On Monday, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that the Harper government would not support Bill C-484, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Conservative MP Ken Epp, which would make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during a violent attack on a pregnant woman. Instead, Minister Nicholson said the government would introduce legislation to add pregnancy as an aggravating factor to be considered during sentencing. That is the proposal advocated by pro-abortion groups who have opposed the bill. Judges can already vary sentencing based on aggravating factors. Mr. Nicholson said the bill, which has not been drafted, would “leave no room for the introduction of fetal rights." Mr. Epp’s bill already explicitly excludes abortion. The Harper government was apparently responded to a taunt from Liberal leader Stephane Dion who told reporters last week that he opposed Bill C-484 because he supported a “woman’s right to choose” and asked where Mr. Harper stood on the issue. Prime Minister Harper made it clear this week that he will probably call an election very soon and most pundits saw this move as a way to take abortion off the table before the election is called. Mr. Epp, MP for Edmonton-Sherwood Park, responded quickly saying he would not withdraw his bill because Mr. Nicholson’s bill did not address the loss of life that families experience when the unborn child dies. The pro-abortion Globe and Mail concurred in an editorial saying “Mr. Epp's bill was no danger to freedom of choice. It would have been a shield for unborn, wanted children; it would not have been a sword to threaten women who choose to terminate pregnancies, or their physicians. It should have been fully considered on its own merits.” Eight other Conservative MPs issued a media release expressing their support for Mr. Epp’s bill. They are: David Anderson, Cypress Hills-Grasslands, Rod Bruinooge, Winnipeg South, Royal Galipeau, Ottawa-Orléans, Colin Mayes, Okanagan-Shuswap, Myron Thompson, MP, Wild Rose, Brad Trost, Saskatoon-Humboldt, Maurice Vellacott, Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, Chris Warkentin, Peace River. Until an election is called, Bill C-484 is still proceeding through Parliament. It has passed second reading and has been sent to the Justice Committee for further study. The House of Commons is set to resume on September 15 and the bill could return to the Commons for third reading and vote this fall. You still have time to contact your MP to tell him or her where you stand and how you expect them to vote. You can find out who your MP is and how to contact him or her at http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC. If an election is called, all bills, including this one, die but it could be brought back by another MP in the next Parliament.
The rest of the chapter is more straightforward. Again the:
"It is important in teaching and preaching this material that one focus on what the text does say and not on what it does not say. Romans 4 is about Abraham's nodal trust in God, which God reckoned as righteousness. It is not about Christ's righteousness being imputed to Abraham or to those who follow his example. The discussion is about faith vs. works, not christology v. anthropology. Furthermore, the dominant metaphor is not forensic but commercial--the reckoning of a credit because of faith and the non-reckoning of a debit, namely sin. These factors should guide the way one teaches and preaches this material."
We will keep his distinctions in mind,(though I don't understand what he is getting at) and see what he does with them in coming chapters.
I don't have any problems with this chapter. The only thing, Witherington, as usual, stresses the unfinished nature, (or is it the on-going nature?), of salvation. "How much more then, having been set right then by his blood, shall we be saved through him from the wrath of God...having been reconciled shall we be saved by his life."
He summarizes his point at the very end in the "bridging the horizons" section:
"--having been set right leads to peace with God, a current standing in grace, and a hope for the future. There are past, present, and future dimensions to salvation and its benefits. It is not just about pardon and release, not just about peace with God, not just about having grace sufficient to stand and to resist sin day by day, not simply about having a legitimate hope. It is about all these things and all of these benefits accrue in the present. Paul does not even speak about glorification here or the final future. Yet he does speak of one future dimension to salvation: if one has been set right in the present, one will be saved from the wrath to come. The salvation process is not complete in the present. It is completed only in the future, with the final deliverance from wrath and the assumption of the resurrection body Paul's entire discussion of salvation is eschatologically driven, and includes very few other-worldly dimensions."
I think this is emphasized mainly for the correction of Calvinism, again. Or else, it relates to the fact that Paul is explaining why he and others still suffer (we also rejoice in our sufferings). Actually, probably the latter.
Romans 4.1-25 First paragraph. "Abraham becomes a linchpin in Paul's argument concerning how righteousness and a right relationship with God have come to human beings quite apart from the law. This is very different from the sort of argument one finds in 2 Baruch 57.2, where Abraham is said to be able to be righteous and keep the law because God has already written the Law on his heart."
That is an interesting observation. Then comes what may be the thesis statement for this chapter or even the book.
