Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Reading Through Isaiah #6 (Chapters 49-57)

51wW9fXkBCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This week we continue in the second major section (40-66) of the book of Isaiah, accompanied by Isaiah, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Terry R. Briley. This section focuses more sharply on the “Servant” who was introduced in chapter 42. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Chapter 49 begins a new section which changes the focus from the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, to the "servant" who bring an even greater deliverance. The problem is that Israel is still rebellious, does not take responsibility for their own sin and exile and does not take the salvation that God provides. Thus, the servant must bring Israel back to God before he can accomplish the big mission of Israel to bring the "ends of the earth" back into relationship with God. The servant takes on the role of suffering Israel, but, surprisingly, it is rebellious Israel that causes his suffering. Isaiah calls to the remnant who will listen to the servant's message and experience God's blessing. In 51 Isaiah announces that Israel will "drink the cup of wrath" in the Babylonian exile, but they need to recognize what God is doing and be ready for when he calls them to return (52).

As with the servant, Israel should not expect triumph without struggle. The servant’s experience demonstrates that “to be the chosen of God does not mean glory along the way, but it does mean glory at the end of the way.” Isaiah 49.7, 189

The one who fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant trusts in God to illuminate his way through the darkness. Such a person may not always be able to see the way from the struggles of the present to the end of the journey, but he has heard the testimony of the servant and believes God will vindicate all who trust in him. Isaiah 50, 197

God’s cup of wrath can be fatal, but his purpose for his people precludes that possibility in this case. By removing the cup God allows Israel to regain her senses and resume a place in God’s work of redemption. It is vital, however, that Israel accept this message. Isaiah 51, 204

The big barrier to Israel receiving blessing and accomplishing its mission to bless all the nation is sin. The final servant song prophecies a solution to that problem. The servant will accomplish Israel's mission, but, surprisingly, will be rejected. However, this is part of God's plan (53.10) as the servant bears and redeems the sin of Israel and accomplishes the mission of the nation to bring the good news (“Our God reigns”) to all the world.

The final servant song (52:13–53:12) brings together the distinction between the servant and Israel and the theme of suffering, taking each to a higher level. The servant suffers because of Israel’s failures and on behalf of Israel’s failures...By taking Israel’s sins upon himself, the servant makes it possible for Israel’s relationship with God to be restored and through Israel for God’s saving power to be revealed to the nations. God thus begins his work of restoration by returning his people from exile through a powerful pagan king, but he accomplishes a greater work of restoration through a suffering servant. Isaiah 53, 221–222

This closes the section with a call to praise God for the redemption and salvation he has provided (54) and an urgent invitation to accept the gracious offer to trust in what he has provided.

When someone’s life is battered and chaotic, the primary desire is for stability. The work of the servant provides hope for the fulfillment of that desire, whether communicated through the picture of a reconciled marriage or a fortified city that gives its inhabitants peace and safety. All other blessings depend on that solid foundation. Isaiah 54, 232.

God extends grace not only by self-revelation and his willingness to forgive, but also by his patience and long-suffering (cf. Exod 34:6–7). Yet the opportunity to respond to God’s self-revelation does not last forever. God’s removal of his protective presence from Jerusalem before the Babylonian destruction (Ezekiel 10) illustrates this danger. In addition, a refusal to respond to God tends to debilitate the person through a hardening of the heart. Isaiah 55.6, 236–237

Chapters 56-57 close this section of Isaiah. The surprising thing in this section is that, despite Israel's disobedience, the obedience of the servant "expands the scope of God's grace" to the "eunuchs and foreigners," that is, those who were excluded from worship in the temple under the old covenant. God will complete his plan to bless ALL the nations through the seed of Abraham. To do this He will purge Israel of idolatry, and change the hearts of his people through the work of the servant.

To keep the Sabbath meant, among other things, that you served the God who created the world and cared for everyone and everything in it. It also had to do with perfection or completeness. It recalled the completeness of God’s original work of creation, and looked forward to the time when his work of re-creation would also be complete...So there is no petty legalism here. The Sabbath is viewed not as an end in itself, but as a sign that the whole of life was to be lived in submission to God, and that meant sharing his concern for justice. Isaiah 56, 242–243

The willing praise that God deserves from his redeemed people is not possible until sinners realize their condition and recognize God as the one who can save them. This change, in turn, is not possible unless God reaches out to humanity to make his righteousness and his love known. Isaiah 57, 253

