Archives For Richard Hays

embryo

I was told by a friend, whose views I respect, that my previous post on abortion was insufficiently robust. Here’s another pass through my thoughts on this matter that matters:

A paradigmatic text that can inform Christians’ approach to the question of abortion is found in Acts 4.32-35. In Acts, Luke tells us that the power of the resurrection was made manifest in the apostolic community in concrete ways: in common prayer and eucharist celebration, in mutual care and in the sharing of possessions.

For Luke and for the early church, Easter meant that believers had been freed to share their money and resources with one another. Easter had freed them to care for the needs of one another. A community that so shared their possessions was equipped then to care for the needy and for the needy within their faith community.

What does this have to do with abortion? Within the church at least, abortion should not be necessitated by economic hardship or the inability of the mother to care for a child. If an unwanted or an ill-advised pregnancy occurs in a Christian community, the Christian response, according to Luke’s paradigm of the Acts’ church, should not be abortion but the sharing of the community’s resources: the congregation’s money, time and nurture.

Stanley Hauerwas adds to this perspective by noting how Christians share not just our resources but one another. The sacrament of baptism, he points out, quite clearly makes us all the parents of one another’s children. Again, the church’s response to an unwanted or ill-advised pregnancy should not be abortion but a willingness to live into their baptismal identity and assume the role of parent. Hauerwas observes how such expectations for a Christian community often sound far- fetched and idealistic to white, upper and middle-class Christians, but just such an ethic is commonly practiced by African-American congregations.

In reflecting on the issue of abortion, the model of the early church reminds Christians that often our preoccupations with defining whether abortion is right or wrong and at what point life begins are distractions from a more primary calling. How Christians should advocate their abortion convictions in the public square is a separate question. Clearly, however, Luke reminds Christians that if our congregations more closely mirrored the early apostolic community in terms of sharing and mutual care, then there would, at the very least, be fewer abortions among Christians.

In addition, Richard Hays comments that the early church’s example reveals how Christians’ confusion over abortion is indicative of a greater unfaithfulness to the economic ethic of Jesus. If the Church were more faithful in witnessing against poverty and advocating for greater economic justice, then the tragic factors that lead to many abortions would decrease.

The paradigm offered by the early church also provides Christians another contour to guide our thoughts on abortion. The apostolic community was marked not only by sharing but by mutual- and moral- accountability. Too often the cultural and political debates regarding abortion stigmatize the mothers of the unborn. In doing so, opponents of abortion frequently make these women the bearers of the moral burden. Luke’s model of the early church, however, does not allow Christians to resort to this response. A community of genuine accountability and love will insist on holding Christian men accountable to the responsibilities and consequences of their relationships.

Many of these moral reflections suggest Christian-specific responses to the issue of abortion, but if Christians are meant to transform the world, then a necessary first step is for Christian communities to begin looking more transformed themselves. Before Christians can effectively persuade the public square to their ethical perspective, that ethical worldview should be embodied in their communities. The first measure of our faith in the power of the resurrection is not the legislation we advocate but the sharing and accountability we practice with one another.

I noticed the upcoming lectionary epistle for this Sunday is Galatians 2.11-21:

“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Wait, is that the right way of putting it?

The entire evangelical Christian understanding of Justification by Faith Alone is premised upon a particular reading of Romans and this passage here in Galatians.

Justification by Faith Alone, in case you didn’t know, names God’s declaration of forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. For example, this grace hit Martin Luther had transformed him when he heard spoken to him in the confessional by a brother priest: ‘Martin, your sins are forgiven.’ It’s this declaration and our faith in it that justifies us before God. And nothing else (Romans 1-3).

That’s the historic Reformed/Evangelical understanding of Justification.

It also happens to be wrong.

Just because something’s historic doesn’t mean it’s right.

The Founders were wrong about slavery.

And Christian traditions have been wrong about what Paul is intending when he talks about faith and justification.

Exhibit A has to do with the (mis)translated line ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’

Almost everywhere that is written in English it is an incorrect translation. It is correctly translated by the King James version, but by virtually no other translations.

For example:

“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:20-23,.

 

In Greek, the actual wording is “even the righteousness of God, through the faith OF Jesus Christ.” 

ek pisteos Iesou Christou

A little grammar:

It is in the genitive case. Now because it’s in the genitive means that this phrase can be interpreted as either subjective or objective. That is, it’s like saying the Love of God. We’re referring either to our love for God, or the love that God has for us.

