Posts Tagged ‘N.T. Wright’

Book Plunge: The Case For The Psalms

November 4, 2013

Do Christians today really need the Psalms? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As readers of this blog know, N.T. Wright’s work is just gold to me. N.T. Wright brings so much life to the biblical text by sharing the historical context making it a deeper and deeper work to be appreciated. In fact, Wright was a major influence in getting me to switch my major to NT.

Yet in his book “The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential”, Wright turns to this important OT book, a book I honestly rarely see scholars engaging with, except for how it relates to the NT. Wright does some of that, but he also brings out the importance of it on its own.

The Psalms we must remember were the hymns of the early church and the first Christians. They were before Christ, the embodiment of the hope of Israel. They longed for what it is we all longed for and what was ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Of course, this is not to say that new songs should not be written. Indeed, they should be. Yet so many of our songs lack the rich depth that can be found in the Psalms. How many of the songs we sing in church today really usher us into the amazement of knowing God in Christ? I can say that one that certainly does it for me today is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whenever I hear that song, I simply have to sit down. I can’t stand and sing that song. I am humbled every time I hear it with the recognition that God is holy and without Him, I am not. With my interest in theology also, I am deeply appreciative that a song says “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Perhaps our songs could learn something from the Psalms with the Psalms being the archetype that we all draw from when it comes to writing new songs today. These songs should embody our hopes that the Psalms themselves embodied. Wright goes into three areas.

First, the Psalms all hoped that God would redeem time. Many a Psalm points back to events when the God of Israel acted in the past in order to bring about a people. The reason of course was so that God could bring about a great future and that future had not yet come. Thus, the Israelites were living with a hope for the future and that hope was in the present unrealized.

Many of us today can still pray “How long O Lord? How long?” Yet the Psalmists were in many ways saying the exact same prayer and their stark honesty is refreshing. At times, the Psalmist chooses to point the finger not at fallen humanity or the devil or forces of evil, but at God Himself. Why is God doing or not doing something? The Psalms would be a way of saying to God the promises He had made and looking with the hopeful future trust if not present trust that He would bring them about.

Second, the Psalms hoped that God would redeem space. The land of Israel was the sacred land to the people. Yet at times they had been removed from the land and when they returned, they were still in exile as a foreign power was in charge.

Not only that, where did God exactly dwell? That was a question. God had made His presence known in the Temple? Where was He when the temple was not there? How they longed for it! This is of course fulfilled in the NT when we have the living temple of Jesus come and then we read in 1 Corinthians that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, they longed for God to redeem matter. It is a gnostic view that this world is evil. Christianity says the world is good, but something has gone wrong with this good world. We can often get at the environmentalist movement for worshiping the creation seemingly, and some do, but we should not lose sight that this creation is the creation of God and it is good and He has a purpose for it.

All these three are still often our hopes and a work like this has taught me I need to go back and reread the Psalms and see the hope of Israel in them. It is not only myself but all of us who do. We need to look at the Psalms and ask why each Psalm was written and what was the purpose and notice the nuances of the beautiful poetry therein.

So once again, I am in debt to N.T. Wright for helping me to look at a portion of Scripture afresh. I am never disappointed by a work of Wright. May he write many more works and may God bless us with more scholars of the heart and caliber of N.T. Wright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Resurrection of Jesus

July 29, 2013

What do I think about Crossan and Wright in dialogue? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In “The Resurrection of Jesus”, a dialogue takes place between N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan on the resurrection with several essays following by noted scholars on the subject. I wish to focus my main part of the review on the dialogue between Crossan and Wright.

As readers of the blog know, I have a strong bias with N.T. Wright. I am a fan of his series and try to read anything he wrote and listen to any podcast that he is on. If I am ever given a chance to review an N.T. Wright book, I take it immediately. Thus, I not only get to review a great book, but add one to my collection.

