Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christ's Resurrection and Our Justification: Romans 4:25


"He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."
~St. Paul, Romans 4:25


In the evangelical piety in which I was raised, our "salvation" was almost exclusively tied to Christ's achievement on the cross of Calvary. The bodily resurrection of Christ on the third day, while celebrated and affirmed as a theological nonnegotiable, was seen often as simply proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be (sometimes wrongly seen as "proof that he was God," but that's a matter for another time) and that God had accepted the sacrifice he had offered on the tree. Sometimes the classic piece of oldest Christian tradition cited by Paul in Romans 4:25, based on a Christological interpretation of Isaiah 53, was interpreted in the sense that Christ was raised because (Greek dia) our justification had been "accomplished." Of course, such an interpretation is rendered unlikely because justification is consistently used by the apostle as a metaphor dealing with the application rather than the accomplishment of salvation in the context of Romans 3-4.

Years ago Westminster Seminary Professor Richard Gaffin pointed my way to a better solution by looking at yet another piece of tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:16:
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.
The verb "vindicated" is the verb dikaioō, which is precisely the term used by the apostle to speak of God's act of "justifying" or "acquitting" those who believe in Christ. Another piece of the puzzle came together when, in the course of my research for my doctoral dissertation on Galatians, I noticed Galatians 2:17, where St. Paul says that we are justified "in Christ," i.e., by virtue of our union with/incorporation into Christ. At that point I had a Damascus Road experience, as it were: Christ's resurrection was his vindication, "justification," and we who believe are justified as we, through faith-union with Christ, are incorporated into that vindication.

Thus I was thrilled when I read Mike Bird's blog this morning, where he had this to say:
Once upon a time I believed that our salvation and justification was something achieved principally by the cross (i.e. justified by his blood, Rom. 5.9). The resurrection, then, was really just the proof that God accepted Christ’s atoning death and proof of life after death. However, after I read through the Pauline letters more carefully, I came to see that God’s justifying verdict was more intimately bound up with the resurrection of Christ. Passages such as Rom. 4.25; 1 Cor. 15.17 and 1 Tim. 3.16 (obliquely Rom. 5.18-21; 8.10-11) show that God’s saving action is executed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. For in the cross, we see God’s verdict against sin, our sin, meted out in the flesh of the Son of God, the condemnation of our evil is given its due. But then, the resurrection transposes that verdict from condemnation to justification, taking us from death to new life, from guilt to acquittal. Moreover, Jesus himself is justified in his resurrection, he is vindicated as the Son of God, and because we share in his death and resurrection, his justification becomes ours as well. In other words, we are justified because we participate in Jesus’ own justification!
Amen! So on this Easter morning, I leave you with the famous words in the venerable Anglican liturgy: "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"

(image @bbc.co,uk/arts/yourpaintings)

Crucifixion was the most gruesome, ignominious means of execution utilized by the Romans to subdue the peoples who populated their Empire. The 3rd-century Church Father Origen expressed it best in his Commentary on Matthew (on Matt 27:22ff.), when he spoke (in its Latin version) of mors turpissima crucis ("the utterly vile death of the cross").

St. Paul likewise reflects this understanding when he writes in wonder of the depths of the self-humbling (etapeinōsen heauton) of the incarnate Christ, whose obedience extended even (de) to the point of submitting to "a cross death" (thanatou staurou) (Phil 2:8). One thing was certain, to Jew and Gentile alike: a crucified "Messiah" was a mere messianic pretender. And the evidence for this was in the public domain. Not surprisingly, as Paul well knew, proclamation of a crucified Messiah and Lord was both folly (mōria) to Greeks (not to mention the Romans who had sent him to the gallows) and a stumbling block (skandalon) to Jews still waiting for a messianic deliverer (1 Cor 1:18).

Yet Paul, who had experienced his Easter on a trip to Damascus to round up Hellenist Christian rabble-rousers (Acts 9, inter alia), knew otherwise firsthand. As a result, he could speak paradoxically of the folly of the "message of the cross" (ho logos tou staurou) as the height of divine saving power and wisdom (1 Cor 1:24), and hence the content of the "gospel" (euangelion) he preached (1 Cor 1:18). Adherence to the message of the cross entailed a complete reordering of one's worldview. Whereas previously the zealous Pharisee Saul of Tarsus had placed his boast (kauchēsis) and confidence (pepoithēsis) in his Jewish identity and zeal for the Torah (Phil 3:4-6), he now considered such things, by contrast, to be "loss" (zymia) and even "crap" (skybala) in view of the greater glory of knowing Christ and possessing a right standing before God by faith (Phil 3:8). Henceforth he would only boast in Christ (Phil 3:3).

Nowhere is this clearer than in the Apostle's (probably) earliest letter, Galatians, where he writes to counteract the influence of Jewish Christian "agitators" who were insisting that Paul's Gentile converts be circumcised to become full members in God's Abrahamic covenant people. In the letter's Postscript, Paul accuses his opponents of insisting on circumcision "in order that they might boast in your flesh" (Gal 6:13). Presumably the opponents wouldn't have seen things this way—this is polemical correspondence, after all—but the fact was that such a victorious campaign on their part would have attested, according to their theological understanding, to their faithfulness to the Torah and, hence, to God. Paul, however, in supreme irony, counters with some of the most profound words ever to come from his pen:
But God forbid for me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14).
The cross, of course, is the very cross on which Christ was "cursed" for "us" (i.e., Jewish Christians, in whose stead he bore the covenant curse they had incurred (Gal 3:13, with 3:10), thus freeing the "blessing of Abraham" to be extended, as God had promised, to the Gentiles (Gal 3:14). It is the cross whose significance would be nullified if people could be "justified" by adherence to the redundant Torah's demands (Gal 2:21). And it is the cross, the locus of Christ's supreme demonstration of love for his people, that, via our incorporation into the crucified Jesus, enables us to "live for God" even as it signaled our "death to the Torah" (Gal 2:19-20). It is this profound truth that Paul reiterates memorably in Galatians 6:14b. Through Christ's historisch crucifixion a further reciprocal (theological) crucifixion occurred, viz., the "world" to the believer and the believer to the world. In other words, through the believer's corporate participation in the once-for-all death of Christ, the relationship which the believer had with the world by virtue of physical birth has been severed completely. Hence he or she has been rescued from its dominion and made a partaker of the new creation (Gal 6:15) inaugurated by the accursed cross and the vindicating resurrection (Gal 1:1) which followed two days later and served, in part, to interpret the cross's significance.

