Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Bringing Romans Back to Life

posted by xscot mcknight

Romans seems to have two kinds of responses today: either it is the book of all books, the book that brought Luther back to life and therefore the book for us, or it is the book to end all books — boring, dusty old piece of theology. If you are in the latter group, I’ve got a book for you. (And if you are in the former group, then this book is also for you — of course, you love all things Romans!)
Romans is one of the most significant books in the history of the Church and probably Paul’s most potent statement of his gospel. Yet, its familiarity — or should I say our familiarity with a system of thought — has deprived many of the real, living, interactive theology at work in this letter of Paul’s. So, I’m glad we have a book that has one design: to give this letter back to lay people and to hear it again as if for the first time.
Now another one: How many times have we thought about studying Romans only to open up some commentary to discover the debates are so numerous and so different that we get discouraged? This book will give the book back to you.
Reta Halteman Finger writes Roman House Churches in order to give lay people a guide to the book of Romans they can act out and then debrief for today. It’s a clever book.
Here’s my question today: What have you done to help bring the Bible to life for those who are either tired of the “same old, same old” or who need to awaken to the social and historical conditions at work in a passage or in a book?
Reta Finger decides to examine Romans through the lens of the house churches in Rome (cf. Romans 16). She examines it through the lens of the books’ reader — Phoebe.
She gives us assignments — clever ones too. A brief sketch of life in Rome and religions at work in 1st Century Rome — not too technical. Just right. She sketches the Christians of 1st Century Rome. Then we go through Romans in 10 chapters. Her perspective is a little social and not just spiritual; it’s got a little new perspective to it. Some Anabaptism as well (thank you Reta).



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Brad Cooper

posted November 13, 2007 at 12:53 am


Scot,
Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll be teaching Romans starting in Jan 2008 and appreciate the input on this book. I’ve added it to my Amazon wish list for further consideration. (It does sound great but I’m not sure if it will be helpful for the direction I plan to go.)
Any other recommendations?



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Greg Laughery

posted November 13, 2007 at 2:15 am


Scot,
A much needed type of book. Thanks for highlighting this.
Great question for today. I like von Balthazar’s notion, more recently picked up by Vanhoozer, of viewing and participating in the Bible as theodrama – script and performance – having a role as an actor on God’s grand stage. Somehow there is a tendency to fall into an obsever mode, which deprivilges us of the theodiversity in the Bible and of finding our place in the story.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 13, 2007 at 6:27 am


Now this sounds like another must-read for me, and even a book I’m willing to purchase on my too scanty book budget.
I think Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Scripture in ‘the Message’ for whatever shortcomings it has, helps us read anew and afresh the message of Scripture and see it as God’s Story that we can be a part of in Jesus.
Romans does suffer from our systematization of theology, instead of letting it speak and come alive on its own terms. Sounds to me like a much needed book and read for myself and others.



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Michael R. Cline

posted November 13, 2007 at 8:17 am


This is where I appreciate N.T. Wright so much. On one hand, you have the massive “New Testament and The People of God” for all the bible-heads out there (read: Seminarians like myself). And then on the other hand, he takes off the “Nicholas” and becomes Tom Wright, pastor and fellow Bible reader with this “…For Everyone” series. I think that set is good at “putting the bible back into our hands.” What do you think?
Also, Vanhoozer’s stuff is really good. If pastors would pick up the scholar’s new emphasis on bring speech-act theory into their everyday bible study and preaching, I think the Church would really benefit!



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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 13, 2007 at 8:32 am


Michael,
I’d really like to get all of Tom Wright’s “for everyone” series.



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John W Frye

posted November 13, 2007 at 9:07 am


Change in behavior creates change in thinking and values and priorities. Jesus transformed the 12 by plunging them into the radical and risky social and religious changes he incarnated. By Reta giving assignments, the readers/ participants can “live into” the great realities of Romans.
From L’viv, Ukraine,
John



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preacherman

posted November 13, 2007 at 9:27 am


I believe if were to actually the book of Romans back to life all Christians would actually have get rid of man made codes and life under the grace of God. We would actually have to love one another sincerely. It means everyone. All denominations. All saved first and then saved.



