Thursday, December 31, 2020

That's not enough!

The point is that the transition from otherworldly salvation to a holistic understanding of the kingdom of God is impossible without personal transformation. The shift to a truly biblical understanding of salvation cannot be limited to head knowledge without moral responsibility. To put it another way, we cannot separate eschatology from ethics.

If we omit the ethical challenge of the kingdom, our newly found this-worldliness will simply confirm our selfish consumerist/materialistic, upwardly mobile, late—modern lifestyle; that is, our affirmation of the world (our holistic vision of salvation) will be construed to benefit us (whoever we are), while we ignore the needs of the wider world, especially the concrete needs of people who are different from our favored in—group. The tragedy is that many upwardly mobile North American Christians today often hoard and guard their religious identity and economic privilege, with little concern for the poor or for immigrants, or those of other nations, cultures, or religions. This problem is, of course, not limited to North Americans or even specifically to Christians. But, given the primary audience of this book, and the extraordinary religious and economic privilege of those living in North America, we need to take this challenge seriously.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 273

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Not yet, but getting there…

The fact that John died in prison should warn us of the difference between a biblical understanding of the kingdom and the triumphalistic assumptions of much that goes under the name of the “health—and-wealth gospel” or the “prosperity gospel.” Jesus himself endured rejection and death before resurrection, thus paralleling Israel’s experience of bondage in Egypt before deliverance and their exile in Babylon before return to the land. Paul himself says that we must suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection (Phil. 3:10–11). Indeed, all creation is groaning in its bondage, awaiting liberation (Rom. 8:18–25). In other words, while resurrection, healing, and holistic restoration constitute the appropriate Christian hope——and there is substantial healing and restoration possible in the present—“hope” means that we trust in what is coming but is not yet with us in its fullness. We live between the times, after the inauguration of the kingdom but before its final consummation.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 272 n. 11

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Great News!

But this vision of holistic salvation is only initially disorienting. It is ultimately good news—even great news! For if we are honest about it, the kingdom of God is exactly what we need, since it addresses both our present brokenness and our deepest yearnings for restoration and renewal. We know that brokenness pervades church and society, at individual and communal levels; this includes failed marriages, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, domestic violence, racism, poverty, disease, war, genocide, greed, and despair. And we yearn and hope desperately for God’s healing and shalom. If only we would dismantle our ingrained bifurcated habits of mind and life (our division of reality into sacred and secular, into spiritual and earthly), then we could begin to open our hearts to the power of God’s holistic salvation; for the good news is that God wants to heal all our brokenness, both internal and external, whether personal or social.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 272

Monday, December 28, 2020

There's more to the gospel than that!

What John [the Baptist] did not understand was that the kingdom does not come all at once. John was in danger of stumbling over Jesus on this point. He expected too much, too quickly.

Historically, however, many Christians have had the opposite problem. We have not expected enough. And what we have expected, we have often delayed until “heaven” and the return of Christ. We have not really believed that God cares about this world of real people in their actual historical situations, which often are characterized by oppression and suffering. Our understanding of salvation has been characterized by an unbiblical otherworldliness. So our expectations of the future have often not reflected the full-orbed good news that Jesus proclaimed at Nazareth.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 271

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ad fontes!

Whereas in the beginning Israel was simply one (admittedly unique) nation among the other nations, the term “nations” (= gentiles) came to be reserved for non-Israelites. This parallels the split between clergy and laity in the history of Christianity. Although originally those with a pastoral leadership role were simply one group among the people (laos) of God, the term “people” (= laity) came to be reserved for those who were not clergy. In both cases this terminology serves to distance one group (with a distinctive mission) from the larger group of which they were originally members. Election for ministry or service becomes transformed into an elite or even oppositional sense of identity, which ends up subverting the original purpose of the distinction (which was about function, not status).—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 266

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Don't limit the good news!

But the message of Jesus was good news not just for his original hearers; it is good news for us today as well. Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom at Nazareth can help us unlearn dualistic habits of mind that shackle our reading of the gospel and limit the scope of God’s salvation. But it does more than change our understanding, important as that is.

The message of the kingdom that Jesus brings is good news most fundamentally because we, no less than his original hearers, desperately need the healing and redemption that he came to bring, a redemption that touches all we do. For we are, in multiple ways, caught up in the brokenness of the world, complicit in sin not just at the individual level but also as part and parcel of the fallen social order, which is out of whack with God’s purposes, living in a creation that is groaning for redemption. And we yearn for healing. The good news is that the coming of God’s kingdom impacts the entirety of our lives—our bodies, our work, our families, all our social relationships, even our relationship to the earth itself. The good news of the kingdom is nothing less than the healing (literally, the establishing) of the world (tikkûn 'ôlām), in which we are all invited to participate.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 261–62

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

But you are starting with the wrong assumptions!

The trouble is that many contemporary Christians understand eternal life primarily as a reference to life after death (often connected to the idea of dwelling in heaven forever) and then use this un-biblical concept to interpret the kingdom of God. But this puts matters precisely the wrong way around.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 246

Monday, December 21, 2020

Nope, that's not heaven!

Note that “the air” (where believers are to meet Christ) is not “heaven” in contemporary Christian theology. Classical Greek authors often used the term aēr (which Paul uses here [1 Thess 4:17]) to refer to the lower atmosphere (below the moon), characterized as dense and misty, in distinction from the aethēr (the pure upper region of the stars). While we cannot simply attribute this understanding of the air to Paul without further ado, the New Testament sometimes associates the air with the domain of Satan, who is called “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), a phrase essentially synonymous with the Johannine expression “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30). Note also the association of birds (which inhabit the air) with the evil one/Satan/the devil in different versions of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:4, 19; Mark 4:4, 15; Luke 8:5, 12). If any of these associations is relevant to 1 Thess. 4, Paul may be intending to say that redemption occurs on the devil’s “turf,” and he is powerless to impede it.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 222–23 n. 12

Friday, December 18, 2020

You don't want to hear this

The apocalyptic pattern emphasizes that until Christ returns, salvation is only partial; Christian hope thus involves waiting patiently for the unveiling on the last day. To be faithful in the interim, as we live toward the parousia, Christian discipleship will be cruciform, following the pattern of Christ’s life, and will therefore often be characterized by suffering and sacrifice; this is because of the ethical tension between the promised kingdom of God and the powers of the present age. The cruciform pattern of the Christian life is very hard for contemporary Westerners to hear, since we (and I include myself here) typically want quick fixes, and we somehow think that our (presumed) faithfulness should make us immune to suffering. It turns out, on the contrary, that faithfulness to Christ and our love for others will often require a voluntary taking up of suffering on our part in order to live ethically in this fallen world.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 211

Thursday, December 17, 2020

It's being prepared

N. T. Wright nicely illustrates this point [about the city of God being prepared in heaven] with his analogy of a parent telling a child in advance of Christmas that there is “a present kept safe in the cupboard for you.” This does not mean that once Christmas comes, the child has to “go and live in the cupboard in order to enjoy the present there.” Rather, the present will be brought from the cupboard to enrich the life of the child in the day-to-day world.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 220

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Public service announcement

Authors: Please, please, please remember this:

In a title/subtitle and bibliographies, the word "Its" and all forms of the verb "to be" are capitalized!

