judgment involved in establishing his kingdom. Paul is asking if God is good if evil still appears to reign in the world. And, concerning the law, Paul was asking about its role in that process of the establishment of God’s kingdom, in the fulfilling of the covenant, in God’s showing himself to be righteous and just.

Ultimately, then, for me: sure, “salvation is by faith alone” rather than by following external rules, but that is an answer to a question that is not very important in terms of the issues Paul was facing and how he went about responding to them. No one chooses not to worship God, because deeds have some sort of indexical relationship to salvation, or because they can’t wrap their brains around the idea that salvation is by faith alone. If people choose not to worship God, it is because they don’t believe God is good in light of all the evil that appears to rule the world. People don’t worship God, because they don’t believe God has blessings in store for them like those promised by the covenant. And, people choose not go to church to worship God, because what they observe about the church indicates a smaller god of fragmented cults and self-righteous indignance rather than the God who spoke the universe into being and who, in his act of recreation, is making all things new.

The Protestant evangelical attractional mega-church model, then, get’s people in the door, but – now outside of Wright’s specific comments – you have to ask if it is, in the long view, really to worship God or not. What is promised – both to get you in the door and to keep you from leaving – is not what God promises in the scriptures. Specifically in terms of what is taught about the Law, what we are saved from is not what the evangelical church teaches we are saved from. The attractional church teaches we are saved from “following rules” of (a generalized) law rather than from the sinful self-righteousness that was fulfilled and expressed in how the Jews used and abused Torah. In the process, something precisely like that self-righteousness reigns in the church that seeks to affirm its own historical roots that are its teachings on what faith means (as discussed in the last blog post). As a result, the church remains fragmented, and no one notices. No one notices precisely because they are looking at the triumph of their teaching over the “modern Christians” of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (and those who continue to think in similar ways).

Thus, the attractional Protestant evangelical mega-church model makes it appear as though Christ did, in fact, go to the cross in vain. The greater church unity that is only possible through mutually self-sacrificial love modeled after the cross not only doesn’t occur but isn’t really sought. Meanwhile, in numerous ways already discussed, which include that disunity, the “evil of this world” remains heavily influential in place of the church’s challenging of the principles and powers of this world. All in all, then, one has to at least entertain the following question. Although the Protestant evangelical attractional mega-church model gets people in the door – and even gets “decisions to follow God” – into what are people being invited?

The incentive to follow God that is presented is presented, first of all, at least partially as an incentive. Secondly, said incentive is taught to be going to heaven when you die. That’s not even what the Bible is talking about, nor what the scriptures teach. Also, if, after the “decision to follow God” is reached on the basis of and immersed in this attractional model and all that comes with it, then, at what point do you learn the real story of what God is doing in the history of the earth and how you can participate in it? How do you know what choice you really made? If so much of what comes with that Protestant evangelical mega-church model is not from the scriptures, and therefore, not from God, then from where is it? So, when one makes a decision to enter into the life of that church, is one really entering into life with God, into growing into the fullness of the stature of Christ through participating in mutually self-sacrifial love, which makes possible ultimate church unity, which itself reflects the character and presence of the one true God?

To be clear, these thoughts on whether we are entering into worship of the one true God when we get or make “decisions to follow God” are mostly my thoughts rather than those of N.T. Wright. Also to be clear, I don’t think the answer is as simple as “no.” I think it is clear that God is at work in a place like that. I think it is also clear, however, that the Protestant evangelical attractional church has distanced itself from participating in the actual covenant story of God for the history of man, from which Paul drew his thought and his mission. Further, most of us have no idea that this is the case. I hope that my blog series has been helpful rather than hurtful, both in teaching what that story of what God is doing here really is, and in therefore showing the church how it could live in that story with God much more powerfully and, thus, reveal said story and said God to the world rather than simply “attract” it.

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 5 – Commentary on a Prototypical Protestant Evangelical Sermon on Christ and the Law

So far in this blog series, I have offered a baseline picture of N.T. Wright’s way of looking at Torah, Christ, and their relationship. I have also begun to compare the differences between what we see and hear in the protestant evangelical church today and what Paul is saying, at least according to N.T. Wright. To serve that purpose, I started by summarizing a sermon I recently heard on Galatians 3, which was part of a series on Galatians in general, called “Simple.” I will now explore how, from the basis of Wright’s thought summarized in the earlier part of this series, comments on the sermon summarized in the last blog post might be offered. In the next post, I will provide some thought on extended application points concerning where I see the rubber meeting the road in light of all of that.

Before continuing, I would like to note that this commentary is not meant as an attack on the pastor (who I like) who gave the sermon. Rather, his sermon provides the perfectly prototypically evangelical Protestant point of reference for the very issues raised by N.T. Wright’s reading of Paul, along with some inter-related church issues that I will explore, as well, in the next post.

So, to begin the commentary on the prototypical Protestant Evangelical sermon that I summarized in the last blog post, note should be made of the fact that the sermon skipped Gal. 3: 1. That makes sense, Considering the decontextualized nature of the message offered in the sermon, because Gal 3: 1 depends on the context of what came before in Gal. 2. If the sermon started in context, then the fragmentation and decontextualization of the content of Gal. 3, as it was about to be heard in the rest of the sermon, would not be heard as a coherent message.

As has been established the first three parts of this series, Paul’s concern was not the problem of “rules and religion.” Wright notes on numerous occasions that Paul was not making an argument against nomism, and Wright makes numerous references to E.P Sanders in the process. The point, rather, was the misuse and abuse of Torah as the defining feature of God’s family in the interest of exclusive group, national, or racial self righteousness. That, in fact, is precisely the point of Gal 2: 15-16, which was part of the context ignored in the sermon on Gal 3 and skipped in the previous week’s sermon on Gal. 2.

Regarding: “The law is a system of rules of how to live life. It’s like the hamster wheel of life. It’s a SYSTEM!” – which was the pastor’s commentary on Gal. 3: 11-12. Again, this is clearly out of context and not what Paul was talking about. Paul was referencing the specific blessings and curses “proclaimed by” Torah, with life being the primary blessing. Because the sermon took Paul out of context, sense can be made, then, of the fact that verse 10 was left out of the bulletin and not mentioned in the sermon. It is a quotation of Deuteronomy 27: 26.