No one understood the implications of this text better than the "Father of English Hymnody," the great Nonconformist scholar and theologian Isaac Watts. Though he wrote a textbook on Logic that was in use at Oxbridge for a hundred years, Watts is today best known as the earliest and, along with Charles Wesley, the greatest hymn writer the English-speaking world has produced. Among the 800 or so hymns he wrote, Watts produced such enduring classics as "Joy to the World," "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed," "I Sing the Mighty Power of God," and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past." But without a doubt his greatest hymn, one which the great Wesley once said he would have traded every one he had ever written if only he could have written this one, is the immortal "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," originally published in 1707 in his collection, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. The verses, which need no commentary, read thus:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I leave you with a splendidly refined performance of this hymn (set to the 1790 Rockingham tune as arranged by John Rutter) by the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge:


Thursday, March 28, 2013

J. S. Bach's Matthäus-Passion: THE Essential Soundtrack to Holy Week


(image@npr.org)



Years ago one of my students asked me who my favorite musical artists were. After listing a host of blues, classic rock, and jazz artists, she asked incredulously, "Don't you listen to Christian music?"
My response failed to enhance her comprehension: "Sure I do. I listen to Bach."

Johann Sebastian Bach is, in my view, along with Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the two greatest composers in the history of Western music. He was also a devout Lutheran who served, for the last 27 years of his life, as Cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig and Director of Music for the main churches in the city. Among his responsibilities was the composition and performance of cantatas for each Sunday (!) and major holy days on the liturgical calendar. A staggering 209 of these have survived. Even more spectacular are the three Passions he wrote to be performed at Good Friday vespers services at St. Thomas: the St. John Passion (1724), the St. Matthew Passion (1727), and the St. Mark Passion (1731; unfortunately only the libretto has survived). Of these, the St. Matthew Passion, referred to by his wife Anna Magdalena Bach as "the great Passion," is the most significant. Of all Bach's sacred works, the Matthäus-Passion is surpassed only by his crowning achievement, the B-Minor Mass of 1749.

The "great Passion" is an oratorio which sets chapters 26-27 of Matthew's Gospel (his "passion narrative") to music, with the libretto provided by Christian Friedrich Henrici (pseudonym Picander). And both the length (27 "scenes" comprising of 68 "actions") and the forces marshaled for its performance (soloists, double choir, double orchestra, upwards of 60 total performers) certainly warrant Anna's description of it as "great." It presents Luther's German translation of Matthew (soloists representing both the Evangelist and the main characters in the scenes) interspersed with arias and chorales which brilliantly convey the theological and personal/existential significance of the events.

The Passion was divided by Bach into two parts, to be performed before and after the sermon. Part One consists of 12 scenes and Part Two of fifteen. Each of these scenes consists of biblical text followed by either individual (aria) or collective (chorale) reflection on that text. Furthermore, each part is framed by significant choruses (##1, 29; 30, 68) which serve as architectural pillars supporting the project as a whole. Most significant is the spectacular introductory chorus ("Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen"), in which the entire theological force of the passion is presented in nuce (performed here in period style by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his incomparable Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists):





Come ye daughters, share my mourning;
See Him! — Whom? —The Bridegroom Christ.
See Him! — How? — A spotless Lamb.

See it! — What? — His patient love.
Look! — Look where? — On our guilt.
Look on Him. For love of us
He Himself His Cross is bearing.

O Lamb of God unspotted,
There slaughtered on the cross,
Serene and ever patient,
Though scorned and cruelly tortured,
All sin for our sake bearing, Else would we die despairing,
Have pity on us, O Jesus.



The guiltless Son of God, dying the death his people deserved, bearing their guilt as he was slaughtered as the antitype of the Passover Lamb—here is faultless New Testament theology presented by Picander in poetic form and set to spectacularly beautiful music by the great Bach. And this sets the tone for the work as a whole. The story, with its bitter ironies and gruesome details as it works its way inexorably to the execution of its protagonist, is ultimately not a tragedy. Hence, Picander and Bach can close the monumental piece on a "down" note ("In tears of grief, dear Lord, we leave Thee ...") in the knowledge that the story of Jesus does not end here. Indeed, the glorious continuation of the story would be performed only two days later in the Easter Oratorio.

Part of Bach's genius is how he incorporated a number of chorales his audience would have recognized from their own hymn singing. Foremost among these is "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," based on a Medieval poem by Arnulf of Louvain (d. 1250 CE) (not St. Bernard of Clairvaux, as had previously been thought), and set to music based on a secular love song by Hans Leo Hassler ca. 1600. Bach interspersed five verses of this hymn throughout the Passion, utilizing different harmonics in each, culminating in the famous first verse in Action number 54. We English speakers know this hymn as "O Sacred Head Now Wounded," based on the English translation of 1830 by the American Presbyterian minister James Waddel Alexander. The hymn in its entirety reads thus, and needs no commentary:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.
My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

I leave you with a lovely performance by Gustav Leonhardt and La Petite Bande of "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," in the prayer that all of us take its words to heart and redouble our commitment to the one who died in our place for our eternal gain. As Bach himself always wrote at the conclusion of his sacred scores, Soli Deo Gloria!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

So-Called "Complementarians": The Goofy, the Offensive, and the Obnoxious (Part 3)




[For previous installments in this series, see here and here.]

Owen Strachan is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College (the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned his Ph.D. in Historical Theology from TEDS in 2011, has written six books, and is the Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is clearly, with this resume, an intelligent and diligent man with a firm commitment to Christ and the furtherance of the gospel.

He is also just 31 years old. And his public proclamations over the past couple of years have been such that to characterize him as a Neo-Fundamentalist pit bull pup running loose in the Evangelical playground would hardly be an exaggeration. Just last month he hammered Messiah College professor Eric Seibert, who posted a three part series on Pete Enns's blog (for the first installment, see here) challenging the Old Testament's violent portrayals of God (earlier Seibert had written two books on the subject, The Violence of Scripture and Disturbing Divine Behavior). It is not the fact that Strachan criticised Seibert. I, too, though not untroubled by the texts Seibert discusses, disagree with the solution he offers, not least because of the Marcionite tendency he manifests. Rather, it is the way he went about it. As Enns himself pointed out, Strachan implicitly but clearly called for Seibert's ouster at the Anabaptist (!) institution. And, as one who has personally felt the pain of the left foot of fellowship, I consider that to be crossing the line.