That is all. Thanks! It would save copyeditors a ton of time.

Colonizing the earth

It is worth noting that Philippi was a Roman colony and that many in the Philippian church would have been Roman citizens. In drawing on the analogy between Roman citizenship and citizenship in heaven, Paul not only was designating Jesus as the true “Savior” and “Lord” in contrast to Caesar (who was often described by these titles); he was also undoubtedly aware that Rome was crowded (indeed, overcrowded), and its citizens who were spread throughout the empire did not expect to settle in Rome one day. Instead, they expected to live out their citizenship wherever they were, as representatives of the empire. Likewise Christians, whose citizenship is in heaven, are expected to live as representatives of the kingdom of God on earth, manifesting Christ’s rule, until the day when the true Lord returns from heaven (the mother city) to liberate them from their enemies and fully establish his rule in the colonies. Or, to put it in terms of the Lord’s Prayer, the day when God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 218

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Is it broken? (the heart rate monitor, not the system!)

Last week I went to the doctor because I couldn't get rid of an infection; it required anti-biotics. I rarely use them, as I don't want to assist in the creation of super viruses, but sometimes they are necessary. But that's not the story here…

After going through the Covid-19 verbal questions and sitting in the appropriately spaced waiting room, the nurse called my name and escorted me back to the preliminary screening area where they check your weight, height, pulse, temperature, and who knows what else those things monitor now. Anyway, the pulse monitor said my pulse was 55, which is high for me, but I suffer from "white coat syndrome," which is a fancy term for the fact that I get elevated blood pressure, faster pulse, and all the rest of the stuff related to stress, when I visit a doctor. But that pulse caused the nurse to look at me and ask in somewhat alarmed voice, "Do you normally have a low pulse?" I assured her that my resting pulse was actually lower than that (about 45–50). She shook her head, readjusted the finger monitor, and then, because it didn't change, she manually checked my pulse. In an unbelieving tone, she said, "Hnh. It's correct."

OK, I thought it was humorous. Your mileage may vary. But I guess it just shows that clinics aren't used to getting healthy people—or maybe there just aren't enough of us left anymore? After all, they say that 2/3 of the people in the US are overweight and 1/2 of those are obese. There's no way that someone carrying around all that extra weight will have a pulse rate below 60!

On the throne!

And Paul, living after the death/resurrection and victory of Jesus, understands this risen and ascended Messiah to be presently reigning as Lord of all; yet Paul anticipates a further stage in redemptive history when the Messiah, having subdued all powers that oppose God (including death, the final enemy), will hand the kingdom over to the Father (1 Cor. 15 :24–26). Then, according Revelation 11:15, the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of God. And God, says Paul, will be all in all (15:28). Then the created order will once again respond in obedience and praise to its maker. In the end, the Bible envisions nothing less than the eschatological transformation of heaven and earth.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 210

Monday, December 14, 2020

Universal? Yes, the call is, but…

The call [to salvation] is absolutely universal. But you need to be thirsty; you need to want that water. And both the Bible and human experience suggest that some are not thirsty. Not all yearn for that water. I would like to think that universal salvation might be true—and surely God’s mercy is beyond our understanding¶mdash;but a biblical understanding of holistic salvation suggests that this is wishful thinking.”—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 208–9

Friday, December 11, 2020

There will be no more sea!

For example, the disappearance of the sea in Revelation 21:1 (“and the sea was no more”) is not making the point that no one goes swimming in the new creation. Rather, the sea is a traditional symbol in the ancient Near East for the forces of chaos and evil (thus in Rev. 13:1 one of the beasts comes from the sea). The point is that the forces of evil and chaos will be eradicated. Beyond the traditional background of this image, the book of Revelation previously mentioned the exploitative sea trade of the Roman Empire, which will end when Rome, the great city (called, symbolically, “Babylon”), falls (18:11—18); that is why among those who mourn the passing of the city are “all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea” (18:17—18). It is therefore good news that in the eschaton the sea (which facilitated the economic expansion of the Roman Empire) will be no more.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 169

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Cool of the evening? Or in the midst of the storm?

It is traditional to interpret Gen. 3:3 (which introduces God’s judgment) to mean that the first humans heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden in “the cool of the day” (literally, in the ruaḥ of the yōm), which makes some sense since ruaḥ can mean “wind,” and a wind brings lower temperatures, while yōm normally means “day.” This interpretation goes back to the Septuagint, which renders the phrase “in the evening” (to deilinon). However, there is a secondary (less common) meaning for yōm given in some lexicons (derived from an Akkadian word), “storm” (hence the expression might mean “the wind of the storm”). Thus, instead of describing God as taking a leisurely evening stroll in the garden, the “sound” the first humans heard might well be the trees whipping around in a tempest, which is the physical effect of God’s coming in judgment. This would fit the pattern of theophanies in the Old Testament, which areloften accpmpaniedi by a storm, with great noise.(for a classic storm theophany in a forest, with trees splitting and crashing, see Ps. 29).—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 164 n. 16

Monday, December 07, 2020

Look in the mirror! You are pharaoh…

It is important here to understand the logic by which Paul includes the nonhuman creation in God’s salvific plan. In Paul’s picture the human race implicitly takes the place of Pharaoh; we have subjected creation to futility or frustration, much as the Egyptian king oppressed the Israelites. According to the first chapters of Genesis, humanity was granted stewardship over their earthly environment. But then came the fall, which distorted but did not abrogate our stewardship. Just as an abusive parent can destroy a family or a dictator can devastate a nation, so human corruption has affected that which has been entrusted to our care, with the result that the nonhuman realm is now “subjected to futility. There are echoes here of the curse on the ground in Genesis 3:17, stemming from human disobedience, and the effect of rampant human violence in corrupting or ruining the earth at the time of the flood (Gen. 6:11).—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 160

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Your God is too small!