Even further, the “hamster wheel of life” is a reference to the modern machine, with which Paul was clearly not concerned. One could probably rather easily translate much of what Paul said about “the world” into today’s “world” of the modern machine. Given that, what does the hustle and bustle of today’s daily routine driven by technology, speed, production, and captial have to do with the law? The most truthful and direct answer is “nothing.” And yet, the pastor made a clear, obvious, explicit, purposeful, and even didactic connection between the two, without qualification. Why? I believe Wright may have made note of the answer in The Climax of the Covenant:

“We live….in a post-Lutheran world. Seen through the haze of the Romantic movement, this produces in Western minds a strict antithesis between a religion that depends on, or largely consists of ‘rules,’ and one that has done away with them in the interest of grace and/or spiritual freedom. This perspective has sometimes encouraged interpreters to play off (for instance) Galatians against 1 Corinthians, since Paul seems to be against rules and regulations in the first and in favor of them in the second. Paul is, by turns, a libertine and a legalist. It seems to me, however, that this is another false dichotomy.” (p. 121)
Just for clarity, Wright is there referencing, mainly, chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians, where Paul, if read from that post-Lutheran and Romantic haze, appears to be laying down dietary rules for the church.

I will assume my reader knows enough about Luther to see how he relates to what Wright is saying in the above quote. The Romantic movement, however, may need some explanation. It produced a morality whose commitment is to individualism and the unfolding and growth of the self. It emphasized intuitive perception and assumed that the natural world is inherently good, while assuming human society is filled with corruption. In its emphasis on intuitive perception, it rejected rationalism and the role of the intellect in religious pursuits. This led to a tension between feelings and reason. The Romantic movement gave rise to Transcendentalism of Thoreau, which portrayed a less restrictive relationship between God and the universe and presented the individual with a more personal relationship with God. As opposed to the restraints of tradition and custom, individual freedom of expression was not only emphasized but morally imperative.

In that light, the didactic and purposive reference to “the hamster wheel of life,” although not directly related to anything Paul said, seems rooted in Romanticism’s disdain for the corruption of human society. Not only that, but it goes a step further and assumes corruption in the basic foundations and operations of human society in the first place rather than making reference to any particular corruption in society that one might observe. I can see how one could trace this sentiment to the sin of Genesis and the curse of working by the sweat of man’s brow. The specificity of the socially oriented reference to “the hamster wheel of life” however, when taken in conjunction with a number of other common things one hears or sees in our Protestant evangelical churches, ties it to it’s historical relationship to the Romantics. For example, a very common refrain at the church where this sermon was spoken is that life with Christ is about a “personal relationship” with God. That “personal relationship” is typically set against “religion” because of its externally applied rules, as was implicitly done in the very sermon being here commented upon. Where is that in scripture, and what does it mean? These are questions that come to mind every time I hear the statement, but they are never answered. I submit that this is because no one realizes the source of what’s being said, and, if they did, they would have to say it was not biblical.

In light of the previous paragraph and of our church’s individualization of the gospel, close ties to the Romantic movement are again close at hand. Without going into a great deal more detail of why Galatians is played against 1 Cor. 8-10 as a battle between individual inner freedom and external social constraints, the point of the above quote from Wright is thus affirmed. We could also note that the basic structure of our typical church service reflects Romanticism’s tension between feelings and individual expression and intuition, on the one hand, as opposed to rationalism, reason, and intellect, on the other, in the biphasic church service scheduling of emotional and “inspiring” worship music and the more dry and heady teaching that occurs in the sermon.

An example of such an “inspiring” and emotionally based “worship” song that comes on a favorite Protestant Evangelical radio station - K-love - is “More Like Falling in Love” by Jason Gray. It sounds like it was written by a 13 year old girl who has a crush on a boy rather than any human of any age worshiping the God of all creation. This song totally ignores biblical truth, and even blatantly contradicts it, in favor of the truth of our Post-Lutheran and post Romantic movement haze. Exemplary lyrics that make my point are as follows:
"Give me rules, I will break them.
Show me lines, I will cross them.
I need more than a truth to believe.
I need a truth…to sweep me off my feet.
It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in
It’s gotta be more like falling in love than giving my allegiance…
It’s like I’m falling in love."

Playing down the humble giving of one’s allegiance and obedience are big parts of how these lyrics make my point. That is because the giving of our allegiance and obedience to the King of all creation is precisely what we are called to do as Christians. Concerning allegiance in particular, why else would early Christians die rather than give their allegiance to Caesar?

In the process of noting all these examples of where the church has organized itself around this hazy truth, the relation between Wright’s commentary and the sermon’s reference to “the hamster wheel of life,” if taken to be influenced by Romanticism’s disdain for the corruption of human society and for external social constraints, is affirmed, as well.

After discussing Gal 3: 11-12, remember, the sermon moved back to Gal. 3: 3-6. Once there, as mentioned briefly in the last blog post, the sermon omitted the verse that requires context to make biblical sense. That is verse 4, which refers back to Gal. 2: 15-21. In reference to the persecutions of the church, Paul says that the Galatians would have “suffered so many things in vain” (Gal. 3: 4) if the law is what makes one a member of the covenant people of God (Gal 2: 16), and, thus, if Christ is a “servant of sin” (Gal 2: 17). As discussed previously, considering the question of whether faith or the law is the mark of the people of God, in this situation being addressed by Paul, Christ would not be the “servant of sin” if the law was not sinfully misused as a charter for racial privilege thanks to the flesh. To address the pastor’s out-of-context commentary on the matter, a mere general set of external “rules” that runs contrary to a “personal relationship with God,” in and of itself, would not render Christ a “servant of sin.”

As noted in Part 2, arguing against nomism was, for Paul, not the crux of the issue. And, although “not doing things in our own effort” (to quote The Message’s version of Galatians) is important, and, belongs to what Paul was saying, it was not the crux of the issue. Any ancient Jew would have also noted that we are not saved by our own efforts, since Torah was given by God to the people He chose.

Regarding the sermon’s portrayal of Gal 3: 3-6 as saying the Galatians made the gospel more complicated by adding lots of rules to it, I would like to invite my reader to visit Galatians 2: 11-13, and ask him or herself whether the context there fits better with a problem in the Galatian church better described as “adding complicated rules” or as “racial self-righteousness that was getting in the way of the spreading of the blessing of the covenant to the Gentiles due to the influence of sinful people susceptible to sin because of the flesh.”

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party, 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

To reference what was stated in the previous blog post, “God doesn’t work miracles in your life because you’re good. He works miracles in your life because you believe” was the pastor’s commentary on Gal. 3: 5.

On the surface, there is certainly nothing wrong with the sermon’s interpretation of Gal 3: 5 as saying that God doesn’t work miracles in your life because you are good, but, instead, because you believe. On top of that, the point being made is a good one that is certainly not contrary to Paul’s. Said point does, however, imply and rely on the constructed non-biblical context of the church in which the sermon occurred, which has already been discussed in this blog post. In other words, not “because you’re good” meant “not because any general human follows a set of external rules” rather than “not because you can rest easy in the power of the law, which was given specifically to the Jews, to demarcate the people of God, who will be vindicated and raised by God when final judgment comes.” As stated previously, that means that the pastor was, in reality, saying something quite different from what Paul was saying. Possibly even more importantly, that something different has a very different set of practical implications for what the life of the Christian church means, which will be discussed in the next blog post.

