Sunday, September 21, 2008

Paul and Palestinian Judaism

I am currently doing an independant study on the so called, "new perspectives on Paul." Pauline theology is one of my greatest interests, and I hope to someday be a scholar who will be able to offer something in this debate. I am going to give a brief overview of each section of E.P. Sander's Paul and Palestinian Judaism, the first important volume in this movement. I know many do not have the time to read through this much material themselves, so I am hoping to be of aid to those who would like to understand this movement.

Part 1: Palestinian Judaism
Sanders briefly overviews the different evaluations of second temple Judaism which scholars have promoted in the recent past. In the 19th century, due to the work of F. Weber, it was generally understood that Judaism of the second temple period was a religion of "works righteousness." Jews supposedly believed that God would weigh one's good deeds against his bad to determine the fate of that man. One could gain extra merit through a "treasury of merits" of sorts. Sanders concludes that Weber's evaluation was deeply flawed, though remained somewhat unchallenged in his day. This same view of Judaism was promoted by Bousset, Schurer, and Bultmann. Many Jewish scholars refuted Weber's claims, and Sanders believes succesfully, yet there work was not of much effect. Weber's view still was the majority opinion.

Sanders wants to prove that Weber's view is flawed by evaluating the writings of the second temple period extensively. According to Sanders, there is an overall coherence of the "pattern of religion" in Judaism. Though there were certainly diverging views of Judaism in the second temple period, there was an overall basic soteriology which permeated the majority of second temple literature. Sanders labels this soteriology "covenantal nomism." Covenantal nomism is the idea that the Jews believed themselves to be in the covenant by grace, but maintained there status in the covenant by obedience. In other words, the emphasis was on God's electing grace, rather than on strict law-keeping. God chose the nation of Israel to be His own, thus one is in the covenant by God's choice, not by works. The role of law-keeping was one of maintaining status, rather than gaining status. One could lose "salvation" by breaking the commandments, yet one could not gain "salvation" by keeping commandments.

The question naturally comes as to why God elected the nation of Israel. Sanders writes that there were three different answers to this question in second temple literature. One answer is that the covenant was offered to all nations, yet Israel was the only one to accept it. The second opinion is that the nation was chosen because of the merits of the patriarchs. The third, was that God elected the nation simply because he chose to. It was a matter of pure grace. The first two answers still put the covenant in the hands of human merit, yet Sanders does not see this as harmful to his thesis. It does not matter how or why the covenant was initiated in the first place. What matters is that those in the covenant in the second temple period, were personally initiated apart from what they had done. It seems to me that the first two responses do not coincide well with Sanders overall thesis. Whether or not the merit of the descendents of the patriarchs gained the covenant, it was still gained by human merit. I find it interesting that some thought the covenant was initiated because of the merits of the patriarchs. This means that it would not be an idea foreign to Judaism for Paul to say that we are saved by the righteousness (or merit) of another, namely the Godman Jesus Christ. Perhaps this framework allowed Paul to frame his ideas in such a way as to be understandable to a Jewish audience.

Sanders certainly is right in showing the sloppiness of much scholarship dealing with the second temple literature. Often no differentiation was made between Tannaitic and Amoraic material, and it had been simply assumed that Rabbinic Judaism was identical to Pharisaic Judaism. Sanders convincingly shows that there is more to Jewish soteriology than a simple weighing of merits. One would try his best, and when he failed there was the system of atonement in the law which would restore him, and assure him that his sins had been forgiven. One is often said to be rewarded for his goodness, and for his deeds, yet it is not that one earns salvation through these merits, but that one maintains his status and proves himself through these merits. The just God must reward righteousness, and punish evil, yet not in such a way as to say that a man earns that status. He is only aided to righteousness by God grace. When Sanders runs into a passage that seems to contradict his idea, he resorts to saying that they were no systematic theologians, thus were not careful and could be inconsistent.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some good quotes from St. Bernard of Clairvaux

"The cause of loving God is God. I spoke the truth, for He is both the efficient and final Cause. It is He who gives the occasions, it is He who creates the affection, He consummates the desire."

