Latest


Worth a Look 9.10.14

Sep 10, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Two Views on Women in Ministry$3.99.

This book furnishes you with a clear and thorough presentation of the two primary views on women in ministry so you can better understand each one’s strengths, weaknesses, and complexities. Each view—egalitarian (equal ministry opportunity for both genders) and complementarian (ministry roles differentiated by gender)—is represented by two contributors. 

Jackson Wu – Honor and Shame Across Cultures in China:

Someone recently emailed me asking this question. They wondered how “modernity” and “postmodernity” might impact honor/shame dynamics in Chinese society. This post offers just a few brief answers.

The longstanding mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity may have been solved by DNA. Here’s an explanation why this “armchair detective” thinks the criminal was Aaron Kosminski. And here are some reasons many are still skeptical.

A self-confessed “armchair detective” claims to have solved perhaps the most notorious whodunit ever by claiming to have discovered the identity of Jack the Ripper. Russell Edwards claims Aaron Kosminski, a 23 year-old Polish immigrant who ended up dying in an asylum, was “definitely, categorically and absolutely” the man behind the grisly killing spree in 1888 in London’s East End.

One of the most under-discussed aspects of church life is discipleship in smaller groups, whether they are groups that meet in homes, at the church, or elsewhere. This free webcast features a discussion with leaders like Eddie Mosely, Steve Gladen, Carolyn Taketa, Rick Howerton, and Bruce Raley on how to start new groups.

How reporters have covered Truett Cathy’s death:

It’s safe to say that Chick-fil-A patriarch S. Truett Cathy was famous, or infamous, for two very different reasons with two radically different flocks of people. After his death, mainstream news organizations faced an obvious news question: What’s the lede? What’s the angle on this remarkable entrepreneur’s life that deserved the spotlight at the top of the story?

View Comments

D. L. Moody the Educating Evangelist

Sep 09, 2014 | Trevin Wax

books3_14While many evangelicals have heard of D.L. Moody, most do not know nearly enough about the famous evangelist. Kevin Belmonte is hoping to change that.

I’ve interviewed Kevin before about his G.K. Chesterton books, but his most recent biography, D.L. Moody – A Life: Innovator, Evangelist, World-Changer, aims to give readers a fuller understanding of one of the most influential evangelists of the last 200 years.

Today, Kevin and I focus most of our attention on Moody’s life, and tomorrow, our discussion centers around his legacy.

Trevin Wax: The subtitle for your new biography is Innovator, Evangelist, World-Changer. Many evangelicals probably think of Moody primarily as an evangelist. Why are those other two descriptions just as important when applied to Moody?

Kevin Belmonte

Belmonte

Kevin Belmonte: That’s a great question.

To be sure, Moody’s legacy as a herald of the gospel stands pre-eminent. After all, a conservative estimate puts the number of people who heard him commend the faith at 100 million, and this in a time decades before the coming of radio and television. So that facet of his life’s work must always be seen as a centerpiece.

But Moody has a place in history too as an innovator and world changer.

Trevin Wax: In what ways?

Kevin Belmonte: Well, we should remember that he was the founder of four schools, specifically designed to give disadvantaged young people a top shelf academic education or sound vocational training.

At the heart of it all, Moody said these schools were intended “to help young men and women of very little means to get an education such as would have done me good when I was their age. I want to help them into lives which will help them most for the cause of Christ.”

In creating these schools Moody, who had just a few years of formal education himself, became a world changer, presenting opportunities for a future that young men and young women – among them African Americans and Native Americans – would never have had, but for his vision and commitment to the value of a fine education.

By the time of his death in 1899, some 5,000 young people had come through these schools. Stop to consider, just for a moment, what the ripple effect of this fact meant for all these young people, to say nothing of their descendants, or the students that have attended Moody’s schools in the 115-years since his passing. It’s really quite extraordinary, when you think about it.

Trevin Wax: So, Moody was an educator. How did he innovate?

Kevin Belmonte: Within the context of these schools, Moody was an innovator in that he placed great emphasis on what we would now call “service projects.” All the students were expected to contribute to the life of the schools by working several hours a week.