In one instance God is the object of our love. In other instance, God is the subject.

In Greek, ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ is also a subjective genitive, but it gets translated as an objective nearly all the time: ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’ 

Thus translated, it’s not long before we start talking about how it’s our faith in Christ (see how this now makes our ‘faith’ just another ‘work?’) that makes us righteous before God. 

Huh?

In Paul’s day, Jews called the Messiah, the Righteous One. In his letter to the Romans, Paul draws on the idea of The Righteous One to describe Jesus Christ, who reveals the righteousness of God through his faith. Not our faith.

You see, Paul’s whole argument in Romans/Galatians is that the Law does not justify anyone, not even Abraham was justified by Law, but by faith. And Paul sees Jesus as the Righteous One who was able to maintain faith to the end. Unlike Israel or any of us. Jesus was able to do through his faith what we could not. Jesus was able to trust the Father perfectly. Even unto a cross. That is why he is “The Righteous One who shall live by his Faith.”

Paul is making an argument in Romans is that God’s righteousness was revealed “from faith to faith. God’s righteousness was revealed in and through the faith OF Jesus Christ, and was revealed to faith; that is, our faith as we receive him.

To preach Romans or Galatians well requires out-Pauling evangelicals, who often champion Paul more so than the Messiah for whom Paul gave his life.

But there it is.

Most evangelicals are wrong about what they’ve made their central doctrine, Justification by Faith Alone.

It not our faith in Jesus which justifies us, but the faith of Jesus Christ in us which justifies us. 

In other words, as Richard Hays puts it, it’s the faith of Jesus that saves us and we simply get caught up in the story of his faithfulness. We participate in it. We don’t agree to it, nod our head to it or even, dare I say it, invite it into our hearts.

And this is what Paul freaking means when he calls faith a ‘gift’ from God. He doesn’t mean that some people who have faith have been given a gift while those who don’t have it have been screwed by the Almighty- a line of thinking that only begets vile doctrines like double predestination.

No, faith is a gift because it’s Jesus’ faith he’s talking about.

And Jesus, as we learn at Christmas, is a gift given to the whole world.

In the traditional evangelical rendering in which it is our faith which sets us right with God, faith becomes another work, another work of the law, something we must do. That’s neither Paul’s argument nor good news. We can’t do anything ourselves, not even our faith, to improve our situation vis a vis God.

Not to mention, it only succeeds in reproducing Martin Luther’s original dilemma about the veracity of his suaveness and leads to the myriad number of Protestants who make repeated trips forward to the anxious bench or to the font for rebaptism.

The clause ‘we must (have faith/serve the poor/be inclusive/obey the commandments’ in order for God to _________can never be Gospel. It’s exhortation not proclamation. It reduces the Gospel promise to If/Then conditionality.

Paul’s Gospel is instead a Because/Now construction: Because we have been set right before God by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, now we are empowered, emboldened, set free to live for God.

imagesAdvertising tells me that Father’s Day is fast approaching, that market scripted day of the year when I feel emasculated for desiring neither ties nor power tools.

In anticipation of this Father’s Day, I’ve chosen to do something against type. I’m reading a book about ‘Biblical F/fatherhood.’

Okay, it’s not completely against type. For one thing the book was free, a new ebook entitled ‘Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood.’ For another thing the book was written by Mark Driscoll, the rapid, hyper-Calvinist pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle.

You can read it here.

The size of Driscoll’s church, 10K plus on weekends, is an auspicious reminder that the line between discipleship and delusion is a fine one indeed. I once mentioned one of Mark Driscoll’s sermons to my wife, in which Driscoll argued that it’s the Christian wife’s ‘biblical duty’ to give her husband a BJ whenever he wanted it. Seriously. And I got a call from the bishop for making a fart joke. Ever since I mentioned that to my wife any mention of Mark Driscoll sends her into a rage.

mark-driscollTo some Mark Driscoll is this century’s Billy Graham. To other, sane-minded people he is a hipper iteration of Pat Robertson- albeit a Pat Robertson who was dropped on his head too many times as a kid.

Jesus himself said that the word is like seed scattered on all kinds of ground, rock, sand and soil. Truth can sometimes take root in the unlikeliest of places- isn’t that the offensive lesson of grace?

