Posts Tagged 'N. T. Wright'

Introduction

Contemporary Christians often feel Hebrews to be a strange and difficult book. There are, I think, two reasons for this. First, it seems to ramble about and discuss a lot of themes which have never made it into the ‘top ten’ of Christians discussion tops. It begins with a complex discussion of angels; continues with a treatment of what Psalm 95 really meant in talking about ‘entering God’s rest’; moves on to Melchizedek; lists the furniture in the Tabernacle; and ends with an exhortation to ‘go outside the camp’. Well, you see what I mean; were I a betting man, I would lay good odds that none of my readers have found themselves discussing these things over the breakfast table within the last month or two. Small wonder that most people don’t get very far with Hebrews, or let it get very far with them.—NT Wright, Following Jesus, 4

I think he’s probably correct in his assessment. There is a lot going on in the book of Hebrews—and most of the stuff going on is terribly complicated to understand. The arguments are complicated, the exegesis is tricky, and the logic is sometimes a maze of confusion. I’m not suggesting for a minute that I have it figured out entirely. Not at all. That is not to say, on the other hand, that I am completely wordless or thoughtless about this magnificent book.

Exegesis, Patterns, and the Big Idea

What I like to look for when I am reading is patterns: patterns of thought, recurring phrases, foreshadows, double-backs—you know, all those things we were taught to pay attention to when we were learning to interpret writing back in junior high. Reading through the book of Hebrews has given me an opportunity to notice a pattern repeated without fail over and over again in the book at least 14 times in the book. It’s a simple pattern and really helps us understand what the book is about or, at minimum, what small sections of the book are covering.

I add one small caveat: the book does, I believe, have an overarching point. I again agree with Wright who is very careful to write that

The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us. (Following Jesus, 10)

Jesus is the Big Idea in Hebrews, without doubt. What I would like to demonstrate is a pattern for how we understand what the smaller arguments in the book of Hebrews and thus how they all tie together to help us understand the bigger argument of Hebrews, viz., that Jesus is enough.

I think if we break up Hebrews into small chunks and see how the author ends each argument then we will begin to understand the greater point he is making within each argument. That is, each argument he makes leads naturally to breaks and conclusions which are set off by key words or phrases. Then all of these smaller arguments, when clumped together, give us a grand picture of Jesus. Throughout the book, leading up to this grand climax, the author has taught us how to live—not leaving theology without a point because all good theology has, ultimately, the point of teaching us how to live because of Jesus. So we learn how to live because of Jesus or what Jesus has said or what Jesus has done and when the book is done, we can say, “Yes, I will join him outside the camp.”

Conformity to Jesus

Barth noted that “Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ.” Unless ‘speech’ is a metaphor for an entire life, then I would expand upon his thought and say that Christian life must also be tested by its conformity to Christ. We have concocted all sorts of ways to judge one another (how often do we go to church, how much money do we give, how much do we serve, etc.), none of them without some merit and some with more demerit, but it seems to me that the best way to examine ourselves, the Bible way, is to judge ourselves and see if we, I, in fact conform to Christ. I’m fairly certain the apostle Paul wrote something to this effect at some point in Romans or Ephesians or both. And this only makes sense given that Paul did definitely write that we are being transformed into the image of Jesus, renewed in the image of our Creator who is Christ Jesus.

So all throughout Hebrews, the author will give frequent pauses, after short or lengthy expositions of Old Testament Scripture, and say something like, “OK, here’s a conclusion. I just said this and that, therefore, here’s how to check yourselves against what I just wrote.” Or, “OK, I just said this and this about Jesus, now, therefore, here’s the way you ought to be conducting yourselves.” He does this over and over again; I count at least 14 times where this pattern is used. The key, if you are reading in English, is to find the word ‘therefore’. In our English translations, this word will signify the need for the reader to pause and consider what has just been read. It’s a good exercise in exegesis that when you see the word ‘therefore’ to ask what it is there for.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Daily Office

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21)

Something that has bothered me for a long time is the manner in which sinners are typically reckoned as members of the church. We ask them to ‘repeat the confession’: I believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God AND my personal Lord and Savior. So, we make sure we get in all those great Christological terms: Christ, Son, Lord, Savior, Jesus, God. And then, to much applause and fanfare, the right hand of fellowship is extended and the person is welcomed into the church. (Or they are baptized or catechized or turned into twice the sons of hell than they were before the confession.)

The problem is that nowhere in the Scripture are we told that this is even remotely close to the way in which sinners are reckoned as saints, orphans are reckoned as family, or wanderers are reckoned as disciples. In fact Jesus seems to be saying here that the confession of him as ‘Lord, Lord’ is one of the least reliable ways of determining anything. Jesus says that ‘not everyone’ who says this will ‘enter the kingdom’ (which I do not take to mean that it will be sufficient for some). There are wolves among the sheep. A lot of people are simply full of words, empty words as it turns out in the long run.

Bonhoeffer noted well,

“Even if we make the confession of faith, it gives us no title or special claim upon Jesus. We can never appeal to our confession or be saved simply on the ground that we have made it. Neither is the fact that we are members of a Church which has a right confession a claim to God’s favour…God will not ask us that day whether we were good Protestants, but whether we have done his will” (The Cost of Discipleship, 193; Bonhoeffer’s arguments here are a bit confusing but the short and long of it, he argues, is that this is not an ‘ordinary contrast of word and deed, but two different relations between man and God.’ One has to do with works, the other with grace.)

The gracious call of God, in other words, transforms us. There is a sense in which, in agreement with Bonhoeffer, our confessions are self-righteous and calls for people to notice us while our ‘doing’ is a drawing of attention to God, however quietly it may happen. Here N.T. Wright is also in agreement,

“This revolutionary vision of virtue thus enables us to shift attention quite drastically away from the idea that Christian behavior in the world is basically about ‘good works’ in the sense of good moral living, keeping the rules, and so on, and toward the idea that Christian behavior is basically about ‘good works’ in the sense of doing things which bring God’s wisdom and glory to birth in the world” (After You Believe, 71; his emphasis).

So Jesus is saying that, while a confession is not entirely out of place, if you truly want to demonstrate the grace of God in your life, or answer his gracious call, then respond to Him…make a confession not with words, but with actions. “The grace of Jesus is a demand upon the doer, and so his doing becomes the true humility, the right faith, and the right confession of the grace of the God who calls” He calls, we answer. “They know that confession does not justify, and so they have gone and made the name of Jesus great among the people by their deeds” (The Cost of Discipleship, 194).

Confession with words draws attention to the self: Lord, Lord, Look at me!

Actions, doing the will of God, calls attention to the God who calls: Behold, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So go, make his Name great today. Jesus seems to be more impressed with doing than with saying. And this, I suspect, will be the true test of whether or not a person has been received into fellowship in the church.

  • Share/Bookmark

Tags: , , , , , ,