Sometimes this meant working on the farms that were part of the Northfield schools, say to harvest crops, or taking care of livestock. For young women it might mean work in the school library or laundry room.

In this way, students were taught the importance of “giving back” in exchange for the privilege of a fine education. Then too, students in all four of his schools were expected to give of their time in local communities, serving the less fortunate in a variety of ways. In Chicago, home to what is now Moody Bible Institute, that meant service projects in an urban setting.

In and around Northfield, that might have been home visitation work through travel by wagon – say to give away crops from the gardens or orchards there. Moody famously loved to don comfortable old clothes, and set out in one of those wagons himself.

One phrase was said to capture it all: “head, hand, and heart.” Looking at these things, we begin to get a glimpse of how Moody really was an innovator and world changer.

DL Moody with baby granddaughter Emma, college students & pet mastiff dog _Lion_ (1896)

Moody with his granddaughter, several college students, and his dog “Lion” (1896)

Trevin: There is folklore about Moody that when questioned about his theology, he joked, “I didn’t know I have any,” – as if his preaching and teaching were simple, plain explanations of Scripture and not theologically rich. But you show how much of a reader Moody was, and how he prized education and publishing.

Kevin Belmonte: Yes, stories like that are out there, and they bring a smile, for Moody was nothing if not a master of the pithy or pungent one liner.

But in truth, Moody had views on a whole host of subjects that may be said to comprise his understanding of theology. And here, I could do no better than to point readers to Dr. S. N. Gundry’s very fine book, Love Them In: The Life and Theology of D.L. Moody. It’s a marvelous, richly detailed study, and I commend it.

As for education, I would point to Moody’s deep commitment to personal study, He spent hours each week in “self-education,” much as his near contemporary Abraham Lincoln did.

“I never had the advantage of an education,” Moody once said, “but when God called me into His service, I hungered and thirsted to be used by Him, and I wanted to get hold of the Bible. I left this country and went to England, that I might sit at the feet of Charles Spurgeon and George Müller.”

Then too, as Moody’s great friend, Dr. Henry Cutler, remembered:

“Soon after Moody’s conversion, he came more and more into the companionship of educated men, and this seemed always to spur him on to get information for himself … In those years, he formed the habit of rising early in the morning, to read and study, and this custom he kept up to the very end of his life.

For years, he had several persons reading for him. These readers made outlines of books, and marked passages which he ought to see and read. In this way, Mr. Moody became a widely read man.”

Another Moody friend, Henry Drummond, also took note of Moody’s sterling commitment to study, saying:

“No greater mistake could be made than to imagine that Mr. Moody does not study for his sermons. On the contrary, he is always studying. His search for…light upon texts, Bible ideas, or characters, is ceaseless, and he has an eye like an eagle for anything really good.”

Returning to Dr. Cutler’s memories of Moody, I found it fascinating to read these lines:

“His contact with students and professors in the universities of Great Britain, and in the colleges of this country, made him alert to acquaint himself with their learning and their problems … This all worked to make of him, in the best sense of the word, the educated man that he was.

He was never at a loss in the discussion of any topic, theological or philosophical, and he was well informed along scientific lines. He believed in higher education, as is shown by the number of boys and girls he sent to college, and by his desire to emphasize the courses in his own schools leading to university work.

For him, an educated man meant a great new added power in the world, and if to this greatness he could add goodness, his ideal man was complete. He used to say, “There are great men in the world; there are good men in the world; but there are few who are both great and good.”

Moody in road wagon (circa 1898)

Moody in a road wagon delivering crops to the needy around him (circa 1898)

Trevin: What was the secret to Moody’s success as a preacher? Why do you think he was able to captivate the heart and imagination of so many people during his time?

Kevin Belmonte: Several traits made Moody’s sermons memorable. God gave him natural gifts as a speaker, and over time, he cultivated them with much care, thought, and learning from what worked best, and what didn’t. I’ll go through some of these traits if I may.

For a start, he was a painter of vivid word pictures. The great British reformer Lord Shaftesbury once said that when he heard Moody speak, “the Redeemer Himself seems to stand before you.” High praise indeed.

