Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wolfgang Sawallisch, 1923-2013


(image@wienersymphoniker.at)
This morning my daily perusal of philly.com greeted me with the sad news of the death of Wolfgang Sawallisch, Conductor Laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra and its Music Director from 1993-2003 (for a moving tribute, read the obituary of Philadelphia Inquirer Music Critic Peter Dobrin here).

Sawallisch was the last of his kind: an old school, traditionalist German conductor who rose methodically through the ranks until he reached heights matched by few others. He was the Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera from 1971-92 before becoming, at age 70, the Philadelphia Orchestra's sixth Music Director, a post he held with distinction for a decade.

When Sawallisch was appointed twenty years ago to replace the mercurial Riccardo Muti, I was somewhat disappointed. I had hoped they would hire Charles Dutoit, who was younger, the director of the Orchestra's summer programs at the Mann Music Center, and a well-recorded artist on London Records with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Dutoit would indeed have been a good choice (he would later fill in as the Orchestra's Chief Conductor in the interim between the somewhat disastrous tenure of Christoph Eschenbach [2003-08] and the accession of the youthful Yannick Nézet-Séguin [2012-present]). But Sawallisch proved to be just what the Orchestra needed. Muti, with his razor sharp and often lean interpretations of the basic repertoire, had injected new life and energy into the Orchestra, which for decades  had, despite unparalleled levels of virtuosity, had grown stale with the velvety stodginess of the sound prompted by their long-term director, Eugene Ormandy. With Sawallisch, the famous "Philadelphia Sound" reappeared, though with more focus than had characterized the Ormandy tenure (see, for example, his early recordings of Bruckner's 4th Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, both on EMI). Later, Sawalllisch returned to his specialty, the music of Richard Strauss, producing fine recordings of many of his exquisite tone poems, including Ein Heldenleben and Also Sprach Zarathustra. Throughout his tenure, Sawallisch did what he did best: provide unabashedly musical performances without hype or the flair of more flamboyant, yet less musical, conductors.

Most importantly, however, Sawallisch was most responsible for bringing the Orchestra into the 21st century  by assuring the completion of the new music hall (the Verizon Center at the Kimmel Center) to replace the beautiful, but acoustically less-than-optimal, Academy of Music. Indeed, my favorite recordings of Sawallisch with the Orchestra are his complete set of Schumann Symphonies, recorded at the Kimmel Center in 2003. These embody his brilliance, not to mention that of the Orchestra he had, without fanfare, transformed (he replaced one-third of the orchestra's players in his decade of directorship, including the hires of concertmaster David Kim and principal trumpet David Bilger). Since Sawallisch's departure, the Orchestra has experienced lean times due both to Eschenbach's incompatibility and financial straits exacerbated by the economic downturn. Only now, with the fortuitous hiring of Nézet-Séguin and their gaining of a coveted recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, have these fortunes begun to change for the better. But one shudders to think what could have been the plight of this American treasure were it not for the leadership of Mr. Sawallisch. May he rest in peace.

I leave you with a video performance of Sawallisch and the Philadelphians playing the Introduction to Strauss's tone poem, Symphonia Domestica, in Köln in 2000.



Saturday, February 23, 2013

Is "Inerrancy" a Victimless Crime? Ask Michael Licona (Again)

Fred Clark, citing New Testament professors Daniel Kirk and James McGrath, claims it is not. In his words:
It’s a low-down dirty trick to play on the Bible and on anyone who tries to read it. Inerrancy is not a victimless crime. It chases some people away from the Bible and prevents others from reading it intelligently.
In this connection I might add that, in certain circles, running afoul of commonly understood definitions of the doctrine can damage one's reputation and amount to nothing less than professional suicide. It doesn't matter whether it is Bob Gundry being expelled from the Evangelical Theological Society in 1983 for his published views regarding Matthew's supposed unhistorical, midrashic redaction of Mark, or Pete Enns, Bruce Waltke, and Michael Pahl being dismissed from their positions at Westminster Seminary, Reformed Seminary, and Cedarville University because of their views of Genesis 1-2 as less-than-straightforwardly-historical Hebrew cosmogonies. Evangelical biblical scholars must operate with one eye over their shoulder, watching out for the gatekeepers—of course, they like to view themselves as "defenders" of the faith—who lie in wait, seemingly behind every bush along the path.

Yet another instance of this phenomenon has the blogosphere atwitter this month. This time it involves Houston Baptist University Professor Michael Licona, who less than two years before had lost his job at Southern Evangelical Seminary because of his suggestion that the "strange little text" in Matthew 27:52-54 about the opening of the tombs in Jerusalem after Jesus' death was an "apocalyptic symbol" not to be understood literally. Licona's offense this time? His suggestion that the divergences and apparent "contradictions" between the Gospels are literarily kindred to Greco-Roman biographical practices found, inter alia, in Plutarch's five diverging versions of Julius Caesar's assassination. Now, any New Testament scholar should be aware of the serious differences that often occur between the parallel accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, not to mention how the three Synoptic Gospels relate to John's Gospel. And most such scholars today would agree with Richard Burridge and David Aune that the Gospels are indeed variations of the bios/vita literary genre, and should be interpreted accordingly. Hence it would seem that Licona's proposal is an eminently sensible one ... but not to the usual suspects, including Southern Baptist Seminary President Al Mohler (whose response to the former controversy may be found here) and his former boss at Southern Evangelical Seminary, my former teacher Norm Geisler (who also, unfortunately, was the major catalyst behind the ETS's ouster of Gundry 30 years ago). Word of the latest controversy was divulged by none other than the Baptist Press. The relevant portion of the account includes the following:
Licona recalled a student in a class he was teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary who, with tears forming in her eyes, wanted to know whether there were indeed contradictions. A majority of the class, he said, raised their hands to indicate they were troubled by apparent contradictions. Then he realized it was something he should address.

As he studied the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Licona began keeping a document of the differences he noticed. The document grew to 50 pages. He then read ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because New Testament scholars often regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, he said.

Licona focused on Plutarch's biographies. The assassination of Julius Caesar, he noted, is told in five different biographies by Plutarch.

"So you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times. By noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar's assassination differently, we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took, and he's writing around the same time that some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language -- Greek -- to boot," Licona told Esposito.

"As I started to note some of these liberties that he took, I immediately started recognizing these are the same liberties that I noticed that the evangelists take -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," Licona said. ...
"... If this is the case, then these most commonly cited differences in the Gospels ... aren't contradictions after all. They're just the standard biographical liberties that ancient biographers of that day took."
"I can tell you that of the 50 pages of differences that I've found in the Gospels -- and I'm still finding new ones -- all of them are in the peripheral details," Licona said. "There isn't a single perceived contradiction or difference in the Gospels that are any major details, any major details regarding an account.
"For example, was there one or were there two angels at the tomb? No one says the tomb was not empty. Even if you couldn't account for the difference between one and two angels -- and I think you can -- but even if you couldn't, it's still a major thing that Jesus rose and the tomb was empty.
"... You may lose some form of biblical inerrancy if there are contradictions in the Gospels, but you still have the truth of Christianity that Jesus rose from the dead, and I think that's the most important point we can make," Licona said.
Also in a discussion of apparent contradictions, Licona said, it is important to distinguish between a contradiction and a difference. 
"Most of the things we find in the Gospels are differences. There are only maybe a handful of things between the Gospels that are potential contradictions in my opinion and only one or two that I've found that are really stubborn for me at this point -- and they're all in the peripherals," Licona said.
Mohler, in comments to Baptist Press Feb. 6, said, "It would be nonsense to affirm real contradictions in the Bible and then to affirm inerrancy."
"Even Dr. Licona concedes that we 'may lose some form of biblical inerrancy if there are contradictions in the Gospels.' What you lose is inerrancy itself," Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. "The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy clearly and rightly affirms 'the unity and internal consistency of Scripture' and denies that any argument for contradictions within the Bible is compatible with inerrancy. An actual contradiction is an error."
Mohler identified two other major problems regarding Licona's methodology.
"First, we cannot reduce the Gospels to the status of nothing more than ancient biographies. The Bible claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit right down to the inspired words," Mohler said. 
"The second problem is isolating the resurrection of Christ from all of the other truth claims revealed in the Bible. The resurrection is central, essential and non-negotiable, but the Christian faith rests on a comprehensive set of truth claims and doctrines," Mohler said. "All of these are revealed in the Bible, and without the Bible we have no access to them."
[For Geisler's detailed response to Licona, see here].

