The scope of Joel’s prophecy and its relation to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost has come up in discussion relating to the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. It seems to me that the traditional understanding of Pentecost simply as a formative event for the church misses the narrative significance of the passage by some distance. What I want to do here is, first, set out the narrative of judgment and restoration that is found in Joel, and secondly, consider how Peter makes use of that narrative in order to interpret the Pentecost event for the “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem”.
I am reading Scot McKnight’s book A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context, and I’m very impressed so far with his decisive and really quite radical argument about Jesus and the kingdom. The book was published in 1999, and, frankly, I wonder whether he has revised his views in a backwards direction to any degree since then. This statement in the “preliminary sketch” stood out:
In his vision of human history, Jesus saw no further than A.D. 70, and to this date he attached visions of the final salvation, the final judgment, and the consummation of the kingdom of God in all its glory. (12)
I have been teaching this week on eschatology (and empire), and a question put to me about the setting of the judgment of the nations described in Matthew 25:31-46 has made me look again at the passage. The scene is set with a dramatic account of the Son of Man coming in his glory, with all his angels in attendance, to take his seat on his “glorious throne”. Surely this transcendent language suggests some sort of final, end-of-the-world judgment? Well, we are certainly predisposed to hear the statement in this way, but is it really what Jesus is talking about? We begin with some exegetical observations.
It just so happened that having finished the post on Justification with reference to Wright, Gorman and Campbell, I had an email from a friend at Regent College asking what I thought of Stephen Westerholm’s critique of the New Perspective in a CTQ article from 2006 entitled “Justification by Faith is the Answer: What is the Question?” Well, it wasn’t what I was planning to do today, but it’s all in a good cause—so, Barney, here is roughly what I think.
We approach the problem of the meaning of “justification” in the New Testament much as many hopeful rescuers approached Sleeping Beauty’s castle. We know the story of how the fair Princess Dikaiōsis, deceived by a wicked fairy, pricked her finger on the spindle of a Reformation spinning wheel. We know that as a result she and her whole kingdom fell into a deep sleep, and that an impenetrable forest of tangled theological briars grew up around the castle.
The 9Marks site had an eJournal devoted to the “Awful Reality” of hell last year. Reading through the various articles in defence of the traditional interpretation goaded me into starting a general account of New Testament teaching on this thing which we wrongly label “hell” as part of my vaguely proposed “glossary” series. I got as far as Andrew David Naselli’s first point under the heading “How does the New Testament describe hell?” and realized that it was not going to be easy to keep matters concise.
In the final chapter of Defending Constantine Peter Leithart does two things. He rejects Yoder’s argument about the Constantinian “fall” of the church as being both historically and methodologically flawed; and he puts forward an alternative account of the “major (if not exactly epochal) shift that took place when Constantine converted” and of the subsequent history of the European church. A strong clue as to what shape this alternative account will take is given in the quotation from Augustine that heads the chapter: “God is not the ruler of the city of the impious, because it disobeys his commandment that sacrifice be offered to himself alone.”
In a chapter on “Christian Empire, Christian Mission” in Defending Constantine Peter Leithart challenges the view of John Howard Yoder—widely accepted amongst modern theologians if not amongst historians—that Constantinianism was a fundamental departure from the intention of Jesus and the New Testament. Leithart’s analysis suggests that it is not so far-fetched to see a theologically coherent development, embodied in the missional self-understanding of the early church, between the initial New Testament impetus and the eventual merger of church and state.
This is the first of what I hope will become a series of “glossary” type posts giving a fairly basic and compact explanation of core “evangelical” concepts from—as you might expect—a narrative-historical perspective. Our understanding of these concepts is in transition. I do not at all put these definitions forward as conclusive or authoritative, but I hope that they will provide some temporary focus in the process of reconstruction. We kick off with “salvation”, partly prompted by a post by Michael Patton a couple of days back, in which he addresses a question that he hopes no one will ask: “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” What follows doesn’t really answer the question, but it at least presents a very different frame within which to address it.
I am increasingly coming to the view that a narrative-historical reading of the New Testament will sooner or later be seen to have significant implications for how we understand the transition that the church made in the fourth century from persecuted minority to privileged imperial religion. For the most part, theological opinion today holds that Constantinianism was at best a regrettable compromise and at worst a catastrophic departure from New Testament Christianity. I think that an important strand of New Testament prophetic thought has in view—quite concretely and realistically—the ending of the persecution of the early church, the defeat of paganism, and the public, empire-wide acknowledgment of Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords”. The exegetical argument does not amount to an exculpation of Christendom—and it is certainly not a call for its reinstatement. But I do think that an evangelical theology needs to re-examine the modern prejudice against Constantine and the Christendom paradigm, and to consider other ways of integrating the transformative event into its self-understanding.