Monday, December 11, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Piper, Wright, Pharisees, and Legalism

In Piper's article "Jesus, Islam, Pharisee, and the New Paul Perspective", he cites that N.T. Wright doesn't believe that Pharisees were a "religion of of legalistic works-righteousness".

Piper writes:

"Then, there is Wright’s affirmation of Sanders’ claim that the religion of the Pharisees was not the “religion of legalistic works-righteousness,” and that the “The Jew [of Jesus’ day] keeps the law out of gratitude, as the proper response to grace.” The only explanation I can find for such amazing statements is that the testimony of Jesus is denied or obscured. It is my impression that evangelicals enamored by the NPP have not reckoned seriously enough with the fact that the origination of the NPP seems to have taken place in the halls of such denial or obscuring."

So does Wright believe that Pharisees are not legalists? Again like Piper's Taste and See article from last week in regards to Chris Corcoran, Wright's opinion of the Pharisees is more nuanced that I think Piper anticipates.

Wright states in an interview:

"As a Pharisee (Paul''s perspective), he believed that, once people came into God's covenant by grace, they were to be marked out in the present time, ahead of the final judgment, by their possession of and their attempts to keep the Jewish law, the Torah. As a Christian, he believed that once people came into God's covenant by grace, they were to marked out in the present time, ahead of the final judgment, by their belief that Jesus was Lord and that God had raised him from the dead. To characterize that Pharisaic view as "works-based salvation" is clearly a gross oversimplification and confusion. It is clear to me that (a) most Jews whose views we can track at the time-an important qualification-believed that God called them to be Jews, Israelites, through his covenant actions in the Exodus, etc., fulfilling the promises to Abraham and his seed, i.e. by grace, not by their own works (b) most Jews believed that there would be a final judgment at which their works in the present time would be an important part, if not the whole part, of what counted and that in this respect early Christians like Paul agreed with them; and (c) most Jews believed that you could tell in advance who would be vindicated at that final judgment because they possessed Torah and tried to keep. I say "tried to keep it" because they knew that, if they failed, there were sacrifices to cover such sins. What Second Temple Jews held (to overgeneralize to make a point) was a works-based present justification, and that is what Paul was attacking." [1]

[1] Criswell Theological Review (Spring 2005)

Laurie in Sudan

Here's a letter from my friend, Laurie, who just came back from Sudan and has graciously allowed me to post it here. Check it out to see what God is doing in Sudan

Moto Zi Ye (Greetings all)!!

Merry Christmas!! I hope you are enjoying the holidays and experiencing God’s goodness. I recently returned from a mission trip to Mvolo, Sudan. Thank you so much for your support, encouragement, and prayers. It was intense – from the living conditions to the isolation and devastation. However, amidst the difficulties was the faithfulness of God’s promises and His almighty power to redeem, renew, and restore. His mercies are new every morning.

God gave us opportunities to repair water wells and tell Bible stories. He opened doors to communicate His Word to the village and county leaders, some of whom are not believers. They even asked us to pray for them. We took a day trip to Kulu, a village that was attacked by another tribe this past May. While there, we gave supplies, shared God’s Word, and prayed for them. My heart broke to see the desolation and loss; however, I saw evidences of hope and life from changed demeanors to the beauty of God’s creation. God has not forgotten them and will restore them.

Our team leader told us that the Jur people would die for us. After living among them, I realized the truth of his words. The Jur people treated us like royalty. They gave us the best of their food and seats of honor. As we walked along the dirt paths, they ran to greet us. They embraced us into their lives, and I’ve embraced them into mine.

This trip was "extreme missions". We lived in mud huts, filtered drinking water, walked through the bush, washed our hair with dirty water, and killed roaches and other insects before entering the latrine. There was no electricity or running water. The weather was over 100 degrees on a daily basis. I’ve never been so consistently filthy, dirty, sweaty, and smelly in my entire life. However, I experienced the sufficiency of God’s grace and His strength to move to the next level of living by faith for the glory of God. I learned much about physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual perseverance while in the midst of desperate dependence on the Holy Spirit.

I can still see the "million dollar smiles" on children’s faces, hear the beating of the drums, and imagine dancing with the Jur people. There’s something life changing about seeing God work in the ends of the earth to bring salvation, redemption, hope, and healing. I’d never been so far removed from everything familiar except God Himself. It’s true: He will never leave us or forsake us. God is good and what He does is good.

For His Glory,
Laurie C. Lau
P.S. You can read more about the mission trip and ministry on

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ben Witherington's 12 desideratum on NT Theology

Michael Bird, a NT scholar, has posted Ben Witherington's 12 desideratum (something to be desired) on NT Theology on his blog. Here are a few that are interesting and helpful:

(3) If you are an Evangelical, then it is imperative that you interact with non-Evangelical treatments of the text and listen to the church fathers.

(4) As J. Bengel said: apply the whole of yourself to the text.

(5) The text should not be watered down or dumbed down, but one should ratchet up one's attention and degree of devotion to the text.

(7) Western theologians who live in an individualist society should try to understand the collective and honour-shame mindset of the majority world.

