This evening, I read Richard Gaffin’s “A Reformed Critique of the New Perspective.” In many ways, it’s a frustrating article. First, there are no footnotes, which means that it’s hard for a reader to look up the quotations of Dunn and Wright and read them in context. At times, Gaffin’s criticisms seem to miss the mark completely. For instance, he writes:
Wright relentlessly insists that Paul “did not (as it were) abandon Judaism for something else” throughout his writing. But, while Paul certainly did not abandon the religion of the Old Testament, just for the sake of fidelity to it and to the God of Abraham, he most certainly did abandon the dominant streams in the Judaism of his day, relentlessly opposed first by Jesus and then by himself.
But in What Saint Paul Really Said, Wright argues that Paul was neither breaking away completely from the Jewish tradition (including the Old Testament) nor was he accepting it uncritically; rather, he was functioning within that tradition in a prophetic way as he criticized what Gaffin would call “the dominant streams in the Judaism of his day.” So how does Wright disagree with Gaffin on this point?For another thing, Gaffin often lumps Dunn and Wright together, as Mark Horne points out, though Wright himself criticizes Dunn at several points. When Gaffin discusses original sin, for instance, he seems to condemn Wright because Wright hasn’t addressed the subject (or if he has, Gaffin is unaware of it) and because Dunn has — badly. So, too, with his discussion of double predestination.
Gaffin also says that “there is little sympathy for, in fact downright antipathy toward, any notion of imputation.” He doesn’t provide any evidence of that antipathy, mind you. He just mentions it in passing. While Wright doesn’t speak of “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner,” he does speak a lot about corporate Christology, about Christ as the representative of His people who draws God’s wrath against them onto Himself and in whom His people are declared righteous. That approach doesn’t seem so different from that of John Calvin, who wrote:
Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts — in short, that mystical union are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body — in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him (Institutes 3.11.10).
I’d expect better scholarship from someone like Richard Gaffin. Wright is certainly not above criticism. Don Garlington, for instance, argues that Wright doesn’t take union with Christ into account sufficiently. Nevertheless, there’s a lot that we can learn from Wright. Rich Lusk points the way in his helpful essay, “A Short Note on N. T. Wright and His Reformed Critics.” Here’s Rich’s conclusion:
I am confident that in the long run, Wright’s work on the NT will come be treasured by the Reformed tradition as the “next step” in our growing understanding of God’s revelation in Christ. Accepting Wright need not mean rejecting the Reformation.
Another update on the DeJongs. As I mentioned in my last post, after the first lump on Jacob’s neck drained, the doctors detected a second lump. This week, they did some more tests and determined that the second lump is also an infection. They treated it, but aren’t satisfied yet with the results. The lump is still harder than they’d like and so they’re thinking of opening it and cleaning it out. They hope he’ll be able to return home after the weekend. More praying to do….
On Saturday evening, I received bad news. A 24 year old member of the congregation was killed in a snowmobile accident that afternoon, leaving behind a wife and a 10-month old daughter. They were the third couple I married, and their daughter was the first child I baptized from a couple I married. It’s been a hard blow to the family and the church. The funeral is on Wednesday morning, and the text the family has chosen is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer person is wasting away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For this light, momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we are looking not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen, because the things which are seen are temporary but the things which are not seen are eternal.
This afternoon, as I was thinking about that passage, I read C. S. Lewis’s sermon “The Weight of Glory,” not to my mind a great sermon, but certainly a wonderful essay. I appreciated his candid acknowledgment that most of the Bible’s descriptions of life beyond death didn’t appeal to him at first and his encouragement to think more about the things in Scripture that don’t seem to appeal to us, since in them lie the things we don’t yet know and the things we need to know. Here’s part of what he writes about the promise of glory:
We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory … becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.
More bad news: I’ve received word that Bill and Kim DeJong’s son Jacob isn’t out of the woods yet. After the first lump drained, the doctors found a second lump. I’ll post more when I hear more. It’s good to know that our Father knows our needs before we ask.
Great news! As Bill mentioned in the latest post on his blog, he and Kim have gone to Edmonton to have the specialists examine their son, Jacob. I just talked to Kim’s sister, and she reports that when the doctors cut into Jacob’s neck to do a biopsy on the lump, there was a lot of pus. They’ve concluded that it was an infection, and they’ve ruled out cancer completely. Jacob will be in the hospital in Edmonton for a few days. It’s an answer to many prayers, and I rejoice with Bill and Kim and their family in God’s goodness!
