Thursday, August 18, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 14 (Part 1)

Paul AFOGChapter 14 continues Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. Chapter 14 looks at how Paul’s theology would have interacted with the world of Greek and Roman philosophy. 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.

Chapter 14 is entitled: "The Foolishness of God: Paul Among the Philosophers." In this chapter Wright lays out the "philosophers' agenda" and, based on Paul's worldview and theology, discusses how he might have responded to them. He thinks that Paul would not have responded within the categories of the Greek philosophers, because, in his worldview, God sat outside of creation and outside their categories. God reveals knowledge, especially through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He would have responded from within the category of theology - relational wisdom and knowledge.

There is, then, an epistemological revolution at the heart of Paul’s worldview and theology. It isn’t just that he now knows things he did not before; it is, rather, that the act of knowing has itself been transformed...Ordinary human wisdom, ordinary human knowledge, is not just cancelled. It is taken up into something at one level similar and at another level radically different. Paul’s name for the new ‘something’ is agape, love. 1355–1356

He first deals with "Logic and Epistemology." Against the Greeks, Paul begins his epistemology with revealed knowledge; relational knowledge that comes from the Creator God and ultimately revealed in Jesus. To not be in relationship with this God closed off people from fully understanding how they should relate to the world He had created. The Spirit provides a renewed mind to begin to understand this relationship which then may be developed to live wisely within this created world.

Precisely because the god in whom Paul believed was the one god of creation, as we shall see in more detail in a moment, he believed that knowledge of this god—or rather, as he himself puts it, being known by this god—opened a person’s eyes to see the whole world as it truly was. 1365

His claim to understand—indeed to possess!—‘the mind of the Messiah’ was not a claim that he and his congregations now knew everything there was to know, and had no need to think things through. Rather, his claim was that his, and their, human minds were being transformed by the spirit so that they were able at last to understand the full, deep truths about the world. But for that one needed to think clearly. 1366

He next discusses "physis," nature. Paul's innovation here, based on his belief in "creational monotheism," separates God from his creation. God is not part of creation. He is the Creator of everything. He created it wisely and it is, though corrupted, good and orderly and can be used (and studied) with thanksgiving. God will continue to care for it and promises to someday renew it to what it was originally intended to be.

The god in whom Paul believed was present to and within the world, and especially to and within human beings, but was not contained within the world or humans. Rather, he was present alongside, and in a sense over against, the world and humans, guiding, calling to account, challenging and enabling. He was present, supremely and shockingly, in Jesus himself, a human of recent memory; and he was present in a special way, different on the one hand from his presence in Jesus but different on the other hand from his presence everywhere else, in those who were now indwelt by ‘the spirit of Jesus’. 1369

Wright then moves on to ethics, comparing the ethic of Christ with that of the Greek philosophers. He sees the main difference between the ethics of the Christians and that of the Greeks pretty much the same one as that of 1st century Judaism - the need for Jesus at the center as the motivating factor and empowerment for right living. Thus, there is some overlap between the ethical systems, but some differences as well. Jesus' resurrection has inaugurated the new age and Christians, while still living in this world, must live within the ethic of the new one. This will bring in virtues that the Greeks would not have valued like willingness to suffer, humility, self-sacrifice and, most of all, love. There would also be similarities because the gospel enables the true humanity that the philosophers were striving for. The renewal of the Spirit enlightens people to see what is the proper ethic and enables them to grow into it and live by it.

The creator God has renewed the world through Jesus, and is renewing you by his spirit, so your bodies in the present must be brought into line with their future resurrected identity—not as an effort after the impossible, but as the making real of the new identity already given in baptism. 1373

(Paul) has not derived his moral framework from the surrounding philosophies, but he is happy to recognize that at many points the Christian is called to walk the path of genuine humanness that others have sketched before—and perhaps to do so more effectively. 1377

Paul is proclaiming Jesus himself, and discovering as he does so that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge find their key in him. Put him in the middle of the picture, he is saying, and all your aspirations after wisdom and right living will fit together at last. 1382

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