June 27, 2009

Ephesians 1:3-6; A Devotional

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for we are the blessed1 in all spiritual blessings, in the heavenly things, in Christ, seeing that He chose us in Him before the inception2 of the world to be holy and unblemished within His presence in love, thus3 predestining us into adoption to Him through Jesus Christ, according to the good judgment4 of His will in praise of His glory and His grace by which He favoured us in love. -Ephesians 1:3-6
Now there's a mouthful.

Considering the theological depth of this passage, as well as its controversial nature, you may wonder why I quoted so long of a passage. Well, the answer is simple: in the Greek, that's one sentence. One of the things about Paul's letters that many don't understand is that in the first view verses, where he's taking traditional elements found in the letters of his day and reappropriating them to his purposes, he is not explaining anything. In fact, he is usually hitting us hard with deep material which he is going to explain later on. Therefore, these passages aren't meant to communicate specific ideas, but to immerse us deep into the realm of ideas that he is going to be dealing with. In Ephesians, those ideas are the predetermined purposes of God's church, as well as its Christocentric character.

First of all, this is a praise given to God, and this is set up by saying that God is worthy to be blessed, for He has blessed us. You may have noticed that I didn't use the traditional "for He has blessed us". This is because the Greek doesn't emphasize that God has blessed us. It simply states that we are blessed (though God does bless us). The importance of this is that it is stating a simple reality about our state of being: that is we are blessed. We need to see ourselves that way, though often we forget.

Often we think, "sure, I know God blesses me. He did this little thing for me, and that little thing. But my life is still full of problem.s" But that's not the right attitude. Instead we need to recognize that our basic state of being is a blessed state.

This blessed state is not based upon this nice thing in my life, or that nice thing. Instead, it is based upon my position in regards to God. And this position is in Christ! Quite frankly, one of the problems that I have with Calvinism is they seem to miss the significance of Christ's role in both election and predestination, which are so apparent in this text!

What does it mean to be 'in Christ'? Does it mean that we are in His will? Does it mean that He has saved us? If these things are the case, then why use the word 'in'?

But if we recognize that being 'in Christ' is an ecclessiological concept, then we recognize that Paul is describing us as being part of the church, and that the church is Christ. Indeed, if we take ancient Hebraic modes of thinking, then we can see how there is a connection between the founder of a people and the people themselves. This is constant language throughout the OT, where Israel is Jacob, Edom is Esau, and many other examples.

Now if the people of God is now Christ, the perfection of Israel, then we can see being in Christ is being a part of the people of God. Therefore, the people of God is the blessed state that we are in. Why are we blessed to be in Christ? Because, by being in Christ, we are made holy and clean so that we can be in the very presence of God, and we become heirs (i.e. adoption) to all the spiritual blessings in existence and over all the heavenly things. We are not merely individuals who believe in God, though this is true too, but we have become a single people, a people whom God has chosen to be close to and use in this world. A people who God has established as authorities and as His family. All this because He loved us enough to extend the every grace that His judgement conceived.

Therefore, be honored, and praise the king of existence for the reality of your place in this world. You are not just a person who loves God; you are a member of God's family. Now that is a blessing!


Translation notes

1 The Greek doesn't have a verb here, which suggests the verb 'to be'. Every translation I looked at had 'who has blessed us', but the Greek does not have the word 'who' there, nor does it really use 'bless' as the verb. Instead, 'bless' is in the aorist participle, being used as a noun. Thus, the sentence seems to be saying that we are the blessed, or the blessed ones.

2 'katabolus' would literally mean "thrown down" though this idea is used in two ancient senses. One is the conception of a child, the other is in the sense of laying out a foundation. I chose to go with inception here because the basic meaning is 'beginning', though it is using a word picture, and I wanted to get that other sense of the word picture across. If I were doing a full Bible translation, I would probably still use foundation, though to be, foundation could also refer to the physical base of a thing.

