Sunday, March 13, 2011

Moral Transformation is now Published!

It's taken 6 years, but it's finally published!

Here's a little blurb about it copied from the back cover:

Recent scholarship has challenged post-Reformation ideas about the early Christian doctrines of salvation. This ground-breaking book draws together the conclusions of recent scholarship into a compelling and clear view of the early Christian paradigm of salvation. It presents the case that the early Christians focussed not on Christ's death on the cross or 'saving faith', but on moral transformation. They saw Jesus as God's appointed teacher, prophet, and leader, who died as a martyr in order to teach them a new way of life. Their paradigm of salvation centred upon this way of life taught by Jesus, and on following faithfully his example and teachings.

Part 1: How the Gospels present Jesus explores the way in which the early Christians understood the teaching of Jesus. It highlights five themes of Jesus' message: economics and wealth, moral purity, social equality, the temple system, and physical and spiritual affliction. It shows why people viewed Jesus as a divinely appointed teacher, prophet, and leader, and saw his death as a martyrdom for his cause and movement.

Part 2: Doctrines of the early Christians presents the key early Christian doctrines of salvation and shows why several post-Reformation doctrines conflict with their views. It shows that the early Christians believed God's final judgment is made on the basis of character and conduct. They believed that by following Jesus and transforming their lives morally, they would obtain positive judgment and resurrection. This part shows how the early Christians' ideas of faith, justification, forgiveness and grace all fit into this paradigm.

Part 3: The importance of Jesus looks at why the early Christians considered Jesus so significant; they focussed on the moral transformation he brought to their lives. This part highlights what they believed Jesus achieved for them, and how they used sacrificial language to explain these beliefs. It explores the evidence for viewing Jesus' death as a martyrdom, and for seeing his resurrection as equally important.

Part 4: Ideas throughout history shows that Christians held this paradigm of salvation for several centuries. It outlines the key changes that occurred from the 4th century through to the Reformation, which moved tradition away from the early Christian ideas. Finally, it offers a critique of modern post-Reformation doctrines of salvation.

We're currently trying to spread the word about this book. So, please spread the word!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The forest

Under the rustling ferns and bushes
Lies green moss, dripping with winter dew.
Woody roots dig silently below, concealing their strength
With seasons of autumn leaves that keep their secret.
Happy earthworms devour the mulch of browns and greys
In which the mushrooms grow.
If you listen carefully, you might hear the earthworms eating.
Beneath them lies the soil of ages past,
Dark and still, visited only by the roots of tallest trees.
The soil knows nothing of the chirping forest above,
That leaf by leaf it fed.
Down there, amid the rocks and clay, forgotten,
      lies who I used to be.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Fundamental differences between early Christianity and modern Christianity

As I've been trying to write an introduction for a nearly completed book on early Christianity, I've been trying to figure out the best way to break to people the news that there are fundamental differences between early Christianity and modern Christianity. These differences are surprising, even shocking, but are not easily recognized by many Christians today.

Of course, whatever people think about the idea that such differences exist, it won't change what the early Christians believed. So if they happened to believe a set of doctrines that were indeed different, then not even the strongest of opinions or the loudest of objections will change that fact. Now nearing the completion of a book outlining early Christianity, I think there is so much evidence that their doctrines were substantially different that it is very difficult to see how this could not be the case. The problem is that the news that early Christian doctrines were very different is an uncomfortable one for many Christians today.

I can't think of any way I can make this news more comfortable for Christians. This is especially true for older Christians, who have invested decades of their lives and identities in doctrines that the early Christians simply didn't believe. The idea that the doctrines they had built so many years of their lives on arose not with Jesus but many centuries after him would surely be a hard pill to swallow.

One thing that may make the news more tolerable is that it fits better with current trends that emphasize social action and responsibility. I was thinking about this last Sunday, when the sermon so passionately related Jesus' concern for the poor and underprivileged. It was followed by some songs about theology that struck me as completely disconnected from such a message. At least the early Christian doctrines were, in this sense, quite modern.

Perhaps I don't need to worry about making the news less uncomfortable for modern Christians. It's hardly a new thing to be saying. Countless people who have pointed it out in the past have been largely ignored by the general Christian population. This news won't make people uncomfortable if they ignore it. Even if they take heed, it is not my job in life to make other people feel comfortable.

Yet in the case of the book I'm co-authoring, it is important, since I hope that some people will take the time to read it. How they react to such news might affect how they read the book, and how they feel about their own faith once they have. So does anyone have any ideas on how I could best let people know that there are major differences between early and modern Christianity?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Paul's view of grace

Apparently, there are still some people reading my blog out there. So here's my theological thought of the day.

I was doing some writing on the topic of justification today, and I noticed something about the times Paul says we're justified by grace through faith. Here are the passages I have in mind, which I'll abridge to highlight what I noticed:

Rom 3:21-30:
But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed... the righteousness of God through faithfulness to Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction... they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... Then what becomes of boasting [of being Jewish]? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faithfulness. For we hold that a person is justified by faithfulness apart from works prescribed by the Torah. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faithfulness and the uncircumcised through that same faithfulness.

Rom 4:13-16:

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the Torah but through the righteousness of faith. If it is [only] the adherents of the Torah who are to be the heirs, faithfulness is null and the promise is void... For this reason it depends on faithfulness, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the Torah but also to those who share the faithfulness of Abraham...

Eph 2:1-16:

You [Gentiles] were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived... But God, who is rich in mercy... made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faithfulness, and this [grace] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works [of the Torah], so that no one may boast [because of their Jewishness - see Rom 3:21-30]... So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth... were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

What I noticed is this: Paul speaks of being justified by grace through faithfulness in the context of emphasizing that God accepts Gentiles as his people too. The common Jewish belief at the turn of the first century was that only Jews were God's people, and that Gentiles could not be - as least without fully following the Jewish way of life, their Torah. Following Jesus, though, Paul says that God will not judge people based on their Jewishness but based on whether they are faithful to live in a godly way like Jesus taught and exemplified. Paul saw the highly controversial implication - people who did not follow the Torah could be considered righteous by God. In other words, God did not limit his favour (aka. "grace") to the Jews, but also extended it to the Gentiles. This is why Paul talks of grace in the context of justification and the inclusion of the Gentiles as people whom God considers righteous.

For Paul, the boundless favour of both God and Jesus was evident in the activity of Jesus, who revealed a way for both Jews and Gentiles to be saved from sinfulness, and thus be considered righteous before God.
I do not have time here to explain why I have emphasised that this salvation was from sinfulness, as opposed to something else. (Perhaps that is the topic of another post.) It was truly gracious of God to commission Jesus to save sinful Jews from their unrighteousness, but this grace even extended to Gentiles also. The inclusiveness of God's grace was the point that Paul laboured, and the very issue that got him in so much trouble with the Jews who zealously protected their exclusive claim as God's people.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Who's still reading my blog?

It just dawned on me that my blog is over 4 years old. That's a long time. It's captured many of my ponderings, and as I look back on it I think it captures many of the ways I've grown in the last 4 years. I've been pondering the idea of breathing some life into my blog once again, but there wouldn't be any point if no one reads it.

So, is there anyone out there who still reads my blog? Or, has it come time for my blog to be no more?