Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Gospel that makes things right

posted by xscot mcknight

Paul wants to preach the gospel in Rome; his calling to do that makes him a debtor both to Jews and to Gentiles. But, he knows what is there awaiting him: he knows the might of Rome. Still, Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel…”. He knows that the prison in Rome is half-way up the Capitoline Hill and its entrance overlooks the Roman Forum. Still, he’s not ashamed nor is he afraid.
Romans 1:16-17 can be understood as the theme of the entire letter, though I’m not one to get too happy about such categories. The verses are thematically central. Here they are:

Rom. 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

I make three observations:
First, for Paul the gospel itself is the power of God, that power moves in the direction of salvation, and that salvation is for anyone/everyone/ anyoneyoucanfind who trusts in Jesus Christ.
Second, that gospel brings about the righteousness of God. I don’t know how to read 1:17 as anything other than some kind of explanation of 1:16. Paul says the gospel is the power of God to save anyone who believes, and now he says it is the righteousness of God that is being revealed from faith to faith. Gospel for salvation and righteousness of God are near synonyms at the least.
Third, let me do my best to avoid a dissertation and simply explain what “righteousness of God” means. If you’ve heard or not heard, this expression is the center of a huge debate and is smack-dab in the middle of those debates between classical Reformed thinking and the New Perspective on Paul. Some in the former group have not taken the time to read the appropriate studies or combed through the Jewish evidence, and some in the latter seem to have no regard for what Luther and Calvin fought for. They’d all do better to do a little listening.
In general, we can say God’s righteousness can refer to an attribute of God (God is righteous), a status given to humans by God’s grace (we are made right with God), or an activity of God (God’s saving justice at work to make things right).
Now, here’s what is going on as I see it: the Reformed thinkers contend that the righteousness of God is God’s holiness and justice being honored and preserved as God brings the world’s moral scale back to even through the death of Jesus Christ — a death that is at once a propitiation of God’s wrath and an expiation of sin. Hence God’s holiness works it out that humans can be declared “right with God” (the righteousness that comes from God) by God’s grace. Hence, righteousness here is a gift and a standing. And this focus is singularly individualistic: the focus is on how individual believers might be made right with God.
The New Perspective folks don’t necessarily deny any of this, but they see the balance of interest on Paul’s part to be elsewhere. The righteousness of God is God’s action to make things right in this world through Jesus Christ (life, death, resurrection) and the saving benefits that are granted to those who are in Christ Jesus. They see a corporate dimension, an individual dimension, and both are taken up into God’s transforming and world-changing power at work here and now.
Many today — the wise we might say — think there is no reason to choose between three obvious dimensions of an expression. Hence, my former colleague (whose son’s basketball team in high school always seemed to beat my son’s, which means my quoting him here is a peace offering), Doug Moo, defines it like this: “the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself” (Romans, 74; had we won I would have made that title a link to amazon.com!).
I would slightly modify Doug’s definition and make it a little less individualistic: the act of God, shaped as it is by God’s attribute of being righteous, whereby he makes things right in this world. Here is where the Reformed thinking and the New Perspective varies: for many in the former camp this “right-making” by God is nothing more than a “right-declaring” and not a morally transforming “right-making.” This, of course, brings in the age-old and dog-eared categories of “imputation” vs. “impartation,” and I’d really like to avoid using those terms too much.
But I would say this: the gospel is the power of God for salvation, and the righteousness of God is another way of describing that gospel, and I’d like to suggest that Paul could not have imagined a being made right with God that did not also mean a being made right in the sense of being flooded with God’s Spirit so that God’s will was made manifest. The Reformed might like to distinguish these two acts (justification, sanctification) in an ordo salutis, but I doubt very much that Paul made such distinctions. To be saved is to be saved — how’s that for a clever line?! In Paul, to be “saved” is to be given life and to be removed from death; to have life is to live in the newness of life.
Now one of the central features of God’s “right-making” is that God joins into one family both Jews and Gentiles, and I see this as very important to what Paul is saying in Romans. So, we might say that the righteousness of God is a big term for God’s making things right in and through Jesus Christ in the here and now as an anticipation of the there and then. When emerging folk speak of “walking in the way of Jesus” they are, if one has a mind to see it, talking about justification.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(14)
post a comment
Anonymous

posted May 19, 2006 at 7:42 am


Mr. Aston.org » The Gospel that makes things right – from Jesus Creed

[...] The Gospel that makes things right: [...]



