Desert Island Theology : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Recently, I returned to a book that I had not read in its entirety in a bit over forty years. I considered this to be odd as through that same period of forty years I had bought literally dozens of copies to give to others. The book is ‘A Grief Observed’ by C. S. Lewis. Many of you may know this book. It consists of a journal kept by Lewis after the death of his wife, Joy, from cancer. The journal documents Lewis coming to terms with her death and the question of every grieving survivor, “Why did God let this happen?”. The particular copy that I was reading has a Foreword by my old friend, Madeleine l’Engle, which is superb, especially as she reflects on the death of her husband.
I had first read the book in 1980. Later that year, my wife and I were in London, during which time we stayed with her great-Aunt, Janet. “Aunt Danny”, as she was known in the family, had known Lewis and Tolkien and the other writers in that circle. She had also known Joy. In fact, she told us that the common joke in Oxford was about whether Lewis’ book, ‘Surprised by Joy’ was about his faith or about meeting his wife! She had witnessed Lewis’ despair after her prolonged illness and death. When ‘A Grief Observed’ appeared in 1961 (originally published under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk to shield Lewis’ identity) she told us it was published owing to the urging of T.S Eliot who found the book not only moving, but possibly a Christian classic.
As I reread the book, I was reminded of those late night conversations some four decades ago, and I began to think about what makes a particular Christian offering a “Christian classic”. It seems to me that it must be something that one can return to frequently and, at each return, gain new insights. As I began to turn this over in my mind, I started an exercise that I’m calling ‘Desert Island Theology’, loosely based upon the old program ‘Desert Island Discs’ in which you had to choose ten albums you would take to a desert island. For Desert Island Theology, it is ten books that are theological or devotional in their orientation. I have, however, allowed an additional allowance for a Bible and, if you are in a particular tradition, a prayer book.
In assembling my own list, certain things were quickly apparent. For instance, I had to have certain books that while theological, pertained to the more academic side of the matter. This is simply part of who I am. Additionally, biography and autobiography take up almost a third of the list. It might be because I strongly believe that God shows himself in the entirety of a person’s life as well as in particular moments of that life. I also noticed the absence of what one might consider “modern theology”, although I would make the argument that Augustine, Bonhoeffer and Merton are strikingly contemporary! That being said, while I read a good bit of modern theological reflections, for the most part they fail, at least in me, to engender passion.
Your list will obviously be different, as it should be. If, however, you undertake the exercise, you may be surprised at what it says about you.
My old friend, John Michael Talbot, sent me the following response:
“An impossible scenario. The asterisks are definite! ”
1. Bible *
2. Omnibus of Sources *
3. Christian Prayer *
4. Office of Readings*
6. Desert Fathers*
7. Hermit Fathers*
8. Apostolic Fathers*
9. English- Greek Interlinear
10. Faith of the Fathers 1-3 ( I cheated. This is three!)
Great post Dwayne, it must’ve been something talking to aunt Danny who knew these great authors.
This is turning out to be much more difficult and deeply personal than I expected.
When we did this exercise a few years ago it was easy for me…now, not so much.
The theology I held for most of my life (and invested thousands of dollars in ) no longer would be helpful to me on the island.
I also note my tendency to invest time in all of one writers works in order to try to fully understand their thought.
The ESV Study Bible… as I’ve drawn paths through it I know how to travel.
The Book of Common Prayer
The Gospel and the Catholic Church by Ramsey
My Bright Abyss by Wiman
Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright
Still thinking through the last five…
Many thanks. Aunt Danny was an author in her own right (as Janet Adam Smith). Her first husband, who died young, was the English poet, Michael Roberts. One of her closest friends was T.S. Eliot. The literary circles in the UK and Paris (she was there in the 30s) were relatively small and tended to be mutually supportive…
That’s a great start… remember, the Bible and Prayer Book are freebies!
I would take a Bible, my prayer book, and several guidebooks on procuring food on a desert island. Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson, too.
I’m assuming that fiction can also be counted in theological works (since some of these books have deeply shaped me theologically!) and that Interlinear doesn’t count(?):
1. Bible (not sure which translation!)
2. Greek-Hebrew-English Interlinear
3. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
4. Chronicles of Narnia (if I have to pick one, it’s Last Battle)
5. The Presence and Work of the Holy Spirit by RA Torrey
6. Time Quintet by L’Engle (A Wind in the Door if I have to pick one)
7. Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
8. Lament for a Son by Wolterstorff
9. The Curate’s Awakening by George MacDonald
10. Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Norwich
11. Perelandra by Lewis
12. Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
The only way I could do this would be to go to my office, scour my bookshelf, and create a list through the process of elimination. But I’m home today keeping tabs on my son.
But a few titles come to mind:
My GENESIS PROCESS workbook
I’m the type to use up all 10 books on a bunch of encyclopedias.