3 Thus is not in the Greek. I added it here to emphasize the rhetorical connection to the previous verb

4 There has been a lot of theology written on the concept of God doing things for "His pleasure". I have no real problem with this theology, and I agree with a recent statement that we should let our theology dictate translation anyway. However, when I looked into the word 'eudokia' I found that the concept of 'pleasure' was a secondary meaning of this. The word family here is thought, opinion, and judgment. Pleasure fits in with the sense of "It pleased him to do so", which simply means that he thought that it was the best idea. Judgment, I think, is a much better term for this.

June 20, 2009

Ephesians 1:1-2; A Devotional

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Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ through God's will. To the saints: the residents1 in Ephesus2 and the faithful3 in Christ Jesus: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.4 -Ephesians 1:1-3 (MGV)
Paul uses three terms to denote the recipants of his letter: saints, residents, and faithful. I found it very difficult to determine the exact relationship between these three denotations, and I found that most translations simply skipped the second (residents). But I feel that this misses the relationship between being 'in Ephesus' and 'in Christ Jesus' which is a bit more obvious in the Greek, and I wanted to tease this out.

Though the purpose of this text is to say hi essentially, Paul always likes to squeeze in a little theological teaser into the salutation. In this case, I would say that it is the introduction to the concept of being 'in Christ' which we will hear a lot about throughout the book. If we take the concept of being in Ephesus and believing in Christ Jesus as an intentional contrast, we get a sense of the ecclesiastical dominance of the image of Christ.

The word 'resident' in the Greek is literally 'being', which doesn't really mean the same thing in English since this word can also mean 'a belonging' or 'a resident': connotations which our word 'being' doesn't have. By 'the beings in Ephesus' it means the ones who are physically present in Ephesus. This is compared to the phrase 'the believers in Christ Jesus' or those who are faithfully present in Christ. Now, how is one faithfully present in Christ?

This reminds us that in Scripture, there is a sense where the church is an extention of Christ Himself. Throughout Hebraic thought, there is a sense where the found of the people is the people, and the people is an extention of the person. We see this in how the OT relates the Israel the nation to Israel the person, or Edom to Esau like the famous Malachi text: "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated" (Malachi 1:2-5). The same is true here. In the same way that those in Ephesus belonged to Ephesus, so do we belong to Christ, and exist within Him as His people.

This union of Christ and His people is strong, and as such, if you reject His people, you are rejecting Him, and visa versa. Now we all know that sometimes the church isn't as faithful to Christ as Christ is to them. Nor is the church as faithful to each other as they should be.

But the book of Ephesians calls us out on this very reality anyway, and Paul introduces us to the concept of the Church being Christ off the bat to establish a theological foundation for church harmony, grace, and peace. Are we being faith to the church which is Christ? Or are we only as faithful to the church as the humans within it are faithful to us? If we remember that Christ is the church, then we do not judge the church's worth purely on its membership, but also by its head, and we treat the church in a higher form than it leaves for we see the spiritual reality of the church which is beyond our perceptions.

Therefore, this week, and especially tommorrow, I call you to love the church, and be devoted to it. Love the church as you love Christ, for through such love, you'll recieve the love of Christ in return.

Translation notes

1The word 'ousin' doesn't really have an equivalent in English. It is a dirivitive of the word 'eimi' or 'to be', so would be most etymologically simular to 'being'. But it is far more basic of a word than 'being' and doesn't hold as restrictive of a connotation. This would make it more simular to our word 'thing', and indeed, in most contexts this would probably be the more accurate word: a basic word for something with is. Likewise, it often denotes a person's possession ("ousin mou" would very neatly translate to "my things" or "my stuff").
However, it can also be used in terms of physical presence. (For instance, Parousia refers to the return of Christ when He will be present with us). Thing, naturally, doesn't have this meaning, and this is the sense being used here. English doesn't really have a word for this (at least not a common word), and I felt that 'resident' simply did a better job since it retained the same word form, rather than the option of "those who are" which I found in other translations.

