Monday, July 25, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 12, Part 2

Paul AFOGChapter 12 begins Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. This post will continue and conclude the discussion of this chapter on how Paul related to the Roman government. Again, this 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.

In the next section, "Rising to Rule the Nations," Wright discusses how Paul is calling the church to live under pagan governments. He does not see Romans 13 as a command for absolute obedience to government. Christians have a higher LORD who is owed a higher allegiance than any government. When the worldly government exceeds its authority the Christian is obligated to call that government to accountability. This may cause conflict, to which the Christian must respond with bold engagement and a willingness to be persecuted for it. The church must maintain balance between being good citizens of this present temporary age and confronting this age with the truth, peace and justice of the age to come.

(Romans 13.1-7) merely states that the One God wants human authorities to run his world, and that the people of the One God should respect such authorities. However...respect for authorities goes hand in hand with believing that they will be called to account by the One God—and with plenty of anticipated eschatology as the people of the One God do some calling to account in advance. 1303

If what is coming to birth in the God-given new day is a world of love and justice, then it behooves followers of Jesus to live by, and in accordance with, that love and justice in the present, so as to be ready for the day when it comes. 1303–1304

Wright's conclusion is that Paul is writing to subvert the Roman imperial cult, as one (not the main) purpose of his letters. But this subversion must follow the way of the cross.

Paul’s vision of the kingdom, its present reality and future consummation, remained emphatically this-worldly. It was not about humans escaping the life and rule of earth by being taken away to heaven in the future, or by anticipating that with a detached spirituality in the present. It was about the transformation, not the abandonment, of present reality. 1307

Ultimately, Paul sees Rome as the final expression in the world of the powers of darkness, as prophesied by Daniel. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the story of Israel, defeats these powers of darkness, death and sin, and reigns from heaven, from which he will come to finish the job.

Just as Jesus is no mere cipher for Israel’s narrative, but the very son of the covenant God, so Rome is no mere irrelevant or insignificant political entity, but the final Monster in whom precisely the power of ‘death’ itself has been unleashed onto that ‘son of God’. 1311

In a world where many, not least many pious and zealous Jews, were eager for military revolution and rebellion against Rome, Paul insisted that the crucial victory had already been won, and that the victory in question was a victory won not by violence but over violence itself. 1319

The power and pretensions of Rome are downgraded, outflanked, subverted and rendered impotent by the power of love: the love of the One God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and Caesar’s lord. 1319

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