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

Truly this man was a son of God: Jesus, kingdom and the divinity of Caesar

Theological accounts of Jesus tend to portray him as a divine figure who descended to earth at a certain moment in human history, died on the cross for the sins of humanity, and then returned to heaven. Historical accounts place him firmly within a story about Israel under Roman occupation in the first century.

In the theological paradigm Jesus is the eternal Son of God—or God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. In the historical narrative “Son of God” has quite different connotations, but since Caesar was also acclaimed as “son of a god” or “god”, perhaps it can be argued that history arrives at the theological conclusion by another route.

From Augustus onwards the emperor took the Latin title divi filius, “son of the divinised”, which in Greek inscriptions was translated theou huios. In the Latin West the basic procedure was to divinise an emperor after his death; therefore, his son was the son of a divine person. In the Greek-speaking eastern part of the empire, which is the setting for the writing of most of the New Testament, the tendency was to regard the emperor as theos while he was alive.

How does Paul fill up what is lacking of Christ’s sufferings?

My friend Joel White—well, technically I suppose he’s the brother of my friend Wes, but the brother of my friend is my friend—kindly sent me a copy of an article he wrote on Colossians 1:24 because we had a chat about this once. It’s a pet theme of mine. The article is entitled “Paul Completes the Servant’s Sufferings (Colossians 1:24)” and was published last year in the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters (6.2). This post is really just a personal rejoinder to Joel.

The article offers a solution to this puzzling verse, and not one that I had come across before.

Now I rejoice in the sufferings for your sake, and I complete (antanaplērō) what is lacking of the afflictions of the Christ in my flesh for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The theological problem is immediately apparent. How could Paul think that there was a deficiency in Christ’s sufferings? How could he be so presumptuous as to imagine that he could remedy the matter?

Christian political witness and the stone of stumbling

What is Christian political witness? In an age of both political upheaval and the headlong marginalisation of the church it’s a good question to ask. In a cogently written piece on Political Theology Today Alastair Roberts argues that:

Christian political witness must be built around and declare Christ as the great eschatological stone laid by God. He must either be approached as the stubborn obstacle, arresting the development of all idolatrous political visions, or as the chief cornerstone, the sure and solid basis from [which] all else can take its bearings.

He arrives at this conclusion by way of a reading of 1 Peter 2:4-10. The passage is a call to those who are “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1) to become part of a living, eschatological temple, built on the stone that was rejected by the builders but which God used as “the very head of the corner”.

What was justification by faith?

This is a knee-jerk, end-of-the-week, dogmaphobic, book-promoting (see below) reaction to a post on justification on the Zondervan Academic site that came up today on my news feed. The post, called simply “What is justification?”, is an adaptation of material from an online course on Romans by Douglas Moo.

Moo gives a classic Reformed exposition of the doctrine. The fundamental human problem is that we are estranged from God by sin. Justification is God’s response to that problem. When people respond in faith to the message of the gospel, which is that Jesus died for your sins, God declares them innocent or righteous, even though in reality they are nothing of the sort.

Wolfhart Pannenberg backs the narrative-historical method (up to a point)

Barney, who is clearly still having a hard time focusing on his PhD studies, sent me a copy of an essay by Wolfhart Pannenberg to read. We will be discussing it tonight over a pint, so I’ve taken the opportunity to summarise it here and present some initial thoughts regarding its relevance for what I am calling the narrative-historical method. The essay is “The Crisis of the Scripture Principle”. It was delivered as a lecture on a number of occasions in the US in 1963 (so Americans understand the argument already) and is included in the collections of essays Basic Questions in Theology, Vol. 1.

On the mortality of the soul

He who asked what happens to us after death has also asked whether I believe in the immortality of the soul. The short answer is no. A slightly longer answer would go something like this….

It’s a generalisation—we always have to reckon with the extent to which Jewish thought was hellenised in the period—but I think it’s correct to say that the immortality of the soul was a Greek contribution to the history of Christian thought.

What happens to us after death?

I happened to hear a point-blank sermon last Sunday about the judgment of God. The gist of it was that just as God punished sinful humanity long ago by means of a flood of water, he will again punish sinful humanity by means of a flood of fire. Come back next week for the good news.

One of the New Testament passages used in support of this dour message was Luke 17:20-37. The Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God will come. He tells them that it is not coming with signs to be observed; for “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”.

Jesus then goes on to warn the disciples what to expect in the coming days (“The days are coming when you…”). The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. As in the days of Noah and when Lot went out of Sodom, “on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” people will be caught out by the sudden calamitous turn of events. At that time, whoever seeks to preserve her life will lose it, whoever loses her life will keep it. Of two people in a bed, one will be taken, the other left. Of two women grinding grain, one will be taken, the other left.

Faith, politics and salvation by Christ alone

Tim Farron resigned yesterday as leader of the Liberal Democrats because the conflict between his evangelical faith and the values of a progressive liberal party had become unmanageable. His official statement can be read here.

During the election campaign he had struggled in particular to explain his position on gay rights. Under media interrogation he insisted that he supported “equality under law, equal dignity and that includes people whatever their sexuality”. But he clearly also felt bound to maintain some awkward private religious opinions that were at odds with his political convictions.

What “horizon” do we have to live for?

To take my mind off the gloomy prospect of prolonged political chaos that we’ve woken up to here in the UK, I thought I’d write a quick response to the following question that was put to me—just to get things in perspective:

If I understand what you’ve written on your blog correctly, ​the eschatalogical horizon toward which the NT looks was fulfilled at Constantine. What does that do for our eschatalogical hope today? What “horizon” do we have to live for?

My argument here and in my books (see below) is that in the New Testament there are three narratively distinct eschatological horizons.


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