Dr. James Buckley, another keen judge of pulpit presence, echoed and expanded on what Shaftesbury said, by observing:

“Some persons say that Mr. Moody was not a cultivated orator. Give that passage quoted by Drummond: Search for the man that drove the spear into my side, and tell him there is a nearer way to my heart than that. Tell him I forgive him freely, and that he can be saved, if he will accept salvation as a gift.'”

Or, said Buckley, recall that “when Moody once described the ascension of Elijah, several distinguished parliamentarians rose up, and looked into the air.” As Moody’s son-in-law, A.P. Fitt, put it: “Few men ever equaled him in ability to summon before an audience the whole setting of a Bible incident.”

Moody also believed in the power of stories when preaching. “Many and many a time,” he said, “I have found that when the sermon – and even the text – has been forgotten, some story has fastened itself in a hearer’s mind, and has borne fruit. Anecdotes are like windows, to let light in upon a subject. They have a useful ministry.”

In a related vein, Moody was also a master of what I call “the pocket parable,” and here’s a fine example: “Away out in the prairie regions,” Moody said, “when meetings are held at night in the log schoolhouses, the announcement of the meeting is given out in this way: A meeting will be held by early candle-light.'”

“The first man who comes brings a tallow-dip with him. It is perhaps all he has; but he brings it, and sets it on the desk. It does not light the building much; but it is better than nothing at all.”

“The next man brings his candle; and the next family bring theirs. By the time the house is full, there is plenty of light. So if we all shine a little, there will be a good deal of light. That is what God wants us to do. If we cannot all be lighthouses, any one of us can at any rate be a tallow candle.”

It was important too that Moody also had a conversational preaching style. Metaphorically, he had a way of coming alongside the people who heard him. As he said: “If I can only get people to think I am talking with them, and not preaching, it is so much easier … I’d rather have that compliment than any other.”

And Ira Sankey, Moody’s great song leader and composer said:

“One of the greatest compliments to Mr. Moody’s preaching was that the sermon that would hold the rapt attention of the most intelligent of his congregation would also be listened to with the same eagerness by the children present. Anyone – everyone – understood what he said.”

Last, Moody could cast a memorable line as well as any of his contemporaries. Here’s an example: “Some men,” he said, “grow smaller and smaller on an intimate acquaintance; but my experience is that the more and more you know of Christ, the larger He becomes.”

Trevin Wax: Very helpful, Kevin. Tomorrow, we’ll continue our discussion about the lasting legacy of Moody’s ministry.

View Comments

Worth a Look 9.9.14

Sep 09, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: The Power of Words and the Wonder of God edited by John Piper. $1.99.

Since the tongue is such a powerful force-for good or evil-we are wise to ask: What would homes, churches, schools, even the public square be like if we used words with Christian intentionality and eloquence?

Truett Cathy, faith-rooted business entrepreneur dies:

S. Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain famous for closing on Sundays, died today (Sept. 8). He was 93. ”I was not so committed to financial success that I was willing to abandon my principles and priorities,” Cathy once said. “Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.”

Cathy, one of Southern Baptists’ most respected businessmen, was surrounded by loved ones when died at his home at 1:35 a.m., according to an announcement from the Atlanta-based company.

We’ve added another church resource site at LifeWay. This one is for Church Tech and Media. Here’s a recent post: A Question of When, Not If, To Start Your Media Ministry

With care and intentionality, your media ministry initiative can strengthen the unity and Kingdom impact of your church’s vision.

Donald Miller – I’m Glad I’m Not the Same Guy Who Wrote Blue Like Jazz:

These days when somebody says they miss the old Don, I get it. I understand. He was a super nice guy. But he really wanted to please people because he believed if he took a stand people would leave him. As much as I love the old Don, I don’t miss him.

“Stay With Me” and the Barney Stinson-ization of America:

Sleeping with countless women with no strings attached seems like paradise to countless young men, but throughout the show, in between his seductive tricks and sexual triumphs, one reality remains: Barney is enslaved by his sexual freedom. And there’s reason to believe he isn’t the only one.