"Put another way, the deliberative nature of Paul's argument here is clear because, as Guerra says, 'Romans 4 is an outstanding instance of the creative reinterpretation of Scripture, for the purpose of promoting a new community and its value system, evidencing its protreptic (What is protreptic? "serving to instruct, didactic") orientation.' Abraham turns out to be not only the example to follow but also the forefather of both Jews and Gentiles and so the proof that Jews and Gentiles were meant to be united in Christ as Abraham's heirs."
That's kind of nice.
Later: "In Romans Paul is trying to get the audience to place more value on their Jewish inheritance and on the fact that Abraham is the father of all who believe, and he is trying to undercut the boasting and ethnic and cultural arrogance of Roman Gentiles. The great leveler is of course that all have sinned and are equally saved by grace through faith. And now we discover that all, both Jews and Gentiles, are in the debt of Abraham the Jew, the paradigmatic man of faith."
That's nice, too. Though I am wondering if he is cutting the "boasting" problem back a little too much from works-righteousness to a cultural issue, though it may be both.
Then he comes to v.3. "V3 is a crucial quotation of Gen. 15.6 LXX (which has the passive 'was counted' unlike the Hebrew, which has the active 'he counted'). It needs to be stressed that Paul is not speaking here of Christ's righteousness counting in place of Abraham's righteousness or, for that matter, in place of later Christian believers' righteousness. The text is quite explicit--the exchange is between Abraham's faith and Abraham's righteousness. The former is credited or reckoned in lieu of or as the latter. Where then does the idea of imputed righteousness come from? It comes ultimately from Erasmus, and the Lutheran adoption of his reading of this material, as we shall now see"
I really don't know/understand what distinctions he is making.
Witherington tries to elucidate in a section inserted here: "A closer look: imputed righteousness versus reckoned righteous". Again,I am not sure what he is getting at exactly. Erasmus chose to translate from the Vulgate (which has "reputatum" not "imputatum") (my question: since when are we dealing with the Vulgate and the Latin?) Here was supposedly born a "rather strictly forensic understanding of diakaisosyne". About Luther he says: "Luther himself (as compared to whom? Erasmus? Calvin?) does not always go quite this far. He is prepared to say that only by the accrediting of a merciful God and by faith in his word do we become just. (as opposed to what?) He also is prepared to say that all of our good is in fact outside ourselves and located in Christ. But, as scholars have pointed out, Luther does not usually use the language of imputation."
(does this make sense to anyone?)
"The crediting language ("it was reckoned") is not forensic language but commercial or bookkeeping language... In early Judaism there was the belief in the good and evil deeds of a person being recorded in ledgers... It is a mistake to simply read Paul's righteousness language through a forensic filter, not least because Paul believes that God requires of his people that, once saved, they actually lead righteous lives. Paul would likely be appalled by the notion that he is talking about some sort of legal fiction, including the idea that Christ is righteous in the believer's place in such a way that believers are not required to be righteous. Even worse would be the notion that when God looks at believers, he simply sees Christ's righteousness and reckons it to their accounts, instead of believers having to live holy lives."
Ok, I don't really care if it is imputed or reputed, if it is legal or commercial metaphor. Or am I missing something. Witherington is again worried about people thinking they can go on sinning so that grace may increase. We know he does not agree with simul justus et peccator. So he is hedging against justification without a decent life to go with it. OK. I think he is writing more against a Calvinistic understanding of once saved/always saved. He also thinks Luther advocates bold sinning.
He finishes up this section with:
"It is my guess that Paul would have concluded that either of these notions would amount to God being less than totally righteous. It would certainly involve God requiring more of his people under the law than he does under the new covenant, and this hardly comports with the intensification of demands we find in both Pauline parenesis and the Jesus tradition, including portions of the Sermon of the Mount, that Paul draws on in Romans and elsewhere."
Here, I think, W. shows his colors again about the role of the law in the believer's life. Jesus said: "my yoke is light". In the New Testament we have a different attitude. And the "law of Christ" is not like the OT law. Quote I found last night.
"But when a person is born anew by the Spirit of God and is liberated from the law (that is, when he is free from this driver and is driven by the Spirit of Christ), he lives according to the immutable will of God as it is comprehended in the law and, in so far as he is born anew, he does everything from a free and merry spirit. These works are, strictly speaking, not works of the law but works and fruits of the Spirit, or, as St. Paul calls them, the law of the mind and the law of Christ. According to St. Paul, such people are no longer under law but under grace." (BOC, Solid Declaration).
That's all I can manage right now. I had thought that Abraham's faith is like my faith, like all believer's of all times faith, that the blood of the sacrifice takes away the guilt. The OT sacrifices were a foreshadowing of what was to come. "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered." He believed God's promise. We believe God's promise. "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."
