...and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23).

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31 May 2010

White Fields

We all talk about doing evangelism, but how many of us really think anything we could possibly do will make a difference? Look at the people we work with. They are so worldly. If they are not, they are already caught up in a religion of their choice. How could anything we do ever make an impact?

Let me tell you a story. Just a few weeks ago one of the brothers from the church in Franklin, Tennessee, with which I work, accidentally bumped into someone. He said, "I'm sorry," and walked on. Later he realized the opportunity he missed, hunted that same man down and said, "Excuse me. I'm the fellow who ran into you a little while ago. I'm really sorry about that. But I just wanted to let you know that my name is Brent. I like to study the Bible and I just wanted to let you know that if you ever have any questions about the Bible, please e-mail me and I would love to talk with you about it." Brent handed the man a business card we use at the Franklin church for inviting people to visit our classes and assemblies. Brent wrote his name and e-mail address on it and gave it to the man. They talked for a few minutes and then parted.

The very next day, the man was a guest in our assemblies. Two days later, one of the brothers and I dropped by for what we call a "five-minute visit." The goal of these visits is just to let our guests know we appreciated their presence and invite them back. We never enter their house; we do not try to set up a study. We just stop by for less than five minutes. The man was not home, but his wife was. We talked with her and gave her a flyer for the singing we were going to have that Friday and then went on our way.

On Sunday, one of the sisters in the congregation pulled Brent aside and said, "I have to tell you about something. I was at work the other day just talking with one of my co-workers and she told me about her husband bumping into a man who invited him to attend one of his church's assemblies. Then she said that a couple of men from the church stopped by to visit them. She said she had visited other churches before and no one had ever shown so much interest in them. She said she might even visit with them some time. I asked, 'What church was it?' She said it was the Franklin Church of Christ."

This story is not over. I have no idea where it will go. What I do know is the seed has been planted. We are doing our job and we will leave the increase up to God. What I hope you notice, however, is here was a Christian working with someone who was actually open to something new in her religion, despite being very open that she was a Catholic. How long have these two people worked together and nothing been said? How long have we worked with people, lived next door to people, gone to school with people who are open but we just didn’t see it, so we never said anything.

This makes me think of John 4 and the Samaritan woman at the well. Have you ever noticed how the apostles went into the Samaritan city, spent some time, bought some food, and yet nobody decided to follow Jesus? A few minutes later the woman who had met Jesus at the well went into the very same city, and in the end, the majority of the city believed in Jesus. What was the difference? The apostles were so busy buying food that they did not see the prospects all around them. Besides, they were just Samaritans. The woman, just wanting to tell everyone about the man she had met, saw prospects everywhere.

Let us make sure we are not so busy working our jobs, buying our food, maintaining our houses, going to school that we miss the number of prospects all around us. Let us not assume that everyone else is predisposed not to listen to God’s message. What is the worst they will do? Tell us to leave them alone about it? What is the best? Become a child of God. Let us get out there, plant and water the seed. God will give the increase. As Jesus said-- the fields are white for harvest!

Edwin Crozier

BR: "The New Testament and the People of God" by N.T. Wright

Very few periods of history engender more dispute and discussion than the first century and the origins of Christianity. The modern scholastic community has spilled unbelievable amounts of ink in various attempts to understand the history, theology, and literature of early Christianity and its relation (or lack thereof) to the world from which it came. In the midst of all the conflicts and disputes we find N.T. Wright and his intended 5 volume series on Christian Origins and the Question of God. The New Testament and the People of God introduces this series and its lofty aim: to present a believable portrait of the origins of Christianity in its first century context. It is thoroughly appropriate that this series will involve something around 2,500 pages; nevertheless, Wright has written a work that is relatively approachable and understandable to those not entirely familiar with the world of Biblical scholarship.

The sheer scale of the work is daunting, and Wright rises to the challenge. He everywhere demonstrates a formidable command of not only the primary sources-- the Old Testament, Jewish apocryphal/pseudepigraphic literature, Jewish and pagan historical works, the New Testament and subsequent works-- but also the wide range of secondary literature encompassing the historical, literary, and theological aspects of the story. The presentation he displays is by no means without controversy, yet is manifestly more holistic and comprehensive than many others put forth.

Wright is, of course, a good Anglican, and exhibits no intentions of departing from it. His investigations into Christian origins are for the purposes of understanding and not for restoration; at many points it seems that Wright would consider any aim of restoring the New Testament church to be misguided. While he is more conservative than many in scholasticism he still seems to hold to viewpoints regarding the inspiration and authorship of much of the New Testament that differ with many of our own. Recognizing these differences, and some others brought out in the book itself, we can nevertheless gain much from this man's wide knowledge and reflections.

The New Testament and the People of God is broken down into five parts. In part one, Wright begins to explain the questions and therefore the difficulties involved in the investigation: how have we reached this point in our understandings of early Christianity? What are the main theories involved, what are their underlying assumptions, and can they really claim to represent first century realities? What are the history, theology, and literary studies of early Christianity? What relationships, if any, do these three aspects have? These are the questions that will begin to be explored in this volume and will continue in future volumes.

The second part is entirely devoted to establishing the necessary tools to engage in this study. Here Wright challenges modern post-Enlightenment worldviews and the projections thereof onto the past. Wright analyzes positivism (post-Enlightenment objective rationalism) and phonomenalism (postmodern subjectivism), the dominant worldviews competing in our own day, and demonstrates where each is lacking. He then posits the concept of critical realism: understanding that we as humans are imperfect in our understanding but can understand things beyond ourselves. In critical realism, something is perceived, challenged in critical reflection, but often will survive the challenge and be understood as being real.

