Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paul, Judaism, and Justification: A Brief Response to Dan Wallace, Part 1: Introducing the Issues

Nothing has energized the academic study of the Apostle Paul more in the past generation than the so-called "New Perspective on Paul" generated by E. P. Sanders's 1977 tome entitled Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Prior to that watershed publishing event, Pauline scholarship by and large had grown complacent in the imagined belief that the Protestant consensus built on Martin Luther's seminal interpretation of Galatians and Romans needed no substantial rethinking. This consensus involved two major propositions. First, justification by faith—the belief that people are "justified" or declared righteous before God through faith in Christ alone, apart from works—was the central driving force of Paul's thought. Second, as the foil against which the apostle was writing, Judaism was a "legalistic" religion, in which its adherents attempted to "earn" their "salvation" through the merit of their works. The fact that Judaism, thus conceived, bore remarkable similarities to the medieval Roman Catholicism against which the Reformers strove, was rarely reflected upon, other than to view it as a happy coincidence. Indeed, the historical particularity of Paul's argument with the Jews of his day was seen by many Lutheran scholars of the 20th century to be ultimately unimportant. Rudolf Bultmann, for example, in his attempt to wed Lutheranism with Heideggerian existentialism, understood the "Jew" to be representative of the homo religiosis who strove to undergird his or her own existence through achievement. Bultmann's student, Ernst Käsemann, in his valiant (and valid) effort to eradicate the understanding that the church is a community of "good people," argued that we must ask the question, "What does this Jewish nomism [i.e., a religion defined by keeping the Law] against which Paul taught really represent?" His point—and here he is not entirely mistaken—is that the church, in contradistinction to Second Temple Judaism, is a people defined by the truth that God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).

After more than four centuries, the Lutheran (actually, Protestant) stream of scholarship had turned into a veritable Amazonian flow, impervious to both Jewish (Schechter, Montefiore, Schoeps, Sandmel) and Christian (Moore, Parkes) objections that its portrayal of Judaism was both prejudiced and inaccurate. It is a testament to Sanders's erudition (and, no doubt, to the cultural climate of the time) that he was able, with one mighty broadside, to alter the course of this stream, or at least to create a new stream in what has increasingly become something of an interpretive alluvial delta. What Sanders did was to revisit the beliefs of the broad spectrum of Second Temple and later Rabbinic Judaism by analyzing its primary texts on their own terms. His aim was explicit: "to destroy the view of Rabbinic Judaism which is still prevalent in much, perhaps most, New Testament scholarship" (p. 48). And he was, to a large extent, successful. Using the sociological categories of "getting in" and "staying in," Sanders proposed a view of Jewish belief he categorized, somewhat unhappily, with the ponderous designation "covenantal nomism." By this Sanders means:
... the view that one's place in God's plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression. ... Obedience maintains one's position in the covenant, but it does not earn God's grace as such. (pp. 75, 420 [emphasis removed]).
The revolutionary significance of Sanders's proposal cannot be overestimated. By emphasizing the gracious, covenantal foundation of Jewish law-keeping, in one fell swoop he shifted the scholarly perception of the Jews' acknowledged nomism in a paradigmatic way. No longer would mainstream biblical scholarship understand Jewish law-keeping as a "legalistic"—indeed, to use terminology derived from later church history, a proto-Pelagian or, at least, semi-Pelagian—attempt to earn their standing before God. Instead, such obedience was, just as in the Book of Deuteronomy itself, understood to be their grateful response to prior grace and the means of maintaining the covenant status they had been granted antecedently by virtue of their physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, if Sanders was correct, even partially so, this would necessarily have severe repercussions vis-à-vis the interpretation of Paul's letters to the Galatians and to the Romans, especially in regard to the understanding of his characteristic "doctrine" of justification by faith.

Sanders's ground-breaking work bore fruit almost immediately in what has been dubbed "The New Perspective on Paul." Despite the ubiquity of the designation, to speak of a "New Perspective" is somewhat misleading in light of the variety of perspectives covered under the term's umbrella. Sanders himself claimed that Paul, having found "salvation" in Christ, simply shifted religious systems when he rejected Jewish notions of covenant and election. Much more plausibly, scholars such as Jimmy Dunn and N. T. Wright (one could also add John Barclay, Bruce Longenecker, Richard Hays, Terence Donaldson, Douglas Campbell, Daniel Kirk, and countless others) argued that Paul's critique of his Jewish contemporaries came from a stance within Judaism. Despite the differences that mark each of these scholars' positions, their views all bear one mark of family resemblance: Paul's critique of Judaism and "Judaizing" Christianity is located primarily, not in the contrast between grace and legalism (i.e., the salvation of the individual), but in the contrast between universalism/inclusivism and particularism/ethnic exclusivism (i.e., the relation of Jews and Gentiles in the new covenant people of God).

Not surprisingly, response to Sanders's proposals has not been uniformly positive. After all, views with a pedigree such as that which the so-called "Old Perspective" has cannot die easily. And that is how it should be. It does not take a rocket scientist (or even a humble Ph.D. in New Testament) to see the consanguinity between the concerns of the New Perspective and certain trends in the thinking of dominant segments of contemporary Western culture. On the other hand, however, one should not underestimate the potentially worldview-shattering character of the New Perspective's proposals. For many who, like I, were raised in evangelical Protestantism, Paul's doctrine of justification by faith lies at the foundation of their religious identity, not only establishing their standing before God by grace alone, but also distinguishing them from other Christians, not least Roman Catholics, whose teachings they believe not only false but soteriologically dangerous. This is especially the case with confessional Christians in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, which have enshrined the teachings of Luther and Calvin (and their successors) about justification in binding doctrinal formulas. One cannot help but think that the frequent misrepresentation of the positions of such men as Wright and Dunn, and in some cases the hysterical, vitriolic, fear-mongering response to them, derives, more often than not, from misunderstanding produced by the dissonance the New Perspective causes when its strains are heard against the backdrop of a presupposed-yet-unexamined Old Perspective melody. And when academic or ecclesiastical reputations and, in certain cases, posts are at stake, the temptation is all the greater. But I digress ...

