Saturday, June 24, 2017

Crucifixion of the Warrior God



Introduction to volume 1

Part 1: The Centrality of the Crucified Christ
Jesus is the center of the Christian faith. And the cross is the center of Jesus' ministry (and revelation of God). Therefore, we must view violent portraits of God (in the Old Testament) through a Jesus lens with a cross focus.

Chapter 1: The Faith of Jacob
It's OK to wrestle with Scripture as Scripture
Chapter 2: The True Face of God
Jesus is the revelation of God
Chapter 3: Finding Jesus in the OT
Christians read the OT through the lens of Christ
Chapter 4: The Cruciform Center 1
God is love. Love is defined by the cross.
Chapter 5: The Cruciform Center 2
The New Testament is thoroughly Cruciform
Chapter 6: Is [The Thesis so far] Defensible
The Cruciform Thesis stands up to scrutiny

Part 2: The Problem of Divine Violence
The problem of divine violence (especially in the Old Testament) is real. We can't simply dismiss God-breathed texts that we don't like (there are too many of them!). Nor can we make them fit with the revelation of Jesus (they are contradictory!). While both of these attempts are well motivated (and demonstrate healthy 'wrestling' with Scripture), they are ultimately unsuccessful insofar as they fail to show how these texts point to Jesus.

Chapter 7: The Dark Side of the Bible
The Old Testament is filled with ugly depictions of God
Chapter 8: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence 1
It won't do to simply dismiss these texts as non-revelatory
Chapter 9: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence 2
It won't do to try to synthesize the violence with Jesus

Part 3: The Cruciform Hermeneutic
The Cruciform Hermeneutic equips us to see how all of Scripture (even the violent texts of the Old Testament) points us to Jesus. When we interpret such texts with this method, we are able to remove the veil and see the Jesus-like beauty contained deep within.

Chapter 10: A Meaning Worthy of God
Origen was on the right track... there's a deeper meaning!
Chapter 11: Through the Lens of the Cross
This hermeneutic removes the veil and find the beauty
Chapter 12: Interpreting Scripture as God's Word
Let's read all passages as passageways to Christ

Introduction to Volume 2

Part 4: The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation
When God breathed Scripture to the covenant people, the revelation was given gently and with much stooping on God's part. Like a good doctor, God was able to administer the medicine that would lead to future healing, but was willing to give it to the people in a flavor they could handle (even if that 'flavor' was in otherwise bad for them... a reflection of their corrupt taste-buds, if you will).

Chapter 13: The Masks of a Humble God
God accommodates us even to divine detriment
Chapter 14: The Heavenly Missionary
A good tutor teaches at the pace the students can handle

Part 5: The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal

Chapter 15: Divine Aikido
God's wrath is non-violent withdrawal aimed at redemption
Chapter 16: Crime and Punishment
Scripture is filled with examples of wrath equaling withdrawal
Chapter 17: Doing and Allowing
Scripture is sovereign, but doesn't actively engage in violence
Chapter 18: The Question of Divine Culpability
This principle stands up to scrutiny

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CWG (Chapter 18)

Chapter 18: A Question of Divine Culpability

In this chapter Boyd wishes to respond to 4 anticipated rejections to his principal of redemptive withdrawal.

The first objection suggests that withdrawal is not enough to secure an outcome. In other words, if God wants to accomplish at outcome (like judge one nation via another nation) it is necessary that God meticulously controls the details (micro-manages the attacking nation). Boyd rebuts this supposed necessity. It doesn't align with the character of God (since God would be the one doing the violence). What's more, it isn't even necessary since God can essentially secure outcomes by recognizing what Boyd calls the 'solidified character' of certain agents. Besides, it is clear that these agents, in Scripture, are not meticulously controlled (for they sometimes over or under perform compared to God's intention).

The second and third objections are philosophical in nature. Isn't withdrawing protection akin to unleashing a rabid pit bull? Boyd thinks the analogy is flawed insofar as 1) Those being judged WANTED God to withdraw 2) Are not innocent bystanders 3) God withdraws out of love and grieves the results. But isn't God being involved at any level a denial of genuine freedom? Again, Boyd rebuts by reminding us that freedom doesn't (in fact, cannot) mean that freedom is absolute in every sense. Other factors (and other agents, including God) affect the choices available to us and the consequences of our choices.

The fourth objection is that this view lends itself to the idea that every time something bad happens it is the result of God's decision to withdraw from a person or a people (like 9/11... or the Holocaust). But Boyd says we may only speak confidently when we've received revelation from God. Many agents (like the Nazi's) go against God's will. Bottom line: One simply cannot know (given the number of factors) why bad things happen unless we are given direct revelation.

Reaction
The objections mentioned in this chapter were well-anticipated (some of them were forming in me as I read the previous pages). Boyd responds to them well (I found his rebuttals satisfying). Surely his answers won't be satisfying to those who believe in meticulous sovereignty (though it should make them re-think their position). And sometimes Boyd seems to try to have his cake and eat it too (some agents are solidified in their character, but also under or over perform vs. God's expectations?). Additionally, I'm not sure on what grounds Boyd would find it 'dubious' to believe that God STILL (to this day) sometimes withdraws protection from a given nation (maybe because God no longer is working through a particular nation?). But, overall, I think Boyd has defended his position well from possible objections.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

CWG (Chapter 17)

Chapter 17: Doing and Allowing

In this chapter, Boyd points out that the Old Testament literature often contains a 'duel speech pattern' insofar as any given text can suggest both that God perpetrated violence AND that God simply withdrew and allowed violence to take place.

Exegetical considerations may help explain this phenomenon. Greg reminds us that in the ANE, everything that happened under the authority of the king could be applied to the king. In the case of God (the King of kings), this would apply to everything. Further still, God gave His people His name (authority) and they sometimes used it for evil.

But Greg doesn't find such considerations to be capable of getting us around the fact that the OT authors genuinely believed Yahweh was capable of violence. The cruciform hermeneutic is necessarily employed here. In cases where the exegetical considerations don't eliminate the issue, we must remember the first two principles of Greg's thesis.

Over and over in the Old Testament we find God being depicted as violent, but upon closer examination we see many hints that it was not actually God 'doing' the violence (He was merely 'allowing' it). Thus, when it appears that God is 'doing' the violence, we must recognize that as God's willingness to accommodate the fallen views of His covenant people (principle #1). When we get glimpses that God merely 'allowed' the violence, it is often clearly stated that God actually withdrew (principle #2).

Reaction
Boyd is piling on biblical evidence, at this point, for his position. I sense that he suspects this will be a point of tension for those evaluating his thesis (a sense confirmed by the next chapter). I, however, don't personally find the point difficult to accept. To me, this is just a matter of reading carefully. I believe the ancient Israelites, like their neighbors, so emphasized God's sovereignty that (in a sense) everything was attributable to their God. But even from that perspective, we are given hints that God wasn't the source of violent acts.

The chapter did make me wonder, though, if any 'duel speech patterns' can be found in other ANE literature. It would seemingly be damaging to Boyd's overall thesis if other ANE literature contains similar patterns (would Boyd argue that those were moments when God's Spirit broke through the hearts of Israel's neighbors as well?).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

CWG (Chapter 16)

Chapter 16: Crime and Punishment

Boyd continues to develop the principle of redemptive withdrawal with a chapter cataloging biblical examples where divine wrath equals divine withdrawal. In its most extreme form, this happens in hell (where, Boyd believes, annihilation occurs since there is no surviving once the source of life is pushed so far away).

Greg sees examples of this sort of withdrawal in Jesus' ministry, in New Testament church disciplinary practices, and throughout the Old Testament. God doesn't need to (nor would He) utilize violence to punish evil because sin carries its own punishment. We reap what we sow. This connection between sin and punishment is built into the fabric of creation.

Even though the Old Testament (especially) sometimes conveys God as the source of the 'wrath'... "The fact of the matter is that biblical authors very frequently speak as though Yahweh did what their own writings make clear he merely allowed." This quote prepares us for the next chapter which will tackle the thorny relationship being 'doing' and 'allowing'.

Reaction
It was necessary for Boyd to show evidence from Scripture to support his claim that wrath equals divine withdrawal. The chapter was quite repetitive in making the point, but I appreciate that he took the time to provide a foundation and that he anticipates the potential problems with this view (isn't God still responsible if He knows divine withdrawal will equal violence)?

Friday, June 09, 2017

CWG (Chapter 15)

Chapter 15: Divide Aikido

Greg Boyd doesn't believe in redemptive violence, but he does believe in redemptive withdrawal. The second principle of his cruciform thesis is that the withdrawal of God (allowing evil to self-destruct) is the judgment and wrath of God (as opposed to judgment/wrath being a non-enemy-loving side of God's character). On the cross, the Father withdrew from the Son (experientially), but did so with a grieving heart and for the purpose of redemption. This cross perspective is the lens through which we must view judgment and wrath as they are found throughout the Bible.

At the heart of the revelation, according to Boyd, is the Cry of Dereliction. He wants to find a balance between dismissing the genuineness of Jesus' cry and confessing an actual break in the Trinity. Boyd attempts to avoid both extremes by suggesting that 1) This plan was agreed, out of love, by the members of the Trinity before it happened and 2) distinguishing between the divine essence and the divine experience. On the cross, the experience of their relationship was broken, but the essence of the Trinity was not (since that essence IS love and love was what led to the cross).

Boyd believes the cross teaches us four aspects of God's wrath that we can apply to all texts of Scripture. First, God's wrath is not an act of violence. It is withdrawal. Second, God only withdraws in an attempt to redeem (as a last resort). Third, God grieves when withdrawal is the only remaining option. Fourth, when God withdraws, evil ultimately self-destructs. This is why the power of Satan was broken by the cross and why any wicked who persist in their wickedness will ultimately cease to exist.

Reaction
Frankly, I thought this chapter was a brilliant exposition of divine wrath. Interestingly, it seems that Boyd is getting a lot of push-back on this chapter. Some people think Boyd's view breaks apart the unity of the trinity. I disagree. He seemed to go out of his way to show how this is not the case. In the end, he's just taking the cry of dereliction seriously. Boyd's view of divine wrath is seemingly identical with my own view as expressed here.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

CWG (Chapter 14)

Chapter 14: The Heavenly Missionary

Missionary work often requires a great deal of patience and flexibility. Missionaries must sometimes put up with beliefs and practices they may find abhorrent in order to gain the right to be heard. This is never more true than in God's mission to the world. Boyd believes that God accommodated some violent beliefs and practices of the Israelites in order to develop the relationship necessary to bring about change in them and the world.