More than books, I tend to think more about lists for desert island music. 🙂
Great list! Do you know ‘Two Part Invention’ by Madeleine? It’s one of my favorites…
The process of elimination is painful…
I don’t, actually! I just finally read the Quintet series for the first time a few weeks ago and am trying to read as many of her books as I can now. I’ll have to check that one out. Thank you for the recommendation! She seems like an amazing person to have known…
She was an amazing person! I met her in NYC when she wrote the Foreword to my book ‘Martyrs Prayers’. Later, we traveled to Russia together at the invitation of Patriarch Alexi. Good memories…
Two volumes that would satisfy for a long time: REBEL REBEL and ASHES TO ASHES, Chris O’Leary’s deep dives into processing/translating/refracting all the music of David Bowie.
I suspect that much of the literature that fascinates us now would diminish in value in the face of years of silence on the island, with only God and the seabirds for company.
For instance, at night the stars will appear to you as brighter than you could ever imagine. You could nourish you soul for a long time contemplating the heavens and the heavenly host.
I suspect people might become re-enchanted. with every storm, bit of driftwood, and visiting rare bird being recognized as messages from God, and the barrier between heaven and earth will become very thin.
With a few exceptions, I suspect our pile of precious books will lose their luster. Instead of reading other’s ideas about God, it will us and God, together, in a way rarely possible out in the World.
All true, although even the Desert Fathers and Mothers shared their books with one another… As Athanasius said, “The desert became a city…”
What you say is true if the desert consists of a large group of monastics with a holy father over every sand dune. But I am envisioning an island with just one person, all alone with God and His creation. No one to share books with. And no chance to escape the island, with no plans to write a book about our spiritual adventures when we get back to civilization. Just us and God, forever….
True… In this instance, however, the desert island is a metaphor to elicit the list of books one would take as a response. An interesting digression nonetheless…😁
Bible – probably ESV
Knowledge of the Holy (Tozer)
Surprised by Hope (Wright)
The Divine Hours series (Tickle) — covers the entire church year.
My God and I (Smedes — tremendous spiritual autobiography)
This isn’t easy but it is valuable, IMHO. I’ll have to think some more aboutmy last five.
Look forward to the rest!
I read this book when my first pregnancy turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy and the baby was lost. What a powerful book .. I can still remember what a blessing that book was to me while I lie in the hospital and no one seemed to know what to say to me. C.S. Lewis knew exactly what to say. He is my favorite Christian author. A very close Christian friend, just 66, is at this moment having open heart triple bypass surgery. He and his family are some of the finest Christians you will ever meet in Heaven someday. Please pray for my friend, Milton .
Bride of Christ
Rest assured of our prayers for Milton.
Thanks, Duane. I’ve always loved Madeline L’Engle’s books – I’m sure I’ve read every one. She was frowned upon in Calvary Chapel circles, so I had to keep it to myself, however! How very wonderful that you met her. Before I was Christian, as a child and as a teenager who loved to read, my favorite books were Madeline’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. ((Also, ‘Wind in the Willows’). Once I became a Christian at age 19, I found it interesting that all of these books were written by Christians and that they all had very Christian themes ( with the exception of Kenneth Grahams ‘Wind in the Willows”. Those books spoke to me for a reason – I think I saw a hint of Christ and the Kingdom of God in those books.
NIV Bible-Spanish/English Edition
To Kill A Mockingbird
The PIlgrim’s Progress
The Cost of Discipleship
Where Is God When It Hurts?
My first edition Amy Carmichael Poetry Books (that would complete the 10)
That’s a very interesting list!
My thoughts were similar to Xenia’s. Whether I was literally to be alone on an island for the rest of my life, or whether I was just temporarily going into a sabbatical of solitude with opportunity to return to the world, my lists in each case would be very different.
My other 5:
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys
The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott
Knowing God by Packer
Anything by Philip Yancey (yeah I know I’m cheating here :))
Great to see Stott and Packer…
Yes, they’re two of my spiritual heroes.
Got to spend an hour one time w/Dr. Stott in a Q&A. Have never forgotten it!
Stott and Packer. They don’t make them like that anymore!
They were greats.
I also wonder if their work paved the way for folks like Tom Wright. Don’t know except I know Stott and Wright knew one another and met several times.
I think there are still greats out there. Wright and Fleming Rutledge come to mind.
I’m sure there are and/or will be more.
The whole desert island scenario is interesting, as we have seen some different takes from people what the scenario might entail (like Xenia’s for example).
I suppose one should more clearly define the scenario and some initial conditions like:
1. Do you have a food and water supply that is easy to get to sustain for the X number of weeks, months, years, you plan to be there? Same thing with clothing and shelter (though sufficient raw materials would only be needed.
2. Are you completely alone or are there any animal predators on the island and what type? Same thing with the waters surrounding the island.
Also, make sure you have a volleyball to be your best friend and conversational partner for all those years. 😀
One book not yet mentioned… ‘Boat Building for Dummies’
Now, back to theology…
You forget, Wilderness Survival for Dummies, Hunting & Gathering for Dummies, and so on.
Just make sure your island is not Gilligan’s Island where most of the known world visited this “uncharted, desert island”, as you will never be at peace and alone. 😀
On an unrelated note, for the most us that preferred Mary Ann over Ginger, actress Dawn Wells passed away on Dec 30th, leaving Tina Louise (Ginger) as the last surviving cast member.
