Thursday, January 13, 2005

AAPC - 3

Day two of the conference was a marathon of lectures -- three from each speaker, as well as two Q&A sessions. It was like drinking from the proverbial theology firehose.

Wright's set of Tuesday lectures tackled the "Essential Structure and Framework of Pauline Theology." His contention was that Reformed systematizers have often failed to integrate sufficiently Paul's Jewish background into their theological constructs. To address this, his lectures dealt with the Jewish concepts of monotheism ("God"), election ("God's people") and eschatology ("the future of God's people"); furthermore, he examined how Paul's theology is built upon these three foundations, as reconstituted around Jesus the Messiah.

Related to this three-fold framework, Wright proposed an additional three strands running through Paul's writings: 1) Paul re-reads Israel's Scriptures in light of Christ, over and against readings popular within the Second Temple period; 2) Paul's main polemical target is not Judaism, but paganism -- the Gospel is the reality of which paganism is the parody, and Paul's arguments against Judaism are at the precise points where it apes bits of paganism; and 3) Paul's main task in writing his epistles is to build up the Church.


The first lecture addressed monotheism. Wright noted that the use of the term "god" can be quite misleading, as there are numerous competing definitions. "Monotheism" isn't much clearer, either. The pantheistic view, for example, is technically a monotheistic one, since everything is god, and there's only one everything. "Monotheism" could also describe Deism or some strands of Epicurean thought, where god is detached, aloof, and generally unconcerned with the affairs of men. Jewish belief, by contrast, held to a creational and covenantal monotheism, where Yahweh is sovereign and is in an intimate relationship with His creation. This immediately raises the age-old problem of evil, which is not a problem at all for pantheism (if everything is god, then "evil" is a meaningless concept) or Epicureanism (since god is so far removed from creation, we should expect nothing but evil). The "problem of evil" is only a problem for the type of covenantal monotheism espoused by Jewish belief. However, the God of the Old Testament has promised to undo the effects of evil. Evil, in Jewish views, is usually linked to idolatry, which results in the idolator losing his/her genuine humanity. Sin is "missing the mark" of being genuinely human as God intended. Sin is closely linked to the Biblical themes of exile and restoration, beginning all the way back with the expulsion from the Garden after the Fall. The story of redemption is ultimately the story of restoration back to the Garden.

Wright argued that Second Temple Judaism had already developed many ways in which to talk about the interaction between God and His world, such as the categories of Word, Spirit, Shekinah (the glory cloud), Wisdom and Torah. None of these were seen as challenges to Jewish monotheism. As Wright has stated elsewhere, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with setting Israel's God apart from pagan gods than it was concerned with speculating on the inner workings of that God. Paul builds upon this fact by affirming the one-ness of Israel's God yet redefining Him around Jesus. Wright notes that the Apostle cites Old Testament passages referring to Torah and applies them to Jesus. Paul also refers to Jesus as "Lord" (Greek kyrios) using OT passages that employ the same word (in the LXX) to refer to Yahweh. In I Corinthians 8, Paul adapts the Jewish shema ("Hear O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one") to apply to Jesus. In these and many more instances, Paul takes standard Jewish manners of speaking about Yahweh and applies them directly to Jesus. Wright argues that the Jews understood the title "Son of God" to refer to either Israel or the Messiah. Paul weaves this aspect together with the idea that God would deal with the problem of evil in person. The cross is where God addresses evil head-on, and in it God's covenant faithfulness to his creation is revealed.

Wright also highlighted how Paul's teaching on the Spirit corresponds with monotheistic beliefs. In the past, Israel was under the bondage of Torah, her tutor, but now God has sent the Spirit to free His people, similar to the Exodus. Wright sees the Spirit functioning for Paul in the place of the Shekinah, leading God's people in a new Exodus. Christians are to be agents of God's restoration of the cosmos, and they are empowered by the Spirit to do what the Torah could not. Wright stated that the Spirit works through the Gospel and the Word, noting that God's "Word" is often an agent of new creation in the Old Testament.

Thus, the Jewish belief in monotheism has been recast around Jesus, and also around the Spirit.

[As an aside, during the lecture Wright explicitly affirmed the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, to address the persisting-yet-oft-refuted charges that he denies the traditional Apostolic authorship.]


In his second lecture of the day, Wright turned to the Jewish view of election and how it informed Paul's view of the people of God and consequently played out in the Apostle's nurturing of the community of faith. From the outset, Wright affirmed that there were many variations on the main theme of "Judaism" during the Second Temple Period; however, the presence of competing views gives us no reason to return to anachronistic understandings. At its core, Jews understood Israel as being chosen graciously by God's love, not for anything inherent to themselves, to answer the problem of evil. However, the ones chosen to address the problem quickly became part of the problem. In Paul's day, Jews were divided over whether the Messiah would resolve the problem A) by smashing the wicked nations or B) by first blessing Israel and then the nations. When God fulfilled His plans for Israel, the Gentiles would be brought into the picture -- somehow. Paul reaffirms this concept of Israel's election even as he redefines it.