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

First Day of Classes

1st Chapel

Yesterday we began our first full day of classes. I think things went well. We also had our first chapel. As is the tradition we first introduced all the faculty and staff, and then I get to be the first speaker and we go over the core values of the school-Excellence, Accessibility and Transformation. This year I tied it to Jeremiah 29 and preached on how we can be successful in completing God’s mission in the present and ready for the completion of God’s future promises. For this special occasion I wore the shirt I received from the Majuro church when I spoke there last month.

first day (17) (1024x768)first day (19) (768x1024)first day (21) (1024x768)

The students listened intently (and enjoyed the jokes) as the staff and faculty were all introduced

first day (22) (1024x768)first day (23) (1024x768)first day (24) (768x1024)

And my favorite faculty member started her English class today with a good group of new students

PIU Orientation and Welcome BBQ

first day (16) (1024x768)

The Fall semester at PIU officially opened for the whole PIU family on Monday the 29th with the all-student orientation and traditional welcoming barbecue. We are excited about the new students and glad to see the returning students. We still have students going through late registration this week so I will be posting student numbers and breakdown in a later post. Here are a few pictures of Monday’s activities.

first day (2) (1024x768)first day (3) (768x1024)first day (4) (1024x768)

Admin, staff and faculty spent the morning with the students to make sure they knew how to get what they need to be successful this semester.

first day (5) (1024x768)first day (6) (1024x768)

The afternoon was spent getting ready for the welcome barbecue. On the left the tables are prepared. On the right Jonathan Heimbach has a lot of help cleaning up the grounds.

first day (8) (1024x768)first day (10) (1024x768)

Then it was time to eat! The barbecue guys did a great job. The chicken and ribs were perfect!

first day (11) (1024x768)first day (14) (1024x768)first day (15) (1024x768)

Everyone seems to be enjoying the evening

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 16

Paul AFOGChapter 16 concludes the book we have been reading through this year, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. Chapter 16 provides a summary of Wright’s main points and some concluding words. 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 this final chapter of the book Wright attempts to sum up Paul's worldview, theology, religion and practice into a coherent whole. He wants us to understand Paul in his 1st century historical context, not through reformation or 20-21st century theology that divides Paul's actions and mission from his theology and thinking. Paul was a pastor and everything he thought and did was focused toward the building of God's kingdom. Every word he wrote had a cultural and practical context in a particular church. As Wright says,

I want in this chapter to argue that Paul’s practical aim was the creation and maintenance of particular kinds of communities; that the means to their creation and maintenance was the key notion of reconciliation; and that these communities, which he regarded as the spirit-inhabited Messiah-people, constituted at least in his mind and perhaps also in historical truth a new kind of reality, embodying a new kind of philosophy, of religion and of politics, and a new kind of combination of those. 1476

The big difference between Paul and the apocalypticists of the 1st century, and those of the 20th and 21st century like the Nazis and communists, is that Paul based his hope, thoughts and actions on an action in the past that fulfilled hopes and expectations  - the resurrection of Christ, while these others were still looking for that decisive action in the future and so were disappointed. This is why it is so important to read Paul in his historical Jewish context, in terms of the biblical covenant and within his mission and work. Paul cannot be understood with just the head. The reader must be willing to change his heart and to be actively employed to change the world.

The ancient Jewish vision, in which the Messiah and the redemption of history have played such an important role, has to do not simply with ‘spirituality’ or ‘religion’, not with an escapist salvation in which the rest of the world ceases to matter, but with the challenge to action in the world itself. 1474

(Paul) was a man of action, of performative fulfilment. He was both thinker and doer, regarding his thinking as itself a form of worship, and his doing, too, as a sacrificial offering through which to implement the already-accomplished achievement of the Messiah. He was an integrated whole: razor-sharp mind and passionate heart working together. 1475–1476

Just as the principal and ultimate goal of all historical work on J. S. Bach ought to be a more sensitive and intelligent performance of his music, so the principal and ultimate goal of all historical work on the New Testament ought to be a more sensitive and intelligent practice of Christian mission and discipleship. 1483–1484

In the next section Wright searches for a concept that will sum up Paul's worldview and mission. He finds it in the 2 Corinthians 5.13-6.2 discussion of the concept of reconciliation. He is not talking about just reconciliation in a "spiritual" sense here, but the reconciliation of all creation that begins with human reconciliation to God and to each other, and ends with the new heaven and new earth joining together. In this age the church community functions as the tabernacle, a microcosm of the coming age, the way things are supposed to be. The difference is that we take the shekinah out into the world as we live. Thus, the church should function much as a rabbinic or philosophical school did in the 1st century, teaching people a new way of life with a new way of thinking and acting so that they find "the transformed mind and heart through which the creator’s intention would at last be realized."