But it is Strachan's clearly relished role as defender of traditional—he would say "biblical"—gender roles that calls out for special mention here. My criticism today is not directed against his "complementarianism" per se, even if his brand of "complementarianism" is of the hierarchical, "strong patriarchy" type, to use Bill Webb's taxonomy. Indeed, I myself, while adhering to what I would term "complementary mutuality," don't have too much of a bone to pick with those who, based on such texts as Ephesians 5:22-33, would adhere to what Webb called an "ultra-soft patriarchy" in which vestigial marital hierarchy is deconstructed both by Paul's call for believers' mutual submission (Eph 5:21) and the example of Christ's loving sacrificial service for his "bride," the church (Eph 5:25-33). Where I take issue with Strachan is his insistence on the perpetuation of stereotypical male/female roles and activities within the home—after all, I would argue, nontraditional roles are fully compatible even within a soft patriarchal framework of family relationships—and on the troglodytic legalism with which he would enforce that perpetuation.

Strachan first entered the fray in November of 2011 when he took issue with, of all things, a humorous (and clearly tongue-in-cheek) Tide commercial about a "Dad Mom" who stayed at home "being awesome" while his wife was out working to provide for the family. Strachan, in high dudgeon, termed the bloke a "Man Fail" for abdicating his divinely designed "creational responsibilities." He later fleshed out his criticisms in an essay in the Spring 2012 edition of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and a Moody Radio Program debate in September of 2012. According to Strachan, "a broad biblical theology" indicates that "men are called to be leaders, providers, protectors and women are nurturers.” Men are to be leaders. Women are meant to be followers, both in the home and at church. Hence, biblically-defined roles are set in stone: "[Christianity] does indeed offer us models for manhood and womanhood, scripts for how we should live out our days to the glory of God in our sex, our gender. Men must not shun the work of provision for their wives and children; this role is given them of God. Women must not demean homemaking and child-raising; such is their inheritance from the Lord." As Christians it is not for us to "re-envision the family ... Our call is to be faithful, to inhabit the part given us to play in God’s cosmic drama. Men can image Christ the savior king by folding laundry on occasion, by getting down on the floor to play with their kids, and by doing the dishes when they can. But they must commit themselves primarily to the work of provision, whether of spiritual leadership in the home or financial breadwinning to sustain it."
In support, Strachan cites three lines of evidence from the Biblical text:
  • The man's role as provider and leader is a "creational responsibility" illustrated by his naming the animals and "taking dominion."
  • The primary sphere of activity intended by God for men and women is cursed in Genesis 3 as a result of the primeval fall into sin. Man, the provider, had the ground cursed so as to turn his work into painful, sweaty toil. Woman, the nurturer whose "primary sphere of labor and dominion-taking" was the home, was judged by virtue of pain in her childbearing. 
  • Paul instructs women to be "workers at home" (Tit 2:5), and encourages young widows to “marry, bear children, (and) manage their households" (1 Tim 5:14).
The first of Strachan's arguments is hardly convincing. In the Genesis narrative, the naming of the animals occurs before Eve was even created, and his ultimate naming of the woman, after God had put Adam to sleep, was intended (by the clear word-play involved) to indicate that Eve was like Adam rather than the animals over whom humanity—male and female alike—were given dominion in the creation narrative of Genesis 1. There is nothing explicit in Genesis 1 or 2 that indicates subordination, let alone any type of creational "role" such as male "protection" or "provision" to be played by one partner over against the other. Such things must be read into the text and, as such, cannot be made the basis for legalisms of the sort Strachan advocates.

The second of Strachan's arguments is perplexing on a number of levels. I will focus on but one. Surely childbearing and childrearing are fundamental roles played by women both in the Bible and in human existence over the thousands and thousands of years of human existence. Who questions this? Moreover, the emphasis on woman's childbearing role (Gen 3:16) fits nicely in context as a followup to the Protevangelium announced in the previous verse (Gen 3:15). But does this necessarily mean that childbirth and childrearing (or, "principlized" to refer to domesticity) is woman's primary role, to which everything else must be sacrificed? No doubt the exigencies of life throughout most of human history led to this being the woman's primary, if not exclusive, role in most instances. But what Strachan has not done, and I would argue cannot do, is to demonstrate the prescriptive implications of this text. This is all the more significant if, as I argued last time, the "rule" of the husband over the wife (Gen 3:16) is the result of God's judgment of humanity for the primeval fall. Strachan, as a good Calvinist, might argue that the woman's pain in childbirth and the man's toil by the sweat of his brow are what paradoxically bring God glory. But eschatology—particularly the inaugurated eschatology according to which the curse of the fall is being reversed because of the Christ event—must take precedence here. Perpetuation of the curse is not what Christianity is about.

Strachan's third argument hardly fares any better. To put it plainly: Strachan assumes what he has to prove, namely, that Paul's instructions in these texts are prescriptively and restrictively transcultural rather than situationally-specific. Indeed, the context of Paul's advice in 1 Timothy 5:14 is one in which younger widows were gadding about, on the church's dole, gossiping, desiring marriage (to unbelievers?) and even abandoning the faith (cf. vv. 9-16). In light of this the apostle tells Timothy to instruct younger widows to "marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no room for slander." Even without considering the options available for women in the ancient world, one wonders how "managing a household" (oikodespotein) precludes work outside the sphere of the home any more than a prospective elder's "managing" or "directing one's household" (oikou prostēnai) must demand it (1 Tim 3:4-5). 