Both of the samples from the sermon concerning Genesis 17: 5 and Genesis 15: 1-5 – on “leaving a great legacy” and on the rhetorical not necessarily so much goodness in getting “all this stuff” - serve as efforts to relate the content of the scriptures to a contemporary audience in a way that they will want to hear it while missing much of the meat of what the scriptures are actually saying in biblical context. Both scriptures require, in order for us to now connect with them, an understanding of the in depth contextual interconnections between them and the rest of the story of the covenant, the law, Christ, and the Spirit. Rather than diving down to such depths, however, the covenantal story is flattened, decontextualized, and fed to an audience of consumers in such a way that they get to hear that they get to get something. If one chooses to not go into the depths of that story and what it would have meant to people who were very different from ourselves, then one is forced to superimpose our own contemporary context onto the ancient scriptures.

Concerning Geesis 15: 6, I have already discussed how discussing this in terms of Abraham’s not being counted righteous because he doubted and then did enough stuff to be good not only makes no sense, but, wrapped up within, such a discussion sends a message containing stuff that is not part of the gospel.

As discussed in the previous posts of this series, father of many nations – in biblical context - indicates God’s covenantal intention to eventually form one world wide people of the one God. O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessing when I don’t even have a son? – in biblical context (rather than, in and of itself, being a critique of contemporary consumerism) - constitutes a key beginning point in God’s plan and story that lead to the establishment of that exact unified world wide people of the one true God through the “seed” that God promised to Abraham. In the process of the formation of Christ’s body of the church on earth, with the Cross as the model, the Holy Spirit spurs the church along to mutual self sacrifice that makes the fulfillment of God’s unity here possible. As mentioned at the end of the last blog post, the reason this establishment of Paul’s actual context is important is because, if you are reading and teaching different scriptures, then you end up with a different church. Or, in our case, you end up with different factions of separated churches on the basis of competing fragmented systematic theologies. As discussed previously in this blog series concerning Galatians 3: 19-20, these different and factioned peoples imply different gods.

I would say that the sermon’s idea of faith as trusting God to do more than what you can do on your own is a perfectly legitimate idea, but it was not placed in the context of the scriptural story that gives it relevance and fullness of meaning. This is precisely because faith was given another meaning shaped by our contemporary context, itself shaped by the modern story of the development of our evangelical church.

Borrowing from Wright, I have noted elsewhere that dying and going to heaven being explained and defined as faith in the supernatural is the evangelical church’s historical response to the naturalist question posed by the Enlightenment's categorization of reality into modernity's reductionist terms. The Enlightenment reduced reality to the purely measurable and observable. In the process, it intentionally and purposefully excluded any external influences, or the role of the divine, in the intimate affairs of human life and in the physical phenomenon of the universe. What came out of that, then was a “modern” version of what claimed to be Christianity that took scripture to be written by human authors in time, and, thus, fallible and open to interpretive misunderstanding. These modern Christians also tended to exclude faith and miracles from the scriptures, and, in the process, defined faith as belief in the supernatural power that could perform miracles. Jesus, then, was “reduced” to merely an exemplarily good human being whose social good will was to be emulated.

A group of Christians whose history was the first and second great awakenings and who was later to be identified as fundamentalist then reacted aggressively to this “modern Christianity.” This reaction became “the fundamentals” that defines the beliefs of this group of Christians and gave them their name. In reaction to the moderns’ idea that scriptures are authored by humans and fallible, the “fundamental” doctrine of inerrancy of the Bible was formed. The “fundamentals” of the literal interpretation of scripture (especially of Christ’s miracles and of creation), and of the virgin birth of Christ, were constructed in reaction to the moderns’ belief in a lack of faith and miracles. And, in response to the modern reduction of Christ to merely an exemplary human being, the “Fundamentalists,” as they came to be called, placed heavy emphasis on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement (and the Virgin Birth). These “Fundamentalists” were at one time basically the same group of Chistians as what we now think of as Evangelicals, who eventually sort of split off from the Fundamentalists based on their having less of a militantly aggressive drive to argue with the moderns.

In the end, then, faith came to be thought of – by both fundamentalists and evangelicals - not in reference to the covenantal story of God’s plan for working in human history, but in reference to the evangelical church’s argument with the moderns. Because the moderns had defined faith as belief in the supernatural power that could perform miracles and, in the process, rejected it, and because evangelicals had made it their mission to refute the ideas of the moderns rather than to live out God’s plan and story for the earth, faith in the evangelical church came to be strongly affirmed as belief in the supernatural power that could perform miracles. In other words, Fundamentalists and evangelicals, in their definitions of and ideas on faith, capitulate to the moderns, to whom the fundamentalists and evangelicals, in a sense, owe their identity, precisely because the argument between moderns and Fundamentalists defines said ideas on faith. Although the sermon being critiqued here was nearly 100 years removed from the arguments that gave rise to evangelicalism as we know it, the pastor was still, quite naturally, defining faith on the terms by which his evangelical church owes its existence. He only added the wrinkle that we should also, on top believing in the supernaturally performed miracle of dying and going to heaven, “believing for the practical.”

This definition of faith, although it paradoxically owes its existence and continuing affirmation to those who stood against it, serves as a startling example of where, beyond the level of individual struggle to forgive and love in the face of being wronged or offended, the evangelical church as a whole has succumbed to the triumphalism and imperialism that N.T. Wright notes has infected the church. Where the evangelical church embraced the mission to triumph over the “modern Christians,” it has sacrificed modeling its words and actions after the mutual self-sacrificial love modeled after the cross. This Christ centered love was discussed in previous blog posts as being, for Paul, the starting point for what guides the actions of the church, as opposed to the “works of the law” that affirm the triumphant self-righteousness that fragments rather than unifies.

This definition of faith – as belief in dying and going to heaven, so long as you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior – in addition, serves as an example of church teaching that, according to N.T. Wright, is contrary to the teachings of Paul and the early church on what the future holds for the body of believers, which is fulfillment of the promise of a bodily resurrection. As Wright has noted, this teaching, in the West, at least, began to change with the culture around 1200 A.D. I have already covered this extensively in a previous blog series.

