Monthly Archives: November 2010

Small Faith, Great God: Wright's Early View of the Atonement

N.T. Wright in 1980

Yesterday, I began a thematic series through N.T. Wright’s new (and old) book Small Faith, Great God, analyzing the development of Wright’s theology since the original release of this book in 1978. In the preface, Wright affirms that he is in substantial agreement today with what he wrote back in the 1970’s. That said, the careful reader can detect a number of different emphases in Wright’s early work. Nowhere is this more evident than in Wright’s treatment of the atonement of Christ.

Transaction Language

One of the interesting observations regarding Wright’s early explanation of the cross of Christ is the ease with which he utilizes the language of “purchase” when speaking of Christ’s work. Here are a few examples:

Christ purchased humans for God. That is, he came into the slave market where his people were standing in chains, and he paid the cost of setting them free. (20)

There is no nation or people – no tribe or language – from which Christ did not buy himself people for his own possession. (21)

Christ purchased humans first and foremost for God, to be kings and priests to serve him. Realize the full impact of this. When Christ bought us at the cost of his own blood, it wasn’t first and foremost for our happiness – though to be saved by him will mean happiness itself. He bought us for God. (21)

I don’t recall Wright ever disavowing this kind of terminology, but this language is not characteristic …

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Worth a Look 11.30.10

A fascinating profile of Moldova, an important, but little-known country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine:

Moldova is caught between its Romanian roots and its Soviet past. It has not developed a national identity independent of these two poles. Moldova is a borderland-within-a-borderland. It is a place of foreign influences from all sides. But it is a place without a clear center. On one side, there is nostalgia for the good old days of the Soviet Union — which gives you a sense of how bad things are now for many Moldovans. On the other side is hope that the European Union and NATO will create and defend a nation that doesn’t exist.

I don’t agree with Ross Douthat on the TSA scanners, but I think his op-ed about partisanship is very needed in American society today. Don’t just read the snippet. Read the whole thing:

Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.

How, or if, you give thanks speaks volumes:

These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.” ”We are hard-pressed to …

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A Deeper Look at N.T. Wright's "Small Faith, Great God"

Preface: Tracing an Author’s Thought Development

The longer I blog, the more I am aware that what I think (and write) today may not line up with what I thought a few years ago or, for that matter, what I will think a few years from now. Views change. Even if we hold fast to certain rock-solid convictions that stay the same, our views on a number of other issues may shift over time.

Not long ago, a reader asked me what I would change in Holy Subversion if I were to write it today. Thankfully, I could say that I am still in agreement with everything in the book. But after some thought, I mentioned a couple sections I might tweak, adding or deleting particular points of emphasis. As we grow in wisdom and maturity, our views and the way we express those views may change.

I am fascinated by books and biographies that chart a person’s development of thought over time. Good historians take thought development into consideration. A recent book by Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, traces Lincoln’s views on race, slavery, and emancipation, demonstrating the clash between Lincoln’s early beliefs and his later conclusions.

Literary experts consider the progression of thought in the works of famous authors. Recently, I read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s early Notes from Underground back to back with his final (and greatest) novel, The Brothers Karamazov. The connections between the two works are fascinating.

Theologians must consider thought development too. John Calvin’s 

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Worth a Look 11.29.10

Top 10 Important Blunders of Ancient Science:

One of the most tempting mistakes in studying history is to judge the past by modern standards. Nowhere is this more easily seen than in the contributions of ancient science. When we laugh at geocentric cosmology, or the theory of four elements, we fail to realize that, while the theories were certainly wrong, they still advanced scientific knowledge. This list explores 10 such contributions.

Tim Challies collects some helpful quotes on Scripture:

    “One of the many divine qualities of the Bible is that it does not yield its secrets to the irreverent and the censorious.” —J.I. Packer
    “God sometimes blesses a poor exegesis of a bad translation of a doubtful reading of an obscure verse of a minor prophet.” —Alan Cole

Andrew Cowan’s explanation of the dust-up over N.T. Wright’s shifting from “basis” terminology to “according to” is correct. Here’s the most important quote:

Wright is denying the interpretation of his writings that insists that he equates the believer’s righteousness in final justification with Spirit-inspired works… Basically, Wright’s shift in language simply means that he is using new wording to express what he has always been saying, but in a way that is less apt to be misunderstood than his previous statements.  He still holds that Spirit-inspired works serve as the evidence that one is truly a member of God’s covenant people in final justification, and this corresponds to his understanding of the function of faith in present justification.  He has not changed his view at all, but he …

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Pour Your Love into Our Souls

O God,
Fountain of love,
pour your love into our souls,
that we may love those whom you love
with the love you have given us,
and think and speak of them tenderly, meekly, lovingly;
and so loving our brothers and sisters for your sake,
may grow in your love,
and dwelling in your love may dwell in you;
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

- E.B. Pusey, 1800-1882

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Drink from the Fountain

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.