Naturally then, I thought Wright was stellar, but my problem with the debate is that it had little to say about history from what I saw. Crossan takes a quite postmodern approach and wants to discuss interpretations rather than what really happened. Trying to have the dialogue take place then is akin to trying to nail jell-o to the wall.

Yet Crossan’s whole position is problematic. It is as if it doesn’t matter at all if Jesus literally arose or metaphorically arose. We’re all still Christians and we have to get about the work of the Kingdom! I’m not ready to jump on board. If Jesus died the death of a wicked blasphemer and I have no reason to believe He was vindicated, then why should I waste my life following Him?

On the other hand, if Jesus was resurrected, this means just more than that a dead guy came to life again. As Wright says, if the thief next to Jesus had been resurrected, it would have been considered a strange world. No one would go out and immediately proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

The resurrection of Jesus would then mean that our real material world and all that is in fact immaterial is on the path to restoration. God is building His Kingdom right now and we are the ones that are at work. Eventually, death itself will be obliterated. The story cannot work both ways. Either death has the final say on Jesus, or Jesus has the final say on death.

Crossan’s approach should be a reminder to Christians that we need more than history. We need to have a whole interpretive grid into which to fit the resurrection and to show what a difference it makes. We are becoming a more and more postmodern society in America with everyone’s view being seen as just as good as anyone else’s. (Except those darn evangelical Christians.)

We also need to firmly set up what is and isn’t a Christian. Crossan wants to include himself. If we do not think he is one, why not? If we say the physical resurrection of Jesus, then we have to ask why is that a clincher? Why does it matter?

As I have said many times before, Christians need more than just knowing how to establish the resurrection. They need to be able to show what a difference it makes and how it fits into their worldview beyond “Christianity is true.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Who Was Jesus?

June 11, 2013

Is Wright right and Spong wrong? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am an avid fan of N.T. Wright and try to read absolutely anything that he writes. My latest read of his came from reading “Fabricating Jesus” where Evans dispenses with people like Barbara Thiering yet says N.T. Wright has written a response to her in “Who Was Jesus?”

That’s enough to get me looking for that on my next library visit!

Thiering is not Wright’s only target. Wright has other chapters on A.N. Wilson and John Shelby Spong.

It’s hard to read this book without thinking that seeing N.T. Wright go after these guys is like watching a tank be used to squish an ant.

Wright’s book starts off with a brief summary of Jesus studies to this point, largely by looking at what Schweitzer did. He goes on from there to say where the studies have led us and then brings out Thiering, Wilson, and Spong as examples of how not to do these kinds of studies, all the while still commending some good points that can be found in them.

Reading Thiering, it’s a wonder how such a work as hers got published. Thiering’s idea is that practically everything in the gospels is code and the way to understand the code is by looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls. As Wright points out, Thiering is quick to dispense with her idea of a code whenever it is convenient for her to do so. Based on her reading, Thiering has dates on when Jesus escaped death, married Mary Magdalene, later left her and married Lydia of Philippi, (Seriously. I’m not kidding), and eventually died.

Yes. Wright takes the time to dispense with such a bizarre theory as this. One cannot help but imagine the reaction these three authors might have had knowing who was critiquing their work.

A.N. Wilson comes from another angle. For Wilson, Jesus was a Galilean holy man, but Paul came along and messed everything up! Wilson does have more right than Thiering (Granted, not much of an accomplishment), but there is still too much that is wrong. Wilson does not interact with the latest of scholarship on the issue and gives the impression of being stuck in works from the 1960’s. Amazingly, some parts of his writing are quite accurate and had I not known they were from him, I would have thought they were from a conservative Christian.

One of Wilson’s great weaknesses is his idea about seeking unbiased sources. As Wright points out, they don’t exist. Everyone wrote with a motive. No one is neutral on the Jesus question and it is a mistake to think anyone is. Yet as Wright has said elsewhere, even if the sportscaster has a bias for which team he thinks is the best and wants to win, that doesn’t mean you must doubt the score he reports.