Opposition to the New Perspective has come, not surprisingly, from scholars in the Lutheran (Martin Hengel, Peter Stuhlmacher), Evangelical (Mark Seifrid), and Reformed (Guy Watters) traditions. Most important, however, have been studies of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism in which Sanders's proposal of "covenantal nomism" has been challenged. Already in 1991 Timo Laato wrote his Paulus und das Judentum in which he argued that Paul's anthropology was considerably more pessimistic than that held by his Jewish contemporaries. In 1996 Friedrich Avemarie directly challenged Sanders with the publication of his Tora und Leben, in which he contends that "covenanatal nomism" is too simplistic. Yes, Judaism held to both covenantalism and nomism, but the two were held together in unresolved tension. "Salvation," Avemarie contended, was ultimately contingent upon obedience, and hence Paul need not be reinterpreted (on this, see also Simon Gathercole's Where Is Boasting?, from 2002, which likewise emphasizes the role played by keeping the Torah in the Jews' understanding of final justification). In 1998 Timo Eskola followed with his Theodicy & Predestination in Pauline Soteriology, in which he, in good Lutheran fashion, contrasted Paul's "monergism"—i.e., salvation by God's action alone—with the Jews' "synergism"—salvation involving a concurrence of divine and human action. Finally, in 2000, Mark Elliott wrote the most significant challenge to date. In his The Survivors of Israel, Elliott points to Jewish groups for whom neither nationalistic or individualistic portraits of Sanders-like "covenant theology" will do. For such groups, there was no irrevocable national election of Israel, and so the covenant could not unambiguously be the vehicle of "salvation." Covenant, and the salvation consequent upon it, were the sole reserve of the remnant, who were marked out precisely by their obedience to the Law.

It is here that a recent blog post by my old friend Dan Wallace, entitled "Paul and Justification by Faith: The Real Jewish Evidence," comes into play. In his post Wallace writes about a paper delivered by Preston Sprinkle at November's ETS convention in Milwaukee, which was an extract from his forthcoming book, Paul and Judaism Revisited. Wallace writes:
Entitled, “Way Outside the Box: Why Paul’s Doctrine of Justification Was Risky, Offensive, and Unparalleled in Early Judaism,” Sprinkle argued, like his title suggests, that “Paul’s assertion that ‘God justifies the wicked’ would have been seen as risky, offensive, and is actually unparalleled in the world of early Judaism—yes, even among the Dead Sea Scrolls.” What a bold statement! He backs it up with some impressive evidence, too. ...
Among his many points, Sprinkle notes that in the OT God did not justify wicked people, citing, inter alia, Exod 23.7 and Isa 5.23. In my class on the exegesis of Romans, which I have taught at Dallas Seminary for the past seven years, I have argued that these two texts are key to Paul’s thinking and that the Jews of his day would have realized this. Exodus 23.7 clearly involves legal language. It is this language which lies behind Paul’s points in Rom 3.23–24 and 4.4–5. ...
Sprinkle does not develop the points of contact between these two OT passages and Romans, but he does bring in other significant texts from Second Temple Judaism to show that the OT view has continuity into the time of Paul. In particular, he interacts with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among the texts he discusses are CD 1.18–21; 4.6–7 (the Damascus Document), 4QMMT 26–32 (the Halakhic Letter), and 1QS 10–11 (Community Rule). It is this latter passage that is sometimes seen as in line with Paul’s view of justification. Sprinkle gives a penetrating analysis of the text, noting major differences that have been overlooked. In particular, Paul focuses on initial justification while 1QS focuses on final justification. It is a point not to be missed. Sprinkle began the section on 1QS by asking, “does Qumran anywhere affirm that God’s initial declaration of righteousness is unilateral—based on no measure of human goodness, obedience, or godly potential?” He answers with a resounding no.
In the conclusion to Sprinkle’s paper he states plainly: “The assertion that ‘Paul’s doctrine has exactly the same shape as that of MMT’ or other documents from Qumran, as N.T. Wright thinks, simply cannot be sustained.”
It will be interesting to see the responses to Sprinkle’s forthcoming book. The debate will surely continue for some time. Meanwhile, N. T. Wright is busy producing yet another work on Paul’s understanding of justification (Paul and the Faithfulness of God). Whether evangelicals need to jettison the old perspective on Paul in toto, as if the Reformation got it all wrong as Wright seems to affirm, is still an open question for many. But Sprinkle’s treatment of the Jewish materials will surely have to be wrestled with. Perhaps Luther and the Reformers got it right after all.
Perhaps the Reformers did get it right. Perhaps they didn't. Or, perhaps they both did and didn't get it right, but in different ways and at different levels of understanding. Indeed, the third of these options is what I have argued for two decades, dating back to my doctoral work at Dallas on Paul's letter to the Galatians. To argue in such a way, as I have learned from bitter personal experience, can be a professionally ruinous course of action. But, as Luther said at Worms, "I can do no other, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe." I maintain that both Sanders's view of Judaism and the "Old Perspective" view of Paul lack appropriate nuance despite the large dose of truth that characterize both. In my next post I hope to show why I believe this to be the case.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Eagles of All Time: Part 6 (##1-3)


Finally we come to the end of our countdown. The following three players are not only the greatest in team history. They are legends who rank among the very greatest players ever to play in the National Football League. [For my previous posts in this series, see herehereherehere, and  here].

