Believers who insist on observing the dietary laws given by Moses in the Book of Leviticus recoil at the idea of eating pork since they regard the pig to be ritually unclean. Abstinence from pork becomes a paramount symbol of religious commitment as their strong and instinctive sense of revulsion is accepted as the “feeling of rightness” that confirms a trustworthy “doctrine felt as fact.” Their friends may be bewildered as they wonder whether such an ancient scruple could serve as a benchmark of spirituality in modern society. However, it is advisable for these friends to approach this matter gingerly as their casual remarks could become a cause of offence.
The early church avoided active engagement with Roman politics, where the contestation for power was brutal and political fortune was fickle, brutish and short. The bedraggled religious community was already leading a precarious existence since it lacked political patronage. As such, it would be wise for it to avoid getting entangled with mighty Caesar who would not hesitate to snuff out any potential challenge to his throne. However, political realism did not mean that the church retreated into a cocooned existence in the ghetto. Instead, it sought to serve wider society by building effective social-economic networks for social renewal.
It is no longer chic to be a scholar who advocates the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Its advocates have backtracked somewhat from its audacious claims that the Reformation has misread Paul. Furthermore, the New Testament guild has since moved on to new fashions like studies on social identity, and the gospel and empire. Indeed, the latest flavor in town is on the ‘Apocalyptic Paul’.
On the other hand, that the NPP is no longer chic does not mean that it is no longer interesting or relevant. After all, the NPP touches on crucial methodological issues like early Judaism and historical hermeneutics, and central elements of salvation concerning covenant and justification. Continue reading “D.A. Carson’s Lectures on the New Perspective on Paul”
Richard N. Longenecker’s just published The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text in the New International Greek Testament Commentary Series (NIGTC) is the crowning achievement of the lifelong scholarship of an expert in Paul and Early Judaism. It is presently THE new standard Greek Commentary on Romans. Longenecker’s evaluation of the controversial New Perspective on Paul (NPP) demands careful consideration. Summary. We must, therefore, conclude that “the new perspective on Paul” – despite its laudatory motivations, some very significant observations, and a fairly wide acceptance of that view today – actually misconstrues Paul’s use of the phrase “works of the law” and somewhat distorts his attitudes toward compatriot Jews and first-century Palestinian Judaism. For in its endeavors to highlight certain positive features within the “nomism” of ancient Judaism, it is somewhat blind to the “legalism” that was also present (as it is, sadly, in every religion, both ancient and modern). And in its attempt to restrict the definition of “works of the law” only to matters regarding prideful nationalism and cultural prejudice and thereby to minimize any connotation of “legalism,” it has run a bit roughshod over Paul’s argument in Rom 2:17-3:20. Continue reading “The “New Perspective on Paul” Misconstrues Paul: Richard N. Longenecker’s New Greek Commentary on Romans”
The historic creeds are indispensable for the following reasons:
1. Authentic spiritual authority. The creeds serve as an antidote for Christians who have imbibed the spirit of individualism and skepticism leading to their rejection of authoritative proclamation of the gospel. However, these Christians end up following the latest fashion in spirituality when they are bereft of firm foundations of faith. No single individual has the credibility or competence to challenge prevailing social opinions. It is wise for the church to secure the counsel of many experts as any individual leader is limited in theological expertise and tends to focus on his idiosyncratic interests. Hence, creeds as products of collective wisdom have greater authority than any individual opinion and serve as judicious and authoritative statements for public declaration of the faith of the church. The purpose of a creed is not to debate the minutiae of theological exegesis but to synthesize a grand overview of Christian truths which the church commends to wider society as an alternative and better vision of life than what wider society can offer. Continue reading “Evangelicalism Today: Crisis and Creeds”
“Evangelicalism” has become a fuzzy and amorphous word. Evangelicalism is associated with revival meetings where believers give more credence to the pronouncements of blessings by visiting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ than to the plain but transforming teaching of the Bible. Preaching is as much about the good life of consumerism as it is about eternal life. Elsewhere, evangelicalism is seen to be a new manifestation of old-time fundamentalism which rejected advancement in science and associated faith with ignorance of modern knowledge. It is not surprising that many young evangelicals leave the movement when they go for higher studies. Some pastors who go for further theological training even lose confidence in the infallible authority and entire trustworthiness of the Bible after they imbibed the spirit of rationalism that is prevalent in the academy.