This focus on an essentially Platonic ‘spiritual heaven’, discontinuous with this world and only related to it by the tangential mechanism of soul-saving and soul-making, has for a millennium radically distorted the western Christian hold on resurrection itself, the central claim and belief of the early Christians. 1485

Paul could only write like that if he really did believe that his apostolic work was an advance project for the ultimate new creation itself. He was in the business, not of rescuing souls from corrupting bodies and a doomed world, but of transforming humans as wholes, to be both signs of that larger new creation and workers in its cause. 1489

Paul’s apostolic task was, so to speak, tabernacle-construction, temple-building. That is clear already in 1 Corinthians 3. In other words, he saw his vocation in terms of bringing into being ‘places’—humans, one by one and collectively—in which heaven and earth would come together and be, yes, reconciled. 1493

This theme of reconciliation of all creation fits well with Paul's missionary strategy. Paul went with a Jewish message "to the Jew first" and then to the Gentiles so that the church would become the signpost, through its unity and love, of the new creation, in which all the universe was reconciled. He went to the centers of Roman power to announce that "Jesus is LORD" "in the places where another Kyrios, another world ruler, another basileus, was being named and was being worshipped as the one and only sovereign." (1503) Thus, reconciliation, producing love and unity are the key evidences of the Spirit's work.

Paul sees individual Christians as signs pointing to a larger reality...‘The faithfulness of God’ was not simply to be a main theme of Paul’s teaching. It was to be the hidden inner meaning of his life—and, as befits a follower of the crucified Messiah, particularly of his suffering. The larger reality to which this points, the new creation itself, is to be symbolized by the whole church, united and holy. The new temple is to be the place to which all nations will come to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 1494

Paul’s gospel was a Jewish message for the non-Jewish world—something which classic history-of-religions analyses found difficult to grasp—for the very good reason that he believed the God of Israel to be the God of the whole world, and Israel’s Messiah to be the world’s true lord. 1498

The ‘ministry of reconciliation’ which Paul cites as his central vocation is not simply about reconciling individuals to the One God, or about bringing such individuals together into the single family of the church. These tasks remain vital and central, but they are designed both to point beyond themselves and to be the means of that to which they point, namely, the reconciliation of the whole creation to its creator—which involves, as always, rescuing it from the rule of usurpers. 1504

In the next section Wright aims to integrate Paul's "Jewishly rooted gospel of the Messiah," and "the political engagement between Paul’s gospel and Caesar’s empire." His take is that Paul integrated his Jewish Messianic gospel into what the Jews and Romans would have thought of as religion, politics and philosophy, but redefined everything around the crucified, risen Messiah Jesus. He incorporated the ancient categories of physics, logic and ethics into "an all-embracing vision of reality" that was lived through the worldwide "temple" consisting of the little messianic communities that were living out Jesus' kingdom vision.

Paul aimed to announce Jesus as lord right across Caesar’s principal domains, to make it clear that the Messiah had been vindicated and that at his name every knee would bow—even if at the moment this was more or less bound to lead to persecution, prison and death. 1505

Paul’s aim was to be the temple-builder for the kingdom, planting on non-Jewish soil little communities in which heaven and earth would come together at last, places where the returning glory of Israel’s God would shine out, heralding and anticipating the day when God would be all in all. 1509

We are speaking about the foundation, through the spirit-empowered announcement of Jesus crucified and risen, of a community which from one point of view would be seen as a ‘philosophy’, from another as a koinonia, a partnership, from another as a new if strange kind of ‘religion’, and from yet another as a new polis, a socio-cultural entity giving allegiance to a different Kyrios. All these and more are encompassed in Paul’s (very Jewish) vision of the Messiah’s people. 1510

Wright concludes this section for a call to reintegrate exegesis, history and theology and hopes that the study of Paul could be a catalyst for the reconciliation.

When theology is distorted, or displaced altogether, unity and holiness are compromised, and sometimes are thought not even to matter. But to allow this theology to be detached from history, either in general or, in particular, from the actual historical exegesis of texts written by Paul and the other early Christians, is to alter quite radically the character of that theology itself. 1515–1516

Wright concludes the book by looking at Paul's prayers as the place where his theology, exegesis, personal history and Jewish tradition came together in praise and worship of the crucified and risen Messiah Jesus. They were his "very heart."

