Making the World Right

In light of the events of this week, a few quotes on God’s making the world right.* I hope this vision captures the church, myself included, and we become God’s people – a people working to make what is wrong right.


In Galatians, the cross is interpreted not primarily as an atoning sacrifice for forgiveness of sins, but as a cataclysmic event that has broken the power of forces that hold humanity captive, brought the old world to an end, and inaugurated a new creation.

Richard Hays


Paul takes his bearings from the good news that in Christ – and thus in the act of new creation – God has invaded the cosmos. Paul does not argue, then, on the basis of a cosmos that remains undisturbed but on the emergence of the new cosmos with its new elements.

J. Louis Martyn


In Christ’s death the whole world has been put to death and a new world of possibilities come to birth.

James D. G. Dunn


God’s gracious will is to create life, to call into existence things that do not exist…Far from repairing the old cosmos, God is in the process of replacing it. 

J. Louis Martyn (partial summary, partial quote)


The new creation is not, however, merely a dream or a vision it takes on empirical reality in the community of God’s people.

Richard Hays


Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)



*All quotes from commentaries on Galatians.


Matthew 19 & Rich Christians: Possible or Impossible?

Few stories fascinate me as much as the tale of the Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-30).

A summary: Jesus encounters an extremely wealthy man who, by all means, is also a very moral man. However, the man realizes that he is still on the outside of the Kingdom and is not experiencing eternal life. Jesus’ solution is a command –  sell all that he has and give it to the poor. In this way, Jesus implies, he will reach a moral standard consistent with entering into the Kingdom and experiencing eternal life. Indeed, this was the path already followed by his closest disciples (Mt. 19:27). The man walks away sad and unable to obey. Jesus, never one to pass up a teachable moment, tells the disciples that it is “difficult” for a rich person to enter the Kingdom. The then defines “difficult” as “impossible”: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

The primary reason this is such a fascinating passage to me is because… I’m rich. And I live and worship in a wealthy (both relatively and globally) city. And yet there doesn’t seem to be an anxiety over our growing bank accounts, even with the extremely disparaging warnings about wealth like this one from Jesus. I constantly wonder, have we really felt the weight of Jesus’ words?

It is impossible for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The passage also fascinates me from a hermeneutical angle – I love analyzing the interpretive practices of various groups. I know first-hand why this statement from Jesus doesn’t scare the hell out of those who are well-off. It’s because two verses later Jesus says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Like a boy pursuing a girl playing hard-to-get, rich Christians are quick to go, “So, you’re saying there IS a chance.” And this statement from Jesus allows us to effectively forget his previously scary words. The moral import of his warning is drowned out by the credit-card shaped angel on our shoulder saying, “See, it’s possible! Don’t worry so much!”

Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that this as an incorrect reading of the passage. The question needs to be asked: what exactly is Jesus referencing when he speaks of human impossibilities that are possible for God? Is it the possibility that a rich person will enter into the Kingdom or is it the possibility that a person will give up their riches in order to enter the Kingdom? This is a subtle yet incredibly significant interpretive decision. You see, Jesus never changes his command to the young ruler. The hope that Jesus holds out is not that the man might enter the Kingdom despite his disobedience. It is the hope that the man, through a powerful work of God, might come to a place where he fully loves God and others by giving away his possessions.

Stanley Hauerwas nails it, as usual: “Our temptation is to think that Jesus’ reply is intended to “let us off the hook.” Being rich is a problem, we may think, but God will take care of us, the rich, the only way God can. Yet such a response fails to let the full weight of Jesus’ observation about wealth have the effect that it should. We cannot serve God and mammon (Mt. 6:24). Jesus’ reply challenges not only our wealth, but our very conception of salvation. To be saved, to be made a member of the church through baptism, means that our lives are no longer our own. We are made vulnerable to one another in a manner such that what is ours can no longer be free of the claims of others. As hard as it may be to believe, Jesus makes clear that salvation entails our being made vulnerable through the loss of our possessions.” [1]

Or as Frederick Dale Bruner says: “What Jesus does not mean by “this is impossible for human beings” is the interpretation that says ‘If you will just be born again and experience miraculous conversion, you can then continue seeking money, honor, and success, for conversion does not replace all these earthly goods; it actually assist their acquisition.’ . . . . What Jesus does mean by this verse is that God can work the miracle of putting God instead of gain on the throne of the human heart (cf. Ps 119:36). No human power can displace the desire for “more” as the reigning human drive. Only God’s power can. Unless this miracle of dethronement-enthronement occurs again and again, there is no hope of salvation. That is the sober meaning of verse 26.” [2]

How Then Shall We, The Wealthy, Live?

I’ve already acknowledged that I am a relatively wealthy person (and not currently selling all of my possessions on eBay). So, I pass no judgement on those who like me follow Jesus and have wealth. However, I do believe two things:
– First, Jesus’s command to the rich young ruler is not a universal command. He doesn’t command all to give up everything, even as he clearly commands a radical commitment to the poor and oppressed from His people.
– Second, I don’t know the cut-off point! I have no clue “how rich” you can be and still enter into the Kingdom. So I can’t say “you have too much” (and neither should you).

What I do know, and would expect of those who follow Christ, is that we should be a people with bank accounts and storage closets that communicate a sacrificial love for God and others, instead of for ourselves and our stuff. I also expect this to be a gradual, consistent, and clear progression in our lives.

How do I respond to Jesus’ statements about money in this story?
First, with some anxiety. Second, with effort and intentionality, hoping that this year my habits of spending and accumulating will reflect Kingdom values more than it did last year.


[1] Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible),174-175.
[2] Bruner, Matthew, 308.