The Old Testament contains laws, nationalism, and flat-out violence that, according to Boyd, cannot be reconciled to Christ's enemy-love. This shouldn't be surprising since the Bible itself is clear that the Israelites (including biblical authors) were as mistaken in their theology as their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors.

So God revealed the medicine of truth in doses mixed with accommodation to fit the tastes of the people. Occasionally a burst of light would break through the darkness, but more often God revealed only a flicker at a time (slightly improving that status quo). Meanwhile, God was willing to take on the appearance of one who accepted (or even supported) the false beliefs and practices of the people.

Reaction
I think it is inarguable that God is accommodating and that there is evidence for this in what the Old Testament seems to advocate for. I liked the analogy from Gregory of Nazianzus of a physician who blends medicine with what tastes good to the patient. God, being non-coercive, had to work with the tastes of his people in order to give them even small doses of medicine (truth). Sometimes we don't have a 'taste' for what we actually need. The chapter contained many interesting insights into Scripture. I do think many of the Old Testament laws were given because of the hardness of hearts.

There were some points that left me less impressed. Greg seemed to suggest that 'tests' are inherently bad (if so, I disagree). He also seems to take some biblical statements in absolute ways that I think might better be interpreted less absolutely. For example, I don't think the fact that we are called to intimate relationship with God forbids the analogy that we are also servants of God (but Greg seems to think the servant role is left behind).

The strength of the chapter, though, was yet again proving that the Old Testament contains shadowy revelation that must be carefully thought-through.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Athenagoras' Plea for the Christians

ATHENAGORAS’ PLEA FOR THE CHRISTIANS

To the Emperor Marcus Aurelius,

Throughout your Empire, people worship all manner of gods and goddesses in all manner of ways. You grant this freedom on pragmatic grounds, believing it to be preferable for people to fear deities and, therefore, avoid wrong-doing as opposed to being atheists with no moral compass. Why, then, are Christians not granted this same freedom? What is the case against Christianity? On what grounds are we persecuted? A label (“Christian”) is not a crime. Nor should an accusation be a conviction. They accuse us of atheism, incest and cannibalism. Let’s investigate these charges!

It is absurd to call us atheists since we believe in the uncreated Creator. This monotheism is, in fact, much in line with the best words of your poets and thoughts of your philosophers. Even in polytheism, there has to be a unifying principle. The only difference is that the best among you have arrived at God’s unity by reason and we by revelation. How can we deny what’s been made known? And what’s been made known to us is that God is one in unity and three in distinction (Father, Son & Spirit). How can such a belief be called atheism? And what issue could one take with our brand of theism? Does one object that we are too loving (we love even our enemies)?

The real reason we are charged with atheism is that we don’t make sacrifices to the gods of our accusers. Nor do we make sacrifices to the One True God. Why would we? God is in no NEED of sacrifices. God is neither hungry for meat nor thirsty for blood. We respond to God’s goodness by giving our lives rather than trying to appease God through death. So it is true that we don’t believe in the same God (or gods) as our accusers (not that they even agree with each other about the gods), but this is not a matter of shame! In regards to such gods as they believe in, shouldn’t we ALL be atheists? Such gods were created by Orpheus and Homer and Hesiod. What good is a god that was created by humans and acts like humans? “God” must be the source of creation, not part of it.

At this point you may object to my argument by pointing out that there does seem to be power connected to the worship of these gods. I do not deny it. God created angels, gifted them with authority and freedom, and does not force them to use either wisely. Some angels chose to rebel against God, created false gods (using the names of ancients) and religions, and prop said religions up with shows of power in order to keep the blood flowing (via sacrifices). Thus, when there IS power connected to Greek mythology, it is the power of demons.

What of the charges that we, Christians, are incestuous? Vice has always resorted to slander in its attempt to defeat virtue. Truth be told, we Christians live lives more virtuous than their gods and it seems absurd that we would have to defend our chastity against the charges of our persecutors whose sexual ethic could only be called sickening. But to clear the matter up…we are accused of being incestuous because we call each other family and greet one another with a kiss. That is all.

Finally, on the charge of cannibalism, is anyone actually willing to testify to having seen such a thing among us? How could we eat someone if we refuse to kill anyone? We can’t even stomach seeing someone put to death justly, let alone desire to put the flesh of a human in our stomachs! Those who believe in resurrection would never make their body a tomb for another! [this accusation likely was connected to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper].

You are a learned and wise man, Emperor. Our presence in the Empire benefits you. Let us live.

Monday, June 05, 2017

CWG (Chapter 13)

Chapter 13: The Masks of God

In this chapter, Greg Boyd lays down the foundational principle for his cruciform thesis: In some God-breathed Scripture, there was a divine accommodation of the cultural depravity of the covenant people. Insofar as this occurs (as in the violent texts of the Old Testament), it is revelatory in the sense that it shows God has always been inherently willing to stoop to our level in order to stay in relationship with us.

Boyd believes classical theism was essentially inherited from Greek philosophy and prioritizes human reason over divine revelation. Aquinas played a major role in shaping the classic theistic belief that God is, essentially, the unmoved mover. Boyd thinks this approach is littered with problems. Particular germane to his area of interest is the fact that classical theism must assume that when Scripture speaks of God changing His mind, or responding to humans, or other intensely relational terms, these depictions must be instances of accommodations (since God doesn't really do those things. Boyd this this view missed out on the most beautiful aspects of God's nature.

When we start with Christ (revelation over reason), however, we come to very different conclusions (absolute love over absolute power). What doesn't 'change' in God is His moral goodness, but for that very reason God is very open to change insofar as that is the most loving thing to do in a given relationship. In fact, God is willing to put on ugly 'masks' (to use Luther's idea in a very different way) in order to relate to us (even to the point of appearing as a warrior God). The revelation of the cross must cause us to look differently at Old Testament texts in which God appears violent. In such texts, according to Boyd, God was simply stooping to the level of His people and allowing them to put on Him a violent mask and it is that willingness (in order to stay in relationship with His people) that is revelatory.

Reaction
Boyd's project is really starting to take shape here. As a personal aside, after reading this chapter I was feeling comfortable enough with Boyd's overall approach to these texts to attempt to explain his position to my wife in my own words. She's smart and open minded. And I could see questions forming in her mind as I explain Boyd's approach. She was satisfied that he anticipated her concerns and seemed generally favorable to his thesis. I feel about the same way.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Early Christian Apologetics

Below are links to concise versions of early Christian apologetic works. I have greatly abbreviated them and modernized the language while attempting to retain their overall message and tone.

Justin's 2nd Apology

THE SECOND APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR

To the Roman Senate: I, Justin, am compelled to write to you in response to the persecution of Christians.

Let me start with a story (it’s a true story). Once upon a time there was a very wicked married couple. One day, the wife became a Christian. She wanted to separate, but was persuaded to remain in the marriage in hopes that her husband might be led to faith in Christ as well. But his revelries only increased and she did, in fact, file for divorce. His revenge was to accuse her (officially) of being a Christian. But the husband didn’t stop there. He went after her disciple (a man named Ptolemaeus) and officially accused him of being a Christian as well (a point that he, of course, refused to deny). Upon seeing that Ptolemaeus was found guilty simply for being a Christian, another man (named Lucius) made his objections to this unjust condemnation known to the Emperor. In response, the Emperor asked if he, too, was a Christian (which he was and did not deny). Lucius was also sent to death. WHEN WILL IT END? Why is merely confessing oneself to be a Christian an act worthy of death? I’m sure my time, too, is short (it only takes one enemy to be officially accused!). I’ll likely be accused by someone who knows next to nothing about what it is I actually believe.

Some of you, in fact, don’t understand why we Christians don’t simply commit suicide. If we’re willing to die for our faith because we know we’ll pass on to God, then why not just speed that process up by killing ourselves? There are 2 reasons why: First, we believe that we have a purpose in the world. We live for others… to help them discover the truth. Second, we believe that to take our own lives would be to disobey the will of God. When we are accused, however, we will not deny our faith and we will suffer the consequences.

Some of you insist that if God really were on our side, we would be protected from persecution. This insistence assumes that God is in absolute control of all that comes to pass. In reality, God has delegated much authority to both angels and humans… both of which sometimes make terrible decisions. Fallen angels, in fact, have led the world astray (creating the very kind of world where persecutions take place) and are responsible for the existence of these (false) gods.

All such gods have names. That should be a give-away that they’re not really gods. For any god with a name, was named by someone preceding them. In Christianity, God does not have a name. Terms like Father, God, Creator, Lord, Master (Etc.), are not names, but titles. This is also true of the Son (the Word, the Christ, etc.), who only has a name (Jesus) in regards to His role as human and Savior. He was conceived (and given a name) for our sake (and to be the destroyer of the gods, which are actually demons). And His name, and His name alone, still exorcises these demons that your best exorcists, doctors, and drugs can’t even touch.

Ironically, the only reason God doesn’t put an end to all evil (like the persecution of His people) immediately, is because God desires to use His persecuted people to save their persecutors. For as long as the earth endures, there is hope for wicked men (since they have free will). There is no pre-determined fate. We choose between vice and virtue. The best of your philosophers agree on this point. It is no surprise that many of them were persecuted too (since demons rage against the truth). And it is no wonder that we are persecuted even more, since we have even more of the truth.

Some say that we use fear (of punishment) to force others into the way of Christ. It is true that we speak of judgment. The truth of a coming judgment flows from the reality of a good God. Wouldn’t a good God care how people live? Wouldn’t a good God provide people with laws? And must there not be consequences to breaking these laws? Our whole society is founded on these principles.

And anyone who argues that truth is relative is absolutely wrong. Lies have been promoted, by demons, as competing truth claims… but that doesn’t make them true. Truth is not relative, but it is sometimes partial. Socrates possessed the truth in part (and was persecuted for it), but no one was willing to die for his doctrines. We die for Christ because, in Him, the fullness of truth has come. We die because we’d rather choose the truth… virtue… which has ever-lasting rewards than falsity dressed up as the truth… vice… which has ever-lasting punishment.

Even before I became a Christian, I could tell that the rumors against the Christians were simply slander. They were accused of loose sexual ethics, cannibalism, and the like… but why would such people show no fear of death (where opportunity for such things is removed)? The more I looked into the matter, the more I became convinced of the truth of Christianity. In becoming a Christian, I did not have to forsake all that I had previously believed (for there were kernels of truth in many such teachings). But all truth is God’s truth. Seeds of the truth give way to The Truth (Jesus).