The situation is likewise with regard to Titus 2:5. Paul instructs Titus to instruct older women to teach young women (tas neas, likely those in their 20s) "to be self-controlled, pure, working at home (oikourgous), kind, and submissive to their own husbands." Certainly it is right and proper to glean from this verse that women ought to own up to their domestic responsibilities. But does this mean that this is the woman's "proper sphere," and that to work outside the home to the extent that her husband must share in household duties is "unbiblical?" Much could be said in this regard. I will limit myself to one point, viz., the reason Paul gives for his instruction both here and in Titus 2:10, where he likewise instructs slaves to be submissive to their masters. Young women ought to be morally upright, attending to their domestic duties, and submissive to their husbands in order that (hina) the word of God may not be reviled. Slaves likewise should be submissive in order that they might adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. The gospel message, in other words, is at stake. In everything we should be careful to act in such a way that we don't give needless offense to the culture in which we live and thus hinder the spread of the gospel. It is at this point that the words of New Testament scholar Craig Keener ring true:
But in our day, what it takes to be a relevant witness has changed. Very few people would criticize a marriage in which a husband and wife lovingly submit to one another, but quite a lot of people have problems with a husband being his wife's master. An increasing number of people, in fact, have come to view Christianity as anachronistic and oppressive, since in their minds it is associated with the latter kind of marriage, even though Paul never taught this even in his own culture. ... At least in the segments of U.S. society I know best, a more egalitarian perspective in the church would substantially improve our witness (Paul, Women, and Wives [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992] 231).
In a culture in which male/husbandly privilege was assumed, where Socrates was alleged to have said every day that "there were three blessings for which he was grateful to Fortune: first, that I was born a human being, and not one of the brutes; next that I was born a man and not a woman; thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers I.33), and where female upward mobility was viewed with suspicion, at best (cf. Keener, 139-56, with primary references galore), Christian women playing fast and loose with social custom would have cast unnecessary aspersion on the fledgling church. Of course, this in itself doesn't prove that Paul's instructions in such places as Titus 2 are not universally applicable (even assuming Strachan's understanding of the text's implications), but it does suggest that the hermeneutical issue of cultural application must be viewed with more seriousness than it has in some Evangelical quarters (on which, see Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals).

Strachan, of course, avers that he in no way intends to demean the status of women. They reach their human fulfillment even as they conform to God's creational mandate for their role in the family. Moreover, he allows that it is OK for a husband to "pitch in" and help with the dishes and asserts that the father must be involved with the training and teaching of his children. He likewise is right to point to Ephesians 5 and Christ's self-sacrifice for his bride to insist that God's calling for husbands is "higher" than what the culture affirms. I would certainly agree with that.

But what Strachan fails to take into consideration are the ambiguities attendant upon modern life, ambiguities that can't simply be ignored. No doubt he would argue that such ambiguities are irrelevant in the light of the gospel and scriptural principle. I would argue, however, that he has not demonstrated that the gospel is at stake in this issue. Indeed, though the numbers of so-called "dad moms" are on the rise, they aren't "proliferating" to the extent he imagines they are. And, by and large, most such "dad moms" don't do it out of laziness and/or willful negligence of what God desires (indeed, most Christians who take this path do so out of a genuine concern for the family and the spiritual development of their children). Likewise, most Christian mothers who work outside the house do so, not because their husbands are "man fails" who are unable or unwilling to provide sufficiently by themselves. Nor do they do it because they are selfishly focused on "personal fulfillment" or simply because, as good materialists, they want multiple cars in the garage or a bigger home, all to the detriment of their kids. They do it because of economic necessity, just like they have done throughout most of history, even in the West.

As I'm sure Strachan knows, most men do not have the luxury of having a job that pays sufficiently to support a family of four or more. In fact, I know he does, because he admits that he "works hard" to provide for his family by working one and a half jobs while his wife stays home as a homemaker. As one who knows firsthand the scholarly and instructional demands incumbent upon a college professor, I cannot imagine he has much time to help out more than a little around the house. I'm not criticizing him at this point. It is a simple matter of necessity, and I commend him and his wife for deciding that their two children deserve a full-time parent at home. [As a personal note, while my children were small, I worked full time while pursuing doctoral studies so she would not have to work full time.] Nevertheless, in today's world, if a couple decides that one parent should stay home, sometimes it is the mother who, by virtue of education and marketable skills, is better situated to work outside the home. And what I am arguing is that such a decision is not necessarily wrong or God-dishonoring. The brute fact of different temperaments and giftedness cannot simply be shunted aside as if they are irrelevant in the glare of Platonic-style, stereotyped forms of masculinity and femininity, conformity to which is the basis on which individual husbands and wives are to be judged. In my experience this fact is understood by most marital partners. Even in so-called "traditional" or "complementarian" relationships, husbands and wives realize they must act together in the family's interests, utilizing the skills and strengths each brings to the table. And so it has been historically, even in the West.

Indeed, the complementarian ideal of the stay-at-home mom as the pillar of domesticity—a Victorian stereotype if ever there was one—may be challenged even from the Bible. Proverbs 31:10-31 provides a memorable poetic portrait of an "excellent woman" whose value surpasses that of jewels. And what a public role she plays! Not only does she make clothes for her family, she rises before dawn to provide them with food. She also buys real estate, plants a vineyard, and produces merchandise and linens to sell for profit, staying up to work late into the night. Indeed, the public nature of this woman's activity is in clear contrast to the private domesticity urged of young women and widows in Paul's Pastoral Epistles, which raises the question to the alert student of cultural context and implicit applicational limitations rather clearly. Strachan seems to realize this, so he counters:
This is true of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 as well, who though something of a whirling dervish of godly femininity was not, like her husband, by the city gates with the elders (Proverbs 31:23), but working tirelessly to bless her family and manage her home for God’s glory.
This simply will not do. Isn't it supposedly the job of the manly "provider" to work the fields and vineyards and support the family by his diligent entrepreneurship? Why, after all, is he sitting in the gates among the elders of the land (Prov 31:23) instead of sacrificially serving her as St. Paul instructs in Ephesians 5? Does his societal prominence excuse him from such responsibilities? Indeed, the implication is that it is the woman's tireless activity on behalf of her family and husband that is the cause of his renown among the elders at the gate. This is poetry, of course, so it isn't meant to be prescriptive of either the husband's or the wife's role. Nonetheless, the cultural context assumed by the text is one in which the patriarchal trappings are even more thoroughgoing than those according to which today's strict complementarians operate. Accordingly, it is hardly a compelling text from which to argue for the normativeness of domesticity as a wife's God-given role.

