Saturday, April 30, 2011

a time to abandon ...

I have heard it said that 'Writing is never finished, only abandoned.'  I know from personal experience that this is true.  Writing can always be reworked, polished, and made to shine.  Every blog post I've written has been abandoned ... the moment I click the button to publish it.

I will be abandoning a larger writing project this week.  My thesis has been revised and approved.  All that remains is a final read-through to make sure nothing was missed.  I know there will be the temptation to massage it some more.  There is always room for improvement.  The clock is ticking, though, and soon I will have no choice but to submit it to the registrar: 2 copies of all 86 pages printed on high-quality, acid-free paper, ready to be bound and placed on the library shelves of our two main campuses.

The likelihood that it will be used in that format by future students of Gordon-Conwell is slim to none.  That explains why this summer I plan to take up the project again and try to have it published in some form.  No use having all that hard work go to waste!  Please pray that God would show me where and how to have it published.  The message of 1 Peter 2:9-10 needs to be recovered by the church today -- our identity is at stake!  There is a time to abandon ... and a time to engage a project once again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

an empty grave ... and not the one you think

We just returned home from a whirlwind Spring Break visit to Washington, D.C. and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It was our first (and likely our last) trip to either place, so we packed our days full of adventure.  We visited:

The White House (pictured)
The Supreme Court
The Capitol Building
The Cannon Office Building
The Library of Congress
The National Archives
The Lincoln Memorial
The WWII Memorial

The Washington Monument (Danny and Eliana went up)
Arlington National Cemetery
The Museum of Natural History
The Museum of American History
The Washington National Zoo
A Palm Sunday service at The National Cathedral
The Pentagon Memorial

After leaving Washington, D.C., we drove through Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. We rode two ferries (a total of 3 hours) and drove much of the Outer Banks.We saw the Bodie Island and Ocracoke Lighthouses from a distance. We stopped at Cape Hattaras Lighthouse (Danny and the girls climbed to the top), the beach, and the Wright Brothers memorial.

Are you tired yet?  I am.
In case your jaw has dropped, I should mention that everything we did in Washington, D.C. was free.  All we paid for was a hotel room outside the city and subway passes.  We packed a picnic lunch every day, and our biggest purchase was a Christmas ornament of the White House.  So now that the air is clear, I just have to tell you about the strangest and most disappointing thing we saw in Washington.

The Capitol Building, Washington D.C.
Photo: C Imes
It was inside the Capitol Building.

This building, connected by tunnels to the major office buildings that surround it, is home to the House of Representatives and the Senate.  We were given a tour by an intern of the Representative from our district, Sue Myrick.  Her intern took us underground from her office into the Capitol building and then up into the two most fascinating rooms of all: the crypt and the rotunda.  Yes, you read that right.  We went into a crypt.  Beneath the dome of the Capitol (where several presidents have laid 'in state') and one floor down is a room encircled by statues of famous legislators.  In the center of the room is a stone, carefully placed, indicating the center of Washington, D.C.  We were told that the main streets of the city radiate from that sun-shaped stone.  Underneath it is an empty grave.  Huh?  That's right.  The builders had hoped that George Washington would be buried there, but he died before the building was ready.  Just above the crypt is the rotunda. This round room is also encircled by statues of famous people who have shaped our nation: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony and other champions of women's sufferage.  Over our heads was a fresco painted on the ceiling.  It was (gulp) the "Apotheosis of George Washington." Perhaps that's a new word for you.  I only learned it a few weeks ago when studying early church history.  "Apotheosis" refers to the "deification" of the emperor, the moment after his death when he becomes God.  George Washington was depicted there, draped with white linen like a Roman Emperor, hovering in the clouds and surrounded by 13 virgins. I shudder at the thought.

Is the United States a Christian nation?  Our founding fathers may have been guided by their faith in the Almighty, and evidence of Christian principles can certainly be seen in their writings, but I am wary of calling any government "Christian" that can tolerate a painting like this one at its very center.  I doubt that George Washington would have approved of it.  I hope that he would be as disgusted as I am by it.

Until today, the grave beneath that Rotunda stands empty ... but not because George Washington has been elevated to Deity.  No, his body is buried at Mt. Vernon beside his dear wife, Martha.  When all is said and done, his knee will bow to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and to the Name above all Names, Jesus.  Jesus' grave is also empty, but not because of some architect's miscalculation or building crew's sluggishness.  Jesus truly has ascended to the clouds in glory, not to become God (he already was!), but to reign eternally.  I am so grateful to have my citizenship in His kingdom.  It is not built around a lie or wishful thinking.  His kingdom is rock solid and will never be shaken.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

3 New Testament scholars who make me want to study the Old Testament

N.T. Wright
R.T. France
Richard Bauckham

All three of these men are brilliant thinkers, clear communicators, and committed Christians.  They also share in common piercing insights that come from reading the New Testament in light of the Old Testament.  I'm so thankful for their work.  All three have opened the Scriptures for me in life-changing ways.