Furthermore, if we wanted an unbiased work, it would not be Wilson who makes it clear he has a hammer to use against anything that is religious. As usual, it is the ones who are claiming the most to have no bias who in fact do have the most bias.

Finally, we come to Spong, who has a hang-up over the virgin birth. Wright is just perplexed, as am I, over the idea that Spong has that we today know better. As Wright points out, they might not have known as many details about sex as we do, but they certainly knew what it took to make a baby. That’s why Joseph sought to divorce Mary at first. He knew what it took to make a baby, and he knew he hadn’t done it.

Spong also has a vendetta against literalism, which I can understand, but yet praises the Reformation and goes against the ECF. Yet it was the ECF who were more pron to going with an allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures and the Reformers who wanted to return more to a literal interpretation.

Spong also includes a comment about what Midrash is, an account that Wright thinks is nonsense, and that scholars of Midrash would disagree with. Like the other writers, Spong can sound impressive on paper and the notes and bibliography of the books Wright comments on can make them seem scholarly, but it is only a veneer. The real heart of the works is anything but.

As with any Wright work, I do recommend this one. Wright gives an excellent example of how to deal with so much misinformation in the popular culture. It is a shame more people will read Thiering, Wilson, and Spong, but never get around to Wright. I am thankful for Wright and thankful indeed that Wright is right and Spong is wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Resurrection and Joy

October 4, 2012

Do we have reason to rejoice? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’ve been looking at the resurrection lately and what a difference it makes for the Christian. For tonight, I think of what N.T. Wright has said about comparing Judaism of the day before Christ to the time of Christianity. The Jews lived in a time of hope. It was the question of if God was going to come and bring about the promises that He said He would do. Would God conquer their enemies? Would God rescue His people? When would God fulfill His end of the covenant?

Nothing wrong with that of course. In the time before Christianity, one could have joy of being a member of the community of God, but it still was looking forward to something important. One was still in bondage. As we know from John 8, Christ did come to set us free and that was what we had really been waiting for. Christ did not come for a patch of land. He did not come for one group of people. He came first of all for God. He came to do the will of the Father. He came second for the world. He was not interested in a land but the planet. He was not interested in a group of people but every tribe and nation.

That hasn’t changed.

Now the Jews and their land was the means to that. For the Jews, everything revolved around the Temple. Consider it if you will a gateway between Heaven and Earth. This is the best analogy I can think of, but some of us who grew up in the gaming sphere know about a scene where someone enters a place like a temple and ends up finding a gateway that leads to the place where the really good being or the really evil being lives. It is the idea that there are two worlds and this one place is the connection point between both worlds.

I want to be sure that you know I am not saying God lives in another dimension as it were and that that place is physical. I do not think that as God is not physical. I am saying that there was a place that He did make His presence known especially for the Jews and that was in the temple. As long as the temple was there, YHWH was there. God did not reveal Himself to everyone but made a plan to reveal Himself to everyone starting with a particular people in a particlar place.

For we Christians, this hope has been fulfilled and it was fulfilled in Christ. Now our lives are to be dominated by joy. I plan to get into this more in future blogs but let’s consider some points. First off, we have the ultimate reversal. When Christ resurrects, what happens is that death itself starts to work backwards. Christ is the first one to experience this but we are told that not only we, but all of creation will experience that resurrection. (There is nothing conclusive about animals in the new world, but the thought of something like this would be one of my main inclinations to think that God will redeem the animal life of His creation as well.)

Second, we have been set free. The Jews wondered when they would be set free from Rome, but their goals were too small. God was not coming to set them free from Rome but to set them free from sin. The problem is we Christians often make the same mistake. It is not that our wishes for our lives are too great for God to fulfill. They are often way too small. In Luke 12:32, we are told that God has given us the Kingdom for instance. It is quite amazing how much we ask for forgetting we have the Kingdom. We think that God does not give us anything when in reality, He has given us everything, namely Himself. What more can He give?