Stories like this keep me going every day…

View Comments

Gungor, Questions, and the Doubters Among Us

Sep 08, 2014 | Trevin Wax

gungorEvangelicals were taken aback this summer by popular Christian contemporary musician Michael Gungor’s denial of the historicity of several Old Testament narratives. This came just weeks after Jars of Clay’s lead singer, Dan Haseltine, took to Twitter to debate the merits of same-sex marriage. Both situations provoked celebration from the left and consternation from the right.

Why such a fuss over Christian musicians’ theology and ethics?

For better or for worse, evangelicalism’s lack of authority structure and ecclesial identity open the door for campus ministries, parachurch organizations, and singers, writers, and moviemakers to fulfill the role of quasi-theologians. This is why, when celebrities cross the boundaries of their conservative audience, they get an earful from their constituency, who, rightly or wrongly, feel betrayed by the star’s defection.

The left’s response to Gungor and Jars of Clay was to celebrate an artist’s willingness to boldly “ask questions,” to be “authentic,” and to reformulate Christianity in ways that take into consideration our contemporary setting. The conservative response was to decry these artists as defectors from the faith and to write them and their questions off.

My Facebook feed was filled with both responses – those who praised the courage and creativity of Gungor, and those who condemned their unorthodox views. Both attitudes left me unsatisfied. Here’s why.

The Celebration of Doubt

The left’s response to Gungor is to breathlessly cheer anyone who “steps out of line” doctrinally as they “explore their faith.” This kind of reaction is frustrating for two reasons.

First, it implies that one must leave the bounds of historic orthodoxy in order to explore their faith. As if it’s courageous for a fish to say, “The ocean is not big enough for me!” and then flop onto the sand. “Exploring our faith” ought to mean we move into the deep end of the pool of orthodoxy, not that we get out altogether and mock the other swimmers. (And how is it the “broadminded” progressive is the one who narrows the number of miracles to believe?)

Secondly, it implies that asking questions is always a good thing. Doubts are exalted and certainty is demonized. Or at least, doubting is courageous and certainty is suspect.

But questions are never just questions. As Mark Galli says, ”There is no such thing as a neutral inquiry when it comes to questions about God.”

Galli contrasts two kinds of questions, one that arises out of a “trusting faith” and another that arises out of “a desire to have God prove himself on human terms.” The left’s celebration of doubt fails to deal adequately with the self-justifying tendencies of the human heart:

“Given human nature… we can safely assume that the questions are largely driven by a desire to justify ourselves, to put God in the dock, and to don those judicial robes.”

The problem with celebrating doubt is that all questions are treated the same, as if the motives are always pure and innocent. The truth is, the spirit behind a question can either be faith seeking understanding or unbelief seeking justification. 

Gungor’s remarks were dripping with condescension toward people whose interpretation differs from his, which is why his “questions” provoked a heated response from conservative Christians.

The Condemnation of Doubt

While the left sees doubt as courageous and certainty as suspect, the right inverts this picture. Recognizing the smug attitude in many who “question,” conservatives can easily assume that all our questions arise from a rebellious heart seeking to capitulate to cultural pressure.

Our response to the wrong kind of questioning can unintentionally shut down the right kind of questioning.

This attitude is problematic because of the message it communicates to the people in our churches: the recently-converted physics professor in the row behind you, the teenager at your house for a Disciple Now weekend whose best friend just came out as gay, or the man in your small group who just buried his wife after a long battle with cancer. I’m afraid the vehement response to Gungor and Jars of Clay, though understandable as a response to feeling “betrayed” by these evangelical celebrities, tells churchgoers, It is not safe to ask these questions here. It is not safe to be honest about your doubts.

Many Christians already feel guilty for internally questioning the authority of their church’s teaching or the reliability of God’s Word or the cohesiveness of Christian theology. But since we live in a culture in which we breathe the air of Enlightenment rationalism, the Sexual Revolution, and the consumerism of Amazon, shouldn’t we expect people in our congregations to wrestle with questions regarding the historicity of Bible stories? Shouldn’t we expect people to wonder why the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality is good and beneficial to society? Shouldn’t we expect people to be curious about why they belong to this particular Christian church and not another one, especially when it’s as easy to change churches as it is to change shoes?

