Sunday, February 6, 2011

Transforming the World

Quotes from the preparatory reading for the seminar on Tuesday, 1 February with Edward Kessler and Rev. Michael Thompson discussing Paul and the Jews (using Romans 9-11 as a case study):

Influenced by Martin Luther’s spiritual experience, a traditional Protestant interpretation sees Paul reacting to a Judaism that was a religion of works instead of faith, of doing instead of trasting.  Luther’s own struggle to gain peace with God was resolved when he began to interpret Paul as teaching a fundamentally different way of relating to God in contrast to the way of Judaism.  Luther read Paul’s description of Jews and of Old Testament religion through the lens of his own experience of medieval Roman Catholicism that emphasized the importance of works of penance (not to mention the sale of indulgences) to help secure one’s salvation.  Luther’s understanding of justification by faith alone, apart from works, then became for him and his followers the decisive truth revealed in Christ, and the centre of Paul’s theology  (4).   

“When we fail to see Paul’s corporate emphasis, we run the risk of turning a faith that teaches our mutual interdependence into a religion of privatized piety, as though God were concerned only to save individuals instead of building his church and transforming the world” (6) 

“The separation of belief and action, of faith and works is alien to the teaching of Jesus.  It can lead to antinomianism and the marginalization of a multitude of NT texts that emphasize the importance of what we do.  It is a striking fact that apart from the Gospel of John, every text in the New Testament about God’s final judgment of humanity reflects the OT tradition of judgment according to deeds, not simply what a person professes.  We look in vain for a passage describing how God will ask people what they believed; their lives will have revealed it.  To drive a wedge between belief and action is to encourage self-deception, cheap grace, and the kind of thin pious veneer that James rightly rejects (James 2:14-26).  That does not mean that salvation is earned by what we do; it is simply to affirm the biblical truth that the fruit we bear reflects who we really are and what we really believe.  Fortunately the God to whom we all give an account is gracious and understanding, already at work in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13)” (7).  

From Michael B. Thompson's "The New Perspective on Paul," Grove Books, 2005.  

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