report abuse
 

Ron Fay

posted May 19, 2006 at 8:57 am


I like how you stress “right with the world,” not just because it overcomes classical Protestantism’s individualistic tendancies, but because Paul really is speaking of a renewal of the entire world and world order. The unnatural made natural, as it were.
An interesting definition, Scot. I look forward to seeing how this works out in this Romans study.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted May 19, 2006 at 9:00 am


Ron,
I was waiting for you to toss your hat down and pick a fight with me on this one; didn’t know if you were NP-sympathetic or not. The big issue — and tell me if I’m wrong — is that the consistent Reformed view wants to make justification both a very small box and entirely forensic declaration, and I don’t think the NP has become RC-impartation at all, but still, there is a shift toward making justification bigger and not just forensic.
Whaddayathink?



report abuse
 

Andrew K.

posted May 19, 2006 at 9:06 am


Interesting stuff. “Righteousness of God” is an interesting phrase. I agree that there is no reason to narrow the meaning, since a natural reading of the text doesn’t justify it. So I would go with “all of the above.”
In pondering v. 17, I noted an interesting variation in translations of “ek pisteos eis pistin”:
KJV and NASV:
from faith to faith
RSV:
through faith for faith
NIV:
that is by faith from first to last
Seems like it could also be “out of faith into faith.”
What do you think is the best translation? What do you think Paul means by this?
I guess it could simply mean “thoroughly or completely by faith.” Or could it mean that we are justified/converted by faith unto a sanctification/life through faith? In other words, “The one who is righteous (justified by faith) will live (kingdom life of following Jesus) by faith.”



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted May 19, 2006 at 9:35 am


Andrew,
That expression is hotly disputed too: I tend to think it means “totally by faith” and the duplication is like the Hebrew behind “very” (meod).



report abuse
 

Matthew D. Montonini

posted May 19, 2006 at 10:04 am


Scot,
Good stuff as always. Thanks for the succinct explanation between Reformed and NP views regarding the righteousness of God.
For more on this debate one may want to consult:
Justification as Forensic Declaration and Covenant Membership: A Via Media Between Reformed and Revisionist Readings of Paul
Michael F. Bird (Highland Theological College, Dingwall)
Summary:
The emergence of the New Perspective on Paul has led to renewed debate concerning Paul’s statements on justification. Discussion is divided over whether being ‘righteous’ signifies a legal status before God or represents a legitimisation of covenant membership. This study argues that both elements are necessary for a comprehensive unde­rstanding of Paul. Proponents of the New Perspective attempt to squeeze all ‘righteousness’ language under the umbrella of ‘covenant’, whilst Reformed adherents divorce Paul’s talk of righteousness from the social context of Jew­-gentile relationships in the Pauline churches. I argue that, in Paul’s reckoning, justification creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted May 19, 2006 at 10:08 am


Matthew,
Thanks for this. Is this piece in print yet? I saw it long ago in ms form.



report abuse
 

Ochuk

posted May 19, 2006 at 10:19 am


Didn’t Paul make distinctions between justification and sanctification? It would seem that from Romans 4:6 and Phil. 1:6 he did.



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted May 19, 2006 at 11:45 am


Scot,
Thanks so much for these thoughts. It has been a puzzle to me to try to unravel the debate between Luther/Calvin and the New Perspective, though I thought I could see truth in both. These are clarifying thoughts for me theologically.



report abuse
 

Matthew D. Montonini

posted May 19, 2006 at 1:10 pm


Scot,
Apparently so. It is in the latest edition of Tyndale Bulletin. Here is the link: http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/tyndale/tb/tb57-1.htm