Sure, that's the title of a (very good) book written by J. B. Phillipps (Epworth Press, 1952), but he's correct. How wide is God's plan for salvation? This wide:
Salvation is here conceived as reconciliation or making peace between those who are at enmity, presumably by removing the source of that enmity, namely, sin. Indeed, [Col 1] verse 20 contains the idea of atonement through the blood of Christ; this is how reconciliation is achieved. But in contrast to much Christian preaching, which emphasizes that the blood of Christ was shed for “me” (and we are told to put our name there), Colossians 1 does not myopically limit the efficacy of Christ’s atonement to the individual or even to humanity. Without denying that the atonement suffices for individual people, the text applies the reconciliation effected by Christ’s shed blood as comprehensively as possible, to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”

This wording brings us back to verse 16 (just four verses earlier), which affirms that in Christ “all things in heaven and on earth were created.” When Verse 17 goes on to say that “in him all things hold together,” we are warranted in thinking that the reconciliation spoken of in verse 20 continues and brings to completion Christ’s unifying work as creator, which has been disrupted by sin. The point is that redemption is as wide as creation; it is literally cosmic in scope.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 158–59

<idle musing>
That's pretty big, isn't it? And you are worried about anything? Then your god (lower case "g") is too small!
<idle musing>

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The restoration

It is in God’s purposes from creation that the unbreakable linkage between resurrection and the restoration of rule is forged. From the beginning, God’s intent for human life was centered on the royal status of humanity and our commission to image our creator in loving and wise stewardship of the earth, which has been entrusted to our care (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; Ps. 8:4—8). This is the cultural mandate, our sacred calling to develop earthly life in a manner that glorifies God and reflects his intentions for a world of shalom (as we saw in chap. 2 above). God’s intent was for the holistic flourishing of embodied people in the entirety of their earthly, cultural existence. Since resurrection is God’s restoration of human life to what it was meant to be, it naturally requires the fulfillment of the original human dignity and status, which have been compromised by sin. Resurrection, therefore, when biblically understood, cannot be separated from the fulfillment of the cultural mandate.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 154

Monday, November 30, 2020

That elusive hope (no, not political!)

Hope of the resurrection is thus able to inspire believers to expect that God's original purposes for human life will ultimately come to fruition, despite what suffering we experience in the present. Paul’s affirmation in Philippians 1:6 is apropos: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Resurrectlon is the ultimate completion of God’s purposes.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 154

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Upside down world

Paul’s focus is the humble use of power to serve one another, as Jesus served sinful humanity by his sacrificial death (Phil. 2:5–8); in a fallen world, service often leads to suffering. This clearly calls into question any superficial, triumphalistic understanding of the kingdom of God or the restoration of rule, especially to engage in “culture wars” on behalf of the Christian faith (a powerful temptation in some varieties of contemporary Christianity).—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 146

Friday, November 20, 2020

It's coming! Wait for it…

That a great reversal is coming is basic to the biblical picture of God’s justice. As Mary sings in her song known as the Magniflcat, God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, / and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52). But before the Magnificat, there was Hannah’s Victory song in 1 Samuel 2, on which Mary’s song was modeled.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 140

Thursday, November 19, 2020

It's official!

I announced in Ancient News that I would be leaving Eisenbrauns/PSU Press at the end of November. Today, it was officially announced that I have begun working for Lockwood Press. Below is the announcement that was posted to the Agade list via Jack Sasson.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Shake, rattle, and burn!

Yet Psalm 104 is clear that while God’s judgment of evil (temporarily) destabilizes the cosmos, this is not God’s normative relationship to the world he loves. Earlier in the psalm we are told that God “waters the mountains” and that “the earth is satisfied from the fruit of [God’s] work” (v. 13). Indeed, at creation YHWH “set the earth on its foundations, / so that it shall never be shaken” (v. 5). The paradox is that God’s initially unshakable world, now distorted by evil, will indeed be shaken when evil is removed, but that is precisely so that creation can once again stand secure.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 126

Monday, November 16, 2020

Judgment with a purpose

Suffice it to say that if we were to investigate every case of theophanic judgment in the Old Testament, we would find not only that the language of extreme destruction typically describes some intrahistorical event, but also that it is always for the ultimate purpose of salvation.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 122

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

It's more than just a song

The logic of the prophetic critique is that although “worship” is an explicit claim of allegiance to YHWH, such a claim must be backed up with justice, which is a concrete demonstration of this allegiance. Wliat God really wants is human flourishing, embodied in the healing of the social order, and those who want what God wants will manifest this in their lives. Indeed, the bond between allegiance to YHWH and practice of justice toward the neighbor is so strong that Jeremiah tells King Jehoiakim that doing justice (particularly caring for the marginal) is equivalent to knowing God (Jer. 22:15-16). 104

<idle musing>
Would that someone would tell many modern-day "evangelicals" this! I really like the Anabaptist saying, "No transformation, no salvation." Now, before you accuse me of works righteousness and all that, let me say that all of the transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit, empowering and giving the desire to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

He pegged it!

Just as the Torah affirms that the love of God should lead to a life of obedience, the prophets emphasize that Israel’s allegiance or submission to YHWH, the God of the exodus, ought to be manifest in a life that embodies righteousness and justice, since these are central to the interhuman flourishing that God desires. In the prophetic perspective, allegiance to the one true God inevitably flows into a life of obedience characterized especially by justice in human relations; by contrast, idolatry or false allegiance flows into a life of disobedience characterized by injustice. This is most fundamentally a matter of imaging God; the life of a person or community reflects the sort of god they are committed to. The two main targets of prophetic critique are thus idolatry and injustice, since false worship is inextricably linked to corrupt living.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 103

Thursday, November 05, 2020

The goal

The God of the Scriptures (unlike the deity imagined in some of our churches) is concerned for the entire range of earthly life and desires flourishing, well-being, and shalom—in short, salvation—for both humanity and the nonhuman creation. The way of wisdom, which is parallel to obedience to Torah, is meant to nurture holistic earthly flourishing, restoring the whole of life to what it was meant to be.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 102

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Psalm for the day

No matter your political position, this one is for you (and me):
1 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
     because his faithful love lasts forever.
2 Let Israel say it:
     “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”
3 Let the house of Aaron say it:
     “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”
4 Let those who honor the Lord say it:
     “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”

5 In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord.
     The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces.
6 The Lord is for me[a]—I won’t be afraid.
     What can anyone do to me?
7 The Lord is for me—as my helper.
     I look in victory on those who hate me.
8 It’s far better to take refuge in the Lord
     than to trust any human.
9 It’s far better to take refuge in the Lord
     than to trust any human leader.