So while I fess up to the honest disclaimer that I think Mark Driscoll is a d*&^%$ bag (a revulsion grounded in both my love of Jesus and my neighbors of the opposite sex) I will also begrudgingly admit that Mark Driscoll sometimes knows what he’s doing.

He certainly knows how to get his thoughts retweeted. He obviously knows how to build a large, other-focused church, and maybe, just maybe, in this Knocked Up, extended adolescent culture there’s a missional need to knock the heads of some ‘godly men.’

All this is to say, I’m reading Pastor Dad prepared to scoff and deride but also willing to be surprised.

Chapter 1: The Good Life

Driscoll’s first chapter is just 2 paragraphs, really it’s only worthy of 1 paragraph if you abide by the traditional rules of the English language. The concision of his opening paragraph has less to do with minimalist art and more to do with not allowing any ambiguity to enter what is his massive, controversial contention:

‘before a man can be a good father, he has to be a good Christian.‘

For a father to know best he must first know his Eternal Father.

Only good Christians can be good fathers, Driscoll contends. And a good Christian, he argues, is one who ‘realizes that God is his Father.’

Driscoll premises all this on the words of the Psalmist (David) that the good life for a man is to be blessed by God, a blessing that takes the form of worshipping God and caring for your family.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs worth of words, but already Pastor Dad is like Whack a Mole, provoking me with the dilemma of which target to strike first.

To go after the suggestion that only good Christians can be good fathers seems too easy. We all, I suspect, know good fathers who are not good Christians or even if they’re Christian they’re not ‘good’ Christians. Even if we don’t know any such people, I daresay we all know some good Christians who are not in any way good fathers. That Christians perform no better as parents or spouses is as well-documented as it is lamentable.

To go after Driscoll for extrapolating a rather large and incendiary contention from a Psalm (a poem written NOT by God but TO God) seems both a flimsy foundation and a misuse of the author’s intent. It’s like reading Catcher in the Rye and coming away with ‘principles’ for how teenagers should respect their elders and authority.

To go after Driscoll for basing this all on a patriarchal hierarchy that sets up a self-serving analogy between fathers and God is ground others have well trod before me.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs in so I’ll withhold judgment, but my first reaction is to rub against Driscoll’s view of and use of scripture. The Bible, as Richard Hays likes to quip, is about God. It’s about Jesus Christ and what God has done and is doing in the world.

To pilfer scripture for ‘principles’ for anything- parenting, marriage, success, happiness, serenity- is to profoundly misuse scripture even while appearing more ‘scriptural.’

Scripture DOES echo from beginning to end that our life is gift, that creation is what happens when God’s love pours out and that in the fullness of time God poured himself out completely, first in to Jesus Christ and ultimately upon a Cross.

It doesn’t make for an easy verse X of passage Y says Z therefore fathers should… principle, but it’s the most faithful approach, I think, to anything resembling ‘biblical’ parenthood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

imagesYesterday I wrote a post about Paul’s use of the phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou in Romans and how that phrase has been appropriated, incorrectly in my view, for the doctrine of justification. You can read it here.

We’re justified not by our faith IN Christ but by the faith OF Christ, is Paul’s argument I argued.

As anticipated, I received a flood of panties-in-a-twist emails from evangelicals excoriating me for playing fast and loose with their core doctrine.

One of the responses, from a friend, essentially asked:

What difference does it make, IN or OF? Isn’t it just semantics?

I could answer that question a number of ways, many of them theological. After all, how one chooses to translate ek pisteos Iesou Christou does lead to different even divergent conclusions. It’s a little like a circuit. You can’t reverse the wires and expect to have the same result.

But that’s for another post or another day because right now the phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou registers for me not on a theological level.

For me, the phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou is personal.

Someone I care about very much is right now in a bad way.

You know the sort- where you’re overwhelmed, don’t know what to do, how to help and can’t find the remedy (or end) in sight.

The sort where you’re left with those persistent, security-blanket questions like:

‘Why God?

Where the hell are you God?

Are you napping on the job or what?’

The sort where your faith in Christ feels as porous as sand and your doubts and unbelief feel like the Nothingness that comes creeping over everything in The Never-Ending Story.

So that’s why I think how we translate Paul’s phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou can make all the difference in the world.