If you believe that the One God, the world’s creator, is in fact the faithful covenant God—and that is the whole point of Romans 9–11 and in a measure of everything Paul said and wrote—then the most appropriate way to write about this God is not in abstract discourse but in prayer and praise. 1517

If the crucified and risen Messiah himself was, astonishingly, the place where heaven and earth met, the true temple, the start of the new creation; if those indwelt by the spirit were themselves enabled to keep the Shema, responding to the sovereign and self-giving love of God by loving him from the heart in return, fulfilling the ancient vision of Deuteronomy at the same time as discovering a depth of heaven-and-earth relation at which the most discerning of the pagan philosophers could only guess; if these things were so, then the glad celebration of that love provided the deepest ‘aim’ of all, the central act of worship which for Paul had long ceased to be a matter of choice or decision and had become a matter of mindset, the deepest habit of the heart. 1518

Saturday, August 27, 2016

PIU Victorious in Opening Basketball Game

Basketball 1st Game

The PIU Tide basketball team opened its season in the Wendy's Cold Stone Church Basketball League with a victory on Saturday. The final score was PIU 53-Yigo Baptist 33. We were a bit shorthanded with only 8 players but our guys (and Addie hit a couple 3 pointers) toughed it out and pulled out the victory. We are looking forward to the good fellowship with churches and other ministries on Guam that the church league provides. It was also enjoyable to see old friends from Yigo Baptist. Come out and join the fun next Saturday at 10am at the St. Paul’s gymnasium.

Registration at PIU

Registration (6)

Registration (4)We have completed Fall registration at PIU. Late registration will go on for another week as the students adjust their class schedules. We don’t have final numbers yet, but we will have them some time early this coming week. It was good to be able to hang out with students again and I am looking forward to another semester. I would appreciate your prayers, especially for the new students, that they would be able to settle in and adjust to the rigor of college academics and college life. Classes start Monday. Here we go!

Registration (1)Registration (2)Registration (3)

Students going through the various stations in the registration line. Nikki (left) makes sure they understand dorm policies and other student issues. In the middle, students fill out necessary forms. On the right, Hartmut does some academic advising.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reading Through Isaiah #5 (Chapters 40-48)

51wW9fXkBCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This week we move into the second major section (40-66) of the book of Isaiah, accompanied by Isaiah, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Terry R. Briley. The 2nd half of the book of Isaiah is mainly directed at the exiles in Babylon to give them hope of restoration and to warn them against the sins that caused the exile in the first place. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Isaiah 40 begins the second major section of Isaiah. This section is focused on the future throughout and reminds the people that God is still working his plan, that he began with creation, to rebuild the heavens and earth and restore His people. God is real and powerful, unlike the gods of the other nations, and he will send his "servant" who will be the agent of restoration and the fulfillment of the covenant promises. 40.1-11 provides the introduction to the section.

If the worship that is supposed to restore and sustain fellowship with God is itself sinful, how can the barrier of sin between God and his people be removed? The answer lies in God’s commitment to his purpose and in his creative power. The God who created the world will not cease to work until he has defeated sin, turned hearts to him, and established new heavens and a new earth. All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith. Isaiah 40, 109

Isaiah now turns to comforting those who will be the exiles he has prophesied about to Hezekiah. The point of the exile is to cure Israel from trusting in idols and being self-sufficient. Real strength comes from God. Sometimes God removes His people's resources so they get to experience his real strength, comfort and presence. Even with the exile God is still overseeing His people and guarding his promise to preserve them (41). He will raise up a deliverer (Cyrus and the Persians) who will conquer the Babylonians and return Israel to their land. He will also change Israel's spiritual condition (42) so that they will fulfill his mission to be a light to the Gentiles. The "servant" is introduced in the chapter. This is Israel's role, but ultimately it will be accomplished as Jesus fulfills what Israel was supposed to do.

God’s goal, therefore, in exposing human weakness is to provide true strength and power to his people... Those who cling to God in faith, therefore, remembering his faithfulness, can exchange their limited strength for the limitless resources of God. Isaiah 40.30-31, 123

The heart of the chapter, however, reveals the purpose behind God’s actions on the international scene. No matter how threatening the actions of other nations might appear, God maintains his commitment to his people. He will protect them and cause the movements of history to work for their ultimate benefit. Isaiah 41, 123

The one who gives and sustains life guarantees the servant’s success because God’s plan to give light to the Gentiles in their blindness and freedom to the captives in the prison of darkness hinges on the work of the servant. In a sense God intends to create a new world through the work of the servant because the present order holds little hope of life for the Gentiles. Isaiah 42.5-7, 134

Israel's dire situation is not hopeless because of God's redeeming nature. Just as God redeemed Israel from Egypt, he will redeem them from exile in Babylon. The one who created a dry path in the sea can also create water in and a way through the desert. This 2nd exodus will be even greater because it will lead to a restoration of the entire world. We can believe this because God is the Creator. He is not an idol made by a human being. He is the one who made and understands human beings. He pronounces redemption and then does it, through Cyrus who's name is announced 150 years before the event. God the Creator can be trusted.

