Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Obedience of Faith" in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Hmm, these passages are interesting in light of the hay that some Lutheran commentators make about Reformed invocation of the idea of the "obedience of faith."

From the Apology, art. iv.227-28:

"As we have often said, faith is not merely knowledge but rather a desire to accept and grasp what is offered in the promise of Christ. This obedience toward God, this desire to receive the offered promise, is no less an act of worhsip than is love. God wants us to believe him and to accept blessings from him; this he declares to be true worship" (emphasis added).

[This passage does nonetheless underscore a difference in approach to worship. For Lutherans, worship is as much or more about receiving God's grace in Word and sacrament -- e.g., in the Supper we recieve God's forgiveness, and in believing his word. In contrast, much of the Reformed emphasis is that worship is primarily concerned with what we offer to God. As in, for example, that the Supper is the "oblation of all possible praise" to God, or is a means by which Christians engage in "covenant renewal." I don't want to draw the lines too sharply, because Lutherans believe that they offer in the divine service, and Calvinists believe that they receive in worship. But there are different emphases in the two groups of churches.)

But back to the main point -- there is this, from theh Apology, art. iv.345: "Properly speaking, the Gospel is the command to believe that we have a gracious God because of Christ" (emphasis added).

(Although, as I recall, other parts of the Confessions emphasis that the Gospel, narrowly speaking, is that Jesus died for us on the Cross. This is distinguished from believing the Gospel.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another Good Article on Stimulus

This is from Robert Barro, an economist at Harvard, and one of the country's leading macroeconomists.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some Decent Commentary on Economic "Stimulus"

A couple of not over-the-top analyses of economic stimulus here and here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Lamach's Messianic Expectation for Noah -- And Its Ironic Fulfillment

Lamach seemed to view his son as one who would somehow redeem him from the Curse. "Now he called his name Noah, saying, 'This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which Yahweh has cursed'" (Gn 5.29).

It's not clear in the passage how Lamach expected Noah to do that. Perhaps his hope was a godly hope, that Noah would reconcile humanity with God, thereby bringing the world true rest. Or, perhaps, Lamach's hope was less godly than that -- expecting that Noah would give him rest because he (Noah) would do the work while Lamach kicked back. Or perhaps it's in between -- with no social security, parents needed to depend on their children to support them in their old age.

Noah did, however, fulfill Lamach's expectation ironically. The Flood provided the vast bulk of sinful humanity rest from the toil of their hands arising from the ground which Yahweh had cursed.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Decent Post-Game Analysis of Sarah Palin

The magazine, Commentary, has a pretty good analysis of reactions for and against Sarah Palin here.

I let my subscription to Commentary lapse some years ago. I 'spose it's about time to subscribe again.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Nice Quotation from Updike Story

“Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil’s work.”

Pastor Fritz Kruppenbach to Rev. Eccles in John Updike's Rabbit, Run.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What I'm Doing

As is probably obvious, I'm teaching through the Revelation right now. I'm going verse by verse, but even then I'm dropping out 2/3ds or more of what could be said.

Obviously, I read Rev 20 amillennially (and have for decades) and agree entirely with confessional and synodical teachings on Christ's return. I'm not enamoured, though, with the idealist take on the Revelation. And while I'm open to it, I just don't find the historical approaches that push the history ostensibly prophesied in the Revelation much past 70 A.D. too persuasive either.

I have been very persuaded by one argument developed at extended length in N.T. Wright's three-volume series, Christian Origins and the Question of God. And the argument is this: the relationship of Yahweh to Israel (and then, hence, to the world) is the immediate context for Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, and the change in this relationship as a result of Christ's coming is a central issue in the epistles. And, in particular, in the Gospels (as was criticized also by the OT prophets), Israel had assumed the position of God's opponent, which is a direct denial of her vocation and mission.

Jesus in the Gospels teaches on this relationship; he does not seek to teach "timeless ethical truths." (Although, to be sure, we can deduce timeless ethical truths from in what he teaches. But that's not the focus.) So, too, in N.T. Wright's amusing formulation, we cannot approach the Gospels in a way that we cannot answer the question of why Jesus wasn't born a Viking, who then died for our redemption in a boating accident. Context matters.

I think that N.T. Wright's textual argument along these lines is compelling. And while I still treat it as an hypothesis, I suspect that the Revelation ought to be approached in the same manner: the Revelation isn't something different than what the Gospels and the Epistles are about. God's relationship with Israel in the context of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, ascension and enthronement at God's right hand is the focus of the book's revelation.

I should probably add that I'm not a whole hog N.T. Wright fan. I think he's much too fond of Sander's take on what Jewish rituals meant at the time of Jesus, and as a result over argues the claim that Israel at the time entirely rejected works righteousness as a means of approaching God. (Although I'd also agree that many in Israel -- and probably the Pharisees -- would have agreed with the idea of salvation through faith. Nonetheless, their take on the purity laws created barriers that prevented them from fulfilling Israel's God-given vocation to be a blessing to the Gentiles.)

But that bit of muddle-headedness, in my opinion, is separable from his argument regarding Jesus' claim to be Israel's messiah, and Jesus' consequent critique of Israel and the reaction he and his critique provoked.

Anyway, I hope the posts on the Revelation are not too dreary. (Not too dreary, just dreary enough.)

The Movement from the Holy Place to the Holiest of Holies in Rev 1-4

A little introduction, then the puzzle.