So I request that you publish this little book. Let the conversation on these matters be public. Let’s discuss the ‘justice’ of putting our people to death simply for being Christians. Let’s not make decisions in the darkness of ignorance. When we make such judgments, we subject ourselves to the One True Judge.

I wrote this treatise for the good of all. We’re not ashamed of our beliefs. They stand up to sober scrutiny. Indeed, they are of surpassing worth to all other worldviews (most of which have un-persecuted adherents).

I have made my case and shall now be silent. My only role now is to pray for all… including you.

Justin's 1st Apology

THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR

To the Emperor, Senate, and all Romans: I, Justin, native of Palestine, present this address and petition on behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and abused, myself being one of them… a Christian. Those who are truly pious and philosophical should love what is true, not necessarily what is popularly stated. I write this that you may consider whether or not we Christians are what we are accused of being. Investigate us for yourselves. Punish us only if it is just.

First off, by no means should a group of people be condemned merely for their name. Why should the mere accusation that we are ‘Christians’ be enough to find us guilty? Innocence or guilt should be determined by actions! Of course, we could just deny that we are Christians when accused. But we refuse to live by telling a lie. Besides, we are proud to be labeled Christians.

Second, we are sometimes accused of atheism. It is true we do not participate in idol worship (why worship things we make?). Such idols are, at best, nothing and, at worst, representatives of demons. We make no apologies for not worshiping these virtue-less ‘gods’ (consider their lives!). We agree with Socrates (who was also accused of atheism for exposing the falsity of these gods). Reason (Logos) must prevail. And it has prevailed in Jesus Christ (who IS the logos)! We are monotheists, not atheists. And the one true God does not require the kinds of sacrifices these idols ‘ask’ for.

Third, we are sometimes accused of trying to set up a human kingdom in opposition to Rome. But our kingdom is of a different nature (otherwise, why would we be so willing to die?). Indeed, it is actually in Rome’s best interest that people become Christians. For those who believe in an all-seeing God who calls us to virtue will undoubtedly be good citizens of this earth (Jesus even commanded us to pay our taxes!). The only people who should be concerned about our existence, then, are the executioners (for their job security will be at stake if all become good!).

Here’s what we believe:

We believe there that there is one God, that Jesus (crucified under Pontius Pilate) is the Son of God, and that God has a prophetic Spirit. Many can’t fathom why we worship a man who was crucified. Let me tell you why… His word was the power of God and has transformed us into better people (there are countless examples!). We become pure of heart, even to the point of loving our enemies. We help those in need (even the children you leave exposed). Any who claim to be Christian and give no evidence of this transformation… do to them what you must.

We believe that God cares for people. In fact, the reason why God has not yet eliminated all evil has to do with this. He wants more people to be saved and knows they may yet be because He made us with freedom (otherwise we would not be accountable). When people reject the truth that God cares for His creation and grants genuine freedom, they end up either not believing in God at all or believing in a very immoral or inactive God. A good God cares by giving genuine freedom.

We believe in the virgin birth. You have similar tales. We believe Jesus is the Son of God. You believe the gods have many sons and daughters. We believe He was crucified. Your gods suffered too. We believe He did miracles. You believe your gods can do miracles. We believe in resurrection. The best of your philosophers have believed in life after death as well. Whole industries depend on the existence of a spiritual realm. We simply take this all one step further.

We believe the dead will get their bodies back. If this seems ridiculous, consider that fact that we all believe that our complex bodies come from a small drop of seed. The only difference between us and some of your best poets and philosophers is that we believe God is capable of more and we actually have evidence (Jesus’ resurrection) on our side. Given these many parallels, how are we alone guilty? Our beliefs are even more anciently rooted and presently attested. In fact, some of your best writers were Christians--in a sense--before Christ in that they absorbed the beliefs of the ancient prophets).

We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The timing of His coming, the virgin birth, and His miracle-ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension were foretold over many millennia by various prophets (Moses, David, Isaiah, etc.) as they were moved by the Spirit. It was also predicted that many of the Jews would reject their Messiah and that many of the Gentiles would be included into God’s family. And we are that Church—a body of believers made up of every nation on earth! It becomes more than reasonable to put one’s life in the hands of a crucified man if that man’s crucifixion was foretold and came to pass as predicted.

If all of these prophecies have come to pass in Christ’s first coming, then we have good reason to believe the prophesies of His second coming may be relied upon. We believe there will be eternal life for those in Christ Jesus. The demons knew that Christ was coming (from the Prophets) and, therefore, influenced less ancient writers to conjure up mythical tales so that the story of Christ could be said to be just one among many. The part not even the demons could imagine, though, was the suffering of the Messiah. But even after this surprise, the demons did not give up in trying to lead the world astray through false teachings (even some masquerading as Christianity—men like Simon, Meander, Marcion— I’ve written against their heresies already).

And here’s what we practice:

We practice baptism. When someone has been made new in Christ (as many have been), we pray and fast with them. They are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. By dying and rising again, Christ has conquered death. Baptism shows the new believer shares in this victory. We proceed to pray for this new believer and salute each other with a kiss.

We share the Eucharist together (our leader saying thanks to God on our behalves before the deacons distribute the bread and wine) as a family of faith. We share our possessions and lives.

We assemble in a special way on Sundays, for it is the first day of creation and the first day of new creation (Jesus’ resurrection!). We hear the Scriptures together. Our leader will challenge us with the truth of its words. We pray together. We have the bread and wine together. We make offerings to be disbursed to those in need via our leader.

I have shown that the accusations made against us are false. I have clearly stated our beliefs. I have made known our practices. What, in all this, is worthy of persecution and death? And yet, if you insist (which only brings about your own judgment), we are willing to die. If Roman soldiers are willing to die for their allegiance to Rome (which can promise them nothing beyond death), is it any wonder that we Christians will die for our allegiance to Christ (who promises everything!)?

Justin's Dialogue with Trypho

JUSTIN MARTYR’S DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO

Upon seeing my philosophers’ garb, a Jewish man named Trypho introduced himself to me. I was surprised that he was interested in philosophy since the Jews have their own lawgiver and prophets, but he insisted that he was interested in my opinion of matters of theism, providence, and life after death.

First, I told him that philosophy is a noble task and one that leads to God. Unfortunately, in practice, it has led to many different conclusions because some philosophers have been more interested in pursuing affirmation and prestige than the truth itself (such happens in religion too!).

Second, I told him my story… How I had moved from one school to another until I landed among the Platonists and began to think of myself as quite wise and spent my time pondering invisible things… How, one day, as I was off the beaten path (a place of contemplation), I came across an older man. We had a conversation about (my) philosophy, whether it had practical benefits, and how it related to the concept of God (I believed that the term ‘God’ referred to the unchanging source of all things). Slowly and carefully, the old man spoke with me… about how it is that I believe we perceive God and what happens after death. He pointed out some of the holes in my philosophical assumptions. He then shared with me about the revelation of truth that had come through the Jewish prophets of old and encouraged me to pursue Christ (to whom those revelations pointed). From that time on, though I never saw that man again, I did pursue these truths and had since become a Christian-philosopher.

But upon telling him that I was a Christian… I was laughed at (albeit politely). Trypho suggested that it’d be far better to be a ritually observant Jewish-philosopher than a Christian-philosopher. He denied that the Christ had come. Therefore, I told Trypho that he had been wrongly informed about Christ and that I would, presently, make the case for Jesus Christ (which provoked more—less polite—laughter). I was going to leave, but Trypho proved willing to dialogue more about the subject of Jesus.

I began by asking Trypho what it was, in particular, that he found objectionable about Christianity. He said it wasn’t the (false) rumors about Christians (cannibalism, promiscuity, etc.) that he found objectionable (he knew they were false). Nor was it even the moral content of our teaching (which he considered wonderful even if impossible to actually obey). What he truly found objectionable was twofold. First, that we didn’t ritually separate ourselves from the world (keep the Old Testament Law). And, second, that we put our hopes in a crucified man, believing that through Jesus we are accepted by God despite our dismissal of His laws contained in the Jewish Scriptures!

Trypho was very eager to hear my responses to these objections. My response was as follows:

The ancient Jewish law itself predicted the coming of a new covenant. That covenant was initiated by Christ (replacing the previous covenant) and made available to all without regard for ethnicity and/or ritual observance. Christians (both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ) are the new spiritual Israel… the people of God. Those who insist on living under the old covenant are, in essence, living in the shadows unnecessarily (for the light has come!). Forgiveness is available through Christ alone… not religious ritual observance. Those things were merely symbols of what was to come and, in and of themselves, had no power to change the heart or save the soul.

I reminded Trypho that there were plenty of God-pleasing people before the law came. The old laws were given specifically to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts (this much was made clear in the very words of his own prophets). God never has needed such things that the Jewish religion offers Him. The purpose of those laws was not to save you, but to point to Christ (who can save us all). He alone is pure and offers to us a purity of heart (a much more excellent purity). It’s time to come to Christ, not live in the law of the past. The very fact that the Jews no longer had a King or Temple or Prophets (the prophetic gift had been transferred to the Church) demonstrated that the Jewish dispensation had ended and something new had begun with Jesus.

Trypho reiterated his objection that Jesus had suffered and inglorious death (unbecoming of a would-be Messiah), but I replied that this, too, was predicted in the Scriptures and that Jesus was going to come again in glory to fulfill other prophecies. Christ, I argued, was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures (I wasn’t just cherry-picking). For He is King, and Priest, and God, and Lord, and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son. I knew that much of what I was saying (especially about the suffering Messiah) was hard to hear and paradoxical to Trypho, but I also knew he needed to hear it to be saved. This is why I was so willing to share (thankfully, since he had been instructed by his teachers not to dialogue with Christians).

Trypho kept stumbling over the apparent foolishness of the incarnation/cross. How could anyone be born of a virgin? How could the Messiah suffer on a cross (and be cursed)? How could the Messiah also be God? But I showed from the Scriptures (otherwise, he would not have stayed) that even in the Old Testament there are hints of a plurality within God (‘Let us make’, the 3 men who visited Abraham, the burning bush experience, etc.). Trypho found my arguments for a plurality within the godhead persuasive, but needed more evidence in order to believe that one member of this plurality became flesh in Jesus Christ. I questioned him on this (having already provided such evidence… like the virgin birth passage in Isaiah)… was he genuinely open to being persuaded?

At this point Trypho stopped me and asked if I felt the Jews were going to miss out entirely on their assumed inheritance from God. I replied that not all Jews will miss out… only those who continue to persecute Christ and fail to repent of their ways. Only those who believe in Jesus and live for Him will inherit God’s promises (also, those who genuinely pursued God in former times are saved by Christ retroactively). Trypho also wondered if someone who did believe and follow Christ could be saved if they simultaneously kept the Jewish Law (where possible). I replied that they could indeed be saved, but that they must not insist that others do likewise.