"He gave Himself to merit for us, He retains Himself to be our reward, He offers Himself as the food of saintly souls, He gives himself as the price of the redemption of those in captivity." (On the Love of God ch. VII)

"Give Him glory once for offenses pardoned; give it again for virtues conferred." (Sermon on Canticle of Canticles ch. III)

"His fatherly love is greater than any injustice whatsoever." (Canticles ch.X)

"You were sinning, oh man, in darkness and in the shadow of death through ignorance of truth. You were sitting bound by the chains of sin. He down to prison not to torture you, but to rescue you from the power of darkness. And first the Teacher of truth dispelled the darkness of ignorance by the light of His wisdom. The by the righteousness of faith he loosed the bonds of sin, freely justifying the sinner." (Canticles ch.XV)

"It suffices me for attaining to all righteousness, to have Him alone propitious toward me against whom alone I have sinned... Not to sin is the righteousness of God": Man's righteousness is God's forgiveness." (Canticles ch.XVI)

"Ah! from how great bitterness of soul have you often delivered me, O Good Jesus, coming to me!... How often has prayer taken me on the brink of despair, and restored me to the state of soul of one exulting in joy and confident forgiveness. Those who are afflicted in this way, behold they know that the Lord Jesus is truly a Physician Who healeth the broken of heart and bindeth up their bruses" (Canticles ch.XX)

"Great faith merits great rewards. And wherever you set down the foot of hope among the goods of the Lord, they will be yours." (Canticles ch.XX)

"Your sins are very great and beyond number. Never will you be able to make satisfaction for them, so many and so great are they, not even if you strip the very skin from your body." (Canticles ch. XXIV)

"Because He is unwilling to forgive sins? He nailed them to the cross together with His own hands. Because you are delicate and accustomed to a life of ease? But he knoweth our frame. [He remembereth that we are dust] Because you have grown accustomed to evil and are bound by the fetters of habitual sin? But the Lord looseth them that are fettered. Are you perhaps fearful lest, angered by the greatness and number of your sins He will be slow to extend a helping hand? But where sin abounded, grace did more abound." (Canticles XXIV)

"While I am in this life this more sublime philosophy will be mine-to know Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (Canticles ch.XXVIII)

"In order to merit, it is enough to know that our merits do not suffice for us." (Canticles ch.XLI)

Monday, September 8, 2008

The ten most important theologians of all time

I have compiled a list of who I think the ten most important theologians outside of the New Testament in the church are. Anyone disagree with my assesment? Feel free to comment.

1. Augustine- Augustine is simultaneously the father of Roman Catholicism, Calvinism and Lutheranism. His high view of the church was adopted by the Romish church, his view of grace was adopted by the Lutheran and Reformed churches, and his view of the sovereignty of God became the cornerstone of Calvinism. Also the mystic and scholastic movements could claim themselves as heirs of Augustine. He has done great things for the universal church by giving the clearest explenation of the trinity which the western church would ever have in his book on the Trinity. He defined original sin much clearer than any theologian before him, securing this position for all of the western church. Because of his doctrine of original sin, the theological foundation for infant baptism was secured, not to be questioned for hundreds of years. Augustine's book the City of God influenced both the theocracy under Charlamagne and the two kingdom theology of Luther. Augustine's treatise on the Spirit and the Letter was the first clear explanation of what would later be known as the Lutheran law/gospel distinction. Also, the universalism that many had speculated about since the time of Origen was finally wiped out by Augustine.

2. Martin Luther- Martin Luther was of course the father of the Protestant reformation, one of the most important events in the history of the church (and the world in general). He defined the doctrine of justification by faith alone clearer than any had before him. Paul's theology for the first time was fully understood. Luther pushed the whole church to go back the scripture as the only infallible source of truth. He helped abolish the idea that good works were done by seperating oneself from society and trying to save himself. Good works are those things done for the benefit of one's neighbor. Monasticism was not a higher form of spirituality than that of a baker, and it certainly was not a "second baptism." In short, Luther helped the church rediscover the gospel.