3. Chuck Bednarik (C, OLB, 1949-62)

Bednarik  celebrating after his famous hit of Frank Gifford, November 1960

Nothing can be said about Chuck Bednarik that hasn't already been said by countless others. The last "iron man" two-way player in NFL history, the 6'3", 233 pounder out of Bethlehem, Pa. and the University of Pennsylvania (!) is perhaps the single toughest player ever to stalk the gridiron. In his 14 years with the Eagles, "Concrete Charlie"—so-called because he sold concrete in the off-season as well as after practice!— missed only 3 games to injury, was named to 8 Pro Bowls, and was a 5-time 1st Team All Pro selection both at center (1950) and linebacker (1951-54), where his bone-jarring tackles became the stuff of legend. Most famous of all was his fumble-causing tackle of Giants' Hall of Famer Frank Gifford in November 1960, which preserved a 17-10 Eagles victory, propelling the team to the 1960 NFL championship. The clean hit knocked Gifford out and hospitalized Gifford for several days with both a deep brain concussion and, it was later learned, a "spinal concussion," the fracture of one of his neck vertebrae. As a result of the hit, Gifford had to miss the entire 1961 season. Bednarik's signature moment came, however, in the 1960 championship game against the Packers at Franklin Field on 26 December. Bednarik, at the age of 35, was on the field for every play from scrimmage as both a center and linebacker, the last time that ever was done in an NFL game. More importantly for Eagles fans, however, was his tackle of Packer Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor inside the Eagle 10 yard line on the game's final play, cementing the win in what has remained the last league championship won by the franchise. Bednarik is the only player to have spanned the last two Eagles championship victories (1949, 1960). In 1967 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and in 1969 was named the NFL's all-time greatest center.

Now THAT is a football
player (
Bednarik with Hall of Famers Paul Hornung (l) and Jim Taylor (r)
after the 1960 championship game (

2. Steve Van Buren (RB, 1944-51)


Van Buren with teammates Al Wistert (l) and Alex Wojciechowicz (r) in 1947
Steve Van Buren, a 200-pound, Honduran-born halfback out of LSU, is the greatest offensive player in Eagles history. When he died last summer here in Lancaster, I wrote the following in appreciation:

"Van Buren, with 5860 yards, ranks third on the Eagles all-time rushing list behind Wilbert Montgomery (6538) and Brian Westbrook (5995). ... As good as he was, however, Montgomery never did what Van Buren did: four league rushing titles (1945, 1947, 1948, 1949) and five first team all-pro selections (1944-45, 1947-49). He was the first player ever to lead the NFL in rushing three consecutive seasons (since done only by Jim Brown [twice], Earl Campbell, and Emmitt Smith). Van Buren was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, and in 1994 was one of four halfbacks (the others being Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, and O. J. Simpson) named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team.

Van Buren scoring the winning TD in the 1948 NFL Championship Game
at Shibe Park, Philadelphia, 19 December 1948 (

Van Buren shredding the Rams for  some of his 196 yards
in the Eagles' 14-0 victory in the NFL Championship
Game, 18 December 1949 (
"But to Eagles fans, Van Buren is best known for his exploits in the team's first two championship games. The first, on 19 December 1948, was played in a driving blizzard in old Shibe Park in North Philadelphia. Van Buren had to walk, take a trolley and the subway from his home on Manoa Road in Havertown to the subway exit at Broad and Lehigh, and then walk seven blocks through the snow to get to the stadium. In the game Van Buren rushed 26 times for 98 yards, making up for quarterback Tommy Thompson's inability to pass due the inclement conditions (2-for-12 for only 7 yards!), and in the fourth quarter scored the game's only points with a five yard run into the end zone off tackle to give the Eagles a 7-0 win over the Chicago Cardinals. The following year Van Buren outdid himself, rushing for 196 yards on 31 carries to lead the Birds to a decisive 14-0 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles. This game marked the apex of Van Buren's career, as injuries limited his effectiveness the next two seasons, leading to his retirement, at the age of 32, prior to the 1952 season.

"To me, what always has endeared Van Buren was his humility, such a rare attribute in people with marked athletic prowess (see the fine article by Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger here). When I see the preening and posing of players with but half of Van Buren's accomplishments in today's NFL, I can only shake my head with sadness in the recognition that Van Buren's tribe, though perhaps not yet extinct, is certainly an endangered species."

1. Reggie White (DE, 1985-92)


Reginald Howard White, a 6'5", 291 pound left defensive end, is, with all due respect to Lawrence Taylor, the greatest defensive player ever to play in the National Football League (see this article by Jason Whitlock for corroboration). No player in league history ever possessed the lethal combination of size, strength, and speed (he was timed, early in his career, at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash). He simply could not be blocked one-on-one, and—in contrast to other famous defensive ends like Deacon Jones, Carl Eller, Bruce Smith, and Michael Strahan—was equally effective against the run and the pass.


The "Minister of Defense"—so-called because of his outspoken Christian faith and reputation for clean living—came to Philadelphia after two seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL, and made his impact felt immediately, registering 31 sacks in 29 games with the Eagles in 1985-86. But it was in 1987 that White had what is arguably the greatest season ever for a defensive player in the NFL. During that strike-shortened season, White not only amassed a then-league record 21 sacks in only 12 games—Strahan's current record of 22.5 in 16 games in 2001 pales in comparison—but also forced four fumbles, returning one 70 yards for a TD against the Washington Redskins. The next season White once again led the league with 18 sacks, and for his career in Philadelphia amassed an incredible 124 in only 121 games. He served as the backbone of Buddy Ryan's famous "Gang Green" defense of the late '80s-early '90s, one of the great units in league history. White played a leading role in one of the most famous games in league history, the so-called "Body Bag Game" of 12 November 1990, in which the Eagles' defense knocked 8 Redskins out of the game with injuries, including both active quarterbacks, en route to a 28-14 "butt-kicking," as analyst Dan Dierdorf called it that night. White that night registered two sacks and intercepted a pass, returning it 33 yards. 