After more lengthy conversations about the virgin birth passage and suffering servant passage in Isaiah, the Messianic prophecies in Psalm 22, and a host of other texts that foreshadowed the reality that is Christ (there was a lot of necessary repetition), we ended our dialogue (it had taken nearly 2 days)! Trypho was pleasantly surprised that I had been so prepared to discuss the nuances of ‘his’ Scriptures.

I had presented Trypho with an entirely new way to read the Old Testament (through the lens of Jesus Christ). We left on good terms (both thankful for the dialogue and saddened that it could not continue). Whether he ever learned to read Scripture in this way or, even more importantly, began himself to follow Christ… I do not know. But I pray that it is so.

Epistle to Diognetus

Epistle to Diognetus

Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that you are extremely interested in learning about Christianity and are asking very clear and careful questions about Christians -- specifically: 1) What God do they believe in? 2) How do they worship him? 3) Why did this new race of men begin now and not before? -- I am glad to respond by the empowerment of God. I ask, though, that you will clear your mind of all its prejudices and read what I have to say with an open mind.

First, you wonder why Christians don’t worship all the gods that you worship. Stop and think about your gods! Is not one of them stone, like that which we walk upon, and another bronze, no better than the utensils that have been forged for our use, and another wood, already rotted away, and another silver, which needs a watchmen to guard it lest it be stolen, and another iron, corroded by rust, and another pottery, not a bit more attractive than that made for the most unmentionable use? Couldn’t we, right now, make some more? Do they have souls? Do they have feelings? Do they move on their own? I think, deep down, you know the foolishness of worshipping such gods! And if you don’t, there’s no point in reading any further!

Second, you wonder why Christians don’t worship like the Jews. Well, Jews rightly claim to worship the one God, but insomuch as they offer this worship in the same way as described above, they are altogether mistaken! Do they really think that God is pleased with the blood and fat of animals? Is God really concerned with kinds of food, specific days of the week, physical circumcision, and holidays? They fell in love with the shadow instead of the light. No wonder that Christians keep their distance from such a darkness as a man-made religion. Instead, Christians rely on a God who speaks for Himself and needs nothing.

Third, let’s take a closer look at Christianity. Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. They live where they are born, but only as aliens. They are ‘in the flesh,’ but don’t live ‘according to the flesh.’ They love everyone even though they are persecuted by all. When some are killed, the others seem to become livelier. And those that hate them are unable to give reason for their hostility.

What the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world. The soul is dispersed through all the parts of the body, and Christians are dispersed throughout the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body without being part of the body, and Christians dwell in the world without being part of the world. The flesh hates the soul because it hinders its indulgences, and the world hates the church since it serves as a conscience. The soul loves the flesh even though the flesh hates the soul, and Christians love the world even though the world hates the church. The soul is a prisoner to the body, yet holds the body together. In the same way, Christians are prisoners in the world, yet hold the world together.

Christians, as I said, get ‘Christianity’ from God Himself, not from man. For God revealed Himself to men in Jesus Christ. God sent him in gentleness and meekness. He sent him as God. He sent him as man to men. He sent him as one who saves by persuasion, not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God. He sent him as one loving, not judging, for the Day of Judgment is yet future. No one has either seen or recognized him, but he has revealed himself. And he revealed himself through faith, which is the only means by which it is permitted to see God.

With great patience, God permitted us in the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses, as we desired. Once we clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the Kingdom on our own, God enabled us to do so by His power. When our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and its wages made known, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? Oh, the sweet exchange, Oh, the incomprehensible work of God, Oh, the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners.

If this faith is what you long for, then first of all you must acquire this knowledge of the Father: God so loved men that He made the world, made them rulers, gave them reason, permitted them alone to yearn for perfection, sent to them alone His one and only Son, and promised them the Kingdom which He will give to those who love Him.

Once you have accepted this truth, you will be so overwhelmed with joy that you will respond by imitating His goodness. You will no longer fear the transitory death, but the true death, which is reserved for the wicked.

Apology of Aristides

Apology of Aristides

For Hadrian (Caesar),

I am Aristides, an Athenian Philosopher. When I considered the existence of the world and considered its beauty, I concluded that there must be a Creator behind creation (one worthy of our worship). This Creator must be eternal, perfect, incomprehensible, formless, indivisible, unequaled, all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful. He (though He is neither male nor female) requires nothing, but all else depends on Him. Such is God.

Of men, there are 4 types: Barbarians, Greeks, Jews, and Christians. Each has a set of stories and beliefs. Let us compare them objectively…

The Barbarians worship the elements. They have to guard their gods, lest they be stolen! If their gods are too feeble to save themselves, how can they save the Barbarians? They worship the earth (where we bury the dead!), the waters (where we pee!), fire (which we humans quench!), the wind (which strengthens and weakens!), and the sun (which is moved by a greater power!). How foolish they are. Some of them worship ancient men, who are made of these elements (and soul/spirit) and can thus be divided (and, thus, cannot be god) and, in any case, suffer from various defects. It is rather obvious that the Barbarians are in error in what and who they worship.

The Greeks are more subtle, but their beliefs are actually even more ridiculous! They have simply made up their gods! Some of them are male and some are female. Most, if not all, of them are quite immoral (and the Greek people, of course, mimic their gods in these ways). Some of their gods even die! The story of every one of their gods is a sad one! You’d think if you were going to invent gods, you’d make them more impressive!

(As a brief aside, we should mention the Egyptians. They are even more stupid than the Greeks! In addition to having their own fleet of helpless gods, they worship animals and plants too! Praise to garlic and onions!?!? Never worship a god that regularly gets eaten!).

Back to the Greeks, it is curious that cultures that were able to accomplish so much in terms of advancement are not able to perceive the ridiculousness of their religious thoughts. Even their philosophers cannot rescue this foolish network of gods by claiming that it all represents 1 true God (for God cannot be well represented by competing, back-stabbing deities). In the end, the laws of the Greeks judge their gods as guilty. Reality judges them as fake.

Now Jews do believe in 1 God. They believe that God is the all-powerful Creator. They are much closer to the truth and their behavior is commendable (they are kind to the needy). In the end, though, they too have erred from true knowledge. They focus too much on their rules, which is a never-winning-battle (because even they don’t keep all of them).

But the Christians have sought the truth and found it (or at least come nearer than any others). They know and trust God the Creator. They received commandments from the Messiah and keep them. The love even their enemies. They invite all into their family. The care for their widows, orphans, strangers, the poor, the imprisoned, and even the dead. They share their possessions so that none of them goes without basic necessities. They give thanks to God for all things. They pray to God and receive great blessings (to my mind there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians). They’re a new kind of people. You can learn all about them from their writings. Read and see for yourself!

People may say bad things about Christians, but this is just a form of persecution. Christians are good. For the most part, they truly are people of great compassion. They pray that those who are against them will repent and come into their faith. The persecution of this people should cease. The light of their truth must continue to spread around the world!

Tatian's Address to the Greeks

TATIAN'S ADDRESS TO THE GREEKS.

Greeks… you owe to the many people whom you label ‘Barbarians’ most of what you are. You’ve not invented, but collected your qualities. And the qualities you’ve gathered, you’ve corrupted. You brag about and fight over dogmatic philosophies and arrogant philosophers, but both are a joke. Why reject Christians for rejecting this ridiculousness?

All that we are guilty of is worshiping the one true God who was before all things. I will unapologetically worship the Creator over creation. God is one, but as one torch may light another without being diminished itself, so the Logos (Word) was begotten by the Father. And this Word became flesh in Jesus Christ. Because of Him, we believe in resurrection. History is not an endless cycle of repetition. I once was not. Now I am. I will someday die. But my flesh, visible to God alone, will be restored by Him.

Resurrection is where we are headed, but what has happened between creation and consummation is that God endowed men and angels with free will and they have used it to sin against God. The Cunning One convinced the Image-Bearers to rebel. He and his minions substituted false-gods (corrupt and contradictory) and fate (as if the stars seal our futures) for our Heavenly Father. Our rebellion leads to death unless we die to our rebellion. We’ve become slaves to our own freedom. Fate is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let me teach, to you, the truth in contrast to the errors you have believed. Souls are not immortal. A soul is dependent on God’s Spirit for eternal life. Without the Spirit, it descends to death when the body dies. With the Spirit, it ascends to God. So we must align ourselves with the Spirit of God if we desire to live forever. Our situation is grave, but death itself has been conquered.

Your gladiator games are grotesque. Your philosophers are just out for money. You play around with the characters of the alphabet, but have no character yourselves! Your laws differ from state to state as if truth is relative. Why should Christians be persecuted merely for being Christians when you all get away with such dreadful behavior? You act like the gods you worship.

Seeing all this first hand, I grew frustrated and sought the truth until I found the more ancient (for Moses came before Homer) truth. In it, I found integrity, truth, prophecy, and freedom from my enslavement to sin through the one true God. And this good news is offered to all (men and women, young and old, rich and poor, weak or strong) who will listen. Ask away…

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Introduction (Volume 2)

Introduction: Something Else is Going On

In this brief introduction to volume 2, Boyd creates a fictitious analogy and outlines the 4 principles of his cruciform thesis.

The analogy, which will be referred to throughout the book, involves Boyd seeing his good wife behaving badly. Rather than dismissing that it's her (clearly it is) or believing that she's changed (how could that be?), he believes his only viable option would be to hold fast to the faith he has in his wife and try to find some reinterpretation (what else is going on?) of what he has seen. Boyd acknowledges that analogies all break down, but he believes this one may prove helpful throughout volume 2.

The 4 principles Boyd will put forward are 1) The Principle of Cruciform Accmmodation (if God stooped and appeared ugly on the cross, then perhaps God stooped and became ugly in the Old Testament literature too). 2) The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal (The Father didn't act violently toward Jesus, but simply withdrew His protective presence, so maybe in the OT we're not seeing actual divine violence but withdrawal). 3) The Principle of Cosmic Conflict (the violence carried out against Jesus was more than just human-- it was demonic-- so maybe there was demonic activity in the violent texts of the OT as well). 4) The Principle of Semi-autonomous Power (If, when God entrusts agents with authority, He doesn't meticulously control their use of that authority, this might explain some of the supernatural violence found in the OT text).