(10) Theologizing needs to be done across denominational lines.

(11) Doing NT Theology requires humility not hubris.

(12) The time is ripe for us to redraw boundaries and rethink our differences. "Perhaps all Evangelicals need to spend more time sitting at hte same table, sharing communion, serving one another, serving together in missions, listening to one another, loving one another, and leaving behind triumphalism based on our ecclesiological and theological differences".

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mercy Ministries

In the current Modern Reformation, there are two articles articulating two different point of views on mercy ministries written by two Reformed authors, Randy Nabors and William Smith.

In Randy Nabor's article ," For Goodness Sake, Do Something", he takes the stance that the church, as a corporate body, should and must do mercy ministries. He writes:

I would submit that such negative arguments spring from an undeveloped theology of the church, a defective theology of missions, and the absence of a theology of mercy. We are called to be a new community, to be a body of believers. We are called to help the widows in our midst (1 Tim. 5:3-16); we are given the example of sharing with other congregations who face hard times (I Tim. 6:18); and pastors are instructed to "command" those who are rich in this world to be rich in good deeds. We are given the model in Acts 6 of an ethnic and pragmatic solution to a mercy need within and by the local congregation. We see the community of Israel, as a nation, condemned for a hypocritical practice of religion by not sharing their food with the hungry (Isa. 58). How can we be seen as a "city"(Matt. 5:14-16) if we do not do good works corporately? Congregations are designed by God to be public entities that people see, and unfortunately many of our congregations are "cities" which are seen to do nothing but for themselves

Mr. Nabor believes the church must do mercy ministries because it's essential in evangelizing. He writes:

There are also some who think that we should help only the Christian poor, and those who are within our own congregations. I have always found the argument to only help the poor in the church largely irrelevant if we are obeying the Lord by preaching the gospel to the poor. Was this not his mandate (see Luke 4:18 as mentioned above)? Is it not ours as well? If we are evangelizing among the poor we will have them in the church, and what every poor community in the world needs is a gospel-preaching, holistic, and vital local church in its midst. Poor people need to be saved; they need a whole new set of cultural values built upon the Word of God. They need the practice and experience of the love of the saints and then their families will be rebuilt. And they will have hope, which is the absolute most powerful engine of economic change

On the other hand, William Smith states in his article, "Kyrie Eleison", that Christians should minister to those outside the church, but it shouldn't be one of the essential "marks" of a church. He writes:

Do we as Christians have an obligation to the poor in general? Of course we do. I am willing to help the poor by all sorts of means-kingdom ministries carried on by Christians, responding to the need in front of me with what I have, charitable organizations that are or are not faith-based, and by the paying of taxes. What I am not willing to say is that ministry to the poor of the community is a mark of the church or a necessary component of its health. Indeed, I would argue just the opposite-that the church is weakened and rendered less effective when it puts such ministries at the heart of its life.

Mr. Smith also beliefs that the church should first do mercy ministries to it's own member before those outside of the church. He writes:

First, it is clear that Paul here sticks to the pattern of the rest of the New Testament in putting the primary emphasis on the church's ministry to the church family. If some of this ministry spills over to the world, fine, but good done in the community is not a part of a word-deed strategy for evangelizing the city, nor is it anywhere near the heart of the church's mission.

And because the needs within the church are so great, mercy ministries to outsider shouldn't be the main instrument of evangelizing.

The apostolic practice shows that the church's ministry of mercy is to its members. We have a long way to go before there is not a needy person among us, and we serve one another in humility and love. But, when the church so cares for its own, it demonstrates to the world a "see-how-they-love-one-another" life that testifies to the power of the gospel and may be used of God to provoke the world to jealousy.

What the church needs is a renewed commitment to the mission Jesus gave: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19). The mission is to make disciples. The means of making disciples are baptizing and teaching. He did not say, Go make disciples by engaging in mercy ministry.

My Thoughts:

First, I think both articles were well written, and give good biblical support for their views. I tend to agree with Mr. Nabor that evangelism, especially to the poor, should be accompanied and initiated through some type of mercy ministry, whether through something "small" like inviting and providing a one time dinner for someone that's poor or "big" like an elaborate after school program for the neighborhood kids. I also agree with Mr. Smith that the church should first minister to it's own members, but I wonder if he would agree that part of ministering to the local congregation entails teaching them to love those outside of the church, thus organizing some kind of mercy ministry, whether "small" or "big", to teach them.

I also think part of the contention involves the use of the language of having mercy ministries as one of the essential marks of a truth church (Preaching, discipline, and sacrament, normally being the other three). Personally, I don't mind saying some kind of mercy ministries is an essential mark of a truth church ( I think acts of love to non-Christians is a mark of a true Christian, and a church is made up of Christians), and I don't think anyone in the argument is trying to devalue the other 3 marks by saying that mercy ministries is essential, especially the need to verbally communicate the gospel in evangelizing.

So in the end, I think I would side more with Mr. Nabor's point of view, but doing so with Mr. Smith's precautions in mind.

[HT Justin Taylor]