White making Redskins' quarterback Mark Rypien aware of his presence

After the 1992 season, despite White's 14 sacks and key contribution in the Eagles' only playoff victory of the era (a sack of Saints' QB Bobby Hebert for a safety in the 4th quarter), brain-dead owner Norman Braman (derisively referred to as "the man in France" by coach Buddy Ryan) declared White "an old 31" and allowed him to sign with the Packers as a free agent. During his years with the Eagles, White made the Pro Bowl every year from 1986-92, was a consensus All Pro from 1986-91, and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1987. He registered double digits in sacks every year he played in Philadelphia.


White, however, was far from done. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first 6 seasons in Green Bay, earning All Pro honors in 1995 and 1998, after the latter of which he was, for a second time, named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But the undisputed highlight of his career came in Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season, when he set a Super Bowl record by recording 3 sacks against Patriots' QB Drew Bledsoe, propelling the Packers to a 35-21 victory. He finished his illustrious career after a lone season with the Carolina Panthers in 2000. He ended up with a then-record 198 career sacks in 232 games, which now ranks second only to Bruce Smith, who needed 47 more games than White to record the two sacks that separate the two greats. He was elected posthumously to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ray Lewis, John Newton, and the Majesty of Grace


When it comes to sports, I am a Baptist: I believe in a wall of separation between faith and football. Hence, unlike many of my Christian contemporaries, I was never tempted in my youth to support the Dallas Cowboys simply because of the outspoken faith of coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach. More recently, I refused to jump on the Tim Tebow bandwagon and either ignore or deny his transparent quarterbacking inadequacies simply because of his squeaky clean evangelical Christian persona. When it comes to sports, my loyalties will forever lie with my hometown teams, whether it be the Phillies of Lenny Dykstra, the Sixers of Allen Iverson, or the Eagles of Terrell Owens or, more recently, DeSean Jackson.

But even such "Baptist" athletic supporters such as I can be inconsistent. And so, when the Baltimore Ravens—a franchise I have yet to forgive for abandoning Cleveland in 1996—reached the Super Bowl following the 2000 season, I fervently rooted against them, ostensibly for a "righteous" reason. And that reason? Their preeminent player, linebacker Ray Lewis, was involved in a fight in January 2000 that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two men. Though Lewis and two of his friends were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges, later that year he was acquitted of these charges in exchange for a guilty plea to the misdemeanor crime of obstructing justice. No matter. To me (and to countless other moralists) Lewis was, and would continue to be, a "murderer" and unworthy of our support, notwithstanding his stature as—sorry, Dick Butkus—the greatest inside linebacker ever to play in the NFL.

Along the way, however, something strange happened. Lewis converted to Christianity (for the story, see the Sports Illustrated article here). And so, despite his criminal record, despite his six children from four different women (none of whom were his wife), Lewis is, whether his Christian critics like it or not, their brother in Christ. Indeed, after the Ravens' 24-9 playoff victory over the Colts earlier this month, Lewis sported a sleeveless t-shirt with Psalm 91 inscribed on it. And Sunday, after the Ravens defeated the Patriots to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, Lewis explicitly glorified God. Now to me, as a trained theologian (even, I might add, a Calvinist one), I wince when athletes like Tebow and Lewis speak as if God directly caused the victories of their teams. Nevertheless, their instincts as Christians are correct. God is to be glorified in all things, whatever the circumstances of life.

But I wonder whether America's vast evangelical population will gravitate to Lewis the way they did to Tebow last year (the nadir of such support, to me, was the frequent criticism of the Broncos for ditching Tebow in favor of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning!). My hunch is that they won't, and for a very predictable reason: for all the lip service they give to the grace of God, they are still moralists at heart. They support Tebow because of his apparently spotless "testimony." But other people—be it Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Osama bin Laden, Bob Dylan, or Ray Lewis—are either too evil or morally compromised to deserve a "chance" to be "saved" from their sin. Only the relatively "good," be it Tebow or they themselves who are untainted by egregious sins, are implicitly "worthy" of grace. But such an attitude, even if embraced only subconsciously, ignores both prominent texts from Scripture and the experience of saints from the past.

You see, nobody can "deserve" grace. God's saving favor is unmerited. Indeed, it is, as my dad used to say, favor extended where wrath is deserved. So the Apostle Paul argues in Romans 1-3, especially in 3:10-18, where he offers what Richard Hays has called "a jackhammer indictment of human sinfulness" in a catena of scriptural quotations (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul [New Haven and London: Yale, 1989] 50). Quoting Psalm 14, Paul affirms that "there is no one who is righteous" and that "there is no one who seeks God." Indeed, even the Jews, who were privileged to possess the Torah, could not stand acquitted before the bar of God's just judgment, and so can only, like the godless Gentiles (1:18-32), be "justified" by God's grace through faith in Christ, whose sacrificial death was the definitive, "eschatological"  expression of God's saving justice and faithfulness (3:19-26). This means that none of us, whether a blatant infidel or dutiful product of a godly home, has a leg to stand on before God. We all need the grace enacted by God in the cross of Christ. Consequently, we have no grounds on which to begrudge the grace shown to such men as Lewis, no matter his chequered past. After all, Jesus himself shows that it is never too late to repent, as his encounter with the criminal crucified at his side (Luke 23) attests. And remember that this man was no petty "thief." He was a lēstēs, a revolutionary insurrectionist or guerrilla (what certain right wing Americans would consider a Jewish "patriot"). Yet, if the Lukan Jesus is to be believed, this man that very day would experience the bliss of Jesus' presence in "Paradise" while awaiting the resurrection promised in the Book of Daniel.

