Ministry of Reconciliation in 2 Cor. 5:18-21

Hello all, long time no post!

“All this is from God, who through Christ [A] reconciled us to himself [B] and gave us the ministry of reconciliation [C].”

“that is, in Christ God [A] was reconciling the world to himself [B], (not counting their trespasses against them), and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation [C].”

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us [A], We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God [B]. (For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [C].”

The parenthesis statements are explanatory for the preceding [B] section. We see a clear triple repetition of the same structure being repeated (assuming N.T. Wright got this whole “righteousness of God” thing right in this case, which is, admittedly, a lot to assume).

Nice to speak to you all again!

Updated BCP/Horner Bible Reading Plan

After roughly two weeks of experimentation, here is an updated version of the reading plan posted earlier.

BCP-Horner Bible Reading Plan – v4.2

If you’re interested, the changes were motivated primarily by the fact that reading John and Matthew simultaneously is unnecessarily confusing when you’re trying to keep track of Jesus’s life; being at two points in the same story at the same time does not lend itself to clarity. So, we changed things up a bit. We’ll see how long this version lasts before we make more changes!

***UPDATE, 3/1/2013***

Further updates can be found here.

Book of Common Prayer/Grant Horner Bible Reading Schedule

This is a plan for reading the Bible, geared toward starting with the new year. With a few adjustments, it adapts Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System (for more information, and because I don’t know of a better link, see here) to the pattern of the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. There are Psalms, an Old Testament lesson, and a New Testament lesson for every morning and every evening. The Psalms are read through every month, strictly beginning at Psalm 1 on the first day of every month. The rest of the Bible is divided into groups, and one chapter from each group of books is read each day. When the end of a group of books is reached, the group simply begins again. So, while the Psalms repeat each month, the rest of the Bible repeats at varying intervals, causing the set of chapters read each day to change continually. The list of books in each group is fairly tentative, so feel free to change them around as you see fit. These readings can be used in place of the lectionary readings in the BCP’s Morning and Evening Prayer, or they can be read on their own. The main idea is to become familiar with the Bible as a whole, allowing the Bible to interpret itself as you master large portions of it. Here are a few suggestions, mainly from Prof. Horner:

  1. Read quickly; don’t focus on understanding every little detail. That will come with time.
  2. Use the same physical Bible every day. Over time, this allows you to become familiar with where in the book and where on the page a particular passage is located.
  3. Be flexible with your readings. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Just keep going. Do whatever works best for you.

So, without further ado, here is the reading plan for your consideration:

BCP-Horner Bible Reading Plan – v3

***UPDATE, 12/31/2012***

We made a few changes, which you can find here.

***UPDATE, 3/1/2013***

And, further changes can be found here.

Scattered Thoughts on the Uniqueness of the Gospel

Must one believe in Jesus to be saved? Can people who have never heard of Christ be saved somehow “through Christ” without believing in him? Here are some of my thoughts:

It seems fairly clear to me that faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10), and this is the major motivating factor behind missions and evangelism. While I agree that salvation does not require a perfect theology, it seems that there is some bare minimum set of propositions which one must believe to be saved (i.e., the gospel is propositional as well as relational). “Jesus is Lord” or “Christ and him crucified” would be good places to start. I agree that all men have knowledge of God (Rom. 1), but it seems to me that Paul’s argument is that all men have enough knowledge of God to make them accountable but have rejected God and therefore cannot be saved by this knowledge. Men (even remote tribesmen who have lived and died without hearing the gospel) are not condemned for failing to believe the gospel; they are condemned because they have rejected God and are sinners. We don’t risk condemning people by evangelizing them and thus making them responsible for the gospel; they were condemned already, and we are providing them the only hope of salvation. It seems like a fundamental part of the good news of the New Testament is that the gospel is for all men, Jew and Gentile alike. It is in this sense that I interpret “all men” in verses like Titus 2:11 (“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”); the verse is not referring to every single person who ever lived. If it were, then every single person would be saved.

