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Culture Wars, Worldviews, and the Church

N. T. Wright (of Anglican, New Testament, and Pauline theology note) has suggested understanding a worldview through four windows: answers given to the big questions of life, key symbols, defining narratives, and major practices (cf. The New Testament and the People of God).  This certainly takes us a long way in describing different and conflicting worldviews.  There is a considerable overlap, moreover, in defining ‘culture’ and ‘worldview,’ with the former focussed more on social practices and the latter on fundamental perspectives.  However, by adding ‘practices’ to the definition of ‘worldview,’ Wright has been able to bridge the gap between the two notions.  While sociologists, politicians, and missiologists might be more comfortable with the language of ‘culture’ and theologians, philosophers, and, perhaps, Biblical scholars might be more comfortable with ‘worldview,’ the overlap of terms should be appreciated.
The West is undergoing a revolutionary challenge if not successful …

The Changing, Cardinal Virtues of Western Society

Greek society constructed Hellenistic culture around four cardinal virtues: prudence (practical wisdom), courage, temperance (self-control), and justice.  Other virtues could be appreciated, but they were to be understood in terms of these cardinal virtues.
Christian Europe built on this.  To the four cardinal virtues of classical Greece were added three theological, Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love.  This was the foundation of 'Christian' Europe.
The Enlightenment removed Christian faith, hope, and love.  The old, classical virtues were not removed, but they were demoted from being cardinal virtues.  Instead, Western society introduced two new cardinal virtues, freedom and equality.  The history of the West from the end of the 18th century until the mid-20th century can be told as a social experiment in the construction of a society in terms of the cardinal virtues of freedom and equality: democracy, the end of slavery, women's right to vote, civil rights, and so…

Toward a Biblical Theology of Government and the Nations

The early Christians were not in a position to change government.  Yet they had a theology of institutions that was derived largely from their Old Testament Scriptures.  In broad outline, their theology of nations and governments involved the following convictions and narrative of God's unfolding plan: God is in ultimate control of world history (cf. Daniel, Revelation; Psalm 33.10; Isaiah 40.15-17);God has made the nations (Psalm 86.9) and rules over them (Psalm 2; 47; 66.7; 67.4; 72.11; 94.10; 113.4); He is King (Psalm 10.16);God permits political authorities to rise and fall (Daniel 2), and He disciplines the sinful nations (Psalm 94.10; Ezekiel 28.1-10; 29.12-16; Habakkuk 3.11);God intended Israel to be an exemplary nation, positively and negatively (Genesis 12.3; Jeremiah 4.1-2; Ezekiel 5.5-17; 6.8-14; 22.15-16; 28.25; 37.28) from which other nations might learn righteousness (Isaiah 2.2-4; Micah 4.2); in the return from exile, the nations would learn of God’s power to save si…

Understanding the Gospel through Roman Slavery: Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Paul sustains a fairly thoroughgoing analogy between slavery and the Law, Gospel, Christ, and the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians.  He uses the analogy in several ways, beginning—I would argue—with representing His Gospel as a ‘sale’ of Christ to the Galatians.  The analogy with slavery allows Paul to make the case that his Gospel was given with full disclosure and was fully justified because Christ is effective.
Roman Slavery
When sold in the marketplace, a placard was sometimes hung about the neck of the slave, who stood on a box (cf. Lucian, Philosophies for Sale).  Roman law required that ‘any serious sickness from which the slave was suffering’ should be stated on the placard.[1]  Aulus Gellius reports that formal Roman magistrates established a law regarding the purchase of slaves:
"See to it that the sale ticket of each slave be so written that it can be known exactly what disease or defect each one has, which one is a runaway or a vagabond, or is still under condemnati…

Ethical Considerations on Israel’s Clearing of Canaan from its Inhabitants

Some people wonder what to do with Old Testament texts dealing with Israel's clearing of Canaan from its inhabitants.  Putting people to the sword hardly sounds moral.  It sounds like an evil military force like ISIS.  It also sounds like ethnic cleansing and genocide.  On the other hand, others think that this fits a narrative that the land belongs to the Jews.  One can see how people might reach such conclusions, but the Biblical evidence does not support them when considered in entirety.
In order to understand these texts from a Biblical and Christian perspective, one must first understand what the Old Testament understanding of the clearing of Canaan entailed.  Second, the Christian must further understand key differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Following are nine points to consider on this issue.
1. Cultural Context.
Ancient Near Eastern peoples practiced people displacement and annihilation.  For example: The last Sumerian kings built a wall from the Eu…

Faith

Faith

A goodly life, our village liv’d, With simple faith, Boats full with fish, Fields fecund and fertile, Far from all the furies of Rome.
And yet, it was not half enough. Oh, not at first, Our gentle life, Quiet, happy, and free, ‘Until he challeng’d, ‘Follow me!’
He offered us a deeper faith Than ‘ere we’d found; Faith through trials To fight the faithful fight, Life with faith liv’d against the grain.
We followed to the heights of faith: Life to the dead, Our sins forgiv’n,  By his word, demons fled, Furious winds and waves obeyed.
Yet ever on he nudged our faith: ‘Step from the boat,’ ‘Transfer this mount,’ ‘Carry your cross, follow me,’ And, ‘Confess my name before men.’
At last, he set a final test That, having failed, Matur’d our faith: He, an off’ring for sin, God’s glory fastened to a cross.
And when our faith falter’d and fell, He pray’d for us, And faith returned: Jesus, ris’n from his grave! Believe now Him who defeated death!
Then did this follower find faith Unfalteri…

The Parable of the Altered Man

The master announced to his disciples that they would take the train to London, where they would learn ‘lessons from the cathedral’.  The disciples prepared for the journey, a little curious what the master might have meant by ‘lessons from the cathedral’.  Why not, ‘in the cathedral’?  Was the lesson from the cathedral itself instead of from the words of a lecturer?  And which cathedral?  Yet they were excited at the prospect of spending some time in London.
Upon their arrival early the next day, the master had his disciples position themselves nearby one of the entrances to the cathedral.  After half an hour, a black limousine arrived.  Out stepped three men, wearing white gloves and colourful aprons, badges, and other items marking them as Freemasons.  They carried a wooden box that was marked on one side with the words, ‘Cathedral Contributions.’  Half an hour later, the three men returned, accompanied by a bishop.  The bishop shook their hands and offered a grateful smile.
The mast…

The Importance of Being Right: Comments on Eugene Peterson’s The Message

Oscar Wilde’s hilarious play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ focuses our attention on a particular virtue.  But being earnest does not hold a candle to being right!  Being sincere counts for nothing if one is sincerely wrong.  This, in a word, captures the problem with Eugene Peterson’s The Message.  Personal perspectives on Scripture simply cannot replace careful Bible translation and interpretation any more than they should guide pastoral care based on the truth.
Eugene Peterson has been in the news this past week about a flip-flop on his views on homosexuality, and then a simple wave of his hand at the issue—a major embarrassment for anyone in either pastoral ministry or theological education, let alone both.[1]  Yet his error goes deeper—even to altering the Scriptures themselves.  His opinion on homosexuality is actually not important to the Church, though his ramblings will, no doubt, injure some people’s faith.  An individual scholar’s opinions, though, are simply not releva…