Speaking of Wolfe, as I was at the end of the last post, there’s an interview with him here with a few items of interest. He talks about how he came up with the idea for New Sun (it all started with a costume), though Wolfe goes on to say that people often think they have a story idea when they have only an opening or a character. You don’t really have a story idea, he says, until you have the conclusion.
He responds to the charge that his writing is obscure and complex:
I get a lot of people complaining about my ambiguity, often in cases in which there is nothing ambiguous at all. As far as I can see, people read it when they were half stoned and listening to the TV. Then they come back and say gee, it’s impossible to figure out what’s going on in a story.
He also says that out of all his novels, his favourite (at the moment) is There Are Doors, which might surprise some of his fans. That’s actually the first Wolfe I read! Nothing like starting at the top, eh?
It’s taken me longer than I’d anticipated to read For the Life of the World, largely because I’ve been busy and a little too tired in the evenings to do much reading. But here’s another quotation from my reading tonight:
If the Church is truly the “newness of life” — the world and nature as restored in Christ — it is not, or rather ought not be, a purely religious institution in which to be “pious,” to be a member in “good standing,” means leaving one’s own personality at the entrance — in the “check room” — and replacing it with a worn-out, impersonal, neutral “good Christian” type personality. Piety in fact may be a very dangerous thing, a real opposition to the Holy Spirit who is the Giver of Life — of joy, movement and creativity — and not of the “good conscience” which looks at everything with suspicion, fear and moral indignation.
The other night, I started reading For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann. I’ve often heard it recommended and I’ve seen several references to it, most recently in Peter Leithart’s wonderful Blessed Are the Hungry, but I haven’t read it … till now. And yes, I know that Rick has already read the book at least twice! I really enjoyed the first chapter, which is all I’ve read so far. Here’s a sample quotation:
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man.
I didn’t get as much work done today as I had planned to. One of the challenges about having to write two sermons a week is that it does not leave as much time for meditation and reflection as I could wish.
I’m working on John 2:1-11 (the wedding at Cana) for this coming Sunday morning, and I spent part of the day thinking about the significance of Jesus’ presence at the wedding, Jesus’ distancing himself from his mother, Jesus’ reference to his future “hour,” and Jesus’ provision of gallons and gallons of quality wine out of water put into the jars used for the Old Covenant washings.
What does Jesus’ presence at this wedding say about the nature of the kingdom of God and of his own work? Why does Jesus’ respond to his mother by saying that “his hour” has not yet come? In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “hour” is always a reference to his death and subsequent return to his Father. It’s the time when he is glorified by way of the cross (which is the twofold significance of being “lifted up”), and the time therefore when the Messianic age dawns and he shares his glory with his people. But what does that have to do with Mary’s statement that the party is running out of wine?
At any rate, I spent part of the day thinking about those things and trying to bring my inchoate thoughts into a state of, shall we say, more choateness? Then, as I was halfway through the sermon, some good friends called me up and we went out to supper together at Brewsters, where I enjoyed a good burger and a pint of their bitter. Then we went back to my place, drank tea, ate strawberry pie given to me as a gift by a generous lady in the church (who knows how to make pie!), and listened to some great music.
Now they’ve gone home, I’m listening to Ross Porter’s “After Hours” jazz program, and I’ve just finished (at last!) Robin Lane Fox’s Pagans and Christians, which I’ve been slogging through for far too long. It contains some valuable material and I found the second half, after the rise of Christianity, fairly interesting, but parts of the book dragged. Maybe that was the effect of spreading it out over too many days. Finishing it feels a little like being released from a prison: I’ve been liberated now to enjoy all the other books that have been clamouring for my attention. Which will I pick first? I don’t know for sure. But right now, I’m going to go and make some tea and get back to Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw before heading to bed.
No, I didn’t get the sermon done. But I’m reminded that my life is full of many of God’s good gifts: good friends, good food, good drink, good music, good books. And all of that is sheer grace, for which I am grateful.
Thanks to George van Popta‘s new blog, I discovered a webpage with much of the Genevan Psalter posted on it. I’m not sure whose rhyming of the psalms appears here, but if you click on the psalm title, you’ll hear the original tune, written by Louis Bourgeois (“Louis the Middle-Class”?) or Maitre Pierre or someone like that. For instance, here’s Psalm 6, one of my favourites.
I hope that eventually all the Genevan tunes will be up on the page. I’m working on learning them, and having them in this format will help a lot. Thanks for the link, George, and welcome to the world of blogging!.
[Update 2008: Sorry, the picture is gone, and though I have it on my computer I haven’t been able to upload it in a format large enough for you to distinguish which blob is me.]