Towards Believing Rightly

“What we find when we read the story of the wilderness temptations closely is that Satan is not so much tempting us to disbelieve as to believe unfaithfully. Again and again, he entices Jesus to use God’s word against him, to claim God’s truth in a false way. And the same holds true for our temptations: Satan wants us to take God’s promises to mean what they do not in fact mean, so that we are confused about what we can and should expect from God. 

Perhaps that is where we too often find ourselves: believing strongly — but in misunderstandings of God’s word. We trust God as provider, but rely on our own sense of need. We trust God as healer, but assume we know what health is. We trust God as deliverer and protector, but expect that deliverance to come on our own terms and in our own time. In these and in countless other ways we are so much of the time taxed by false expectations and bad desires, waiting on God to do what God is not going to do — at least not in the way we expect it to be done. And so we move from suffering to suffering, from frustration to frustration, from disappointment to disappointment, not because God is unfaithful, but because our expectations of God are stubbornly perverse. We have turned the bread of God’s promises into stones of distrust. 

What are we to do, then? How do we right our expectations? We must contemplate the living God as he has made himself known to us in Christ. And we must give time for that contemplation to convert our imaginations, to free us from the illusions that blind us and from the passions that enslave us.” – Chris E.W. Green

[From Surprised by God: How and Why What We Think about the Divine Matters, pp.39-40. These short theological essays are devotional, wise, and challenging. I highly recommend this book for all.]

Book Review: A Week in the Life of Rome by James L. Papandrea

IVP has a new addition to their “A Week in the Life of” series with this new work from James L. Papandrea. A Week in the Life of Rome combines a fictional story with non-fictional aspects taken from both scholarship and biblical texts. To be perfectly honest, I am not usually a fan of historical fictions and was surprised with how much I enjoyed this book (it was quick read for me as I found it to be quite the page-turner).2482

The story largely centers on the many tensions that were part of everyday life for a Christian (or soon to be convert) in the Roman Empire. The patron-client system is well illustrated, along with pretty accessible details of what life in ancient Rome was often like. Apart from the educational aspect of this book (and there is a good amount to learn for those unfamiliar with historical and archaeological research), the story shines brightest in its ability to highlight the incredibly emotional and almost impossible situations one faced while trying to remain a Roman citizen and also be a faithful follower of the Way. In particular, the difficult struggle one of the main characters has over whether to give his son over to a “tutor” (which often involved sexual relations between men and young boys) was powerful. It really captures, in a situation that most can deeply empathize with, the real problems the early Christians faced when choosing faithfulness to Jesus over the Empire and its culture. The dangers were real and life-threatening, unlike many of our contexts today.

I think many will enjoy the book who are interested in learning more about what Rome was like in the first century and what it would have been like to live a Christian life in such a world. Pick up a copy, especially if you enjoy these types of books.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.


Jordan Peterson, The Apostle Paul, Hierarchies, and the Fate of the Patriarchy

I have friends on both sides of the “Jordan Peterson” fan-club and the “Jordan Peterson” hate-club. I was recently talking to one of them about the existence, and perhaps inevitability, of hierarchies. I happen to think that much of the biblical texts make little sense outside of a robust ancient hierarchy. I’m less convinced of Peterson’s claim (as far as I call tell) that hierarchies are biological and a little more open to the idea that hierarchies are ontological (or at the very that they served an important intellectual foundation for pre-modern civilization, philosophy, and religion. Thanks, Charles Taylor.)
To be sure, I think the biblical authors’ views on God and social ethics, are built on a presumptions of hierarchy (notice: there is a large jump between a hierarchy and a patriarchy), partly because I’m not so sure that a lack of hierarchies was a live option in the philosophical or liturgical world of ancient people. I also wonder if the most basic of theistic convictions, that of a strong creature/creation divide, is possible without a hierarchy of ontology. (Before you sharpen the pitchforks, there is again a big difference from an eternal belief in or current support of the patriarchy).
As I’ve been thinking about these thing, I found the following quote from John M. G. Barclay fascinating:
“The second characteristic of Paul’s social strategy is that the hallmark of his alternative system of value is that it is directed specifically against rivalry: the greatest honor is for those who work against the competitive spirit of honor itself. Nearly all the characteristics catalogued as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23) are directed toward the construction of community, from love downward. “Spirit-people” are so designated because they work with sensitivity to repair the community (Gal. 6:1-2). What counts among believers, according to Paul, is precisely the antithesis to arrogance and competition.
The rubric that governs the ethos of the community is a formula of reciprocity as creative as it is paradoxical. The Galatian freedom will not become an opportunity for “the flesh” inasmuch as they are “slaves to one another through love” (Gal. 5:13). This is a remarkable expression since it adjusts an inherently hierarchical relationship (slavery) not by canceling it, in the name of “equality,” but by making it reciprocal, a hierarchy that turns both ways…. The same structure of relations is outlined in the matching phrase in Gal. 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Burden-bearing, the world of slaves, is made a task for all, in relation to all. Submission to the interests of others is saved from becoming a charter for the crushing of the weak by being turned also into the reverse, such that service and honor continually exchanged. This reciprocity of relations, which does not eradicate but continually inverts a hierarchal order, is indeed the hallmark of Pauline social ethics, not only with respect to the church as a “body” (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31) but also in marriage (1 Cor. 7:3-4) and in the continual competition to be the first not to receive honor but to give it to others (Rom. 12:10). This policy turns competition on its head. What matters is not to gain superiority but to cede it, and in ceding it to be honored in return. To this extent, Brigitte Kahl is right to point to Galatians 5-6 as evidence that Paul strongly resists the combative ethos ever present in Romanized culture — through Paul’s policy is less the eradication of hierarchy than its continual subversion.
(some emphasis mine)
John M. G. Barclay, “Grace and the Counter-Cultural Reckoning of Worth: Community Construction in Galatians 5-6,” in Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter, ed. Mark W. Elliot, Scott J. Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 313.
Of course, questions remain:
1) This is very idealistic (as most of Paul’s pneumatological ethical instructions are). Can we expect this to work, outside of a Spirit-Surrendered individual who is embedded in a Spirit-Surrendered local congregation?
2) Does this really have anything meaningful say to secular discourse concerning just policies in a modern liberal democracy?
3) From the vantage point of a hermeneutics of suspicion, in what ways could this teaching (or interpretation) be used to continue to oppress the marginalized under the name of Jesus?
Overall, what are you thoughts on this reading of Galatians 5-6? 
How can you see this implemented in our churches?
How can you see this implemented, if at all, in our current political arena?