In its simplest sense, the doctrine of biblical "inerrancy" affirms that the Bible is "without error." Articulated positively—as it should be— it means that the Bible is true in all it affirms. Thus, inerrancy applies in matters of faith, practice, and even in historical and scientific affirmations, but is not compromised when it reports, e.g., lies or untruths in the mouths of its characters, nor when it involves spelling mistakes or grammatical inconcinnities and irregularities. I began my theological education at a time when inerrancy was one of the chief battles being waged in evangelicalism. Indeed, it was during my undergraduate days that Harold Lindsell published his exposé, The Battle for the Bible (1976), and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was formed (1977). The occasion was a perceived declension in the historic evangelical doctrine of Scripture by many in the broader Neo-Evangelical movement, who affirmed "infallibility" (i.e., the Bible is not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint) with respect to doctrine and practice, but not necessarily with regard to historical and scientific matters. Subsequently, I attended a seminary known for its inerrantist credentials and taught at a conservative evangelical college.

I also am a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, a broad-based society with only two affirmations in its doctrinal statement, one of which deals with inerrancy. The statement, to which I affix my (digital) John Hancock each year, reads as follows: "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs." In 2006 the Society voted to align their understanding of inerrancy to that enunciated in the ICBI's Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (for the full text, see here), which my mentor Harold Hoehner had a hand in drafting. The point is, I am comfortable in affirming that the Bible is inerrant. But ... I am more than a little disconcerted ("upset" would better approximate how I feel) about how schoolyard bullies such as Mohler and Geisler are using inerrancy to silence voices with whom they are uncomfortable. To be sure, these critics are Christians, and so they state their opposition in terms of being "concerned" about the views they find problematic. Make no mistake about it, however. They are circling the wagons and self-consciously policing the boundaries of the movement. Theirs is no "concern" willing to listen to and dialogue with viewpoints different from their own. In their minds, they are right, they have logic and history (i.e., tradition) on their side, and dissenters need to repent of their error or else pay the (professional) consequences. And this is no way to proceed, particularly when dealing with scholars who, like they, profess to hold to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Calling for the metaphorical heads of such scholars is tantamount to calling them liars.

The doctrine of inerrancy is fraught with inherent ambiguities, even if one uses the Chicago Statement as a benchmark. Different scholars understand the entailments of the doctrine differently. Moreover, even agreement on the doctrine doesn't guarantee interpretive unanimity. How then should we proceed? I would like to propose the following interlocking principles that must be kept in mind if inerrancy is to remain a workable theologoumenon.

First, we must always keep in mind that inerrancy and hermeneutics are distinct issues. Inerrancy, properly understood, is an implicate of the Bible's inspiration. It entails that the Bible, as God's written Word, is true in all it affirms, and hence is the supreme authority for the Christian's faith and practice. Hermeneutics, on the other hand, relates to how the Bible is properly interpreted and contextualized.

To state what should be obvious, belief in the Bible's inerrancy does not necessarily privilege a certain hermeneutical understanding of a given passage of Scripture. Indeed, many of the recent kerfuffles in evangelicalism over inerrancy have resulted from the combination of a failure to observe this principle and a naive understanding of the Protestant doctrine of the "perspicuity" (clarity) of Scripture. To put it plainly, all too often present-day Christians, thinking a passage "obviously" should be understood in a certain way, disparage scholars who, for various reasons, may think otherwise. For example, Old Testament scholars who dispute "young earth creationism" do not necessarily "capitulate to modern science" and deny inerrancy when they understand the creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 literarily as Ancient Hebrew cosmogonies rather than as strictly historical narratives (Indeed, one might ask, could not science, like it has so often in the past, prod us to look at the text more carefully and find indications within it that should have pointed us all along to a more nuanced understanding of it?). Indeed, such is no different in principle from denying the universal applicability of the Proverbs or arguing that Jesus' parable of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16 does not provide a geographical portrait of the afterlife. It is a simple matter of literary genre.

Indeed, this is precisely what Licona has recognized when he used Plutarch's narratives of Caesar's assassination to illuminate the potential problems caused by apparent Gospel discrepancies. And both Mohler and Geisler understand what Licona is doing. Yet both take offense by it. Geisler—himself not a New Testament scholar or ancient historian—considers the bios/vita understanding of the Gospels' genre to be a "fad." Mohler thinks it irrelevant: "we cannot reduce the Gospels to the status of nothing more than ancient biographies. The Bible claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit right down to the inspired words." But that's putting the proverbial cart before the horse, is it not? Verbal plenary inspiration does not mean that God dictated the very words of Scripture (Mohler of course knows this). Nor does it mean that the human authors could not have written what they did with different words to produce the same meaning (indeed, Mohler—the would-be champion of the Chicago Statement—realizes that grammatical and spelling irregularities do not compromise inerrancy). It means that the Bible as we have it, in its entirety, is perfectly adequate to convey the message and produce the life-changing results God intended from it. What Mohler has done is a priori to use a modernistic, indeed positivist, view of "historical accuracy" as a Procrustean bed into which to stretch the biblical data into a shape with which he is comfortable. This leads to another principle.

Second, inerrancy must be gauged in accordance with both authorial intent and the literary and historiographical standards of the ancient world.  Even lay Bible readers implicitly operate on this principle when they don't argue for a geocentric universe based on the assertion that the sun "stood still" in Joshua 10. Nor do they charge Matthew and Mark of error—or Jesus himself!—when they report Jesus as saying that the mustard seed "is the smallest of all the seeds on earth" (Mark 4:31; Matt 13:32). Instinctively all realize the authors were not intending to write in terms of technical science.

Why, then, is it so hard for some to realize that the historical writings of the Bible were not intended to be exemplars of 21st century historiography? How indeed could they have been? Indeed, every New Testament scholar worth his or her salt knows this, and could list any number of examples in the Gospels which demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that the putative accuracy of the biblical narratives does not and cannot demand verbal or chronological precision. The classic example of this principle is the four-fold account of Peter's denials of Jesus the early morning of 3 April 33 CE. The four accounts are notoriously difficult to "harmonize" in the way Mohler or Geisler would seem to demand (for a convenient tabulation of the evidence, see Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah [New York: Doubleday, 1994] 418-19, 591-92). One who attempted to do this was Lindsell, in his aforementioned Battle for the Bible. His results: two servant girls, two men, one group of people, and six denials. Only thus could he harmonize the texts to his modernistic demands. However, while he may have fancied himself to be defending the trustworthiness of the Bible with such a fantastic example of "additive harmonization," he succeeded only in trivializing the force of Jesus' triple tradition prediction (Mark 14:27-31//Matt 26:31-35//Luke 22:31-34) that Peter would deny him three times. Lindsell, in other words, despite his good intentions, was simply not taking the Bible seriously. Nor, I might add, do Geisler and Mohler, despite their pompous denunciations of scholars like Licona who are actually doing the hard work of understanding and defending the Bible. It is the Bible God has actually given us with which we must deal, not the Bible of a positivist's fantasy.

I write this as one who, like Licona, believes in biblical inerrancy. But I would be dishonest if, because of philosophical presuppositions about what inerrancy must look like, I refused to take the text as we have been given it seriously. I remember Geisler teaching in class that all the defender of the Bible must do to refute accusations of error or contradiction is to provide a possible solution. I demur. What we must do is present a plausible solution. And there is a difference. Lindsell did not do so. Licona, I believe, may have.  And for that he should not be the target of rhetorical arrows from the bows of systematic theologians who don't like what he has to say.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Happy 50th Birthday, Sir Charles



(image@insidehoops.com)
Charles Barkley was my last basketball hero. He emerged in 1984 back when I was young enough still to play the game, my hometown Sixers were still considered a league power, and the sport hadn't yet deteriorated into the isolation-dominated schoolyard game that has hurt its popularity with people, like me, of a certain age. And he was an unlikely hero. Drafted 5th in a class unmatched in league history (behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan, ahead of John Stockton), he was a 6'4" (he has since debunked the official height of 6'6"), 300-pounder out of Auburn, known (understandably, for any who remember seeing him at that time) as "The Round Mound of Rebound." He immediately made his impact known on a 58-win team still dominated by Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Mo Cheeks, and Andrew Toney. Despite playing only 28 minutes a game, he averaged 14 points (on .546 shooting) and 8.6 rebounds (including 3.2 on the offensive end) a game. By his second season Barkley had established himself as one of the league's best forwards (20.0 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game, 3.9 assists per game, .572 FG%). That year was the first of 12 consecutive seasons in which Barkley averaged at least 20 points per game, as well as the first of 15 (!) consecutive seasons in which he averaged 10+ rebounds per game. His third year he led the league in rebounds with 14.6 p/g, including an astounding 5.7 p/g at the offensive end. He remains the shortest player in NBA history to lead the league in rebounds. From 1986-95 he was named to either the first or second All-NBA team. But his crowning achievement occurred in the 1992-93 season, when he led the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference championship and was named league MVP, only to fall in the finals against—who else?—Michael Jordan and the Bulls in 6 games. Barkley's superhuman play in that series (42 points and 13 rebounds in the game 2 111-108 loss [for footage of this game, see here; 32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists in the game 4 111-105 loss) couldn't offset the incomparable Jordan (42/12/9 in game 2; 55/8/4 in game 4). But the battle of the two titans that series matches anything I ever witnessed between Chamberlain and Russell or Bird and Johnson.