2 The word 'en Epheso', isn't found in early manuscripts. I've included it since I don't have the credentials to argue otherwise. However, to remove it would make the rhetoric of the passage much neater. It would essentially change it to: "To the saints, residents and believers in Jesus Christ". Though it is true that such a rendering would not contradict the theological points made above, it would make them more obvious since Paul would be directly calling us residents in Christ, rather than comparing residing Ephesus with believing in Christ. Still, it can't be beauty which determines our translations, but accuracy.

3 I had many different options to translating this. The word 'to' is not actually in the Greek, but is instead implied by the dative form of 'hagiois', 'ousin', and 'pisteuois'. As such, some different rendering option would include:
  • To the saints: residents in Ephesus and believers in Jesus Christ
  • To the saints, to the residents in Ephesus, and to the believers in Jesus Christ
  • To the saints, residents in Ephesus, and believers in Jesus Christ

I chose the one that most emphasized what I felt was the point Paul was making.

4This one was annoying since 'God', 'our', 'Father', 'Lord', 'Jesus', and 'Christ' are all in the genitive. As such I saw two possible renderings, the one above and "from God, the Father of us and of the Lord Jesus Christ." Since I didn't really know, I went with the traditional rendering, since they know more than me anyway.

June 18, 2009

Unchristian
Part III: Proselytizing

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Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

To proselytize is the act of converting (or trying to convert) a person to your way of thinking. The word comes form ancient Judaism, where a proselyte was a Gentile who was undergoing training to be a Jew. Indeed, the act of conversion started, not with Christians, but with Jews (Michael Green, Evangelism in the early Church, (Guildford, Surrey; Eagle, 1995), 29-31).

In Christianity, we have a different name for proselytizing: Evangelism. The two different names deserve comparison. To proselytize refers to what you are trying to get the other person to become: a disciple. To evangelize (or to good-news) refers instead to a message. Indeed, to good-news someone would have brought to mind early the concept of a military report, i.e. the nation's victory in battle. It is interesting in that the words themselves represent different attitudes toward the conversion process. With this in mind, let us look at what Kinnaman says about how our culture is viewing our efforts to good-news them.

Reaching the Unchurched?

I think one of the biggest points that Kinnaman makes is that there are very few in our culture who are literally "unchurched". Most have been churched, and have decided that it is not what they want.

Based on his research, Kinnaman seems to be saying that the number one issue most "outsiders" are outside was because being inside didn't do anything for them. This is important for two basic reasons. Number one: the Christianity that we practice is too shallow to transform people's lives. Number two: when we talk to them, we shouldn't just try and tell them the basics.

Disciples

Matthew 28:19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
A lot of times when we evangelize, all we do is declare the good news. This is all well and good, and we need to start there, but the problem is that we often stop there. This isn't entirely our fault since usually the person who told the good news to us stopped there as well. Kinnaman points to this as the primary problem. Because so many Christians are immature in their faith, that no one really knows what a mature Christian looks like anymore.

Kinnaman talks about Christianity as something that transforms you; that it is our job as Christians to guide people in transformation. I'm not sure if this is entirely accurate. It is true that we are supposed to be transformed, but that's not the goal. The goal of Christianity is reconciliation with God, not just individually, but all of humanity. As such, both salvation and transformation are merely a means to an end.

As such, the church is supposed to be a community devoted to the Father, lead by the Son, and saturated by the Spirit. It is to be a community defined by God. But its not. Instead, we are a people who are obsessed with ourselves, and use God to achieve our own goals. To many who try this, it doesn't work because God doesn't play along with that game. Therefore, they see Christianity as ineffective.

However, Kinnaman is right that the best solution to this problem is better discipleship. We need to train Christians to be Christian, and we aren't doing that. Here we are, inviting people into the church, but we never bother cleaning up the place. Naturally they are unimpressed and often offended when they come. And naturally many leave because they are sick with it.