Wright also demonstrates in part two how story is the dominant vehicle of understanding and communicating worldviews; we all understand the world in terms of story, and such was no different for the first century Jew or Christian. Literature articulates these stories and promulgates them. Likewise, Wright tackles the nature of history and ascertaining "what happened" in history, demonstrating that history is more than just a set of facts but the explanations of aim, intent, and meaning of events. Wright also investigates the nature of worldviews, and the critical aspects of worldview: symbols, stories, and praxis. These aspects can lead us to an understanding of the theology of a group of persons. We can understand how people identify themselves in terms of God, how they understand the world and events in terms of themselves and their God, and so on and so forth. Wright then shows that these disciplines, far from being separate, must be understood together if a realistic portrait of the first century will be understood: early Christians believed that their God acted in specific ways through Jesus of Nazareth in the public sphere and proclaimed His story.

In part III, Wright goes into great detail describing the Jewish landscape of the early first century, providing a starting point to understanding early Christianity. Wright describes the events leading up to the first century, the delineation of the different Jewish sectarian parties of the first century, yet how most Jews shared fundamentally similar worldviews. Wright strives to describe the worldview of the "Jew on the street". Many relevant details can be ascertained: Jews viewed themselves as creational, covenantal, and eschatological monotheists, believing in the one true God who would redeem them from their exile, and free Zion from the hands of the pagans. Perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of the book is Wright's understanding of the hope of Israel: he redefines apocalyptic, viewing it no longer in terms of the expectation of the end of the world as much as a change in the world order. He demonstrates rather clearly how this is visible in the understanding of apocalyptic passages like Daniel 7 and in much of the pseudepigraphic and apocryphal literature of the day. Apocalyptic literature is not to be taken literally but provides metaphorical imagery to explain an expected upcoming change of world order. While some of this may not sound too controversial to us, it is in the scholarly community.

Part IV turns to early Christianity and the attempt to understand the early church. Wright starts with some fixed historical events in the church from Jesus' death to Polycarp's martyrdom in the middle of the second century. He then turns to understand the beliefs, praxis, and symbols of early Christianity in an attempt to understand early Christian worldviews. He then analyzes the New Testament to discover the stories of early Christianity, and then pulls it all together in the end. What Wright discovers is a group firmly rooted in the tradition of Judaism (against the rampant Hellenism so often assumed to be the source of much of Christianity): people who believe in the God of Israel, that He has acted definitely through Jesus to redeem Israel, and that this message is to be proclaimed to Jew and Greek alike. Early Christians share many of the fundamentals of the Jewish worldview: creational, covenantal, and eschatological monotheists sharing the history of the Israelite people. The great divide, however, is that Christianity believes in the realized apocalyptic hope of Israel in Christ Jesus, while the Jews still await their "redemption". The Gospels all show the substance of the hope in Jesus, and yet all do so through the prism of Judaism that came before: in Matthew, Jesus as the personification of the exodus, conquest, exile, and restoration (flight, baptism, ministry, death, resurrection); in Mark, the hidden message for the believers (even the idea of the Parable of the Sower as an example of apocalyptic literature!); in Luke, the deliberate parallels between Samuel and David with John and Jesus; in John, the Logos and Genesis so intertwined; even in Paul and Hebrews, the same theme develops: the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of Judaism. Again, this may not seem as controversial to us, but it is in scholarship. Other concepts include the recognition that Christians expected Jesus to return, but Christianity did not develop on account of failed hopes of His imminent return; it is not accurate to make strong delineations between "Jewish" and "Gentile" Christianity or Christians, since all seem to share in fundamentally similar worldviews more akin to Judaism then Hellenism; and diversity has always been a part of Christianity in some form, and what is more surprising is the overall unity in worldview than whatever differences may exist.

Part V represents a conclusion, establishing that the first century is complicated. Jesus is seen to be of great importance, and we cannot believe the first century Christians saw Him as a detached part of their religion; the New Testament must be respected as a book by Christians about their beliefs and the historical basis of them; the question of God is rather acute, one not very open to ecumenicalism, and of the utmost importance to life and death in the first century.

Such only scratches the surface of the depth and explanatory power present in The New Testament and the People of God. While there are certainly many points of disagreement, nevertheless, much can be gained from Wright's analyses and discussions. Wright's work represents a powerful means to understand and define early Christians and the New Testament in its own worldview and context, and should provide an excellent starting point for all future discussions. The New Testament and the People of God certainly compels you to want more, even if it means another 500 pages!

Ethan R. Longhenry
April 2007

30 May 2010

Why Do You Obey God?

Have you ever stopped to consider the driving motivation behind any particular action you perform? “Why do you watch movies?” “Why do you read books?” “Why do you clean your house?” “Why do you go to school/work?” “Why do you go to church?” I believe that all of these questions can be answered by considering these three motivators: acting out of fear, acting in an attempt to conform to a standard, and acting out of love. Using these three ideas, I will show how they apply to obedience to God. So, “why do you obey God?”

I am sure everyone can think of many instances where they have acted out of fear; perhaps you were outside, saw a snake, and then ran. Regardless of whether the snake was dangerous, you decided that you would not risk anything. What you feared was a potential outcome, that is, the snake being poisonous and biting you. If you stayed near to the snake and then because of your proximity to the snake you were bit, you would have suffered a consequence by staying too close it. Consequence is the keyword to understanding fear; what will happen if I do (or do not) perform this action? Consequence is simply the outcome of a performed action.

