More on the virgin conception

There’s been a lengthy discussion of my post on the virgin conception by the Holy Spirit on the Theologica forum. I wrote some fairly random comments in response, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through in order to reply, and I’m still waiting to be approved. In the meantime, I’ll post the response here. Maybe someone will notice and put up a link. It may or may not make sense without reading the original discussion on Theologica.

The Holy Spirit 3: This is my beloved Son

Moving on from John’s assertion that the coming Christ will baptize Israel “with the Holy Spirit and fire”, we come directly to the account of Jesus’ own baptism. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens are opened to him, he sees “the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon him”, and a voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17; cf. Lk. 3:21-22; Mk. 1:10-11; Jn. 1:32). There are some small differences between the accounts that do not greatly affect our reading of the passage.

It’s very difficult to know what manner of seeing and hearing is involved here—or, for that matter, who was doing the seeing and hearing. But the meaning of the event is not difficult to establish. The voice from heaven appears to have in mind Isaiah 42:1…

The Holy Spirit 2: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire

Why might we be interested in what the New Testament has to say about the Holy Spirit? Probably because we want to know how the church is supposed to function, or how to correct some charismatic excess or other, or how to prove to the cessationists that they have got it wrong. Given those sorts of concerns, the likelihood is that we will start with Paul, and we will be looking for generally applicable, universally correct, ecclesiologically standardized teaching about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, come rain or shine, come hell or high water, year in year out, until the second coming. In other words, the sort of stuff you would expect to find in a systematic theology.

The Holy Spirit 1: Conceived by the Holy Spirit

Under the modern evangelical paradigm there are three main components to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. First, the Spirit is understood to be the third person of the Trinity. Secondly, the Spirit is the agent of personal renewal, the source of new life, the transformative power of the new covenant. Thirdly, as the “body of Christ” the church is endowed with varieties of “gifts of the Spirit” or “charismata”, such as prophecy, healing, and flower-arranging.

Dogmas, doctrines, opinions, and narratives

Ever since the early Jewish Christian movement first pushed its way into the Greek-Roman world, the church has built its house on what appeared for many centuries to be the immovable and unshakeable sandstone of theology—that is, theology as post-biblical rational discourse, in its multiplicity of forms. The intellectual storms and floods of the last two hundred years, however, have severely eroded that foundation, and I think that the church would be well advised now to abandon its former habitation and rebuild its worldview on the granite of a narrative-historical hermeneutic.

The breasts of Jesus and some other suspect egalitarian arguments

I am all in favour of a biblical egalitarianism grounded in the conviction that the people of God as new creation does not need to live under the curse of patriarchy. I don’t think that under Christ the man is mandated to rule over the woman or that the woman is relegated to the position of mere helper. I warmly endorse Daniel Kirk’s chapter on the place of women in the story of God in his book Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? I think “headship” in Paul is not a metaphor for the authority of one person over another or others, and that Paul’s requirement that women should learn and not teach is a response to practical contextual problems. I also disagree strongly with John Piper that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel”.

The keys to the kingdom of heaven

Jonathan Leeman offers an interpretation of Jesus’ enigmatic statement about the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19) on the 9 Marks Blog. It is excerpted from his book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. It caught my eye because I have just finished writing a chapter on the kingdom of God for a… well, for whatever….

Did Paul believe in an imminent parousia?

Continuing a conversation from elsewhere, I want briefly to address the question of whether Paul taught that there would be a resurrection of the faithful, within the historical horizon of the early churches, comparable to the “first resurrection” of the martyrs in Revelation 20:4-6. It has been suggested that there is “no explicit statement of a 1st century resurrection” in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. I beg to differ.

Who shared in the first resurrection of the dead?

Peter Wilkinson has disputed my argument about the resurrection of the martyrs in Revelation 20:4. I think that John has in mind a more or less literal resurrection of those who were martyred during the course of the early church’s clash with an idolatrous Roman imperialism. Peter thinks that this apocalyptic stuff is all somehow just a metaphor for being a Christian. He argues i) that there are at least three groups in view in Revelation 20:4; ii) that these groups are not raised but simply “live”; and iii) that “resurrection” is to be “taken in its secondary sense as the triumph which believers already share with the risen, ascended Christ”.

Tom Wright, the return of Jesus, and the failure of history

There is so much in Tom Wright’s Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters that is good and right. The perfect storm metaphor that runs through the book is overworked, but it gets across very effectively the idea that Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection must be understood at the point where the great forces of Jewish hope, Roman imperial power, and the sovereign intention of Israel’s God converged. But the metaphor does not take us effectively beyond that point: the storm subsides, the politically constructed narrative quickly collapses, and we are left with a flattened landscape of theological abstractions. As I see it.


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