The Inside Scoop

The other problem that I mentioned above was that many "outsiders" have experienced the church. The "just preach the gospel" technique doesn't work because they've heard the gospel before. They are not Christian because of experiences that they have had with Christianity.

One of the things that I find the most frustrating is that I believe very strongly in the need for Christian fellowship. As such, when I talk to people about Christianity, I know that I need to point out to them where they can go to get such fellowship. But as I've grown older, I've become more and more aware of how little I trust churches to do it right. I'm nervous sending someone to a church because I'm worried that their experience might push them away. But I also know that I can't just leave them there, because I don't believe that all I need to do is just get them through the door. That is a very sad testimony I think.

However, the point I want to make here is that most of the Evangelism techniques, like Way of the Master or the Romans Road, don't really work because they have the wrong idea about who they are reaching out to. Let's take Way of the Master for instance. Think of the name. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron named it this precisely because they believe that it aptly shows what Christ did. But there's a problem with that concept. Jesus was talking to 1st century Jews. We're talking to 21st century Americans (well some of us ;) ). What worked for Jesus won't necessarily work of us because our audience is different. The same thing goes for people preaching on street corners to emulate Paul, even though Paul was emulating Greek philosophers' techniques.

We can't just do something because it is the way that someone in the Bible did it, no matter how great that person was. Instead we need to think in terms of communication. We have a message; how do we get the message across? A technique isn't good because it's biblical; it's good because it works!

Kinnaman mentions an expression that goes around, "do whatever gets the message out." It reminds me a bit of what Paul said in Philippians 1:18: Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. However it is important to realize that Paul is saying that he is tolerating the arrogance of others because at least the gospel is proclaimed. He is not advocating it. Paul is talking about being humble enough not to harass the person evangelizing poorly, and this much is true. Once I ran across a really obnoxious street preacher. I didn't harass him, but instead I prayed for him, asking God to turn his foolishness to something good.

This concept of "whatever gets the message out there" is so clearly foolish. Imagine a pitcher who's just "getting the ball out there", yet never makes it across the plate. Yeah, he's doing a good job. We have an aim, we have a goal. We need to think in those terms.

In this case, this means that we are dealing with people with a prior experience with Christianity. Instead of introducing Christianity to them, like introducing calculus to a person who gave up on a physics major, we instead need to talk to them about their experience, and speak into that. Speak life, humility, and sometimes apology if necessary (both senses of the word).

And don't do it defensively, as if you are attacking the person's misperceptions. Their experience is real and needs interpretation, not explanation. You can't explain why their experience was illegitimate. Instead, you need to probe into the situation, consider it, and then and only then point out where God was and wasn't. Be personal and real, not methodical and pragmatic.

But I want to remind you of the first point before I finish here. Remember that before we can remove the speck in our brothers eye, we need to remove the plank from our own. In other words, make sure that before you start trying to tell them our powerful the church can be, you better make sure your church is an example of that. Make your church a place that is worthy of inviting people to. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be Christian.

June 14, 2009

Ephesians: Devotional Overview and Introduction

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For the past few months, I've being doing the weekly devotionals for SEA. I figured since I write these anyway, I'll start including them in my blog. To some degree, they are a weekly practice in both exegeting and translation, though more the latter.

I waited until I was done with the book I was doing so I'll start here with a fresh book. I gave the matter some thought. Eventually I settled on the book of Ephesians because I love its ecclesiology. In my mind, I've nicknamed Ephesians "the epistle of unity", much as I think of Philippians as "the epistle of joy" or I Corinthians as "the epistle of discipline".