With that idea being understood, why would someone obey God out of fear? Because they fear the consequence of disobeying God. This consequence is hell (2 Thessalonians 1:5-9). However, should we be willing to act of our fear to avoid hell? Absolutely yes! Jesus Himself told us that we should be scared of God because He has the power to destroy our soul (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5). We should be willing to do whatever it takes to avoid that outcome! But is this a strong way to obey God? It will be only be as strong as the belief that eternal punishment is real.

What about conforming to a standard? Any college student who is writing an essay realizes that they must conform to a standard in order to achieve a high grade. This standard might be MLA, APA, or perhaps it is a unique one created by the student’s professor. Some examples of conforming to a standard will also expose a fear; in this example, the student might write their paper by the MLA standard because they fear that if they do not, then they will not receive a good grade.

If we are trying to obey God, how would we know what to do? It should seem logical that if we are trying to obey God, then we would obey the things that He has told us to do. Thus, the word of God is our standard (2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20, 21). How do we conform to this standard? It should be obvious that we would conform to it by obeying it (1 John 2:3). Furthermore, we must obey His commandments if are to enter eternal life (Matthew 19:17) and we can only do it Jesus’ way! John 14:6 reads,

“Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to do something you love? Often, you can and will do things that you love to do without even thinking about it. If you love to go watch movies, you do not typically stop to think of the consequences of going, such as money, time, or the worth of viewing them (see Philippians 4:8). Nor does there exist a “movie watching” standard that you are trying to conform to. No, if you want to go to the movies and you love movies, you just go to the theater.

With regards to obeying God, doing so out of love is the most basic commandment that God has issued, and is also the most important thing that God wants! Matthew 22:37-38 says,

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

Jesus Himself said that the most important thing we can do to obey God is to love Him! How do we show that we love Him? We keep all of His commandments! John wrote in 1 John 5:2-3,

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous.”

The idea here is like that of the movie example: if we love God, then we will want to do whatever He asks, and we will not even think about it. What John is saying is that the more we love God, the easier it will be to obey him!

Perhaps you have never thought about how important it is that we love God. It may be that you are trying to obey God simply because of fear of hell or because you believe that the Bible is the standard for you to live by. It is not wrong to obey for those reasons, but if your love for God is not increasing, then obedience will always be more difficult for you than it should be. Even if you do not feel as though you love God, remember that by keeping His commandments you are in fact showing that you do love God (John 14:21). Besides keeping God’s commandments, there are at least two easy ways to increase your love for God. First, show love to the brethren (I John 4:20). If we are unable even to love fellow believers, then it will be impossible for us to love God. Finally, pray. We need to love God, and if we ask God to help us love Him more, He will hear our prayer and help us (Mark 11:24; James 5:16).

Glenn Meyer
September 2006

A Strong Church

Strength is an admirable characteristic. Individuals who are strong-willed and strong-minded are much preferred over the weak and unstable. Certainly, the characteristics of strength that applies to human beings is one that is applicable and clearly associated with the Lord’s Church. Jesus emphasized the strength which the Church was to exhibit when He answered Peter, “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Hebrew writer echoed the same truth: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). The Church as a divine institution has been given unparalleled strength and power by God.

Writing directly to the Ephesians, and indirectly to all Christians of all times, Paul commanded, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The strength and power of the Church as a divine institution is not in question. Rather, the question is, how can the Church can maintain its unparalleled strength? What Paul wrote to the Church was an exhortation to preserve the institution purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The same responsibility given to the Church in the first century remains with the Church in the twenty-first century. Our challenge is finding how we can preserve, increase, and perpetuate the strength and power of the Church which is demanded of us by God.

Loyalty to God and His Word

The only way we will be successful in our endeavors to preserve, increase, and perpetuate the strength and power of the Church is by being loyal to God and His word. When 3,000 Jews obeyed the Gospel on the day of Pentecost, they became loyal and committed to the service of God. The account says they “…continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers…And they, continued daily with one accord in the temple…” (Acts 2:42, 46). Even though they faced great persecutions, they were committed to the cause of Christ and the duty of making the Church strong.

As Christians, we are to remain steadfast and diligent to the cause of the Lord. Paul told the Corinthians to, “…be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). This is a call for loyalty. The Hebrew writer penned, “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14).

If the Church is going to be strong and unwavering in the face of evil, we must exercise consistently to attain the goal of becoming strong in the Lord and in His word. How many of us have done as David did when he declared, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11)? Hiding the word in our hearts means to commit and secure God’s word in our hearts and in our minds. Yes, this takes time. Yes, this requires effort. Yes, this involves work. When we became Christians, we made a vow to God to make the time, put forth the effort, and do the work necessary to preserve, increase, and perpetuate the strength and power of the Church. Are we still doing this?

Converted Members

The Church needs members who have been truly converted to the preservation of its strength and power. How many of us who have been converted by the Gospel are still converted? Converted members are committed members; members who are loyal and dedicated to the cause of Christ; members who are interested in the spiritual welfare of the world.

Weakness in the Church is displayed through indifferent, lazy members. Jesus spoke against halfhearted service and indifference. Notice His strong statement regarding those who become stagnant in their service to the Lord: “…No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). The word “fit” is a small word, but carries much weight in its meaning as Jesus uses the word in this context. We might use this word in this context: “This food is not fit to eat.” What are our feelings toward the particular food? We are disgusted and repulsed by the food to the point we will not even try to “choke it down.” To those indifferent, lazy Christians, Jesus says they are not “fit for the kingdom of God.”

A similar statement is found in the book of Revelation. In Luke 9:62, Jesus focused more on the individual than on the whole. In Revelation, John’s focus is on the congregation as a whole. Yes, indifferent and lazy members will translate into indifferent, lazy congregations, as well. To the congregation at Laodicea, Jesus, through John, had this to say: “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:14-16).