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 4 – Summary of a Prototypical Protestant Evangelical Sermon on Christ and the Law

In the coming blog posts of this series, since I have pretty well summarized a baseline picture of N.T. Wright’s way of looking at Torah, Christ, and their relationship, I would like to start to compare the differences between what we see and hear in the protestant evangelical church today and what Paul is saying, at least according to what I have explored N.T. Wright as saying. To serve that purpose, I will start by exploring a sermon I recently heard on Galatians 3, which was part of a series on Galatians in general. I will then explore how Wright’s thought either does or may provide commentary on that sermon, followed by some extended point of application concerning where I see the rubber meeting the road for the church in light of all of that. The sermon I am about to summarize provides the perfectly prototypically evangelical Protestant point of reference for the very issues raised by N.T. Wright’s reading of Paul.

In discussing Galatians 3: 2, then, the pastor started off said sermon – part of a series called “Simple” - by summarizing what was taught as the context of Galatians in general with this paraphrased statement about the gospel: “The Galatians started making it more complicated by adding lots of rules. It’s not about rules and religion.” And, still on Galatians 3: 2, to quote the pastor this time, “You don’t get what God has for you by doing stuff. You get what God has for you by believing and loving God more.”

After discussing Gal. 3: 2 out of biblical context, the sermon then jumped ahead to Gal. 3: 11-12. On that, the commentary was as follows: “The law is a system of rules of how to live life. It’s like the hamster wheel of life. It’s a SYSTEM!”

From Gal. 3: 11-12, the sermon jumped back to Gal. 3: 3-6. First of all, once again, the bulletin and sermon left out the verse that requires the biblical context to make sense. I will address that in the next post. Regarding the part of Gal. 3: 3-6 that was addressed in the sermon, it was The Message paraphrase was what was printed in the bulletin, which includes:

only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God…[God is] working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?

The pastor’s teaching on this was: “The point of Galatians is the simplicity of the gospel.” His point there refers back to how he started the sermon, noting that the Galatians had supposedly made the gospel more complicated by adding lots of rules to it.

“God doesn’t work miracles in your life because you’re good. He works miracles in your life because you believe” was the pastor’s commentary on Gal. 3: 5. Continuing its commentary on Gal. 3: 1-6, the church bulletin and sermon mentioned Genesis 15: 1-6. Taking his cue from a closely associated verse – Genesis 17: 5 - the pastor, while talking about Gen. 15: 1-5, commented that “father of many nations” meant that Abraham would leave a great legacy. Concerning O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessing when I don’t even have a son? (Gen. 15: 2) the pastor attempted to relate scripture’s “blessings” to us by asking, rhetorically, “What good is all this stuff?”

Genesis 15: 6 – And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith – was specifically addressed. Notably, the commentary on this was that Abram was not counted righteous because he doubted and then did enough stuff to be good. Abraham, the sermon said, was not saved because he did enough penance. Here the pastor was building off the earlier part of the sermon that established the problem with the law being the following of rules.

By attempting to build on Abraham’s belief in God’s promise, the pastor of the sermon then went on to provide an idea of what faith means. Not surprisingly, however, faith was not defined in relation to the covenantal story being told in Genesis about God’s plan for working within the history of the earth. Instead, since he is modern, the pastor offered a modern version of faith to his church. The bulletin point to get the idea across was: “Move from the SAFE zone to the FAITH zone.” The question was asked, “So, as you sit here right now, what are you believing God for, that you know you can’t do on your own?” The answer was said, firstly, to be about eternal salvation, which means going to heaven when you die. The pastor also made it a point to state, however, that we should be asking ourselves if we are trusting God that we will have food on the table. In other words, we should believe in the practical, and we should believe in the supernatural.

Philippians 1: 6 - And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. - was quoted as the reason to trust God to do more than you could do on your own. The idea wasn’t fully explained there, due, I think, to time constraints, but the idea was that trusting in God allows Him to craft us into the person he intends for us to be.

That concludes my summary of the sermon that serves as a prototypical Protestant Evangelical take on the Law, Christ, and their relationship.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 3: A Bountiful Harvest

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.…7 “The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you…. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow…you shall only go up and not down…. And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you….6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.... 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. – from Deuteronomy 28-30

Romans 7: 4, which was discussed near the end of the last blog post of this series , highlights the model of faith that “justifies” one who is “united with Christ.” The model of faithful action of a disciple of Christ is not the racial or national self-righteousness fed by Torah described previously, but the self-giving and sacrificial love of the cross. Various forms and examples of this love activated by faith and modeled after the cross are found throughout Paul’s letters. Philippians 2: 1-11 is the main place N.T. Wright discusses this in The Climax of the Covenant. There, Paul exhorts the church to love each other in a number of practical ways, multiple times reminding them that this kind of love is modeled after that of Christ. He tells them to encourage, comfort, and sympathize with each other. He also tells them to have unity and to be humble and not selfish, always putting others first. Continuing to the heart of the matter:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Regarding the topics of Christ and Torah, Wright discusses this passage in a number of ways. Firstly, Wright notes Paul’s echoes of Adam. According to Wright, “grasped” in verse 6 hearkens back to Adam’s grasping for the forbidden fruit and taking a place in the order of things that properly only belongs to God. Obviously, then, Christ’s obedience refers back to Adam’s disobedience. In addition, according to Wright, Christ’s exaltation and Lordship refers to Genesis 1: 26-31:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

For Wright, part of the point of the referenced exaltation and Lordship in Phil 2: 5-11 is that Adam was meant, from the beginning, to share in God’s glory by ruling over or subduing creation. It was built into the very fabric of how he was made. Part of what sin does is enslave humanity, though, so sin clearly gets in the way of God’s purpose. The covenant is, then, God’s beginning to do something about sin. The cutting of the covenant, therefore, was also the beginning of restoring man to being made in God’s image, ruling over creation, sharing in God’s glory. Torah, as part of God’s story of restoration, was intended for that, as well. The reference to man’s original authority of creation is made explicit in the Law, again, in Deuteronomy 27-30, when the blessings and curses that hinge on Israel’s obedience include, respectively, rule over the land and nations or exile and oppression. The Law, in and of itself, fails to restore this blessed image of man, but Christ vindicates the Law, redeems man, and, in the recreation of all things, restores the image of man. Hence the references throughout the New Testament to the authority of the saints and the glory of the church. As part of this process, the Spirit helps equip the church to complete the work of God here.