The occasion of Ephesians is linked to Colossians and Philemon since all three were dispatched with Tychicus at the same time. This can be seen by the presence of Onesimus in both Colossians and Philemon, and on the structurally similarities between Ephesians and Colossians. Colossi and Ephesus are also linked since they, along with Laodicea, which together formed a triad of sister cities. They were very close together, and therefore interacted with each other regularly. Out of these, Ephesus was the most important city (indeed, it was at times the most important city in the empire) and was thus the head of region. (All this data I received from lectures from Dr. Wayne McCowan at Northeastern Seminary)

What is relevant for the book of Ephesians is that this book is probably the least occasional letter in the canon. Indeed, the occasion seems to be a generalization of the much of the message of Colossians. It's as if the writing of Colossians gave him some thoughts of things to write to the population in general. Indeed, this is my understanding of the letter, and that it was given to Ephesians as the head of the reason for the distribution of the letter throughout the region (we see this overall practice described at the end in Colossians 4:16). This is merely theory of course, but it would explain the lack of occasion found in the letter.

It still is addressing concerns for the time though, as the principle issue is the relationship between the Church and the Jews, and proper Church life. These were major questions at the time. The Jewish Christians were confused as to why more Jews weren't being saved (see Romans) while the Gentile Christians were more confused about what precisely their relationship was to the Jews. Being a letter to Gentiles, this is mostly what the first couple of chapters of Ephesians is about as we shall see.

So join me as we go through this beautiful epistle as we explore Paul's heart for the church.

June 6, 2009

Unchristian
Part II: Hypocrisy

3 comments
Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

The accusation of hypocrisy is something that I've heard a lot. I've recognized a couple of different phenomena that could have caused it: some legitimate, some not. However, I found the insight in this book quite enlightening on this matter.

Outsiders' Thoughts

Probably the most surprising revelation from the book on this issue was what the heart of the accusation was. My understanding was that the charge of hypocrisy was a description of how immoral we where. In other words, the charge was that Christians can't be trusted.

According to Kinnaman, this is not the case:

Mosaics [those born between 1984 and 2002] and Busters [those born between 1965 and 1983] are not bothered by the image as much as you might think. They have learned not to care. In large part this is because they have come to the conclusion that people cannot be counted on, that one would expect to be disappointed. -pp43
Essentially, they are not charging that Christianity is immoral, but that Christianity is impotent. Christians are just like everyone else, and therefore there is no value in considering the faith at all.

Another important factor in this is that to most of the outsiders, being a good person is what being a Christian is all about. According to Kinnaman, 37% of born again Christians agree (pp. 50).

Kinnaman's Thoughts

Causes

To Kinnaman, a major cause for this accusation is simply that it is correct. There are a lot of hypocrites in the Church. But why?

First of all, we live in a society that is deeply concerned about image (pp 43). We are an accidents based culture: we are perfectly fine with a pile of feces as long as its well decorated and deodorized. The church itself, being impacted by this cultures, tends to focus more on looking Christian than being Christian. Combine this with a belief that the primary priority of a Christian is being a good person, and you get someone is trying to act like a good person without taking the time to affect their inner being (pp. 46).

Secondly, there exists a generational gap. Much of the focus on morality comes from earlier in the last century and thus is more emphasized by older generations. However, morality is less important to younger generations (pp. 53). Thus, if an outsiders perceives Christianity as it is defined by the older generations, but then primarily interacts with the younger generations, they receive a stronger vision of hypocrisy. This is more a perception issue, but it is there.

Finally, a major way that Christianity interacts with the culture is by a call to morality. Many Christians view the Christian life as more moral without actually viewing what the surrounding culture is like. We've closed ourselves off. The result is that we think we are more moral than we actually are, and we think they are less moral than they actually are. Apparently, many Christians believe that the primary reason why most outsiders aren't Christian is because of the high moral standard (pp. 51). But life should tell you that such a cliche answer cannot account for the vast number of outsiders which exist. Different people have different reasons, and this rationalization apparently ranked very low on the reasons outsiders actually give.

