N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 34A (the Churches of Christ and the New Perspective)

dayrevolutionbeganI’m long past due in explaining how all Wright’s New Perspective thinking matters to a typical Church of Christ. I apologize for that — but there’s no good place in Romans to stop. I mean, the Churches desperately need the lesson of Rom 5 we just covered, but they just as desperately need to hear from Paul’s chapter 8. And chapters 12-15. I mean, it’s almost as though Romans was written as a corrective to the 20th Century Churches of Christ.

I say “20th Century Churches of Christ” because during most of the 19th Century, the Churches had a much healthier theology and practice — and things are trending toward the better now in the 21st Century. The Churches with the biggest doctrinal problems are those who insist on clinging to the teachings of the 20th Century Churches.

So what does the New Perspective change? Why does it matter?

  1. Perhaps the clearest lesson from a New Perspective (NP) viewpoint is how extremely important the early church considered actual, fully realized Christian unity. Perhaps the most prominent theme in the Pauline epistles is the necessity for Jews and Gentiles in the same city or town to be a single congregation under a single leadership, held together by love — despite disagreements, despite cultural, ethnic, and racial differences, despite the fact that unity would sometimes require the subordination of freedom in Christ, despite doctrinal disagreements, despite centuries of prior discrimination and oppression. A common faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord and a common love founded on the example of Jesus is enough — and if we insist on separating despite sharing faith and love, we are the ones in error.
  2. Romans and Galatians, especially, properly understood are pleas for Jews and Gentiles to unite as a single congregation under a common leadership structure even though both groups struggled to get along. The idea that they might meet separately under separate elders, despite living in the same city never occurred to Paul. They are brothers in Christ, reconciled to God and so to each other. Separation is not just sin; it’s unthinkable. Unimaginable. (And the same holds true today for our sinful insistence on having black and white Churches of Christ in the same town. And for our having multiple congregations that differ only slightly in doctrine. “One church” means one congregation in one community.)
  3. Therefore, the Church of Christ notion that we should separate to be “sound,” “faithful,” and to not “condone” the sin of others is utterly contrary to Pauline thinking (and the thinking of Jesus — who washed the feet of Judas Iscariot). In fact, it’s exactly backwards. If God accepts someone because of his or her faith in Jesus, so must we.
  4. Faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord is sufficient to save. We’ll be talking about baptism shortly — but you can’t read Rom 1 – 5 and miss this point. Everyone with faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord will be saved. This is not to be confused with the Baptist practice of the Sinner’s Prayer and belief in pre-immersion salvation. Romans 6 reveals that Paul considered baptism to be the moment when certain things happen. Baptism is not just a symbol, not just obedience to an arbitrary ordinance or command. And yet the fact remains that everyone with faith in Jesus will be saved. (DO NOT fill the comments with anti-Baptist position arguments. No one here is arguing for the Baptist position, and so please don’t waste your time. I’ll delete every one of them. Every reader is very familiar with this material already.)
  5. I’ll deal more particularly with baptism when we get to chapter 6 (and I still won’t allow anti-Baptist position comments. You are welcome to disagree with anything I argue — but I have never advocated for the Baptist position. I also think the Church of Christ position is wrong. There are other possibilities.)
  6. When we consider faith in Jesus insufficient to save, we destroy the gospel. Therefore, while I disagree with those who insist on a cappella worship, I happily consider them my beloved brothers and sisters — until they damn others for disagreeing. When they make such matters salvation issues, they make faith in Jesus insufficient and so turn their noses up at God’s covenant promise to count faith as righteousness. And that requires finding another covenant to be saved under — and there is no other. (Gal 5:1-6 is very clear on this point.)
  7. When we begin to understand covenant theology — the importance of God’s covenant with Abraham especially — the NT makes better sense. We gain a new perspective on “faith” and on baptism. And we start to see better how the NT and the OT fit together.
  8. Suddenly, those lessons we had as kids about the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom and the Babylonian Captivity matter to our reading of the NT. The Torah becomes worth our time to study. Deuteronomy becomes essential reading because so much of the Gospels and Acts are about how the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy play out in history. We find that the NT is very much about reversing the curse of Gen 3, and so Genesis becomes a very important study, not just the Creation accounts but also the accounts of Abraham. These are no longer mere stories with a moral; they are the foundation of our experience of Jesus and God and the Spirit. Leviticus helps us understand the sacrifice of Jesus. Exodus is the template on which Rom 8 is built. Numbers is filled with stories of God’s care for his people as they travel to the Promised Land as he leads them — and so is foundational for the lessons of 1 Cor 10 and our understanding of Jesus as YHWH.