report abuse
 

Ron Fay

posted May 19, 2006 at 10:45 pm


I would have responded sooner, but my elder board got together for dinner and Catch Phrase.
“Ron,
I was waiting for you to toss your hat down and pick a fight with me on this one; didn’t know if you were NP-sympathetic or not. The big issue — and tell me if I’m wrong — is that the consistent Reformed view wants to make justification both a very small box and entirely forensic declaration, and I don’t think the NP has become RC-impartation at all, but still, there is a shift toward making justification bigger and not just forensic.
Whaddayathink?”
I am not very NP-sympathetic (the NP doctrine of sin needs some real help, as does their reading of Paul and the law in some respects), but the classic Reformed doctrine of God’s righteousness has always rubbed me the wrong way. Mind you, I do not think it has to do with covenantal piety (sorry, a play on filial piety), rather I think God’s righteousness is both a collective instancing and God’s declaration of judgment at a future date.
Spending my time in Romans 8 helps me to recognize the universal implications of God sending his son (8:3) into the world in order to adopt sons for himself so that creation could be redeemed through the final revelation of the sons’ glory. This glory is the redemption of their bodies, which in turn promises the redemption of creation itself.
In other words, God’s righteousness is both an act of declaring the individual not guilt along with his plan to redeem the entire created order. This is, as Grant Osborne always says, a both-and better than an either-or.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted May 19, 2006 at 10:49 pm


Ron,
I like your take here, as I don’t often think of this them through the eyes of Romans 8 often enough.
Do you think Justbyfaith has anything to do with including Gentiles as a way of making things right or being faithful to the covenant promise of Gen 12?



report abuse
 

Ron Fay

posted May 20, 2006 at 10:13 am


Scot,
Very much so. I think justified by faith comes directly from Genesis 12 and 15, with God’s covenant being enacted upon Himself just as He promised.
The problem with speaking of “covenant” is that it is a catchword for many different theological groups who use it to mean very different things. The NT has one covenant, the new covenant made in the blood of Jesus. There is not a Gentile covenant nor a Jewish covenant once Jesus has remade all covenants in His blood. The previous covenant was broken by us and Israel, and so God paid the price just as He promised in Genesis 15 by passing between the sacrifice (yes, that is an intentional singular).
Being made righteous comes about because God promised to make Abram’s line a blessing to all peoples. The only real blessing that matters, especially in Paul, is the eschatological blessing of being declared right with God, of which the Holy Spirit is but the firstfruits in this lifetime. Paul writes so much about future life in Romans simply because this goes against the expectations of your run of the mill Roman who was looking for temporal salvation. After all, Roman religion was geared toward two things: 1) please gods don’t kill me for some offense I did not mean to do or 2) I really need X from you so I will offer Y in your temple to persuade you to help me get X.
Paul’s future thinking would be revolutionary to a culture like that.
Thus, his understanding of covenant would certainly include the importance of the Gentiles in it, yet how much of that would he explain to the Romans? I know 9-11 goes nearly the opposite direction.
Anyway, just some rambling thoughts.



report abuse
 

returntorighteousness

posted July 7, 2006 at 9:05 am


On the topic of Faith VS. Works…
Jesus said works…
James said works…
Paul didn’t.
Paul said faith.
Why the contrast?
I seriously believe Paul was a false apostle as:
1. He wasn’t ordained an apostle by Christ (Mat 10)
2. He didn’t qualify to be an apostle (Acts 1:16-26)
3. Paul’s doctrine is proven false:
After Christ died and rose he appeared to his apostles. The gospels record him as appearing to the “eleven” (remember, Judas had died), but Paul’s doctrine is in clear error as he tells us that Christ appeared to the “twelve”:
Paul said twelve:
1 Corinthians 15:4-6
4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve
Mark said eleven:
Mark 16:14: Afterward he (Christ) appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat
Matthew said eleven:
Matt 28:16-18:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Luke’s mentions the “eleven”:
2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, 7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. 8And they remembered his words, 9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
Acts mentions eleven:
Acts 1:26:
26And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Paul is a liar, and a proven false witness. Christ, in Revelation 2:2 commends the church of Epheus for figuring out false aposles. He said, “…thou hast tried them which say they are apsostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. Remember, Paul preached at Epheus.
Fact 4:
The apostles did not believe Paul was a disciple:
Acts 9:26
26And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
After Barnabas told the apostles that Paul had “seen the Lord” and that he preached boldy in the name of Jesus, the Apostles didn’t tell him to join them, but they sent him home to Tarsus. Remember, Jesus told us (Mat 13:57) that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house . The apostles sent Paul to a place that no one would believe him.
I have much, much more on my website going into faith works and law too. If you want to see more, just go to my site: http://www.returntorighteousness.blogspot.com



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.