Now before you can say Gilligan’s Island is NOT theology, I respectfully disagree. It is an anthropomorphic representation of The Seven Deadly Sins.
Think about it.
Sorry, but really getting off-topic…
I don’t know about Stott, buy Packer wasn’t overly impressed by Wright.
Most British theologians I’ve engaged with find Wright to be an American phenomenon…
I’ve struggled to find my last five books.
One reason is that with a Bible and BCP, theology reading is pretty much done.
Another reason is that I understand after this exercise that I read books to be in the company of the people that wrote them.
Picking one Eugene Peterson book or one book by Ramsey seems arbitrary and callous.
Finally, my theology has been greatly influenced by secular writers…put me on an island without Bowden and I’d just start swimming.
Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson
If Jesus Has Come by Steve Brown
The History of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
A Larger Hope by IIlaria Ramelli
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
A good list, nonetheless! I struggled with Medieval and Reformation authors, but in terms of theology, Thomas a’Kempis was the only likely prospect apart from Luther on Galatians. It is interesting what sticks with us and/or what we find approachable or useful…
Packer’s critique of Wright would likely have its root in his larger critique of the New Perspective would it not? And the American phenomenon matter is interesting since the church in England is withering and Wright’s influence is primarily among evangelicals. He provides a way for mild deconstructionists to rebuild categories of faith rather than jettison them via the secular seizure of religious categories.
I think Wright has ‘softened’ and popularized Sanders and Dunn for those outside of the academy. When he resigned as the Bishop of Durham, he gradually ceased being a voice in the Church of England (even among evangelicals) and pointed himself more and more toward the American market. Most of my English clergy friends have a rather jaded view of Wright. Whether justified or not, I’m unsure…
Packer was devoutly Reformed and Wright really isn’t.
Packer was not a proponent of the NPP, but he commended Wright’s work on the resurrection.
I’m a large proponent of Wrights theology of the kingdom and his eschatology…
The British scholars I met in Geneva were pretty jaded about him too…
Is the jadedness about his popularity and marketing or is it his narrative theology? Or is it otherwise?
They feel like he gets more attention than his work merits…and is a uniquely American product.
He is very helpful in beginning an orthodox deconstruction from evangelicalism…he has been very helpful to me in that regard…
Agreed, from the UK perspective… and they feel that in some sense he deserted the Church of England for popularity in America…
I hear no criticism of substance in this only the sense that because his work is consumable and received it is thereby debased.
Wright has acted as a pastor making his work available to both academic and the person in the pew.
Barth did not achieve that and it is to our loss. I’m not offended for Wright I am simply intrigued. In America he either sets the reformed camps hair on fire or is the rescuer of orthodox faith from the deconstructionists
It took me a long while to understand Wright…he is so different from traditional Calvinistic constructions.
I’m probably overly infatuated with his work now…
I will hear him in person the week after I transition my church.
Also, I will find a way to continue preaching. My retirement reflects that I can no longer lead an organization, nor will I try. But I will not be silent.
It seems like Wright really vexes the hard-core Calvinists, for sure. He seems to set their teeth on edge.
But I would argue that he is Reformed, just not very dogmatic about it. I have a book from the 1980s where he explicitly defends the doctrine of justification by grace through faith — just one example.
I think there’s a modified Reformed emphasis by many writers who are read by a much larger audience than Calvinists, such as John Stott and Tim Keller. But they didn’t/don’t spend time making it an issue.
Another key question, especially considering Wright’s age, is who is he bringing up behind him?
That’s the best news I’ve heard all day!
I have a considerable amount of experience with Wright’s writings, having read many of them. Historically I have held him in high regard. I think he has several strengths.
However, he has some weaknesses that have caused me to stop reading him.
Wright is fuzzy on the core doctrines of justification, atonement and eschatology.
He either denies, redefines or equivocates on foundational issues, such as whether Christ’s atonement was penal, substitutionary, and whether His righteousness is imputed to faith.
On eschatology, he seems to hold an almost a post millennial view. He lectures the church about social justice, but never sets it within the context of vocation, resulting in a confusing if not erroneous conflation of the two kingdoms.
But I give him credit for standing up for his views when challenged. He has debated through literature Piper and Schreiner. He has been in live panels where scholars have attacked his theology, and he responds with grace and his own scholarship.
I think some other scholars may not like him because Wright is very commercial. He writes lots of books, but many times he just rehashes or re-organizes his prior material. He also can present himself as the smartest guy in the room, or as the only guy who thought of something, which might put off some others.
I think he has raised an army of students, created a whole new school of thought, stirred the interest of a generation.
I doubt there’s a dearth of voices out there expanding on his work —
I mean all academics have that void. And so far new voices arise.
The kingdom is unshakeable and moves by the power of an endless life.
From your lips to God’s ear…
He’s been rather clear on most of those questions.
What are you doing to commemorate Worms?
500 Year Dread
The Bible isn’t nearly as clear as Luther and Calvin posited…in my humble opinion…Wright synthesizes the paradoxes well…
Here is where i asset once again that Luther and Calvin were responding to the 16th century Catholic moment not to the texts in their historic context. That, I believe, is the discussion where Wright excels. Lutheranism was wrung out of a political/religious moment and he shined there.