  9. It’s more than a little surprising to find Paul speaking of Jesus as YHWH of the OT when so many see Jesus as too nice and gentle to be associated with the LORD of the Torah. We are forced to reconsider our understanding of God’s character and the personality of Jesus. We have to get beyond the easy cliche.
  10. In fact, one important lesson is that the stories in the OT are much more about God than the humans who also inhabit them. That is, the real lesson of the Abraham narratives is not that Abraham was a great man but God is a great God. We are called to be like God, not like Abraham, and so we should read these accounts from the perspective of “What does this say about the character of God — and how can we be more like God?”
  11. In the New Perspective, most of the old Calvin vs. Arminius debating points simply disappear. Read in their historical context, the seemingly Calvinistic passages speak instead of God’s eternal plan for Israel and the eventual inclusion of faithful Gentiles into Israel. This is much of what “predestination” and “foreknowledge” are about — God’s unfolding plan to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom. (This is really Rom 9-11 and Eph 1 material.)
  12. In the New Perspective, the Kingdom is not just the church nor is it anything good done in Jesus’ name. Rather, it’s the church being the church God called it to be. The New Perspective is very congregationally centered. There’s a strong streak of what we might call “social gospel,” but it’s always a Kingdom thing and therefore a church thing. It gives us no permission to go it alone separate from the covenant community — far from it.
  13. The New Perspective thus insists that we clean up our house so the Kingdom looks like the Kingdom. No longer is the goal merely to get people to heaven when they die. Rather, the goal is for the entire world to become the Kingdom — accomplished by humanity choosing to follow Jesus as King and Messiah in a common covenant community.
  14. The goal, therefore, is not to impose Kingdom values on the lost world through the secular nation-state authorities — the legislature, the courts, the executive leadership. The goal is for everyone to bow in voluntary submission to Jesus out of love for God and a desire to be changed into the image of God seen in Jesus.
  15. But there are political overtones. Our King, Savior, and Lord is Jesus, not Trump or Clinton or Obama or Bush. Our hope for the future is found in Jesus, not the next election. Our citizenship is in heaven.
  16. Our hope is the New Heavens and New Earth — the present Creation restored and transformed — made new! — as an inheritance.
  17. Therefore, the saved should be concerned about God’s charge that we care for his Creation. We may be living here a very long time. We need to take care of the place. We don’t have to join the Sierra Club or otherwise agree with the secular environmental movement. But we do have to care.
  18. Wright does not advocate for Conditionalism, but Edward Fudge’s teaching on the afterlife fits the New Perspective perfectly. In fact, I don’t know how to teach one without teaching the other.
  19. While I reject the Available Light theory, I do believe that punishment in the afterlife will be limited to those who’ve had a chance to hear the gospel. Those who’ve never had a chance to have faith in Jesus will not be in the New Heavens and New Earth. Only those with faith in Jesus will be saved. And so those who’ve never had a chance at faith will simply die and remain dead.
  20. Hence, preaching the gospel not only produces salvation for those who believe, it produces perfect justice for those who reject the message. This is a holy and good thing, just as it’s holy and good when criminals are put in jail. (If we don’t see punishment as a good thing, then we have a problem with our image of God, imagining him to be unfair and untrustworthy — which reveals a lack of faith. Wouldn’t you rather live in a world where bad people fear the wrath of God?)
  21. A point we’ve not gotten to yet is the idea of Christian vocation or mission. To have faith in Jesus means more than mere easy-believism. It’s a commitment to follow Jesus and so to join him in his Kingdom mission. It’s about more than digging wells and painting houses because the goal is to persuade the world to voluntarily submit to Jesus.  Then again, we’re called to love our neighbors, and like God who gives rain to the just and unjust, we don’t do good as a means of buying conversions. We serve out of love — but true love also desperately wants those we serve to come to serve Jesus, too — without coercion.
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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 34A (the Churches of Christ and the New Perspective)

  1. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    You have told us repeatedly to not worry about hurting your feelings, don’t beat around the bush, just come right out and say what is on your mind. I appreciate that concept and desire to do that without attacking you personally. So here goes.
    You have mentioned to me several times that I do not have the right or authority to second guess Mr. Wright as he portrays his teachings. I understand that to entail, projecting that Mr. Wright believes something in a certain prospective because of his projected concept. Then I see you making statements about Paul which I do not believe that you can validate in Paul’s words. Notice, the following and read my conclusions below.