The church is empowered to the “obedience of faith.” Wright points out that similar love based on faith and modeled after Christ’s obedience unto the cross (rather than modeled after Torah) is evident throughout Romans 12-16, Galatians 5 and 6 (especially Galatians 6: 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.), Ephesians 4: 1-16, and Ephesians 5: 21 through 6: 9. In Romans 12-16, this cross-modeled love works itself out in the unity of the church, in humble submission to authority, in genuine love for one another, in obedience to the commandments and lifestyle of God as taught by Christ, and, if you are a more mature Christian, in submissively bearing weaker brothers by not offending one by eating meat that you know is OK to eat. Galatians 5-6, other than discussing circumcision as not being the mark of God’s family, in talking about love modeled after the cross, talks about the church serving one another, living a lifestyle of love, humility, and purity of heart, and, again, bearing one another’s burdens. The love of Christ modeled after the cross shows itself in Ephesians 5: 21 – 6: 9 in mutual submission between husbands and wives (treating the other’s body as if it were your very own), loving obedience of children and concern for the welfare of one’s children, humble obedience of masters by slaves, and respectful treatment of slaves by masters without hording power over them. These, of course, are all actions or “good deeds” like those referenced in Romans 7: 4.

In order to complete the picture and fully put the story together as Wright begins to do in The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, one thing that needs explicit clarification that was mentioned in the preceding paragraphs is the link between glory and rule. When Paul refers to the glory of Christ or the church, he is referencing Adam’s original vocation as ruler. This brings light to Paul’s multiple references to “the glory of the cross.” The “glory of the cross” and “the splendor of Solomon” are not so separate. In other words, as discussed in Phillippians 2: 5-11 above, the church, in union with Christ, has paradoxical authority or rule by and through crucifixion of the self, by daily taking up the cross. Again highlighting the role of Torah in the story, this fulfills the blessings of freedom and rule as opposed to the curses of exile and oppression in Deuteronomy 27-30. The freedom – freedom being a primary blessing pronounced by the Law – to serve only makes sense in view of the cross and is only possible by the power of the Spirit.

And, in order for the Torah to have this role of helping to fulfill the covenant rather than simply being abolished or disregarded after having been given as part of the word of God, N.T. Wright notes that Christ vindicates the Law. Wright says Paul partially draws this out in Romans 8: 1-11:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Notice it does not say that Christ condemned or abolished the Law. Instead, Paul builds on what was said throughout Romans 7, which established “sin in the flesh” as the real culprit (rather than the Law), which rendered the Law ineffective. That is why Christ “condemned sin in the flesh,” rather than condemning the Law. Paul instead refers to Christ’s enabling Torah to be fulfilled in the church. This fulfillment of the Law occurs through the Spirit, which is what “gives life.” Noted above, life was the primary blessing pronounced by the Law. In other words, Paul did not refer to the giving of life arbitrarily or generally.

This life of the Spirit is said to be given “because of righteousness,” precisely because Paul has in mind and is discussing who is part of the people of God and how that is the case. Paul is discussing Torah and faith, because “righteousness” means the people of God, called by the Spirit, to a life of faith, will share in the glory of Christ’s resurrection at the time of final judgment. It does not mean dying and going to heaven when you die, by the supernatural power of the Spirit, because you made the individual decision to follow God. That has nothing to do with the term of blessing pronounced by the Law and spoken of by the prophets.

Ephesians 2: 4-10 brings much of this together and helps us move towards the end of the story and the completion of the picture of Pauline thought regarding Christ and the Law:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

As noted in verse 8 and keeping in mind that the Law is fulfilled through the Spirit, N.T. Wright makes the point that faith is the gift of God through and from the Spirit. Faith is evidence of the Spirit at work. Since “works” are a big issue for Protestants when it comes to the Law, the referenced work in the last sentence is that of revealing the character and kingdom of God. In fact, concerning the kingdom, verse 6 - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus – is, again, partially in reference to the “glory,” or “rule” of the church, which fulfills and restores the original vocation of Adam and involves freedom as opposed to oppression. 2 Corinthians 3, therefore, because it draws from the same covenantal story as Ephesians 2, shares the same theme of freedom that comes from faith, given by the Spirit.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3: 17-18.
Returning to Ephesians 2, When Paul says that salvation – which, in the context of covenant blessings, is connected at the hip to the freedom that opposed the current state of exile experienced by the Jews under Roman rule, and which includes “exaltation above all nations” - is “not a result of works” in verse 9, he is referring, again, to those “works” that identify and distinguish a Jew as such. That explains the “boasting”; there is no need for national/racial self-righteousness. All that is required for “exaltation” is submissive obedience to God.

If “we are his workmanship,” and if that “work” is also the revelation of the kingdom of God, then the church, in all its glory, is the kingdom of God here on earth. Wright also notes that Christology (study of who Christ was and his role in salvation), soteriology(study of the doctrine of salvation), and ecclesiology (study of the church body’s relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its leadership, and its future) are, for Paul, not all as separate as we tend to make them. We like to chop things up systematically. Paul was telling a story. In other words, we, the church, are united with Christ. In self-sacrificial love for one another, we “mutually participate in Christ,” as Wright refers to it, and, thus, present and represent him to the world (Christology). Wright’s sample text where this “mutual participation in Christ” is discussed is Philemon 6, where, in learning, in Christ, to love one another as Christ, believers “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Philemon serves as such a good example of this “mutual participation in Christ,” because Paul tells Philemon that, if Onesimus has wronged him in any way, to count it as though Paul himself had wronged Philemon. Paul also notes, in the process, that Philemon, having heard the gospel from Paul, owes Paul his very life.

Philippians 2: 1-11, among other passages that discuss mutually submissive union, is discussed in this context of “mutual participation”, as well, because believers are exhorted to mutually submit to one another with the cross of Christ as their model. As a result, in the world’s seeing Christ in the body, then, the church participates in God’s salvation and recreation of all things (soteriology). And, it is the gathering, worshiping, and submissively loving body of Christ that shows precisely that love and, in union with him, shares in Christ’s suffering and glory or rule (ecclesiology).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. - from John 14

The “work” there is precisely Christ’s revelation of the character and kingdom of God. As Jesus goes onto discuss in that very sermon, if you want to call it that, it is through the Spirit that the church will go on to do even “greater works than these,” through which God will be “glorified” (remember that, for Paul, according to Wright, “glory” and “rule/authority” are connected).

In addition, N.T. Wright, in numerous places, is adamant that this “work” of God is in and through the very fabric of human history. As an example of what this means that would often sound foreign to us is Wright’s take on 2 Corinthians 3: 18, which is very tied to the points above about mutual participation in Christ. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. The “mirror” there is not the Lord, nor the gospel. According to Wright, who is here drawing on the previously discussed idea of “mutual participation in Christ,” the “mirror” is each other! The implication is that Paul had in mind the PRESENT GLORY of the church! Even more primarily, however, Wright’s basis for talking about God’s work being within the fabric of history is the very covenant story that serves as the baseline of thought that, for Wright, draws all of Paul’s body of work and thought together. This story, from covenant, to Torah, kingdom, prophets, and, centrally, to its climax in Christ, who establishes the glory of the church, occurs and is told in and through human history. That is why separate and fragmented presentations of teachings on Christology (Christ was in heaven, Incarnated, died and was resurrected, ascended and now reigns in heaven) or soteriology (substitutionary atonement) miss the mark.