While reflecting on Lewis, I was reminded of one of the great heroes of British Christianity, John Newton (1725-1807). The story of Newton's life is a famous one. Raised in a Christian home by a godly mother, Newton abandoned the faith after his mother's death and eventually was conscripted into the Royal Navy. Eventually he deserted the Navy and found his way to Africa, via falling in with a Portuguese slave trader, with the express desire to "sin his fill." While in Africa he was, for a time, even a slave to slaves, being rescued by a British captain sent expressly by Newton's father on a search and rescue mission for him. Newton, ever the sinner, broke into the ship's supply of rum and got both himself and the crew drunk. When confronted by the captain, Newton wound up in the sea, only to be saved by harpoon. Later on that voyage to Scotland, a terrible storm off the coast of Donegal in Ireland caused the ship to begin to sink. While manning the pumps Newton recalled the Bible verses and songs taught to him by his mother, and his journey to conversion to authentic Christian faith began. Eventually, despite only two years of formal education, Newton became an Anglican minister, serving as curate at a small parish in Olney in Buckinghamshire and, later, as Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street, London, where he served until his death. While at St. Mary's, Newton became friends with the young Parliamentarian William Wilberforce, and lived to see the implementation of the Slave Trade Act 1807 the latter championed.

Newton was a man gripped by the grace of God. He was saved by grace, and never got over it. And it was not a watered down version of grace that Newton championed, but the robust, Pauline, Calvinist doctrine known as irresistible grace:
We needed sovereign, irresistible grace to save us, or we would be lost forever!
Moreover, this is a grace that operates over the whole expanse of the believer's life:
I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be — I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (The Christian Spectator, vol. 3 [1821] 186)
Near the end of his life, he is said to have uttered the following words (a variation of which were memorably quoted by the great Albert Finney in his portrayal of Newton in the compelling 2006 film, Amazing Grace):
When I was young, I was sure of many things; now there are only two things of which I am sure: one is, that I am a miserable sinner; and the other, that Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour. He is well-taught who learns these two lessons. 
Most famous of all, however, is a hymn he wrote, originally entitled "Faith's Review and Expectation," more commonly known as "Amazing Grace:"
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see. 
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!
Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.
These words never lose their power for all who, like I, am confronted day by day with the sin from whose power I am constantly being saved. Like John Newton, like Ray Lewis, so also Jimmy McGahey. Soli Deo Gloria!

I leave you with with a performance of Newton's "Amazing Grace" by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, one which warms both my Christian and my Celtic hearts.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Eagles of All Time: Part 5 (##4-10)

1948 NFL Championship Game between the Eagles and  the
Chicago Cardinals, won by the Eagles, 7-0, at Shibe Park,
21st and Lehigh, Philadelphia, 19 December 1948


Here are my choices for the fourth to the tenth greatest players ever to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. For my previous posts in this series, see here, here, here, and here.

10. Wilbert Montgomery (RB, 1977-84)


Montgomery in 1981 (

Wilbert Montgomery, simply put, is the greatest running back I have ever seen play for the Eagles. He was small (5'10", 196 lbs.) and fast, but he was not one to dither around in the backfield trying to juke opponents waiting for a hole to develop. Rather, blessed with excellent balance, toughness, and field vision, Montgomery would slash into holes with lightning speed and refuse to go down without putting up a struggle. Bud Grant, the legendary coach of the Minnesota Vikings, called Montgomery the game's best running back after Wilbert torched the Vikes for 169 yards and 2 TDs in 1980 (and remember, Montgomery's contemporaries at the time included Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett). Montgomery is the Eagles' all-time leading rusher with 6538 yards (4.5 Y/C), surpassing 1000 yards on three occasions (1978-79, 1981). He was a two-time Pro Bowler and Second Team All-Pro (1978-79), whose peak seasons were 1979 (1512 yards [4.5 Y/C] rushing, 41 receptions for 494 yards, 14 TDs, a league-leading 2006 yards from scrimmage) and 1981 (1402 yards [4.9 Y/C] rushing, 49 receptions for 521 yards, 10 TDs), and certainly would be enshrined in Canton were it not for the knee injuries that hampered him in 1980 and that would ultimately cut his career short. For all Eagles' fans, however, Montgomery's shining moment came in the NFC championship game on 11 January 1981, when he scorched the hated Dallas Cowboys for 194 yards, including an off-tackle 42-yard TD gallop on the team's second play from scrimmage, propelling the Birds to a 20-7 whipping of their greatest rival (see the run here).

9. Mike Quick (WR, 1982-1990)

No player ever had a more a propos name than this 6'2", 190 pound, sure-handed speedster out of North Carolina State. Quick ranks sixth on the Eagles' all-time list for receptions (363), third in receiving yards (6464), third in yards per reception (17.8), and third in touchdown receptions (61). But such stats fail to convey Quick's true greatness. During the five-year stretch between 1983 and 1987, Quick was named to five consecutive Pro Bowls and was 1st Team All Pro in both 1983 and 1985. During those five seasons Quick caught 309 passes for 5437 yards (3rd in the league) and 53 touchdowns (1st in the league). In 1983 alone Quick caught 69 passes for a team-record 1409 yards and 13 TDs. But he never fully recovered from a brutal broken leg suffered on a catch over the middle at Veterans Stadium in October 1988, cutting short a career that had Canton written all over it. For a nice montage of Quick highlights, see here. For footage of his overtime, game-winning 99-yard reception against the Atlanta Falcons on 10 November 1985, see here.

