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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Nearly 10 essential things to know about Paul’s letter to the Romans

Very reluctantly, I am going to take issue with Peter Enns here. In a recent “Bible for Normal People” podcast he advocates what is basically a New Perspective reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It’s not about individuals but it’s about a collective. If I can put that a little bit differently, the book of Romans, to use theological language, the book of Romans is not about soteriology—how you get saved. It’s about ecclesiology. Ecclesiology means the church and the study of the church. In other words, who makes up the people of God?

This is fine as far as it goes, and maybe we shouldn’t expect “normal people” to go much further at the moment. But I think a more drastic overhaul of the standard Protestant understanding of Romans is called for.

The subversion of the Jewish “hell” in the teaching of Jesus

A major part of my argument against the traditional doctrine of “hell” is that in Jesus’ teaching “Gehenna” is not a place of unending conscious torment after death but a symbol for the devastation and loss of life that Israel would suffer as a consequence of the war against Rome. I think that Jesus has basically reworked Jeremiah’s prediction that Jews who died during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians would be thrown into the Valley of the Son of Hinnom because there would be no place left to bury the dead in the city (Jer. 7:32; 19:6-7).

Yet another attempt to persuade the world that Tim Keller is wrong about hell

Steve Jacob found my post on annihilationism very interesting and wants to know whether I think “Tim Keller is on the mark in his recent article on hell”. The short answer is no. A longer answer follows. Readers might also be interested in my post “Tim Keller gets a lot right but gets hell badly wrong”.

Actually, Keller’s “The Importance of Hell” is not a recent article; it was first published in 2009 on the Redeemer website. In it he puts forward four reasons why the church needs to preach hell. All make some appeal to scripture, but only the first amounts to anything like a biblical justification of the doctrine. The other three arguments are attempts to mount a defence of hell on ethical and theological grounds.

The resurrection of Jesus and the theological fiction of “redemptive history”

Zondervan Academic has just put out a blog post on the resurrection adapted from some online teaching material from Scott Oliphint. Oliphint is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. I want to consider the piece, first, because it’s Easter, and secondly, because it provides an opportunity to highlight the divergence between two hermeneutical methods: on the one hand, the theological ransacking of scripture in defence of dogma; on the other, the reconstruction of a compelling and sufficient prophetic narrative about the historical experience of the people of God.

The argument against annihilationism

In an article on “Evangelical Annihilationism” published twenty years ago J.I. Packer respectfully rebutted the arguments made by the likes of E.W. Fudge, John Wenham and John Stott in favour of a more benign understanding of “hell” not as a place of eternal conscious torment but as eternal annihilation or non-existence. The first part of the article is a brief overview of the debate up to that point. In the second part Packer puts forward a theological and exegetical defence of the traditional doctrine.

Did Jesus promise to return within the lifetime of his disciples?

A decent sermon at a well known central London Anglican church Sunday night was spoilt, in my view, by the excited closing announcement that Jesus is coming back soon. Apart from the fact that the dogma is questionable on biblical grounds, which I’ll come to, I don’t understand how or why such a reputable church would think it necessary or plausible or wise to proclaim so confidently that finally, at this point in history, after centuries of us getting it wrong, Jesus is about to come back. It seems to me that we would have to be pretty sure—on some sort of collective ecclesial basis—that we’ve got it right this time before raising false hopes yet again and subverting our long term missional commitment to creation-as-we-know-it. Otherwise, this sort of fitful eschatological guesswork strikes me as plain irresponsible.

On top of that, I chanced upon this short and unhelpful video by Michael Kruger addressing the question “Did Jesus promise to return within the lifetime of his disciples?” Here we get to the matter of the biblical grounds for the belief that the church is still waiting for Jesus to return any time soon.

Why we should contain rather than extinguish the fires of hell

I have written rather a lot about the doctrine of “hell” on this site, for several reasons. It bothers people. It is one of the least pleasant aspects of conservative-fundamentalist expressions of Christianity. It continues to be misunderstood by its detractors and defenders alike. It draws on narratives and concepts that are not marginal to the argument of the New Testament but lie at its core. And addressing the texts is a simple and effective way of illustrating the point of the narrative-historical hermeneutic.

Essentially, I maintain that most of those narratives and concepts pertain not to what happens to people in some sort of conscious existence after death but to the hardships and horrors of historical calamities experienced—as divine judgment—by communities, cities and nations. I have adopted a policy of narrative-historical containment.

7 things you need to know about the kingdom of God

This always baffles me. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching is the proclamation of the coming kingdom of God: ‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”’ (Mk. 1:14–15). The origins of the theme are to be found far back in the Old Testament, and it echoes loudly through the rest of the New Testament, reaching a sonorous climax in the later chapters of the book of Revelation. It is what the Bible is about.

The narrative logic of salvation from the point of view of a Jewish apostle

Carrying on the conversation from here, with some repetition…

God was gracious and forgave or overlooked the sins both of Jews and pagans who believed in the new future vouchsafed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Both Jews and Gentiles, therefore, like Abraham, were “justified” by faith in something (Rom. 3:27-4:25; 5:1). They were not justified by Jesus’ death as a propitiation for their sins; they were justified because they believed something about Jesus’ death and resurrection. So in principle it could be said that Gentiles were justified on account of their faith in—among other things—Jesus’ death as an atonement for the sins of Israel.

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