Witherington stresses that there is a difference here: "Romans 4 is about Abraham's nodal trust in God, which God reckoned as righteousness. It is not about Christ's righteousness being imputed to Abraham or to those who follow his example. The discussion is about faith vs. works, not Christology vs. anthropology".
I still don't really know what he is talking about.
There is so much in this commentary that I can't comment on, because I am not nearly at Dr. W's level of education. He is obviously an amazing man.
I did not have much of a problem with 3.21-31. There is a discussion about "forensic justification". He does not like these terms, but his clarifications seem good to me:
"...we should not immediately read a phrase like "the righteousness of God" in early Jewish or Jewish Christian sources through the lens of forensic categories. Occasionally the phrase does have a forensic sense, but this must be determined from the context. More often it refers to the character of God, which he actively expresses in his salvific work or sometimes in judgment. It is for this reason that I have avoided the traditional language of "justification" and "justify" and have preferred instead some form of usage that includes "right" or "righteous" in it. Romans 4 will discuss the matter of being reckoned as righteous, bit dikaisoyne means more that just this to Paul. It is not just about a declaration or forensic pronouncement, and the phrase "legal fiction" hardly does justice to this profound idea. God does not simply consider the sinner righteous as a result of the finished work of Christ. Through that salvific work of Christ a person has been set right--which means not only set back into a right relationship with God, or reckoned as righteous, but also set in the right moral direction as well." (p.105)
Most of the chapter seems to me to make helpful analysis and explanations. Several misunderstandings of different writers and periods are addressed.
At the very end of the chapter he does set up the idea of the new set of laws for the new covenant, which seems to me is a misunderstanding of such phrases as the law of Christ and the law of faith.
"Indeed, his promises to Israel are to be gathered up and fulfilled in Jesus in the context of the new covenant, not the continuation of the old one. So both Israel and Gentiles find themselves on a new footing with God as a result of the Christ-event. God is not keeping two contracts and two sets of laws with humankind at the same time."
Below, there is a video of Lee Strobel with Ben Witherington.
Regarding chapter 2:17-3.20 Dr. Witherington writes on page 98, in his "bridging the horizons" section:
"There is a trap in focusing on Paul's insistence on a Law-free Gospel, the trap of cheap grace. Paul is not encouraging lawlessness by making clear that Christians are not under the Mosaic law and covenant. Indeed he will argue that Christians are under the Law of Christ. The issue here, however, is not only how one obtains right standing with God (by grace through faith), but also one's attitude and approach to the Word of God when it has been entrusted to believers as a gift. Paul's theology is that a gift never becomes a possession in the sense of something one can do with as one pleases. The Word of God, including the Law, was entrusted to Israel as a gift, and therefore there could be no ground for boasting. A gift is not an accomplishment or achievement."
I notice that Dr. Witherington writes very often about the "Law of Christ". I've never heard so much about the "Law of Christ" except from my friends and neighbors who are of the Mormon persuasion. Did the Mormons get Christ as lawgiver from the Methodists?
Dr. Martin Luther has Christ as an interpreter of the law, not a new law giver. When Witherington says that when Paul is writing against the law, he means the "Mosaic law", because now there is a new law, the Law of Christ--I have my alarm bells ringing. The question remains: what does it mean that Christ is the end of the law, and yet sometimes we hear about the law of Christ?
The way one of my professors and Bible study teachers, Dr. Russ Nelson, (also a famous biblical scholar) explains the change in the law from the OT to the NT is that there were, for one thing, several types of law. There is not just this overarching "Mosaic" law. There was the law that applied to the running of the ancient nation of Israel. That does not apply to us. There is the sacrificial and ceremonial law, which does not apply in the NT after Christ's death and resurrection. But there is also the moral law and the Decalogue, which is timeless and generally known instinctively also by the heathen. This moral law remains. In my understanding "Christ's law" is an interpretation/explanation of this moral law. It is not a "new" law, per se. The essence of the law has been and still is the love of God and neighbor. Paul does give specific instructions to the churches that would be expressions of morality, loving behaviour, as well as other instructions for good order for the times and location.
Christ is chiefly our Redeemer and thus: the "end of the law". The law will not reign in our consciences and terrify us any more. The Gospel, the good news, will reign, instead. It will make us glad to serve Christ and fellow man. If we mix the law into this, we do not have any Gospel. So yes, we need always insist on and focus on having a Law-free Gospel.
The text says quite clearly what the law does in the conscience: "But we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those under the Law, in order that all mouths might be stopped and all the world be held guilty before God. Therefore, no one, from works of the law, will be declared righteous, from among all humans before him, for through the Law we become conscious of sin."