This congregation had become complacent in their service to the Lord. They were weak, and thereby, a hindrance to the work of preserving, increasing, and perpetuating the strength and power of the Church. The Laodiceans, as a congregation, were not “fit for the kingdom of God.” This is what the Lord meant when He said, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). This congregation disgusted and repulsed God with their weakness; with their compliance to the world; with their indifference. Could the same be said of us?

Unsatisfied Members

Finally, to preserve, increase, and perpetuate the strength and power of the Church, members must be unsatisfied with their results in reaching the lost. No matter how successful we are in carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-19; Mark 16:15), we must not become satisfied.

Satisfaction can become a questionable characteristic in a Christian. In most avenues in life, we aspire to satisfaction. When we set a goal for ourselves, we work relentlessly towards its achievement. Once we accomplish our goal, we rest. When athletes win championships, there is nothing left to accomplish, so they retire. Whenever we feel as though we have reached a pinnacle, we stop and relish in our success. To the contrary, if we set out to accomplish something, but are defeated, we quit and accept the unfortunate outcome. In both scenarios, we stop and accept the hand we are dealt. No matter how commonly this pattern is observed, it is not to be characteristic of Christians.

A profound statement was made by the apostle Paul to the Colossians in relation to his own and the Church’s accomplishment. He said, “…be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven…” (Colossians 1:23). All the people of the world had heard the Gospel. What an amazing achievement! However, we cannot read of Paul becoming satisfied with the results. Nowhere do we read of Paul’s retirement. Even as Paul faced great opposition to the Gospel, he did not accept defeat and quit. He told the Philippians, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul only continued onward and upward in his work to preserve, increase, and perpetuate the strength and power of the Church. We must do the same.

What about Us?

What are we doing to insure the Church will not be moved? What are we doing to preserve, increase, and perpetuate the strength and power of the Church? We must ask and answer these questions individually, and then congregationally. Where improvements need to be made, we must not hesitate to make them. In our hands lies the future strength or weakness of the Church.

David Flatt
September 2006

29 May 2010

BR: "Jesus and the Victory of God" by N.T. Wright

Jesus and the Victory of God represents the second volume in a multipart series, "Christian Origins and the Question of God," by N.T. Wright, a noted Anglican bishop and scholar. Jesus and the Victory of God follows The New Testament and the People of God (abbreviated NTPG) and flows from the arguments made within the previous work. While Wright in NTPG lays the fundamental groundwork of the entire series, exploring different worldviews and attempting to establish the historical context of the world of Jesus and the early Christians, Jesus and the Victory of God strives to place Jesus within that first century context and to present a historically viable picture of Jesus based upon the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the historical portrait of first century Palestine.

Wright begins, however, by providing a sketch of the history of interpretation of Jesus and His life in the modern world and an overview of the main positions in scholarship today. Wright deftly moves from Reimarus and the early attempts to reconstruct the "historical Jesus" to the main divide between the types of Wrede and Schweitzer (the divide between thorough skepticism and thorough eschatology), the "new quest" of the Jesus Seminar (with special sections analyzing and critiquing Mack and Crossan in particular), and establishing himself somewhere within the "third quest," or the attempt to renew a modified perspective akin to Schweitzer of old. Wright establishes his essential thesis as developed previously in NTPG: Jesus has much to do with the people of Israel and particularly the apocalyptic hope of Israel, although not the "end of the world" conceptualization popular in both scholasticism and many forms of Evangelical fundamentalism. Wright invites the reader to see if anything can really be known about Jesus from the Gospel accounts, and whether the information presented therein can be trusted. The analysis will focus on the main points elaborated upon in NTPG: how do Jesus' words and actions fit, if they indeed fit, in an understandable way, in the story of Israel in the first century? How does Jesus define symbol and praxis? What are His aims and intentions? How does He communicate such things? Wright then sets out the basic questions that he seeks to answer: who was Jesus? What was He doing? How was He perceived? How did He perceive Himself? What is going to occur? The rest of the book seeks to answer these questions.

In part II, Wright begins his analysis of the life and death of Jesus by focusing on Jesus as a prophet. Wright helpfully demonstrates how Jesus can be defined as a prophet (even if He has other hats to wear, so to speak) and fully demonstrates how Jesus fits within the prophetic tradition in Israel. Comparisons and contrasts are made between Jesus and Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and other noted prophets, both in what they did and what they said. Wright demonstrates how Jesus has viewed Israel's history, and more important Israel's current situation, in this prophetic tradition, and how Jesus speaks to the people in familiar language while radically reshaping what is meant. Wright focuses on many of the important symbols of Israel: the Temple, the land, the expectations of the coming Messiah, and demonstrates how Jesus speaks of all these matters using Himself and the Kingdom He proclaims as the new definition. Wright also spends much time demonstrating that Jesus saw the enemy as Satan, not necessarily the Romans, and the implications of this shift in thought.

Part III focuses primarily on Jesus' role as Messiah. Wright demonstrates clearly what the first century Jewish world expected out of their messiah, and how Jesus presents a definition of the Messiah in a way far different than expected yet recognizably Jewish in nature. Wright shows very clearly that Jesus did understand His role as that of the Messiah, focusing particularly in how Jesus saw Himself as the fulfillment of Daniel 7, many of the prophecies in Zechariah, Isaiah 40-55, and many others. Wright also demonstrates that Jesus' death was no accident but perceived as part of the overarching purpose involved: Jesus as living the message which He has preached.