If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him.

If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing.

If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion;

    if purity, in his conception;
    if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might learn to feel our pain.
    If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion;
    if acquittal, in his condemnation;
    if remission of the curse, in his cross;
    if satisfaction, in his sacrifice;
    if purification, in his blood;
    if reconciliation, in his descent into hell;
    if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb;
    if newness of life, in his resurrection;
    if immortality, in the same;
    if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven;
    if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom;
    if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge.

In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.”

– John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19. (HT: Ray Ortlund)

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Trevin's Seven

Links for your weekend reading:

1. There are only a few more days to take advantage of the early bird discount for The Gospel Coalition in April. Justin Taylor lists some of the supplementary events that will be held in Chicago that week.

2. The Hole in our Holiness

3. The 50 most hated characters in literary history (Fyodor Karamazov should have made this list.)

4. Russell Moore: Why I’m Ungrateful

5. Those of us who couldn’t attend ETS will be interested in the text of Tom Schreiner’s response to Thielman and his response to Wright.

6. James K.A. Smith picks apart Barna’s research on the lack of resurgent Calvinism.

7. Seth Godin: Where do ideas come from?

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Give Thanks… Always?

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Really, Paul? Give thanks in everything? No matter the circumstance?

Already, you’ve rocked my world. You’ve told me to rejoice always – not just when life is going well. That means that even though I’m tempted to rejoice only in the good times, you want me to rejoice in the bad times too.

You’ve told me to pray constantly – not just when life is going badly. Here, you’ve dealt with the opposite temptation. Even though I’m tempted to pray only in the bad times (when I sense I need something), you want me to pray constantly – in the good times too.

Paul, you’re calling me to a way of life that doesn’t depend on my circumstances. And what bugs me about this call is that you aren’t some idealistic pastor asking me to do the impossible. You are doing this yourself. You’re writing from a prison cell. Your happiest, sunniest letter (Philippians) is written when your circumstances are terrible.

And now, you’re telling us to give thanks in everything. But how? I want to be thankful, but come on… even for bad things? Even for trials?

That’s when I notice you’ve provided the key to thankfulness in all circumstances. You talk about the will of God in Christ Jesus. Everything that comes at us in life comes through the filter of God’s love to us through his Son. Once we see the victory achieved …

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Worth a Look 11.24.10

Peter Singer claims children do not possess full moral status until past two years old. Frightening implications of the pro-choice view taken to its logical conclusion.

Chris Armstrong reviews a book about the making of the King James Bible:

Nicolson tries to make modern readers understand the deep, bedrock reverence of the Jacobeans for tradition and hierarchical authority (and he may even succeed in this difficult task!). For all the Jacobeans’ faults, it is this theologically grounded conservatism-really primitivism-that Nicolson concludes made the KJV the treasure it is. The makers of the KJV saw themselves not as authors, but as secretaries, discharging their obligation to both the church and the Holy Writ that God had created.

Speaking of the KJV, more than half of Brits don’t know what it is:

A spokesman for the King James Bible Trust, which commissioned the poll, said: ‘There has been a dramatic drop in knowledge in a generation. Yet this is a work which was far more influential than Shakespeare in the development and spread of English.’

“Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives”: Nothing like a shocking title to get you reading David Fitch’s post about youth ministry.

I believe the youth ministry of a church is vitally important. But we must discern carefully what we are doing. Whether we have three youth or fifty, we need youth leaders to do things to foster authentic adult relationships with the youth. Let us make the community aware that we ARE A COMMUNITY and we have to treat …

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A Vision for New Small Group Curriculum

Most of my readers know that my family and I have made a major life change in the past few weeks. On November 1, I started a new job as editor of a new curriculum being developed by LifeWay. I want to take this space to thank those of you who have written us emails and assured us of your prayers during this time of transition.

Some of you have asked for specific information about the new curriculum line. Last week, Ed Stetzer invited me to take part in his “Thursday is for Thinkers” weekly feature. There, I laid out my vision for this exciting venture. I am re-posting those thoughts here, in hopes that I’ll receive additional feedback from Kingdom People readers.

A Vision for Small Group Curriculum

Think about your best small group or Sunday School class experience. What made it work? Most of the time, people will talk about the fellowship and Bible Study. Both of these are vital components for successful small groups. As an editor, I want the Bible Study component to be the very best it can be for Sunday School classes, and that’s why I’m excited to help develop a new curriculum for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Here’s what I envision (and I’d love to get your feedback!):

1. Deep, but not Dry

The term that has been used to describe this new curriculum is “theologically driven.” That’s not to say that other curriculum options aren’t theological, only that these weekly lessons will be …

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