2 Videos: 1 for your soul & 1 for your mind

What should you do with your next 30 minutes of free time? Watch this sermon from one of my very best friends, Adam McIntire. Adam is the Junior High Pastor at Faithbridge Church in Spring, TX and years ago served as Youth Pastor at Fc3, the church that I lead. He recently got invited to address the entire congregation and delivered an amazing sermon. Enjoy.


If you still have about 7 minutes of free time left (after you’ve seen the sermon), check out this video from The Bible Project. They are doing some cool stuff and this is a nice video that channels N.T. Wright in an accessible way. I’ll definitely be using it in the future . . . I’m also planning on giving a hand at creating a few videos like this during the summer. We’ll see how they turn out. Anyway – enjoy the video and definitely consider donating to the project.

The Righteousness of God: Three Views

Douglas Campbell writes, “The current debate concerning the meaning of diakosune theou (the righteousness of God) in Paul is immense.”[1] The controversy predominantly centers on whether the ‘righteousness’[2] of God is retributive/punitive or gracious/benevolent in nature. Additionally, scholars dispute as to whether the righteousness of God describes an attribute of God, the activity of God, or relational aspects of God. The complexity of the issues surrounding the translation and interpretation of diakosune theou (the righteousness of God) make it impossible to offer a detailed account of the whole debate, but Douglas Moo, N.T. Wright, and Douglas Campbell’s respective views serve as a suitable introduction. Each perspective will be evaluated according to three categories – character, activity, and product – to allow for a consistent comparison.[3] 

Douglas Moo defines God’s character, in regards to his righteousness, as one who will always do what is right according to the divine nature. At first glance, this is seemingly a common understanding among the three viewpoints until the term “right” is defined in any particularity. For Moo, “what is right” entails God “always acting in accordance with the norm of his own person and promises.”[4] God’s activity of doing “right,” however, is not limited to saving work, instead it includes both God’s saving actions and God’s justice. Thus, God’s activity is to establish the “right” by vindicating some and judging others based upon a determined standard, which according to Moo is justification by faith in Jesus Christ.[5]  Consequently, the product of God’s “right” activity is that those who have been justified by faith receive God’s character; in other words, they attain the moral righteousness required by God.

N.T. Wright works chiefly within these same categories, except he places them within a predominantly covenantal framework. Simply stated, the righteousness of God is God’s sure and steadfast love of Israel, which Wright deduces from tying together the interrelated dimensions of covenant, lawcourt, and apocalyptic. The covenantal aspect is that God designed a once for all plan for salvation through Israel to bless the world and God remains exceedingly faithful to this plan. Wright states, “The point of the covenant always was that God would bless the whole world through Abraham’s family.”[6] The lawcourt dimension displays the character of God as that of an impartial judge, who as the creator of the world must rule and judge all creation justly. Thus, God’s activity is focused on a single plan to put the world right, which God established through the covenant with Israel.    For Wright, the decisive, apocalyptic act was that God dealt with sin and rebellion through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, through Jesus Christ, as a faithful representative of Israel, God’s covenant with Israel has been fulfilled and the world has been declared “right” and granted access to blessings of the covenant. The product of God’s saving action is not, however, that one’s character is changed into the character of God, rather, his/her status is changed before God. In other words, he/she is vindicated by the judge, through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, and brought into the family of God.

Douglas Campbell’s view of the righteousness of God (the deliverance of God) draws specifically from the understanding of Christ as the definitive display of God’s righteousness. He states, “If we know what Christ is, we can infer immediately the content of the righteousness of God.”[7] Thus, Campbell concludes that the definitive character of God is benevolence because Christ exhibits no retributive characteristics in Paul’s writing.  Furthermore, drawing from the Old Testament’s picture of divine kingship, Campbell determines God’s character to be a compassionate king whose sole concern is to act to save an oppressed humanity. God’s kingly activity then is a “saving, liberating, life-giving, eschatological act,”[8] which delivers his oppressed people. Campbell defines this activity in the singular work of Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection liberates a captive humanity.  The product is “fundamentally liberative” and humanity is ontologically transformed, receiving a new flesh free from the powers of death and sin.[9]

[1] Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 677.

[2] I have placed ‘righteousness’ in quotes because there is disagreement on how diakosune should be translated. I have chosen ‘righteousness’ solely because this is how it is most often discussed.

[3] Campbell’s methodology for defining diakosune theou differs considerably from the other two views. Campbell’s method starts with Christ as the definitive disclosure of diakosune theou and from this extrapolates its meaning by referring to how Christ is described in Paul. The other views draw on the phrases textual history to elucidate Paul’s meaning. Thus, is a little tenuous to fit Campbell’s definition into these three categories.

[4] Moo, Romans, 84.

