Sunday, April 10, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 8

51YyKVMJh L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_With this post we come to the end of Book One of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. I continue to make a post on each chapter as I read them. Previous posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Each chapter is very long so what you are getting here is a very brief summary of this very important book. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Chapter 8 concludes book 1 and forms a bridge to a discussion of Paul’s theology in Book 2. In this chapter he shows how he thinks Paul would have answered the 5 big questions that form the basis of one’s worldview. The first question is “Who are we?” We are the one family of God, the people of the promised seed of Abraham.

Paul’s central answer to the question, ‘Who are we?’, is: ‘We are the Messiah’s people, defined by our membership “in” him, marked out by our sharing of his pistis, celebrating our status as having died and been raised “with” him, living in the “age to come” which he has inaugurated. 544–545

By defining himself and his communities in terms of the crucified and risen Messiah, Paul has not ceased to be profoundly Jewish. But in the Messiah, he might have said, he has discovered a new way, or perhaps we should say the new way, to be Jewish. This, he would certainly have said, is what it means to be ‘Jewish’ in the ‘age to come’, which is already present. 545

The second question is “Where are we?” We live in God’s good creation in the process of being remade. Jesus already rules as LORD and we live, work and enjoy his world as citizens of his kingdom.

Jesus’ followers do not live in the created world as aliens, however much it may feel like that when surrounded by the murky muddle of so much street-level paganism and the arrogance of power. They live there as the rightful citizens of the coming kingdom, the subjects of the king who has already been enthroned and will one day complete his work of restorative justice. 547

The next two questions are “What’s Wrong, and What’s the Solution?” The problem is that the kingdom has not yet been fully established. The solution is the return of King Jesus to set things right. In the meantime we live in the power of the resurrection, through the Spirit, as we confront evil through prayer, suffering persecution and faithfulness to Jesus’ mission to make disciples.

Above all, then, the ‘solution’ is the full establishment of the Messiah’s rule over the whole world, reaching its goal when he ‘hands over the kingly rule to God the father … so that God may be all in all’. It is vital that we understand the parousia, the ‘royal appearing’ of Jesus the Messiah, in Paul’s own way, which involves the establishment of the Messiah’s rule over the whole world, rather than in the modernist ways which involve the obliteration or the abandonment of the world. 550

The final question is “When?” or “What time is it?” We live in the “present evil age” in which evil’s power to enslave and dominate is over, but it has not been eradicated. We have not yet reached maturity and neither has the whole creation. The present age has “overlapped” with the age to come. We are called to live the life of the age to come in the present age.

In the deep places of Paul’s worldview, here revealed but everywhere assumed, the ‘expectation’ of the return of the lord from his present life in heaven, to join heaven to earth and thereby to transform the present world and the bodies of his people, means already in the present a totally different kind of life from those whose horizon is bounded by ‘what is on the earth’. 554

Paul has stated about as emphatically as he could that the present time, the time of the Messiah and of the strange apostolate through which God’s covenant faithfulness in the Messiah is embodied before the world, is the new, special time for which the whole creation had been waiting. 558

Maturity lies in the celebration of messianic time within the muddle and misery of the present age. Such a stance leaves behind both the gloomy pessimist who sees nothing but continuing corruption and decay and the grinning optimist who supposes that the resurrection is past already. The mature mixture of times is foundational to Paul’s entire worldview. 562

For Paul, the worldview of 2nd Temple Judaism has been transformed by the coming, death, resurrection of the Messiah and the sending of the Spirit. In Jesus, the promises of the covenant have been fulfilled and he was responsible to be part of the fulfillment of the “blessing of all the families of the earth” as the “apostle to the Gentiles.”

Where Saul the Pharisee hoped and prayed for Israel’s God to come back at last, to unveil his sovereignty, his righteousness and his faithfulness before the watching world, Paul the apostle believed that the one God had already done all this in and as Jesus the Messiah and in and through the spirit. 566–567

The more time we spend in the careful reading of Paul, and in the study of his worldview, his theology and his aims and intentions, the more he emerges as a deeply coherent thinker. His main themes may well not fit the boxes constructed by later Christian dogmatics of whatever type. They generate their own categories, precisely as they are transforming the ancient Jewish ones, which are often sadly neglected in later Christian dogmatics. 568

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