In the end, Wright concludes that Jesus indeed saw Himself as the Messiah, the "son of man" and the "son of God", but radically re-defined what that meant. Rome would not be overthrown; Satan would. The Kingdom would come, but such did not mean the restoration of Jerusalem but indeed its destruction. The vindication of Jesus-- His "coming", so to speak-- is seen in terms of the destruction of 70 CE, demonstrating that Jesus and everything He said are confirmed. Jesus re-defines the Temple and the people of God to focus no longer on Jerusalem, Israel, or the Temple, but upon Himself and the people who will follow Him. Therefore, Jesus is perceived by the world around Him as another revolutionary, not of the same type as the pretenders before and after Him, but dangerous nonetheless. The Jewish authorities want Him executed to preserve themselves and the Temple they cherish; Pilate, despite wanting to contradict the Jews at every turn, is more worried about himself than justice, and assents. Jesus is then executed as a revolutionary, but His death actually represents the final condemnation of Jerusalem. Paradoxically, God has His victory through Jesus' death-- He has died as He said to live, and He will receive His exaltation.

N.T. Wright has done well in Jesus and the Victory of God to present a historically sensible portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century milieu of Palestine. Wright very helpfully demonstrates how Jesus very properly fits into the prophetic tradition of Israel, and yet how He redefines Israel for the purposes of the Kingdom which He proclaims. There is much that Wright establishes in JTVG with which we have already fully agreed (the importance of the destruction of Jerusalem, understanding apocalyptic language metaphorically); there are many other things which make sense and would not be disagreeable to most Christians. On the other hand, while Wright does well at providing a historically viable portrait of Jesus, the portrait painted provides many theological difficulties. While Wright has done well at restoring Jesus' Jewish heritage, one must wonder if he has "over-Judaized," or over-contextualized, Jesus. All the parables seem to have Israel as the main focus, according to Wright, even though Wright will admit in terms of other teachings how Jesus will constantly re-define Israel in His preaching to conform to the concepts of His upcoming Kingdom. Can this not be true of at least some of His parables also? Ideas of individual and collective, the nature of sin and redemption thereof, and many other concepts are defined solely in terms of Jewish understanding in the first century; is it possible that Jesus provides some re-definition of these terms also? Wright seems to entirely discount the conceptualization of Jesus as God the Son during His ministry; while this may suit Jewish sensibilities, based upon all evidence in the New Testament (cf. John 1:1, among others), is it really accurate? Furthermore, Wright's definition of apocalyptic in terms of the end of the current world order and therefore exclusively in terms of the destruction of Jerusalem causes some conflict with that which comes later. Should we believe that later expectations of Jesus' return in terms of individual judgment wholly derive from later Christians and have nothing to do with Jesus' own messages (cf. Acts 17:30-31, Hebrews 9:27-28, 2 Peter 3:9-11; Matthew 25)? We eagerly await Wright's analysis of Paul and other matters in upcoming editions of the series; until then, we are left to grapple with many questions that JTVG poses.

N.T. Wright has done a great service in his attempts so far to divest us of our post-Enlightenment, twenty-first century perceptions and worldviews, and to help us gain a greater understanding of the first century world and how Jesus and the early Christians fit within it. What Wright has done here is exactly the type of thing for which scholarship ought to be known: taking all available evidence to color and inform the Biblical text without feeling compelled to continually undermine it. The historical portrait does bring up many theological questions, and we must grapple with them and ascertain whether the history or the theology require adaptation to conform to the picture presented by the Scriptures. While the questioning may be difficult, we at least have a good basis and a good start, thanks to Wright's work, among others, to help us develop a historically and theologically accurate portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus and the Victory of God provides much worth considering and can help the mature and discerning believer understand the Jesus of history as revealed in the Scriptures, and fodder for many questions that may have no easy answer. We eagerly await to see how the series shall unfold!

Ethan R. Longhenry
April 2007

BR: "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by N.T. Wright

I am no fan of N.T. Wright’s ecclesiology, for he is the bishop of Durham in the Anglican church, nor of his views on a number of contemporary cultural issues. However, I am consistently edified and frequently awed by his Biblical scholarship. He is a powerful defender of basic, historic Christian orthodoxy. His 2003 book on the resurrection is the subject of this review. The book is accessible to most Bible students, provided they like to read; the book is over 700 pages. Wright is a top flight scholar, but writes with stunning clarity and winsome prose.

Wright’s defense of the resurrection of Jesus contains some of the same arguments that have been put forward through the years, but generally with twists and illustrations that present them in a fresh and persuasive light. He also offers new arguments in response to more recent challenges set forth by liberal scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. He also clears away several layers of popular misconceptions about the meaning of resurrection that are prevalent among Christians today. It has been my experience in dealing with brethren, including preachers, that a lot of study needs to be done in this area.

The book contains five sections, each containing a wealth of vital information necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the subject of resurrection in general and the resurrection of Christ in particular. Part one sets the scene by discussing the views of ancient pagans about life after death and their consistent rejection of what the Bible calls resurrection. With paganism’s views as a background, he is able to more clearly bring into focus the fact that resurrection does not merely refer to life after death, but to what he calls, “life after, life after death.” In this section he also works his way through Old Testament texts on resurrection. The second major section deals with Paul’s view of resurrection. The fifty pages devoted to 1 Corinthians 15 is worth the price of the book. Part three looks at non–Pauline doctrine on resurrection, in both the New Testament and early non–canonical texts. The fourth division deals with the actual accounts of Jesus' resurrection in the four gospels. He ends the book in section five by discussing the meaning of the resurrection.