Church leaders say they want to provide a safe place for people to be honest and open about their struggles, but if we are not careful, our denunciation of public expressions of doubt may cause some of the sincere doubters in our own congregations to climb into their shells and never ask the substantive questions. This facade gets tiresome, of course, and it is the reason some people just drift away from church altogether.

The good news is, Jesus loves doubters. He never stopped loving His disciples. Thomas got a reprimand, but He also got a close-up of Jesus’ scars of love.

God can use doubt in a similar manner to the way a broken limb can actually wind up stronger and more fortified at the very place the break occurred. We don’t have to see broken limbs as a good thing to observe that good things can come from the healing process. Many times, our experience with doubt leaves us stronger in the end, with people who truly own their faith.

The Way of Faith

So, let’s make sure that when we express our disappointment in evangelical leaders who cast doubt on fundamental truths of the faith, or who question Christianity’s distinctive sexual ethic, we don’t imply that all such questions are wrongheaded. As Matthew Lee Anderson writes:

“The way forward is the way of faith, a faith that does not deny questioning but orients questions toward understanding and grounds them in love. For faith is the pretext for questioning well, the atmosphere that sustains patient, longing inquiry.”

View Comments

Worth a Look 9.8.14

Sep 08, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Four Views of the End Times by Timothy Paul Jones. $0.99.

This fascinating eBook shows four different Revelation timelines and diagrams, a definition of the four major end time views, supporting Scriptures, a time line of the view’s popularity, and a sampling of Christian leaders supporting the view.

Fred Sanders reflects on the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014): Theological Outflanker

Taken all together, these Pannenbergian commitments put him in a position to oppose secularism and its critiques of Christianity with a strategy of outflanking. Any attack on the side of your opponent’s forces is a flanking move; but when you flank them on both sides, or on all sides, you’ve really got them surrounded: outflanked all around. Pannenberg was that kind of thinker. He surrounded his opponents by thinking bigger, by pushing every question to a more comprehensive level.

Bonhoeffer on Preaching:

I found his lecture on preaching to be fascinating. While I differ with some of his views (for example, he dismissed the need for sermon introductions, conclusions or applications), I’m convinced Bonhoffer has much pastoral and homiletical wisdom to pass on to all who preach or teach God’s Word…

The World in a Wafer: Globalization, Localization, and the Lord’s Supper:

The Lord’s Supper unites while also respecting the locality of each congregation. The Lord’s Supper refocuses space so that the more one becomes united to the whole the more tied one becomes to local. The global ensues centered locality, and further locality enlarges globalization. Thereby world in a sense collapses in the local assembly in the taking of the bread and wine.

InterVarsity “Derecognized” At California’s 23 State Universities:

The irony: the university is using a rule intended to protect and to include religious groups to exclude religious groups because they want their leaders to be representatives of that religion. It’s an imposition of a civil religion (democratic process) on a religious leadership selection issue. We think its implementation tells religious students their beliefs are not welcome. It hurts students of color who find our groups are key support structures. 70% of our students in the two IV [InterVarsity] regions affected [are] POC [persons of color].

 

View Comments

There Is a Far Kingdom

Sep 07, 2014 | Trevin Wax

The Gray Havens – Far Kingdom from EBourcier Creative on Vimeo.

There is a far kingdom
A ways from here
Beyond the storm and the sea
There will be no need of darkness
And none for tears
When that far kingdom I see

There’s a river we will know
Ever clear and ever full
From the fount that overflows
In the light of the King
And when we drink it we will find
That this joy, ever full, will ever rise
And it’ll rise on, in the kingdom
In the kingdom

There is a far kingdom
On the other side of the glass
And by a faint light we see
Still there is more gladness
Longing for the sight
Than to behold or be filled, by anything

There’s a river we will know
Ever clear and ever full
From the fount that overflows
In the light of the King
And when we drink it we will find
That this joy, ever full, will ever rise
And it’ll rise on, in the kingdom
In the kingdom

There is a far, far kingdom
There at the end of the sea
Where they know my name
And until that far, far kingdom
Calls me home
Oh, my soul, I will wait

For the river we will know
Ever clear and ever full
From the fount that overflows
In the light of the King
And when we drink it we will find
That this joy, ever full, will ever rise
And it’ll rise on, in the kingdom
In the kingdom
And it’ll rise on, in the kingdom
In the kingdom

