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

Was Jesus' kingdom spiritual or physical? No.

The debate running over here regarding spiritual and physical kingdoms seems to me to be getting confused. To my mind, a straightforward distinction needs to be made between the place where the king is and the place where his reign takes effect.

Jesus became Israel’s king by his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God, from where he would rule until all his enemies have been placed under his feet. It’s misleading to call this a “spiritual” rule—the New Testament doesn’t; “heavenly” would be a better term. It’s a rule enacted from heaven.

Michael Bird notices that there are two competing gospel visions in evangelicalism

In some reflections on an essay by Darrell Bock in the recent Howard Marshall festschrift Michael Bird makes the comment: “I seriously wonder if we have two competing gospel visions in evangelicalism.”

He quotes a couple of paragraphs from Bock’s essay which make the point that whereas the gospel that is mostly preached in the church today is about forgiveness of sins, what Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 highlights is “not so much how Jesus saves us, but where that act of saving takes us”—namely, to a restored covenantal relationship with God in the Spirit, as prefigured in Jeremiah. In fact, Bock maintains, nothing at all is said about forgiveness or the atoning function of Jesus’ death in Acts 2.

In what sense are we "bound to what the New Testament teaches"?

I don’t want to make this too much a Q&A type blog, but when good questions come up in the comments, it seems a shame to waste them. This one from Mitchell Powell gets at a problem which is often reckoned to be the Achilles heel of narrative-historical approaches to the New Testament, though perhaps from a different angle to usual.

Mark Driscoll and the marks of a "true church"

Scot McKnight has provoked copious debate on Jesus Creed in characteristically economical fashion by asking people what they think of the eight marks of a “true church”, by which is meant a church that conforms to the teachings of the New Testament, as defined by Mark Driscoll:

  • The church is made up of regenerated believers in Jesus
  • The church is organized under qualified leadership
  • The church gathers to hear preaching and to respond in worship
  • The church rightly administers the sacraments
  • The church is spiritually unified
  • The church is holy
  • The church is devoted to fellowship
  • The church is committed to Jesus’ mission

I think I might be a realized premillennialist

I picked up a discounted copy of Roger Olson’s A-Z of Evangelical Theology (SCM, 2005) in the London School of Theology book shop earlier in the week. A central theme of the book that I am currently working on will be the kingdom of God and how to live with it, so I had a look at Roger’s brief article on the topic (226-27). He notes, first, that some evangelicals take the Augustinian view that the kingdom of God “exists secretly in the world wherever the true church of Jesus Christ worships and serves”. The kingdom is spiritual, not to be identified with any “historical socio-political arrangement”, and will only be fulfilled “in the eschaton, when Christ returns triumphantly to establish it in the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem”. So the kingdom is “already”, exhibited in the life of the church, and “not yet”, to be fulfilled in the “visible rule of Christ over creation after his return to earth”.

By way of distraction: Studdert Kennedy on the Blessed Trinity

I am sitting in the library at the London School of Theology trying to cobble together a book proposal. Looking for distraction I have just pulled off the shelf beside me The Wicket Gate by G.A. Studdert Kennedy, first published in 1923. Opening the book more or less at random I happened upon this entertaining comment on the lines “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son” from the Nicene Creed….

Do both the good and the bad go to Hades?

Steven Opp has drawn attention to the argument of W.G.T. Shedd in The Doctrine of Endless Punishment that Sheol in the Old Testament (Hades in the Greek Old Testament) is not merely the grave but a place of endless punishment for the wicked, in part, at least, on the grounds that there are passages which suggest an alternative destination for the righteous. The passages in question are Psalms 16:11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24 and Proverbs 14:32. On a superficial reading of these isolated verses Shedd’s argument looks plausible. But if context and the underlying Hebrew text are taken into consideration, that plausibility disintegrates rather easily.

More on the rich man and Lazarus and the question of “hell”

I have suggested in The Coming of the Son of Man and on this blog that the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is not intended to provide factual information about the afterlife but rather belongs to Jesus’ critique of a complacent elite in Israel that served mammon rather than God (cf. Lk. 16:13-14). It is, in effect, a parable for the coming eschatological reversal of fortunes in Israel, when the hungry would be filled with good things and the rich would be sent empty away. This argument allows me to hold to my view that Jesus did not teach the existence of “hell” as a place of eternal conscious torment; rather he warned disobedient Israel, and especially the various political-religious elites, that they faced divine judgment in the form of invasion, war, slaughter, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The disposal of the dead in the valley of the sons of Hinnom—that is Gehenna—stands as a metonymy for the appalling suffering and loss of life that would accompany the siege of Jerusalem. It is not an image for suffering after death.

But the question was recently put to me: If that’s the case, why did Jesus tell a story about the afterlife in order to make such a mundane historical point? It’s a good question.

Is David Fitch right that God is making the world right?

Having just read Frank Viola’s Beyond Evangelicalism, I thought I ought to take a look at David Fitch’s more solidly analytical, and much less succinctly titled, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions) .

The leading argument of the book is that the narrowly focused conversionism characteristic of much modern evangelicalism has produced an empty and duplicitous “politic”, or political stance, in the world. Fitch gives lots of sordid examples, from Hal Lindsey to Bernie Ebbers. The critique is Žižekian, but the remedy will have to go beyond Žižek. So Fitch will argue that our defining doctrines of i) the authority of scripture, ii) the gospel, and iii) mission need to be re-grounded “in the core of our life together: Jesus the incarnate Christ, as sent from the Father, extended in the Spirit” (130). This will give us instead a “politic of fullness”, arising out of the fulness of Christ.

Should we still love our enemies?

Chris asks a straightforward and pertinent question in response to my general argument that a narrative-historical hermeneutic, which necessarily brings into the foreground of our reading the contextual factors that restrict the New Testament’s frame of reference, may still be formative for the belief and practice of the church today:

I am part of the Mennonite movement and you know we stress the Sermon on the Mount and the command to love our enemies. Are we reading Jesus out of context to say we should be doing that today? How would we know?


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