For the sake of his name (i.e., reputation), God will not allow his people to languish in exile but will return them to a position where they can fulfill his purpose for them. This basis for God’s actions does not invalidate the personal relationship he seeks with his people, but it does bring together his sovereignty (he will accomplish his will in spite of Israel’s sinfulness) and his grace (he extends favor to his people that they do not deserve). Isaiah 43.1-7, 142

God’s offer of pardon in verse 25 is not extended to a generation that has departed from a prevailing standard of faithfulness; it is offered to those who fit Israel’s historic profile. For God to maintain his faithfulness to such a people and to work through them to redeem the nations is truly an act of grace that overarches the entire Old Testament (and continues throughout the church age as well). Isaiah 43.25, 146

God has in fact glorified man in the order and nature of creation (cf. Psalm 8). When man seeks to become God, that glory turns into shame. God created man in his image, but in every form of idolatry man inevitably creates a god in his image. One of the marks of the inspiration of the Bible is the fact that the God it reveals stands apart from what he has made. He is not like a god that man would create. The Bible clearly prohibits worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, but approaching the Creator as if he possesses the limitations of the creation is equally serious. Isaiah 44, 153

Isaiah 45 focuses on the "mystery" of God. God reveals himself to us, but there are things about Him that are unrevealed or beyond us. This is why it is foolish to resist or rebel against him. If he wants to use a pagan like Cyrus to end Israel's exile, He is free to do that. What he has revealed is that He is a life-giver, sustainer and redeemer to those who trust him. That's enough to trust him on the stuff we do not understand.

Just as God created the world so that life will be sustained and revived, so he sustains and revives his people even if he does so through an agent like Cyrus. God’s goal is righteousness, or making things right. Isaiah 45.1-8, 162

The way God will do this is by having Cyrus defeat Babylon and give the order to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. God announcing this before it happens shows that it is part of his plan and he is setting the stage for the next phase of the plan in which Israel will take the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. Nevertheless both Babylon and Israel are responsible for their responses to God's work in their history. Babylon goes to devastating judgment because they wasted God's calling on enriching themselves. Israel needs to be careful so the same thing does not happen to them.

God will make things right by saving his people, but his people have distanced themselves from him and his work in their rejection of his methods. When God brings salvation to Zion his splendor will be manifest. Israel must take care or she will miss it due to the blindness of stubborn unbelief. Isaiah 46, 169–170

Babylon here is not merely the ancient city of that name, and the poem does not simply look forward to what was to happen to it in 539 when Cyrus conquered it. Like Jerusalem, with which it is contrasted, it is both a concrete historical reality and a symbol.… Babylon represents humankind organized in defiance of God—the kingdom of mere mortals, in contrast to the kingdom of God. In this sense, ‘Babylon’ is still with us, and still stands under the judgment of God. Isaiah 47.12-15, 174

The tragic tone of verses 17–19, against the backdrop of verses 9–11, illustrates the relationship between the unconditional and the conditional elements of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The unconditional element has to do with the accomplishment of God’s redemptive purpose through his people. The fulfillment of this purpose depends on the character of God, and he will do whatever is necessary to bring it about. The conditional element has to do with the degree of blessing the covenant people enjoy in the process of fulfilling God’s purpose. Israel has forfeited a large measure of that blessing, but God’s ongoing faithfulness will redeem his people again and give them a fresh opportunity to be both blessed and a blessing. Isaiah 48, 182–183

Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Student Orientation

20160824_094032 (1024x768)

The students are back at PIU! They began to stream in from the islands around Guam this past weekend and this week we have seen several more come in from the neighboring islands and from Guam. Monday we began to orient the new students and they spent most of the day learning what it meant to be a new PIU student. Above, Dean of Student Development Nikki Heimbach, begins the orientation process and introduces the staff and administration.

20160824_101531 (768x1024)20160824_105403 (768x1024)

Left, Mely, the student chapel leader, urges the new students to be involved in chapel ministry. Right, Celia informs students about financial procedures

20160824_111034_001 (1024x768)20160824_111044 (1024x768)

The Student government leaders introduce themselves and share their plans for the semester with the new students

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 15 (Part 2)

Paul AFOGChapter 15 continues Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. Chapter 15 looks at how Paul’s theology would have interacted with the world of 1st century Judaism and the Jewish sacred texts. 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.

