What is true discipleship? McCord Adams answers

Jesus recognizes as disciples those who have the courage to march open eyed into the terra incognita of Jesus’ glory, to get sucked into the vortex of really Real Kingdom coming, so as never to come out on the other side. — M. McCord Adams

From “Mark 9:2-9” Fasting on the Word (2008), 456.

Goheen’s Outstanding New Book – A Light to the Nations (Review)

It was only a few years ago that I began to hear about this thing called “missional theology.” It is hard to define precisely, but it brings a dynamic, story-driven trajectory to the Christian identity that derives from the great Missio Dei – the mission of God. There is an energy behind this missional thrust that galvinizes ecclesiology and brings a new urgency to the idea of vocation. God is active. God is working out his plan. Jesus is central to that. The Spirit energizes it. The church bears it out. The world is the context of this mission.

In comes Michael Goheen, Geneva Professor of Worldview and Religious Studies (Trinity Western U). This guy “gets” what missional is all about. His latest contribution is called A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Baker, 2011).

In the first chapter, Goheen does a good job of defining how he uses the language of missional

At its best, ‘missional’ describes not a specific activity of the church but the very essence and identity of the church as it takes up its role in God’s story in the context of its culture and participates in God’s mission to the world…”mission” reminds us that the church needs to be oriented to the world, existing for the sake of others…Thus to describe the church as “missional” is to define the entire Christian Community as a body sent to the world and existing not for itself but to bring good news to the world (4)

Thus, Goheen’s book deals with two key questions: how does identity-conception (and worldview) shape mission? How does the Biblical story communicate the church’s identity in such a way as to inspire her mission?

The church can remedy being molded by an alien story and conforming to alien images of what it should be only by returning to the biblical story and its images. Sometimes the only way forward is to start again at the beginning. (17)

The Biblical story takes shape in four chapters

“God Forms Israel as a Missional People”

“Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity Amid the Nations”

“Jesus Gathers an Eschatological People to Take Up Their Missional Calling”

“The Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the Church’s Missional Identity”

An additional chapter (chapter 6) gives special attention to the book of Acts and the mission of God through the apostles. The next chapter looks at “New Testament Images of the Missional Church,” which focuses especially on the metaphors used by Paul.

One of the major conclusions that Goheen’s reaches is this

The church is called to be an agent or instrument of redemption in the midst of the world and for the sake of the world, chosen so that it might invite others into the covenantal blessings it experiences. Christians are a ‘come and join us’ people whose very lives point to the culmination of history. (192)

By “come and join us” he means an attractive, winsome, outstanding community that is inviting and refreshing. He also aptly uses the language of a contrast and display people – in contrast to the dark, ugly self-centered parts of culture that are so prevelant around us, and a people that display the very glory and hope of God, especially as exemplified in Jesus.

Towards the end of the book, Goheen draws out key implications for how the church should live in light of this story and mission. This was a truly inspiring chapter and I encourage you to pick up the book, if only for gleaning from this section.

When it comes to being a “contrast” community, he has six theses worth sharing.

– a community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injustice

-a community of selfless giving in a world of selfishness and entitlement

-a community of humble and bold witness to the truth in a world of uncertainty

-a community of hope in a world of disillusionment and consumer satiation

-a community of joy and thanksgiving in a hedonistic world that frantically pursues pleasure

-a community that experiences God’s presence in a secular world (218-220).

I also liked what he had to say about being a proclaiming church – an evangelistic (“good news”) church. This is not about street corner preaching or small tracts or notes on restaurant tables. Goheen borrows from Hendrik Kraemer the language of “chattering the gospel” in the midst of life. Goheen encourages a lifestyle-and-verbal testimony to God that is holistic.

It is not a gospel about a future, otherworldly place that has little relevance for much of life other than personal ethics. Rather, if we see good news as it relates to our lives, in major public issues as well as minor private concerns, then the gospel will not be an uncomfortable intrusion but rather woven into the very fabric of our daily walk and quick to flow to our tongue. (216)

One thing to note that is distinctive about this book, is that Goheen has a special interest and expertise in the work of Lesslie Newbigin, so the book is full of excellent quotes from this great missionary.

I was so thoroughly impressed with this book, I put it on my top 50 list for what seminary students should read nowadays. (I am not sure what the other 49 are, but this is definitely one of them!)