I don’t insist you agree with me, but, for me, saying our standing, our justification, before God depends on our faith IN Christ is not good news. Not at all. Not today.

Because, let’s be honest, even on our best days our faith IN Christ is as fragile as a house of cards.

No, the good news has to be better than that. It has to be big enough to withstand the waves of doubt and despair that threaten to knock us down and undo us.

Whoever we are in God’s eyes, whatever righteousness we possess, however we’re justified and saved has to depend on a faith stronger than the one I can muster on most days. 

Especially the dark ones.

It has to depend on the faith OF Jesus Christ, the one who felt what we feel in Gethsemane but who nonetheless got up from the Garden and kept the faith when there’s no chance in hell we would have.

For me at least, that’s a better good news. r1-not-ashames

 

By Grace Alone?

Jason Micheli —  September 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

For our sermon series on ‘The Seven Truths that Changed the World: Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas’ we’re talking about Justification by Faith (vs. Works).

In Thomas Aquinas’ three-fold understanding of grace, grace begins with God. On that starting point there’s no difference between the Catholic perspective and what Luther fleshes out in his re-formation.

The second procession of grace, sanctifying grace, is grace that is in us. But how do you know if you have sanctifying grace? That question starts to get at Luther’s criticism.

The third procession of grace, according to Thomas, is our response of faith, hope and love that sanctifying grace makes possible. Again, if you don’t really have sanctifying grace- if perhaps you’ve deceived yourself and only thought you did- then necessarily you can’t possess genuine faith, hope and love.

Thomas’ formulation of grace, though it boasted a pedigree that went all the way back to the church fathers and though there appears to have been no other reformation era critics of it, in Luther’s mind placed for too much on us.

Whereas Thomas believed sanctifying grace is bestowed upon us in baptism and through the sacraments, Luther re-conceives grace’s movement.

Grace, first of all, names God’s favor, loving inclination, towards us. This is where Luther and Thomas agree. Second, grace is a Word addressed to me, a declaration. For Luther this declaration is the Gospel. Rather than a gift God implants within us, this Word God declares to us is the gift. Third, this word-gift is what enables me to respond in faith.

Part of the difficulty in the reformation debates is the confusion of terms. Thomas and Catholic theology in general use the term ‘justification’ to name the entire process of God’s favor towards us, God’s sanctifying grace and our response. Luther and the reformers after him instead use ‘justification’ to refer exclusively to God’s inclination and declaration to us. Our healing and response tend to get treated separately as ‘sanctification’ or ‘vocation’ or, in Wesley, ‘perfection.’ So, often, when Protestants accused of Catholics of ‘works righteousness’ it’s because Protestants thought Catholics were speaking of justification when, really, Catholics were talking about sanctification. And when Catholics thought Protestants were eliminating any role for works of faith and making faith totally passive it’s because Catholics thought Protestants were speaking of sanctification when, really, Protestants were speaking specifically about justification. That both sides tended to be led by stubborn, recalcitrant men didn’t ameliorate the confusion.

What’s essential in the divergence of views is how, for Luther, there’s nothing inside me that is different or changed. There’s nothing inside me that empowers me to respond to God with faith, hope and love. Luther did believe that eventually our trust in God would create a new life but that new life would never be the basis of our justification. It would never be why we’re pleasing to God.

Again, this gets back to Luther’s spiritual crisis. For Luther, what’s important is that we don’t look within ourselves to determine if we’re saved.

For Luther, looking within is the problem because, basically, inside we’re messed up. Within us, no matter how much we trust God, is a whole stew of conflicting motives. Obviously this is an incredibly autobiographical insight on Luther’s part. According to Luther if we want to know how we stand before God we look, not within, at the promise of God.

Justification, then, in this classical Protestant formulation is objective (in that it depends not on our apprehension of it) and it is passive (in that it God’s act outside of us).

 

Some of you- fairly, I’ll admit- suggested to me that my previous post on this subject needed to provide a closer look at specific scriptural passages and show how two Christians might apply them to their viewpoints.

Here you go:

Viewpoint #1

Using Paul as a Model for Ethical Re-Evaluation:

In his essay, Reading and Understanding the New Testament on Homosexuality, biblical scholar Brian Blount advocates the position that certain biblical ethical prescriptions may be modified by the contemporary church, and, in their modified form, they may more faithfully reflect Paul’s own theological perspective. Blount cites Paul himself as the precedent for such ethical re-evaluation.