Dr. W. brings up "cheap grace". I guess, we can get that from Paul's question " 'Do evil so good may come?' The judgment of them is deserved." Of course, no one is saying that one should do evil so good would come of it. I don't know who would teach such a thing. Is the Augustinian/Lutheran/Calvinist way of thinking promoting cheap grace, according to W? He is not saying that. But I feel, he may be thinking/implying it. That would be a misrepresentation. He is not simply warning that there can be a danger with the Law-free Gospel. He says "there is a trap." Does he mean that focusing on the Law-free Gospel is definitely a trap?
Ok, so far my thoughts on that. I will add a quote from Luther here that shows how he handles justification and law keeping for the Christian. They must be carefully distinguished and separated as not to nullify the Gospel, and make Christ's suffering superfluous. From the commentary to letter to the Galatians (Luther’s works, volume 26, commentary on Galatians, p. 137):
” ‘ But the Law is good, righteous, and holy.’ Very well! But when we are involved in a discussion of justification, there is no room for speaking about the Law. The question is what Christ is and what blessing He has brought us. Christ is not the law; He is not my work or that of the Law; he is not my love or that of the law; He is not my chastity, obedience, or poverty. But He is the Lord of life and death, the Mediator and Savior of sinners, the Redeemer of those who are under the Law. By faith we are in Him and He is in us (John 6:56). This Bridegroom, Christ, must be alone with his bride in His private chamber, and all the family and household must be shunted away. But later on, when the Bridegroom opens the door and comes out, then let the servants return to take care of them and serve them food and drink. Then let works and love begin.
… Victory over sin and death does not come by the works of the Law or by our will; therefore it comes by Jesus Christ, alone. Here we are perfectly willing to have ourselves called ’sola fideists’ by our opponents, who do not understand anything of Paul’s argument. You who are to be the consolers of consciences that are afflicted, should teach this doctrine diligently, study it continually, and defend it vigorously...”
P. 145 But we do make a distinction here; and we say that we are not disputing now whether good works ought to be done. Nor are we inquiring whether the law is good, holy, and righteous, or whether it ought to be observed; FOR THAT IS ANOTHER TOPIC (my emphasis). But our argument and questions concerns justification and whether the law justifies. Our opponents do not listen to this. They do not answer this question, nor do they distinguish as we do. All they do is to scream that good works ought to be done and that the law ought to be observed. ALL RIGHT, WE KNOW THAT. (my emphasis). But because these are distinct topics, we will not permit them to be confused. In due time we shall discuss the teaching that the law and good works ought to be done.”
Ben Witherington is not only an amazing scholar but an incredibly good and voluminous writer on subjects of New Testament. His commentaries on books of the Bible are said to be outstanding. And so I am reading one: "Paul's Letter to the Romans. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary."
From discussions on his blog, however, I already know that he holds to Wesleyan/Arminian theology and thinks it is very important to deconstruct the Augustinian/Lutheran/Calvinist interpretation. I know he thinks "imputed" righteousness is wrong. In know he thinks "simul justus et peccator" is very wrong. I know he thinks there is an "attainable perfection" that can be achieved by Christians.
So, as a Lutheran Christian who holds fast to a clear law/gospel distinction, who recognizes herself as sinner and saint at the same time, who knows she will not achieve anything near perfection, and who would be quite frightened if I thought of myself as nearly perfect--what do I expect to get from this commentary? Certainly, some things I won't be happy with. In this blog, I will point out some of the things I'm not happy with, because I think it matters.
The introduction and the chapter on Paul's lengthy greeting and purpose for writing are interesting. The section on 1:16, 17 I find weak. The gospel as power to save is illustrated in a cute story about someone not jumping off a bridge, because she remembered a Bible verse from Vacation Bible School. It is not really shown very clearly, that through the Gospel we are made the new creation, by believing it.
At the end of the section on 1:18-32, he feels compelled to bring in Luther and the Bondage of the Will. I will quote the whole thing (p. 71, 72), here:
"If, at the other extreme, one has a theology of election that does not allow for viable secondary causes, then ultimately one makes God the author of sin. Sometimes a work like Luther's 'The Bondage of the Will' seems to leave no room for human beings to make viable moral choices and so rightly be held responsible for their misbehavior. Or again, Jonathan Edwards' 'Freedom of the Will" can give the impression that all that freedom means is that human beings do not 'feel' compelled by God to do what they do, when actually they could not have done otherwise. There is no genuine power of contrary choice. It is hard to see how this sort of theology escapes the criticism that it ultimately makes God the author of sin and is a form of determinism or even fatalism.