8. Maxie Baughan (OLB, 1960-65)

Baughan's 1964 Philadelphia
Chewing Gum card
Baughan in 2012

Baughan was a simple country lad out of southern Alabama and Georgia Tech who is criminally not enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton. In his six years in Philly, Baughan was selected to 5 Pro Bowls and was a consensus All Pro in 1964. After requesting a trade because of disagreements with coach Joe Kuharich, Baughan was selected to 4 more Pro Bowls and one further All Pro team (1969) with the LA Rams. In 2012 he was finally inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

7. Bob Brown (RT, 1964-68)

Brown's 1966 Philadelphia
Chewing Gum card
The 6'4", 280 pound Brown was one of the NFL's transformative players after being drafted out of Nebraska in the first round in 1964. Never before had such size been joined to stunning athleticism, which he maintained with a rigorous, 12-month training regimen. In his 5 years with the Eagles, Brown was named to 3 Pro Bowls and was a consensus All Pro in each of those seasons. In his subsequent career with the Rams and Raiders, Brown made 3 more Pro Bowls and was selected All Pro twice. In 2004 he was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

6. Norm Van Brocklin (QB, 1958-60)

Van Brocklin throwing to Tommy McDonald
during the 1960 NFL Championship Game \

Norm Van Brocklin came to the Eagles at the age of 32 after 9 years (and 6 Pro Bowls) with the LA Rams, and he did not disappoint. He played only three years for the Birds. But in those three years, after all of which he was selected for the Pro Bowl, "The Dutchman" transformed the team, through both his passing and his leadership, from a last place also-ran into the 1960 NFL Champions, handing Vince Lombardi the only postseason loss of his storied career. After winning the league's MVP and Bert Bell awards that year, Van Brocklin retired while on top. The three-time league passing leader was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.

5. Pete Pihos (WR/DE, 1947-55)

Pihos's 1952 Bowman card

A key player on the Eagles' 1948-49 championship teams, "The Golden Greek" is the greatest receiver in team history.
He was selected to 6 consecutive Pro Bowls and was a consensus All Pro 5 times. His best seasons were his final three. In each of those seasons he led the league in receptions. He led the league with 1049 yards receiving in 1953 and 864 in 1955. He also led the league with 10 TD receptions in 1953. In his final two games, Pihos caught 21 passes, only to retire to devote full time attention to his sales job. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970.

4. Brian Dawkins (FS, 1996-2008)


"Dawk," a 6'0", 210 pound safety out of Clemson, may be the most popular player ever to play for the Eagles. With size, speed, intelligence, and unmatched intensity, Dawkins was the heart and soul of Jim Johnson's great defenses that carried the Eagles to five consecutive divisional titles in the early 2000s. Equally adept at covering the run and the pass, Dawkins was known as one of football's hardest hitters. He consistently amassed more than 100 tackles a season and is tied for the team's all-time interception record with 34 (plus 4 more in playoff games). He even caught a 57 yard TD pass in 2002. For his consistent excellence, Dawkins was selected for 7 Pro Bowls while with the Eagles (not to mention 2 more with the Broncos, at ages 36 and 38), and was a First Team All-Pro pick on four occasions (2001-2, 2004, 2006). The only thing lacking in his Hall of Fame resume is a Super Bowl title. Here's to the hope that this lack will not be held against him. Of all people, Dawk is certainly not to blame for that.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, Social Justice, and War: A Grateful Remembrance


Reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while waiting to watch the second inauguration of our nation's first African-American (and, I say with some pride, the 10th of Scots-Irish heritage) President, Barack Obama ...

This weekend, in the midst of my fortnightly twin 12-hour shifts at R. R. Donnelley, one of my co-workers wondered why a "mere" civil rights leader like Dr. King should have a holiday dedicated to his memory. I say, with more than a little shame, that there was a time when I might have expressed a similar sentiment. You see, only a white person, raised in the mainstream of America society and, for those of us raised in the North, without first-hand experience of the explicit indignities black citizens had to endure in the Jim Crow South, could question the wisdom and appropriateness of setting aside a day to honor King's legacy.

King himself once said, according to Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson, "People think of me as a civil rights leader, but fundamentally, I'm a Baptist preacher." Here, of course, is where so many of my evangelical (really, fundamentalist) forebears objected to King, at least at the conscious level. The reason? King was no Baptist like any with whom they would worship. He was a Baptist of the Harry Emerson Fosdick sort, albeit one who preached with the familiar cadences of the Black church he had learned from his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. In a word, King was a theological liberal, trained at the liberal bastions of Crozer Seminary in Chester, Pa. and Boston University, where he earned his Ph.D. with a dissertation on the thought of Paul Tillich (as a theologian who, in years past, waded through Tillich's massive Systematic Theology, I can attest that such is not an easy task). He derided fundamentalism, both for its literalism and its myopic lack of commitment to the social implications of the Bible's message. Indeed, in many respects King's theology certainly differed from my own.

But, as I wrote last year, "We do ourselves a disservice if we fail to listen to him as Christians. For, you see, King's thought, nowhere more apparent than in this speech, resonates with the oft-neglected calls in the Old Testament prophets, not least Amos, for social justice." This area, more than any other, has been the failing of more than a few traditionalist, "conservative" theologians. J. Gresham Machen, the product of a wealthy Southern family, disapproved of black students residing in the Princeton Seminary dorms. Most shocking to me was the view of the great Highland Scot John Murray who, in his generally helpful Principles of Conduct, wrote that slavery was an ordinance established by God himself. Such attitudes are, frankly, sub-christian, no matter their pedigree in the thought of stalwarts of the Reformed faith. From my vantage point as a theologian of a later generation, such attitudes are unthinkable to any who take the Bible seriously as the Word of God and consider Christian mission to consist of working to implement the victory achieved by Christ in his death and resurrection.

Social justice was King's clarion call. Many "conservatives" deride such a term, considering it a code word for "liberalism." Theological conservatives often dismiss it via the neat sleight of hand of equating it with the social gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch—another Baptist!—and driving a wedge between it and the "soterian" gospel of Christ's death and resurrection. But to do so is faulty on many levels. Fundamentally, however, it fails to understand the full-orbed nature of the New Testament's gospel of the new creation, about which I have written extensively. And what was the fundamental mission of the great prophets, if not to call the unfaithful people of Israel and Judah back to the principles of love of God and love of neighbor—including the principles of what is now called "social justice"—that summarize the Law of Christ, which remains incumbent on his people in this, the age of the New Covenant? Just because Dr. King was an advocate of the "social gospel" does not mean that what he said about justice, derived explicitly from Holy Scripture, is not vitally relevant to our lives as Americans today.