I just read through Richard Bauckham's 60-page essay entitled "God Crucified," which can be found in the volume I mentioned yesterday (Jesus and the God of Israel). There is so much I'd love to share from his work, but I'll choose just one example.  His big idea is that Jews during the first century had a concept of God that allowed them to include Jesus in the "divine identity" without compromising what they already believed about God.  They did not view Jesus as an exalted angelic being or a remarkable man, but as somehow one with Yahweh himself.  Their view of "one God" (which we call monotheism, a somewhat misleading term) had room for personifications of aspects of God, such as His Wisdom or His Word (Prov 8) that were in a sense distinct from him, but not altogether separate. This made it less of a stretch to worship Jesus as God. The line between who God is and who He is not included at the very least His identity as the Creator and the Ruler of all.  When Jesus was identified as present and involved at the time of creation and all things were said to be under his authority this was a clear indication that the NT writers saw him as included in the divine identity (see Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10 for two early expressions of this).

One particularly cogent example of why we simply must read the NT in light of the OT is found in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Ironically, this was one of the few passages that the Jehovah's Witnesses showed me just yesterday.  They saw it as proof that Jesus was not God, while I took it the other way.  Unfortunately, I had not yet read Bauckham's explanation of this verse, which is far more compelling than my feeble attempt to explain it yesterday.  There it reads:

"But for us [there is] one God, the Father
     from whom [are]all things and we for him,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
     through whom [are] all things and we through him."

Bauckham points out that this is an allusion to the Shema' of Deut 6:4, which reads:

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD is one." 

This sentence is arguably the most important one in the entire OT. Jews would have repeated it twice daily, seeing it as the central expression of their faith. The word LORD, which appears in all caps, is a translation of God's personal name, Yahweh.  When the Hebrew Bible was first translated into Greek, the translators used the Greek word kurios ("lord") to represent both LORD (Yahweh, God's personal name) and Lord (adonai, the generic word for a lord).  For Hebrew-speaking Jews, there was no confusion. Yahweh was the one, true God who deserved their worship and devotion.  He was the creator of all things and the one who sustained the universe and ruled over all.  In the NT, however, the only way to refer to Yahweh is by using the Greek word kurios, which is not a personal name but nevertheless the only option they had.  It is remarkable how often the NT authors make a point of telling us that Jesus is kurios.

Paul, in the example above, uses the identical language from the Greek translation of Deut 6:4 and divides it between God the Father and Jesus Christ.  As Bauckham insists, "Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema' a 'Lord' the Shema' does not mention.  He is identifying Jesus as the 'Lord' whom the Shema' affirms to be one." (28) The "one God" and "one Lord" created the universe.  Yahweh has now revealed Himself in His fullness in the coming of Jesus.

This is why I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to focus on the Old Testament at Wheaton.  The New Testament is very, very important to our faith and we just cannot afford to get it wrong!  With the OT clearly in view, we have a much better chance of understanding the NT in the ways that the writers (and Writer) intended.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

bringin' in the big dawgs

I've been meeting with some Jehovah's Witnesses off and on for about 17 months now.  We met regularly for 6 months and then took a break for the summer. We met a few more times and then I asked if we could wait until April and meet to talk about the Trinity.

I have learned a lot from Lula. She is a godly woman, dedicated to the ministry, who really knows her Bible.  She has refused to be intimidated by my 6 years of formal Bible training and knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew.  Though not formally educated herself and not paid a dime for her ministry, she has continued to come week after week to meet with me and study the Bible.  Each time we meet she brings along someone different, always another woman volunteer. Can I make a confession?  For a long time now I've wondered when she would call in her supervisor. Today she finally did.

Kevin is the district substitute superintendent for the entire Charlotte area all the way to Spartanburg.  Like Lula, he is mystified that anyone could actually read the Bible and persist in believing in the Trinity.  Often I tell them that I can see how they could read the passage in the way that they do, but that I understand it differently. Today Kevin finally asked me (in exasperation?), "If a straightforward reading of the Bible implies that Jesus is not God, but sent from God as his representative, then what would motivate you to elevate him further?"

I was so glad he asked.  I pointed immediately to a brochure Lula had given me last year entitled, Should You Believe in the Trinity? They do a good job of introducing the topic, and I especially like this: "If the Trinity is true, it is degrading to Jesus to say that he was never equal to God as part of a Godhead. But if the Trinity is false, it is degrading to Almighty God to call anyone his equal ..." (3). This is why it matters: because right worship depends on knowing God as He really is.