Paul does not say that God wills everything that happens. To the contrary, he says here that God gave up the people he describes to their own devices and will and choice of behavior. God allowed them to follow the path of sin because they had determined for themselves to go in that direction.
Another problem with determinism is that no good action should be seen as virtuous if a person could not have done otherwise, or at least there should be no talk of rewards and the like if a person did something good quite apart from their own intention and will. Both Jesus and Paul do speak of rewards for virtuous behavior.
This is not to deny that all good deeds done by fallen persons are done with the aid of grace, but grace is not normally seen as some inexorable force that predetermines how one will use the grace given. Grace is a power given that enables a person to choose the good. It does not usually force a person to do something. In other words, grace is usually something that can be resisted or positively drawn upon. There are moments in life, no doubt, when one is overwhelmed by grace, but this is by no means always the case. Sometimes we reject the leading and guiding of God's love and grace in our lives, and it is part of the divine mystery that God allows such things to happen, as Romans 1 says."
So far Dr. Witherington.
The Bondage of the Will is a long and complicated book, and I read it not long ago. I think Luther would have rested his case and felt his point proved by just saying, as W says: "This is not to deny that all good deeds done by fallen persons are done with the aid of grace." The fact that grace is needed, puts God in control, that's what he is saying.
"Sometimes we reject the leading and guiding of God's love and grace in our lives, and it is part of the divine mystery that God allows such things to happen, as Romans 1 says." We don't believe in "irresistible grace" either. However, a Calvinist might.
"God allowed them to follow the path of sin because they had determined for themselves to go in that direction." Again, God allowing it, puts him in control again.
"The Bondage of the Will' seems to leave no room for human beings to make viable moral choices and so rightly be held responsible for their misbehavior."
The Bondage of the Will is concerned mostly with the power of human beings for regeneration and faith. Are they able to do this without God's aid? If they cannot do it without God's aid, then they are bound. As we saw already the Gospel is the power. Do people come up with the Gospel themselves, or is it preached to them? It is preached to them. So it is God's doing.
On the other hand, simple moral choices, are in a different category. The Bondage of the Will says, that in matters of daily life and simple reason, we do make choices.
How far the Bondage of the Will agrees with Calvinism, I am not sure. There is the critique of Calvinism that the "sovereignty of God" is taken too far in that atonement becomes limited, grace irresistible, that people are predestined to be the reprobate. We don't agree with that.
How far do Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Witherington disagree or agree with each other? I don't think Luther and Witherington disagree that much based on that passage alone. How far do Luther and Calvin agree? I think Witherington disagrees most with Calvin, but may not realize that.
Ok, that's the best I can do for now. Please, do pitch in with comments.
Over the weekend, I learned from seemingly reliable sources, that in a small neighboring town/village 30 students had been expelled for drug use from the medium size Elementary/Junior High School, during the last year.
We had heard such things from the regional large Senior High School, but now the small Elementary/Junior High!
I find it extremely sad and frightening. What is our youth coming to? With all my praying, talking, cell-phoning and text messaging, effort into child rearing, I have a hard time figuring out where my children are. My children have had rarely any friends from stable families. The young adults are always hanging out unsupervised and with people whom their families don't know. There is a lot of sleep and joy lost over worrying about them.
On the road to Kelowna and back I read N.T. Wright's "Simply Christian". It was the first book by this author that I tackled. It was an easy read and as the author attempted it was clear and simply put. As far as a basic introduction to Christianity goes, I would recommend it. There are some new perspectives and terminologies in it, which I appreciate. The emphasis on comparing different world views is helpful.
In Kelowna, I read some books on the owner's bookshelf. One was on the "art of nursing". It is a textbook, but due to the anecdotal method, it was enlightening and entertaining at the same time. What I want to remember most from this book is, that we need to identify with the suffering patient. "That could be me." It reminded me of the time when my father was dying at home. It was a stressful and humbling time for him. I often put my arms around him and told him that we all will get to this some time. He is not the only one. It is our shared humanity, that we will all die. Though I was not dying right there, but he was, I am still dying bit by bit, getting older. We are the same.
The other book was on communication. I think it was called "Communication for Peace". It was written by a granddaughter of Mahatma Ghandi. Some of the book reminded me of a lecture in the faculty of Education. Here the book is used for nurses' training. Essentially the book contained training in objectively identifying and communicating needs and feelings without making accusations and judgments. Some of it is active listening. Much of it is clarifying. When there is a conflict, try to find out from the other what it is they are needing that they are not getting. Also try to identify these things for yourself to try and achieve a better life. Anyways, it sounds simple, but there are fallacies to watch out for and some training in this is undoubtedly helpful.