(image@astropix.com)
Of all the forwards I have seen since first following the sport in 1964, only four are clearly superior to Sir Charles: Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, and LeBron James. Julius Erving was more flashy and offensively gifted. Karl Malone kept himself in better shape and had a longer career. But only Bird shared Barkley's remarkable relentlessness and on-the-court selflessness. And only James surpasses Barkley's combination of power and athleticism. What set Barkley apart was the completeness of his game. As Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton said in a SLAM magazine article ranking NBA greats, "Barkley is like Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird] in that they don't really play a position. He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He's a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker."

And what a personality! Transparent and honest to the core, warts visible for all to see (remember his expectorating on the little girl at the Meadowlands arena in 1991? His throwing a bar patron through a plate glass window at a bar in Miami in 1997?). These are the ingredients that make him the most entertaining and insightful basketball analyst on the airwaves today. He may not have ever been a role model, but I consider myself lucky to have been able to see him play the game. Happy Birthday, Sir Charles.

For a video of some Barkley highlights from his years with the Sixers, see here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All Who Take the Gun Shall Perish by the Gun


Duccio di Buoninsegna, Christ Taken Prisoner (1308-11)
(Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena)


Ever since the mass gun murders last July in Aurora, Colorado (see my post here), and December in Newtown, Connecticut (see my post here), the American national conversation has focused, more than anything else, on the issue of guns: how can we, as a nation, balance proposed gun control measures with the interpretation of the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" recently handed down by the Supreme Court? Those on the left of the political spectrum, believing the Supreme Court's interpretation of the amendment to be decontextualized and too sweeping in its affirmation of an absolute "right" to own guns, favor more or less strict controls. Those on the right tend to see all such proposed measures as "attacks" on their inalienable "rights," and hence steps down the slippery slope to gun banishment and inevitable governmental "tyranny."

In one sense, it is not surprising that conservative Christians ("evangelicals") have by and large aligned themselves with the political conservatives on this issue. For various and complex reasons, evangelicals have been accustomed to regard themselves as unabashed "conservatives." Indeed, "conservative Americanism" is ingrained on their cultural DNA to the point where any policy identified as "liberal" is deemed, at best, counterintuitive and, at worst, godless. Only this can explain the nearly unanimous evangelical support of American wars whose only real purpose, despite pious-sounding rhetoric that our "freedom" is at stake, is to build or maintain our imperial ambitions (aka "American interests"). This likewise is the only explanation for their overwhelming support of the major argument used by gun advocates for the necessity of a gun-wielding populace: "Gun ownership is necessary to resist a tyrannical government that oversteps its bounds." I don't have the digits on my hands and feet to count the number of times I have read supposedly "Bible-believing Christians" on my Facebook feed spout this rhetoric. But do these supposed Bible believers fail to read the Bible? Or worse, do they not care what St. Paul wrote in Romans 13 while Nero was Emperor? Perhaps, as Americans, they should be granted curve points. Nevertheless, the time has got to come when they, as Christians, realize that the founding fathers were not acting Christianly when they rebelled against King George, and that the ensuing conflict, while dubbed "the Presbyterian War," ran counter to the explicit teaching of the Holy Scripture they so vociferously profess to follow.

But what about Jesus? The one incident in Jesus' life that has some relevance to the current issue is one found in all four Gospels. I am speaking, of course, about the account of Jesus' betrayal to the Jewish authorities by Judas and his subsequent arrest on the Mount of Olives on the night before he was executed on a Roman cross. After Jesus' apprehension, one of those with him (the Fourth Evangelist identifies him as Peter) takes out a sword and, in an erratic example of loyal bravado, slices off the ear of the High Priest's slave (identified as Malchus in the Fourth Gospel). Jesus' response, most of which is found only in Matthew's Gospel, is telling:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
On the surface, it would appear that the disciple's poorly thought through attempt at zealotry was misguided due to the particular situation in which Jesus and the Twelve found themselves. Jesus, after all, had just undergone the agony of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46), where he prayed through his fear and resolved to be obedient to the mission on which he had been sent ("Not as I will, but as you will"). The Scriptures, as Jesus said, had to be fulfilled "in this way" (houtōs) by divine necessity (dei(26:54). Peter, who had dozed off repeatedly during the hour at Gethsemane, was a model of misunderstanding: not only did he fail to grasp how God always intended to inaugurate the promised Kingdom (and thus, as Dale Allison puts it, implicitly "[did] not share Jesus' resolution, 'Thy will be done'" [Davies and Allison, Matthew XIX-XXVIII {ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997} 511]); he also failed to share Jesus' confidence in the Father's ability to protect them, if need be. In view of the Father's ability to send 12 legions of angels (since a legion consisted of 6000 soldiers, that amounted to 72,000 angels, one legion each for Jesus and the remaining eleven disciples), Peter's attempted heroism is unmasked as comically pathetic. Even more importantly, Jesus could not make it more clear that armed resistance is not the operating principle of the kingdom of God.

At this point I have heard and read many Christians claim that Jesus' disallowance of violence on this occasion was entirely due to the unique exigencies of that particular situation. The disciples, in other words, were not to resist due to the simple fact that Jesus had to be arrested in order that he could die for the sins of humanity. The uniqueness of that situation, so the argument goes, relativizes the abiding validity of the nonviolent principle Jesus espouses. Such an argument, however, fails at any number of levels. I mention three.

First, it decontextualizes Jesus' death, turns it into an abstract bit of atonement theology, and thereby robs Jesus' behavior of any paradigmatic significance. Yes, Jesus deliberately provoked the Jewish authorities as he had done the scribes and Pharisees for the previous three years. Yes, Jesus anticipated his imminent death at the Passover, and consequently provided a pictorial explanation of its theological and salvation-historical significance at the Last Supper. But that does not mean that the path he followed, the path he modeled for his disciples, is not the way of the kingdom that remains valid for his followers who are working for the kingdom now.  That this is indeed the case is made clear from two further considerations.

Second, in Matthew's presentation, it is Jesus who, in his obedience to his messianic vocation, suffered so as to inaugurate the kingdom unlike the ones the world has to offer. He was meek. He suffered for the sake of righteousness. Above all, he did not retaliate when spat upon, slapped, and beaten, and when insults were hurled in his direction. He was, in other words, the one who embodied his own admonition to his disciples not to resist the evildoer (Matt 5:39). The apparently patriotic "zealot option"the so-called "fourth philosophy" that flourished intermittently in Palestinian Judaism from the time of Judas of Galilee's revolt against Quirinius's census in 6 CE until its full flowering in the Zealots of John of Gischala and splinter groups such as the Sicarii led to Jerusalem's demise in the Jewish War of 66-70 CE—simply was not on the table for Jesus or his followers.

Fundamental here is Jesus' famous teaching about nonresistance in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:38-48). Literarily, this "sermon" (Matt 5-7) is designed by Matthew to be a précis of Jesus' ethical teachings which enunciate the counter-cultural "better righteousness" (Matt 5:20) that is to characterize his disciples as beneficiaries and citizens of the kingdom he came to inaugurate. Jesus' disciples are called to be "salt" and "light" in a hostile world (5:13-16), but they fulfill their role only insofar as they embody the behavioral characteristics laid down by Jesus in these chapters.

And make no mistake about it: Jesus' Sermon on the Mount does indeed set forth a vision of what John Stott called a "Christian Counter-Culture." And it was as counter-cultural then as it remains to this day. Indeed, an index of the extent to which this is true may be found in the multifarious ways Jesus' so-called "followers" explain away and, at times, explicitly ignore his radical teachings in these chapters. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to what he says about nonresistance (for the relevant verses, see here). The "eye for an eye" principle of the lex talionis has no place in the personal dealings of Jesus' disciples. Rather than take the law into their own hands, they are not to resist those who do them harm, even "turning the other cheek" when assaulted—even if the "assault" was, as is commonly understood, a back-handed slap intended to insult their honor. By doing so, as Richard Hays says, "the disciples bear witness to another reality (the kingdom of God), a reality in which peacefulness, service, and generosity are valued above self-defense and personal rights" (The Moral Vision of the New Testament [San Francisco: Harper, 1996] 326). Yes, Jesus employs hyperbole in this text. Yes, he speaks generally, without mentioning potential exceptions. It is one thing, however, not to take what Jesus said literally. It is another not to take what he said seriously. And such is precisely what so many of Jesus' latter-day American followers do when they speak blithely about carrying weapons to defend themselves and their property. The follower of Jesus is called, no matter how difficult and hard to practice it may be, to transcend violence with love.

Third, after Jesus tells the disciple to return his sword to its rightful place, he bolsters his command by asserting a concise, chiastic proverb: "For all who take the sword, by the sword will perish." By doing so, Jesus explicitly generalizes his command to put the sword away and utters a universal principle for those who  follow in his disciples' train. In its most basic sense, the proverb simply affirms a general observation, namely, that violence has the unmistakable tendency to ricochet back onto its perpetrators. But its main point, in the present context, is as clear as it is hard to implement: retaliatory violence, especially lethal physical violence, is incompatible with Christian discipleship.

