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Why is there no “gospel” in the Gospel of John?

Here’s an irony, surely. The Gospel to which everyone turns for their definition of the “gospel” is one of the few books of the New Testament in which the euangelion word-group does not appear. The other gospel-free texts are Titus, James, 2 Peter, the letters of John, and Jude—all minor epistles and three of them Johannine. It’s John who gives us the classic statement, so beloved of “evangelicals”, so often the theme of “evangelists”: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). But he nowhere uses either the noun euangelion or the verb euangelizō.

Does that tell us anything interesting? I think it does. I think that the anomaly highlights a pervasive and persistent misunderstanding of “gospel” in the New Testament.

The “patriarchy paradox”: why both complementarians and egalitarians may have got it wrong (and right)

An article in the London Times today reports on what it calls the “patriarchy paradox”, which is that social equality between men and woman appears currently to reinforce rather than weaken gender stereotyping. You need to subscribe to the Times to view the article, but I’ll summarise the content here.

The assumption has been that when women are presented with the same opportunities as men, when the playing field is levelled, gender stereotyping will slowly disappear: we will increasingly see women taking on traditionally male roles in society, and vice versa.

What is the case against the case against women’s ordination?

Alastair Roberts is an astute, articulate and assiduous commentator on both scripture and society. I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of what he has written. But I’m disappointed by his defence of the complementarian view of male-female relations in family and church.

In a recent video he makes the case against women’s ordination. He begins by listing briefly the obvious biblical arguments against the egalitarian position: the explicit restrictions found in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2; the circumstantial evidence that Jesus chose male disciples; the presumption of male leadership in the New Testament church (he defers discussion of the “apostle” Junia); and the precedent of male kingship and priesthood in the Old Testament.

Podcast: The debate about “hell”: why both sides are missing the point

The popular debate about “hell” has been misconceived. Our narrow theologies of personal salvation have blinded us to the large-scale narratives that give meaning to the language of wrath and judgment in the teaching of Jesus and of those sent out to proclaim his name among the nations.

This first attempt at a podcast is a reworking of The unbiblical doctrine of “hell”. You can find a lot more on the subject here.

Some notes on Jesus as Son and Wisdom of God in Hebrews 1:1-4

Alex had a question about how Christ reveals God in texts like John 1:18, Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3, where there seems to be more going on than the “kingdom” story about how Jesus became Lord and would judge and rule over Israel and the nations of the pagan oikoumenē or “empire”. Here are a translation and some exegetical notes on Hebrews 1:1-4. I may or may not get round to doing something similar with the other passages.

It seems to me that the kingdom narrative is firmly in place in Hebrews 1, though the hard political edge has been blunted. It has plainly been overlaid with the Jewish wisdom motif, but I don’t think it amounts to a straightforward identification of Jesus with the eternal wisdom of God. The eschatological outlook remains determinative for understanding the relation between Jesus and God.

Beware (other) paradigm shifts in Christian theology

Roger Olson discusses what he calls a “paradigm shift in Christian theology” in the modern era. The largely novel thesis is that Jesus is the full and perfect revelation of God. There is no other God “lurking behind Jesus with a different character, disposition, than the one revealed in the person of Jesus Christ”. Or in the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey: “God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.” For theologians like Greg Boyd this means, in particular, that the seemingly violent God of the Old Testament has to be reinterpreted through the lens of the crucified and “pacifist” Jesus.

Olson notes the statement in the Epistle to Diognetus (2nd century AD) that “Violence has no place in the character of God” (7:4) and argues that the “immediately surrounding context indicates strongly that this strange statement is based on the person of Jesus Christ as the perfect manifestation of God”.

God reigns, God returns, God redeems in history

I pointed out last week that in the standard “redemption in history” construal of the biblical narrative—as represented, for example, by Chris Wright’s The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission—all the history is found before Jesus. Nothing of significance happens between Pentecost and new creation. Perhaps this defect is repaired elsewhere in the book, you may wonder. Sadly not. The only chapter that sheds any further light on how Wright understands the narrative after Jesus is chapter 11: “People who proclaim the gospel of Christ”; and what we find here is fully consistent with the diagram.

Mission and the “history of redemption”

Chris Wright’s The Mission of God’s People is methodologically one of the best books on a biblical theology of mission that I have come across. I will be recommending it in the workshops that Wes and I will be doing at the Communitas staff conference later this week. Wright argues that mission arises out of the whole story of the people of God told in scripture and that mission must engage the whole life of the people of God, and I agree with him. The book is a careful, thorough, scholarly, but very readable exposition of the thesis.

But I think that Wright misses an important dimension to the biblical story and as a result overlooks a crucial aspect of the missional task today. The point can be illustrated by considering this diagrammatic representation of the biblical story, which I have adapted from the book (40). It is fairly typical of evangelical narrative theologies. Creation, fall and new creation are the enclosing sections of the biblical story; the large space in the middle is filled with “Redemption in History”.

Every knee shall bow: the question about Jesus and God

The central claim of the New Testament regarding the risen Jesus is this: because he was faithful unto death in fulfilment of his mission to Israel, the God of Israel raised him from the dead and gave him the authority, which formerly belonged to God alone, to judge and rule over the nations—meaning, at least in the historical purview of the New Testament, the nations of the Greek-Roman world.

In other words, the early church thought of Jesus principally as an exalted human being, enthroned in heaven alongside YHWH, exercising the supreme but delegated authority of YHWH over all beings which had the capacity to confess him as Lord, whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth. That, I think, is more or less how Philippians 2:9-11 should be read.

The biblical story, part three

This is the third of three posts outlining the biblical narrative for the purpose of constructing a narrative theology for mission. The first part presented us with Israel as a new creation people called to worship and serve the living God, in the midst of hostile nations, over a long period of time. That traumatic story generated the belief that God would decisively save and restore his people and would eventually establish his own rule over the Israel’s neighbours. The New Testament gives its version of how that hope would be fulfilled through the faithfulness of Jesus and the testimony of the churches. This is explained in part two.

In this section I consider, in a very cursory fashion, how that story has played out over the last two thousand years and how I think it shapes the identity and purpose of the post-Christendom church.

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