Reaction
I look forward to volume 2!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

CWG (Chapter 12)

Chapter 12: Interpreting Scripture as God's Word

Boyd is arguing against the exclusive use of the historical-critical method of interpretation (which considers the 'right' interpretation to be the derived from the original/surface-level meaning of the text). Not only does he point out that this method is relatively new, he considers it an affront to the way the church has read and interpreted Scripture throughout history. In contrast, Greg endorses the theological interpretation of Scripture (the TIS movement).

TIS recognizes the uniqueness of the Bible as the God-breathed book and posits that this should affect the way we read and interpret it (taking our cues from the early church). While the original meaning of a text is worth knowing, we should always interpret a text through the lens of the cross. This will involve finding deeper meanings (beyond the surface-level reading) with texts that seem to conflict with the revelation of Christ. It also involves recognizing that God (as the ultimate author) is free to say something through Scripture which is other-than what the original human authors intended. The primary meaning of Scripture must always be cruciform. Greg's version of TIS also believes in the unity of Scripture (not in the sense that Scripture contains no contradictions or differing perspectives, but in the sense that every passage of Scripture bears witness to the cross of Christ). Jesus completes the narrative of the Old Testament and causes us to read it in a revolutionary way.

The cruciform hermeneutic has allowed Boyd to no longer be embarrassed by troubling Old Testament texts. Instead, seen in the light of Christ, these texts have become inspiring to him as God-breathed, cross-shaped texts. As a practical benefit, the cruciform hermeneutic also equips us to reach a world which is turned off by religious violence. The world doesn't like the idea of a warrior God... and this work aims to show that, in Jesus, such portraits of god have been crucified once and for all.

Reaction
Like chapter 11, these pages laid some necessary (even if repetitive) groundwork for what will be fleshed-out in volume 2. Greg is going out of his way, here, to be open and up-front about the nature of his hermeneutic. It seems to me he has expressed his position well. Though much of it goes against the grain of how I've been taught to read Scripture, I find myself open (and even agreeable) to reading Scripture with this hermeneutical method. I look forward to chapter 2.

CWG (Chapter 11)

Chapter 11: Through the Lens of the Cross

In this chapter, Boyd lays some important groundwork for volume 2 of the project.

He discusses six scholars who have influenced his cruciform hermeneutic, but also points out some distinctive features of his work. Since God's clearest Word is seen in the incarnation (and especially the cross), we should learn (from the cross) that God's speaking will contain both beauty (sacrificial love... how God acts towards humans) and ugliness (violent crucifixion... how humans act toward God). If the Word (Jesus) of God was made ugly by man, the word (Scripture) of God will also sometimes appear ugly.

Because God is non-coercive, Scripture will always include whatever elements of the human subject were resistant to God's influence. Our task, then, as Christian readers of ugly-looking passages in the Old Testament, is to look beyond the surface level ugliness. This is, in fact, how Boyd interprets the 'veil' in 2 Corinthians 3. The cruciform hermeneutic removes the veil so that we may see beyond the surface level meaning of the text when necessary (whenever it doesn't conform to the revelation of the cross).

There are literary crosses found throughout the Old Testament. They are ugly, but when we deeper (with eyes of faith), we may see God's self-sacrificial, other-oriented love.

Reaction
Personally, I didn't find Boyd's mention of the six scholars who have influenced him added much to the discussion that hadn't already been there (though it is good to note influential resources).

Overall, it seems Boyd wrote this chapter to press further and dig a little deeper into the rationale for his hermeneutic. The cross has a light side (God's acts toward us) and a dark side (our acts toward God). If this is true, then other revelations may also have light and dark sides.

In some ways, this is rather obvious (though the obvious insight hasn't always been applied to Scripture). People accommodate other people all the time in ways that may appear to be endorsements. But it would actually be a mistake to assume endorsement simply because accommodation has taken place. We ultimately know what someone endorses by their direct revelation, not necessarily what seems to be endorsed due to their partnerships and participation with others. For Boyd, the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross is the direct revelation. We must always look beyond the ugly to see the crucified Christ.


Friday, May 26, 2017

CWG (Chapter 10)

Chapter 10: A Meaning Worthy of God

Part 3 of Boyd's 2-volume work begins considers Origen's 'reinterpretation' of violence in the Old Testament as a historical example of the type of solution that Boyd is pursuing going forward (though Boyd's proposal will differ significantly). If we can't dismiss these texts (because they are God-breathed) and we can't accept them at face value (because they don't conform to the revelation of Christ on the cross) then our only remaining option is to re-interpret them. And that's what Origen did by using an allegorical method of interpretation for such texts.

Origen believed that troublesome texts existed to challenge readers and motivate them to dig for deeper meanings. God buried meanings below embarrassing dirt not just to challenge truth-seekers, but also to accommodate the dirty conceptions people of those times had about Him. So while the surface level meaning (like command to conquer Canaan) were not congruent with Christ, the deeper meaning (like the importance of spiritual warfare) were revelatory.

Boyd does not think that Origen believed most of the violence in Scripture actually happened in history. What was true about a passage was in the mystery (the deeper meaning) moreso than the history (whether it really happened). Boyd disagrees on this point. He accepts the literal events recounted in the biblical narrative and denies that the authors of these texts had allegorical intentions when they wrote. They were writing from their own fallen and culturally conditioned understandings of God.

Reaction
This was an interesting chapter. Truth be told, I've always been fascinated by Origen and the early Christian writers. Their hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament is very different from modern approaches. I enjoyed learning about the rise of the allegorical method and the motivations behind it. And it makes sense to me that God would accommodate His people (ie. recognizing that they got 'used' to animal sacrifices in Egypt and, therefore, accommodating that practice but directing the sacrifices to Himself rather than to many gods).

As intriguing as Origen is, I think Boyd did a good job of pointing out some of his weaknesses as well. Like Greg, I don't think Origen was right to so quickly dismiss a historical basis behind the text. And some of the allegories come off as hermeneutic gymnastics. Greg's proposal to offer another 'species' of Origen's re-interpretation solution is attractive.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

CWG (Chapter 9)

Chapter 9: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence Part 2

Having dismissed the 'dismissal solution', Boyd moves on to the 'synthesis solution' which takes the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament at face value (as does the dismissal solution), but accepts them as accurate revelations of God (rather than repudiating them, like the dismissal solution does). In other words, those in this camp try to synthesize how these portraits are true pictures of God alongside the clearest picture (Jesus Christ). In this chapter, Boyd addresses the four most common defenses of God's violent behavior in the Old Testament.

Some synthesizers argue that we, as humans, have no right to question the 'goodness' of God in these divine portraits. The Bible says God did these things so, by definition, they must be good (even if in ways that are mysterious to us). Our moral compass is a fallen tool for evaluating God's actions. Not surprisingly, Boyd finds a host of serious issues with this perspective (eight to be exact).

Another attempt to justify God's OT violence (Boyd calls it the most common attempt) is to suggest that it reveals the 'justice' side of God. But Boyd wants to point out that some of the violence in the OT don't even seem just.

A third attempt is the 'greater good defense'. The idea here is that the ends justify the means. God had to (for instance) remove the Canaanites in order for Israel to survive in order for the Messiah to come through Israel. But why? Archaeologists suggest the Canaanites were no worse than anyone else. The Israelites turned wicked anyways. And why kill the women and children?

Finally, Boyd addresses the 'Progressive Revelation' explanation. In this view, God acquiesced to violence because there was no other choice (given the limitations and fallen nature of humanity) while slowly steering them toward non-violence. The problem, here, is that sometimes it seems that God is the one maximizing violence in these passages. Boyd thinks it has not been clearly enough pointed out that the very concept of progressive revelation suggests that earlier revelation was mixed with that which is false. He prefers an understanding of progressive revelation that sees progress not in the way God acted, but in the way ancient people conceived of God acting.

Overall, Boyd appreciates the efforts of the synthesizers and hopes to use a number of their points (though with some variation) in his approach.

Reaction
It's hard to complain about brevity in a 1400 page, 2-volume work, but I did feel like this chapter could have been longer. Boyd, in my opinion, addressed some of the poorer arguments of people like Paul Copan, but didn't touch on his best arguments (which I consider to have been discussions of the ancient military literary genre). In the end, though, Boyd is correct that this approach is trying to justify (to one degree or another) violence.

I felt Boyd gave a bit too much attention to the 'beyond-our-categories' defense (10 pages plus) and not enough to the 'divine punishment' and 'greater-good' defenses (about 3 pages each).

I really enjoyed the section on progressive revelation and divine accommodation. He made a good point that while many think of the latter in regards to God's 'transcendent' attributes, revelation is more typically about God's moral character. And on the former (progressive revelation), I think Boyd had a real insight in claiming that we haven't considered (enough) the fact that progress suggests falsity in the past. What I read Boyd saying here, then (when we combine the two) is that Old Testament 'revelations' of God are sometimes warped by the immature views of the covenant people that God is accommodating. In other words, the Old Testament contains true revelation, but it is 'packaged' (inevitably?) with that which is false.

But this doesn't mean our task is to pick and choose which parts are true and which parts are false. The whole 'package' is God-breathed in the sense that all of it points to the revelation of Jesus and the cross. With Boyd's cruciform hermeneutic, we'll be able to see how.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CWG (Chapter 8)

Chapter 8: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence Part 1

By now, Boyd has attempted to demonstrate that certain (numerous) depictions of God in the Old Testament appear to be in-congruent with the revelation of God in Christ (and specifically the cross). In this chapter, he critiques one attempted solution to this problem (the dismissal of such OT passages... often on the grounds that these violent events didn't actually take place in history).

Boyd traces the dismissal of the problem texts back to the ancient heretic Marcion. Similar (though not identical) approaches have become commonplace in the past hundred years or so. Boyd applauds both Marcion & these contemporary scholars (Siebert, Enns, Weaver, Flood, etc.) for recognizing the seriousness of the problem, but considers their solution (that we can dismiss these texts as non-revelatory) to be unacceptable.

This 'solution' is unacceptable to Boyd for four main reasons. First, Christ treated the entire Old Testament as divinely inspired. Second, there's so much of this material (see chapter 7) that dismissing it would be dismissing much of the Old Testament (even texts the NT authors utilized as Scripture). Third, these troublesome texts actually show God entering into the fallen world, so their removal would seemingly leave us with less hope that God is at work amidst human violence. Fourth, the dismissal solution jettisons the concept of biblical infallibility (which Boyd considers a core belief for Christians).

In emphasizing the essential nature of the doctrine of infallibility, it should be noted that Boyd isn't necessarily claiming that all these violent events did, in fact, happen in history (at least not in the way depicted in Scripture). But, for Boyd, the historicity of most of these stories isn't the issue. Whether they really happened (as written) or not is beside the point that they are 'God-breathed' Scripture. Boyd's view of Scripture is not that it is without error (in regards to historicity), but that it infallibly points us to (especially the cross of) Christ.