An understanding of the historic context was almost non-existent in the 16th century. Indeed, an argument can be made that looking at texts within an historic context did not really happen until the late 19th and early 20th century.
“Luther and Calvin were responding to the 16th century Catholic moment not to the texts in their historic context.”
First, the true Church is always responding to the “Catholic moment.” That moment wherever and whenever you see the following: (1) when man thinks that there is something within him which, without the grace of God given through God’s Word, can choose him, (2) when a man or institution grasps the authority to interpret the Scriptures, binding men’s consciences to their interpretations, (3) when the worship of God according to His Word is replaced by manmade works of piety, (4) when holiness no longer emanates solely from our holy God, but is manufactured by man’s work, or (5) when two tiers of Christians are established – the fully committed Christians and the mass of other Christians.
Second, I challenge you to show me a Scripture that Luther interprets out of context.
Thinking about historical context, I think James Dunn has a point in directing us to the early oral tradition…
My qualifier was ‘historic’ context. Luther approached works in his medieval Catholic context not the first century Jewish context.
He was an expert on the Catholic context not on second temple Judaism. They were reading their Bibles differently.
When Luther addresses merit he is not contextually addressing the first century writers. He’s addressing Catholicism. IMO
But that would invite a new perspective debate.
I would say that every generation **applies** the holy Scriptures to their context, but the doctrines do not change with the context.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Luther was not an expert on second temple Judaism. For one thing, who is and how do we know? We are 2,000 years removed from it and how do we know that that history is not shaped by what evidence remains, by the pre-suppositions of historians, and their own biases? Moreover, was Luther not able to access much, if not most, of the same evidence that modern scholars have at their disposal for writing that history?
But, and this is a major hermeneutical issue potentially between us, can we clearly and accurately interpret the Scriptures without extrinsic evidence? Did God inspire Scriptures that are capable of clear and accurate interpretation based solely on what is in our canon? Lutherans would say “yes.” If Lutherans are correct, then a theologian does not need to be an expert on 2nd temple Judaism to be a faithful expositor of the Scriptures.
What are the Scriptures for? A history lesson? No! “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
One of the things that disappoints me about the new perspective/old perspective debate, is that I don’t think some or much of what is being portrayed as old perspective is in fact what the Lutheran reformers taught. I think you might be surprised to learn that on some points, Luther sounds like a new perspective theologian.
However, I would eagerly accept an invitation to a new perspective debate. We would most likely agree on some points, while disagreeing on others.
You are making a sola scriptura argument and I would wager we’ll agree on more than we disagree no doubt.
I would argue that salvation by works was simply not a viewpoint that needed to be debated as a study of the text itself indicates, the works of the law were never intended as the means of eternal salvation. The most Jewish text in our canon is notable purely for the narration of faith having always been the basis of covenant relational standing with God.
Moreover, the Hebrews text aptly lays aside virtually every aspect of the temple system in favor of that which has made it obsolete.
No doubt the Pharisees saw fidelity to the law as the means of security in the land, as indeed the old covenant indicated. Nevertheless our life in Christ has rendered all of that redundant and passing away.
Again I suspect we’ll agree. Concerning the details we may dissent. I am simply arguing that Luther was making his argument primarily against Rome not Jerusalem.
“I would argue that salvation by works was simply not a viewpoint that needed to be debated as a study of the text itself indicates, the works of the law were never intended as the means of eternal salvation.”
How do you explain this: “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ ” (Acts Fifteen, One) If this passage is not clear to you, I am prepared to present several more.
“The most Jewish text in our canon is notable purely for the narration of faith having always been the basis of covenant relational standing with God.”
Yes, I think; Lutherans would say that justification (and the salvation that it bestows) has always been by grace through faith in the Gospel. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. The Gospel is the same Gospel in both Testaments, one in the Christ who was promised, and the other in the Christ who has come and promises to come again.
“No doubt the Pharisees saw fidelity to the law as the means of security in the land, as indeed the old covenant indicated. Nevertheless our life in Christ has rendered all of that redundant and passing away.”
This is a strange one. The Pharisees in the 1st Century had no land. I don’t know what compelling Gentiles to be circumcised would have to do with security in a non-existent land. But I would agree that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
I am very happy to be discussing a topic of relevancy to all Christians, i.e., theology. It gladdens my soul to work in these text and refresh my spirit with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Before we go further, since you cite a text, what does saved mean in that text? What did the Pharisees mean by saved? What does Luther mean by it? And what are we discussing with regard to saved?
Whatever it means to any, I’ll argue that the mark of being saved is the Holy Spirit not circumcision. The Pharisees would not have known that or perceived it.
They would have had as their starting point inclusion in the covenant family.
Paul carefully argued that the Spirit is the genuine mark of covenant membership Ro 8 and Ga 3. Luther was obsessed as was medieval Catholicism, with eternal torment. My evangelical roots are likewise. I doubt that any of us here are thusly constituted but I could be wrong.