Strachan's penchant for perpetuating the normativeness of stereotypical roles extends beyond the husband-wife relationship. Case in point: Last month he was at it again, as he took umbrage at a 2011 episode of Sesame Street (!) in which the character "Baby Bear" is told by Gordon that he has no reason to be ashamed about playing with a doll. According to Strachan, this episode constituted yet another frontal "assault" on the "Protestant worldview," according to which "Boys were boys; girls were girls; right and wrong exists; authority figures are good; and so on." Indeed, he sees what can only be termed as an apocalyptic significance to the ideology represented by this show:
The times, how they have changed. We’ve now transitioned culturally to an era in which the basic foundations of the Protestant worldview are under assault. This is true on many levels, from MTV (obviously) to sexual education in public schools to, apparently, the television shows aimed at tiny kids. This episode, “Baby Bear’s Baby Doll,” is subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood and boyhood. Boys can play with dolls; there’s no reason they can’t do exactly what girls do.
The boundaries between the sexes are fluid. Behind this teaching is of course the view that there really aren’t what we call “gender roles” given us as a fact of our existence. Gender is a construct, to use academic language; it’s the differentiated vision of boys and girls our society has historically bought into, but there’s nothing fixed or unchanging behind it. We’re free in this modern and enlightened age to blur the boundaries, and to raise boys and girls in essentially the same ways, without specific training of any kind toward distinct manhood or womanhood.
The bottom line: "boys playing with dolls is foolish."

This post is already too long, and Strachan has already been responded to more than adequately by Micah Murray and Caryn Rivadeneira, among others. So I will be very brief. Strachan explicitly makes the distinction between "little girls' dolls" and stuffed animals. The latter, apparently, are kosher according to the CBMW. But, to be blunt, that distinction is an arbitrary one. Baby dolls and action figures, to cite another example, are both "dolls," whether one wants to admit it or not. The point, I guess, is that the notion of "nurturing" is considered an insufficiently masculine trait. Boys are supposed to be rough and tumble, while girls are to be gentle and nurturing. Girls play with dolls as preparation for the primary role they will play later in life ... and this isn't the role God has mandated for men. So it is "foolish" for little boys to play as if that is their destined station in life.

Look. I am not claiming that gender is entirely a cultural construct. After all, I have two daughters and one son. Nor, however, do I believe that Sesame Street was desiring to make such a point so bluntly and inelegantly. Yet one is fooling oneself if one sees no cultural component whatsoever to what is considered proper behavior for boys and girls. Stereotypes may be based on broad observations, but they are not universally true, and as such ought not be used prescriptively. For not all boys are the same. Nor are all girls the same. Is a boy less of what God wants him to be if he plays the flute instead of the drums? If he prefers cooking to football? If he would rather read poetry than ride a bike? Does playing with a doll indicate that a boy is on his way to being a wuss rather than the manly man he is designed to be? The answer to all these questions is the same: "Not necessarily." Accordingly, making a big deal out of such things or, what is worse, shaming a boy to switch to more "masculine" play activities can end up doing more harm than good for the child's self-image and emotional/spiritual development.

Indeed, might not one even say that playing with dolls could be a salutary activity for boys who one day will be given the inestimable privilege of having children and raising them gently in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? If fathers, like Strachan rightly believes, should not sit around in their spare time drinking beer and watching the telly, but be active helpers and indeed leaders in the raising of children, then I would suggest that playing with dolls could rather be a positive preparation for this significant role they will play later in life. In my childhood, I never played with dolls. I couldn't get enough balls, cars, and toy guns. But I can't help but feel I could have been a better father than I have proved to be had I not so religiously followed the stereotypes for what boys and girls were "supposed to" do.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Philadelphia's Big Five and the NCAA Final Four


The 1985 National Champion Villanova Wildcats
Men of a certain age who grew up in Philadelphia, though they may differ by race, ethnicity, or social class, are convinced of one thing: Philly is the basketball capital of the world. After all, two of the ten greatest players ever to play the game, Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant, hail from the City of Brotherly Shove. The 1966-67 Sixers of Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, and Chet Walker lay a legitimate claim to being the greatest NBA team of all-time. More than anything else, however, it is the city's unique college basketball tradition, embodied in the legendary, unofficial amalgamation known as the "Big Five"—Penn, Temple, Villanova, St. Joseph's, and LaSalle—that cements this status. No other city—and remember, Philly is only the 4th largest TV market in the country—can boast such a rich college hoops tradition or fierce-yet-friendly set of intra-city rivalries. And, unlike the mega-universities that draw on a national crop of "student" athletes and hence currently dominate the NCAA, the Big Five has largely drawn on local and regional talent, particularly in its "golden era," the two decades between 1954 and 1974.

And what an era it was! Twice a week doubleheaders at the University of Pennsylvania's venerable Palestra on 33rd Street in West Philly, America's greatest basketball arena. Rivalries such as the "Holy Wars" fought annually by small, independent Catholic schools Villanova and St. Josephs. Indeed, my introduction to the Big 5 came in the 1964-65 season, in which the Hawks of St. Joseph's College, an institution with less than 3000 students, went 26-3 before breaking my heart by losing to Providence in the NCAA tournament's second round. Matty Goukas, Billy Oakes (my favorite), Cliff Anderson, Tom Duff, and Marty Ford—all but Anderson products of the city's Catholic League—these are names ingrained on my memory. Other names from that era likewise bring smiles to my face: Billy Melchionni, Hubie Marshall, Clarence Brookins, John Baum, Mike Hauer, Dan Kelly, Dave Wohl, Larry Cannon, Bernie Williams, Corky Calhoun, Bob Morse, Johnny Kneib, Chris Ford, Ollie Johnson, Mike Bantom, Ron Haigler, and especially the late Ken Durrett and Howard Porter.

Today, of course, things are not the same. City Series games are rarely played in the Palestra. Teams like Temple and (especially) Villanova aspire to national prominence and recruit far from home. Penn, from the Ivy League and, hence, with daunting academic standards, can't compete at the same level it did back in the 1970s. Yet, by and large, the teams of the Big Five have remained successful and not tarnished the legacies of their predecessors. This year, three Big Five teams—Villanova, Temple, and a resurgent LaSalle—were chosen to compete in the NCAA championship tournament. This is Villanova's 33rd trip to the tourney, Temple's 31st, and tiny LaSalle's 12th (and first since 1992; their victory last night over Boise State was their first NCAA tourney victory since the days of the great Lionel Simmons in 1990). None have a realistic shot at the title, but a loyal Philly guy can always hope.

