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

The Lost World of Genesis One is lost on me

I have finally got round to reading John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, and I have to say, I don’t see it.

Walton’s central contention is that what we have in Genesis 1 is an account not of the creation of the material cosmos but of the inauguration of the world as a temple for the creator God. He does not deny that the world is God’s material creation as a matter of theology, only that this is not the message that the author of the passage was trying to get across. In the context of the debate about origins there is an immediate benefit: we no longer need to map the chronology of Genesis 1 against scientific accounts of the formation of the universe and the emergence of life:

In summary, we have suggested that the seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple…. (91)

Born of a woman

Why does Paul say in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus was “born from a woman” (genomenon ek gunaikos)? I argued in “Christmas according to St Paul” that the “sending” of Jesus was much more like the sending of the son to the vineyard in the parable of the wicked tenants than the sending of Wisdom into the world. In other words, I don’t think Paul is talking about the incarnation. The sending happened when the time was fulfilled and Jesus began to proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom of God to Israel (cf. Mk. 1:15).

I noted that “born of a woman or of women” was an idiomatic expression for being human, and in particular for being weak, vulnerable and flawed. But there is perhaps more that can be said.

A conversation with Emi about salvation and mission

Emi is a seventeen year old high school student in the Seattle area. She has posted a couple of lengthy comments on this site in which she expresses the struggle she is going through trying to reconcile the narrative-historical reading of the New Testament, which she understands and summarises remarkably well, with certain deeply held convictions about salvation.

I wrote a piece on the biblical argument about salvation in response to her first comment. Here I’ve tried to answer her second set of questions, which have to do more with the motivation for mission—and indeed for being Christian at all. Hopefully it adds something new to the conversation and I am not just repeating myself.

There is only one biblical way to transform society, and it’s not social activism

In his talk on Daniel 4 this week Barney made passing reference to the “biblical mandate to bring justice by changing the structures of society”. I forget exactly the point he was making, but it would have had something to do with Daniel’s words to Nebuchadnezzar after interpreting the dream about the tree that is cut back to the stump:

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. (Dan. 4:27)

The talk was excellent and stimulated good conversation. But I’m not sure about that throw-away comment. Is there really such a “biblical mandate”? Is it clearly taught in scripture that a central task of the church is to go and bring justice by changing the structures of society?

Celibacy, marriage, and the end of the age

Something that struck me reading Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church was the general agreement that Paul’s views about marriage change between 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

In the earlier passage he expresses a strong preference for celibacy but at the same time gives a “shockingly egalitarian” (DeFranza) account of marriage. By the time we get to Ephesians Paul—or a well-meaning pseudepigraphist—appears to have lost interest in the celibacy option and promotes a strongly patriarchal view of marriage as a “mystery” pointing to the relationship between Christ and the church.

Timothy and Mavra, a young married couple, martyred in 286 AD

Homosexuality, marriage, and why I don’t think Paul teaches mutual submission

There’s an interesting exchange between the contributors to Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church (ed. Preston Sprinkle) over how close the modern ideal of Christian marriage conforms to the biblical pattern of marriage. The underlying question is whether we have a closed and fixed or an open and evolving idea of “Christian” marriage. If the latter, then there is some scope, as Megan DeFranza argues, for extending “marriage” to include comparable same-sex commitments.

DeFranza thinks that we have already changed marriage by shifting over time from a patriarchal biblical model to an egalitarian model. So where’s the harm in changing again to accommodate gay marriage?

‘It is only very recently,’ she says, ‘that Christians have been shifting their interpretation of Eph 5 so that the call to “mutual submission” in verse 21… is read to support egalitarian human marriage, while the ancient vision of patriarchal marriage remains an analogy for Christ and the church” (101 n. 66).

Talking Jesus: problems with the modern evangelistic paradigm

I’ve been working with someone who is doing research on the tensions between what I’ll call for convenience a “narrative-historical” understanding of the gospel and the gospel as it is commonly presented in modern evangelism. The Talking Jesus report came up for consideration as an example of how evangelism is understood and practised in the UK today.

The report presents a snapshot of “perceptions of Jesus, Christians and evangelism” in England, backed up with an abundance of statistics. It was produced this year by Barna Group for the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance, and HOPE, an organisation whose goal is to see “individuals and communities in villages, towns and cities throughout the UK transformed by Jesus’ love”.

Are non-Christians “lost”?

I received a newsletter from a good missionary friend yesterday that spoke of his intention to “rescue lost people for Christ”. I have always felt uneasy about that sort of language. It sounds condescending and disparaging. Perhaps I’m just being squeamish, but I think I have some biblical warrant.

The word translated “lost” in the Gospels is the perfect participle of the verb apollumi. It is not the world that is “lost” but a section of Israel. The lost-and-found parables in Luke 15 are told to the Pharisees and scribes who are complaining, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” The sheep, coin and son in the parables are lost in the obvious sense: they were part of something larger—a hundred sheep, ten coins, a household—but they have been mislaid and need to found again.

The biblical argument about salvation (my soteriology)

Emi sent me an email a while back, and because I have been slow to reply, she posted the whole thing as a comment. She notes that I argue in What must a person believe in order to be saved? i) that the mission of the church is not to save as many people as possible; and ii) that when ‘people today become part of God’s new creation people, they are “saved”… from the final judgment of death on human sin’. Isn’t that a bit perverse? If you accept that people who become part of the church are saved from the final judgment of death, why would we not go all out to save as many as possible? This is how she makes the point:

I don’t see how the falsity of the concept that our mission is to save people from hell means it is not our (ideal) mission to assimilate all cultures and peoples into God’s new creation, if still, non-Christians are at risk of the wrath of death come the final judgment.

In order to answer Emi’s astute question, I will try to set out in a more or less methodical fashion how I understand the biblical argument about salvation—my soteriology, in effect.


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