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peter wilkinson | Thu, 06/07/2012 - 08:49 | Permalink

I appreciate that you are reinforcing your main point throughout this post, Andrew, that “the personal is always a corollary of the political” in the way you frame a narrative-historical interpretation. I disagree that “the traditional evangelical view” gets this back to front, and I think there are problems in your argument, in which my five criticisms made earlier still stand.

In a shift of emphasis from your usual argument, you concede that “We still have to deal with the legacy of personal sin”. However, instead of asking ”how do I become a new creation person, in whose life sin has been dealt with?”, the issue begins to slip away with the question you then ask: ”What has made it possible for us to be members of a new creation people without our sinfulness ruining it?”

In the next section beginning “We still have to trust that the death and resurrection of Jesus have completely changed the terms and conditions for knowing God”, you simply fail to answer the question at all, by repeating that salvation was a political event in the history of Israel, not a personal event, either for them or for us.

In fact, in that same section, you move from saying that “Salvation is a response not simply to the problem of human sin”, in which you concede that “human sin”is at least an issue, to saying:

Redemption, therefore, is not a personal event but a corporate and historical event: redemption is when God’s people get through the coming crisis of God’s judgment of the ancient world

Here, you contrast redemption as a “personal event” to redemption as “a corporate and historical event”, and I think that is the heart of the problem. For you, “personal” has become the same as “individual”. But the issue of the New Testament is: how do the events of Jesus’s death and resurrection become a personal issue for anyone who believes? There is no setting of the personal against the corporate anywhere in the scriptures, still less in the New Testament.

You then say (same section), alluding to Romans 3:21-22, 28-30 and Ephesians 2:11-22

Because this future redemption was secured outside the Law, through the faithfulness of Jesus, membership of redeemed Israel was thrown open to Gentiles

This is a misreading of the passages; in particular a misreading of Romans, where Romans 3:21 onwards draws together what Paul has been saying to Jew and Gentile, that God’s redemptive plans were expressly for the benefit of Jew and Gentile, and attacks Jewish exclusivism. In Ephesians 2:11-22, it is eccentric indeed to to assume that Paul’s entire argument is that we are “saved” by becoming part of Israel. The entire argument, not isolated to this passage, is that the elements that constituted historic Israel have now passed away, like the booster rockets to a space probe. We are saved by believing in Jesus, both for forgiveness of sins (in its wide-ranging sense) and salvation from coming wrath.

So we have lost the question of how God deals with personal sin, which the argument seemed to be setting out to address, by shifting, at the end of the section, to the issue of how Gentiles as well as Jews were to be saved from the coming (historical) wrath. The only answer seems to be that when Gentiles believe in the God who has provided  salvation from wrath for the Jews, and if they become members of the club as well (though we are not told how), they will not be subject to wrath as well. But the question you set out to answer: how do they (or we) become members of that club without spoiling it, has been totally side-stepped and ignored.

Having avoided this central question, which the post seemed to be about to address, you then say:

Nowhere in Acts are Gentiles told to believe that Jesus died for their sins.

as if this proved your point, when actually you were, apparently, going to say how Gentiles would have their personal sins dealt with. The logic of your argument is now that Gentiles can’t join the club without having the sins that would spoil it dealt with, but nowhere are we told (in Acts, at least) that Gentiles are to believe in Jesus who died for their sins. So what is the solution for Gentiles?

I don’t think it is true to say anyway that Acts does not tell Gentiles that Jesus died for their sins. An example is Acts 13. Paul is addressing, first, “you children of Abraham and God-fearing Gentiles” (ie Gentiles who had not become Jews, but worshipped Israel’s God) — 13:26. The message to both these groups is: “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” — 13:38. Many believed — 13:43. When other Jews stir up the crowds against Paul and Barnabas, they turn to “speak the word of God” — 13:46 to the Gentiles. There is no sense anywhere that a different message from “forgiveness of sins” was preached to the Gentiles, nor by any other means than through Jesus for them personally.

However, we do not need Acts alone to tell us what Paul preached to the Gentiles. We have the letters, in which no distinction is made between how redemption came to Jew or Gentile. To both groups, it was through the direct effect of Jesus’s death and resurrection in application to the life of the believer — whether Jew or Gentile.

There is a great deal in this post which is problematic, which includes the logic and flow of the argument itself, as well as the way scriptures are interpreted.

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