<idle musing>
Especially verses 8–9: don't put your trust in anyone but the Lord.

Whoever "wins" this thing is subservient to—and must someday answer to—the Lord. Our calling as Christians is to be peacemakers, spreaders of shalom in the fullest sense of the meaning of that word: not just peace, but wholeness, healing, flourishing.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Public Service Announcement

This is from Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. You can read the whole post here.
In other words, if most Americans pulled together to do the right thing and wore a mask in public [95 percent, from the previous paragraph], this simple, selfless act would save more than 130,000 lives in the next few months alone. If mask-wearers increased to just 85 percent, the model predicts it would save about 96,000 lives across the country.

What’s important here aren’t the precise numbers. It’s the realization that, under any scenario, this pandemic is far from over, and, together, we have it within our power to shape what happens next. If more people make the decision to wear masks in public today, it could help to delay—or possibly even prevent—the need for future shutdowns. As such, the widespread use of face coverings has the potential to protect lives while also minimizing further damage to the economy and American livelihoods. It’s a point that NIH’s Anthony Fauci and colleagues presented quite well in a recent commentary in JAMA.

<idle musing>
In my words: If you love your neighbor, you will keep social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. What is so difficult about that? It's time to grow up and realize the world isn't about you and what your so-called rights. Especially as a Christian, you are called to love your neighbor.

If you can't even put on a mask, that doesn't speak well of your commitment to Jesus. Just an
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

Today is election day in the United States—as if anybody needed to be reminded. All I can say is to pray: Pray for peace. Pray for wisdom. And live as a person of peace—whatever your politics are—and that is a not-so-idle musing.

Hermeneutics count

God’s norms for creation are constant, but the articulation of these norms might need to change in order to address the actual historical situation that God’s people find themselves to be in.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 101 n. 10

Monday, November 02, 2020

Torah and wisdom

Torah and wisdom are not exactly the same in the Old Testament. Yet the convergence between the two is uncanny. Both Torah and wisdom describe, in strikingly parallel Ways, God’s norms for life and blessing (that is, the way of salvation or flourishing), and both are contrasted with paths that lead to death.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 96

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Psalm for the day

 

For the music leader. Do not destroy. A psalm of Asaph. A song.

75 We give thanks to you, God. Yes, we give thanks!
    Your name is near. Your marvelous deeds are declared.

God says,[a] “When I decide the time is right,
    I will establish justice just so.
    The earth and all its inhabitants will melt,
    but I will keep its pillars steady.” Selah

I said to the arrogant,
    “Don’t be arrogant!”
To the wicked I said,
    “Don’t exalt your strength!
        
        Don’t speak so arrogantly against the rock.”[b]
Because what exalts someone
    doesn’t come from the east or west;
    it’s not from the south either.
Rather it is God who is the judge.
    He brings this person down,
        but that person he lifts up.
Indeed, there’s a cup in the Lord’s hand
    full of foaming wine, mixed with spice.
    He will pour it out,
    and all of the earth’s wicked people
    must drink it;
    they must drink every last drop!

But I will rejoice[c] always;
    I will sing praises to Jacob’s God!
10 God says:[d]
“I will demolish every bit of the wicked’s power,
    but the strength of the righteous will be lifted up.”


<idle musing>
I needed that today. The psalm starts out and ends with praise to YHWH, what is called an inclusio. The inclusio surrounds judgment on the evil and those who wield power unjustly. We live in the midst of that, we are called to live in the inclusio, praising God. It's a choice—sometimes not an easy one—but a choice nonetheless. We make that decision every moment of every day.

That's where I'm choosing to stand today. And I trust God for the power of the Holy Spirit to live it in me, because I can't do it on my own.

What about you? What will you choose?
</idle musing>

Sunday, October 25, 2020

John Stuart Mill is still relevant

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and without the means which he helps supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”—John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address: Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st 1867, People’s Edition (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1867), 36

Friday, October 23, 2020

Silence isn't always golden

I overcommitted. I have too many projects right now and no time for recreational reading. The blog will reflect that for the next couple of weeks until I finish up a few of the projects I'm working on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Repentance?

The fact that obedience is a crucial aspect of salvation underlies Paul’s encouragement to the New Testament church to “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12)—this from the theologian of grace par excellence. Likewise, when the tax collector Zacchaeus pledged fourfold restitution for defrauding others (Luke 19:8), thus fulfilling the requirements of the Torah (Exod. 22:1), Jesus announced, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). It is certainly possible (and traditional) to read ]esus’s comments in terms of a truncated view of salvation as some internal “spiritual” transformation to which Zacchaeus’s visible actions testify. However, the text reflects the biblical perspective that obedience (especially when it concerns the reestablishment of justice) is itself a crucial component of salvation, in the sense of the restoration of communal well-being.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 88

Monday, October 12, 2020

The exodus as model

The point is that by remembering their own bondage and by modeling their actions on their holy and gracious deliverer God (who was attentive to them in their need), Israel will enact righteousness toward the vulnerable in their midst. The exodus thus functions as a lens for understanding the requirements for societal flourishing in a broken world by generating a special concern among the covenant people for the needy or marginalized. The experience of the exodus grounds Israel’s insight that human society cannot function properly—salvation is incomplete—unless the most vulnerable members are protected, provided for, and nourished.——J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 88

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Beware what you say

Beware what you say, because it can be used in the future to show how far off the wall you were! Case in point, a very good scholar, Bernhard Duhm, said this about Ps 119 in 1922:
What sort of purpose the author had in view during the composition of these 176 verses, I do not know. In any case, this “psalm” is the most meaningless product that one ever used to blacken paper; one could more easily wear down a heretic with it than with all seven penitential psalms.
Original German:
Was der Autor bei der Abfassung dieser 176 Verse für einen Zweck im Auge gehabt hat, weiss ich nicht. Jedenfalls ist dieser ‘Psalm’ das inhaltsloseste Produkt, das jemals Papier Schwarz gemacht hat; mit ihm könnte man einen Ketzer eher mürbe Machen als mit sämtlichen sieben Bußpsalmen.—Bernhard Duhm, Die Psalmen, 2nd ed., KHC 14 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1922), 427–28
Cited in ch. 3 of Bernd Schipper, The Hermeneutics of Torah: Proverbs 2, Deuteronomy, and the Composition of Proverbs 1–9 (Atlanta: SBL Press, forthcoming). Needless to say, very few people would adhere to that view today!