A big part of how Wright goes onto complete this picture and story of scripture is to note that the story is not yet finished. The kingdom HAS COME, IS HERE – in the interconnections between Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology noted above - but it has not yet been fully established. That will occur in the parousia (the Second Coming, or, the Second Appearing).

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 2: Vindication of Torah

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. – Romans 7: 4

To recap, then, where I left off at the last blog post. Torah was an interlude in the original purpose and giving of the covenant (2 Corinthians 3: 11). If Torah could not possibly give life in the first place, and if Torah pronounces the curses of exile and death upon its disobedient recipients who misused Torah (one of their primary disobedient acts), then how could the original promise and purpose of the covenant be fulfilled? How could the blessings of the promise reach the nations? How could one people of the one God be formed? The somewhat obvious answer to Christian ears, of course, is Christ’s death on the cross. N.T. Wright, however, reframes the meaning of it in a way that we are not used to. Christ – representative King of God’s people - took the particular curses of death and exile (and inter-related oppression by Gentiles) pronounced by the law unto himself, by becoming them. In Galatians 3: 13-14, “us” refers to the Jews to whom the Law was given. Thus, it relates to those Jews who were, otherwise, if without Christ, bound to the curses of their Torah:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

And - because Christ was still acting as representative King of those Jews who would have otherwise still been under the curses of death, exile, and oppression pronounced by Torah when he overcame them by rising after dying at the hands of Israel’s oppressors - the blessings of the original covenant could spread to the Gentiles without the curses of the Torah getting in the way. He became the “vessel of wrath” as well as of mercy and blessing (Romans 9: 22-23). Thus, one of the primary end goals of the original covenant with Abraham - a world wide people of the one true God - could happen. It became the glory of the church (Romans 9: 23, as well as 2 Corinthians 3)!

Part of the Jewish misuse of the Torah was to identify it as the mark of the people of God. Paul’s point is that, instead, the mark of this people of God is faith, and not Torah, since Torah can't possibly be the mark. In light of the oppressive and hypocritical rule of Herod and Pilate, Torah obviously leads to curses of exile and death, – a situation understood by publicly observable and obvious fact. According to Wright, Torah also leads to the concentration of the sin of Adam onto Israel in the form of “national/racial righteousness” (and it’s consequences, which we might describe as political). Taken in and of itself, this concentration of sin upon Israel makes a world wide family of God impossible, but in Christ, it allows the fulfillment of Torah and resulting blessings for Jews and Gentiles alike.

This idea of faith rather than Torah being the mark of God’s one worldwide people is the point of Galatians 3: 23-29:

23 Now before faith came, we [the Jews] were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

This phrase “justified by faith” in the context of faith being the mark of the people of God raises an additional idea that N.T. Wright discusses in numerous places, including in The Climax of the Covenant. According to Wright, any time Paul uses the root of the Greek word for “justification,” he is referring to “membership in the covenant people of God.” As Deuteronomy 29: 10-13 says, You are standing today all of you before the LORD your God…that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Needless to say, this is not the way we normally think of “justification,” which is usually defined for us by a fragmented, systematic theology that is not the coherent story that Paul was telling and from which Paul drew. That fragmented, systematic theology emphasizes individualized substitutionary atonement as dying and going to heaven while the earth goes up in flames rather than inherited resurrection promise that comes with the call of the Spirit to join in the glory of the one people of the one God who will vindicate that people when, in the end, all things are made right.

Here is how another webpage – “Justice and ‘dike’ in Ancient Greek” - describes the extra-scriptural Greek use of the word “dike” – which we translate as “justice”:

“Translations of Ancient Greek sources, especially those by Plato, usually translate the Greek word δίκη (dike) as ‘justice’. It is important to note when reading Plato and other Ancient Greek sources that the modern English word ‘justice’ has a history full of meanings and connotations that did not exist in ancient Greece.

Instead, the Ancient Greek word dike means something like behaving in accordance with nature, or how your group normally behaves. The word does not have moral implications — it does not speak of how things should be or act, but rather how they normally are and how they usually act. This is evident from a number of ancient Greek sources, including Homer and Hippocrates.

The transition towards dike as ‘justice’ did exist in ancient times. For instance, the Greek goddess Dike was the goddess of justice, and she was equated with the Roman goddess Justitia — the Latin word iustus came from the Old Latin ious, which seems to have been a religious term meaning ‘sacred way’, again related to the correct way.

This translation of dike as ‘justice’ in a modern sense does not fit with Plato’s text. Scholars believe that Plato did mean to describe justice in its original sense, and so when Plato uses the word δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosyne), he simply means acting in the way that one normally does in one’s situation. The Scottish scholar W. K. C. Guthrie describes this as ‘‘minding your own business’, doing the thing, or following the way, which is properly your own, and not mixing yourself up in the ways of other people and trying to do their jobs for them.’

The confusion between the Ancient Greek word dike and its translation as ‘justice’ has led to some significant confusion and difference of interpretation among scholars and students reading Plato’s Republic and other works that use the term.”

A full reading of that webpage requires background knowledge of Plato’s Republic. Plato’s point was that “justice” in the Greek city-state meant that, as examples, soldiers practiced courage, slaves practiced temperance, and that philosophers, acting as rulers of the city-state, practiced wisdom. So, staying within the proper order of things, citizens were to do what was “properly their own”, not trying to get things out of order and do what is not theirs to do.

Applying that information to the question of the appropriateness of Wright’s translation of “dike” in the New Testament – which is “another work that uses the term” where there is “some significant confusion” - as “membership in the covenant people of God,” then, you find that one of Paul’s central concerns or ideas was that the people of God are to “do the thing, or follow the way, which is properly [their] own.” This would obviously fit within Paul’s thought. “The kingdom of God does not belong to…The kingdom of God will not be inherited by those who…” So, what “justified (dike) by faith” means is that faith, is how one comes to “do the things, or follow the way, which is properly” God’s!
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
In addition, regarding dike ”not having moral implications,” Wright, in reacting to our over-emphasis on the moral thrust and imperative of the gospel we tend to present as evangelicals, states in numerous places that the gospel a set of facts. These facts – of Christ’s death, resurrection, resulting Kingship and sending of the Spirit that builds up the glorious body of the church - are not uninterpreted, since uninterpreted facts do not exist, Wright says. He notes that the “separation of ‘ought’ and ‘is’ as being a historical development that came long after Paul (as in, like 1,600 plus years later). We now, after that separation, specifically in terms of how we think of the definition of our gospel, tend to ignore the “is” and place heavy emphasis on the “ought.” In other words, we don’t simply state the fact that Chris is king of all so much at yell “Turn or burn!” at people.