The book proved most helpful to me in three areas. First, Wright’s astonishing familiarity with the intertestamental period brings needed clarity to the Jewish thinking about resurrection during this period. With this historical foundation in place, it is much easier to make sense of the New Testament texts on the subject. Second, the book’s careful exegesis on relevant texts is outstanding. The author deftly works through complex passages explaining the Biblical writer’s intent. Finally, Wright’s attack on various attempts to explain away a literal bodily resurrection is devastating. With laser guided precision he contends that the emergence of the early Christian church can only be explained in terms of apostolic testimony that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. He insists that this is not only a plausible explanation for the existence of the early church, but the only explanation.

In addition to the information on the resurrection, the book gives helpful insights into eschatology. Wright contends that the resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the end. His view of eschatology and of the kingdom fits the “already / not yet” paradigm. The resurrection of Christ is not to be thought of as a singular event occurring in the middle of world history, but an end time event that was pushed back into the middle of history. In other words, what has happened in the resurrection of Christ is a foretaste of the consummation of all things.

I found the book profoundly satisfying and by far the best written, and most thorough work I’ve read on the topic. As with any work of man, I do not endorse everything presented in the book, but to the serious Bible student I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Lawrence Kelley
September 2006

28 May 2010

RIS Women's Section Introduction

Welcome to the women's section. I am excited about the opportunities that this publication--and specifically the women's section--will offer Christian women around the world.

As women, we take on many roles throughout our lives. Most of what God asks us to do pertains to serving others. As daughters, we are commanded to honor our parents; as wives, we are commanded to submit to our husbands, to be their helpers in every way; as mothers, we are commanded to love our children and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In all of these roles, the essence of our obedience is service. We cannot be what we ought to be in the sight of God without living lives of service. While this is also true of men to some extent, a man's life has more to do with seeking out adventure, looking to the future as he marries and raises a family. A woman's life should and must pertain to the realm of service.

Because of the intensity of their work and the gravity of their responsibility, Christian women must work to renew themselves--indeed, to renew their spirits--as they live their lives out in obedience to God. To a great extent, our renewal will come from daily reading and studying of the Word. To a lesser extent, we can and should provide each other with support as we live and serve daily. The women's section will hopefully provide such support, not only in the form of articles written by Christian women including myself, but also in the form of interaction on the discussion forums on the website.

As with all new endeavors, this is an experiment. The overall publication--and even just this section--will go through some changes before we get comfortable. We hope that we have at least begun with a purpose that you will find practical and useful in your own lives and that we will provide you with articles to read, thoughts to ponder, reactions to share. If you have any input about how we can make the women's section better, please feel free to share it with me.

If you are interested in submitting an article, please contact us. I welcome all submissions and article ideas.

Sarah Longhenry
September 2006

Trials of Foreign Evangelism

“You can’t do that!” My mother spoke those words to me when I informed her that I intended to spend my summer preaching in Kazakhstan. I do not mention this to demean my mother in any way (she has been amply supportive since that time), but merely to illustrate the typical response many of us have when confronted with the possibility of becoming personally involved in foreign evangelism (possibly domestic evangelism as well, but that is not my area of expertise). Indeed, a few hours prior to her exclamation, I had made exactly the same statement about myself. The only difference is that after making the statement, I stopped and asked myself the question, “Well, why can’t I?” I’m very glad that I did.

After spending that summer and the following one working with the brethren in Kazakhstan and Russia, I finished my university degree and moved to the provincial, steel making, port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine in May of 2004. Though I have since struggled through mosquito infested summers without hot water and numbing winters in a drafty concrete apartment, I recently married and brought my new wife here. This manner of living often raises the question among people I meet: “Why in the world do you want to do that?”

I freely admit that I have had my sanity questioned on numerous occasions both by the locals here (they can’t imagine anyone living here by choice), and by many of my friends in the US. Why indeed would a person freely choose to give up a decidedly easy life in one of the world’s most prosperous nations in exchange it for such obvious hardship?

For many of us, the factors against becoming involved in a work such as this weigh so heavily as to preclude serious consideration of doing so. This realization dawned upon me as the “I can’t” escaped my lips when a friend of mine suggested I spend my summer in Kazakhstan. I could not think of a single, concrete reason why not, but I was absolutely sure that I couldn’t do it. I was wrong.

Over the past four years, I have spoken with many brethren in many places about the need for more workers in the field of foreign evangelism. As a result, I have heard nearly every excuse and objection that can be mounted in opposition to doing the work. Generally, these fall into three categories.

First, and most troubling but thankfully the most rare among the brethren I have had association with, is sheer indifference. This is usually expressed in the following ways: “Yes, what you’re doing is great, but that’s what the collection is for.” By bringing this up, I am by no means suggesting that every Christian has a responsibility to personally make a long journey to a foreign country and directly teach some lost person the gospel. However, I doubt that the Lord is going to be well pleased with a person who believes that the sum total of his responsibility toward the lost is satisfied by placing a check in a basket each Sunday!

Another common statement in this vein is “Why should we go to all the trouble of sending someone overseas? There are plenty of lost people around here to teach.” It is true enough that there are lost people everywhere. Certainly, we must make a judgment call as to where to spend our time and resources. However, let’s at least make a fair comparison. In many parts of America, certainly in the Southeast, people have had so many opportunities to hear the gospel that they already know what you are going to say before you knock on their door. Furthermore, Americans in general have been so influenced by the doctrine of relativism that they find the idea of a religious person making exclusive truth claims positively abhorrent. Also, the general wealth of our society tends to have a negative effect on our spiritual consciousness. When many of us have heaven on earth, why should we search for another one? Finally, even in parts of the country where churches are fewer and farther between, there are at least some brethren within a reasonable driving distance who could study with spiritual seekers if the opportunity arose.