Reaction
In essence, I am in agreement with Boyd's point here. I do not think it is appropriate to 'dismiss' whatever Old Testament texts we don't like (even if we have good reasons for not liking them!). We should wrestle with them. We should consider how they might point to Christ.

I'm not so sure that some of the authors Boyd engages with, here, are actually guilty of the 'dismissal' solution. I've read Enns, Flood and Weaver on this subject. I'm not sure any of them could rightfully be said to be dismissive of the text (in my estimation).

Enns believes the texts in question are terrible. He also believes the terrible stuff didn't really happen. So why did God allow Himself to be mis-represented in the Old Testament? If Enns were God, he wouldn't have made that choice (bottom of page 62 in The Bible Tells Me So)... but he realizes that he is not God. God, in His wisdom, decided to let His children tell their story their way. For Christians, living in the light of Christ, we simply must recognize that their (Old Testament authors) words were not the last word. We are obligated not to follow those words. "The story of God's people has moved on, and so must we." This does come across as somewhat dismissive of the Old Testament (though, knowing Enns' work, he certainly does wrestle with it).

Flood specifically says (page 105 of Disarming Scripture): "What do we do with these 'texts of terror'? Should we simply toss them out as Marcion proposed? Unfortunately, this has become the de facto strategy most of us have adopted... we simply avoid reading these deeply troubling parts of Scripture at all- effectively creating our own personal 'canon within the canon' of texts we focus on, and texts we prefer to ignore... But ignoring a problem does not make it go away. We need to shine light on it, not cover it up." Flood seems to speak more about wrestling with them and realizing they are wrong whereas Boyd wants us to wrestle with them and see how they point to Christ. That seems, to me anyways, like a fairly technical difference. In any case, I don't think Flood's view (wrestling) can fairly be labeled dismissive of the texts.

Weaver addresses the issue, too, by pointing out that there's a wrestling match, of sorts, going on in Scripture. There are different (contradictory) depictions of God. Weaver thinks we should wrestle with them. But, ultimately (like Boyd), he believes we should choose the way of Christ and non-violence. I would not call his view dismissive of the texts he doesn't choose insofar as he says (page 137 of The Non-Violent God): "To identify the side of the conversation that most truly represents God is not a 'picking and choosing' of preferred texts, nor is it discarding a part of the Bible. Nothing is being read out of the canon. Reading from the perspective of Jesus' life requires seeing the entire text of Scripture. Only with the complete text in view does the conversation in the text about divine violence become visible." That just seems, to me, like something Boyd would wholly endorse.

In any case, while it is possible Boyd hasn't fairly evaluated some of the scholars he engaged with in this chapter, I still think his central point is correct. We shouldn't just dismiss troubling texts. We must wrestle with them in the light of the cruciform hermeneutic. It seems that Boyd intepreted a lack of emphasis on seeing Christ in those troubling texts as evidence of dismissal.

Monday, May 22, 2017

CWG (Chapter 7)

Chapter 7: The Dark Side of the Bible

In part 1 of the book, he focused on just how beautiful God in light of the revelation of Jesus. Boyd has deliberately delayed taking us on a tour of the 'dark side' of the Bible until that task was done in order for his readers to clearly see the astounding contrast. And in light of his cruciform conclusions, the task of Christian readers of Scripture must be to interpret (not dismiss) the 'dark side' by the light of Christ (not put a good spin on them).

Before beginning this dark tour, Boyd makes sure to note that these passages do not represent the primary way God is depicted in the Old Testament (covenant love and peace). He believes the normative conception of God in the OT is perfectly consistent with the God who is decisively revealed in the crucified Christ. But the 'dark side' must be dealt with and (at least initially) dealt with at face value.

Boyd continues by cataloging numerous places where God comes across as ugly in the Old Testament. It depicts God has commanding genocide, calling for and accepting child sacrifice, utilizing and sanctioning violence, destroying the world and, later, particular cities, sending destructive agents, acting capriciously, and using nations as weapons. The Old Testament contains the Psalms which include many notes of hatred (not love) toward enemies and numerous stories of God's people committing incredibly brutal and violent acts.

Boyd believes that we can't dismiss these texts (as not God-breathed). Nor will putting a good spin on them be enough to redeem these texts. They must be re-interpreted, somehow, in light of the cross of Christ.

Reaction
I'll admit, I struggled with this chapter in two different ways. First, I struggled with the Old Testament material Boyd covered in the way he intended his readers to struggle with it. The ugliness and violence of certain Old Testament passages in impossible to ignore and extremely troubling. Second, however, I sometimes struggled with Boyd's presentation of the material. It seemed, to me, that while he specifically stated that he had no interest in exaggerating the revolting nature of the material, he actually did that to some degree.

In other words, while I agree we shouldn't do the impossible task of trying to put the 'best possible spin' on all these passages (I think his project is worth attempting), it seemed to me that sometimes in attempting to create a no-spin-zone, Boyd was actually just not dealing with the texts in context.

Interestingly, in footnote 28 (page 288), Boyd admits that some of the conservative Christian resources that put a positive spin on the 'dark side' of the Bible succeed to some degree. He admits these resources are helpful. But at other times in the chapter, he views this attempt as not 'respectful' to the Bible (in that it does not deal honestly) and concludes that such attempts actually hinder our ability to read these texts well.

To some degree, my evaluation of chapter 7, then, will have to wait until I read chapter 9 (to see how fairly Boyd reads the positive spin interpreters).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

CWG (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6: Is the Centrality of the Cross Thesis Defensible?

Boyd wants to preemptively respond to two possible objections what he has so far argued.

Some argue that the cross couldn't have been central to the early Christians because it doesn't show up in the surviving early Christian art. Greg doesn't think much of this objection on a number of grounds. First, it doesn't account for the findings of the previous chapter (that the NT does focus on the cross). Second, we have documentation that the early Christians utilized the sign of the cross. Third, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper centerd on Jesus' death on the cross. Fourth, some significant evidence for early Christian 'cross' art does exist. Fifth, it is understandable why early Christians may have avoided depicting Jesus' death on the cross (emotional, theological, strategic, etc.).

A more serious objection to Greg's cruciform hermeneutic and theology is the suggestion that it lacks precedent in church tradition. In other words, why hasn't a cruciform hermeneutic been applied to violent Old Testament passages before now? Greg begins by reiterating that a cruciform hermeneutic has been employed at key points throughout church history (though not consistently). But since Augustine (Determinism) & Constantine (Church/State Blend), the church has largely attempted to justify (its own) violence. The motivation to re-interpret these OT texts disappeared. The Anabaptists recovered the early church's motivation, but persecution meant that they didn't get very far in this endeavor. Tragically, it is only in the last decades that efforts to apply the cruciform hermeneutic to these passages have restarted.

Reaction
Personally, I felt the section on early Christian art would have been better as an appendix (though I did enjoy learning some things). Boyd had some strong responses to the question of why what he's attempting seems (and, to some degree, is) novel. It seemed plausible to me (I am, after all, Anabaptist in theological orientation).

I liked how Greg pointed out the cross actually plays a MORE central role in Anabaptist theology for the very reason that they allow it to apply to all areas (not just a narrow view application to atonement theology). I also enjoyed his thoughts on divine wisdom and divine determinism.

Friday, May 19, 2017

CWG (Chapter 5)

Chapter 5: The Cruciform Center Part 2

In this chapter, Boyd aims to show that the New Testament is thoroughly cross-shaped. The 4 Gospel accounts all culminate in the cross. The 4th Gospel, perhaps especially, shows that the most glorious hour of revelation was the cross. Jesus' teaching and actions prior to the cross were also emphasizes the sacrifice which is best demonstrated at the cross. Paul's writing are thoroughly cruciform as well (he resolved to know nothing except Christ crucified). It isn't that the cross is an alternative to power, it is that the cross is a new kind of power (a non-violent kind... the power of love). Even the book of Revelation can (and should) be read in a cruciform way (it is the lamb who is victorious). The two ordinances of the church (Lord's Supper & Baptism) are also centered on Jesus' death.

Thus, self-sacrifice, other-oriented love should be at the center of our theology. This love is non-violent. Attempts to de-centralize or provide counter-examples of Jesus non-violence fall short. Jesus life was consistently cross-shaped. And given God's vindication of Jesus, we have no reason to believe God will ever resort to violence in the future (or, by implication, that God has done so in the past).

Reaction
As I stated in my review of chapter 4, I was persuaded by Boyd's theological argument for the centralization of the cross. This chapter, then, just added to the case for its centrality. He shared a number of insightful readings of specific New Testament texts showing this theme and ably responded to passages that are sometimes used to speak against his position. Boyd seems to have purposefully gone to great lengths (unnecessarily in my case) to justify his cruciform hermeneutic.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

CWG (Chapter 4)

Chapter 4: The Cruciform Center Part 1

Boyd believes the Christological lens through which we read Scripture needs to be more focused. That focus must be Cruciform (cross centered). If Jesus is the key to reading Scripture, then the cross is the key to understanding Jesus.

Augustine had a famous hermeneutical 'rule of love', but a poor definition of what love entails (an inner disposition with no necessary connection to outward actions). God IS love (1 John 4:8+16), but love is defined by sacrifice (1 John 3:16). If love is defined by sacrifice, it receives its greatest possible definition in the cross (the greatest possible sacrifice insofar that God, in Christ, actually experienced our God-forsaken curse). This is why the cross is the center of the revelation that God is love.

This is not to say that the cross is the only important aspect of Jesus' ministry. It is simply the interpretive center. Even the resurrection is best understood as the victorious declaration of the power of the cross (not some sort of triumphant alternative).

Reaction
I went into this chapter with some reluctance to accept a thoroughly cruciform (not simply christocentric) hermeneutic. Boyd, however, tipped the scales with his argument. I found it persuasive. He addressed my concerns. In the few moments where I thought he might be going off the edge a bit... the footnotes clarified (it's important to read footnotes!).

Monday, May 15, 2017

CWG (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3: Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

Boyd believes that the church has always used (albeit inconsistently) a christocentric hermeneutic. In other words, Christians read the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. Specifically, Jesus is our key we use to best understanding the Old Testament Scriptures. The 'in-light-of-Christ' meaning should be even more central to the Christian understanding of Old Testament passages as the 'original' meaning would have been.