Have others read Goheen’s work? What did you think?

Simply Jesus – first impressions

I just received, yesterday, my copy of N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus (HarperOne). A full review is in the works, but here are my first impressions

– Though Wright is trying to make his work accessible (which is appreciated), he still makes lots of illustrations using events and figures that younger folks (perhaps 30 and under) would not understand; and he uses lots of illustrations from the UK which won’t hit home to many Americans (though since I lived in England, I could get the gist of most of them). Still, he is to be commended for spending so much time and energy trying to clarify and teach at a more popular level.

-The book’s title, as Wright quickly acknowledges, is a misnomer – his book (and his Jesus!) is not “simple.” Better, the title could have been Without-Going-Into-All-The-Details Jesus! Again, he does better than many others have in simplifying, but not quite the right title for the book. Still, I am excited to read it!

More to come!

M.C. de Boer’s Galatians Commentary (Review)

Personally, I was never really attracted to the book of Galatians in my younger Christian years. There was too much anger and annoyance and hair-splitting (so I thought) in that letter over “justification.” This was a scholar’s debate and caused me to be soporific. Then I discovered the so-called New Perspective and I saw this text as something very relevant and a “big deal” in its own time and had great relevance for our time as well.

I read Richard Hays’ very excellent commentary on Galatians in the New Interpreter’s Series which bursts with narrative and theological energy. While I still prefer Philippians and 2 Corinthians, thanks to Hays (and Wright and Dunn), I am more appreciative of what Galatians has to offer now.

So, it was with some enthusiasm that I obtained Martinus de Boer’s new Galatians commentary in the NTL (WJK, 2011) series. It is probably one of the weightiest volumes in the still-unfinished collection – at about 450 pages. That is about 50 pages more than the Revelation commentary, while Galatians itself is much shorter than the book by St. John the Divine!

In any case, one might wonder, is there anything new to say? I wondered the same, but I am happy to report that Boer brings a fresh reading to the text, quite unique and engaging. This can be quite jarring at times, as he experiments with various new theories, but for those of us who have trudged through many a commentary on Galatians, it is like a breath of fresh air to see a scholar thinking outside the box and offering new readings of old texts.

Anyone who has read Boer before knows that he neither favors the Lutheran/traditional camp on Paul, nor the so-called New Perspective, but a “Paul and Apocalyptic” camp that has people like Ernst Käsemann, Lou Martyn, and Chris Beker as forefathers (and current campers like Beverly Gaventa, Douglas Campbell, and John Barclay; I would say people like Mike Gorman and Jimmy Dunn [and me] are “apocalyptic-lite” – warm to these cosmic issues, but not “full-blown”). Indeed, Boer does a rather fine job of taking something like Martyn’s perspective on Galatians in his Anchor commentary and distilling it, while still offering some unique insights on particular verses.

Here are some distinctives of Boer’s commentary

Gal 1:3-5 – Boer has an excursus on “Galatians and Apocalyptic Eschatology” which is one of the finest short essays on this “apocalyptic” perspective I have read (31-35). One distinctive of this view is seeing evil powers, and “Sin” and “Death” in particular, as the enemies of God from whom he liberates enslaved humanity: “For Paul, the problem that needs to be addressed is not so much ‘sins,’ transgressions of divinely given commandments, as Sin, a malevolent enslaving and godlike power under which all human beings are held captive” (p. 35).

Gal 1:16 – Was God pleased to reveal his Son to Paul (focusing on his recognition of Christ), or to reveal his Son through Paul (as Gospel herald)? Boer says: neither! Boer reads this as God being pleased to reveal his Son within Paul, meaning that the revelation of Christ inside of Paul brought an end to Paul’s former life, and launched a whole new life as a part of new creation: “God entered into the life of Paul, the persecutor of God’s church and an extremely zealous, law-observant Pharisee, in order to bring that manner of life to a complete and irrevocably end…One manner of life had been utterly destroyed, and new one had taken its place” (93). While this reading fits Boer’s apocalyptic stance, I am not sure all of that can be read into this statement.