Eschatology and an Empty Future

I have written several times on my own views of eschatological visions (or apocalyptic books). And in reading through M.M. Bakhtin’s ‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel‘ I found his view of eschatology interesting. I do not agree with him that eschatology should work this way, but I do think he captures a common (and in Western Christianity perhaps the predominant) way eschatology is misunderstood.

Another form that exhibits a like relationship to the future is eschatology. Here the future is emptied out in another way. The future is perceived as the end of everything that exists, as the end of all being (in its past and present forms). In this respect it makes no difference at all whether the end is perceived as catastrophe and destruction pure and simple, as a new chaos, as a Twilight of the Gods, as the advent of God’s Kingdom – it matters only that the end effect everything that exists, and that this end be, moreover, relatively close at hand. Eschatology always sees the segment of a future separating the present from the end as lacking value; this separating segment of time loses it significance and interest, it is merely an unnecessary continuation of an indefinitely prolonged present. (148)

Day 3: Blog Tour for C.A. Evans’ From Jesus to the Church

As part of the blog tour for C.A. Evans’ new book From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation, hosted by Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus, I’ll be reviewing chapter two today.  You can read Brian’s review of the introduction here and John Walker’s review of chapter one here.

Chapter 2: From Kingdom of God to the Church of Christ

In chapter two,”From Kingdom of God to Church of Christ”, Evans moves from the question of whether or not Jesus intended to found the Christian church to what the transition from kingdom of God to church of Christ entailed.  Having answered the age-old question posed in chapter one with a qualified “yes”, Evans now works to connect the dots for us.

“The shift from the kingdom of God to church of Christ corresponds to the shift from the Jesus who proclaims (the kingdom), to the Jesus who is proclaimed (by the church),” (38).

Evans’ argues, contrary to the position typically held by NT scholars, that this transition from kingdom to church, proclamation to new community, is a natural and even “anticipated” transition.  In tracing the development of the ‘kingdom of God’ proclamation picked up by Jesus in Mark 1:14-15, and elsewhere in the gospels, Evans turns to the Aramaic writings of the Targumim, and specifically to the book of Isaiah.  He presents several verses for our consideration in which the Aramaic translation elaborates on the prophetic message of the Hebrew text.  For example, “the Lord of hosts” in Hebrew Isaiah 24:23b becomes “the kingdom of the Lord of hosts” in the Aramaic Targumim.

“The Aramaic paraphrases of these four passages have not significantly altered the original meaning of Hebrew Isaiah: they have made explicit what the Hebrew passages imply.  In his mighty actions, the kingdom, or rule, of God will be revealed.  It is this good news–the rule of God–that Jesus proclaims in his time,” (41).

Similar developments, including the expectation of a universal kingdom, are also seen in Obadiah, Zechariah, and other prophetic books.  Evans’ further highlights the close connection between repentance and redemption developed in the Aramaic texts, another theme that is picked up in the teachings of Jesus.  The discussion then transitions to the visions in Daniel 2 and 7, Jesus’ self-identification as the ‘the Son of man’, and the hope of an everlasting kingdom.

“The book of Daniel provides part of the backdrop for Jesus’ words and actions relating to his fate.  These words and actions will play an important role in the development of a new community that, given time and circumstances, will eventually separate itself from the larger community of Israel.  The emergence of the new community is closely tied to the fate of its founder,” (49-50).

In the sayings and teachings of Jesus himself, Evans’ points us to further evidence of “the expectation of the formation of a new community,” including Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, the call to repentance, as well as his commission to preach and proclaim the good news of the kingdom (52).  That Jesus was heavily influenced by the theological developments of the Aramaic Targumim becomes clear… and the more I think about this  the more I find it interesting.

Though the early Jesus movement experienced a momentary but “abrupt halt” with his death, the resurrection “relaunched” this new community which would then take up the role of preaching and proclaiming the kingdom to all.  Still, as Evans notes, “[t]he absence of Jesus surely created a problem for his new community,” (57).  What would be next for this young, fragile community?  And thus the stage is set for chapter three…


I found Evans’ to be informative and challenging, and I think the evidence is certainly compelling. The juxtaposition of the Hebrew texts alongside the Aramaic texts is especially telling.  There is also a short excursion on Israel in Exile (page 50) which is helpful in understanding the theology of Jesus and his own understanding of his role and mission.  This chapter served as a good reminder of just how large an influence Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah–in the Aramaic!–had on Jesus.

Overall, the book is readable, while remaining an engaging and scholarly work.  I would certainly recommend From Jesus to the Church to anyone interested in learning more about the earliest days of the church and the backdrop against which this new community came to be.

Brian will pick up with chapter three on day four of the tour so be sure to check it out.  A special thanks to Brian for the invitation to participate in the blog tour, and to WKJ for the review copy.

**This book was received from Westminster John Knox Press in exchange for a bias free review.**

Blessed are the Poor (If…?)

The gospel is good news for the poor. Jesus emphatically proclaimed that the poor would receive the Kingdom of God (Lk 6:20). But must the poor respond properly to the message of the Gospel in order to receive this reward? Did Jesus really mean, “Blessed are the poor, if they repent and believe in the Kingdom“? (We usually interpret the parallel statement in this way, “Woe to you who are rich… unless you believe in me.) 

Or do the poor receive the Kingdom precisely (and only) because they are poor?

C.M. Hays suggests that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 might be read in a way consistent with Jesus’ straightforward statement in Lk. 6:20:

“In this unsettling text (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – Lk 16:19-31) poor Lazarus is said to have received eschatological rest for no other reason than that he lacked good things during his life (Lk 16:25); there is no indication in the parable that Lazarus demonstrated even a scrap of religious piety. By this reading, the eschatological blessedness of the poor may be partially a matter of theodicy: the promise of eternal happiness helps affirm the goodness of a God who allows the poor to endure a lifetime of suffering.”