Of course, for the past two millennia Christians have bent over backwards in their attempt to mitigate the force of what Jesus said. So-called "Just War Theory" was drawn up through the work of such theological masters as Augustine and Aquinas. More recently, Christians accept as a matter of course that the use of lethal violence for, among other things, self-defense, is morally defensible. But I wonder if by doing so we Christians have culpably blunted the intended force of what our Lord said.

All such mitigations manifest a common trait: they utilize the logic of the world. From a merely human perspective, it is of course foolish not to defend oneself, or even to let another person metaphorically trod on one. But Jesus uses another type of logic, the logic of the gospel. In other words, Jesus' admonitions only work on the supposition that there will be a resurrection at the last day in which God's people are rewarded and his enemies judged at the bar of God's unassailable justice. For too long, God's people have thought and acted as if the former type of logic is not only operable, but ultimate as well. It is high time that we reverse that trend.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Proclaimers' "I Want To Be a Christian"



Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart
In my heart
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart


Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart
In my heart
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart


In my heart
In my heart
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart

(image at guardian.co.uk)

Craig and Charlie Reid, the bespectacled identical twins most famous for the delightful 1988 song, "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles," are not your average, run-of-the-mill, country- and soul-drenched post-punk pop-rockers. Beyond the earnestness of their delivery and the tunefulness of their repertoire lies an honest, searching intelligence and inchoate spirituality. Nowhere is this more evident than in this remarkable cover of a song written back in the 1950s by the late American gospel artist, Sullivan Pugh.



Craig Reid has gone on record to say, "I don't see myself as a particularly religious person, and I wouldn't call myself a Christian. I am almost convinced by Christianity, but I have too much doubt to call myself a Christian." Such candor is as refreshing as it is unexpected in the world of popular music. What holds the brothers Reid back? Craig didn't say, but I suspect that at least part of the answer may be found in their powerful song, "The Light" (for my discussion of that song, see here). Yet, behind the doubts and the perceptive observations lies the desire that one could be a Christian. And that in itself is newsworthy in the present cultural climate.

What strikes me about this song are the title and the simplicity of its lyrics: no theology to speak of; the only distinctively "Christian" feature is the religion's defining characteristic of "loving everybody." At first this struck me (I am a New Testament scholar, after all) as somewhat odd. I immediately reacted, "Doesn't the lyricist know that becoming a Christian entails believing the gospel message of Christ's atoning death and bodily resurrection, and committing oneself in faith to the risen Lord?" It didn't take too much reflection to realize that I had made a fundamental lexical mistake: I had confused the notion of being a Christian with that of becoming a Christian. And that is a confusion of which I am hardly the only one guilty. Indeed, when performing a Google search this morning on "I want to be a Christian," the first entry, found on the Southern Baptist Convention website, was an answer to the question, "How to Become a Christian."

Now there is, of course, a necessary connection between becoming and being a Christian. The latter is impossible, after all, when the former has never happened. Being a Christian necessary entails adherence to a set of nonnegotiable theological propositions: the Lordship (involving the Deity) of Christ, his atoning death, and his bodily resurrection. And, as a Protestant, I wholeheartedly affirm that it is solely through faith in Christ that a person becomes a Christian and, hence, is—to use the biblical parlance—"saved." The theological battles of the 16th century had to be waged, and the followers of Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and Knox were brothers in arms fighting on the right side. But—and this is a big "but"—far too many of the Reformers' theological heirs now act as if the question of what it means to be a Christian is coterminous with the issue of how a person becomes one. From personal experience I can attest to the almost single-minded fervor in many evangelical circles to evangelize and hence "get people (some still unfortunately use the word "souls" in this context, but that's another matter) saved." What really matters, by implication, is whether or not someone is "in" the "saved" group. This attitude, when married to the bastard Calvinist notion of "eternal security" (as opposed to the authentically Calvinist "perseverance of the saints"), often bears unfortunate fruit: one is assumed to be "saved" and, hence, a Christian, if one has walked the aisle, said the "sinner's prayer," and been baptized. Well, maybe so, maybe not. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. What may appear, at first sight, to be a delicious dessert, may prove itself, upon testing, to be nothing of the sort.

This is why the disarming simplicity of the song's lyrics appeals to me. My background may have predisposed me to want mention of such truths as are found in John 3:16 or Ephesians 2:8-9. Then again, my background always led me to perplexity when reading the Gospel accounts of so many of Jesus' encounters with the Jews of his day. When the "rich young ruler" (Mark 10:17-31 et par.) asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded by rattling off six of the 10 commandments. When the young man claimed he had met those qualifications, Jesus responded, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Elsewhere he made a point to turn prospective followers away—Jesus was no American!—by exhorting them to count the cost of discipleship: following Jesus means "hating" one's earthly family. Even more shocking: following Jesus means "hating" one's very life! The disciple—and we must remember that "Christian" is but another name for a "disciple" of Jesus (Acts 11:26)—must take up his or her "cross" daily to follow him (Luke 14:25-33). That is but a pictorial way of saying that the way of discipleship is the way of self-abnegation, even to the point of being willing to die for the cause of Christ. The rub is this: being a Christian means accepting both what Christ offers and what he demands. Being a Christian, in other words, is as much a matter of loving one's enemies as it is trusting in the crucified and risen Lord for one's eternal salvation. The two go hand in glove. They are, in other words, a package deal. 

"Lord, I want to be a Christian." That is a prayer I—a person who has been a Christian for as long as I can consciously remember—pray each and every day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Resignation of Benedict XVI


(image@npr.org)

Ruth Moon at Christianity Today has a nice little article entitled "Why Evangelical Leaders Love Pope Benedict XVI (and His Resignation," in which she quotes several prominent evangelicals (Russell Moore, Carl Trueman [though he no doubt would prefer to be called a "Confessional Presbyterian"], Leith Anderson, Rich Mouw) and ex-evangelicals (Francis Beckwith) reflecting on the brief tenure of the most recent Bishop of Rome. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, was a hard act to follow (Trueman calls him "the first celebrity pope"), and one can only conclude that Benedict, in large measure, performed his duties well.


I, of course, am not a Roman Catholic (I am a good Scots-Irish boy, after all). Like the august Jim Packer, I could never submit myself or my conscience to the authority of the Bishop of Rome or the church's magisterium. Several of the church's official teachings—not least those concerning the doctrine of justification still enshrined in the documents of the Council of Trent—are, in my view, demonstrably wrong and potentially damaging to the life of the church. Nevertheless, like Packer, I acknowledge the genuine Christianity of my brothers and sisters in the Roman church who, like I, "confess 'Jesus is Lord'" and "believe that God raised him from the dead" (Romans 10:9). For years I have been of the opinion that, whereas we Protestants who walk in the footsteps of Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer may understand better how one becomes a Christian, it is to Catholics like the former Joseph Ratzinger that we can often look to show us better how to be Christians in the world. Whereas so many evangelical Protestants of my acquaintance have an almost exclusive obsession with "getting in" by faith (salvation as fire insurance), Catholics—who indeed are muddled in their understanding of justification—often seem to have a more healthy emphasis on what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself. One example is their emphasis on the culture of life, one that not only opposes abortion but advocates for the poor and opposes war as well.

In my view, Benedict is a greater theologian than his illustrious predecessor (on which, see Scott Hahn's Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI). His first papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God Is Love"), contains the following affirmation, with which I, as a Protestant, heartily agree:
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John's Gospel describes that event in these words: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life" (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel's faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might" (6:4–5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29–31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere "command"; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
Particularly significant is Benedict's theology of the covenant (not to be confused with Reformed "covenant theology," of course), which is based on a narrative understanding of the Bible centered on the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12 in Christ. Once again, as a Protestant I would not draw many of the conclusions Benedict does. But, as always, it is best to heed our Lord's warnings about dislodging the sequoia tree out of my own eyes before quibbling overmuch about the measly theological splinters residing in his. And, considering the prevalence of Moral Therapeutic Deism and silly, irreverent "worship" in much evangelicalism today, American Protestants in that tradition should think a bit before donning their judicial robes and ascending a theological high horse to sit in judgment against him. Humility, the recognition of our own fallen intellectual and moral inadequacies, must govern our attitudes here as in all areas of life.

In short, I mark the end of Benedict's tenure with a bit of sadness. He is likely the last major theologian to inhabit the office for a while. The Roman church, at least in the West, remains in a crisis largely of its own making. Benedict did a lot to stanch the bleeding. Our Lord, as the Shema says, is "One." He is also sovereign. I pray that Benedict's successor will likewise be one with the same love of his Lord that he has, and indeed one who will move the church toward reform more and more in keeping with the gospel as proclaimed by the apostles.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Fundamentalism" and "Evangelicalism": What Are They?