Next Wright deals with Paul's statement that "to Jews, I became as a Jew." He stays with the traditional view that this was a cross-cultural mission strategy. The persecution of Paul shows clearly that he did not live like a Jew regularly. His identity was in Christ and he identified with all who followed Messiah. Christ had fulfilled the old covenant and Paul no longer lived under it. However, he was willing to give up those rights as an evangelism or discipleship strategy when necessary

Paul does not say, in other words, what some dearly wish he had said, namely that ‘Jews and gentiles should each stick to their respective ways of life.’ Nor does he say, more specifically, that ‘Jews are to remain practising Jews and not live as Gentiles. 1435

Being a ‘Jew’ was no longer Paul’s basic identity. He backs it up: for the sake of his mission ‘to the people who are under the law’, that is, the Jewish people, he became like someone under the law, even though that was not now ‘who he was’ at the deepest level. 1436

Paul does not see Torah simply as a set of commands, a lifestyle. He sees it, as Josephus saw it, as Daniel saw it, as Qumran saw it, as a narrative; a narrative that was straining forward to an explosive dénouement; a narrative that, in Paul’s case, had reached that dénouement in the Messiah. 1439

Paul is asking the Corinthians to be prepared to abandon their ‘rights’ for the sake of the gospel. That is what he does on a regular basis. And ‘becoming a Jew’ means, for him, putting on hold his ‘right’ to live in a new way, not indeed anomos theou but definitely ennomos Christou. 1443

So did he consider Christians to be a "third race?" In a way he did, but to follow Christ had both continuity with Judaism and some discontinuity. So, in many ways they were a "third race" to which unbelieving Jews could be "naturally grafted in" and into which Gentiles could "become new creations."

For Paul anyone who was ‘in the Messiah’ and indwelt by the spirit could be called Ioudaios. Such people were worshipping Israel’s God, and at least some aspects of their behaviour (avoiding idolatry and porneia) were to be ordered accordingly. 1444

Those who belong to the Messiah are defined, are given an ‘identity’ if we must use the term, that is (a) rooted in Israel’s Messiah, and hence in that sense inalienably ‘Jewish’, but (b) redefined around the crucified and risen Messiah and hence in that sense inalienably ‘scandalous’ to Jews.  1446

Wright now turns to how Paul uses the Jewish scriptures. His main point is that Paul is seeing the entire Old Testament as a narrative about God's revelation of Himself and His covenant to and through the Jewish people. The prophets, especially the 12, show this to be an incomplete narrative, still awaiting the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 30's redemption from exile. Paul sees this story fulfilled in his day through Messiah Jesus. God is faithful and the gospel going to the entire world fulfills the Abrahamic promise.

Paul believes that it is a central part of Christian faith to be not only a reader of scripture but one who is changed by that reading. 1456

Paul’s understanding of Israel’s scriptures should have as its basic framework the covenant narrative of Israel...God had made solemn covenantal promises to Abraham; Paul believed they were now fulfilled. God had promised Abraham a single worldwide family, inheriting not just the land but the whole world; that was now being accomplished in the reign of Israel’s Messiah and the spirit-driven mission of his followers. 1453

The scriptures do not so much bear witness, for Paul, to an abstract truth (‘the one God is faithful’). They narrate that faithfulness, and, in doing so, invite the whole world into the faithful family whose source and focus is the crucified and risen Messiah. 1471

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 15 (Part 1)

Paul AFOGChapter 15 continues Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. Chapter 15 looks at how Paul’s theology would have interacted with the world of 1st century Judaism and the Jewish sacred texts. 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 15 is entitled, "TO KNOW THE PLACE FOR THE FIRST TIME: PAUL AND HIS JEWISH CONTEXT," and attempts to place Paul in his 1st century Jewish world. Wright rejects the idea that Paul was trying to "start a new religion" or pit "one religion against another." Paul was the "apostle to the Gentiles," and he brought the Gentile world a Jewish message, with a Jewish Messiah, who had surprisingly been crucified and risen from the dead. Paul's base is 1st century Judaism. His conflict with Judaism was that he believed the Messiah had come and inaugurated the "age to come" while they did not.