So we have John's introduction, then what I take to be the theme of the Revelation in Rev 1.7, "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be."

The "coming of the clouds" takes from Dan 7.13, and so would be a reference to the ascension -- Jesus coming to heaven in the clouds (cf., Act 1.9).

This is all the more clear because we then see what Jesus is doing in heaven. The first picture, in Rev 1.9-20, is a picture of Jesus as priest in the heavenly holy place -- the room just outside of the Most Holy Place. We know this because this is where the lamps were in the OT temple/tabernacle. We know that the lamp stands are the churches (Rev 1.20). (Sorry, but no OT references right now -- not enough time to look them up.)

Rev 2-3, then, is the priest doing his work of taking care of the lamps -- trimming the wicks, adding oil, thinking about removing any defective lamp which no longer gives light.

We then move into the Most Holy Place in Rev 4. We know this because the ark is God's throne (2 Sam 6.2, 2 Kngs 19.15, 1 Chr 13.6, Ps 80.1, 99.1, Is 37.16). We also know this because of the sea in front of the throne (the violet veil in the tabernacle, and perhaps also the laver of water), and the door that John sees (the passage from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place).

Now here's the puzzle: Why are the churches only in the Holy Place, and not in the Most Holy Place? This is, I think, related to a second puzzle: What's all this about writing a letter to the "angels" of the respective churches? After all, Jesus wants the letter sent to the seven churches (Rev 1.11), but sends those letter via the mediation of an angel (Rev 2.1 & etc.). (Yes, I recognize that "angel" only means "messenger," so the letter could be understood as sent to the churches' pastors. That's probably the interpretation I'm naturally most attracted to, but I just don't see it in the context of the Revelation. I "think" they're spiritual beings.)

After all, angelic mediation is a sign of OT administration (Acts 7.38, 53, Gal 3.19, Heb 2.2 -- this the also motivates the extended discussion in Heb 1 comparing Jesus with the angels in the context of the movement from the OT to the NT, and motivates Paul's passing references to revelations from angels in Gal 1.8 which, again, is supremely concerned with comparing Old and New Covenants).

Think also of the angels "mediating" between God and humanity at the Gate of the Garden of Eden (after the fall), in the veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, and the angelic mediation on the ark as well.

But this just heightens the puzzle of why, then, Jesus communicates with the churches via the mediation of angels, just as he (Yahweh) communicated with Israel in the OT.

Here's a speculation. The Revelation is the story of the final transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament, i.e., is the working out of the immediate effects of Jesus' ascension. During this transitional period, there is overlap between Old Testament and New Testament practices. For example, Paul appears to takes a Nazarite vow (Acts 18.18) and undergoes ritual purification at the temple (Acts 21.23-24, 26, 24.18).

But the end of the transition places humanity in the position of dwelling immediately with God, without the mediation of angels.

This is suggested immediately by the well now account of the veil tearing when Jesus, the first fruit from the dead, dies on the cross. This also, I think, is the upshot of the theme in the book of Hebrews about Jesus "passing through the heavens" (Heb 4.14, 16, 6.20, 9.24). (This, also, is the issue regarding the waters divided and placed "above" the earth in Gn 1 -- this, visually, is the blue sky above. More critically, it is the "water barrier" that separates the highest heavens above from what is below, and is the floor of God's throne room, a la Ezekiel, Rev & etc.)

More poignantly, this is fully realized at the second coming, which fully reconciles heaven and earth ("there is no longer any sea" Rev 21.1) so that humanity now dwells in God's immediately presence -- i.e., angels no longer mediate God's presence to humanity (Rev 21-22).

And, thus also, at the end of the book, the angel tells John that he is only his fellow servant (Rev 19.10, 22.9).

So, in fact, during this transitional time, angels yet mediate between God and humanity in Rev 1-3. The remainder of the book then details the working out of Christ's ascension, in the definitive end of the Old Testament era. This taking away, then, places humanity in a direct relationship with God, in the sense of a relationship liturgically unmediated by angelic mediators. In effect, the church is more redeemed at the end of the book than at the first of the book, in the sense that the trappings of the OT era are definitively removed in the working out of the implications of Christ's ascension. The removal of the temple in the destruction of Jerusalem is the indication of this working out.

And this, then, is the reason that Luke identifies the destruction of the temple with the "drawing near" of the Christian's redemption (Lk 21.28). That is, after 70 A.D., the churches now, as it were, in the Holiest of Holies. (Actually, that would be an anachronistic way of putting it. The separation between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place have been removed; that's why the churches are now in God's throne room, Eph 2.6, Col 3.1, Heb 12.20-28.)

Now, please, I know that there's just a ton of speculation there. Additionally, there's the remaining question of whether the argument now presents an over realized eschatology. I, obviously, want to preserve the now-but-not-yet aspect of Christ's revelation. Jesus has yet to return visibly, and the new heavens and new earth are not manifest.

But the angelic mediation in Rev 2-3 would seem to present a real challenge to the inaugurated eschatology of the Epistles that we have up to that point. Unless the angels ("messengers") are pastors, or unless the situation in Rev 2-3 changes in the remainder of the book, then we have angelic mediation continuing into the New Covenant proper. That would seem to violate a central distinction between the way that God relates to humanity in the Old Testament and the New.

Anyway, I've been musing about that recently.