"A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something."
~George Marsden


I was raised in a defiantly fundamentalist milieu. My bible professor father proudly wore the "fundamentalist" label, and I was a member of a church that belonged to an organization known as the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America. My undergraduate work was done at a college (Philadelphia College of Bible, now Cairn University) whose origins lay in the work of one of the 19th century's most prominent fundamentalist precursors, C. I. Scofield. My seminary training likewise occurred at an ecclesiastically-independent school (Dallas Theological Seminary) founded by two fundamentalists, the Presbyterian evangelist Lewis Sperry Chafer  and the Anglican theologian W. H. Griffith Thomas.

Somewhere along the line, however, the "fundamentalist" label began to lose its cachet among theologically-conservative American Christians. My own first reservations came when reading the card-carrying inerrantist Jim Packer's little book, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God, during my sophomore year in college. But the single event which forever led me to eschew the label was the 1979 Iranian Revolution, whose leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was routinely referred to as an "Islamic fundamentalist" by the news media of the day, who could perhaps have been excused for not understanding the meaning or the history of the term's use in church history. This incident, and the use of the term "fundamentalist" precipitated by it, forever taught me two linguistic lessons. First, the meanings of terms can and do change over time, and it is precarious to assume historic meanings if one wants to avoid both anachronism and misunderstanding. Second, meanings of terms involve both denotation and connotation. One ignores the latter to his or her linguistic peril.

In hindsight, it was not only I who ran away from the fundamentalist label. The vast majority of Christians who would hitherto have designated themselves fundamentalists began preferring to be called "evangelicals," a practice that continues to this day and has resulted in further linguistic confusion. For definitions matter. Definitions matter to ensure clarity in communication. Clear definitions also matter when fuzzy, imprecise definitions can become the occasion to use a word as a pejorative, slur term. "Fundamentalist" has, for all practical purposes, been reduced to that level in much popular discourse, much like its mirror image, the term "liberal." In Christian circles, a "fundamentalist" is simply a person more conservative than the speaker, whether that conservatism manifests itself in doctrine or lifestyle. Tied to this, of course, is the often unspoken-yet-assumed connotation that the "fundamentalist" is an anti-intellectual religiously- and politically-conservative zealot. Not only this, but the penchant of formerly-designated "fundamentalists" for self-identifying as "evangelicals" has had a deleterious influence on the popular understanding of what an "evangelical" is. This term, historically used to identify the heirs of the Protestant Reformation as exponents of the biblical "gospel," and later used in the 1940s and 1950s to designate intellectually-rigorous and culturally-sensitive Christians who broke away from the narrowness of the older fundamentalism (the so-called "neo-evangelicals"), now is popularly used as a somewhat-imprecise equivalent of the Religious Right.

This is where a number of blog posts by Baylor church historian Roger Olson have become essential reading for Christians who desire to use terms precisely. Last April Olson wrote a piece designed to distinguish "evangelical" from "fundamentalist." In January he he tackled the issue of defining what it means to be "evangelical." Yesterday Olson published his best post yet, entitled "What Is 'Fundamentalism' and Who Is a 'Fundamentalist?'" Fundamental to Olson's argument is that the terms, if they are to remain useful at all, must be used in a historical-theological sense, rather than in the sociological sense that dominates the popular consciousness. And fundamental to a historical-theological understanding of these terms is the recognition that "fundamentalist" is a sub-set of "evangelical." In other words, all fundamentalists are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists.

Olson follows David Bebbington's quadrilateral in his definition of evangelicalism. According to this taxonomy, an evangelical is a person who adheres to four basic tenets:
  • Biblicism—the belief in the sufficiency (the inspiration and, often, the inerrancy) of the Bible for all spiritual truth.
  • Crucicentrism—the belief in the atoning character of Christ's work on the cross
  • Conversionism—the belief that all people must experience conversion to be saved
  • Activism—the belief that Christian faith must express itself actively in society
One can, of course, quibble with Bebbington's analysis (Olson himself fleshes it out by listing 7 core theological beliefs all evangelicals historically held), but he was right in seeing that evangelicalism is a trans-denominational Protestant phenomenon committed to historic Christian doctrine and practice within a bibliocentric matrix.


Fundamentalism, on the other hand, arose as a direct response to what were considered the destructive effects such matters as evolutionary biology, German liberal theology, and higher biblical criticism were having on the Christian faith as adhered to by the churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally, "fundamentalism" was a rather coherent movement—Olson likens the early fundamentalists to the 17th century Puritans—concerned to fight against the inroads of theological liberalism by rallying around a number of core, "fundamental" biblical doctrines (see, e.g., the 2-volume set entitled The Fundamentals, published in 1910-11). At this early stage ("paleo-fundamentalism") the movement included such august academicians as Princeton Seminary's J. Gresham Machen and even some (e.g., James Orr) that later fundamentalists wouldn't recognize as one of their own. 1925 however, was not only the year of the infamous Scopes "Monkey" trial in Dayton, Tennessee; it was also the year that the fundamentalist movement started to splinter hopelessly. Erstwhile fundamentalists, like Machen, from confessional denominations became less and less associated with the movement as others hunkered down in their opposition to modernity in all its forms, educational as well as cultural. In the 1940s many conservative Protestants grew weary of the anti-intellectual and retrograde stance the fundamentalists had taken, and so formed what has become known as the "neo-evangelical" movement, out of which modern evangelicalism has developed [an aside: even here, however, ambiguity exists; many conservative evangelicals associate the term "neo-evangelical" with those who, like at Fuller Seminary, ultimately abandoned belief in biblical inerrancy; I, on the other hand, link the term to the entire enterprise begun by Henry, Ockenga, et al., encompassing both more and less conservative elements within a broad Protestant orthodoxy].

Olson makes his most important point when he distinguishes between fundamentalism as a movement, which is largely dead and irrelevant in the larger ecclesial scene, and fundamentalism as an ethos, which remains alive and well, and which continues to rear its ugly head in evangelical circles. Olson's contention is a powerful one: many self-proclaimed "conservative evangelicals" today are, in reality, only slightly reconstructed "fundamentalists" of the old sort. And, by pretending to be representative of "historic evangelicalism," such "neo-fundamentalists" have had a detrimental impact on evangelical institutions and on the careers of many evangelical scholars with whom they don't see eye-to-eye on any number of issues. Olsen, I believe, is right on the money.

One issue that defines post-1925 fundamentalism is that of separation—not merely separation from unbelievers and/or heretics in the church, but secondary separation from other orthodox Christians who themselves fail to separate sufficiently from such questionable people. Thus I remember one of my college professors excoriating Billy Graham for allowing Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant ministers to share the stage with him in his famous evangelistic crusades. Likewise, when applying for a teaching position at a very conservative seminary back in the 1990s, I recall being asked to comment on my view of "secondary separation." They were underwhelmed by my rejection of the principle and, needless to say, I didn't get the job. [another aside: when the college where I formerly taught, which considers itself to be a mainline evangelical institution, recently bought this seminary and incorporated it into their organization, its President claimed the two schools "had identical visions"].

Secondary separation, after all, is an ideological pugilist's way of defending the fortress against the intrusion of potentially fatal error. I understand that, just as I appreciate (and follow) the apostles' admonitions in the New Testament to defend the faith against error. The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. First, many neo-fundamentalists draw the boundaries far too tightly. It is one thing to deny the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus, the atoning significance of his death, or the bodily nature of his resurrection. It is another to elevate such matters as particular views of the sacraments and eschatology, a stringent view of inerrancy, creationism, and so-called "complementarianism" (i.e., distinct roles for men and women and subordination of the latter within the hierarchical authority structure) to the status of boundary-defining matters of faith. Scholars on one side or the other in such debates my be right or they may be wrong. But debating such matters is what scholarship is for. And, as one who has operated "within the camp" for more than three decades, I can attest that matters are seldom as cut-and-dried as advocates on either side would have many believe. Particular scholastic institutions and ecclesiastical bodies have the right to draw boundaries as tightly as they wish, but they don't have the right to act and speak as if those who don't adhere to their distinctives—rightly or wrongly—have thereby forfeited the right to be considered an evangelical. The point is this: the neo-fundamentalist penchant for drawing boundaries runs counter to the historically centered-approach for defining evangelicalism. And the current run of evangelical professors losing their jobs over their views of Genesis 1-3, the New Perspective on Paul, and complementarianism vs. egalitarianism will have, if it has not done so already, a deadening effect on the church's witness to the wider society.

The second problem associated with the neo-fundamentalist ethos is that it, like so many other things, breeds prideful self-righteousness and promotes what can only be labeled a theological bullying syndrome. I will refrain from naming names here (to protect those I consider guilty). One can hardly dispute, however, that theological bullies are running rampant in the evangelical schoolyard. And this, for the testimony of then Christ we love and the good of his church, must end quickly. If we are to love our enemies, should we not also love our brothers and sisters?