Friday, October 09, 2020

Well, who did it then?

One of the paradoxes of the exodus account is the interplay of divine and creaturely freedom in bringing salvation. Moses tells the people that they are to stand by and watch the salvation that God will work at the sea (Exod. 14:13), yet God tells Moses to actively participate in the deliverance by stretching out his hand with the staff, thus dividing the waters (Exod. 14:16); in this participation Moses replicates God’s primordial action of separating the waters on the second and third days of creation (Gen. 1:6—10). Even more strikingly, we find that YHWH calls Moses to “bring my people, Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:10), whereas he had just told Moses that he (YHWH) would “bring them up” (Exod. 3:8). This correspondence of human and divine action is rooted in our creation in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28), which allows us to adequately represent God on earth. That God is the ultimate agent of salvation, therefore, does not conflict with the fact that human agents are often used in the process of bringing salvation. And yet, while Moses directly confronts Pharaoh with the demand to let the Israelites go and even stretches out his hand over the sea, it is significant that neither he nor Israel has any direct role in fighting against the Egyptians; this is YHWH’s victory.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 84

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Exodus

It is significant that while the exodus is a case of sociopolitical or even military deliverance, in no case does Moses or Israel fight directly agalnst Egypt; that is solely God's job. Thls anticipates the theme, found throughout the Bible, that salvation is accomplished only by God; it is never achieved by human “works.”—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 83 n. 10

Monday, October 05, 2020

Two-fold salvation

The most fundamental meaning of salvation in Scripture is twofold: it is God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need from that which impedes their well-being, resulting in their restoration to wholeness. Wholeness or well—being is God’s original intent for creation, and that which impedes wholeness—sin, evil, and death in all their forms—is fundamentally anti-creational. Both the deliverance of the needy and their full restoration to well-being (in relationship with God, others, and the world) are crucial to salvation, and the term may be used for either or for both together.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 79

Friday, October 02, 2020

It's endemic—no, not the virus, misuse of power

Indeed, we live in a world that glorifies violence and makes an ideal of conquest and military supremacy. Whereas God wants the cloud of his Glory-presence to fill and cover the earth (as it did the tabernacle), we, by our violent misuse of the power entrusted to us, have covered the earth with a cloud of pollution, both physical and moral, thus shutting earth off from God’s full presence.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 55

Thursday, October 01, 2020

God's initial (and continuing) intent (hint: It's not what you think)

God’s intent from the beginning is thus for a cooperative world of shalom, generosity, and blessing, evident most fundamentally in his own mode of exercising power at creation. In the New Testament, Jesus even grounds love for enemies in the imago Dei, suggesting that this sort of radical generosity toward others reflects the creator’s own “perfect” love toward all people, shown in his causing sun and rain to benefit both the righteous and the wicked (Matt. 5:43-48; cf. Luke 6:27-35). In the end, nothing less than God’s own exercise of creative activity ought to function as the ethical paradigm or model for our development of culture, with attendant care of the earth and just and loving interhuman action. By our wise exercise of cultural power we truly function as imago Dei, mediating the creator’s presence in the full range of earthly activities, thus fulfilling the initial narrative sequence of the biblical story.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 52

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Complementarians take note!

I started a new (in the sense that I hadn't read it yet) book yesterday: J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth (2014). It is written in such a way that it doesn't lend itself to excerpting very well, so there probably won't be a lot of posts on it. In fact, the first one is from almost 20 percent into the book, on page 52. So far, although there are a few nitpicky things I disagree with him on, the book is very good, a much needed correction to most people's eschatology (my own included in that I hadn't put all the pieces together in a coherent way). So, here's the first excerpt:
The Genesis creation account provides a normative basis to critique interhuman injustice or the misuse of power over others, whether in individual cases or in systemic social formations. Specifically, since both male and female are made in God’s image with a joint mandate to rule (Gen. 1:27-28), this calls into question the inequities of power between men and women that have arisen in patriarchal social systems and various forms of sexism throughout history. And since the imago Dei is prior to any ethnic, racial, or national divisions (see Gen. 10), this provides an alternative to ethnocentrism, racism, or any form of national superiority; beneath the legitimate diversity of cultures that have developed in the world, people constitute one human family.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 52

Monday, September 28, 2020

A different kind of mask

No, not a mask to prevent COVID-19, but the mask that too many women feel forced to wear every day. Here's one woman's discussion of it and the freedom she has felt during the lockdowns. A brief snippet, but do read the whole thing to feel to force of what she's saying:
What I’m ultimately railing against is compulsion. The compulsion to groom yourself a certain way to meet (usually very white and bourgeois) standards of “respectability.” Why do I feel “better” when I’ve blowdried my hair? What is better about allocating fifteen minutes of my precious day to standing on front of a mirror with a round brush? What I really crave is the same sort of relief I did back as a teen: I’ve met the status quo, and can breathe comfortably, at least for a bit, within it.

But hair, and makeup, has to be redone. Clothes need to be repurchased. The body has to be regimened to maintain its “appropriate” size. Hair needs cutting, blow dryers need replacing, skin care needs refreshing. The work of meeting the status quo is never finished, and depending on your race and class and body and age, the amount of work to do is not just exhausting, but impossible. (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I remember reading a few years ago that most women wear makeup for the sake of how they appear other women. A survey done in Britain actually found that most men prefer women without makeup. I know I do. The natural vitality of a person shows so much better without being hidden by a foundation that is designed to make everything "perfect." Consider joining the women who are experiencing the freedom from vanity!

Just an
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Read this post

No, not mine, but this one from Bob on Books. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
It’s time, and past time, for the adults in the room to step forward, and for those who should be adults to act like it. We cannot keep escalating our toxic discourse, including our toxic social media postings that are just kindling for the fire. Whether our future is authoritarian, or one of Balkanization, or civil war in our cities (which we have already tasted in some places), each signals the death of “the land that we love.” Each signals the triumph of the argument over the game.
Are you an adult? Act like it and think before you hit posst! Better yet, post something that reflects the concern for the person(s) involved that reflects the idea that they are created in the image of God, as are you. Get out of the judgment seat and into the compassion seat. Let the Holy Spirit guide you, not vengeance and hate. 'Nuff said.