Finally, this means that we are forgiven. This is something else I will expound on later and I thank a good Christian friend for pointing this out to me in a similar sermon he did on the resurrection. It had the interesting thought experiment in it of imagining what it would be like to live in a world without forgiveness. None of us would want to live in that world, but to an extent, we all act like we do, though we don’t do so as seriously. We think of some sin that is so heinous to us that we cannot imagine that God would ever forgive it, all the while going through our lives committing X number of sins regularly that are smaller sins but still thinking “It’s no big deal.” If there is no forgiveness, there is no sin that is “No big deal.” If there is forgiveness, every sin is also in its own way a big deal when you consider the price that it took to grant that forgiveness. In the first world, we say mercy is not great enough. In the second, we try to say our sin is not great enough.

Consider this then as an entryway into a subset on the resurrection at this point and how the resurrection leads to Christian joy. I hope you’ll continue coming along. Also, for those interested, I am looking into upgrading the blog site talking to some people who know a lot more about this than I. I already know about the issue with the date of the blog entries. Feel free to let me know about anything else you’d like addressed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Shocks in Mark’s opening

February 12, 2012

Have you ever been stunned by Mark? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As I’ve said, I’ve been reading and listening to N.T. Wright lately and as a result I am really rethinking much of the NT. One night, I started thinking about the book of Mark as I was going to sleep and it’s been a thought that often pops back into my mind. I’d like to share some if it with you.

The first verse begins:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus begins with a hefty pair of titles! He is the Messiah and he is the Son of God! We are about to hear his good news, the gospel. Let us suppose we are people who know nothing about Jesus and are rather picking up the gospel for the first time. What do we expect? Well let’s move on and see. Verses 2 and 3 read:

“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU,
WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY;
THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS,
‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD,
MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.’” ”

Ah! Eschatology! This is big stuff then! Today we know about 2012 hype. When people think a prophecy is to be fulfilled, they expect something dramatic. The Jews had been studying and expected a mighty warrior to rise up and defeat Rome and restore Israel to a golden age. How could it be anything less?

We see that a prophet has said something! Even if we do not know who Isaiah is, we can know that this is pointing back to someone in the past. This has been an event long foretold. If it was foretold, then surely it must be something important to us all.

But even before this Christ comes, we have a messenger making ready the way of the Lord. Ah! A king is coming! A king has been prophesied and a king deserves only the best! What kind of great messenger could come that will fulfill a prophecy about a king? Verse 4 reads:

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Beg your pardon?

This is the great messenger?

This is the preparation for the king?

We have someone in a river dunking people?

Where’s the chariot? Where’s the sword? Where’s the entourage? How is this messenger described? Let’s look at verses 5-6.

“And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.”

This messenger appears in Judea? A nowhere country? Not in Rome? Not in Athens? Not in Egypt? He is in Judea?

The people are coming to him? Isn’t a messenger to go to the people?

In the Jordan River? That’s not much of a river. If we knew our Bibles, we would have known it’s the river Naaman did not want to disgrace himself by bathing in. The other rivers were much cleaner.

Let us suppose we thought about all of this.

A Jew would have recognized the outfit of Elijah and would have thought about how Malachi said Elijah would come before the day of the Lord. Now Elijah has come. They can tell. What of the Jordan? The Jordan was representative of entering the Promised Land. Is this messenger making way for the Promised Land again?

The crossing of the Jordan would mean just that. This would bring to mind the Exodus and God restoring His people. Such had not happened since the exile. Oh they had been in the land, but they had not enjoyed the richness of a Davidic age. Now here it was at last once again! As Wright would say “The exile is over.”

We go on to 7 and 8.

“And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We have read this passage so much I think we overlook what John says about himself. “One who is mightier than I?”