    “Romans and Galatians, especially, properly understood are pleas for Jews and Gentiles to unite as a single congregation under a common leadership structure even though both groups struggled to get along. The idea that they might meet separately under separate elders, despite living in the same city never occurred to Paul. They are brothers in Christ, reconciled to God and so to each other. Separation is not just sin; it’s unthinkable. Unimaginable. (And the same holds true today for our sinful insistence on having black and white Churches of Christ in the same town. And for our having multiple congregations that differ only slightly in doctrine. “One church” means one congregation in one community.)”

    I fully believe that this statement is not one which is projected anywhere in scripture. ““One church” means one congregation in one community.)”” The phrase “One Church” is a term applied to all who are adopted into Christ’s Church; it is never applied to only “one community” or “one congregation”. It is an identifier of the complete “body of Christ” a “family” which is worldwide, and has no location. An individual member is a member of the “One Church” whether he is assembled with others or not. The “One Church” is not dependent upon an assembly at any location.
    Words that are not found in Romans or Galatians; meet, meeting, met, assemble, assembly, assembled, assembling, gather, gathered, gathering.
    The only phrase which is found concerning a location of the church in Romans or Galatians is, “church in their house” Rom 16:5.

    (Rom 16:1 ESV) I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,
    (Rom 16:4 ESV) who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.
    (Rom 16:5 ESV) Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.
    (Rom 16:16 ESV) Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
    (Rom 16:23 ESV) Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

    (Gal 1:2 ESV) and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:
    (Gal 1:13 ESV) For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
    (Gal 1:22 ESV) And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

    As you identify congregations which meet in different areas of a city as sin, because they are not meeting as “one”. You reference the physical body as the only body; you are rejecting the Spiritual connection between all of Christ’s Church, body. If your theory was true then a city would not be a large enough area for the whole church to meet in, the world would be the only area which would fit your analogy. Everyone in the whole world regardless of language would be required to meet in the “one assembly”, and only then would it be considered as the “one church”.

    (Rom 2:12 ESV) For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
    (Rom 3:7 ESV) But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?
    (Rom 3:23 ESV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
    (Rom 5:8 ESV) but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
    (Rom 5:12 ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
    (Rom 5:14 ESV) Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
    (Rom 5:19 ESV) For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

    (Gal 1:4 ESV) who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
    (Gal 2:15 ESV) We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
    (Gal 2:17 ESV) But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
    (Gal 3:22 ESV) But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

    How is it possible that we should see a message as you are describing in these scriptures without some reference to words identifying the actions you are teaching?
    Paul never set forth an example comparable to your assumption that it is sin if all are not meeting in the same assembly within a city.
    I fully believe that there is very little difference between this message you have presented and the actions of the Jews in the OT creating laws which God did not. For that matter is there any difference between these assertions of sin than claiming that there is sin if someone uses instruments in worship or that someone could be baptized wrong? Or to declare that someone is going to hell because they believe something slightly different than we do?

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    You have made comments concerning the curse in Gen 3 many times and several times I have directed you to the message in scripture where the curse was reversed or ended, but you are continuing to promote what I have refuted without honoring God’s message about removing the curse. A very important portion of the curse in Gen 3 is that, Satan is cursed and the ground is cursed, but man is not cursed. He may feel like he is cursed but receiving a judgment for disobedience is not described as a curse. I see that it is impossible that the NT could be anything about reversing a curse from Gen 3, because God removed the curse on the ground unless the curse which is being sought by the NT is the curse which was placed upon Satan. Do you really have documentation that is reestablishing the curse?

    “We find that the NT is very much about reversing the curse of Gen 3, and so Genesis becomes a very important study, not just the Creation accounts but also the accounts of Abraham.”

    I’ll provide the text as it is in scripture once more, expecting you to verify your position.
    Gen 3:14-19 ESV The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. (15) I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (16) To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (17) And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (18) thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (19) By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

    The curse of the ground being removed forever.