Some good advice

Exploitation and domination are utterly foreign to genuine piety, and possession of things leads only to loneliness. Instead, the pious person’s “affinity with God is his persistent aspiration to go beyond himself," to be devoted to goals and tasks and ideals. For the pious person, destiny means not simply to accomplish, but to contribute. “In aiding a creature, he is helping the Creator. In succoring the poor, he is taking care of something that concerns God. In admiring the good, he is revering the Spirit of God.” xxi

<idle musing>
Some of today's "religious leaders" would do well to heed his advice! It seems that far too many of them are more concerned with amassing things and influence than they are in "aiding a creature." I suspect that is why Jesus said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last—and stressed that the leader should be the servant of all. As usual, we turn Jesus on his head and do the opposite and call it piety! Lord, have mercy!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The presence of God

Yesterday we finished up Salvation by Allegiance Alone. I hope you enjoyed it. Today we continue with Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, and edited by his daughter, Susannah Heschel.
In Man Is Not Alone he wrote: “Evaluating faith in terms of reason is like trying to understand love as a syllogism and beauty as an algebraic equation.” Instead, he argued that piety is a phenomenon that must be described on its own terms, as an attitude, a way of thinking in which the pious person feels God to be always close and present: “Awareness of God is as close to him as the throbbing of his own heart, often deep and calm, but at times overwhelming, intoxicating, setting the soul afire.” Piety gives rise to reverence, which sees the “dignity of every human being” and “the spiritual value which even inanimate things inalienably possess.”—Susannah Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, xxi

Monday, September 21, 2020

Are you a slick salesperson?

Second, hearing a good story is more compelling than analyzing a list of propositions. A salvation procedure says: “Let me walk you through a few facts, and let’s see if I can get you to agree with them, and if so, then I challenge you to take action.” When an audience is marched half-willingly through a salvation procedure, they can perhaps be excused for feeling that a slick salesman is trying to hoodwink them into buying a product. A good story immerses—and the gospel is the greatest of all stories. It allows the hearer to enter into another time, place, and space to recognize his or her own face among the hostile crowds wrongly putting Jesus to death. The hearer feels the plot tension rise to a climax in the crucifixion, and then is flooded with glad relief when it resolves in the resurrection and enthronement.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 201–2

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The ANE is more timely than ever

From chapter 6 of the forthcoming Eisenbrauns book, Law and (Dis)Order in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 59th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale Held at Ghent, Belgium, 14–19 July 2013:

“It is a commonly accepted idea that law was introduced in human societies as a shield against revenge and retaliation, both expressions of disorder.[1] It is assumed that order depends on rigorous respect for the law issued by political authorities or local communities.[2] This is true up to a certain point, inasmuch as a legal rule usually meets the implicit requirement of justice, in other words when it does not contradict the notions of fairness, honesty, and rectitude.

“But the assumption that the rule of law is necessarily and always just is far from self-evident. Examples of unjust laws are numerous nowadays, and lead to popular revolts when the brink of acceptance is reached. Law then reveals itself unable to maintain order. What brings peace and stability is basically justice. A rule of law is just a tool, a technical instrument framing the relationship between individuals or institutions. The purpose of the rule is to follow justice, namely the ethical and moral values that are supposed to underlie it. If not, law becomes nothing but a hollow sham or even worse, a means of oppression.”

[1] This opinion is summarized in the following statement by Francis Bacon (1625): “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.”

[2] One of the best modern examples is probably the law and order movement that developed by the middle of the 1960s in America, both as a social ideal and a political slogan. See Flamm (2005) [Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s. Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History. New York: Columbia University Press.]

<idle musing>
Who knew when she wrote those words in 2013 how timely they would be in describing our world today! We can still learn much from the ancient world!
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"I" this and "I" that...

First, the full gospel keeps the focus squarely on Jesus rather than on the self, compelling the self to be swept up into the saving story of Jesus, rather than allowing the self to remain at the center. The gospel proper is not a salvation procedure focused on the individual. It is the universe—wide story of Jesus’s entire revealed life—from preexistence to anticipated return—a story that unveils God’s saving power for the whole created order. It is a salvation story into which the individual can be whisked up when he or she joins the allegiant community. Gospel culture facilitates total integration of the forgiven self into the cosmic Jesus story; salvation culture encourages the self to stanch the flowing sin—wounds by applying a forgiven-so—I~can—go-to-heaven tourniquet, but it does little to remove the self from the center. 201

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Cheap grace?

Most of the confusion about the gospel in our contemporary church culture stems from a failure to see that “Jesus is the king” is the high point of the good news. In a “salvation culture” it may be eagerly acknowledged that “Jesus is Lord,” but Jesus’s cross is what saves us, not his resurrection or lordship, so that lordship can be freely ignored without risking salvation. This is a dangerous error. A “gospel culture,” on the other hand, recognizes that “Jesus is king” is integral to the good news itself, affirming that we indeed are saved by Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection, but these are only personally effective when allegiance to Jesus as king forges a union with him.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 199

<idle musing>
Bonhoeffer had a word for that: Cheap grace. Which isn't really grace at all; it is presumption. And it cheapens the cross and makes a mockery of Christianity.
</idle musing>

Monday, September 14, 2020

It's no legal fiction! It's the truth!

Our past and present justification is not a legal fiction, for if we have given allegiance (pistis) to Jesus the king, we genuinely share in the unshakable, irreversible verdict of innocence that the resurrected Jesus enjoys. Jesus will never be judged again in the future. Jesus the king already stands justified, and so does every person who gives allegiance, because they are incorporated into his righteousness, found to be “in him.” In this indirect sense the Christian does not come under judgment but has eternal life, because the one who gives allegiance is united to the head, King Jesus. That person has died, and his or her life is now “hidden with the Christ in God,” so that when the Christ appears, that person as a member of the Christ’s body will also appear with the Christ in glory (Col. 3:3ndash;4).—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 191–92

Friday, September 11, 2020

Maybe our ordo salutis is defective…

Protestants urgently need to reassess their grammar of salvation. For such distinctions between initial righteousness(so-called justification) and subsequent righteousness (so-called sanctification) simply cannot be consistently maintained by a careful exegesis of the specific terms, thought structures, and categories actually used by even a single one of our biblical authors. Such terminology promotes an individualistic one—time transaction model of justification and in so doing does not deal seriously with justification’s past, present, future, communal, and creational dimensions. In the final analysis Scripture does not make consistent qualitative distinctions between the declared righteousness of the Messiah attained at our initial moment of justification (When we are united with him) and our righteousness in the Messiah as subsequently nurtured and maintained by the Holy Spirit, as if one or the other were more primal or important for our final salvation.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 186

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Read this!