This is how the New Testament authors read and interpreted the Old Testament. They felt free to find Jesus there in creative and flexible ways (some that aren't convincing to most modern people). The early church continued this way of reading the Old Testament through 'typological' and 'allegorical' readings. In fact, the Old Testament was considered 'Christian' Scripture only insofar as it was read christologically. Though set aside at the time of Constantine, the christological hermeneutic came back at the time of the Reformation (Luther, Calvin), but especially with the radical reformers (Anabaptist). More recently, the work of Barth has reignited the christological reading of Scripture.

But while this (Christian) way of reading the Old Testament has experienced a resurgence, Boyd isn't impressed withe the results. Though he whole-heartedly agrees that this is the right way for Christians to read Scripture, he believes the lens hasn't been used consistently. To remedy this, Boyd believes we need a more focused lens. The cross of Christ, specifically, needs to be at the center of our Old Testament reading. Making that point will round out part 1 of Boyd's work over the span of 3 chapters.

Reaction
I agree that a christological reading of Scripture is the Christian way to read Scripture (seems like a no-brainer). Boyd did a good job of dealing with the (sometimes uncomfortable, from our perspective) way the NT authors found Christ in the Old Testament. I also agreed with Boyd that the radical reformers were on the right path in their views of Scripture and how to read it.

I may be less inclined, than Boyd, to dismiss the NT authors' specific readings as lacking modern day plausibility (I'd be more inclined to say our plausibility structures are broken). And, I'll admit, I'm a bit skeptical that the cross, specifically, should be made the epicenter of our hermeneutic. It seems to me our task is to read Christ well (and in a well-rounded way) rather than to focus on 1 aspect or event in his life. I'd suggest that the solution to misreading Jesus is not a more narrow reading, but a better reading. But I'm willing to hear Boyd's argument over the next 3 chapters.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

CWG (Chapter 2)

Chapter 2: The True Face of God
In this chapter, Boyd spends over 50 pages to drive home the point that Jesus isn't just a revelation of God, He is THE revelation of God. In the cross (the thematic center of everything Jesus was about), we find the full revelation of God's character. He painstakingly goes through passage after passage highlighting this fact.

Since Jesus is the revelation of God, Christians must read the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. All of Scripture is about Jesus and its interpretation must be subjected to the revelation that is Christ. Jesus was not afraid to set aside Old Testament teachings. He had the authority to do so and His followers must follow suit. Consistently, Christ used this authority to set aside laws that called for violence and replaced them with the law of love.

In some ways, he was the anti-Moses, the anti-Joshua, the anti-David, the anti-Elijah, etc. He was the Messiah no one expected because they were prepared (largely by the Old Testament) for a military Messiah. It is the challenge of Boyd's book to discover how the violent texts of the Old Testament actually testify to the revelation of God through Christ.

Reaction
This chapter was fairly repetitious. Boyd wanted to make the point boldly and strongly. There were some good interpretive insights throughout. He argued his position well. I agree with his approach and am thankful for the new light cast on some familiar texts.

I did appreciate footnote 4 in which Boyd clarifies that when he refers to the revelation of God through the cross of Christ, it should not be thought that he's distinguishing the cross from other aspects of Jesus' life and ministry, but locating the thematic center of such in the event of the cross. This removes an early concern I had about this project.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

CWG (Chapter 1)

Boyd's book is written in 7 parts. Part 1 (The Centrality of the Crucified Christ) includes 6 chapters.

Chapter 1: The Faith of Jacob
In this chapter, Boyd addresses 3 foundational issues: His understanding of the doctrine of inspiration, our willingness to 'wrestle' with Scripture, and the practical impacts of our portraits of God. What binds this chapter together (as its title makes clear) is that Boyd is attempting to do something within orthodoxy, in the name of 'Israel' (wresler), and that will be useful in defending the Christian faith.

First, Boyd believes his view of the God-breathed nature of Scripture is in agreement with the historic-orthodox Christian faith (God is the ultimate author of these books). He does not feel free to dismiss any part of Scripture (hence the previously mentioned conundrum).

Second, Boyd knows his approach may be unsettling for many of his Christian readers... therefore he reminds us that struggling with Scripture is at the heart of the Christian faith. The term "Israel" means to wrestle with God. Job spoke in a raw and honest manner about God and was commended. Scripture even argues with itself at times. Jesus' teaching changed some Old Covenant teachings. It's okay (healthy even) to have our interpretations shaken up. Boyd is really just continuing the Christo-centric reading started by the early church fathers (but cut off around the time of Constantine). Besides, the Spirit is still in the process of guiding us to greater understandings of Scripture. New is not necessarily bad. Nevertheless, Boyd accepts that the burden of proof is on him to persuade the reader against the grain of centuries of church tradition. He offers his proposal to the church for consideration.

Third, Boyd reminds us that our mental picture of God is extremely important. Our views impact our actions. The actions of the church throughout much of history reveal our flawed pictures of God. Too often (maybe especially in American history) we've allowed the Old Testament pictures of God to lead us (and shape our understanding of Jesus) instead of the reverse. Rather than trying to defend 'Christian' history, we should side with our critics (and outdo them). "We should be in the front lines declaring insofar as people engaged in violence in the name of Jesus, they were engaging in the most diabolical form of violence there is." Nevertheless, Boyd believes there is a way forward. Just as the beauty of God can be seen through the ugliness of the cross, the beauty of God can be seen through the ugliness of the violent depictions of God contained in the Old Testament.

Both the cross and the Old Testament were God breathed. We should wrestle with how this is so. In fact, we must.

Reaction
On inspiration, I can certainly see the appeal of just abandoning belief in the inspiration of either the Old Testament or, at least, its most problematic texts. But this does seem like the easy way out (and, worse yet, inconsistent with Jesus' approach), so I appreciate Boyd's purposes here to focus on Christ AND retain a high view of all Christian Scripture.

I have read Boyd's book "Benefit of the Doubt" and thought it was excellent, so I was very much on board with his emphasis on wrestling with Scripture. And I am concerned, with him, about the use of violent texts in Scripture to justify violent attitudes and actions in our modern world.

As an aside, in discussing the inspiration of Scripture, Boyd says the following: "It is the God-breathed nature of the text that renders it authoritative, not the relation a text may or may not have with actual history." I would be interested to know what Boyd's view is in regards to the historicity of the conquest (for instance). I assume this will be addressed later in the book to some degree.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Introduction)

Summary of Introduction
Greg Boyd believes that Jesus (and especially the cross) is at the center of the Christian faith and the greatest revelation of God's character. He also believes in the divine inspiration of Scripture. But this creates a conundrum. How do we reconcile what we know of Jesus (self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, other-oriented, etc.) and the violent depictions of God that we often find (especially) in the Old Testament? We can't just reject the Old Testament (it's divinely inspired), but we also can't embrace it's violence.

Originally, Greg thought putting the 'best-spin' on these Old Testament texts might redeem them, but he determined that this approach was strained and inadequate. He came to the conviction (helped by Origen), instead, that it would be a better project to consistently apply a cruciform hermeneutic (a way of reading Scripture through the lens of Christ and the cross) to these passages. The way forward wasn't to soften the rough edges of the Old Testament depictions of God, but to see them in a new way (similar to looking at a 'Magic Eye' picture).

Greg came to the conclusion that looking backward from the height of the cross is the best vantage point (following, in this hermeneutic, Luther & Moltmann especially) for understanding the violent portraits of God given in the Old Testament. He hopes that his 2-volume work will help readers see the 'self-sacrificial, indiscriminately loving, nonviolent God revealed on the cross in the depths of the OT's sometimes horrifically violent depictions of God'. In short, he hopes to show that the very idea of a violent warrior God has been crucified in Christ.

Reaction
I've been waiting for this book for a long while and have heard Greg Boyd preach on the subject multiple times... so I knew what the book was going to be about. This introduction does an excellent job of describing the path which brought Greg to the point (a decade, really) of writing the book and describing, for the reader, the ground that will be covered.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Bible Tells Me So

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture has Made us Unable to Read it (By Peter Enns)

Summary of Contents

In chapter 1, Enns discusses his reasons for writing the book. He chooses 'door number 3' in the debate about accepting (positively) what we find in the Bible vs. simply rejecting the Bible.

As Christians, we often try to 'tidy-up' the Bible. But the Problem isn't the Bible. The problem is coming to the Bible with expectations it's not set up to bear. Maybe the Bible was meant to be messy, troubling, and weird.

Enns conveys 'biblical scholarship' as a fairly uniform group reaching relatively liberal conclusions. But those conclusions (which he shares) haven't interrupted his faith in God. Instead, it's deepened his faith. He gained a Bible -- and a God -- that he was free to converse with, complain to, talk back to, interrogate, disagree with (not as a act of rebellion, but as an act of faith and trust). God WANTS us to wrestle with the Scriptures. The Bible itself is an inspired wrestling match.

Enns came to his conclusions when he noticed that, in the Bible, God does a lot of killing; that what the Bible says happened often didn't happen (historically, at least the way the Bible said it did); and that the biblical writers often disagreed with one another. The next three chapters elaborate on these observations.

Chapter 2 is about the 'bad' stuff Enns finds in the Bible.

Enns points out that there is a lot of killing in the Bible. Violence, at times, seems to be God's preferred method of conflict resolution. We need to take these portraits of God seriously, but not as the final word. God commands the genocide of the Cannanites, for instance. We shouldn't try to justify the elimination of the Canaanites. All such attempts are really hard to defend. Enns believes the biblical writers were wrong in some of their beliefs about God. They were wrong to think God commanded genocide. Thankfully, according to Enns, this mass killing never really happened anyways (they were just exaggerations made up during the monarchy).

But why would God allow Himself to be painted in these ways if they aren't even real depictions of Who He is? Enns insists, again, that the Bible is the story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time. But God wants us to see the development that occurs throughout the Bible. God's people today are actually obligated not to repeat the mistakes of the more ancient people as they attempted to follow God and failed to discern His true leading. God chose to let these (False) stories be told because, as the next chapter will show, God likes stories.

(MORE TO COME)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Faithful Presence (Summary)

Introduction
Questioning the necessity of 'church' is a growing phenomenon among even Christian people. But David Fitch believes The Church is vitally important to the world when it is the 'faithful presence' of God in the world. In order for the church to serve as the faithful presence of God, it best practice the 7 disciplines that are the focus of this book. These are the disciplines that shape Christians into communities that change the world.

