1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (Oh, to be known by God)

corinth-anc-temp-apollo-acro-beyondIn chapter 8, Paul begins a three-chapter discussion of food offered to idols. And that seems about as irrelevant to modern church life as can be.

Except this is, in fact, a passage the speaks immediately and importantly to the 21st Century church — especially the Church of Christ, because Paul is dealing with the “weak” and the “strong” and how they should get along in a single church.

You see, in the early church, separate congregations didnt exist for every slight difference on divorce and remarriage or whether instruments may be used in a wedding. There was one congregation per town, under one eldership, meeting in multiple houses — meeting all together by a river or the like, except when a synagogue or pagan official might look the other way and let them gather in a large enough building. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 7:36-40 (remarrying in the Lord)

corinth-anc-temp-apollo-acro-beyond

(1Co 7:36-8:1 ESV)  36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed [or virgin], if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin.  37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.  38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.  

The translation of this passage is difficult and controversial. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 7:29-35 (living as though Jesus will return tomorrow)

corinth-anc-temp-apollo-acro-beyondWe are continuing to work our way through 1 Corinthians after having been interrupted by a couple of surgeries and a much needed vacation.

(1Co 7:29-31 ESV) 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,  30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,  31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Some commentators take these words to mean that Paul anticipates a Second Coming within his lifetime. That’s very unlikely. After all, a reading of the Apostolic Fathers (First and Second Century materials written by uninspired Christians) reveals no surprise or disappointment that Jesus had not yet already come. Continue reading

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Words from Phyllis Trible: Jacob Wrestles with God

jacobwrestlesIn the September/October issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Phyllis Trible, a professor of sacred literature at Union Theological Seminary, discusses the strange account of Jacob wrestling with the God (or a man or an angel — it’s not so clear).

(Gen 32:24-31 ESV) 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 And he said to him, “What is your name?”

And he said, “Jacob.”

28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”

But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the face of God], saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Trible is a feminist and writes about her struggles reconciling the Old Testament with her feministic perspective. She concludes,

Moving this haunting story to my predicament at the boundary of faith and feminism, I pluck from it two memorable lines, one from Jacob and one from the storyteller. First, Jacob’s defiant words to the stranger I take as a challenge to the Bible itself: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” I will not let go of the book unless it blesses me. I will struggle with it. I will not turn it over to my enemies that it curse me. Neither will I turn over to friends who wish to curse it. No, over against the cursing from either Bible-thumpers or Bible-bashers, I shall hold fast for blessing. But I am under no illusion that blessing, if it comes, will be  on my terms — that I will not be changed in the process. Indeed, the second line I pluck from the story undercuts that illusion: The storyteller reports: “The sun rose upon him [Jacob] … limping because of his hip.” Through this ancient story, appropriated anew, Biblical studies, faith and feminism converge for me. Wrestling with the words, to the light I limp.

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Brady Toops: “O For Grace”

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I finished N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God! Part 5

FaithfulnessofGodWe are continuing to reflect on N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

The impact of Wright’s teaching on the Churches of Christ and the church in America, regardless of denomination, should be simple and yet profound.

Like many American Protestant denominations, our preaching has been heavily weighted toward soteriology (salvation theology). That is, we preach the Five Steps of Salvation on Sunday night to a crowd all of whom have already been saved.

We are very focused on atonement theology (how salvation happens) and ecclesiology (how to do church, that is, worship and organization).

We have a very weak eschatology (theology of the Second Coming and afterlife) and our ethics (how to live as Christians) are heavily ruled based, with little connection between ethics and salvation or the afterlife. In fact, we sometimes seem to think that doctrinal purity makes up for any shortcoming in how we live. You see, there are just these rules about going to church, giving weekly, and being good moral people without tattoos or mixed bathing (what we called swimming in a pool or the Gulf of Mexico with the opposite sex). Continue reading

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Brady Toops: “By the River”

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Are You Ready for Some Football?

rachel2Well, my granddaughter is. Not that she can even say “football.” But she’s already learned to dress for the occasion.

And she is quite the trendsetter. No doubt all the coeds will follow suit and wear houndstooth elephant bows to the all the games.

2:30 CDT. Alabama v. West Virginia. Georgia Dome. CBS.

Finally!!

And on the off chance you need a little help getting in the mood —

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I finished N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God! Part 4

FaithfulnessofGodPerhaps the central teaching of Paul and the Faithfulness of God is that Paul was essentially a Second Temple period Jewish thinker, steeped in the Scriptures, and absolutely persuaded that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets and that the new age promised by the prophets had dawned, although it was still in the process of being fully realized.

Let me explain how I understand it. You see, this seems almost trivial until we run an experiment or two. For example, I asked my Sunday school class what it means for us to confess that “Jesus is the Christ.” They correctly told me that “Christ” means “Messiah.”

When I asked what “Messiah” means, most did not know — and they are nearly all lifelong church attenders and very highly educated people. A few said “Anointed” or “King,” but only a few. Continue reading

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I finished N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God! Part 3

FaithfulnessofGodI’m continuing to attempt to summarize N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It’s rather like attempting to summarize the Encyclopedia Britannica — or for my younger readers, the Wikipedia. Wright’s book is truly encyclopedic (or Wikipedic). And so I can only offer samples, not a summary.

In Part IV, Wright builds on the preceding parts to take on several topics. Of the most interest to me, he ties Paul back to Roman history so that he can frame the discussion of how Paul’s theology connects to politics.

To what extent are Christians to stay away from the government (as David Lipscomb urged) and to what extent are we called to shape the government (per Jerry Falwell, for example)? And Wright does the detailed labor to find a path between Lipscomb and Falwell.

Wright notes a tension in Second Temple Jewish thought. Continue reading

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