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How Big Is Your Gospel?

I like the way John Frye explains how a lot of Christians reduce the gospel to much less than it actually is:

What if I said to you that the story of the movie The Sound of Music was about guitars? Would you disagree? What if I said the story of the movie Ben Hur is about chariot wheels? What if I said the story about the movie Titanic is about the north Atlantic ocean? You would think I was a little (or maybe hugely) short-sighted about these magnificent films. Why reduce the story of the von Trapp family to the topic of guitars? Are there, in fact, guitars in The Sound of Music? Is not the scene with Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) entering the room with a guitar singing a major turning point in the story? What about those Ben Hur chariot wheels? Aren’t those very wheels the source of incredible tension in the (1959 film) chariot race scene? Where did the Titanic sink? I rest my case. But I know you’re not convinced. Why? Because each of “my” views is a horrible reduction of those tremendous, expansive stories.

How you feel about my reductions of great stories is, I think, how Jesus and Paul would react to the contemporary reductions of the New Testament Gospel….

Do read the whole thing over at JesusCreed.

A Great Question Deserves a Thoughtful Answer

Both are in evidence over at the Jesus Blog, where Rafael Rodríguez has shared some correspondence he’s recently had with one of his students. The student writes,

I have a question that has been on my mind. It might be somewhat obvious, but nonetheless it has intrigued me. What would Paul say to a Jew who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and wanted to stop adhering to the Law? At first I think this would be fine due to salvation through Jesus is open to all, but what about the disruption it would have possibly caused in said Jew’s family, who may or may not believe in Jesus? I immediately think of Romans 14:13-23, but Paul is writing that to the Gentiles. Does the same principle apply to the Jew who has already been living out a Law abiding lifestyle?

I think Rafael’s answer is worth thoughtful consideration.

Scooby Doo is Fun TV but a Lousy Worldview

Over at JesusCreed, Jonathan Storment has written an intriguing review of Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck. This is a book about spiritual warfare—but Storment urges us not to roll our eyes just yet.

I want you to know this isn’t like the other spiritual warfare books out there. It is written specifically for the kinds of Christians who stopped believing in the Devil/Demons a long time ago, by someone who went down that same road.

The best way I could summarize Beck’s work is that he quotes the Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor, lots of Scripture, lots of theologians, and talks often about Scooby Doo.

After providing some necessary philosophical background based on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Storment sums up Beck’s train of thought with these words:

…Scooby Doo is a perfect example of what it looks like to live in a disenchanted age. Think about every Scooby Doo episode you’ve ever seen. It starts out with an enchanted world. They’re in some haunted mansion, chasing down a ghost or goblin of some kind. All of them are terrified because they are vulnerable to the spiritual forces of the universe and at some point Shaggy runs away screaming and Scooby says “ruh­roh.”

But then the turn comes. And the ghost trips over some chair
or accidentally overplays its hand, and these detective kids suddenly realize that this isn’t a ghost at all.

Then there is the great unmasking, where they pull back the disguise and sure enough…there are no demons in the world, this is just Old Mr. Dickerson, the greedy banker trying to get rich.

Beck says

When the downward pressure of skepticism win and the enchanted world is emptied out, all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings.

Which sounds fine to a lot of progressive Christians. We really want to focus on human beings, we want Christianity to be good for human beings, we love humanity…until we don’t.

And here is Beck’s sweet spot, because I know him well, I really appreciated this section, because I’ve seen him live it out. What happens when progressive, disenchanted Christians try to follow Jesus into the messy places of the world without a robust theology of Spiritual warfare?

The battle becomes precisely against flesh and blood.

Do read the whole thing.

Sound Exegesis: It Does The Body Good

No purportedly biblical position on any issue is served by sloppy exegesis. Especially when the exegete implies, or downright states, that the possible interpretation he or she proposes is, in fact, the only possible interpretation.

Thus, I commend to you Ian Paul’s “Did Jesus Heal the Centurion’s Gay Lover?” (Spoiler: Maybe, but even if he did, it doesn’t mean what some people want it to mean.)

Twelve Affirmations about the Bible

John Pavlovitz, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit about the Bible

Michael Byrd, “7 Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible

What Is the Gospel?

Here is a “TED-style talk” by Michael Bird on recognizing the true gospel.

Sanders Explains Sanders

Not Bernie, but Ed. Here’s a great summary of what E. P. Sanders considered the gist of his monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Astute Bible readers—and students from my CHR 150 classes—will know that this book was a watershed in the history of Pauline research: a study with which one must be acquainted.

I shall now give a summary of the principal arguments, beginning with a negative point:

(1) The book is not about the sources of Paul’s thought. I granted that many or most topics in Paul could be paralleled in Jewish literature, but I was not pursuing an argument about where Paul got his ideas. Failure to note this point has misled several readers, some of whom have criticized me for using Jewish material later than Paul, while some have even imagined that in proposing that Paul had a different “pattern of religion” I meant that he had no connection with Judaism.

(2) In most of Palestinian literature, the “pattern” of “getting in and staying in” is simple: one is in by virtue of the election (or covenant); one stays in by remaining loyal to the Jewish law. These two basic convictions gave rise to the term covenantal nomism.”

(3) In Paul, all are “out” of the people of God and may enter only by faith in Christ.

(4) The two sets of terminology summarized by the phrases “being justified [righteoused] by faith” and “becom ing one person with Christ” essentially mean the same thing: these are the terms that indicate entry into the people of God: one “dies” with Christ or is righteoused by faith and thus transfers into the in-group.

(5) Once in, the member of the body of Christ should behave appropriately. In detail, this usually means the adoption of Jewish rules of ethics and other forms of behavior.

(6) In both Judaism and Paul, people in the in-group are punished rewarded depending on how well they adhere to the standards. Punishment and reward, however, are not “salvation”; people are saved, rather, by being in the in-group, and punishment is construed as keeping them in (as in 1 Cor 11:27-32).

(7) Paul does not accept the adequacy of the Jewish election for getting in; he begins the process of a theological rupture with Judaism by requiring faith in Christ.

(8) Formally, Paul sometimes accepts the whole law,” but it turns out that his Gentile converts do not actually have to keep all parts of the Jewish law, and that sometimes even Jewish Christians should depart from Jewish practice (as in the case of Peter in Antioch).

(9) Consequently, Paul’s “pattern” of religion is not the same as “covenantal nomism.” The efficacy of the election is rejected, and the law is accepted with qualifications.

(10) Paul’s pattern is, however, like covenantal nomism in that admission depends on the grace of God, while behavior is the responsibility of the individual—who, of course, is supported in his or her efforts by God’s love and mercy.

(11) Since one gets in by dying with Christ, and since Pauls outlook is strongly eschatological, I dubbed his pattern “participationist eschatology,” though “eschatological participationism” might have been better.

(H/T: Jesus Creed)