Chapter 1 God's Faithful Presence
The story of God is the story of God's presence. From the Garden to the formation of Israel to the Tabernacle to the Temple to the prophecies of Immanuel ("God with us") to the coming New Heavens and Earth... "The Scriptures, from beginning to end, tell the marvelous story of God returning his presence to all creation. It always was God's intent to be with his creation in the fullness of his presence." In fact, "God's people are not his people apart from his presence." The church today needs to rediscover its sense of the presence of God. When the church does this, it once again becomes the hope of the world. It becomes an access point for all to experience God's presence.

Chapter 2 To Change the World
God is, of course, present in the whole world. But His plan to change the world involves having his presence especially manifest in a particular people (the church). Fitch believes the 7 disciplines that prepare the church to be the faithful presence of God are as follows: The Lord's Table, reconciliation, proclaiming the Gospel, being with the least of these, being with children, the fivefold ministry, and kingdom prayer. Young champions these 7 because they are given directly by Christ in Scripture, time-tested, repeatable, holistic, and social. When the church faithfully practices these disciplines, God's presence becomes visible in the church's worship, the neighborhoods of its members, and throughout the world. God's presence, in other words, is always moving outward (and re-engaging at the center). We must avoid both the holy huddle (thinking we can only find God's presence in our worship services) and mere social activism (thinking we can change the world with our social activity alone).

* I'd be interested to know how much agreement there might be between Fitch and WM Paul Young in regards to 2 Corinthians 5:19. Young believes all people are saved and just need to be led to realize as much. Fitch, I would guess, would not go so far as that... but there does seem to be some sympathy for that position on the bottoms of pages 36 and 39.
* I like Fitch's 3 circles imagery. The close, dotted, and half circles seem like helpful ways of thinking through ecclesial mission.

Chapter 3 The Discipline of the Lord's Table
Our society is a mass of disconnected souls, but starving for connection and real presence. Fitch sees the Eucharist as the answer to this problem (for it is all about the genuine presence of God and people). He recognizes that there are many different traditions when it comes to the Lord's Table. Drawing on those traditions, Fitch would have us to re-imagine what God is up to in this sacred discipline. The table trains us to discern God's presence all week long. Our practice of the Lord's Table in our church congregations may be more formal and Sunday only, but it 'sets the table' for further disciplines of communion throughout the week. Fitch wants us to see meal-sharing during the week as a discipline of the Lord's table. Not-yet-followers of Jesus are welcomed into our homes (we host God's presence). We get invited into their homes (and we discern God's presence there as well). In short, "The Lord's Table happens every time we share a meal together with people and tend to the presence of Christ among us." We must practice the discipline of the Lord's Table in all three settings (close circle (church congregation), dotted circle (in our homes as hosts), half circle (in our communities as guests). Fitch thinks this 'extending-table' model was lost around the time of Constantine when communion became just a formal little ceremony in a church building rather than a shared meal in a home. Food brings us together and, even more importantly, when we are together we can best experience the presence of Jesus.

*I could tell Fitch truly values this discipline in his own life, but it seems to me most churches just practice communion as a routine ritual. The power of the discipline seems to be lost in most churches. I don't sense an 'amazing social dynamic' breaking forth when we break the bread. This should be a matter of prayer.
* I really liked Fitch's application of his 3 circles to the issue of the Lord's Table. I like the idea of thinking of meals in our homes and neighborhoods as extensions of this discipline. And I think his New Testament examples were on point.
* I got the impression that Fitch thinks the food just brings us together. It is our togetherness (not the bread and drink) that truly makes Christ present.

Chapter 4 The Discipline of Reconciliation
Broken relationships exist on both the surface level of our society and they simmer beneath. The world hungers for reconciliation and the church must lead the way in this discipline (in fact, when we see no reconciliation in our churches, there is no gospel in them). The discipline itself is really quite simple. When (not IF, conflict is an inevitable part of life and actually shows we are engaging challenging places with the gospel) there is a problem in a relationship, we meet each other face to face. Jesus is there. As reconciliation occurs, the world takes notice and may even begin to seek the aid of the church in further reconciliation. Fitch understands, though, that reconciliation won't always take place ("nine times out of ten, it may be rejected"), but we must persist. Doing the hard work of reconciliation is dangerous, but amidst this work the kingdom of God breaks in. Fitch thinks the church has too often just tried to manage conflict (at the leadership level) rather than discerning the presence of Christ in it (at the every day level). If the church becomes a faithful presence for reconciliation, the world will change.

* It wasn't totally clear why the word 'mediation' has such a negative connotation for Fitch. He seems to think it means one party gets its way (judged as 'right'). I think of it more as two parties being brought together. He also seems to contradict his own position on the bottom of page 79. He's against mediation, conflict management, conflict resolution, etc., but it is not entirely clear how those things differ from 'reconciliation' in Fitch's mind.
* Once again, Fitch seems to speak of forgiveness as something already accomplished for all people via Christ (page 81). This sounds very much like William Paul Young's position.

Chapter 5 The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel
Our world is becoming more and more hopeless. People don't think change is possible. Proclaiming the Gospel is proclaiming not just the possibility, but the reality, of new world. The gospel is big news. It is not just about individual salvation. Fitch wants to make a clear distinction between proclamation and teaching. Proclamation announces a new world. Teaching simply informs about that world. Proclamation must precede teaching. Proclamation keeps God at the center, not our rational minds and our ability to process information. Proclamation cannot be argued or debated, only accepted or rejected. Proclamation isn't aimed at non-Christians only. We are in constant need of re-orienting ourselves toward the new realities in Christ. In that sense, we need to get saved all over again each Sunday in church worship (close circle). The church then moves from house to house, proclaiming the Gospel in our daily relationships (dotted circle). But we must also go into the world as guests (half circle). We must be present, as guests, before we proclaim to the world. In many cases, our proclamation will be rejected. Even still, we have been faithfully present.

* I liked a lot of what Fitch said here about proclamation and how it differs from teaching. This book wasn't the context for it, but I would like to hear more of what Fitch thinks about the role of teaching. He seemed a bit too cynical, to me at least, about what currently goes on in most churches. I think a lot of contemporary preaching is a blend of proclamation and teaching. And I don't think that's a bad thing. His presentation is a bit black and white at times, but most authors have to do this to make their emphasis clear. I do the same.

Chapter 6 The Discipline of Being with the Least of These
Fitch is very concerned that we've turned caring for the poor into merely a program (he is careful to say that programs do some good work, but he clearly consider them highly problematic when used as an exclusive or even primary method to help the poor... even to the point of suggesting that they do more harm than good in the long term). Instead, we must discipline ourselves to be WITH the poor and needy. This will not only benefit the poor (who long to be more than 'projects'), but it will benefit Christ's people (for it puts them in His presence). This is what the early Christians were known for. This needs to start in the close circle. The church must be with the poor among their own members and care for them, but this will allow the church to extend this discipline of 'withness' to the dotted circle and the half circle as well. We need to spend real time with the poor. In doing so, we will access Christ.

*I felt like some of the biblical interpretation in this chapter was unnecessarily stretched (though not beyond credulity). I'm thinking here of Luke 16 and Matthew 25 and the motivation for Paul's tent-making vocation, but I'm willing to prayerfully consider these thoughts some more.
*Overall, I liked this chapter best of all so far.

Chapter 7 The Discipline of Being with Children
Fitch believes that we obsess over and idolize children in our culture without actually spending time with them. We must resist centering our lives around our children and instead center our lives together with them in Christ's presence. Being with children actually is an encounter with the living Christ! All Christians need to spend time with children (it's not a spiritual gift for only some). But we should resist making children's ministry a 'program', it must be a way of life. Being with children will naturally connect us with our community (birthday parties, play dates, etc.). We've got to stop trying to distract our children away from presence and bless them (and be blessed) with presence.

*Really good thoughts in this chapter.

Chapter 8 The Discipline of the Fivefold Gifting
The contemporary church seems defaulted to a hierarchical leadership structure. But there is another (better) option according to Fitch. The world longs for mutuality and the church should lead the way by a leadership structure of the fivefold ministry (from Ephesians 4). In this style, a leadership team (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher), relates in mutual submission under the authority of Christ. These leaders serve under the community, not over it (discerning the gifts of the people and equipping them for ministry). Fitch is adamant that this is the way (abandoned at the time of Constantine) church leadership should be structured and that it is the basis for the church being a place of faithful presence.

*I liked Fitch's emphasis on the importance of leaders being vulnerable and willing to confess sins in front of each other and others.
*I actually agree that the church needs a less hierarchical leadership structure. I'm not sure if I agree that the 'fivefold ministry' is the only or best replacement option.
*I wonder if Fitch makes a distinction between Apostles in the (walked with Jesus) sense and apostles in the modern day sense (since he says he believes there are modern day apostles). I also noticed that Fitch seemed to somewhat regularly neglect the 'teacher' role. I wondered if this was accidental or on purpose.
*I liked the way Fitch was willing to use spiritual gifts assessments, but not be ruled by them

Chapter 9 The Discipline of Kingdom Prayer
Fitch stresses that, though he has saved this discipline for last, in practice it must come first. Disciplining ourselves in prayer demonstrates that we know we need God. It is an act of inviting God's presence into a disordered world (and, therefore, a revolutionary act). Fitch believes we'd do well to stick to the Lord's Prayer. We must also pray in all three circles (so 'praying the hours' is wise). We do well to offer prayer (but must never coerce someone in prayer). There should be no drive-by prayers. Prayer flows from presence (true knowledge of a situation... a relationship) and aligns us with God's presence.

* I totally agree with his point that prayer needs to be listed as a separate category (even though it is part of all the other disciplines) for the very reason that it is so important and so easily neglected.
* I was convicted by Fitch's statement about not be too quick to offer kingdom prayer. He stresses that we must be present to the other person and to Christ's presence at work in the situation. "True kingdom prayer demands we know and are involved in the situation concretely." This contrasts with most 'prayer meetings' which tend to pray through a list of generally unknown names and situations.

Epilogue & Appendixes
Fitch sees a disconnect between much of the older generation of Christians (maintenance mode) and the younger generation (exhaustion mode). It once to combine the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses of these two modes. He's calling the church to become 'political (not a reference to national politics) organizers for the kingdom'. We do this by practicing the 7 Disciplines in all 3 circles.

*Appendix 4 was especially interesting to me. Fitch discusses the two major interpretations of Matthew 25. One emphasizes taking care of the church (neglecting world). The other emphasizes taking care of the world (neglecting church). Fitch offers a third interpretation. It's whatever YOU (Jesus' disciples) to do the least of these (the needy in the world). It must be the CHURCH reaching out to the WORLD. This cannot occur without a strong church. Fitch believes the missional church often has a weak ecclesiology (appendix 3) and he hopes his book offers a corrective.