Gal 2:16 – pistis Christou – it probably will not surprise you that Boer prefers the subjective genitive reading of the “faith of Christ,” as many apocalyptic-Pauline interpreters (like Martyn and Campbell) have a similar approach. From Boer’s perspective, the new age has been ushered in by the “faith[fullness] of Christ” – “his atoning death on a cross” (p. 150).

One of the challenges in the apocalyptic frame of interpretation is that it focuses too much on discontinuity with the OT/Judaism, while people like Dunn might appear to be guilty of the opposite – too much continuity. Boer, in my opinion, goes too far in saying that Paul was concerned with the law (Torah) because it was, itself, “one of these cosmic powers” that enslaved mortals (p 210). There was no way to obey it because it was a cursing entity, according to Boer. Later, Boer tries to have Paul make this case by (the apostle) modifying the LXX of Deut 21:23 to say that “Accursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” rather than “Cursed by God is everyone…” (see p 212). Again, Boer has noticed something I never have before (the missing “by God”), but to conclude that Paul himself is demonizing Torah is a stretch, I think. Again, he argues that Paul viewed the law as “illegitimate tampering by a third party” (i.e., angels, see 228-29).

Boer has a creative way of dealing with Paul’s more positive statement about “fulfilling the law” (5:14). He argues that Paul does not mean the Mosaic “Law,” but the promises of God (to Abraham and others) in Scripture. Thus, Boer sees Paul separating Scripture into two kinds of “law” – Moses-law and Promise-law (see 344). Again, this seems far-reaching and creates more problems than it solves, although Boer shows a remarkable consistency in his approach. For example, in regards to 5:6 “faith working through love,” he does not read this as our (human) faith, but rather as “Christ’s faith(fullness) becoming effective through his self-giving love for us” (p. 318). This fits his apocalyptic, Christo-centric hermeneutic, but I find it rather strained, as Paul has a normal interest in the faith and love of his converts (see 1 Thess 1:3; 3:6; 5:8; Philemon 5). What Boer does have in his favor is coherence with his own reading of Gal 2:20, where he reads this in reference to the “faith(fullness) of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Whether this is a convincing enough grounds for how to read 5:6 I will leave up to you.


I have read and reviewed a number of volumes of the NTL series (e.g., Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, 1-2 Peter) and have felt, overall, that none of these were distinctively fresh readings, but competent representatives of standard interpretations (with Sumney’s work on Colossians, perhaps, standing out a bit as exemplary). Boer has, I think, produced a truly unique volume. I very much appreciated his creativity and “close reading” of the text. While I tended to disagree with him on most occasions, it was a polite disagreement, except for his one-sided demonization of Torah in Paul’s eyes.

Is this commentary worthy of acquiring? I would say that if you own Martyn, you will probably get something similar out of this. However, if you don’t, it is worthwhile because it is helpful to see the “apocalyptic” perspective, alongside the NPP and traditional ones, because it is a third perspective that has valid criticisms of both of the other camps.

A note about the series itself: it is rather tough to read because it follows paragraphs and pericopes, not individual verses. Also, there is little (if any!) discussion of “theology” or “application.” It is pretty much straight-up social/literary/historical exegesis. At times, I wish Boer would have drawn out implications of his readings (esp on the faithfulness of Christ, and criticism of law as evil power), but if you go in with such hopes, you will be disappointed. This is not a criticism of Boer, but a warning that the NTL is quite strictly historical-critical. If you acknowledge that in the first instance, you can read it for what it is.

In the end, the margins of my copy have many question marks, but I also found Boer remarkably adroit and provocative (mostly in a good way)! We should be willing to read commentaries that take alternative positions and learn within a community of scholarship. I try to read any piece of scholarship hoping to learn something, and when I do that, I often come away with good food for thought — and in this case I thank Boer for that.

Why Choose Britain over US for a PhD in Biblical Studies? Ramone shares…

My friend Ramone is currently studying at Durham and runs a helpful blog. He also had the wisdom to choose Durham for his PhD. 🙂

Ramone shares about why he chose a British programme over an American program. Check it out.

I will say that there are many advantages to doing a PhD in a good US program (though I direct many prospective students towards the UK as well). For example, some US programs requird courses in pedagogy – something we never learned in the UK PhD process. It is a huge gap in the educational system that future higher ed teachers are never taught to teach!

Anyway, thanks Ramone.