My insertion of a comment about the land was poorly foundationed and assumed a larger conversation that we have not had. So I’ll defer it.
I think most of the doctrines commonly held about hell are distinctly Western and medieval…I am presently fascinated by the Eastern fathers of the early church on these matters.
As I no longer give a “hoot in hell” about how others perceive me, I lean toward a doctrine of eventual universal reconciliation…but have written nothing yet on my personal tablets of stone.
Neither my early Christian upbringing, nor for sojourn among the truly Reformed equipped me with any concept of the real meaning of the kingdom of God.
My Pentecostal brethren had a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but I think it was as flawed as if they would have had none at all…
“Before we go further, since you cite a text, what does saved mean in that text? What did the Pharisees mean by saved? What does Luther mean by it? And what are we discussing with regard to saved?”
The word “saved” here means saved from the penalty for sin, from damnation. By “you cannot be saved,” these mean were teaching Christians that unless they are circumcised, they will not receive the redemption that Christ won for them on the cross. There should be no doubt nor dispute about what the salvation was that was at stake in this dispute. At the end of Peter’s presentation in Acts Chapter Fifteen, he concludes: “But we believe that we [the Jews] will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they [the Gentiles] will.” The subject of salvation is the same in both places in this pericope.
“I’ll argue that the mark of being saved is the Holy Spirit not circumcision.” Agree. That is essentially what Paul taught the Galatians in the first part of Chapter 3: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (and following).
“The Pharisees would not have known that or perceived it.”
I wouldn’t call them merely Pharisees. They were early heretical Jewish Christians teaching heresy. I and you don’t know what they perceived. In fact, we only know for sure that we have the Holy Spirit by faith in God’s promise given in Baptism. We walk by faith not by sight.
“They would have had as their starting point inclusion in the covenant family.”
They had the same starting point as Peter, James, Paul, the other Apostles and Barnabas. Their starting point was false.
Getting some popcorn…
And just to add some butter to the popcorn… I think historical context has to come in at some point. What do we know of the actual belief system of the Pharisees? I think this singular question is what has drawn Sanders, Dunn and Wright to a New Perspective (so-called).
That’s my understanding as well…
“Paul carefully argued that the Spirit is the genuine mark of covenant membership Ro 8 and Ga 3. Luther was obsessed as was medieval Catholicism, with eternal torment.”
You are mixing two subject, and I don’t know why.
The “covenant membership” language is not particularly helpful, since it is not the language of Scripture and therefore, is freighted with meaning that those outside your tradition may not know. Can’t you just say, that the Holy Spirit is the mark of a Christian or a follower of Christ?
What does that mark have to do with Luther? He never denied the indwelling of the Holy Spirit among believers. In fact, he had quite a lot to say about that.
You say Luther was obsessed with eternal torment. He may have been before his evangelical breakthrough, but I don’t know if that really hits the mark.
Luther was a pious believer. As such he took sin seriously, God’s wrath seriously and hell seriously. He was taught false doctrine by the Papacy and on top of that his Latin Bible, translated by Jerome, translated Mt. 3:2: “Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So he was obsessed with doing penance.
But, I don’t know of any theology of Luther’s published or preached after his evangelical break through that has been corrupted by his pre-breakthrough experiences.
“The word “saved” here means saved from the penalty for sin, from damnation.”
Damnation is not in the texts cited. Here is the crux. There is also no damnation cited in Peter’s sermon nor the text of Acts 15.
Damnation was the constant fear of Luther. It was the basis of Roman indulgences and it was the focus of the evangelical revivals of the 20th century.
I’m not sure the Pharisees were envisioning it. I am pretty sure that the damnation Jesus was warning them about in most of his parables came about in AD70 but there’s room to debate it.
“The “covenant membership” language is not particularly helpful, since it is not the language of Scripture…”
“This is the New Covenant in my blood… “
Yes the Spirit is the true mark of a believer.
Covenant membership is not a necessary language except it is synonymous in my usage with “saved”
The new covenant is the relationship with God by the Spirit.
Luther remained largely within his evangelical faith and I am not a Luther scholar so I won’t refute your account of him.
Michael @ 10:03…. 👍 👍
Peter ties salvation directly to Jesus. Jesus ties his ministry directly to the sacrifice of his life as a ransom for many, and his blood poured out form many for the forgiveness of sins. He came to save his people from their sins. (I could also go into all the texts about where the unrighteous go for eternity).
Are you promoting a fringe interpretation of the word “salvation” in Matthew Fifteen, Verses One and Eleven? This dispute (if we are having one) is not about Luther, because if I am reading you correctly, you are taking a position against the vast majority of scholarly commentary I would venture to guess.
Yes, I agree the words “New Covenant” are used in the Scriptures. That observation doesn’t impact what I wrote.
I would propose that God always works with His people through covenant…it is imbedded in the very fiber of the Scriptures.
I don’t dispute that, only the phrase “covenant membership.” I don’t say it’s wrong per se, just that IMO there are much better phrases that the Bible supplies us with.
“In Christ” and “body of Christ” are probably the best. Jesus and the apostles could have said that people are baptized into the new covenant, but they said “into the name….”, “into Christ”, “into his death”, etc.