Regarding the meaning of “justice” being “the correct way,” early Christians, before non-Christians began referring to them as “Christians” in the first place, referred to their way of life as “the way.”

What Wright says Paul means by “justified by faith,” then, is that faith is what defines Jew or Gentile, slave or free man as a member of the covenant people or family of the one God. Faith is what reveals the glory of God to the world, how the church does the will of God. Basically, faith in the King who died and was raised is how one acts in the way that properly belongs to the people of God who are represented by that king. And, faith in action is modeled after that King’s death and resurrection (what Christ DID, his “deeds”). The “Judaizers” wanted to continue to make Torah the mark of the family of God, but, as discussed above, Paul took this to be impossible.

As discussed in Romans, as well, Wright, mainly in discussing Romans 8-11, says that Paul also takes the idea of Torah being the mark of the people of God to be counter to God’s original plan that had been set out from the beginning. In other words, God had intended from the beginning for Torah to be, in a sense, the means (with and through Christ) by which the original covenant purpose of God would be fulfilled. And, it is the terms of the Torah that define the curses Christ is to overcome and the blessings Christ is to allow to be opened to the Jews and to spread to the whole world. If Torah is the mark of the people of God, though, then it no longer defines the Jews in the service of revealing the glory of God to the world, but, instead, Torah is in the service of Israel’s self righteousness (pun intended).

Now, practically speaking, what does “Torah being the mark of the people of God” mean? How does Torah, as opposed to faith, work itself out as being what would potentially define the covenant people of God? How would Torah, as opposed to faith, be what would “justify” someone (or someone’s actions)? The difference works itself out, practically speaking, in whether Peter is willing to sit down and eat with the Gentiles, in, as examples, whether the church is going to demand that Gentiles be circumcised, and in whether or not Peter will be allowed to eat foods forbidden by Torah. The difference works itself out in laws about diet, circumcision, Sabbath, and the Temple.

Under Torah, no meat sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Under Torah, no sitting down at a table of fellowship with ceremonially unclean pagans where meat sacrificed to idols is probably being eaten. Under Torah, one must bear the mark of circumcision to be “justified,” to be part of the “in crowd,” so to speak. Under Torah, one’s sins are atoned for by making a Temple sacrifice. These are precisely the “works of Torah” to which Paul refers in saying that we are “not saved by works of Torah.” In other words, then, for Paul “works” does not mean “deeds” in a general sense of any human being’s “good deeds” that will (or will not) get him into heaven, as the later parts of our history have taught us. Rather, “works” of Torah are the specifically Jewish “works” that distinguish him as Jewish and that Gentiles of the church felt forced to submit to by the “Judahizers,” who Paul wished would mutilate themselves.

And, of course we are not “saved by” – not part of God’s people and thus vindicated and saved from wrath in judgment by the death and resurrection of the King who represents us - by what we do, as opposed to what God does. As N.T. Wright notes, the ancient Israelite who was not Christian probably wouldn’t have had a problem with the idea that salvation is by what God does rather than what we do, either. Whether it is us or God doing the deed, then, although clearly important, is not the crux of the issue that Paul is addressing. At least, it is not the issue or question to which Paul refers when he says we are “not saved by works of Torah.”

Paul’s point, rather, was that we are not saved by those particular “works of the Torah” that affirm Torah as that which is to be used to distinguish in from out, God’s people from Gentiles, membership from non-membership. In other words, Paul and the Judaizers were fighting over the parts of Torah that are meant, in the first place, to do precisely what Paul is saying Torah cannot do, which is to define the people of God! Circumcision, Dietary laws, and Temple worship are precisely what make a Jew a Jew. Paul is saying that those distinguishing features will not “work” (pun intended) as identifiers as the people of God, despite the Jews being the chosen people of God’s special covenant.

By faith, however:

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. – Romans 7: 4

The vindication of Torah continues in the bountiful harvest of the glory of the church and will later be discussed more specifically and fully through Romans 8: 1-11.

In Christ, who vindicated Torah, all of those things that distinguished the Jews as God’s people are transfigured as part of his recreation of all things. Israel’s leaders are replaced by the symbolic number of twelve of Israel’s sinners, tax collectors, and fishermen who were previously not good enough to be chosen as disciples by other rabbis. The Eucharist (“communion”) becomes the new diet of the believer, rather than the one defined by Torah for the Jews. Christ and his body, the church, becomes the glorious shekinah, the presence of God that descended upon the Temple when Solomon dedicated it. Where Priests, previously, in the Temple, performed an atoning sacrifice for sin, Christ, the lamb of God, died on the cross. And, as Paul notes, circumcision becomes one of the heart, which is what defines a “true Jew” (Romans 2: 28-29), whose “heart of stone” has been turned to a “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 26: 36). These are recreations that Wright discusses more in The Challenge of Jesus and in What Paul Really Said than in The Climax of the Covenant.

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together: Failure of Torah - Part 1b

At the end of Part 1a, we left off at the idea that, as representative King of the Jews, Jesus Christ brought Torah to its “climax,” as one of the ways N.T. Wright refers to it, by embodying the curses pronounced by the Law upon the whole of Israel as a body of people. To continue, then, with the story of Christ and the Law that N.T. Wright helps put back together after it’s systematized fragmentation through the course of history’s other stories:

Jesus, still acting as representative and King of the Jews, took the blessings of the covenant proclaimed in Deuteronomy 27-30 – primarily life, as well as authority and rule rather than the oppression and submission that characterize a state of exile - to their completion. He did this by rising again after apparent defeat, thus substantiating his claim to Kingship, or Messiahship. Paul makes implicit reference to this idea when mentioning sharing the glory of Christ.

As part of God’s plan to establish a worldwide people of God, part of the terms of the original covenant with Abraham was that he would be a blessing to all the nations. Genesis 12: 3 …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 18: 18 Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. Genesis 18: 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. “Because you have obeyed my voice” is a clue that Abraham was not only to be an agency of blessing to those outside the family of God, but, instead, that all nations would be taught to obey the Lord. In other words, Abraham’s obedience would be the model for all who enter into the family of God, which was to include people from all nations. See Isaiah 2: 3, which is nearly the same as Micah 4: 2.

Again, Torah, meant to serve as a temporary interlude in the covenant, was unable to fulfill this original purpose. This is because Israel, enslaved by sin, to which it is susceptible because of the flesh (Romans 7), turned the Torah into a badge of national honor rather than, in fear of God, living in obedience and receiving Torah’s blessings. Israel’s disobedience and misuse of Torah, without Christ, would be an obvious obstacle to obedience spreading to the nations.