As the first round of March Madness unfolds before my very eyes, I can think of nothing better than to reminisce about my teams' history in the NCAA tournament  Over the years, a Big Five school has reached the Final Four ten times. Twice they have won the National Championship and two other times they have been runner-up (including the 1971 Villanova Wildcats, who were subsequently stripped of their achievement). These are as follows:


1. The 1939 Villanova Wildcats

In the inaugural NCAA tournament, Villanova was one of eight teams invited to play for the national championship. Representing the Middle Atlantic states, the Cats defeated Brown, 42-30, before falling to Ohio State, 53-36, in the Eastern Championship.


2. The 1954 LaSalle Explorers


LaSalle, a school with only 2400 students, won Philadelphia's first NCAA tournament title in 1954, led by consensus All-America forward Tom Gola. Gola, at 6'7", was his generation's Magic Johnson, able to play all five positions on the court. For the season, Gola averaged 23.0 points and 21.7 rebounds per game. The Explorers won the title by defeating Bradley, 92-76, led by Charles Singley and sophomore guard-forward Frank Blatcher, each of whom scored 23 points in the victory. In later years, I would know Blatcher as the father of my brother Dan's teammate, Frank Blatcher, at Haverford High and coach of their summer league teams in suburban Philly during the mid-to-late '70s. In 2003 Blatcher was named to South Philadelphia High's Athletic Hall of Fame.


3. The 1955 LaSalle Explorers

The Explorers made a valiant effort to repeat their title in 1955, amassing a solid 26-5 record behind the play of UPI Player of the Year Gola. But in the championship game, despite Singley's 20 points and 16 from Gola, they fell short, losing to Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and the University of San Francisco Dons, 77-63.





4. The 1956 Temple Owls


Hal Lear scoring two of his record 48 points in his final
collegiate game, a 90-81 victory over SMU in the 1955
NCAA Tournament Third Place game.
Harry Litwack's 1956 Owls boasted a 27-4 record and perhaps the greatest backcourt in NCAA history. Senior Hal Lear, the first in a long line of basketball standouts from Philly's Overbrook High, was a deadly marksman who averaged 24 points a game. Sophomore Guy Rodgers, an electrifying 6'0" point guard out of Northeast High at 8th and Lehigh, would go on to play 12 years in the NBA, and still ranks 16th on the all-time list for assists. Their bid for the title ended with an 83-76 loss to Iowa, despite 32 from Lear and 28 from Rodgers. Lear then finished his collegiate career by erupting for a then-record 48 points in a win over SMU to capture third place in the tourney.









5. The 1958 Temple Owls


The incomparable
Guy Rodgers

Two years later Litwack's Owls duplicated their success from 1956 by defeating Dartmouth, 69-50, to win the Eastern Regional before succumbing to eventual champion Kentucky, 61-60 in the Final Four despite Rodgers's 22 points. They secured third place by thumping Kansas State, 67-57.












6. The 1961 St. Joseph's Hawks


Jimmy Lynam in his
student days
Tiny St. Joe's first rose to national prominence in 1961 under legendary coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay. The Hawks beat Wake Forest, 96-86, to win the East Regional as Bill Hoy led six players in double figures with 20 points. They subsequently were manhandled by Ohio State, 95-69, before rebounding to place third with a 127-120 victory over Utah. It all amounted to nothing, however, as St. Joseph's was stripped of its achievement by the NCAA after an investigation revealed that three key players (Jack Egan, Frank Majewski, and Vince Kempton) were revealed to have shaved points for bookies during the regular season.





7. The 1971 Villanova Wildcats


Howard Porter in one of his shining moments,
27 March 1971
In 1971 Villanova wasn't even the best team in the Big Five. That was Penn, the Ivy League champs who went 28-0 before losing to the Cats in the NCAA East Regional final. Indeed, had Ken Durrett not suffered a devastating knee injury, 'Nova might have even been the second-best team in the city. Nonetheless, they ended up with a 27-7 record, peaking at the right time with their devastating 90-47 victory over Penn, and going all the way to the title game at the Astrodome, where they fought valiantly before finally falling to perennial champ, UCLA, 68-62 (this was UCLA's 5th straight title in a stretch in which they won 9 titles in 10 years). The '71 Cats had three future NBA players in Chris Ford, Tom Inglesby, and the incomparable Howard Porter, who was so dominant in the tourney that he was awarded the Most Outstanding Player trophy despite their loss in the final game. Alas, however, the record books have erased this memory because, it was later discovered, Porter had signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Condors of the fledgling ABA.









8. The 1979 Penn Quakers

Star center Matt White, who was murdered
by his wife in his suburban Philly home in
February of 2013
1979 will always be remembered as the year of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the forever-joined-at-the-hip duo who dueled for the first of many times in the NCAA championship game. But to me 1979 will forever be remembered as the year an Ivy League school, my hometown University of Pennsylvania Quakers, made it to the Final Four. This, I can confidently say, will never happen again. But it did then, capping an era in which the Quakers were a force to be reckoned with in the city and nation as a whole. Alas, they were eliminated by Johnson's Michigan State Spartans, 101-67, before falling to DePaul, 96-93, in the consolation game.









9. The 1985 Villanova Wildcats


Easy Ed taking it to Patrick Ewing
The 1985 Villanova Wildcats are the lowest seed ever to win an NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Even with their remarkable championship run, Rollie Massimino's squad finished with an un-championship-like 25-10 record. Of course, this was due in part to their membership in the loaded Big East Conference, who placed three teams in the Final Four. But even I could not believe the Cats could possibly beat rival Georgetown—the Hoyas of Patrick Ewing and David Wingate—in the championship game. Yet, as well as Georgetown played in the final, Villanova played better. Indeed, I would argue that their performance in that game is the greatest I have ever seen from any college team. Led by "Easy" Ed Pinckney and Dwayne McClain, the Cats shot 22-28 from the field (a record 78 percent) against the defensively dominant Hoyas, manifesting a patience unmatched in my memory. Even so, the game went down to the wire, with Villanova prevailing by a score of 66-64. This is the single greatest college basketball game I ever watched.