When we say members of a covenant, to me it’s not intimate enough. We are members of the body of Christ. Not his last will and testament or a legal contract, but God’s children and heirs.
Again, people can use the phrase, covenant member, if they wish. I won’t. Not because it’s false, but because it doesn’t say enough.
Yes covenant is how God makes his family. Saved means inclusion in the family of God. The passage in Joel so often cited about being saved was hardly about hell. It was about God breaking in and rescuing them.
Jean you mean Acts not Matthew. I caught that.
I don’t know how fringe my views are but they are not as they were when I began.
I dislike the language of salvation and damnation.
Salvation isn’t just about ones personal standing with God…it’s about being placed in the family to participate in the great rescue and re-creation project of God for the whole cosmos…including my cats, here and departed… 🙂
Church, the Body of Christ, is to be the prototype of the kingdom… it is corporate, not merely individual… And there is the scandal.
Yes…and it is a scandal…
If the new perspective means redefining biblical words to give them a new interpretation, then I’m not interested. If the Gospel was unclear, I would be interested, but it’s clear as day.
However, rather than telling each other what one likes or dislikes, wishes or doesn’t want, all of which are fine but don’t facilitate a bible study together (if you want to have one), show me where you think Luther erred in his doctrine of the Gospel. Or show me in Scripture where your interpretation of the doctrine of salvation is proved over and against Luther’s.
For record, no Lutheran denies that (1) the body of Christ is a family or (2) the church is a corporate body. In fact, I think Lutherans are cognizant of the corporate nature of the faith much more than typical Evangelicals. We actually pray aloud together, confess the creedal faith aloud together, and use the first person plural pronoun way more in our hymnody than typical Evangelical praise music.
I don’t think it necessary to make judgments of right and wrong among orthodox ideas.
We can say that Luther brought some needed clarity to an aspect of the Gospel and celebrate that.
I don’t think he was the last interpretative word, however.
The challenge to provide Scripture for the defense of a proposition is interesting…but we’re actually always giving our interpretation of the Scripture , hopefully in some sort of narrative context.
This has nothing to do with Luther. The definition of “salvation” is an essential term. The question of whether it’s definition includes salvation from the penalty for sin, death and the wrath of God on account of sin is an essential matter of Christian orthodoxy.
It’s that…but it’s much more than that.
The definition of πίστη is likewise essential, as is the interpretation of the word. Some in New Perspective circles believe that it is better translated and interpreted as “faithfulness”, which begs the question “faithfulness to what or to whom?”. They ask this question in the light of first century Palestinian Judaism. Now, the fact that this strikes at the heart of sola fide as formulated in the 16th century creates an issue. I think, however, when such new thinking arises, we are better if we examine the proposition (which may or may not have merit) rather than simply reacting. That, however, is simply my approach…
So that I can respond to your 1:23 pm, if justification is no sola fide, then tell me where might works are required, is it before justification or after justification? And specifically what role does Christ’s bloody sacrifice play in my justification? Does it help me before my works, along with my works or after my works in my redemption?
I’m not being sarcastic; I don’t agree, but I would like to respond precisely, so I want to know how and where my works come into the equation.
It’s not my position. I’m simply reporting a different viewpoint that is trying to take in the historical context of the Pauline writings. For more precise information, you might start off with Sanders, ‘ Paul and Palestinian Judaism’. I’m not saying he’s “right” but it bears consideration…
I have no interest in anyone who teaches against the clear (and I mean clear) teaching of the Gospel. With all of the wholesome theological works available to us, who has time to investigate the machinations of scholars who deny Scripture? I’m not saying Sanders does, because I haven’t read him, but if he things pistis means God does his part and I do mine as a means of reconciliation with God or before or after reconciliation, then “no thank you”, because Scripture is clear.
I just reread Wright’s commentary on Romans 3:25-26 in his “Paul for Everyone” series. If I had it in electronic form, I would paste it here. If Michael has it in electronic form, I would invite him to paste it in this thread.
“At the heart of God’s covenant justice, then, is his ‘putting forth’ of Jesus to take upon himself the anger of God of which Paul spoke in Chapter 1. The final judgment day has been brought forward into the middle of history. God’s righteous verdict against sinners has been meted out against the faithful Israelite, Israel’s representative: the Messiah, Jesus.
“We may be starting to see some order and meaning in the dense flow of Paul’s words. The last idea, that of a verdict being brought forwards into the middle of history, enables us to get hold of the final sequence as well. God’s covenant justice, displayed in his dealing with sins through the death of Jesus, is also on display in the free declaration, in the present, that all those who believe the gospel are in the right.” (p. 58)
I generally agree with Wright in this section of his commentary on Romans.
Sometimes—and today, as it happens, is one of those times—my desk, and the other tables in the room, are piled so high with papers that I know I will never get them in order by just picking one or two of them up now and then. I have to take a quite different approach, set aside an hour or two, and work systematically through them, answering letters, filing endless papers I may want to see again, and (of course) throwing quite a lot into the waste-paper basket.