David Radford, The Gray Havens

View Comments

Truth, Full to the Bursting, Fuels My Worship

Sep 06, 2014 | Trevin Wax

overflowingftn“Nonetheless, this singular fact, full to the bursting, remains, it is a fact grounded in infinite outpouring:

  • Christ is in me; I am in Christ.
  • I am crucified with the one whose body and blood I somehow take to myself in bread and wine.
  • I am risen with Christ, whose resurrected body is the earnest of the one I shall eventually receive and never war out.
  • I am seated in the heavenlies with Christ who raise me up and takes me beyond the frames and structures of earth and culture.

“Christ in me is not some narrow, introspective, disembodied, private, even embarrassing fact, specially savored by a narrow sect within the larger Christian community.

“It is an all-encompassing, all-empowering fact from which no quarter of my worship can be excused.”

– Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (page 57)

View Comments

Know Your Southern Baptists: Bart Millard

Sep 05, 2014 | Trevin Wax

millardName: Bart Millard

Age: 41 (December 1, 1972)

Why you’ve heard of him: He is a Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter.

Position: Along with a Grammy nominated solo career, Millard has been the lead singer of MercyMe since the band began in 1994.

Albums: As a solo artist, Millard has released Hymned No. 1 and Hymned Again. MercyMe has released eight studio albums, one greatest hits album, one Christmas album and six independent albums. Spoken For, Undone, Coming Up to Breathe, and All That is Within Me have been certified Gold, while their debut album, Almost There, went double platinum.

Why he’s important: Dreaming of a career playing football, Millard had an ankle injury that led him into chorus as an elective. Another instance of happenstance brought him on stage as the lead singer of a worship band, which grew into MercyMe. After seven years and six albums as an independent band, MercyMe’s first album for a major record label included the smash hit “I Can Only Imagine.”

In 2002, the song won two Dove Awards for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year and Song of the Year. Millard was named Songwriter of the Year. The next year, it began gaining airplay on mainstream stations and soon began climbing numerous Billboard charts. It was the first, and so far only, Christian single to reach a million digital downloads and be certified platinum.

Since then, MercyMe and Millard have continued releasing best-selling albums and racking up Dove Awards, American Music Awards, and other designations. In 2005, Christianity Today named him the Best Male Vocalist. ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) named him the Christian Songwriter of the Year in 2003.

Notable Quotes:

“We’re trying to make records and make a concert that hopefully, from when the show begins to when the show ends, or when the record beings to when it ends, if you’ve taken even one step closer to the throne room of Christ, then it’s worship.”

“Lord, You know our hearts don’t deserve Your glory still You show a love we cannot afford.” – God With Us

“And I know there’ll be days when this life brings me pain, but if that’s what it takes to praise You Jesus, bring the rain.” – Bring the Rain

“The last thing I need is to be heard, but to hear what You would say.” – Word of God Speak

“It’s the moment when humanity is overcome by majesty, when grace is ushered in for good and all our scars are understood.” – The Hurt & The Healer

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

View Comments

The Ethics of John’s Gospel, Letters, and Revelation

Sep 04, 2014 | Trevin Wax

006063796XThursdays are reserved for our blog series through Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament. In this introductory post, I laid out a reading schedule. (It’s not too late to join!)

Here is the post that sets the stage for how we understand the ethics of the New Testament, a summary of Paul’s moral vision, the ethical vision of two Gospels – Mark and Matthew, and last week’s post on Luke-Acts.

Today, we turn our attention to the Gospel of John and the Johannine letters (and I include Hays’ chapter on Revelation, since I consider that book to also come from the pen of John).

In a nutshell, John shows Jesus as the one from God who brings life. Hays believes John, in contrast to the other Gospels, gives minimal moral instruction because the apostle’s focus is on Jesus’ identity.

The Gospel of John and The Letters of John

Christology: According to John, Jesus is the Man from heaven who has come to bring light and salvation. Creation and redemption are held together.