Solution

Kinnaman's basic solution is transparency. Part of Christian theology is that all have fallen short of the kingdom of God and when we become Christians, we still wrestle with the flesh. Stop projecting Christianity as a solution to immorality. First it is much more than ethics. Second, it instead is gives you a paradigm through which you deal with your immorality. Christianity isn't about being perfect, but being forgiven.

If we project this, and show outsiders that we are flawed, then they'll drop their guard around us, and be more willing to here what we have to say.

My Thoughts

Though I agree with Kinnaman's thoughts, I believe there is a second aspect of this that he hasn't looked at. That is the concept of holiness.

If you ask most what holiness means, if they can give you an answer they'll probably say it has to do with being a perfect person (morally that is). This is rooted in the Holiness Movement, which itself is based off of an exaggeration of the Wesleyan doctrine of perfection (Wesley's teaching on the matter was more pastoral than theological, and was taking to an extreme that I do not believe he would have approved of). However, this is not what holiness means.

To be holy means to be reserved, or set aside for something. More specifically, it is something reserved for God Himself. The essence of living a holy life isn't to live a moral life, but to live a life devoted to God. The true call to holiness is a reassignment of priority, that is making God your first priority. I do not mean making the will of God, or making the word of God, or making the worship of God your first priority. I mean God. Just God. Not any attribute or aspect of Him. I mean Him. He's first.

One can see then that the criticism that we are hypocrites is that we are not holy, i.e. we are just like everyone else. We shouldn't be. We should be different. There is a great deal of importance to actually cultivate that within the church, and do it in a way that is purely focused on ethics.

I agree with Kinnaman that or strategy in dealing with the Buster and Mosaic generations should be grounded in transparency, but we also need to make sure than when they look in at us, that they see something desirable. Thus, there should be a two part strategy: be open about our flaws and our mistakes, and strive to live a life devoted to God. These two things need to be working in unison if we are going to get out from under the hypocrisy label.

June 1, 2009

Unchristian
Part I: Introduction

3 comments
Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

A friend of mine recently read Unchristian by David Kinnaman and it has so affected his thought that he asked me to read it, and talk to him about the content. So recently I took the book from the library and am currently reading it.

The gist of the book is simple. At the request of a friend, Mr. Kinnaman of the Barna Group began an investigation into how those who are not Christians view Christianity. I find it interesting that he doesn't use the word 'Nonchristian' to describe them, but instead chooses the word 'outsiders'. Means the same thing, but apparently he found that the word "Nonchristian' has some unnecessary baggage attached to it that he wanted to distance himself from. That's fine. In either case, he began a research project into what can essentially be called Christianity's public image.

Now, I haven't read through the book (I like to write about books as I read them since this blog is more a record of my thinking process than it is a catalog of my opinion), but I've finished the first two chapters and I am happy to say that he seems to be avoiding the mentality that I feared.

Personally, I do not think it is our responsibility as Christianity to be liked. The world isn't supposed to like us, Christ made that quite clear. The early church's reputation was replete with false accusations and misunderstandings. So the fact that such things are happening now, it doesn't mean that we are being bad. Mr. Kinnaman seems to agree:
"As Christians, we have to avoid being defensive about the culture's push to remove Christianity's power in society. This book never advocates that we try to become more popular. Our task is to be effective agents of spiritual transformation in people's lives, whatever that may cost in time, comfort, or image." -pp. 19

The issue isn't so much whether the culture likes us or not. It is: Are these the things that we want them to be made at us for? Are these the big issues?

Kinnaman 6 different issues which seem to be at the forefront of our PR. As I go through the book, I intend to address Kinnaman's thoughts as well as bringing up my own. You may notice that up top I have a list of the various parts to this series. They will eventually be links that I'll be updating as the series progresses so that each post links to each post.

I hope to get through this in the next two weeks. I look forward to your thoughts.

Copyright for all references to the book in this series: David Kinnaman,UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity... And Why It Matters, (Grand Rapids, Mishigan: Baker Books, 2007).