[5] Ibid, 88. Moo acknowledges the covenantal framework of diakosune theou, however, he shows from passages, such as Psalm 143 and Daniel 9, that it cannot be tied exclusively to God’s covenant promises.

[6] Wright, Justification (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 67.

[7] Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God, 683.

[8] Ibid, 702.

[9] Ibid, 73.

Houston Baptist University Theology Conference – N.T. Wright, Beverly Gaventa, Ross Wagner

HBU Theology Conference

Paul and Judaism

March 19-20, 2014
Houston Baptist University

HBU is pleased to host a conference on Paul and Judaism that will explore Paul’s theology and practice within his Jewish context. Our keynote speakers include N.T. Wright (St Andrews University), Beverly Gaventa (Baylor University), and Ross Wagner (Duke Divinity School).

Papers and Abstracts:
In addition, we are inviting papers representing a variety of approaches from scholars and graduate students in this area of study. Participants will have 30 minutes to present papers (inclusive of Q&A).  Please submit a 200-300 word abstract to Dr. Ben C. Blackwell by January 15, 2014, with notification of acceptance by January 31. Registration by February 15 is required for those who will present at the conference. For submission information and conference schedule go here.

It’s the End of the World….As We Know It

In his book, The New Testament and the People of God, N.T Wright describes the apocalyptic imagination of second-temple Judaism as being inseparably linked to hope.  When Israel speaks about their expectations for the future, it is almost always through this genre.  This sounds strange to many of us since the word apocalyptic makes us think of either zombies or a meteor headed for earth.  Apocalyptic today means the end of the world.  This idea, combined with our Deistic worldview, leads us to commonly misinterpret ancient, apocalyptic texts.

According to Wright, one of Israel’s central beliefs was that God was intimately involved in history.  Their God was especially concerned with the plight of his people.  The hope of Israel was that one day their God would intervene on their behalf, restore creation, and write the Law on their hearts.  They hoped for the day when there God would become king.  That day would not be the end of the world (in the sense of the space-time universe), but it would be the end of the present world order, in which evil and injustice currently reign.

How do you communicate such a complex and multi-layered concept?  You do it through cosmic imagery.  We do this all the time when we describe important events in our history.  Wright uses the example of the Berlin wall.  We say that the day when the the Berlin wall fell was an earth shattering event.  If someone reading this sentence a hundred years from now assumed there was an earthquake that caused the Berlin wall to fall, then this would be a serious misreading of the text.  

Finally, Wright describes the apocalyptic genre as presenting a series of dualities.  Apocalyptic writings assume a clear distinction between creator and creation, the present age and the age to come.  Wright distinguishes these dualities from a cosmological or anthropological dualism, in which the physical universe or our bodies are viewed as evil and separate from our spiritual make-up.  That type of dualism is not found in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures and is more characteristic of Gnosticism.  The hope of Israel, which the early Christians adopted, was not envisioned as a spiritual, atemporal existence.  If God is known as creator, then his creation/material is viewed as good.  If his good creation is corrupted, then the solution is not to destroy it but to restore it.  This is where we commonly misunderstand key texts in Revelation that talk about fire and burning creation.  The fire of God’s judgment is part of the purification and restoration process.  It is not proof that God is scrapping his creation, but that he is cutting out the disease that is crippling it.  

It is through this lens that books like Revelation and Daniel must be read.  When this happens, the hermeneutic of the Left Behind series and the concept of a rapture are simply not convincing. (More to come on both of these topics in a later post).

The church today needs to reclaim the word apocalyptic as a synonym for hope.  The mainstream view of Revelation, Daniel, and others apocalyptic sections in the Bible have too long been held captive by a fear mongering minority.

The Great Irony of American Christianity

I’m currently leading a group of folks at my church through Lee C. Camp’s book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World.  I first read it last year (it was highly recommended to me) and I think that it is one of the best “popular level” introductions to the theology & ethics of John Howard Yoder & Stanley Hauerwas (with a good measure of N.T. Wright and Richard Hays thrown in as well) that I have read.

The book has spurred some great conversation among our group and as I was preparing for our next meeting I was struck by the following quote:

“This is the great irony of American Christianity: exalting the nation that affords us ‘freedom of religion,’ we set aside the way of Christ in order to preserve the religion we supposedly are free to practice.  We kill our alleged enemies in order to ‘worship’ the God who teaches us to love enemies.  The most important question about our pledge of allegiance is not whether we pledge allegiance to a flag under “one God,” but to what god we are pledging our allegiance.  Perhaps it is, after all, not the God revealed in Jesus Christ we are worshiping, but the god of the nation-state, the god of power and might and wealth.”

Do you agree with his assessment of the “great irony of American Christianity”?  
Can you think of any other examples that would support his argument?