3. Athanasius- He made two major theological claims which effected the church for the rest of history. First, his work On the incarnation of the word was the first book written on the atonement, the center of Christianity. In this treatise, Athanasius supports the idea that we all owe a debt of death to God because of our sin. Christ took this debt upon Himself, so that we could be redeemed. Not only are we forgiven of our sins, but God then conforms us to the image of His son. His second major accomplishment was his defense of the deity of Jesus Christ. Athanasius defended at one point against most of the church that Christ was of one substance with the father. He was kicked out of the empire several times for defending the truth. He was the major figure behind the definition of Nicea.

4. John Calvin- Calvin did not do much that was new. However, he formulated a doctrinal system which would effect all of Protestantism outside of Lutheranism. He defined the idea of double predestination which would become a central tenant of the reformed church. He went farther than Luther with the idea of sola scriptura by creating the regulative principle of worship. Man is only to include in a worship service that which is directly commanded by God. He formulated a view of governent which became the ideology of the Puritans when they came to establish America. The most positive thing Calvin did was emphasize the grammatical historical method of Bible interpretation. It surely was taught by many before Calvin, but he did it with excellence, not surpassed by perhaps any since his time.

5. Thomas Aquinas- He is considered the "angelic doctor" of the Roman church. He put together the most comprehensive system of theology ever produced, which layed the groundwork of modern day Roman Catholicism. He popularized the use of Aristotle in Christian theology and the use of natural theology. According to Aquinas, man's intellect was not fallen, though his will was. He was the most important figure to come out of the scholastic period.

6. Friedrich Schleiermacher- He is the father of Protestant liberalism. When the enlightenment came, many became deists and rejected religion all together. Schleiermacher did not want to do this and so he claimed to be a Christian theologian while rejecting almost every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. His unfortunate influence is still with us today and was the cause of the Bible wars in the 20th century.

7. Karl Barth- He formed neo-orthodoxy, the midway point between conservativism and liberalism. He accepted some of the historical critical ideas, but did not want to reject the theology of the Protestant Reformers. Barth put the Bible back in an authoritative place and rejected natural theology. Christ was once again placed at the center of the Christian faith. Barth's influence has been both positive and negative. Positive in his Christocentrism, yet negative in his denial of innerancy.

8. Gregory the Great- He defined what would be the religion of the middle ages. He marks the end of the age of the fathers and the dawn of a new era. He liked Augustine but toned down his theology of predestination, coming closer to the semi-pelagian position. While rejecting the title of universal bishop, he got himself involved in political affairs, laying the groundwork for the Papal theocracy of a later period. He popularized the idea of purgatory which led to the focus on the meritorious nature of penance and prayers to the saints as mediators between man and Christ. In some ways, Gregory is the first Roman Catholic.

9. John Wesley- The founder of methodism, he popularized Arminianism and led way to a new branch of the Protestant church. As an evangelist, he did many good things, preaching both law and gospel. Under Wesley, experience became essential to the Christian life. One must have an experience of grace and come to a point where God assures him of his salvation. Wesley fought against much of the legalism in the Anglican church of his day, emphasizing the gratuity of God's grace. In doing this he rejected Calvinism while defending the idea of prevenient grace. He came up with the idea of perfectionism, which taught that the Christian could come to a point in his life when he would no longer sin. This led to the second blessing idea which was then the foundation of pentacostalism.

10. Charles Finney- He was the leader of the so-called "second great awakening." Rather than emphasizing the sinfulness of man and the free grace of God in Christ, as Wesley, Edwards, and Whitfield did in the first awakening, Finney emphasized the experience of conversion. Finney denied original sin and the substitutionary atonement of Christ. For Finney, Christianity was about morality. One could be converted by an emotional experience and then live a good moral life. These ideas have become the basis for modern evangelicalism.