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Can the Church be a Credible Witness?

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

We know that the church is called to be a witness to Christ. To what extent is the church today a credible witness to Christ?

The church is called to attest the truth of the Gospel to the world. This testimony, however, stands related to the fact that even in this world the church is a sign of the destiny of the human race to be renewed in the future of God’s kingdom as a fellowship in freedom, justice and peace. The more the church — and the churches as a part of Christianity as a whole — actually show themselves to be such a sign to human eyes, the greater will be their authority among us.

— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Volume 3) “Foreword” p xv.

Such witness is going on at the local level: here and there in churches that are faithfully seeking to live out their faith. They don’t make the news (maybe), but their life together is showing the world what freedom, justice and peace can mean — not as a political position, but as a lived-out reality. (more…)

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Reflections on the Last Judgment

Reason_for_HopeIn the following paragraph from his book Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989) Stanley J. Grenz does a good job summarizing some themes in Pannenberg’s view of the final judgement:

On the basis of [the] function of Jesus’ message [as the criterion of God’s judgment]  and the New Testament emphasis on the all-encompassing love of God (e.g., Matt. 8:11; John 10:16), Pannenberg asserts that correspondence with the will of God as reflected in Jesus’ proclamation — that is, the command to seek first God’s kingdom and the double command to love — rather than an actual encounter with the Christian message, is the basis of final judgment (Matt. 25:41ff.). The step in this direction is prepared by a thesis, developed in the Christology and ecclesiology sections, that love for others entails participation in God’s love for the world. This understanding of the criterion for judgment means that persons who live in accordance with Jesus’ message will be included in the divine salvation, whereas nominal Christians may find themselves excluded. To the resultant question, If an encounter with Jesus is not the sole condition for salvation, what is the Christian’s advantage? he replies that Christians have the advantage in that they know what the standard of judgment is. Although he emphasizes the universality of the possibility of salvation in this manner and even moves the concept of eternal condemnation to that of a border situation, Pannenberg is unwilling to embrace universalism.

This resonates very well with the sense I remember getting from my initial reading of Volume 3 of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology.

And, there is so much here to like. (more…)

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Steadfast Love and Faithfulness – Psalm 57:3

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
“He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me [Selah] God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV)

Hebrew_bible_4God’s deliverance is signified here by these two words:

•    steadfast love חֶסֶד
•    faithfulness אֱמֶת

And, what can be said? There is a great depth of meaning here. These words are deep and beautiful because of the meaning they gain through their frequent use in the Scriptures. The nature of God’s deliverance may not be known in detail. It never is. But, we know how God acts. We know something of God’s character. “God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” That’s all we need to know. (more…)

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Calvinism and John 6:44

An email and my response:

 

Hello Mr. Adams,

I read with interest your comments on Calvin's comments on John 3:16 on your web site. I was wondering what your thoughts are on Jesus' words as recorded in John 6:44:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (NKJV)

(It is unfortunate that English editions tend to translate the Greek as "draws" rather than the more accurate "compels" — especially since it is also translated more accurately as "dragged" elsewhere.)

Have you considered that perhaps Calvin's "on the other hand" was intended to recognize what the whole of scripture says about this issue?
 
He just may have been appealing to theology that is rooted in scripture itself.

(more…)

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Brueggemann: To the Forsaken – Isaiah 42:15,16

“I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.

“I will lead the blind
by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42: 15, 16 NRSV)

Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann

This is a powerful, irresistible, transformative resolve, to be undertaken with a high level of emotional intensity. It is a burst of generativity that is going to change everything and create a newness. This is a God who will not forsake: “I will not forsake them” (42:16); “You shall no more be termed Forsaken” (62:4). In this resolve to new creation, YHWH promises to overcome all forsakenness and abandonment known in Israel and in the world. When creation is abandoned by YHWH, it readily reverts to chaos. Here it is in YHWH’s resolve, and in YHWH’s very character, not to abandon, but to embrace. The very future of the world, so Israel attests, depends on this resolve of YHWH. It is a resolve that is powerful. More than that, it is a resolve that wells up precisely in tohu wabohu and permits the reality of the world to begin again, in blessedness.

— Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible.

Note: The phrase “tohu wabohu” is a reference to the Hebrew phase used in Genesis 1:2, where before God’s creative action, the world is spoken of as being “formless and empty” (NIV). I have highlighted the phase in bold in the text below:

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

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On Having Enemies – Psalm 57:3

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
“He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. Selah. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV.)

Hebrew_bible_4Recently I posted some thoughts about the first phrase in this Psalm: “[God] will send from heaven and save me….”

The next phrase (“he will put to shame those who trample on me”) points up one of my long-standing problems with the Psalms.

When I first began to read the Psalms, as a young man, I was put off by the recurrent theme of “enemies.” Praying to God in the midst of confusion and need I could understand. Praying to God in times of distress and suffering I could understand. But, the frequent and recurrent theme of persecution by enemies was something with which I could not connect.

Or, maybe I just didn’t want to connect with it. (more…)

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God, Who Gets Things Done – Psalm 57:2

There is one other thing I should say about Psalm 57:2 (which, by the way, is verse 3 in the Hebrew text):

אֶקְרָא לֵאלֹהִים עֶלְיוֹן לָאֵל גֹּמֵר עָלָי
“I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” (NRSV)

As I said last time: this expresses the intent to pray. The initial cry for help, is followed by a statement of intent: a general statement telling us why the Psalmist cries out to God. It’s not just a momentary thing: it’s a way of life.

But, what I want to point out is the brevity of that final phrase:

לָאֵל גֹּמֵר עָלָי

Hebrew_bible_4It’s longer when translated into English. This phrase illustrates why it’s nice to pray through the Psalms in the original language.

When I was younger I expected the study of Biblical languages to make the Scriptures clearer to me. I thought that knowing the original Greek or Hebrew words, would allow the deeper and clearer meanings to arise. And, yes, sometimes they do. But, more often than not, what they reveal is the ambiguity in the original that has been lost in translation. (more…)

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