Do Jews pray to the same God we do? That’s certainly an interesting question, but it seems to me that we believe in a Trinitarian God. If Jews deny the divinity of Christ, not only have they rejected God’s means of salvation and his revelation in the New Testament (i.e. they no longer possess the oracles of God), but they have rejected the very nature of God himself. I am not advocating any kind of anti-Semitism; rather, I am advocating the best way in which we can show love to Jews: sharing the good news with them.

[NB: This is adapted from a note I wrote to someone about a previous discussion, in case it sounds slightly out-of-context.]

The Dreadful New Testament

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

— Søren Kierkegaard [ ← Free e-book here!]

HT: Joe Carter

Dead to sin?

Today in our class on Romans, we were asked if we agree with the apostle Paul when he says that we have died to sin (Rom. 6:2) and, if so, what we mean by that. Since I’m a slacker of a Presbyterian, I didn’t have my catechism nice and sharpened to shoot from the hip, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. What I should have said is something like the following:

Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A 29-31, 87

And, for good measure:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 1

So, basically, union with Christ is awesome.

Good Soldiering

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

– 2 Timothy 2:3-7

To be a good soldier is to suffer with others. Getting “entangled in civilian pursuits” is to avoid suffering with others. Paul languishes in prison (2:9) and is persecuted by mobs in various cities (3:11), and those he should be able to trust to be by him leave him behind (4:10)  and he is deserted when facing civil judgment (4:16). Paul is telling Timothy to be a good soldier by not seeking the city’s approval in city pursuits, but by suffering with Paul the city’s reproach.

The crown is reserved for those who have finished the race (4:6-8) and Paul is noting that the crown goes to those who play by God’s rules. We think sometimes that “running so as to win” is referring to some “spiritual discipline”. I don’t think that is terribly wrong, but the specific point that Paul is making here is that of suffering with him. To play by God’s rules is to be suffering for His Kingdom. Christ suffered and was then crowned with glory and honor and immortality, so we must suffer with Him if we are to be so crowned. The race we run is the via dolorosa. The rules are God’s, and He has ordained that it was “fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

The hard-working, long-suffering farmer receives the first of the crop. Paul and Timothy’s generation were God’s first-fruits of the harvest. The worker of God’s field should suffer for the sake of that field that he might share in the first of his harvest. If he pours himself out for the sake of the crop then he should reap what he sowed in God’s world. This is the same Paul that is getting “poured out as a drink offering”, “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of the body”. He is saying that Timothy (and through Timothy, all believers in their various ministries in the church) should himself share in these sufferings if he desires the fruits of God’s harvest.

What does this mean to you and me?

When people suffer around you, especially persecution, do not let yourself get entangled with your reputation, but suffer with them. To suffer in this sense might be to “bear reproach” with them. We should be encouraged, quite literally be courageous, when a brother is brought under some form of shame. Sometimes this could be to share a meal with a tax collector, befriend the (deserved or not) unfriendly, or publicly share someone else’s public ridicule or shame. If you think such opportunities are rare, then you aren’t any different from me, but I challenge you to think on that more and consider the various opportunities in one day where your fear of being “misunderstood” outmaneuvers your soldierly attitude for the Kingdom. We fight this fight by God’s rules or there is no progress. You aren’t growing in your faith because you are “practicing the spiritual disciplines”. You grow when God tests you and you persevere. Paul is teaching us here that the test doesn’t have to be our own, and therefore our growth is not limited to our personal experience, as you can suffer with others. Not only can your solidarity with your brothers and sisters in Christ help you grow, but it is the task of suffering with others that is the sum of what it means to be a good soldier of Christ. The creational and redemptive grain of the universe is such that perfection is through suffering for or with others is the means by which God crowns us with His favor. The farmer relies on God’s faithfulness to the hard-working when he pours himself out for his crops and we should be encouraged that the effort that we exert in the flesh to die to ourselves for others’ sake will be ultimately beneficial, as we will taste the fruits of our labors in the Spirit, if they by for the sake of His body.