Indeed, it is a matter of supreme irony that so many Christians who ardently desire to impose biblical standards of sexual morality on our society fail to see the urgency of applying the prophetic calls for justice. At one level this reflects a naive misunderstanding of what the biblical concept of "justice" entails. At another it reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of structural evil, not to mention the obstacles such evil places in the path of people caught in its vortex. People may, in Thomas Jefferson's words, have been "created equal" by God, but the realization of that equality in societal  opportunities and experiences has always been imperfectly executed.

King is rightly known as a civil rights pioneer. But he was much more. He is best viewed, I believe, as a prophetic figure calling America to a better performance of its ostensible ideals. During the last years of his life, long after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, he turned his gaze toward America's participation in the Vietnam War, which he viewed with characteristic distaste as a proponent of nonviolence—indeed, nonviolence based on explicitly Christian principles, principles demanded as the entail of Christian discipleship. And it is a stance for which he was roundly criticised at the time—how, it was asked, could he claim to "love America" when he was so searing in his criticism of the war? King, rightly, replied that it was because he loved America that he criticized its participation in the war.

On 30 April 1967, less than a year before his assassination, King gave a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in which he decried "the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism" that he saw held his country in a stranglehold. In the thrilling peroration at the close, he references the programmatic call of the prophet Amos, "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:24). Before that, he uttered these remarkable words of protest, whose power I am appreciating more and more the older I get:
... We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers and profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will say of war, "This is not just." This way of settling differences is not just. ... A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
These are powerful words, words that need to be heard again and again by a society, large segments of which continue to equate patriotism with jingoistic militarism and begrudge every cent spent on social programs but who, at the same time, refuse to see the unsustainability and misprioritization manifested in America's spending more money on defense than the next eight leading countries combined. Without a doubt, however, a modern-day Dr. King would face the same opposition the original faced 50 years ago. And that's a bloody shame.

I leave you with an audio version of the sermon from which I drew the excerpt cited above.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Remembering Uncle Willie

Today marks what would have been the 103rd birthday of my dearest uncle, William James McGahey, who was born in Balleymoney, County Antrim, Ireland, UK, not emigrating to the US until the age of 11. To the day of his death on 2 July 1993, Uncle Willie retained both a love for his native land and a few pronunciations of words derived from his youth in Northern Ireland.

Much could be said about Bill McGahey (for my own thoughts last year on his birthday, see here). All one needs to know is the esteem in which all, without exception, held him. Every time my brother and I see our Forster and Smith cousins, the conversation inexorably turns to recollections of Uncle Willie, even now, 20 years—could it possibly be?—after his homegoing into the arms of his Savior and Lord. For, despite—or could it be because of?—the simplicity that characterized his life, no one made a greater impression on his family than he. And the reason for it is made evident by the words reproduced above from the New Testament given to him by my dad back in 1947. In particular, the quotation, written in my uncle's own hand, from the tragically short-lived 19th century Scottish Presbyterian minister Robert Murray M'Cheyne can be viewed as the motto of his life, which he lived as well as anyone I have ever met.

Likeness to Jesus is, of course, what God is in the business of producing in his chosen and called people on the way to their ultimate, future glorification (Rom 8:28-30). Well, I can attest that the Holy Spirit did his job on and in Uncle Willie, who remains, with my father, the greatest, living and breathing apologetic for the Christian faith I have ever known. And I rejoice in the hope—the sure hope, as the venerable Anglican Book of Common Prayer puts it—of the resurrection to eternal life that we who follow Christ will experience in the not-too-distant future. And because of that hope, I also have the excited anticipation of seeing my dad and his dear brother again, when we can sit at the feet of the one who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20). Marana tha!

From left: Dan McGahey, Uncle Bill McGahey, the author, Norman Forster (Havertown, Pa., 1989)

Uncle Willie and my dad, August 1975, in Virginia

Uncle Willie with four of his grand nieces (from left: Sarah Forster,
Brynn McGahey Faix, Carrie Forster Roszell, Lauren McGahey Ailes),
Philadelphia, 1989

Orange, N.J., 1930s

Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, 1930s

Dallas, Texas, 1985 (from left: Bill McGahey, Jack Smith, Norman Forster,
the author, John McGahey)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Eagles of All Time, Part 4: ##11-20

The 1949 NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles

Steve Van Buren rushing for some of his 196 yards in the LA Coliseum mud during the Eagles' 14-0
Championship Game victory over the Rams, 18 December 1949 (
This, my friends, is real football.

Reminiscing while still unsure about the Eagles' hire of Chip Kelly ...

Here are numbers 11-20 in my countdown of the greatest players ever to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. For my previous posts in this series, see herehere, and here.

20. Harold Carmichael (WR, 1971-83)

Harold Carmichael, at 6'8", is the tallest wide receiver in NFL history. His greatest season was 1973, when he led the league with 67 receptions and 1116 yards, earning his first Pro Bowl. During the 1978-81 playoff seasons, he caught 216 passes for 3787 yards and 34 TDs, earning Pro Bowl honors in '78-'80. He is the all-time Eagles leader in receptions (589), yards receiving (8978), and touchdowns (79). He also holds the team record for consecutive games, with 124. He was selected a member of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1970s.

19. Bill Bergey (MLB, 1974-80)

Bill Bergey was the Eagles' best player in the 1970s, which befits a man who cost the team two 1st round draft picks in 1974. In his 7 years with the team, Bergey became well-known for his uncanny knack for the ball, evidenced by his more than 1200 tackles and 18 interceptions, and was always as gracious off the field as he was terrorizing on it. Before retiring after the 1980 NFC championship season, Bergey was selected to four Pro Bowls and was a consensus All Pro in 1974-75.