If there is only one thing you read today (and I hope that you read more than this!), read Ed Yong's latest piece at The Atlantic on the US and the pandemic. Here's a taste, but please, do read the whole thing. He's one of the few sane voices out there.
Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the ninth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

Many Americans trusted intuition to help guide them through this disaster. They grabbed onto whatever solution was most prominent in the moment, and bounced from one (often false) hope to the next. They saw the actions that individual people were taking, and blamed and shamed their neighbors. They lapsed into magical thinking, and believed that the world would return to normal within months. Following these impulses was simpler than navigating a web of solutions, staring down broken systems, and accepting that the pandemic would rage for at least a year.

<idle musing>
Do read the rest and ponder it. The US is a broken system (calling it a system, even a broken one, is a compliment!) that is in dire need of overhaul. And that overhaul needs to start in every heart; we need to address the fact that our radical individualism is destroying us, and I mean each one of us. We are not independent entities who can create our own meaning. There is a reality out there that is larger than each person and it can destroy us if we don't work together. Sure you might "sacrifice" a little bit, but it isn't really a sacrifice because in the end all will benefit.

I could go on, but you already know everything I would say—most of you could probably say it better than I anyway. Just crying into the wind in an
</idle musing>

Transactional faith? Not rich enough!

But here we run into an obstacle. Not only is pistis capable of a richer definition, but the transactional idea of the Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us so that it covers our unclean sins is nowhere to be found in Scripture. There are passages that urge the Christian to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14) or that affirm that “as many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have put on the Messiah” (Gal. 3:27) and so forth. Meanwhile, there are texts that speak of God counting or reckoning righteousness on the basis of pistis (e.g., Rom. 4:5, 9-11). One passage speaks of the Messiah as having become “wisdom for us from God, and also our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), but the context does not pertain to legal declaration. Finally, several of the passages reviewed above speak of our genuine sharing in the righteousness of God as that righteousness has been manifested or made available through and in the Christ (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8—9). But these various images are not combined.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 182–83 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

More on election (not the political kind!)

]A]lthough Romans 8:29-30 gives rock-solid promises of eternal security for the collective people of God, these promises only lend assurance to the individual who remains “in the Messiah”—that is, within the body or group. Since Paul has the collective in view here, his words about foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification apply to the company as a whole, but he does not speak to the security of individual membership in the company. Contrary to the conclusion of many systematic theologians,Paul says nothing here directly about the election of specific individuals to eternal life (or condemnation) or about the inevitability of final salvation for any such chosen individuals.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 173 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

About that "elect" category…I don't think it means what you think it means

Although undeniably systematizing the true order of salvation is a worthy goal, biblical scholars, myself included, generally remain wary of such systems. For even when such systems employ biblical terms as conceptual categories or organizational rubrics, they tend to foist alien concerns onto the biblical text rather than allowing the biblical narrative to supply the framework, and this leads to skewed emphases. For instance, a common category in the order is “election.” This is a biblical term (eklektos and cognates), and it is indeed sometimes used in the Greek Old Testament and the New Testament to emphasize God’s sovereignty in choosing specific individuals and groups for various purposes. But as it is mobilized by systematicians, the tendency is to treat it as a special “salvation” category pertaining to God’s eternal (or slightly later) decree to save or damn certain individuals, when in fact the word means merely “choosing” and frequently doesn’t have eternal salvation or condemnation in view at all, especially not with regard to the individual. My intention is not to suggest that systematics is unnecessary or unhelpful in clarifying Scripture through philosophical inquiry; my point is rather that the biblical story has not always been correctly aimed for systematic inquiry.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 169

Thought for the day

 

For the music leader. According to Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

62 Only in God do I[a] find rest;
    my salvation comes from him.
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I won’t be shaken anymore.

How long will all of you attack others;
    how long will you tear them down[b]
    as if they were leaning walls or broken-down fences?
The only desire of this people
    is to bring others down low;
    they delight in deception.
With their mouths they bless,
    but inside they are cursing. Selah

Oh, I[c] must find rest in God only,
    because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.
My deliverance and glory depend on God.
    God is my strong rock.
    My refuge is in God.
All you people: Trust in him at all times!
    Pour out your hearts before him!
    God is our refuge! Selah

Human beings are nothing but a breath.
    Human beings are nothing but lies.
    They don’t even register on a scale;
    taken all together they are lighter than a breath!
10 Don’t trust in violence;
    don’t set false hopes in robbery.
When wealth bears fruit,
    don’t set your heart on it.
11 God has spoken one thing—
    make it two things—
    that I myself have heard:
    that strength belongs to God,
12     and faithful love comes from you, my Lord—
    and that you will repay
    everyone according to their deeds. (CEB)

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 62:1 Or my soul
  2. Psalm 62:3 Correction; MT kill them
  3. Psalm 62:5 Or my soul

Friday, September 04, 2020

Huh?

Get this! We have a president who is encouraging people to break the law by trying to vote twice. That's bad enough, but this same president is running as a "Law and Order" candidate! Whose law? What law? Obviously not the law of the land! Rather, the law of personality. That's truly unamerican, where the rule of law is supposed to be the distinguishing feature.

Just another step down the ladder to totalitarianism. He's got his Brown Shirts already in the form of the "proud boys." And he's tried to make the DHS people his personal thugs. The cities are burning (not as much as he would have us think they are) because of his policies and he wants us to think it is because of his opponents?

Sorry. I don't follow the logic there.

Something to look forward to

We often think of God and humanity as opposites. Humans are error—prone, God is infallible; humans are sinful, God is sinless; humans are mortal, God is immortal; humans are weak, God is all—powerful. This, however, is to reflect upon humans as we find them, not upon humans in light of God’s ultimate intentions for them. All humans are made in the image of God. Yet the ability of fallen humanity to act as the idol of God (i.e., to represent God dynamically by exercising stewardship over creation) has been hampered by the fall. In the incarnation, Jesus comes to us as the genuinely human one, the fulfillment of God’s intentions for what it means to be most completely human. The stunning mystery of what it means to be a flourishing human is this: to be fully human doesn’t mean to be the opposite of God; it means to fully image God, to reflect and represent God flawlessly in God’s entirety, glory, and splendor.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 155

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Lost touch with reality? Maybe this is why!