Since our gospel has been turned into individualized pie in the sky, and because we read scripture as a set of fragmented proof texts for a systematic theology rather than as a coherent story that Paul was telling and referencing, this reading of Paul proposed by N.T. Wright is not our typical Protestant reading. And, because Wright spends quite a bit of time in The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology explaining and confirming these ideas of Torah being an interlude in the covenant that gets in the way of the original promise of blessing the nations, I will therefore just here note that Paul covers them in Romans 7-11. In other words, says Wright, Romans 10 and 11 are not “about predestination and election” – at least not the way we typically think of them in our systematically theological terms whose meaning is determined by other stories in history that came along long after Pal’s mission to play a role in God’s covenant story.

Instead, Romans 9-11 are about Deuteronomy 29: 19-21. Those who think they are safe while walking in stubbornness of heart will have their "name blotted out from under heaven." My NLT translates that as "cut off from God's people." Although the whole of Romans 9-11 is really about that, I am specifically and explicitly referencing, in Romans 9, where Paul discusses who are and are not his people (23-33), all of Romans 10, and in Romans 11, where Paul discusses the analogy of the vine with branches broken off and grafted on. Also, instead of being about “predestination and election” in reference to individual conversation, Romans 9-11 is about unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians (and mission to the Jews) after Christ initiated the end of the age and paved the way for gentiles to receive the originally promised covenant blessings as part of God’s elect or chosen people who are destined to be vindicated by resurrection glory at the time of final judgment.

As stated, because Wright spends a lot of time on it in his work, I am not going to go into detail to confirm Wright’s argument that the Jews turned Torah into a document that establishes exclusive national privilege for Israel. What, though, does this idea of “turned the Torah into a badge of national honor” mean, exactly? It means that Israel, “in accordance with the flesh” (and not the “sin nature”) and because of sin, used the Torah as a charter for exclusive racial privilege, thus justifying their contempt and anger towards the “nations” who were meant to, in the end of the age, receive covenant blessings. The alternative to how Israel used Torah, then, was for it to be a means of obedience through which to bless the Gentiles. Romans 9: 1-5 is where Paul makes it most explicit that “national privilege,” as Wright refers to it, is Paul’s reference in Romans 7-11, especially when he says “my kinsmen according to the flesh”:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

In other words, this is where Paul makes it obvious that he is talking about racial issues. The end of Romans 9, and Romans 10 and 11 then confirm this as very obvious. And Romans 9: 33 makes a double reference to both the Law and to Christ: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. How that refers to Christ is obvious because of the second half of the verse. How it refers to the Law is less obvious to us, but the idea was stated above. Israel “stumbled over” the Law by misusing it. Further, their misuse of Torah as basically an excuse for exclusive racial privilege is precisely why they refuse(d) to see Christ for who he is. They could not see the original purpose and fulfillment of the Law (Galatians 3: 19, 2 Corinthians 3), because they were using it for something else. This was somewhat understandable, since said gentiles (other nations) were the oppressors of the Israelites.

Notably, that “something else” for which the Israelites were using Torah was not for individualized works based salvation as it is typically now presented in evangelical circles. For the ancient Jews of the time, it was specifically a racial and ancestral issue. That’s the whole reason why, for example, we find John the Baptist warning Israel’s leaders that God could make children from Abraham from the stones of the Jordan river if they keep “presume[ing] to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”

Again, though, the point is, Torah was unable to fulfill its original purpose. The Torah was meant to serve as a temporary interlude in the covenant, which was originally intended to, in the end, establish a worldwide family of God. And, not only did Torah not fulfill that purpose because the Jews misused it, but Torah could not possibly have fulfilled the purpose of the covenant, because Torah, taken as an end in and of itself, would mean and lead to either a people of God composed of one race or different peoples of gods of different races. According to Wright, this is precisely Paul’s point in Galatians 3: 19-20, which largely just confuses people, is misunderstood, or is poorly translated:

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Firstly, this refers to the temporary “rule” of Torah over Israel. The rest, I think, needs some fleshing out, which Wright does not really provide in The Climax of the Covenant. He kind of assumes that his readers will understand what he (and what he says Paul) means, but it depends upon an ancient understanding of God or of gods. It also requires an ancient understanding of the relationship between God (or gods) and man (or men). Outside of the question of how Galatians 3: 19 and 20 say what Wright says they are saying, the question naturally arises in the modern reader’s mind as to why a people exclusively composed of one race would say something about the God of those people, which, on the opposite side of the coin, is also a question of why separate peoples must imply multiple and/or separate gods or divinities.

Basically, the answer is, because ancient people had a very different understanding of the (inter)relationship between what appears in the world and what does not, especially regarding causation. Because ancient man’s idea of how what appears in the world appears as such was not reduced to modern science’s explanations of it, ancient man’s world was bigger and less specialized, so to speak. I have spoken about this at length elsewhere, as have others who are much smarter than myself (including N.T. Wright, at less length), but the point is, what happens in the spiritual realm and what happens “here” that appears to us are indexical towards each other. Hence the importance of icons for the Byzantines and Medievals. Icons point to something bigger.

The truths of modern science, even if accepted, do not have to exclude that truth of the relationship between the divine and the apparent, although the way of thinking that leads to the truths of modern science makes it difficult to even see what such indexical pointing means. So, in the end, the point is (pun intended), separate peoples implies separate gods, because the divine and the human point to each other. Likewise, a people of God of one exclusive race – a race defined by Torah – would indexically point to and say something about the God of that people of that exclusive race. And, again, this is exactly the point of Galatians 3: 19-20. Either an exclusive race of God’s people or multiple peoples of god(s) would deny the central monotheistic truth of the Shema, quoted and echoed in verse 20: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deuteronomy 6: 4), ritually recited three times of day by the faithful Jew of ancient Israel. This is another reason why N.T. Wright says that one worldwide people of God was part of the original end intention of the covenant.

Paul also addresses this idea in Galatians 4: 1-11, most explicitly verses 8-11:
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles [often translated “powers”] of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
Notably, the context of Galatians 4 is set by the end of Galatians 3, which is about the unity of the church in Christ Jesus, composed of people of all nations and backgrounds. Where Paul makes reference to “turning back again to the weak and worthless principalities and powers of the world,” then, he is carrying on with the same point from Galatians 3: 19-20 – that God is one, and disunity, or unity based on exclusivity, both imply either multiple gods or a god that is not the God of Jesus Christ, who is ruler of all creation.

Therefore, the Torah, in and of itself - regardless even of how the flesh of Israel allowed sin to cause Israel to misuse Torah - was unable to fulfill the original purpose of the covenant of God. That purpose was to establish one worldwide people of God. Torah “implies more than one,” and part of its purpose in the first place was to distinguish Israel from her neighbors.

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