His call was to be the apostle to the non-Jewish nations. He came with a Jewish message and a Jewish way of life for the non-Jewish world. He did not see himself as founding or establishing a new, non-Jewish movement. He believed that the message and life he proclaimed and inculcated was, in some sense, the fulfilment of all he had believed as a strict Pharisaic Jew. 1408

What mattered, rather, was his belief that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah. More precisely and importantly, that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true lord...And the clash with those of his fellow Jews who did not believe that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah came precisely on the level not of ‘religion’ but of messianic eschatology: he believed that the Messiah had come, and had inaugurated the long-awaited new age, and they did not. 1409

He was declaring that the God whom the Jews had worshipped all along, the God made known in their scriptures, had done at last what he had promised, and that with that divine action a new world order had come into being. Paul’s theology and mission were rooted in and defined by this christologically inaugurated eschatology. 1410–1411

Wright sees the charges of "supersessionism" or "substitution theology" as anachronistic, because Christianity has always been essentially Jewish. Paul did not see things in terms of Christianity versus Judaism, but in terms of embracing or rejecting what God had done in the Messiah to fulfill God's promises to the nation, which were always intended to bring in the Gentiles. The true Israel followed the Messiah Jesus. This was not so different than other Jewish movements of Paul's day.

But if Jesus really was Israel’s Messiah, then no first-century Jew could have supposed for a minute that following him was an option that one might take up or not. There would be no room for saying, ‘Well, some of us think Jesus is Messiah and some of us don’t, so let’s not worry about it.’ To reject the Davidic king would be to follow Jeroboam the son of Nebat into drastic and dangerous rebellion. 1413

Israel’s God always intended and promised that when he fulfilled his promises to Israel then the rest of the world would be renewed as well, and that this is what was now happening through the Gentile mission. The extension to non-Jews of renewed-covenant membership was itself, Paul insisted, one part of deep-rooted Jewish eschatology. 1417

What happened to Paul on the Damascus Road was not so much (he said) a matter of turning, or being turned, away from one ‘religion’, or indeed from one particular god, and embracing, or being embraced by, another one. It was a matter of a fresh, and admittedly surprising, ‘call’, in the sense of ‘vocation’, from the one God whom Paul continued to worship, and who was now commissioning him to tell the non-Jewish peoples about him. 1420

Wright now takes up the "transformation" made by Paul's "conversion" and "call." His point is that Paul was not converted from one religion (Judaism) to another (Christianity). Paul remained Jewish in his own mind, but his encounter, in the real world, with the risen Christ completely redefined how he went about it. He was like a prophet called to a new vocation, with a new understanding of his faith, that changed everything. Though he still considered himself a Jew, he no longer practiced the requirements of the old ways that would have defined him as a Jew to his contemporaries, unless it furthered their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.

Paul was not the kind of evangelist who insists that everyone should ‘experience’ things in the same way that he or she has done. He was the kind of teacher who wanted people to work out, to think through and then to live out, what had in fact happened to the Messiah and what therefore had in fact happened to them through baptism into the Messiah. 1424

What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus contained at its core, he insists, a personal meeting involving a real ‘seeing’ of the risen Jesus; a cognitive awareness that the resurrection had declared Jesus to be Israel’s Messiah, and that his death and resurrection were the Israel-redefining and world-claiming events for which Israel had longed; and a personal transformation such as love regularly effects, in which the heart itself was, in biblical language, ‘circumcised’, enabled at last to love the One God with a spirit-given love, and thus to keep the Shema itself. 1426

If the Messiah has come, and if in and through him Israel’s God has acted dramatically to fulfil his promises to Abraham and to do for Israel and the world what they could not do for themselves, then to cling to the old ways of Torah-observance and to something called ‘Jewish identity’ as though it had value in itself quite apart from the purposes and promises of Israel’s God...would be like the bridegroom returning from the wars to find that the bride preferred the careful life of distant engagement to the prospect of actual marriage. 1433

Monday, August 22, 2016

Semester Begins for Faculty and Student Leaders

20160822_191759 (1024x768)

Monday August 22 is the official beginning of the semester for the faculty and student leaders at PIU. 20160822_191712 (1024x768)The student leaders include the Resident Assistants and other leaders in the dorms, chapel and student government. They have a week of intensive discipleship and training led by Dean of Student Development, Nikki Heimbach, to prepare them to be the ones who will mentor the other students. Joyce and I were able to host the group for dinner last night and enjoyed a good time of fellowship (above). The faculty had our first official meeting of the semester to go over changes in the catalogs and handbooks and to discuss how we will continue to pursue our “excellence” core value. I think everyone is excited about the new semester and looking forward to seeing the new students as they begin to arrive today. Registration is Thursday and Friday.