We are looking at him and tempted to say “You’re just out there in the water dunking people. You’re not exactly Mr. Universe or anything.”

But this is someone mighty! He can pronounce the forgiveness of sins! He doesn’t even need you to bring a sacrifice. We don’t even know if he is asking about circumcision! All we know is that he is teaching about the forgiveness of sins and with authority. If it was not, people would not come to him.

It takes someone either mighty powerful or mighty foolish to pronounce the forgiveness of God Himself. John is one of the two. You must decide. Does his authority come from Heaven or from men?

We’re going to go to verses 9-11 then and end it for tonight. I do not know if we will continue through like this, but if we don’t, it is because I hope your flame has been lit to see the gospel for the first time on your own. Let’s see what happens in these verses:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Amazing juxtapositions take place here! Jesus from Nazareth? What kind of great leader comes from a little Podunk like that? This is the Messiah and this is the Son of God? Why would such a man come from such a place? If this is a prophecy, did they not have the chance to foresee he must be a loser coming from such an area like that?

From Galilee? That’s also nowhere. Why should anyone give a rip about that? Were we to know about the Sanhedrin, we could know that they say that no prophet comes out of Galilee! Why there’s no need to even examine the case! We know where he comes from and the case is closed!

And he comes to the messenger? Seems like things are backwards. The messenger should be acting under the authority of the king, but not the other way around. Instead, Jesus (Who by the way also has a common name. Not much noble about that) comes to John asking to be baptized under John! What nonsense!

And then we hear about the testimony of God. Once again, we are in a tough situation. It really isn’t, but for us, it is. How often we today know what God says about something, but it meshes with our conceptions at the time. We know that God says to not worry. We look at our checkbooks and bank accounts. We know God says He loves us. We question that and call it into question constantly. We know that His way is best, yet we continually seek our own. We know about the joy of God and we sing about how awesome He is and marvelous and His ways beyond understanding, yet we treat Him as if He does not matter and that He is uninteresting entirely. We claim that He is Lord of all, yet we live in fear of all that He has made. We know that He has told us to trust Him, yet we hold on to silly fears. We know His Word is true, yet we do not seek to take it in constantly. We know He is always there to help us, yet we rarely pray.

Oh the way the first century responded with skepticism and disbelief in the face of the evidence of this testimony and the miracles we read was wrong, but let us make sure we are not too quick to condemn. We say the case for the resurrection is incredibly strong and thus we have even more evidence for who Jesus was and is, and we have more wisdom in the epistles and the apocalypse, but yet we too have hesitation when it comes to believing what God has said and we too hesitate then when we face the claims of Christ. We may sign our names to the creeds, but do we sign our lifestyles to Him? Do our actions show what we say we believe with our mouths?

This is the juxtaposition of Christ. I often use a saying and my wife corrects me as she should when I get it wrong. I say that Jesus did not turn the world upside-down. The world was not right-side up. It was upside-down and instead Jesus turned it right-side up. He is still doing it and you and I are a part of that world that’s being turned around and too often, our thinking is still topsy-turvy and God gives us a huge contrast. What will we believe? Him or ourselves? If Mark has shown us anything at this point, it is that God does not act the way that we often expect or think He should. It is easy for us to trust God when He acts as we would like. Can we do it when He does not?

I hope this has given you much to think about and I hope as you read the Bible, you also will try to read it for the first time with new eyes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus The Jew

January 26, 2012

Does it matter that Jesus was a Jew? Let’s talk about it today at Deeper Waters.

For those who don’t know, I’ve taken a new job on the night shift and since I work by myself or with one another, I have found that I can listen to the radio or to podcasts. I have been playing much of N.T. Wright who frequently speaks about the relation of Jesus to Second Temple Judaism. What makes this interesting for me is that a lady I work back there with who doesn’t mind hearing this is Jewish and not Messianic.