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Beatles' "Please Please Me" after 50 (!) Years: An Appreciation


(image@beatlesbible.com)
"One, two, three, four." With these spoken words, Paul McCartney not only introduced "I Saw Her Standing There," the stirring opening number to the Beatles' debut UK album; he, for all intents and purposes, announced a new, thrilling era in the annals of Western popular music. Despite some exceptions (Roy Orbison and the "girl groups" associated with Phil Spector's Philles Records), popular music had languished in a treacly stupor ever since the induction of Elvis Presley into the Army in 1958, the death of Buddy Holly in February of 1959, and the arrest and imprisonment, later that year, of rock 'n roll's greatest pioneer, Chuck Berry, for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines for "immoral purposes." The Beatles, single-handedly, reversed this trend. Indeed, the "Beatlemania" that swept the UK in 1963 and America in 1964 was the opening salvo of the "British Invasion" that revolutionized rock music and, through the work of such potent artists as the Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, dominated the popular music scene for the next decade.


Paul, John, Ringo, and George in 1963
(image@guardian.co.uk)


And the bulk of that debut album was recorded in a marathon 10-hour session fifty years ago to this day—a sobering thought to any aging baby boomer for whom the Beatles will always remain the standard bearers of youthful vitality. The four lads from Liverpool had already created a buzz with the release of two singles, "Love Me Do" in October of 1962 (eventually reaching #17 on the UK charts) and "Please Please Me" in January of 1963 (ultimately reaching #1 in February). In order to capitalize on the momentum generated by these records, producer George Martin had them come to EMI Studios in Abbey Road to record what amounted to the standard live set they were then performing at Liverpool's Cavern Club. The results were revolutionary. Their earliest singles, incorporated in the album, were competent: "Love Me Do" was an agreeable, if somewhat slight, pop-rock/R&B ditty written by McCartney back in 1958-59. "Please Please Me," written by Lennon, was better—a pop/rock 'n roll number incorporating the Fab Four's greatest strengths: an unmatched gift for catchy melodies and harmony singing. No other band, then or (especially) now, could do such songs the way the Beatles could.

Listening again to this album after 50 years, some of the 12 remaining songs can only be categorized as filler that now sound dated, despite their often-sappy agreeableness (e.g., "P.S. I Love You" and "A Taste of Honey"). Three songs, however, stand out as among the group's greatest songs. The first is the aforementioned opener, "I Saw Her Standing There." In many respects, this is a somewhat-standard Chuck Berry-style rocker dealing with adolescent infatuation. But the chorus still thrills in its use of a non-standard chordal progression toward resolution. And the attack! The unbridled enthusiasm of McCartney's Little Richard-style vocals (especially evident in the bridge) and Harrison's and Lennon's dual guitars was simply unparalleled in the popular music of their day. Even if, as I would argue, the Stones would later go on to become the greatest practitioners of traditional rock 'n roll, the fact remains that the Beatles provided the template for their success. In my view, this song remains the band's most sublime rock performance, and one of the greatest rock 'n roll numbers ever recorded by any artist.

The second great song is their faithful, exquisite cover of the Shirelles' Burt Bacharach-penned "Baby It's You" (see here; for the Shirelles' 1961 original recording, see here). The song speaks for itself. But what stands out is Lennon's vocal performance: sensitive and poignant, the rasp in the upper register displaying an emotional intensity devoid of the maudlin tendencies that often marred McCartney's performances of love songs. This song, more than any on the album, provides hints as to why, in my view, it was John who was the greatest Beatle.

The third and final classic number was the rousing finale, another cover, this time of the Isley Brothers' 1961 rock 'n roll classic, "Twist and Shout" (here; for the Isley Brothers' original, see here). Once again, Lennon's vocal performance stands out. The story is a well-known one. Lennon, on 11 February 1963, was suffering from a terrible cold, and so Martin waited to record "Twist and Shout" last, fearing that the demands of the song would shred what remained of his vocal abilities and render him unable to sing on the other songs. When, after more than 9 hours, they finally got around to recording it, they did so in one take, which we still hear to this day. And what a marvelous take it was.

I leave you with a live performance of "Twist and Shout" from the Royal Variety Show in November of 1963. Lennon's marvelously cheeky introduction of the song (with the Queen Mum in attendance!) is almost as entertaining as the group's fine performance of the song itself: "For our last number, I'd like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you would just rattle your jewelry."


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Philadelphia's Overbrook Farms and Historic Preservation



House on Overbrook Avenue in Overbrook Farms, Philadelphia, 30 April 2011
(photo by author)

I was all of 7 years of age when my family moved from our row house apartment in the Wynnefield Heights section of West Philadelphia to the middle class fringes of the famed suburban district known as the Philadelphia Main Line. The "Main Line" is an unofficial designation encompassing all or parts of the upper and upper-middle class municipalities of Lower Merion, Haverford, Radnor, Upper Merion, Tredyffrin, and Willistown Townships in Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties. The name's origins lie in the area's unique history: these communities, all a part of the old 1681 "Welsh Tract"—which explains the names of most of the towns and townships of the area—were built along the "Main Line" of the long-defunct Pennsylvania Railroad, at one time the largest publicly-traded corporation in the world. Then, as now, the Main Line defined "Old Money Philadelphia," and many of its zip codes perennially are included in lists of the wealthiest in America. What the Main Line historically represented is perhaps best understood by watching the classic 1940 Cary Grant-Jimmy Stewart-Katharine Hepburn (the last of whom fittingly was an alumna of the Main Line's famous Bryn Mawr College) film, "The Philadelphia Story," inspired by the life of Hope Montgomery Scott, who lived in a (still extant) 50-room Georgian mansion amid the 360 acres of an estate called Ardrossan in Radnor Township.


La Ronda, Bryn Mawr (demolished)
(photo@philebrity.com)
That was then, of course. In the ensuing decades, the exigencies of modern American life have wreaked havoc on the Main Line's matchless landscape. Many of the spectacular mansions—Penshurst, Cheswold, Timberline—have met the wrecking ball. Most tragic of all was the 2009 demolition of the matchless La Ronda estate in Bryn Mawr, simply because it wasn't air-conditioned. Others—most recently the Horace Trumbauer-designed Bloomfield in Villanova—have met their demise via fire. Others—Beaumont, Waverly—have been re-purposed for institutional purposes. Many of the estates that remain have been subdivided to make room for the construction of "McMansions" for the nouveau riche, monstrosities with all the "luxurious" amenities demanded by today's wealthy consumers but devoid of the aesthetics and quality building materials—and, I might add, the soul—of the homes built from 1875-1925. All of which means that preservation of what remains of this most exceptional of residential districts should be one of the most pressing concerns for both residents of the area and all lovers of Philadelphia.

This is why an article this week on the website of Hidden City Philadelphia caught my attention. It concerns a long-standing dispute over whether or not the Philadelphia Historical Commission should grant the neighborhood of Overbrook Farms a place on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Overbrook Farms is the first of the suburban towns on the Main Line, and the only one within the city limits of Philadelphia. It was developed starting in 1892, and its tree-lined streets filled with large, individually-designed single and twin homes remain relatively unscathed by the ravages of time, the declasse status of the bordering Overbrook neighborhood to its south and development pressures from booming St. Joseph's University on its northeastern border. In 1984 Overbrook Farms was named a national historic district. And so, on the face of it, it would seem that a comparable city designation would be a no-brainer.

But, as with all things Philadelphia, what appears to be the case on the surface isn't necessarily so. The point at issue: a national designation comes with no strings attached as far as "renovations" or alterations go; a city designation does. If the city designation were to go into effect, the owner of a property would not be able, willy-nilly, to demolish or alter its appearance, because doing so would damage the integrity both of the property and the district as a whole. Now, as one who constantly laments the damage done to the city's working-class streetscape by DIY home "improvements" over the past few decades, I believe such a designation is imperative to the neighborhood's long-term thriving. But, of course, in a political atmosphere dominated by Tea Party-style hatred of "intrusive" government and glorification of individualistic property rights, the proposed designation has garnered more than a little opposition, including that of the Orthodox Jewish school, Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, which has already demolished one historic house on Drexel Road and has plans for additional expansion. Others have expressed concern for people who can't afford to upgrade their property [an aside: I grant the potential cost of such work, and have more than a little sympathy for homeowners' financial burdens, but find it difficult to imagine that many of the people living in these spacious and gracious homes have serious financial difficulties]. As a result, the proposed designation resides somewhere in limbo, with no clear resolution in sight.


The issue, as always, amounts to this: how can the interests of individualism and communitarianism be balanced for the benefit of all? America, it seems, almost always sides with the individual. Property rights, so conventional wisdom claims, are sacrosanct. To an extent I would agree. But not entirely. All of us have a responsibility to the communities of which we are a part. And in many cases, the interests of a community override that of the individual, especially when the value of a neighborhood's properties and its aesthetic integrity are at stake. And it can hardly be supposed that a historical designation would hurt the property values of the district. In this case, the city must do whatever it can to ensure this designation takes place, including providing tax incentives to property owners who may feel unfavorably disposed for financial reasons. The integrity of the neighborhood depends on it. And remember: once a piece of architecture is gone, it is gone forever. As the history of Philadelphia has shown, no replacement structure ever matches the grandeur of what it replaces.