It is a sad fact that much pulpit preaching in Malaysia fails to deliver compelling Bible-based sermons that challenge and comfort believers in times of increasing economic uncertainties and political tension. In this famine of the living word from God, many Christians flock to meetings to hear visiting ‘apostles and prophets’ from America and Africa.
The Bible clearly teaches that there is no succession of the office of ‘apostles and prophets’ as the church is “built on the foundation of the ‘apostles and prophets’, Christ himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20), but the Holy Spirit continues to empower apostolic and prophetic ministry to build up the church. The Bible provides clear guidelines on how the gift of prophecy should be exercised. Failure to abide by these guidelines will lead to spiritual deception and abuse of spiritual authority by Christian leaders, resulting in disillusionment and despair among the faithful and expectant followers. It is of utmost importance that Christians be fully informed by these Biblical guidelines so that the church will be well-grounded in its beliefs, and vibrant in its pastoral care and mission outreach. [Added on 19 Aug 2014]
The traditional doctrine of Revelation presents obstacles towards the acceptance of any contemporary exercise of prophecy. As is well known, the standard text books in systematic theology divide God’s Revelation into two categories:/1/
1. General Revelation, described as “God’s witness of Himself toward all men through creation, history, and the conscience of man. It is set forth in Scripture passages such as Psalm 19; Acts 14:8-18, 17:16-34; Rom 1:18-32, 2:12-16; etc.”
2. Special Revelation, which is God’s disclosure of Himself (revelation in reality) and the interpretative Word of Scripture (revelation in Word). Quantitatively, this encompasses more than we have in Scripture.”
However, even if it is granted that God has spoken to men in ways beyond what we have in Scripture, many insist that surely the situation has changed since the days of the Apostles. With the Bible inscripturated, God’s final and perfect Revelation is given to men. The last word has been spoken (Rev 22:18). God has Himself closed prophecy.
It can be seen that prophecy which is identified by Pentecostals as God’s word for special occasions is an anomaly that will not fit into the above theological scheme which envisages God’s word as authoritative for all times. It is not surprising then, that theologians like Walter Chantry concludes, “All modern prophecy is spurious! God’s truth has come to us in a fixed and finished objective revelation. We must not accept the new ‘revelation’ of neo-pentecostalism.”/2/ Continue reading “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Part 1/2”
This review was published in the Sunday Star on 21 May 2006
James Tabor. Tabor comes across as an archaeologist who has patiently collected and coordinated solid evidence to support his bold thesis. The Jesus Dynasty bears the marks of a well-researched academic book.
At the outset, The Jesus Dynasty argues for an alternative history of the origins of the Christian faith in Jesus the Messiah. Some of its provocative theses include the following:
1) There was no Virgin Birth. Mary, the mother of Jesus was either seduced or raped by a Roman soldier named Panthera (whose grave Tabor allegedly found in Germany). This claim, if true, would shatter Christian faith considerably.
2) Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, from whom he got his understanding of the Messianic vocation. John and Jesus took on the role of Jewish Messiahs and preached the coming of the Kingdom of God amidst political turmoil. Jesus included his four blood brothers in the Council of the Twelve which he formed the in anticipation of his success in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.
3) Christianity traditionally identifies the “beloved�? disciple as John. Not so, says Tabor. It was actually James, Jesus’ brother. After Jesus was crucified by the Romans, his brother James – the ‘Beloved Disciple’ – took over the leadership of the Jesus Dynasty and ‘ruled’ for 30 years, although to say ‘ruled’ might be exaggeration since he had no more than motley band of impoverished, persecuted Christians in his charge
Book Review: The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor. Publisher: Simon & Schuster
At first glance, The Jesus Dynasty seems like another dubious book cashing in on the notoriety of Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code. However, a quick perusal of the book will dispel this notion, given the academic credentials of the author, James Tabor. Tabor comes across as an archaeologist who has patiently collected and coordinated solid evidence to support his bold thesis. The Jesus Dynasty bears the marks of a well-researched academic book.