This is something that gets me pondering as I hear this. What does it mean to say that Jesus is Jewish? How does an understanding of Judaism at the time help us with understanding the New Testament? Do we really need to bother with all that stuff in the Old Testament to understand the New?

To begin with, imagine reading the gospels without knowing what comes prior. How confusing it would be! Matthew opens up with a genealogy that assumes you know about the persons of the Old Testament. Mark opens up with Scriptural fulfillment and Scripture quoted. Luke starts with talking about the priestly system. John has a wonderful prologue where within Jesus is seen as greater than Moses.

All of this assumes an understanding of the Old Testament. What about Jesus in particular? What we want to do is consider Jesus in light of his relationship to YHWH. Jesus shows up with the claim to be YHWH in the flesh and begins doing numerous miracles to back this claim. What on Earth is supposed to be done with this man?

Well we could shut him up as insane and if we found someone making similar claims today that would be our first thought. The Jews could not do that however because this man showed all signs of being in his right mind. He was doing numerous miracles which does not come along with insanity.

Maybe we can best him in debate! Yet at every turn, Jesus humiliates his opponents. With lines like “Have you not read?” he displays their ignorance in that which they ought to be experts on. His mind is fully rational and despite all attempts to show otherwise, those who seek to best him end up being bested themselves.

These claims however simply cannot be true. It cannot be true that a man like this is YHWH in the flesh! He does not keep the law! He works with sinners! He is lowly and disgraceful. He attends all these parties where tax collectors and prostitutes are present and he tells people to work on the Sabbath.

Within a Greek system, the idea of a man being a god and doing miracles would be unusual, but would be tolerable. Paul and Barnabas were mistook for Zeus and Hermes. Jesus is not in this system however. Jesus is in a system loyal to YHWH and while there could be openness to multiple persons being in YHWH, it wasn’t set in stone and to think YHWH would become flesh?!

Then Jesus also claims that he is the long awaited Messiah. I can think about what that means to a Jew today, but what about back then? The first thought would have been about freedom from Rome. Surely the Messiah will come to set us free. The Messiah can overcome the Roman Empire. We will enter the Davidic Kingdom once more when Messiah comes.

Messiah did not come at the head of an army. He did not come with much pomp and grandeur. There is nothing in Jesus that ever suggests that He is a military genius. He simply travels around with a bunch of ragtag followers, most of whom were going nowhere in society to begin with.

This is the Messiah?

Yes he was. What does it mean when we think about that today? I listen to Wright and I wonder what a Jewish mind is thinking when they hear about Jesus who is Lord and Savior and being worshiped as God. It is no scandal for us to do that, but let us never lose sight of the fact that it sure sounds scandalous. For the Jew listening, it likely is.

This gets us to the crucifixion. With the claims that Jesus made and how he showed no signs of insanity, I can only conclude one of two things is true. Either what Jesus said was false and the crucifixion was the most righteous act of all that put to death the most wicked man who ever lived, or what Jesus said was true, and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all putting to death the most righteous man who ever lived.

There is no middle ground.

Now as it was then, Jesus is someone that people have to respond to and something has to be said about Him. Perhaps some of the Christ myth idea is reactionary to this, but also failing to account the awesomeness of this figure thinking that anyone could just make him up. If you’ll believe that, you will believe anything else. Ultimately, this is the case. What will the person who denies all of Jesus and His claims believe? It is not that they will believe nothing. The problem is that they will believe anything else.

It should not be a surprise that even our calendar system is based on this man and as He refused to stay dead 2000 years ago, so He refuses to stay dead today. Jesus was the true revolutionary of all time. It is not the case that Jesus turned the world upside down however. The reality is He turned it right-side up and we would hardly today recognize a world where Jesus never existed.

If we are to appreciate Jesus more however, I urge us also to not just think about Him as man and God, important and essential as both of those are, but let us think about him as a Jew in a Jewish system and may we never look at Him the same way again.

In Christ,
Nick Peters