    Gen 8:21-22 ESV And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (22) While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

    Then in the NT we find that men can be cursed because they disobey the Law, and that Christ redeemed us from that.

    Gal 3:10-13 ESV For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

    Therefore, the only curses which are with us today are the curse placed upon Satan and a curse on anyone who refuses to accept Christ.

  3. Dwight says:

    Larry, I whole heartedly agree with your understanding of church in that even if there were many groups in one town, this doesn’t mean that they were not united in Christ and bound as the church.
    My preacher in teaching a lesson on the church has tried to point out that elders were appointed in one town and thus there was only one church in the town, but this is only because he thinks in terms of a physical church being inherently different than the spiritual church. And also wishes to argue against the Catholic position of elders being over many churches or groups so as to argue that elders in one town can’t oversee churches in other towns. The problem is that he doesn’t acknowledge the churches that met in their houses and that these house churches would be and were in towns, thus one elder in town oversaw the people in the town which would have included all those who met in the houses as well. Since the elders oversaw those that they were among, there is no contradiction.
    The church is the people of God. The church is the people of God. We must keep saying that and we must mean it. The church is the people of God. No matter where they are or in what form they happen to be in. Space and time can’t divide us, but the only thing that can divide us is us. I Cor.1-3.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    I also have a problem understanding what makes this statement true. “And so those who’ve never had a chance at faith will simply die and remain dead.”
    To give you an example to which I believe is a testimony against that concept I will suggest Sodom and Gomorrah evidently they were in the territory of the Canaanites. I cannot find any reference that those cities were a part of God’s people at the time. Yes, Lot and his family was there, but it is never said that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had ever obtained a knowledge of God. We know that there was not many righteous people living there. Maybe you can identify that the people there had received an opportunity to have faith, is there documentation? I do not see it, so that places the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah into the category that you have stated in the statement above. Unless we can identify that Lot had effectively reveled God to them where would faith have come from? In your statement the conclusion would be that they have died and will remain dead. But, we have another statement from scripture that portrays that they will be at the judgement.
    Christ tells us.
    Mat 10:15 ESV Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
    Mat 11:23-24 ESV And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (24) But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
    Think about that one a little while, Christ says to Capernaum that mighty works that were done in Capernaum would have changed Sodom. He is stating that Capernaum knew and that Sodom did not.
    Luk 10:12-14 ESV I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (13) “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. (14) But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
    He also mentions that Tyre and Sidon must not have had mighty works, which he says would have caused them to repent.
    Yet, they will also be there in judgement.

    Christ says.
    Mat 12:34-37 ESV You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (35) The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (36) I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (37) for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
    Are we then reclassifying these evil persons who never had a chance to have faith into not being there on the day of judgment? Death of their physical body being the only punishment which is administered?
    Just some of my thoughts that have not been reconciled with the new order.

  5. Dwight says:

    Personally I hate arguments on the here-after as we are given glimpses and know very little about what will really happen. At the most we will be reconciled to God and with God, at the least we could either be in heaven or on a newly created earth. Also for some there might be instant annihilation and for others eternal bliss, but as Larry pointed out we will stand before God in judgment.
    Now about the nations that surrounded Israel, I don’t believe that they didn’t know of God as they knew of Israel. As we see in Nineveh, they must have known God even beyond what Jonah preached to them, after all he came preaching destruction. The people around Israel had the ability as some nations and people did to become one with Israel and accept the God of Abraham. These nations after all were judged by God on the same level Israel was…read Isaiah. And yet Israel had a covenant with God, while the other didn’t. There is a parallelism here between God and Christians and God and Israel in that coming to one will and would automatically bring you to the other.
    Thus the other nations around Israel didn’t simply reject the knowledge of God, but God.
    Now in the same way, the people of S & G rejected God, in rejecting Lot. They even sought relations with God’s angels. This was pure wickedness. God judged them.

    Now how about those Indians in the South America rainforest that have never had communication with the outside world? I truly don’t know. But make no mistake they too will be judged by God.
    But then again God know out hearts. And it does appear that S & G has been already pre-judged according to Matt.11. How can this be? So maybe the judgment will be less judgment by God and more of a judgment against ourselves or for ourselves. It will be our moment of realization of pride or of shame before God.

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