10. The 2009 Villanova Wildcats


Scottie Reynolds' last-second game-winning shot versus Pitt
Jay Wright has had a number of great teams on the Main Line. But none were better than this one. Led by senior forward Dante Cunningham, junior guard Scottie Reynolds, and sophomore guard Corey Fisher, the team won 25 regular season games in the tough Big East and finished with a 30-8 record. The Cats got into the Final Four by defeating league rival Pitt in the East Regional final on an acrobatic last-second shot by Reynolds. Unfortunately, guard-oriented teams like 'Nova both live and die by the outside shot, and they went stone cold in their matchup with eventual champion North Carolina, shooting just 26-79 from the field (including only 5-27 from 3-point range) in an 83-69 loss.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

John Piper's Hypothetical Question to Pope Francis


Back in 2009, a question was posed to John Piper: If you were given two minutes with Pope Benedict XVI, what would you say to him? Last week, with the accession of Pope Francis, he revisited the issue, along the way clarifying his earlier accusation of Roman Catholic "heresy." Piper's response is worth citing in full:
A few years ago, I was asked on camera what I would say to the Pope if I had two minutes with him. I said I would ask him what he believed about justification. The video ended with me putting the question to the Pope and then responding as follows:
“Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?”
And if he said, “No, we don’t,” then I’d say, “I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy,” or something like that.
“Heresy” is a strong word. The problem with it is that its meaning and implications are not clear. Dictionary.com defines heresy, for example, as:
  1. opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
  2. any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.
You can see how fluid such definitions are.
So what did I mean in the video?
I meant that the rejection of 1) the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential part of the basis of our justification, and 2) the doctrine that good works necessarily follow justification but are not part of its ground — the rejection of those truths is a biblical error so close to the heart of the gospel that, when consistently worked out, will undermine saving faith in the gospel.
The reason for saying, “when consistently worked out,” is because I think it is possible to inconsistently deny the truth of imputation while embracing other aspects of the gospel (blood bought forgiveness, and propitiation, for example), through which God mercifully saves.
I am thankful that God is willing to save us even when our grasp of the gospel may be partial or defective. None of us has a comprehensive or perfect grasp of it.
Nevertheless, God’s mercy is not a warrant to neglect or deny precious truths, especially those that are at the heart of how we get right with God. And the teachers of the church (notably the Pope) will be held more responsible than others for teaching what is fully biblical.
Thus, any church whose teaching rejects the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential ground for our justification would be a church whose error is so close to the heart of the gospel as to be involved in undermining the faith of its members.
Piper's remarks have quickly been disseminated and critiqued in blogs such as those by Scot McKnight and Tim Gombis. Piper, despite his winsomeness, has become something of a whipping boy on my blog. Nevertheless, his remarks, though not surprising, demand some sort of critical response, if for nothing else than the enormous influence Piper wields in American NeoPuritan/NeoReformed circles. I would like to focus on two issues.

First, evangelicals are, historically speaking, not in a position to play theological inquisitor. Here Gombis is spot on in his critique of Piper. Evangelicals, even if one charitably traces their theological lineage back to the 16th century Reformers, are the Johnnies-come-lately on the ecclesiastical scene. And each decade brings with it further examples of the fissiparous tendency innate to Protestantism. Indeed, the fact that a Baptist like Piper, who operates outside of an explicitly confessional framework, insists on playing the doctrinal cop is quite a delicious irony. Ask Pope Francis what he believes about Christ. Ask him, as Gombis shrewdly suggests, whether or not he has even heard of American evangelicals and, if he has, how he perceives them theologically and missionally. But don't ask him whether or not he subscribes to a distinctly Protestant—indeed, distinctly Reformed—theologoumenon. If one does, expect the same answer from him as one would get from me if asked whether I subscribed to transsubstantiation or the immaculate conception of St. Anne. His presumed negative answer would only prove that Francis is indeed, as one might expect from a newly-minted Pope, a Roman Catholic. That might confirm the inquisitor in his or her theological superiority complex, but it would ultimately be unhelpful.

Piper's first question brings up a second, more serious issue. Years ago, in his deliberately controversial small book, What Saint Paul Really Said, N. T. Wright made the insightful comment that people are not justified by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith. They are justified by faith in Christ whether or not they have even heard of the Protestant interpretation of that distinctly Pauline notion. Over the ensuing years, I have heard many of Wright's vocal detractors claim that no Lutheran or Reformed scholar ever claimed that people are justified by their right theology about justification. Perhaps not. But I can testify that many lay evangelicals operate on that very assumption. And statements like Piper's come very close to it as well, though he stops short of claiming that correct theological belief in all particulars is a sine qua non of salvation. Thus he admits that the Pope might be genuinely a saved person despite that fact that his erroneous teaching about the imputation of Christ's righteousness and the place of works in justification could "undermine the faith of [his church's] members."

Piper, though, both elevates a disputed theological notion (the imputation of Christ's righteousness) to the place of an essential element of the gospel and implicitly operates within the parameters of the old, 16th-17th century antithesis between Protestant "imputed righteousness" and Catholic "infused righteousness." Anyone familiar with the evangelical justification wars over the past decade knows that Piper is one of the champions of the classic Reformed view known as "double imputation," according to which believers are declared righteous both now and at the final judgment ("justified") on the basis of their sins having been "imputed" to Christ on the cross and his "righteousness" (i.e., his obedience to the law) having been "imputed" to their account. Indeed, with many such interpreters, Christ's death on the cross, while essential as a propitiation of God's wrath, is somewhat eclipsed by an emphasis on Christ's righteousness as the "meritorious basis" of one's justification, even at the final judgment (here, of course, they disagree with, not only Catholics, but Protestants who interpret Romans 2 as more than hypothetical).

I will have much to say about this subject in a series of forthcoming posts. Suffice it to say here, however, that no text in the New Testament clearly affirms it (which is odd for something supposedly so central to the gospel). Accordingly, many Protestants, myself included, disagree with the notion as commonly articulated by Piper and others in Reformed circles (though, as Protestants, we maintain that the "righteousness" granted to believers through faith is an external righteousness, namely, the status of being "in the right" before God the Judge by virtue of our union with Christ in his sacrificial death and vindicating resurrection). Hence to ask the Pope whether he affirms "double imputation" would serve no purpose other than to lump him together with Protestants who, though they too disagree with Roman Catholic doctrine, likewise disagree with Piper.