Referring to Galatians 2:11-21, Wright posits that Peter's actions imply that Gentiles must become ethnic Jews before being admitted to full status within the Church. Paul, however, argues that Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing. Because of this context, Wright argues that Pauline "justification" is not about becoming a Christian but, rather, about telling who is Christian. The "works of Torah" are, for Wright, not salvation-earning, but instead demarcate who is included within the family of God. Paul redefines these family boundaries around the crucified Messiah instead of Torah. Anticipating the uneasiness of many about this view of justification language, Wright then affirmed that Messiah represents His people, so that "what is true of Him is true of them." "Justification by faith" is then couched in terms of who belongs to the one undivided people of God. The "Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 refers to this redefined family of God in Christ. Within this framework, the concerns about Paul stating "if righteousness came by Torah, then Christ died in vain" quickly shift from that of an individual trying to earn salvation by perfectly keeping the Law to that of whether the people of God truly are one in Christ. That is, if Torah is still what marks out the "righteous", the covenant people of God, then God's people is still limited, in reality, to a single ethnic group (whether natural-born or proselyte).

Obviously, the fact remains that national Israel was unfaithful to her vocation to be God's agent in restoring the world. However, God will remain faithful to His purposes in election despite Israel's failure. Christ represents His people and perfectly fulfills her intended vocation. Again, justification then becomes a subset of election, because it denotes who exactly are the people that Christ represents. However, Wright rejected the notion that this view of justification relegates soteriology to being a mere subset of ecclesiology, which is generally seen as a lower-tier area of theology anyway. (Wright lamented how many systematic theologies and commentaries gloss over "ecclesiology" towards the end, after spending most of their energy on the "more exciting" issues, like soteriology.) On the contrary, the unity of the new Jew/Gentile body is a powerful testimony to Christ's victory over the powers of the world. By the Spirit, those in Messiah are God's true human race being put back together again. The people of God are a result of God's future new creation being implemented in the present. Justification is a part of a much larger covental theology, incorporating "ecclesiology," soteriology, and many other aspects.


Wright's final lecture of the day, "Re-imagining God's Future," addressed the issue of Paul's eschatology. Jewish eschatology is rooted in a reversal of the Fall in Genesis 3, and Paul adapted the theme of expulsion/exile and restoration around the death and resurrection of Jesus. Returning to the exile theme, Wright notes that Daniel 9 gives a timetable for when the return from exile should be expected. The Apostolic message is that the complex of events in Jewish future hope actually came to pass in Jesus. "What Israel expected God to do for His people at the end of time, God did for Jesus in the middle of time." The resurrection of Jesus, a foretaste of the final resurrection, demonstrates that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. The kingdom motif is established around Jesus, who has defeated the nations and powers of the world. Wright notes how the Messianic Psalms about Messiah's victory are employed to describe Jesus. Furthermore, if Jesus is the Passover Lamb, Wright argues that the leading of the Spirit in Romans 6-8 can be seen as a new exodus (as referenced in the previous lecture).

Wright cautioned against "rapture" eschatologies that, he claimed, quickly devolve into dualism. "The Day of the Lord" in Scripture is not about the end of the world, but about a moment of God's judgement. At one point, Wright quipped that if the "day of the Lord" mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians really was about doomsday, Paul wouldn't need to write to let his readers know whether it had or hadn't yet come to pass. (They would probably have noticed that sort of thing.) Rather, this language refers to a great act of judgement, such as the devastations of 70 AD, which Wright quickly affirmed was not the only or last such "day." He explained that the language of parousia was typically employed to denote the visit of a great king or a victorious general. When applied to Jesus, this does not necessarily refer to a long journey from far away. Nor does it mean that Jesus' appearance will result in the faithful being snatched away. Rather, Paul employs the language of colonization -- Christians are colonies of God's renewed humanity, whose job is to cultivate and spread the culture of heaven until Jesus returns. Through Messiah, all creation will be renewed, now in part but in full at His coming. The Spirit is a downpayment of the new creation that is to come. As Wright states, the Torah was given to regulate the present evil world; however, because Christians have already been delivered from that, Christian "ethics" is empowered by the Spirit and is about living now in God's new age.

(Note: There was much more involved with these lectures, but the notes seemed to have dwindled as the day went on. The reader should note that the final Wright lecture of the day was attended after stuffing myself with some tasty dinner at Bubba Luigi's.)

(Another Note: I am familiar with much of this material due to Wright's frequent usage in his works. So, despite my spotty notes, I was able to reconstruct a fair amount. I am not anticipating similar results with Dr. Gaffin's lectures, again, due to my unfamiliarity with his work. For a much more detailed look, please be sure to check out Rabbi Saul's blog, as he is steadily uploading his in-depth coverage of the conference.)

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