The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Dec 29, 2017

My favorite new book of 2016-2017

Although it's my job to read broadly in biblical studies to keep up with theological trends (the good, the bad, and the ugly), every once in a while a book comes along that actually changes how I teach, a book that causes me to focus on something that I had been neglecting before in my own theological reflection

Such is Larry Hurtado's Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016). Hurtado was most recently professor of New Testament Language at the University of Edinburgh (he retired in 2011). Destroyer of the gods is about what made Christianity stand out like a sore thumb and, ultimately, become the recipient of so much hatred in the Greco-Roman world. I highly recommend Destroyer of the gods as my "book of the year" (well, "book of the last two years").

Here, especially, is what Hurtado's book is helping me reflect on and stress more in my teaching:
1. First, Christianity's religious exclusivism was unique in the Greco-Roman world outside of Judaism itself (which got something of a "pass" from the Romans because it was tied to ethnicity). The Romans had no problem with the worship of Jesus, as odd as they might have considered it. The worship and reverence of Jesus alone, however, at the exclusion of all other gods and the Roman Emperor (and, for some, the goddess Roma) was unique, and caused hostility (imagine the Anatolian boy who comes home from a long trip, announces to his parents that he is a Christian and can no longer worship the local gods--the next earthquake that occurs will be blamed on him!). Indeed, this is something missionaries would do well to remember: our job is not tell people simply to trust in Jesus and worship the one true God. Rather, our job is to tell people to trust in/reverence Jesus and worship the one true God at the exclusion of all others (1Thess 1:9), whether they be the emperor, dead ancestors, spirits, or various deities. There can be no "plan B" for either faith or worship. Many young person in Asia even in this modern era has been forced to make that choice and lost their family as a result (but gained Jesus).

2. Secondly, Christianity quickly became a trans-ethnic religion, solidified as such once the Jerusalem Council decreed that the Torah was not a necessary element of Gentile Christianity (Acts 15). This threatened to "create a nation within a nation" (to quote Reinhard Feldmeier) which repulsed the inhabitants of the Roman Empire (thus, for example, Tacitus is able to call Christians "a class hated for their abominations"). To become a Christian was, often, to give up both one's family and one's ethnicity in favor of a "holy nation" linked together not by DNA or nationality but by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2).

Some quick theological reflection. Christianity is an "all-or-nothing" religion. If Jesus Christ cannot save me, I have no "plan B," no Buddha or dead ancestors or good works that might come through in the fourth quarter of my life. There is no back-up quarterback. Every one of us, then, has come to the point where we declare with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Christianity is not "Jesus + whatever" but rather "Jesus alone, without all others."
Happy New Year!

Dec 15, 2017

The difference between American exceptionalism and "seeking the welfare of the city"

In the past decade or so I've more-or-less ended up trending towards an Anabaptist, Hauerwas-style ecclesiology in regards to the attitude of the church towards the state and society (though I've actually only read one book by Stanley Hauerwas; for the record, I much prefer his ecclesiology to his soteriology). I've become very suspicious of too much patriotism within a church setting, and I unapologetically did not vote for President Trump (with all due respect to my many, many beloved friends who did!), simply because "the lesser of two evils" is not, in my opinion, the best guide for Christian ethics (I did vote, just not for President Trump or Hillary Clinton).

So, on the one hand, although I am totally okay with July 4th celebrations outside of local church corporate worship setting, or singing "The Star Spangled Banner" with my hand over my heart at a ballgame or other non-ecclesiastical setting, I am very uncomfortable with the singing of patriotic songs or displaying the US flag within corporate worship, as I think that can lead to a very flawed ecclesiology that neglects the fact that we are foreigners on earth, but part of God's holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). In other words, it is not America, but the Church, that is the true "Christian nation," and we must always keep that clear. I have more in common with a Christian from Iraq than I do with an unbelieving US citizen living in Wisconsin--sometimes, if we're not careful, a church service can call that fact into question.

Having said that, it's important we don't through the baby out with the bathwater. I own and appreciate Bruce Winter's book Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians as Benefactors and Citizens, which suggests that Jeremiah 29:7 is the backdrop for some of 1 Peter's ethics (I am less convinced by the rest of his thesis, which argues that 1 Peter has in mind "civic benefaction"; I believe this has been at least partially refuted by Travis Williams and Torrey Seland, though there is no doubt some truth to Winter's suggestion, since there were certainly at least a few rich Christians in Asia Minor who could at least contribute towards "civic benefaction"). Anyways, my point being, even if we Christians should consider ourselves as "in exile" (a very Hauwerwas-ian way of putting it, but one which I am fond of), we can still seek for ways to be a blessing to society at large, so long as this does not conflict with our allegiance to Jesus Christ or our Great Commission mandate.

Here's a positive example: my local church annually hosts a "Veteran's Day Banquet." This is not part of corporate worship, but rather an outreach event whereby we honor veterans in the US military (we even have some WW2 vets that come, and those are getting rarer!). After a free meal, good music by our college students, and an honor guard by active military members, we have a chaplain preach a Gospel message. This outreach event brings in lots of veterans (we pack out our "fellowship hall") and, I believe, has the effect of contributing to the welfare of society (a society were the veterans feel honored would be, I believe, more stable than one where veterans are disrespected).

Since our Veteran's Day Banquet is not part of our corporate worship, I do not believe it conflicts with biblical principles (in contrast to, say, a worship service that reverenced the flag on July 4th; I've seen some of those). To the contrary, it is simultaneously both an outreach event that annually sees veterans come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and it has the benefit of "seeking the welfare of the city [i.e., the state]."

Other possibilities for a local church to "seek the welfare of the city" and thus be a "do-gooder" community that 1 Peter speaks of would be such things as: feeding the poor, picking up trash, helping pregnant unwed mothers, etc. Indeed, the argument should be made that it is individuals through the local church, not Christians apart from the local church, that should be doing these things (see the discussion in Scot McKnight's Kingdom Conspiracy--McKnight appropriately critiques those who think that a good deed done in isolation from the local church is "kingdom work").

This does not, however, mean that the church pursues a "social gospel" whereby seeking the physical/economical welfare of others in society becomes the primary goal of the church. To the contrary, Acts 2:41-47 and Matthew 28:18-20 (among other texts) represent key purposes of the church, purposes that can be subverted both by politics and the social gospel. However, properly performed, "seeking the welfare of the city" can simultaneously silence the naysayers and provide opportunities to proclaim the Gospel which, I believe, is a key point of 1 Peter 2:15 (Along those lines, see one of my favorite articles on 1 Peter, Torrey Seland, "Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter").

One final note: I would even acknowledge that informed voting equals "seeking the welfare of the city," and thus voting in elections is important for a Christian who is both a good steward of God's gift a democratic republic and somebody who cares about his country. However, the minute a Christian exalts a particular party to the level of theological dogma (as if unbelievers in the Republican [or Democratic] Party were somehow capable building the Kingdom of God!), or the minute that political issues (no matter how important) became the key to the expansion of the kingdom, then we have misunderstood how, exactly, God's Kingdom is truly built (and may I remind my dear readers that the church in Acts was built just fine, thank you, without the benefit of Ronald Reagan's conservative America?)