The gracefulness of God in disappointing us

“But we are too easily deceived by our desires – especially by our desires for the transcendence and eternity that determine the ultimate meaning of our lives. The Gospels teach us that many of those who crowded around Jesus, including some of his closest disciples and dearest friends, were drawn to him by false hopes and vain expectations. The hard truth is that we too often find ourselves attracted to what we wrongly think is God. At times, like Simon the Sorcerer, we come seeking God for those powers we find useful, imagining that by professing belief in God we have secured a resource that will afford us the life we want for ourselves (Acts 8:9-25). But for most of us, at least most of the time, the deception is far more subtle, less complete. Our desires are not so much out-and-out corrupt as ever-so-slightly bent. We delight in the justice of God, but at least in part because we imagine it means grief for our enemies. We delight in the power of God, but at least in part because we imagine it means we are protected from sufferings others have to face….

We are always, until the end, living at the risk of these deceptions and countless others like them. But we do not need to panic or to despair. If we desire what is good in ways that are not good, we can rest assured that God will gracefully disappoint us. If what we find delightful in God is in fact an illusion, God has promised to go on revealing his true beauty until we find that beauty truly desirable.” – Chris E.W. Green

[From Surprised by God: How and Why What We Think about the Divine Matters, pp.21-22. These short theological essays are devotional, wise, and challenging. I highly recommend this book for all.]

Andrew Louth on the Eastern Orthodox Hope for Universal Salvation

Andrew Louth in “Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology” writes the following about “Universal Salvation” in his last chapter of the book, The last things and eternal life:

“There is a deeper reason for Origen’s conviction of final restoration for all: for him it is inconceivable that Christ is to remain in sorrow for all eternity (after commenting on how Christ weeps over his sins as he wept over Jerusalem), on account of the failure of any rational creature to respond to his love and benefit from his sacrifice.

Whereas in Western theology, such a conviction rapidly dies out, in Orthodox theology hope in universal salvation, based on a conviction of the boundlessness of God’s love, has never gone away. St Gregory of Nyssa interprets the words of the apostle Paul’s teaching that God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15.28) to mean the ‘complete annihilation of evil.’ St Maximos the Confessor likewise holds out the hope of the salvation of all. The grounds for this are principally the long-suffering love of God for all creation, and also the conviction that evil is without substance, but is rather a corruption of distortion of what is good. These two motives find striking expression in St Maximos’ contemporary, St Isaac the Syrian, who asserts that,

‘there exists within the Creator a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, a love which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting… No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernatural kingdom’

and then adds, quoting Diodore of Tarsus, ‘not even the immense wickedness of the demons can overcome the measure of God’s goodness.’ The pain of hell is the result of love: ‘those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love… The sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment,’ Evil and hell cannot be eternal: “Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will.  There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.’

The Orthodox hope, amounting to a conviction among many theologians, is that there is nothing beyond the infinite love of God, that there is no limit to our hope in the power of his love, at least regards as a legitimate hope the universal salvation of all rational creatures, maybe even of the devil and his demons.”


‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in hell in everlasting fire’.
Obviously upset, the Staretz said,
‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?”
‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault’, said the hermit.
The Staretz answered with a sorrowful countenance:
‘Love could not bear that, he said, “We must pray for all.”

– Saint Silouan of Athose (one of the greatest Orthodox saints in recent times)