Though there is a number of passages that seem to suggest that Jesus was not equal to the Father (John 14:28; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:27), there are many other indications in Scripture that Jesus was more than just God's representative (John 1:1; 17:21; Acts 2:21 with 4:12). Jesus did things that only God can do.  He forgave sins, he raised the dead, he healed a man blind from birth. Jesus also made claims that were tantamount to claiming deity.  He called himself the "light of the world" (John 9:5 with Isa 60:1-2), the "good shepherd" (John 10:11 with Eze 34), the "son of man" (Matt 17:9 with Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Rev 1:12-18), and the "I am" (John 8:54-59 with Ex 3:3-4). These claims caused great consternation among the Jewish leaders, and in several cases they tried to stone him for blasphemy! His followers worshipped him (see John 9:38), and he did not object.

I recommended two books that have been helpful for me on this issue.  One is Donald Fairbairn's Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers. Not only is it written simply and beautifully, it is changing the way I think about salvation.  I highly recommend it!  Fairbairn explains that the earliest followers of Jesus saw salvation as an invitation to share in the life of the Trinity the way the Father and Son share life together.

The other book is Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity. This one is not quite as easy to read, but terribly profound. Bauckham argues that Jesus' actions and claims about himself prompted his early followers to include him within their concept of "one God." The first century Jewish idea of monotheism was flexible enough to allow for Jesus' inclusion in the deity without seeing God as "more than one." At the end of our discussion, Kevin admitted that he needed to go back and reexamine some things in the Bible.  And that's what every good Bible discussion should do -- push us back to the Scriptures with fresh eyes to see once again what God has revealed and how we are to respond.  Please pray for Kevin, and for me and Lula as we continue to study the Bible and discuss what it teaches.

Monday, April 11, 2011

spouse appreciation day

I just stumbled across a gem in the preface to a book by Frank Thielman entitled Paul and the Law. I almost always read the preface because it tells me so much about the author and what is most important to him or her.  After listing all those who helped in the writing of his book, Thielman says this:

"More than from anyone else, however, the time and energy to write this book were a gift from my wife, Abby.  Her constant love and unselfish concern for the advancement of the gospel make my work possible.  If the book clarifies to any extent the shape of Paul's theology, it is largely because Abby's unselfish help with my other responsibilities gave me the time to think about Paul and the law.  We will both be satisfied that the long hours were worthwhile if the result edifies the church and brings glory to its King and Head." (13)

This captures so beautifully how I feel about my work as a Christian scholar. It is a joint effort, Danny's as much as mine.  This morning I successfully defended my masters thesis entitled "Treasured Possession: Peter's Use of the Old Testament in 1 Peter 2:9-10" with Danny by my side. In the acknowledgments I say this:

"Though his name will not appear anywhere on the following pages, this thesis is as much as product of my husband's hard work as it is mine.  Not only has he arranged our schedule so as to maximize my study time, but Danny has managed to make this a joy-filled journey for all of us.  How many wives have the blessing of returning to a clean and peaceful home, with a hot meal on the table or the children bathed and tucked in bed? Danny has given me this gift more times than I can count.  It is with joy that I dedicate this work to him and to the precious children God has given us."

Like the Thielman's, Danny and I are one in our desire to see scholarship advanced and (most importantly) the church edified by this work.  I am so grateful to be doing this together!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

air conditioning and other non-negotiables

As I was tucking Emma (age 5) in bed the other night, out popped a question as random as the sky is blue. 

"Mommy, what's the most important part of a car?  Air conditioning?"

After we all finished giggling I tried to help her answer her own question.  "Well, let's see.  Would you rather have a steering wheel ... or air conditioning?  Would you rather have tires ... or air conditioning?"

We pretty quickly realized that air conditioning may well be the least important part of a car (unless you're in North Carolina in July, in which case you might die without it).

That started me thinking about just how much we approach God with all the wrong priorities. What is the spiritual equivalent of air conditioning? The style of music on Sunday morning?  Being healthy or happy? When we ask God to help us, do we have in mind the amenities?  Are we concerned with upholstery or a fresh coat of wax or are we changing the oil and giving the engine a tune-up?

Lord, check my emissions.  I've been belching a bad attitude this week and it's clouding the air so my children can hardly breathe. Lord, adjust my steering wheel and rotate my tires.  I've been veering in other directions when I needed to run straight to you.  Lord, refill my engine coolant.  I've been impatient and quick to lose my temper.  Lord, refill my gas tank.  I've been running on fumes.  Lord, check my brakes. I've been squealing out complaints whenever you ask me to stop doing what I want to do and attend to others. Lord, change my oil. I've been sluggish about doing what needs to be done.

Psalm 40:11-13

Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, LORD;
come quickly, LORD, to help me.