Idol worship, in both its ancient and modern forms, involves a movement away from the domain of the real and thus a concomitant inability to engage the real accurately. In speaking of the false worship of the Israelites, the author of 2 Kings says, “They went after empty idols [hebel] and became empty” (17:15). The prophet Jeremiah echoes this sentiment, saying that in departing from true worship of Yahweh, the people of Judah “went after emptiness, and became empty” (2:5). So idolatry’s trajectory away from the real leads the worshiper finally into a vacuum, a total disconnect from reality—the idol worshiper has become like the insensate idol. As such, she or he is in the end totally unable to use the senses to connect to the domain of the real—God’s truth, beauty, goodness, and oneness as these can be accessed through encounter with God’s creation, which God has given as a gift. Human encounter with God’s glory has been exchanged for an encounter with false images so that humans lack the glory of God.

The good news, on the other hand, is that when we participate in worship of the one true God, the result is that we become increasingly sensate and insightful——we see, hear, smell, and touch the God~crafted reality of the created order, and we correctly recognize that it points to truths about God’s very self. And in so doing we are set free to be fully human once again; that is, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son, the truly human one, the one who fully images God.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 155

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Hearing what we want to hear

Second, idols lead humans into practical harm because there is a tendency for the idol—maker to “trust in his own creation” (Hab. 2:18). Idols themselves are in truth speechless, but those who provide speech for them “utter nonsense,” and those that seek divination from them “see lies,” for “they tell false dreams and give empty comfort” (Zech. 10:2). In other words, there is a strong human proclivity to cause idols to “say” what we want them to say, and to hear from them what we want to hear. Thus, idols are used to legitimate and rationalize the self—serving interests of those who prophesy and interpret through them. The result is that, rather than being led by God and by the truth, the people are led astray so that they “wander like sheep” (Zech. 10:2).—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 153

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Imaging God

How does unauthorized idol worship harm humanity? It results in a defacing, so that humans do not appropriately bear the glorious image of God to creation. That is, when a person is truly acting as the image of God, he or she serves as a genuine contact point between God and creation, mediating God’s presence to creation (including other humans and all other creatures). But when a person worships false idols, the capacity to serve in this way is undermined. The glory of God that the image is to radiate has become distorted. So other humans, animals, plants, and the rest of the earth fail to experience God’s sovereignty through that human as God would desire it to be exercised, and the creation falls into corruption. As Paul puts it, “The creation waits eagerly for the revelation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). And why? Because it is awaiting the fullness of the glory of the children of God as they reign alongside the Son (Rom. 8:17; cf. Col. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6). In fact, it is in association with the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” that creation is finally “released from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). In short, if I fail to act as the full image of God, then my neighbors, family, pets, livestock, and the places on the earth over which I have royal stewardship will be bereft of God’s life—giving, wise, ordered rule. 152

Monday, August 31, 2020

About that image thing

The nations surrounding Israel felt their idols did not just represent but actually were a localized manifestation of the god or goddess. They believed that the idol gave the worshiper genuine access to the presence of the god or goddess, because the image made the deity’s presence real, actual, and tangible. This does not mean, however, that the idol and the deity were thereby deemed identical or coterminous; rather, the god or goddess was “the reality that was embodied in the image” [Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 115–16] but at the same time was transcendent beyond the specific embodiment in that discrete idol in such a fashion that the deity could be fully and equally present in other idols.

From the above, we can conclude that what it meant to be in the image/idol of a god in the ancient Near East was not about having a singularly unique capacity, such as reason or a soul that might separate humans from the animals; rather the image served as a holistic manifestation of the divine presence to those who might encounter the deity in and through the image. Yet the deity remained transcendent beyond the image. Not just in the ancient Near Eastern world of the Old Testament but also during the time of Jesus, many pagans living in the Mediterranean region believed that their idols were a nexus of the mundane and the divine, a complex portal where heaven and earth kissed. As Nijay Gupta has recently concluded on the basis of his study of Greco-Roman cult statues, from the pagan vantage point idols (1) were not merely human creations but also divine; (2) were living; (3) were able to see, hear, and speak; (4) could sometimes move; and (5) were capable of “saving” their worshipers from illness, danger, or trouble [Gupta, "They Are Not Gods!," 712–718]. To meet the image was to encounter the god or goddess who was imbued and manifested in the image and who acted through it.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 150

Friday, August 28, 2020

Who decides?

Nearer the time of Jesus, Minucius Felix, a late second- or early third-century Christian apologist, gives an insightful mockery of pagan idol worship that gives a handy compressed description of the process by which an idol came to be considered fully divine in his day and age: “When does the god come into being? The image is cast, hammered, or sculpted; it is not yet a god. It is soldered, put together, and erected; it is still not a god. It is adorned, consecrated, prayed to—and now, finally, it is a god once man has willed it so and dedicated it” (Oct. 22.5).—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 149

Thursday, August 27, 2020

And there was no more sea

John’s vision in Revelation describing an oceanless new heaven and new earth thus anticipates but goes beyond the vision of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God promises in his covenant with Noah that he will never destroy all flesh again by unbounding the reservoir of waters (Gen. 9:11). Moreover, God will one day slay the great writhing dragon of the sea (Isa. 27:1—2). A river flowing from the temple will make the Dead Sea fresh (Ezek. 47:1—12). Yet John’s vision brings this line of thought a step further. At the end of God’s story the sea will not even exist! John’s vision indicates that the danger posed by the untamed waters (and the beasts associated with the waters) in times past and present will no longer even be possible in the the new earth. The perilous sea will not just remain tame but will have been entirely removed. John’s vision of an oceanless new order, then is best read as announcing the utter and absolute removal of all external threats to life for humankind.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 135 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

But how much faith is necessary?

It is better to ask what sort of allegiance than how much, because allegiance depends on what Jesus the king commands each of us individually to do and whether he determines now and at the final judgment that you and I have given pistis. If we give pistis to Jesus as Lord by declaring allegiance, determining to enact loyalty, and showing through bodily doing that our determination was not just lip service, then we can rest assured that his death on our behalf is utterly and completely efficacious—all of our sins are forgiven in the Messiah (even our selfish acts of temporary disloyalty). And the Holy Spirit invariably comes alongside us to assist us in faithful living.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 124–25 (emphasis original)