The last thing I would recommend is throwing a single syllable of Paul’s writing into the waste-paper basket, but with that exception the analogy holds good. There are some passages in his writing which we can take in quite easily. But there are other passages, and this is one of them, which are packed so tight that the only way to deal with them is to sit down and work carefully right through. At some points there will be the equivalent of letters to be answered; that is, there will be, or should be, parts of what he says which should drive all of us to prayer, to reflection, to gratitude and worship. At other points there will be the equivalent of papers to be filed; that is, there will be, or there should be, ideas, images and themes which we will want to take note of for future reference, and place them in a corner of the mind, or perhaps even in a notebook, where we will be able to gain access to them whenever we need to.
This passage suggests that there are at least three main piles into which we need to sort out the material. Very unusually for him, Paul repeats almost exactly the same phrase, which I have translated ‘to demonstrate his covenant justice’. The first time it is to do with God’s dealing with sin. The second time it is to do with God’s demonstration that he is himself in the right and his declaration about the new status of his renewed people. And before this pair of demonstrations we find a brief and powerful statement of the sacrificial death of Jesus.
Let’s take them in order. Paul has just said that God has provided ‘redemption’ in Jesus—that is, rescue from slavery. Now he shifts the focus to the language of the Temple and of sacrifice. God ‘put Jesus forth’, the way a priest in the Temple would place the shewbread on the altar (Leviticus 24:8, and elsewhere). Paul combines this with the special word which refers to one item of Temple furniture in particular: the ‘mercy seat’, the ‘place of mercy’, where, between the carved angels, God would meet with his people in grace and forgiveness. Instead of the Temple and its symbolism, Paul is saying, Jesus himself is now the place where, and also the means by which, the God of Israel has met with his people and forgiven their sins. A third idea is dramatically combined with these other two: forgiveness is effected through the blood of Jesus. His sacrificial death is at the very heart of God’s saving plan.
Paul does not explain further how he understands any of these ideas, or how he sees them coming together in a single image. But together they declare powerfully that the death of Jesus has brought about the reality to which the Temple was an advance signpost. The best way of understanding what Paul is driving at is to imagine, in the back of his mind, the entire picture of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, which includes the idea of the Servant’s sacrificial death, and belongs within the larger exposition, just as here, of the way in which the God of Israel has now at last been faithful to his age-old covenant plan (‘God’s righteousness’).
If that enables us to tidy up the stack of ideas in the first sentence of verse 25, what about the second one? God, says Paul, had passed over sins committed beforehand, and was now demonstrating his justice in relation to that act. As he said at the start of chapter 2, God has been kind and forbearing, patient with persistent sinners, giving them a chance to repent.
This might have looked like weakness, or might have given the idea that God did not, after all, care very much about sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. God was obliged, in virtue of being the world’s creator and judge, to act decisively with sin—which means, to punish it. Here we discover a further meaning in the idea of the ‘place of mercy’ in the previous sentence. The same root also refers to a ‘propitiatory’ sacrifice, that is, one which not only purifies people from sin but also turns away the wrath of God which would otherwise rightly fall on the sinner. Though, again, Paul does not spell out his meaning in any detail, there are all sorts of converging lines of thought which make it highly probable that he sees Jesus in this light as well, as the one upon whom the appropriate anger of God, directed against the sin of the world, has now fallen. (A somewhat fuller statement of the same point is found in 8:3.) At the heart of God’s covenant justice, then, is his ‘putting forth’ of Jesus to take upon himself the anger of God of which Paul spoke in chapter 1. The final judgment day has been brought forward into the middle of history. God’s righteous verdict against sinners has been meted out against the faithful Israelite, Israel’s representative: the Messiah, Jesus.
We may be starting to see some order and meaning in the dense flow of Paul’s words. The last idea, that of a verdict being brought forwards into the middle of history, enables us to get hold of the final sequence as well. God’s covenant justice, displayed in his dealing with sins through the death of Jesus, is also on display in the free declaration, in the present, that all those who believe the gospel are in the right. Once again, the verdict of the last day has come forward into the middle of history. We do not have to wait to discover who will be vindicated, who really belongs to God’s people. They already wear a badge which marks them out ‘in the present time’, as Paul says. Here is the meaning of ‘justification by faith’: when anyone believes in the gospel, God declares that he or she is truly one of those who will be vindicated in the future.
This declaration carries a lawcourt sense: it is like knowing the verdict before the case has even been heard. It also carries a covenantal sense: we see in the present who God will declare to be the true children of Abraham (see chapter 4) in the future. And it carries a sense of the future coming into the present in Jesus. Those who will find a favourable verdict on the last day (as in chapter 2) are those who are assured of it in advance, simply when they believe.