I leave you with a few photographs I took in April of 2011 in Overbrook Farms.












Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paul, Judaism, and Justification: A Brief Response to Dan Wallace, Part 2

In a post last week I introduced the issue of the Apostle Paul's teaching on "justification" vis-à-vis the nature of the Second Temple Judaism against which it was (partially) polemically directed. The catalyst was a post in the blog of my friend Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary entitled "Paul and Justification by Faith: The Real Jewish Evidence." In his post Wallace cites the work of Preston Sprinkle (Ph.D., Aberdeen), a Biblical Studies Professor at Eternity Bible College in Simi Valley, California, who argues that Ed Sanders's famous revisionist view of Judaism ("covenantal nomism") presents a too-rosy picture of the "pattern of religion" in contrast to which the Apostle presented his gospel message. 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.
The issues involved in the discussion of the so-called "New Perspective on Paul" (the NPP) are exceedingly complex. I myself wrote my own doctoral dissertation on Paul's theology of justification in Galatians back in 1995 and, if anything, the heat of the debate has only escalated in the intervening years. Of one thing I am sure: scholars in the confessional Lutheran and Reformed traditions will never accept what Sanders said, and thus will never come to terms with the NPP. They simply have too much emotional capital invested in the traditional Protestant position to do so. Indeed, since such scholars are both capable and honorable, it is only this worldview-defining capital that could possibly explain their seemingly congenital inability to understand what scholars like N. T. Wright actually teach, and their consequent misrepresentation of these scholars' positions—which I have learned by bitter personal experience. For a long time I have planned to write a book on the issue, following the suggestion of my old external examiner, Steve Spencer. For now, however, I would like to point out a couple matters where I believe Sprinkle's work, not to mention that of other advocates of the "Old Perspective on Paul" (the OPP), needs nuancing and/or contextual modification.

First, as I tried to argue two decades ago, the concerns of the NPP are not incompatible with those of the OPP. Reformed writers from Carl Trueman to Guy Waters have acted as if proponents of the NPP repudiate the classic Protestant position on justification. This is simply preposterous, as Jimmy Dunn showed in a devastating response to Trueman's criticism. More recently, N. T. Wright has argued (most prominently in his recent book on Justification) from both Romans 3-4 and Ephesians 2 that the concerns of both the NPP and the OPP coalesce; indeed, the two actually depend on each other for their full force. As Wright puts it:
The problem of Genesis 11 (the fracturing of humanity) is the full outworking of the problem of Genesis 3 (sin), and the promise to Abraham is the answer to both together. Perspectives new and old sit comfortably side by side here, a pair of theological Siamese twins sharing a single heart (Justification, 97-98).
Wright and Dunn certainly do argue that "the Reformation got it ... wrong," as Wallace puts it. But their mistake was not in disputing medieval Catholicism's semi-Pelagian merit theology, nor even in using Paul's letters to the Galatians and the Romans as a weapon in their arsenal against it. As Wright says over and over again, Paul would certainly have agreed with Luther and Calvin that people cannot earn their salvation through the performance of meritorious works. But—and this is the main point—such a "Pelagian" view was not the position of Paul's opponents (real or hypothetical) in either Galatians or Romans.

This means, secondly, that the Reformers and their theological heirs have erred in confusing a legitimate application or contextualization of Paul's teaching with its historical meaning. This is most apparent in what is quite possibly the Apostle's earliest extant letter, Galatians. It is here that his famous antithesis between "justification by faith in Christ/the faithfulness of Christ" and "justification by works of the law" first appears. And he uses this contrast in opposition to Jewish-Christian "agitators" who insisted that Paul's Gentile converts must undergo circumcision so as to legitimize their standing as Abraham's children. Significantly, the fundamental contrast is articulated in what ostensibly was Paul's own response to the Apostle Peter's spineless withdrawal from table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile Christians in Antioch. These "works" which implicitly were needed for "justification" were not meritorious bits of moral striving that putatively could be used to establish one's position before God. On the contrary, these "works of the law" were actions prescribed in the Torah that were designed, first and foremost, to distinguish the Jewish people from the Gentiles and mark them as God's covenant people. And this is precisely the way they were used by Paul's actual opponents in Galatia. In response to these "troublemakers," Paul provides a finely detailed scriptural argument in Galatians 3 in which he attempts to show why Gentile converts need not adopt such "works of the Torah." Later, Galatians 5:1-6, he goes further and argues that such converts must not do so. Such a declension, implying as it would that Christ's apocalyptic achievement on the cross was not sufficient in itself to justify, would be a fatal "fall" from grace and sever the person from the lifeline that is Christ himself. It goes without saying that Paul's opponents didn't draw these implications. But he did, and both Luther and Calvin were correct when they contextualized this message to apply it to the Christian legalists of their time. But they erred in misunderstanding the historical focus of the apostle's argument. Paul's teaching in Galatians leads to another, related observation.

Third, advocates of the OPP err in understanding Paul's teaching about justification in terms of the ordo salutis rather than the historia salutis. In other words, by understanding justification to be primarily an element of the sequential application of Christ's redemption to the individual sinner, they have both decontextualized it and transformed it into a timeless (or, better, trans-temporal) theological principle. Abraham, the centerpiece of Paul's argument in both Galatians 3 and Romans 4, has been understood in this tradition to be an example drawn from the Old Testament to prove that the Jews, who believed in "justification by works of the law," were mistaken. Justification, I have often heard it said, has always been by faith. Just as we are justified by faith in Christ, so Old Testament saints were justified by anticipating the coming Messiah and trusting in the coming sacrifice for sins he would offer. The facts that the Old Testament nowhere speaks to the issue of an individual's entrance into a state of being "saved," and that no such widespread anticipation of a messianic sin-bearer can be historically verified, don't deter such theologians. (As an aside, one of the great virtues of my father as a biblical interpreter was his recognition, based not least on the Gospels' portrait of the disciples, that such a picture of the hope of Old Testament saints is pure nonsense). But they should.

However, what close exegesis of both Galatians and Romans demonstrates is that Paul clearly presents his doctrine of justification by faith as the entail of the eschatological fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham. This is especially transparent in Galatians 3:8: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed'." This was not a timeless principle valid for the previous dispensation in which God's covenant people were defined by their physical descent from Abraham and marked out by their obedience to the Torah, not least by the physical sign of a circumcised foreskin. Indeed, this becomes clear in Galatians 3:10-14, where justification, as "the blessing of Abraham," is extended to the Gentiles by virtue of Christ's having redeemed Jewish believers ("us") by his vicarious bearing of the covenant curse on their behalf on the cross.

The same is true in Romans. This greatest of Pauline letters is usually understood, in keeping with Luther's quest to find a "gracious God," to articulate a gospel of individual salvation: both Gentiles (1:18-32) and Jews (2:1-3:9) are sinners who deserve God's wrathful condemnation and are incapable of "earning" salvation by their "works"; Christ died as a substitute in judgment for all, and hence all who exercise faith in Christ are "justified," declared to be "righteous" in God's cosmic law court. Now, there is truth in this analysis. But there are more than a few clues that Paul's main argument lies elsewhere: Paul's definition of his gospel message as pertaining to Christ's resurrection (1:4), his emphasis on being commissioned as the Apostle to the Gentiles (1:5-6), his emphasis—often thought by advocates of the OPP to be a digression—on God's faithfulness despite Israel's unfaithfulness (3:1-8), his initial reference to "justification" as the entail of the eschatological (note the temporal "but now" [nyni de] in 3:21) manifestation of God's saving covenant faithfulness ("the righteousness of God") in Christ's death (3:21-26), and especially his explicit statement that "justification by works of the law" would imply a limitation of justification to Jews (note the "or" [ē] introducing 3:29). Indeed, as Richard Hays has argued, "The driving question in Romans is not, 'How can I find a gracious God?' but 'How can we trust in this allegedly gracious God if he abandons his promises to Israel?'" (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, 53). On such a reading, not only do the enigmatic chapters 9-11 come into their own, but the true nature of Paul's critique of Judaism is clarified. Their "boast"—the boast that is excluded by the "law of faith" (3:27), i.e., the Torah understood through the narratival hermeneutical grid laid bare in the apostle's recounting of the Abraham story in chapter 4—was not the crass boast of the moralist, but the boast of a people who had been given the Torah so they could be a light to the lawless Gentiles (2:17-20). But this boast was invalidated, not just in terms of individual Jews shown to be sinners in need of salvation, but by national unfaithfulness which had resulted in their experience of the covenantal curse of exile, as Paul's oft-misunderstood quotation of Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24 clearly indicates.