18. Jerome Brown (DT, 1987-91)


Relentless. Irrepressible. These are the two best descriptions I can think of to describe the man-child known as Jerome Brown. The 292-pound Brown is certainly the greatest defensive tackle ever to wear an Eagles' uniform, and among the handful of greatest tackles I have ever seen. In his final two years ('90-'91) Brown made the Pro Bowl and was a consensus All Pro. In particular, his last season (9 1/2 sacks, 88 solo stops) provided a glimpse of what might have been had he not been killed in an irresponsible auto accident (for Ray Didinger's remembrance on the 20th anniversary of his passing, see here). As it turned out, Brown's death was the first step in the inexorable decline of the formidable team Buddy Ryan had assembled just a few years earlier.

17. Troy Vincent (CB, 1996-2003)

Another home town hero, the Trenton, NJ native is one of the greatest leaders ever to wear the green. He was a team captain in each of his 7 seasons with Birds, not to mention his 5 consecutive Pro Bowl berths in 1999-2003 and All Pro honors in 2002. He led the NFL with 7 interceptions in 1999. His 28 with the Eagles (47 for his career) is sixth in team history.

16. Donovan McNabb (QB, 1999-2009)

Five consecutive division titles. Four consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game. 6 Pro Bowls. A team-record 32,873 yards and 216 touchdowns. Nevertheless ... to my mind there was always something missing, be it field vision or the ability to rise to the occasion. His microscopic interception percentage was more a function of his caution than it was his accuracy, as his low completion percentages despite low yards per completion attest. Indeed, his success early in his career was often as attributable to his running ability (especially late in games) as it was to his passing. On the other hand, his Pro Bowl 2004 season with Terrell Owens was indeed one for the ages: 3875 yards, 64.0 completion percentage, 31 TDs, and only 8 interceptions. This is the single greatest season ever for an Eagles quarterback, and it cements his legacy as one of the greatest Eagles ever to play the game.

15. Brian Westbrook (RB, 2002-09)

Westbrook, scoring in the "Miracle at the Meadowlands II",
19 October 2003 (
Brian Westbrook is the greatest all-purpose back ever to play for the Eagles, and is the team's all-time leader in yards from scrimmage with 8785. The diminutive (5'8") two-time Pro Bowler out of Villanova was at his best in his All Pro season of 2007, when he rushed for 1333 yards (4.8 Y/C) and caught 90 passes for 771 yards. His 2104 yards from scrimmage that year led the league and is an Eagles' team record.

14. Randall Cunningham (QB, 1985-95)

Cover of Sports Illustrated, 11 September 1989

Randall Cunningham is, simply, the most electrifying player ever to play for the Eagles. He is 3rd in team history with 22,877 passing yards and 150 TDs, 5th in team history with 4482 rushing yards (6.6 Y/C), and fourth with 32 rushing TDs. He also unleashed a 91-yard punt in a 24-17 victory over the New York Giants on 3 December 1989 (see it here). He won the Bert Bell Award as NFL Player of the Year in 1988, 1990, and also in 1998, when he had his greatest season, albeit with the Minnesota Vikings. He was a Pro Bowler every year between 1988-90, and was awarded the PFWA NFL MVP in 1990. That his career never made it to Hall of Fame caliber is due to three factors: leg injuries that cost him the 1990 and 1992 seasons, a poorly designed offense by Buddy Ryan that called on him only to improvise one or two big plays a game, and a poor work ethic (as he gladly admits). Nonetheless, he is the author of more spectacular plays (like this spectacular 95-yard TD pass to Fred Barnett on 2 December 1990) than any player in team history, and remains second on the league's all time list for rushing yards by a quarterback, with 4928 (behind Michael Vick).

13. Eric Allen (CB, 1988-94)

Eric Allen was yet another key player of the Birds' vaunted "Gang Green" defense of the late '80s-early '90s, being named to 5 Pro Bowls in his 7 years with the team. He is tied for the team's top spot in career interceptions with 34, and is one of only three players in NFL history to have returned four interceptions for touchdowns in a single season, when he did it in 1993.

12. Al Wistert (OT-G/DT, 1943-51)


The "Ox" was the team captain for the Eagles' first two championship teams in '48 and '49. He was regarded as the best tackle of his era, and was a consensus All Pro every year from 1944-47 and was named to the first Pro Bowl roster in 1950. Why he has yet to be enshrined in Canton is a mystery yet to be explained. For a compelling argument for his enshrinement, see here.

11. Tommy McDonald (FL, 1957-63)


Tommy McDonald, a 5'9", 178 pound flanker out of Oklahoma, is the smallest man ever to have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (by contrast, current Eagle DeSean Jackson is 6'0", 178 pounds). Yet he is fondly remembered for his fearlessness on the field—no Ricky Watters or DeSean Jackson "alligator arms" for McDonald—and for being the last player in the NFL not to wear a face mask. Remarkably, he missed only two out of a possible 92 games in his Eagles career due to injury (a torn hamstring in 1958). Even a broken jaw didn't stop him from playing in 1959.

McDonald after catching 35-yard TD pass in 2nd
quarter of 1960 NFL Championship Game

But what set McDonald apart was his speed and skill as a receiver. During his stay with the Eagles, in which he was selected for 5 consecutive Pro Bowls (1958-62), McDonald caught 287 passes for 5499 yards ( a team record 19.2 Y/R) and 66 touchdowns (second only to Harold Carmichael's 79). He led the league in receiving yards with 1144 in 1961, and in touchdown receptions with 9 in 1958 and 13 in 1961. The day he was traded to Dallas (20 March 1964) for journeyman punter Sam Baker and two other marginal players (yet another Joe Kuharich special) was a dark day in Philadelphia.