Such is not the case in many parts of the world today. In Ukraine, for example, there are 64 million people who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel preached in its simplicity; whose minds have not yet been polluted by the evils of relativism; and live so far below the poverty line by American standards that they would be more than happy to move on to a better place if only they knew of one.

To my knowledge, I am the only foreign evangelist attempting to bring this knowledge to the inhabitants of this country on a long term basis. Certainly, many false prophets have gone out into the world and Ukraine has not escaped their notice. The more success they have, the more difficult my job becomes. How I wish that it were not mine alone. A harvest like this needs all the workers it can get.

To Be Continued…

Matt Duggin
September 2006

27 May 2010

Renewed in Spirit

I remember the birth of my children. They were precious with their 10 fingers and 10 toes, blue eyes and wrinkled skin. They were so small I could nearly hold them in one hand. Most importantly, they were completely new and full of innocence. They had not made wrong choices (cf. Romans 9:11). Their minds were not defiled with impure thoughts, words or pictures. They had no evil intentions, no hypocrisies, no sin.

I was excited. They were new creatures I could mold in holiness. I was certain I would raise the first perfect children in 2000 years. Of course, I have botched that. They are no longer new and I know as they grow to choose between good and evil, they have already developed habits that will lead them into sin. It is quite sad really. Yet, I know it is coming because the same thing happened to me.

There is hope for us however. We can be reborn of water and spirit (John 3:5). I imagine God looks on that day in quite the same way I did my children’s initial birth. We become renewed souls, washed clean of all iniquity, scoured of sin, cleansed of unrighteousness, made pure and holy. Regrettably, there is one difference between the physical babe and the spiritual. The spiritual babe, though a new creature (II Corinthians 5:17), is the same person who already made bad choices, developed rotten habits and followed after corrupt lusts of the flesh (Ephesians 2:3; 4:22).

The scripture is clear. When Jesus renewed us through His blood, He changed our legal standing before God. But He did not change who we are. He expects us to do that changing. In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul said we must lay aside our old self and put on the new. He described the changes in vss. 25-32. The man who once lied, now tells the truth (vs. 25). The woman who once sinned when she was angry with outbursts of wrath, malice and vengeance, now refrains from sin while angered and does not allow her anger to linger (vss. 26-27). The man who was once so selfish he justified taking from others, is now so selfless he works to give to others (vs. 28). The woman who was once corrupt in speech, filled with gossip, slander, foul language and filthiness, now speaks wholesome words to lift and build others up (vs. 29). Instead of being filled with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, these renewed people are filled with kindness, tender-heartedness, forgiveness and love (vss. 31-32).

We must not think, however that these changes just happen. In fact, Paul explains we cannot change the outward action without first being changed to our very core. In Ephesians 4:23 he wrote, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Before we are tempted to run to Romans 12:2 and talk about being different from the world. This passage is talking about being different from our old selves. The spirit of our mind must be changed. Our attitude, motivation, standard of judgment and guide for conduct must change within the inner man. The outer man will follow. But how?

Being renewed in our minds hearkens back to Psalm 51:10, 12. Following his sin, David begged, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me...sustain me with a willing spirit.” Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:16-17 that our inner man will be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit and by Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. Renewal of our minds begins by asking God to renew us. Of course, to pray this and mean it, some change has had to take place in our spirit already. David said in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit...” Before our spirit can be renewed, it must be broken. Our pride and confidence in self must evaporate; otherwise we will approach this renewal with our own strength and we are simply not that strong.

Surrounding this concept of renewal is a series of contrasts defining the renewal and how it occurs. We must no longer walk in the futility of our mind (Ephesians 4:17). Rather, we must walk in a manner worthy of our calling, with humility, gentleness, patience (Ephesians 4:1-2) and love (Ephesians 5:2). We should no longer live with a darkened understanding, nor delight in the dark things of the world (Ephesians 4:18; 5:8, 11). Rather, we should be enlightened by the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:17-18), which we can learn about through what was written (Ephesians 3:3-5). We should live in the light “in all goodness and righteousness and truth” exposing the deeds of darkness, not hiding in them (Ephesians 5:8-12). We are to turn from ignorance (Ephesians 4:18) and be careful how we walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, refusing to be foolish, but understanding God’s will (Ephesians 5:15-17) and trying to learn what is pleasing to Him (Ephesians 5:10).

I don’t know how many times I have wished I could go back to the newness of infancy and start over. Obviously, we cannot go back to the cradle. However, we can, in a sense, go back to innocence. We can go back to newness. It will not happen overnight. It will take work and growth. Yet as the contrasts of Ephesians explain, we can be renewed if we fill our minds with the word of God, fill our hearts with the love of God, open our mouths with prayer to God and busy our hands with the work of God.

Edwin Crozier
September 2006

Welcome to Renewed in Spirit!


Welcome to Renewed in Spirit!

My name is Ethan Longhenry, and I am the editor of Renewed in Spirit. On behalf of the other editors-- Nathan Ward, Brent Moody, along with the women's section editor Sarah Longhenry and the teenage section editor Nathan Quinn-- and myself, I would like to thank you for being a part of this exciting publication.

As we restart and "renew" Renewed in Spirit, I would like to take a moment to look back and then look forward to our intentions with this publication.


Renewed in Spirit was originally a project begun by Jason Hardin and T. Sean Sullivan in 2004, intended as an online publication with many different types of articles that would encourage and renew the spirit. For various reasons, the publication ceased for some time.