In Paul's view, the Jews' mistake was in imagining that they could still relate to God by keeping the Torah, and that doing so would hasten the fulfillment of God's promise to the nation in Deuteronomy 30:1-3, 6:
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you ... The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
Paul, however, believed that the promised circumcision of the heart had already occurred, and that Gentiles as well as Jews were now the recipients of it as beneficiaries of the already-inaugurated new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (Rom 2:25-29). And thus God's promise to Abraham of a single, world-wide, sin-forgiven  family had come to fruition through Christ's death and resurrection—a family whose defining characteristic is not circumcision and Torah observance, but the very same faith Abraham demonstrated when he believed God's promise and "it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom 4). The Jews' pride in being Abraham's children "according to the flesh" (Rom 4:1) is thus shown to be retardataire in view of God's faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham. What now matters is being children of the promise, the covenant people through whom God was centripetally reversing the centrifugal movement precipitated by the apostasy of Babel narrated in Genesis 11.

One cannot emphasize enough how scandalous this message was in Paul's day, and indeed still is to the Jewish people. According to Paul, God had fulfilled the promise of Deuteronomy 30, and with it the Abrahamic Covenant as well. Yet he had done so while the vast majority of Jewish people remained in unbelief, and not as a result of the people's repentance and obedience to the Torah which Deuteronomy said would precipitate it. This fact in itself should give pause to those who too quickly want to charge the Jews of Paul's day with "legalism." And it warrants our asking on what basis the Apostle made his audacious claim. These considerations lead us to a fourth point.

Fourth, inaugurated eschatology explains Paul's focus on "initial" justification instead of the standard Jewish concern with "final justification." Although it is always precarious to make sweeping generalizations about Jewish beliefs in the Second Temple period, one thing is certain: many, if not most, Jews of the period were eagerly anticipating God's intervention to bring about the promised eschatological kingdom, at which time the faithful people of God would be vindicated and the saints who had died would be raised from the dead to experience covenant fulfillment on the earth. This, not the individual hope for "going to heaven," is the context in which we must understand the Jewish belief in "justification by works of the law." In the lawcourt metaphor, God as the Judge "justifies" or "vindicates" the faithful. He pronounces in their favor or declares them to be in the right. And the criterion of this faithfulness was, of course, obedience to the covenant stipulations laid down in the Law—even Deuteronomy 30 clearly makes such obedience the necessary evidence of the "return" to Yahweh that would come before the promised final return from exile.

Sprinkle is one of a number of scholars who has argued that Sanders's portrayal of Second Temple Judaism is far too sanguine. And in this judgment he is no doubt correct. Jewish "nomism" (religion based on keeping the law) was not as monolithic as Sanders had supposed. Indeed, despite my own sympathies with Sanders's  work, years ago I argued that in key respects "legalism" was not an entirely inappropriate charge to bring against various segments of Second Temple Judaism (cf. my "No One Is Justified by Works of the Law," 326-27 n.11). Nevertheless, in large measure I would still argue that his primary thesis still stands for large swaths of Jewish belief. In particular, the context in which we must understand Jewish law-keeping—even when such observance is considered instrumental in attaining vindication at the final judgment (for example, the 1st century apocalyptic tract known as 4 Ezra)—is that of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai and later in Moab before the people entered the promised land. It was keeping the law, of course, that demonstrated their commitment to Yahweh and faithfulness to their covenant responsibilities. Disobedience to Torah led to covenant curse and exile. Obedience would be the means by which God would renew the covenant and hasten the coming of the eschaton.

But Paul, as we have seen, will have none of it. In his view, "works of the law" cannot justify, both because such works would explicitly exclude Gentiles (3:29) and because the law can only reveal the sin of its subjects when they invariably break its rules (3:19-20). Justification by works of the law, then, not only excludes Gentiles; it excludes Jews as well. Instead, God is one who "justifies the ungodly" (4:5), a clear polemic against those Jews who were tempted to "explain" God's choice of Abraham either by some virtue found in the patriarchs or Israel's foreseen obedience to the Torah. It is also a deliberately scandalous assertion on Paul's part. The Torah itself forbids a judge to "justify the wicked" (Exod 23:7), and Sprinkle is correct to note that no Jew would have followed Paul in his contention. The reason for this is a simple one. The Jews consistently understood "justification" or "vindication" as a verdict pronounced at the last judgment.

Paul, however, characteristically brings this eschatological verdict forward into the present, and ties it to faith and to, as Luther rightly emphasized, to faith alone. Not only does this apply to Gentiles, but to Jews as well, who must exercise faith in Christ to be considered justified, sin-forgiven members of God's covenant people (Gal 2:15-16; Rom 3:22-23, 30) [As another aside, this fact speaks deafeningly against the views of such forebears of the NPP as William Wrede and Krister Stendahl, who considered "justification by faith" to be merely a theological expedient designed to place Gentiles on equal footing with Jews in the people of God.]

What accounts for Paul's innovation? In a word, the resurrection of Christ.  As Seyoon Kim argued three decades ago in a magisterial Manchester thesis, the Apostle's Damascus Road encounter with the risen Lord not only turned his life upside down, but also had a definitive, generative effect on his interpretation of Israel's scriptures and the course of salvation history. The resurrection of Christ, to Paul, was his installment as universal Lord in fulfillment of the Davidic promise of Psalm 2:7 (Rom 1:4). Believers in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, are already accounted "righteous" because he "was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom 4:25). As Davidic Messiah and promised seed of Abraham, Jesus of Nazareth acted as a representative figure (nowhere made more explicit than in the marvelously profound Rom 5:12-21, where his achievement on the cross is set in contrast to the devastating sin of the first Adam). In his resurrection, God not only inaugurated the hoped for "age to come," bringing its promised blessings to bear already in the midst of the present age. The resurrection also marked God's faithfulness to his promises to Israel. Jesus, as the true Israelite, is now the one around whom the true people of God, the eschatological people of God promised to Abraham, drawn from "many nations," would be drawn. Faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ unites the believer with him. They are thereby reckoned to have died with him, and hence receive the benefits accruing from it. Likewise, they are reckoned to have been raised with him, and thereby share in the vindicating verdict ("justification") the resurrection signified.

Sprinkle is correct that this theological structure is a theological novum not shared by Paul's Jewish contemporaries. They indeed had no corresponding notion of an anticipatory, definitive present justification, let alone one open to Gentiles and mediated through faith alone. But this does not mean that their problem was an explicitly "legalistic" desire to merit justification through law-keeping. What Paul did was to categorically deny the soteriological significance of the Mosaic covenant in view of its eschatological supercession by the fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants. As the Apostle argued clearly in Galatians 3, the Torah, understood as the Mosaic covenant charter, had run its course and served its (negative) preparatory purpose, only to be made redundant by the Christ event. Henceforth, as Paul saw it, any attempt to relate to God on its basis was futile, misguided, and destined to bring upon the "worker" the "wrath" the Torah inevitably brings on the head of the law-breaker (e.g., Gal 3:10; Rom 4:15). In other words, Paul's critique of his Jewish contemporaries was rooted in eschatology.

Indeed, the Apostle retained an entirely Jewish belief in a final judgment in which the vindicating/acquitting verdict is issued in accordance with works (Rom 2:6-16). The extent to which this teaching is incomprehensible, if not offensive, to many proponents of the OPP is evident in the still-common belief that Paul's argument in these verses is hypothetical. Paul, such scholars argue, presents a general principle that he later claims is never realized in practice (Rom 3:9-20). Such an interpretation, however, is born less of exegesis than it is of theological expedience. Later in Romans 2, the Apostle clearly writes of such people when he speaks of those whose obedience demonstrates a circumcised heart and "reckons" them to be "circumcised," even if their foreskin remained intact. For Paul, the present verdict, pronounced on the basis of faith in Christ, is definitive, and will certainly be confirmed at the last assize when the lives of the presently justified are examined (cf. Rom 8:29-30, where all the presently "justified" are guaranteed to be ultimately "glorified"). The missing element here, of course, is the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle succinctly argues in Romans 8:1-4. Much more could be said here. Suffice it to say, however, that the Reformed theologian has nothing to fear from Paul's very Jewish belief in a final judgment, or indeed a final "justification," issued in accordance with "works."

The upshot of this survey is this: the NPP, or at least certain versions of it, is not incompatible with the primary concerns of the OPP. Indeed, far from being something to fear, the NPP provides the nuances necessary to save the valid concerns of the OPP from the potentially fatal charge of theological anachronism. I am indeed "favorably disposed" to the NPP, and I have paid dearly for that disposition. I am also, despite this fact, a Reformed theologian. But I am a Reformed theologian who remains committed to the historical-critical method. Indeed, it is only the historical method that can protect the Reformed faith from the ossification that inevitably occurs when its 16th and 17th century confessions are allowed to dictate what the text must mean. Classic Protestantism was marked by the slogan, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda. The Reformed church must always be reforming as its understanding of God's Word advances. We do well if we take that admonition to heart.