20160822_143551 (1024x768)20160822_143633 (1024x768)

As Dr. Bill Wood said in our meeting, “the faculty is the strength of our school. God has brought an amazingly well-qualified group to us at PIU.

20160822_095026 (1024x768)20160822_095042 (1024x768)

The student leaders were hard at work on their personal mission statements when I came in to their meeting

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 14 (Part 2)

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.

Wright now looks at Paul's relationship with Stoic philosophy and critiques the view of Troels Engberg-Pedersen, who argues that Paul "is basically operating within the essential structure of Stoic ethics." Wright sees this idea as ahistorical, as though "the interpreter understands how a train of thought ‘ought to work’ better than the person, two thousand years ago, who was thinking it." Paul cannot be understood through a 21st century worldview. He must be understood from within his 1st century worldview.

Paul was not a first-century moralizing philosopher who happened to hold, on the side as it were, a few strange views about Jesus, and about the meaning and effect of his death and resurrection. These were, for him, the very centre. 1385–1386

It is the task of the historian to get inside the mind of, and be able to expound the thought of, people whose worldviews, mindsets, aims, motivations, imaginations, likes and dislikes are significantly different from our own at, potentially, every point. 1388

He continues his critique of Engberg-Peterson by pointing out that he misunderstands both the Jewish thinking and environment in which Paul lived and the way Paul reorganized that worldview around Jesus and His resurrection. Paul may have  connected the Stoics by using some of their own ideas, but Paul was no Stoic.

Whenever Paul does speak of that transition (conversion), in his own life or that of others, the point is never that everyone ought to have some such transition for (as it were) its own sake. The point is always Jesus. 1396

Paul does not envisage ‘resurrection’ as meaning ‘being in heaven’...The word ‘resurrection’, for Paul and all other early Christians, was never a fancy way of speaking of ‘going to heaven’. It was always and only about the renewal of actual bodily life—which meant bodily life in a recreated cosmos (see below)...He is looking forward to the Messiah coming from heaven to change the present body into a glorious body like his own. 1399–1400

The goal is not eudaimonia, but the Messiah himself, and the primary character-strength required in the present if one is stretching forward to that future is again agape, love. All this is basic to Paul’s actual and implicit engagement with the philosophical world of his day. 1404

The conclusion of the chapter is basically that a lot more work needs to be done on Paul's relationship to Gentile philosophy and politics. What Wright does assert is that Paul never ceased to view the world as a Jew, who saw in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, the beginning of the "Age to come" prophesied in the Jewish scriptures and continued in the church through the Spirit.

When he says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Messiah, he does not mean, as did some who believed that all truth was contained in the Bible, that one could throw all other books away. 1407

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fall Semester Work Day

Work Day Friday (8)

We are less than a week away from the arrival of the students for the Fall semester at PIU. Actually a few have already arrived. So Friday was our annual “get the buildings ready” work day. I don’t know of many colleges where the faculty and staff give a day to come and get the dorms, classrooms, and offices ready for the upcoming school year. We are thankful for our dedicated, servant-hearted people who are willing to do that. Today (Saturday) we have a volunteer team coming from the air force who will help us finish up the needed painting. We are hoping for a not-so-rainy day today to complete that task. Thank you to all who helped yesterday and will be helping today.

Work Day Friday (1)Work Day Friday (2)

Hartmut and Urte worked on getting classroom 1A and 1B ready to go

Work Day Friday (3)Work Day Friday (4)

Kaki made sure the bathrooms in the classroom building were up to standards and Iotaka cleaned Classroom 2

Work Day Friday (5)Work Day Friday (6)

Princess, Celia and Vivianne made the office ready for business

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Starting the Semester Right

20160818_171329 (1024x768)

The official start of the semester is not until next week when we begin the student leadership training and the students begin to arrive. 20160818_171340 (1024x768)But, for me, the semester really began yesterday, and it began the right way, with prayer. In fact, it felt like a “day of prayer” for me as it began with the weekly Guam Ministerial Association prayer meeting. Then at 4pm we met with PIU staff and faculty, some local ministers, and a couple students to pray through the campus buildings. We prayed prayers of affirmation of who we are in Christ, prayers of dedication and commitment, and prayers of spiritual warfare over the dormitories, classrooms and offices throughout the school. Finally, in the evening, we had our PIU faculty-staff dinner and prayer time where we prayed for each other and had a good time of fellowship. Please join us in prayer that God’s will “will be done on Guam as in heaven” this semester.