This demonstrates, too, that God himself is in the right. We recall the puzzle set by writers of Paul’s day: granted universal sin, and granted God’s promises to Israel, how can God be just, be in the right, be faithful to the covenant, and at the same time do what a just judge ought to do, deal with evil on the one hand and, on the other, rescue helpless people who call to him in distress? What Paul has written here, admittedly in a very dense and tight-packed fashion, amounts to this. In the death of Jesus God has shown himself (1) to be in the right in dealing properly and impartially with sin; (2) to be faithful to the covenant; (3) to have dealt properly with sin; and (4) to be committed to saving those who call out in helpless faith. The last line of the passage, itself very dense, seems to mean this: that, as the faithfulness of Jesus was the means by which God’s own covenant faithfulness was revealed, so those who put their own faith in God’s act in Jesus are marked out thereby as God’s people in the present. God is in the right; we who trust his gospel are in the right; and all because of the death of Jesus. There are many times, in reading Paul, when the right reaction is to kneel down and give God thanks. This is one of those times.
Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8 (pp. 56–59). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
I understand the desire of Christians to bring more people into Christ’s kingdom, and to experience that kingdom here and now as a foretaste of the new heavens and new earth (I share that desire), but for heavens sake, it won’t happen by removing the offense of the cross!
As necessary as the “offense” of the cross – it is the only way to forgiveness – is the truth of the Resurrection…..
” it won’t happen by removing the offense of the cross!”
Who has suggested that we do?
This is a fine discussion. I had to interrupt it for MS catfish a little Scottish refreshment and a cross-shaped preach. I will try to return to it but first Moses and then Jesus. Dealing the cards comes next.
The Shape of My Heart Dread
From my reading of Galatians, anyone who redefines the word pistils to include works (or reciprocal obligations). The offense of the cross is that Christ accomplished 100% of our redemption because without faith (i.e., trust, belief) we are 100% sinner, alienated from God. Circumcision can’t help Christ’s cross, the Pope’s indulgences and the works of his monks couldn’t help, and neither will our works (before or after justification) help us before the judgement seat of God. Christ’s blood either redeems us entirely, or it doesn’t redeem us at all.
This is a surprisingly good overview:
Additionally, I think there has been an evolution in Wright’s thinking… as one would expect over the course of the years.
Thank you for that article. Sprinkle is a theologian who writes with grace, and I have respected his work regarding homosexuality. In his article that you linked, Sprinkle attempts to give a history to the NPP, without taking sides. Therefore, if I criticize a view expressed in the article, I am not criticizing Sprinkle who is just reporting the history as he understands it. I will assume, as the basis for what follows, that Sprinkle has accurately reported on the views expressed in the article.
“His [Krister Stendahl] main thesis was that Paul had been drastically misrepresented by scholars who have read his letters in light of Luther and Augustine. Unlike Luther, whose conscience was burdened with personal sin, Paul possessed a ‘robust conscience’. Paul, as a Jew, lived in a covenant relationship with YHWH, whereby forgiveness of sins was possible by means of repentance and sacrifice. In this sense Paul was faithful, for he was ‘blameless’ in regard to the Sinaitic legislation (cf. Phil. 3:6). After Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles in Acts 9, he saw the Torah in a different light. The law, being a Jewish document, was an obstruction to his Gentile mission. Therefore, Paul did not view the law as a set of ‘legalistic principles’. Such an outlook is a product of late medieval piety. For Paul, the law was primarily a barrier between Jews and Gentiles.”
Stendahl could not be more wrong about Paul!
What Paul actually wrote is this:
“though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
First, Paul is talking in the first person singular about his own life. So his standing before God is a personal matter to him.
Second, the blamelessness that he talks about pertains solely to his flesh. Paul says something similar about Abraham to make the same point in Romans: “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”
Paul admits to a righteousness according to the law and works. There are many people today who are not Christ followers who are righteous according to the law. And by the way, being a law abiding citizen is not a bad thing. In fact it is very good.
However, what Paul says is that works done in the flesh, or righteousness according to the law, will not justify anyone before God. (The Gospel is about our getting right with God, i.e., saving us.)
Paul says there is a different kind of righteousness that a man and woman need to stand in the right before God: “that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”. Paul counts his prior accomplishments in Judaism as “rubbish.”
Finally, Paul’s “robust conscience” did not come from his pious life under Judaism (which he now counts as total loss), but from the righteousness of faith that he obtained from Jesus Christ.
This is an example I provide to demonstrate how it seems that some Christian historians are more interested in sourcing our faith from extra-biblical sources than reading the clear Scriptures that God has breathed out for us.
“This is an example I provide to demonstrate how it seems that some Christian historians are more interested in sourcing our faith from extra-biblical sources…”
All of them, without exception, saw (or see) themselves first and foremost as New Testament scholars, not historians. Secondly (and as a lawyer you’ll get this) they don’t argue points of “developed theology” (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, etc.) but instead question the first premise which, of course, allows one to “jump over” what has developed through the centuries or, in the case of some, to pick and choose. I find the methodology fascinating…
If I have to be on a desert island, I’ll leave the books and invite Jean, Dread, Michael, and Duane. I’d never, ever be bored!
That would be fun island.
I’m dull and irritable…the others would be good company ,though.. 🙂
I can talk about the theology of cats all day! I’m sure we’d get along just great.
I just enjoy watching people engage politely about a theological point with such a great exchange of information. It’s the kind of thing I love to talk about, but I’ve been busy getting ready to start hybrid school tomorrow. So, I’ve just been reading along.
Irritable, at times, maybe. Dull – never!