Thursday, October 8, 2015

A 3-minute homily: What does it mean for the gospel to be the "power of God"?

I was asked to contribute to a series of three-minute videos that were played as part of Briercrest's reThink conference last weekend:

Here is the written version of what I tried to say--for those, who, like me, prefer text to speech:

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” What does it mean for the gospel to be the power of God?

Our first thought might be: “What Paul really means is that the gospel tells us about God’s power at work in the death and resurrection of Jesus.” It is true that God’s power works through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But Paul is saying something else in the verse I quoted. In Romans 1:16 the power of God is the good news itself—not just the events but also the message about the events. Paul says the same thing to the church in Corinth: “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). Do we live as if the message about the cross and the empty tomb is power?

Google “church growth” and you will learn that to build your church you need to find a bigger building, hire a music pastor, and improve your stage performance. Websites say church growth requires social networks, meeting felt needs, and relationships. Paul would say: Preach the gospel.

It’s not that the gospel is magical—as if all you need to do is hand out a tract to be an effective evangelist, or as if you can stand up on Sunday morning, say “gospel,” drop the mic and walk off stage. But if the good news about the Messiah’s shameful death and surprising resurrection is God’s power for salvation, then surely declaring that good news should be at the center of Christian preaching.  

 I’m afraid we forget this – that we try to move beyond the gospel in our churches and in our Christian lives. One of the reasons is that when we hear “power of God for salvation,” we assume “salvation” means the moment of conversion. Once we are saved, and have believed the gospel message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we don’t need it anymore—right? Actually, when Paul says the gospel is God’s power, he is writing to Christians—to those who are “being saved”—and we who are “being saved” need to hear that message again and again. We need to hear the gospel week-by-week in our churches because the power of God for salvation is also the power of God for transformation, and we desperately need God to continue working in our own lives as well as in the lives of those around us. Evidence of the gospel’s transforming power in us, will contribute to the effectiveness of the gospel in those around us.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Richard Bauckham on being un-mastered by the text

I couldn't resist picking up a copy of John Byron and Joel N. Lohr's edited collection of mini-autobiographies, I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Sories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan: 2015). So far--one chapter in--it has more than lived up to the hype. I suspect Christian biblical studies type people will find it hard to put down. Here is an excerpt from Richard Bauckham that I haven't seen quoted yet:
"Another peril [of scholarly study of the Bible] is the sense of mastery of a text that may come with a successful attempt to understand it. I suspect that these perils are unavoidable along the path of rigorous scholarship, but if they cannot be avoided there are nevertheless ways beyond them. It helps to remember that the biblical texts are not unique in their ability to transcend their original context and to resist our objectification of them. Shakespeare's plays may seem to have all the life drained out of them by some kinds of classroom study, but they come to life again in performance. In performance the work of Shakespearean scholars makes a contribution but is also transcended. God addresses us through the Scriptures not because they communicate in some magically unique way but by means of all the ways in which texts communicate. A readiness to be un-mastered is required even for the kind of enhancement of life that poetry or philosophy or drama or nature may give us, not to mention personal relationships. In the case of Scripture, such readiness to be un-mastered is one reason why prayer and worship are the most appropriate ways in which to hear it as God's word.

"We also need to develop a broad understanding of what it means for Scripture to address us or for God to address us through it. Familiar texts do not need to surprise us with new relevance, though they may do so. Their very familiarity is their way of having deep effects in our lives. Texts do not only speak to us; they may also speak for us, enabling us to say more than we thought we knew. Texts may affect us by drawing us imaginatively into their world, if we give ourselves over to their narratives or their images. All these are ways beyond the distancing and objectifying of a text that are occupational hazards of the biblical scholar." (p. 28)