What is the parable of the prodigal son about? It was cited in a recent comment here as evidence that the gospel is all about sinners repenting and being reconciled to the Father—and that is certainly how it would typically be understood by evangelicals. There may be some disagreement over where the emphasis lies exactly—on the repentant son, on the gracious and forgiving father, or on the sour, self-righteous older brother, who somehow excludes himself from the process of salvation. But the consensus would be that Jesus tells the story in order to say something about the journey of repentance that every sinner must make in order to be restored to the arms of an extravagantly loving heavenly Father.
Synopsis of Christian Origins and the Question of God I-III
There’s a lot of interest in N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God at the moment. If you haven’t read the preceding volumes in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series—or want to refresh your memory—you may find my detailed synopsis helpful. For a list of my own occasional reflections on PFG click here.
At Holy Trinity Brompton this morning we prayed for—among other things and somewhat in passing—the “re-evangelization of the nations”. That’s a weighty and portentous phrase. What are we supposed to mean by it?
Holy Trinity Brompton is a church with an expansive vision, but I imagine that most people would have taken this as a prayer for the conversion of large numbers of people from the nations of the world through the preaching of a gospel of personal salvation. That’s all well and good as far as it goes. Missing from it, however, is any real sense of the narrative trajectory that is established in the New Testament and which determines the contextual shape of the gospel argument.
I really like Scot McKnight’s book A New Vision for Israel. There are a couple of areas of “structural” disagreement, if you like. I touched on the question of the finality of Jesus’ understanding of the coming kingdom of God in a previous post, to which Scot helpfully responded.
I also have reservations about the rather sharp, though admittedly qualified, distinction between Jesus and Paul that surfaces in a couple of places. For example, Scot maintains that in the Gospels ‘ “faith” primarily means trust in Jesus to perform physical healing or deliverance”, which “clearly differs from Paul’s teaching on justification by faith—at least in emphasis” (168). I find this an unhelpful distinction. Whatever the exact use of the pistis word-group in the Gospels, Jesus called his followers to a lifestyle of radical faithfulness in light of the coming judgment and vindication. Paul’s language of justification by faith is a little different, his perspective has shifted, but he still has in view, I think, a concrete moment of vindication at the end of a long and painful journey of Christlike faithfulness.
I’m having to do this on an iPhone so I’ll keep it short. Scot McKnight has this quote from G.B. Caird in his excellent book A New Vision for Israel (11). The sharply “political” imagery captures very well the contrast between old and new perspectives on the gospel. When Jesus sent out the twelve, the disciples
were not evangelistic preachers sent out to save individual souls for some unearthly paradise. They were couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum on a question of national survival.”
The scope of Joel’s prophecy and its relation to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost has come up in discussion relating to the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. It seems to me that the traditional understanding of Pentecost simply as a formative event for the church misses the narrative significance of the passage by some distance. What I want to do here is, first, set out the narrative of judgment and restoration that is found in Joel, and secondly, consider how Peter makes use of that narrative in order to interpret the Pentecost event for the “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem”.
I am reading Scot McKnight’s book A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context, and I’m very impressed so far with his decisive and really quite radical argument about Jesus and the kingdom. The book was published in 1999, and, frankly, I wonder whether he has revised his views in a backwards direction to any degree since then. This statement in the “preliminary sketch” stood out:
In his vision of human history, Jesus saw no further than A.D. 70, and to this date he attached visions of the final salvation, the final judgment, and the consummation of the kingdom of God in all its glory. (12)
I have been teaching this week on eschatology (and empire), and a question put to me about the setting of the judgment of the nations described in Matthew 25:31-46 has made me look again at the passage. The scene is set with a dramatic account of the Son of Man coming in his glory, with all his angels in attendance, to take his seat on his “glorious throne”. Surely this transcendent language suggests some sort of final, end-of-the-world judgment? Well, we are certainly predisposed to hear the statement in this way, but is it really what Jesus is talking about? We begin with some exegetical observations.
It just so happened that having finished the post on Justification with reference to Wright, Gorman and Campbell, I had an email from a friend at Regent College asking what I thought of Stephen Westerholm’s critique of the New Perspective in a CTQ article from 2006 entitled “Justification by Faith is the Answer: What is the Question?” Well, it wasn’t what I was planning to do today, but it’s all in a good cause—so, Barney, here is roughly what I think.
We approach the problem of the meaning of “justification” in the New Testament much as many hopeful rescuers approached Sleeping Beauty’s castle. We know the story of how the fair Princess Dikaiōsis, deceived by a wicked fairy, pricked her finger on the spindle of a Reformation spinning wheel. We know that as a result she and her whole kingdom fell into a deep sleep, and that an impenetrable forest of tangled theological briars grew up around the castle.
The 9Marks site had an eJournal devoted to the “Awful Reality” of hell last year. Reading through the various articles in defence of the traditional interpretation goaded me into starting a general account of New Testament teaching on this thing which we wrongly label “hell” as part of my vaguely proposed “glossary” series. I got as far as Andrew David Naselli’s first point under the heading “How does the New Testament describe hell?” and realized that it was not going to be easy to keep matters concise.