Blount points out that the Gospel writers are all unanimous in their presentation of Jesus’ views on divorce. Jesus, according to the Gospels, is unambiguously against divorce. Only in Matthew’s Gospel does Jesus allow the stipulation of divorce in cases of sexual infidelity (5.31-32). In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul acknowledges Jesus’ teaching on this matter (1 Corinthians 7.10-11). Nonetheless, in that same passage, Paul claims his own apostolic authority and allows for a reevaluation of Jesus’ teaching based on the context of the Corinthian congregation.

The church at Corinth was struggling to apply their faith in a thoroughly pagan culture. Aware of the destructive effects pagan culture potentially posed to an individual’s and a church’s faith, Paul changes Jesus’ tradition and allows for divorce in the case of Christians who are married to unsupportive pagan partners.

In light of the Corinthian’s cultural context, and even though it stands in contrast to Jesus’ own teaching in the Gospels, Paul believes this ethical modification to be consistent with his larger understanding of God’s present work in and through Jesus Christ. Such ethical deliberation and re-evaluation is not dissimilar to the process of discernment that the Christian Church later undertook with respect to scripture’s understanding of slavery. Just as the Holy Spirit guided Paul to re-evaluate Jesus’ tradition in light of a different present-day context, Brian Blount posits that the Holy Spirit can and does lead Christians to such discernment today.

When it comes to the matter of homosexuality, Blount argues that Romans 1 understands homosexuality as one symptom among many of the fallen world’s idolatry. Our contemporary situation is different, according to Blount. If it is possible for contemporary Christians to concede that a homosexual person need not be an idolater, then Paul’s chief complaint may be removed, opening the way for Christians to re-evaluate Paul’s ethical prescriptions in a faithful manner. It becomes possible then, Blount says, for Christians to conclude that faithful, monogamous, homosexual relationships can be consistent with God’s present-day redemptive activity.

Viewpoint 2 

Experience as a Lens for Scripture Not as a Counter-Balancing Authority: 

In his book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Richard Hays acknowledges that the New Testament provides no definitive, applicable “rule” on homosexuality. The New Testament, as in the case of Romans 1, offers only theological principles against homosexuality, yet Hays stresses that scripture’s negative prohibitions regarding homosexuality be read against the larger backdrop of the male-female union, which scripture presents as the normative location for love and intimacy.

However marginal or unclear are the bible’s teachings on homosexuality, the scriptural canon clearly and repeatedly affirms that God made man and woman for one another. Any contemporary discernment over homosexuality must struggle with this positive norm that is the overwhelming witness of the scriptural narrative.

For example, Hays turns to Acts 10 and 11, Luke’s story documenting the entrance of Gentiles into the fledgling (Jewish) Christian Church. In the story, God directs the apostle Peter in a dream to understand that God desired the inclusion of the Roman, Cornelius, into the community of Jesus. Cornelius’ inclusion represents God’s invitation to all Gentiles, an invitation that shatters all of Peter’s preconceptions about sin, purity and righteousness. Advocates for the acceptance of homosexuals frequently point to this story from Acts as evidence that God desires the church’s fellowship to extend to those previously judged sinful, impure and unrighteous.

Richard Hays, however, argues that such a reading of Acts 10 and 11 misses the mark, for the early church did not conclude from Cornelius’ story that the biblical witness had, up until then, been wrong on the issue of the Gentiles. Instead Cornelius’ inclusion prompted the church reread their scripture and discover that the welcome to the Gentiles had been consistent throughout scripture. Homosexuality is not an analogous issue, Hays would argue, because no where in scripture does the narrative advocate the inclusion or acceptance of homosexuals.

Because scripture consistently adopts a negative view of homosexuality and affirms the heterosexual norm, Hays, unlike Blount, argues that any change to the church’s traditional teaching must come only “after sustained and agonizing scrutiny by a consensus of the faithful.”

The Catholic biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson echoes Hays’ urging of consensus-building caution and discernment, writing that:

“The burden of proof required to overturn scriptural precedents is heavy, but it is a burden that has been born before. The Church cannot, should not, define itself in response to political pressure or popularity polls. But it is called to discern the work of God in human lives and adapt its self-understanding in response to the work of God.”