In the middle of 2005, Matt DeVore, who was involved with Renewed in Spirit as its technical director, approached me and asked if I would assist in restarting and refocusing the publication, and I agreed. I asked Nathan Ward and Brent Moody to assist me as associate editors, and as we developed a plan, Sarah Longhenry and Nathan Quinn were brought on as associate editors for the intended women's and teenage sections, respectively. We have spent much time in planning in the past year to present a publication that would be both relevant and not redundant. We hope that we will succeed in this!

Renewed in Spirit: An Interactive Online Spiritual Publication

Renewed in Spirit is restarting as an interactive online spiritual publication. Spiritual publications for a long time have been bound by the restraints of the printed page; therefore, spiritual publications have been a one way stream of communication. The development of the Internet, however, has broken down many of those restraints. Spiritual publications no longer must be a one way venue of communication– spiritual publications can now promote discussion that leads to further spiritual encouragement.

As from the beginning, we use the Scriptures as our guide, and as we strive to present material for discussion, we keep in mind the title of our publication and Paul's use of the idea in Ephesians 4:20-24:

But ye did not so learn Christ; if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.

We hope that you will find Renewed in Spirit a publication that helps you in your walk with God, and a place where you can learn not only by the thoughts presented by others but also through interaction with your fellow believers.

How Renewed in Spirit Works

How will this "interactive online spiritual publication" work? As before, those who sign up to be a part of Renewed in Spirit will receive e-mail notices when articles are posted on the website. You will receive notice of the articles in the sections relevant for you-- the main section, the women's section, the teenage section, or a combination. As we begin, we intend to post two or three articles in the main section every other week, and one article in the women's and teenage sections each per month. The e-mail you receive will present the title of the article and a short abstract regarding the substance of the article, and you will be directed by a link to the website.

On the website, you will have the opportunity to sign in and to read and respond to the article. You also will have the opportunity to continue to monitor the articles and their discussions and you will hopefully have opportunities to have discussions with other Christians about the article material.

We also hope to have a news page on the website that will provide news of the brethren, along with pages for you to suggest topics upon which you would like to see articles written and for you to submit material that you have written, if you so desire. We also intend to post book reviews and welcome discussion on the book reviewed.

Possible Concerns

As with any new venture, there often will be many concerns about what is being done. Renewed in Spirit is a publication that receives no money and represents a "labor of love" by all those who participate. Renewed in Spirit is not the church, nor represents any local church or outreach of any local church; it represents individual Christians working together to promote the message of the Scriptures and to encourage brethren. Renewed in Spirit makes no pretense of making doctrinal determinations; all we wish to do is to provide a forum to speak about spiritual things.

We expect everyone who participates in Renewed in Spirit to maintain a profile with true information; we do not desire to have anonymous posters. Information that you wish to have private will remain private, and comments on articles will be accessible only by people who participate in Renewed in Spirit, as authors or fellow readers. Comments will not be out there for the entire world to see.

The articles from the women's section will be viewable by the public; we have the women's section clearly marked as such and set aside as such, and feel as if we are not placing a stumbling block in a man's way by having it as part of the publication. We are working to make sure, however, that men will not have the capability of signing in and reading the discussions going on in the women's section. The women's section is by women for women.

Please read the disclaimer and terms of use for more information.

Conclusion…for now

I would like to thank you again for your participation in Renewed in Spirit. Please remember that this is really an experiment; we are trying to merge the concepts of the spiritual publication and the interactive discussion community, and we are doing the best we can as we go along. We are beginning this publication on the basis of what we think will be beneficial and profitable; we want to know what you think! If you ever have any suggestions, comments, praise, or criticism, feel free to e-mail me and I will be more than welcome to discuss such matters with you. The more the suggestions, the better Renewed in Spirit can be.

Welcome to Renewed in Spirit-- we hope that you will be built up in the faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry
September 2006

08 May 2010

Welcome to Renewed in Spirit!


Welcome to Renewed in Spirit!

Renewed in Spirit is back again. We would like to apologize for the long delay. In the middle of 2009, Renewed in Spirit was attacked by malware and was deeply infected with a Trojan horse virus. If anyone was infected by this virus, please accept our apologies. It was unintentional.

In order to allow Renewed in Spirit to be a project focused on its spiritual mission, and so that it would not get bogged down in technical challenges and headaches, it has been decided to move Renewed in Spirit to the Blogger system. Blogger is now a part of Google and allows us to continue to do the things we want to do with Renewed in Spirit: allow for many authors, to have different sections, and to facilitate your comments.

As part of Blogger we get many other advantages. You may now comment with your Blogger account-- there is no special system for Renewed in Spirit anymore. You also have the capability of directly posting content to Facebook or Twitter. We hope and expect that the Blogger system will meet our needs and will allow us to focus on encouraging and building you up spiritually. We will also be re-publishing all previous articles onto this platform of Renewed in Spirit.

As Renewed in Spirit gets restarted in its third permutation we are going to shift our priorities just a little bit. As always, it is our purpose to strengthen you and build you up in your faith through well-written, thought-provoking, and faith-affirming articles and conversations. Nevertheless, with RIS 3.0, we intend to focus specifically on material that is more "meaty," emphasizing and addressing more mature aspects to the faith-- things you may not necessarily get from material designed for more basic or fundamental purposes.

This is not an attempt to reject the value of material that addresses the more basic and fundamental elements of the faith, or to presume that such is unnecessary. Instead, we recognize that there are many other venues out there for posting and discussion regarding the basic elements of the faith, and a comparable lack of venues to address material of greater depth and which requires a bit better understanding of the faith and more spiritual maturity.

Welcome back. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to let me know!

Ethan R. Longhenry