Loving One Another: The Friends of Jesus

  • Abiding in Jesus, the church continues on His mission.
  • The one clear directive from Jesus to His followers is that they love one another. Love within the community is a testimony to the world.
  • The historical setting of John’s writings is a time of resistance. He hopes for solidarity in a church beset by external and internal stress.
  • John sees the community as being “socially relocated” from one kingdom to another. There can be no compromise with Roman imperialism or Judaism. He puts forth a countercultural stance of allegiance to God’s kingdom.

Eschatology: “We know that we have passed from death to life.”

  • Hays sees John as radically reorienting eschatology away from Christ’s imminent return and toward the ongoing work of the Spirit.
  • Judgment has already occurred in Jesus’ encounter with the world.
  • The Spirit remains actively present in the community of faith.
  • John’s eschatological vision has not done away with bodily resurrection. He still maintains a bodily resurrection of believers on the Last Day.

9 observations about John’s narrative world

  1. Time blurs and recedes into the background. Jesus and His kingdom transcend temporal events.
  2. The world is characterized by binary polarities: light and darkness, above and below, good and evil, truth and lies, life and death.
  3. The church is alienated from its cultural roots and immediate social environment.
  4. Within the community of the faithful, John puts forth a vision of solidarity and fellowship.
  5. There is a clear formal rejection of sin and a mandate to live righteously.
  6. The presence of the Spirit to guide the community of believers gives comfort and confidence.
  7. The Word of God subverts the world’s conception of power.
  8. The subversion of power is one manifestation of an ironic vision of the world.
  9. Incarnation deconstructs dualism. The Word made flesh affirms the goodness and significance of creation.

Revelation

Hays opens this section by laying out three ways to interpret apocalyptic symbolism:

  • Predictive: a literal transcript of future events.
  • Historical: a commentary on political events and figures of the author’s own time.
  • Theopoetic: visionary theological and poetic representation of the spiritual environment within which the church perennially finds itself living and struggling.

Hays takes the third option. Revelation is “a prophetic confrontation of all earthly pretensions to power, all symbolic orders other than that of the Lamb that was slaughtered” (173).

Christology: Jesus is the slaughtered Lamb who conquers through suffering. The portrait of Jesus’ lordship stands in antithesis to Caesar’s.

The Church: The vocation of the saints is to follow Jesus, enduring persecution and bearing witness faithfully. The boundaries between the church and the world must be sharp and uncompromising.

Eschatology: Future hope is the basis for critiquing the present order. Christians are called to resistance in the present and active obedience to God who holds the future.

7 observations about Revelation’s narrative world

  • The world is sundered by a series of sharp dualisms. Therefore, neutrality regarding worship is impossible.
  • There is a sharp social polarization between the church and the world.
  • In the midst of this polarization, solidarity within the community of the faithful is vital.
  • There is a strong sense of eschatological urgency.
  • No matter how chaotic the present world is, the writer conveys confidence in the moral orderliness of the universe.
  • Knowing God’s justice will bring a radical reversal, the writer’s intent seeks to remake the community’s understanding of reality, to be more in line with God’s perspective.
  • The book’s ethical staying power is a product of its imaginative richness.

Some Personal Considerations: Hays accurately summarizes the distinctive elements of John’s Gospel and Letters, including the polarities inherent in his vision and the transition from “kingdom” language to “eternal life.” I find his reasons for why John’s vision differs from the Synoptics less persuasive. In his attempt to be faithful to the diversity of canonical witnesses, Hays tends to overstate distinctions as differences, as if one must be set against the other writers rather than simply set apart.

Hays’ chapter on Revelation is a terrific overview of this hard-to-understand book that concludes our Bibles. One doesn’t have to agree to Hays’ “theopoetic” interpretation in its entirety to benefit from his summary here. To me, it seems arbitrary to choose between a future, historical, or theopoetic interpretation. One could make the case (and many have!) that this book includes historical elements that point to the future, all of which are infused with theopoetic imagination. Still, regardless of one’s interpretation, it’s hard to find a strong, succinct summary of the ethical vision of this challenging book. Hays’ contribution here is solid.

Next week, we move out of the NT summaries and into the heart of the book. How do we synthesize these voices? What is the moral vision of the New Testament?

View Comments
1 2 3 4 5 421