More importantly, many if not most Protestant theologians are quick to note that the Roman church has never rescinded the anathemas of the 16th century Council of Trent against Protestants who held Lutheran or Reformed views on justification. But they seem to have failed to notice that many Catholics have moved much closer to Luther than many could have guessed centuries ago when the Reformation battles were being waged. One example is America's premier Catholic New Testament scholar, Joseph Fitzmyer, who sounds positively Lutheran in many of his exegetical comments on Romans 3 in his fine commentary on the letter. Even more to the point is the retired Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2008 spoke about justification as follows (I quote the entirety of his address):
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the journey we are making under St Paul's guidance, let us now reflect on a topic at the centre of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the question of justification. How does man become just in God's eyes? When Paul met the Risen One on the road to Damascus he was an accomplished man; irreproachable according to the justice deriving from the Law (cf. Phil 3: 6), Paul surpassed many of his contemporaries in the observance of the Mosaic Law and zealously upheld the traditions of his fathers (cf. Gal 1: 14). The illumination of Damascus radically changed his life; he began to consider all merits acquired in an impeccable religious career as "refuse", in comparison with the sublimity of knowing Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 3: 8). The Letter to the Philippians offers us a moving testimony of Paul's transition from a justice founded on the Law and acquired by his observance of the required actions, to a justice based on faith in Christ. He had understood that what until then had seemed to him to be a gain, before God was, in fact, a loss; and thus he had decided to stake his whole existence on Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 3: 7). The treasure hidden in the field and the precious pearl for whose purchase all was to be invested were no longer in function of the Law, but Jesus Christ, his Lord. 
The relationship between Paul and the Risen One became so deep as to induce him to maintain that Christ was no longer solely his life but also his very living, to the point that to be able to reach him death became a gain (cf. Phil 1: 21). This is not to say he despised life, but that he realized that for him at this point there was no other purpose in life and thus he had no other desire than to reach Christ as in an athletics competition to remain with him for ever. The Risen Christ had become the beginning and the end of his existence, the cause and the goal of his race. It was only his concern for the development in faith of those he had evangelized and his anxiety for all of the Churches he founded (cf. 2 Cor 11: 28) that induced him to slow down in his race towards his one Lord, to wait for his disciples so they might run with him towards the goal. Although from a perspective of moral integrity he had nothing to reproach himself in his former observance of the Law, once Christ had reached him he preferred not to make judgments on himself (cf. 1 Cor 4: 3-4). Instead he limited himself to resolving to press on, to make his own the One who had made him his own (cf. Phil 3: 12). 
It is precisely because of this personal experience of relationship with Jesus Christ that Paul henceforth places at the centre of his Gospel an irreducible opposition between the two alternative paths to justice: one built on the works of the Law, the other founded on the grace of faith in Christ. The alternative between justice by means of works of the Law and that by faith in Christ thus became one of the dominant themes that run through his Letters: "We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law; because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Gal 2: 15-16). And to the Christians of Rome he reasserts that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rm 3: 23-24). And he adds "we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (ibid., v. 28). At this point Luther translated: "justified by faith alone". I shall return to this point at the end of the Catechesis. First, we must explain what is this "Law" from which we are freed and what are those "works of the Law" that do not justify. The opinion that was to recur systematically in history already existed in the community at Corinth. This opinion consisted in thinking that it was a question of moral law and that the Christian freedom thus consisted in the liberation from ethics. Thus in Corinth the term "πάντα μοι έξεστιν" (I can do what I like) was widespread. It is obvious that this interpretation is wrong: Christian freedom is not libertinism; the liberation of which St Paul spoke is not liberation from good works. 
So what does the Law from which we are liberated and which does not save mean? For St Paul, as for all his contemporaries, the word "Law" meant the Torah in its totality, that is, the five books of Moses. The Torah, in the Pharisaic interpretation, that which Paul had studied and made his own, was a complex set of conduct codes that ranged from the ethical nucleus to observances of rites and worship and that essentially determined the identity of the just person. In particular, these included circumcision, observances concerning pure food and ritual purity in general, the rules regarding the observance of the Sabbath, etc. codes of conduct that also appear frequently in the debates between Jesus and his contemporaries. All of these observances that express a social, cultural and religious identity had become uniquely important in the time of Hellenistic culture, starting from the third century B.C. This culture which had become the universal culture of that time and was a seemingly rational culture; a polytheistic culture, seemingly tolerant constituted a strong pressure for cultural uniformity and thus threatened the identity of Israel, which was politically constrained to enter into this common identity of the Hellenistic culture. This resulted in the loss of its own identity, hence also the loss of the precious heritage of the faith of the Fathers, of the faith in the one God and in the promises of God. 
Against this cultural pressure, which not only threatened the Israelite identity but also the faith in the one God and in his promises, it was necessary to create a wall of distinction, a shield of defence to protect the precious heritage of the faith; this wall consisted precisely in the Judaic observances and prescriptions. Paul, who had learned these observances in their role of defending God's gift, of the inheritance of faith in one God alone, saw this identity threatened by the freedom of the Christians this is why he persecuted them. At the moment of his encounter with the Risen One he understood that with Christ's Resurrection the situation had changed radically. With Christ, the God of Israel, the one true God, became the God of all peoples. The wall as he says in his Letter to the Ephesians between Israel and the Gentiles, was no longer necessary: it is Christ who protects us from polytheism and all of its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity within the diversity of cultures. The wall is no longer necessary; our common identity within the diversity of cultures is Christ, and it is he who makes us just. Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14). 
Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and neighbour the whole of the Law is present and carried out. Thus in communion with Christ, in a faith that creates charity, the entire Law is fulfilled. We become just by entering into communion with Christ who is Love. We shall see the same thing in the Gospel next Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What he asks is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you give me food to eat when I was hungry, did you clothe me when I was naked? And thus justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel we can almost say: love alone, charity alone. But there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St Paul. It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the fulfilment of communion with Christ. Thus, we are just by being united with him and in no other way. 
At the end, we can only pray the Lord that he help us to believe; really believe. Believing thus becomes life, unity with Christ, the transformation of our life. And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbour, we can truly be just in God's eyes.
This is really quite a fine exposition. Differences between the Pope's theology and that of heirs of the Reformation remain, to be sure. I would have articulated the matter differently in spots. But those differences that remain are hardly fatal differences. And, I dare say, many of us Protestants could learn something about the necessary manifestation of our faith in the acts of love that will, as Paul himself says (to say nothing of Jesus) be adjudicated on the last day.