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ChrisB

posted November 13, 2007 at 11:16 am


What have you done to help bring the Bible to life…
I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but…
A few years ago a class assignment was to “creatively” present the message of the book of Jonah. I felt like most of my classmates were being unnecessarily hard on ol’ Jonah, so I did a last minute rewrite. I chose “prophets” out of the class to deliver my prophecies against the US.
Initially they were kind of general and moralistic — e.g., “You will be removed from your lofty place.” The class received these prophecies with enthusiasm. As the prophecies progressed, they become more specific, darker, and more personally relevant, and the class got much less enthusiastic.
After ten or so prophecies that Iran would destroy the US, I asked for a volunteer to take a message of God’s justice and mercy to Iran. Oddly enough, no one wanted to go. They did get into Jonah’s head a bit, though.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 13, 2007 at 11:19 am


Chris #8,
Great idea. Fantastic way to shake us out of our comfort zone and think about a Biblical passage much more realistically.



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ron

posted November 13, 2007 at 11:30 am


Scot asks “What have you done to help bring the Bible to life … to awaken to the social and historical conditions at work in a passage or in a book?”
Two very suggestive books in this area are “The Mystery of Romans” by Mark Nanos, and “Final Account” by Krister Stendahl. One of the themes of these books is the relationship of the church to the Jews (Romans 9-11). Understanding this relationship differently can have implications for how one understands the church, and perhaps Christology as well.



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MatthewS

posted November 13, 2007 at 12:54 pm


Example of bringing it to life:
I am teaching an Adult Bible class on Colossians. For the first class, I printed the epistle in Greek on textured paper. I passed around a real piece of papyrus (it is a replica, not an ancient piece). Sometimes, I will also read the translations of personal letters that have been discovered, such as a letter from a soldier to his dad (the library has a collection of books with pictures and translations of such papyri). (Such letters may not even be from the same century as the epistle in question, but that doesn’t ruin the point of a personal letter written in a language and medium familiar to the the epistle’s original audience.)
I also print off pictures and little factoids about the area of the church(es) it was written to. This was particularly interesting for Colossians when I discovered pictures of those big white mineral depostis and pools from the hot springs in Pamukkale (Cotton Castles). Those pictures helped relate Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea together. Many in the group were familiar with Laodicea from Rev 3.
I remind the group that the original audience would have heard the letter read by a reader – thus, as they listen, they can try to imagine the original audience listening to it for the first time. Then I will read part of the epistle myself or have someone else read it as though they were the original reader, reading it to the orig. audience. Someday, I would like to make some sort of Roman dish (maybe even just olives) and let the group eat as I read part of the letter.
The point of all of this is to try to set up the historical, geographical, and genre contexts in the group’s minds. They may not be interested in an academic discussion of the differences between biblical genres, but they are intrigued when you read an ancient letter from a boy to his dad. The more you can do to bring the original audience alive, including sights, smells, sounds, modes of transportation, contemporary politics, clothing styles, etc., the better.
(sorry for the length – I tried to edit it down but it was hard to tell the story in less space)



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Scot McKnight

posted November 13, 2007 at 12:59 pm


MatthewS,
Thanks for the comment.



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BeckyR

posted November 13, 2007 at 1:51 pm


Romans was one of the books that, back in ’76 I concluded christianity wasn’t a true religion, Romans and 1John. Because they asked for perfection and we are unable to be perfect. It is only in, perhaps, the last 5 yrs I can read Romans and get meat from it. Romans was one of the books I went through with the woman who helps women who want out of attraction to other women. It came to life for me then. Putting to death and rising with. All of us sin. We are in the 40 yrs of desert wandering because we all are harlots going after idol-gods. Then the difference between Capital Sin vs un-capital sin. (there’s probably a word for that but it eludes me now.) But at the same time we are not trapped, we have the dying to sin and rising with Christ.
For me, it meant there must be more than just saying “no” to the sin. There must be a going to God and rising with Christ in his victory. Though it can be that when we say “no,” rising to Christ comes along with it too.



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preacherman

posted November 13, 2007 at 2:35 pm


Do we know what it really means to live under the grace of God and not under any written codes, creeds, but totally under grace. Romans 6-8 is my favorite part because it tells me I have been set free from the Spirit of the law and am now under the grace of Jesus Christ. I’m living under the Jesus Creed. His word. His life. His rules. I am a disciple of grace (Eph.2). It is wonderful to be so free. Rom 6:1-ff. has taught me to cherish the gift of grace. It has taught me that it is not cheap and and being consumed by the life of Jesus I cherish it because of the love I have for Christ. Scot, I think your blog says it all. Jesus Creed. If we take the words of Jesus and live by them aren’t we consumed by Him. Aren’t we going be following his will. Cherishing the grace. Loving Him. After all love is the center of Christianitiy. For God so Loved… God is Love… Right? I love being consumed. When your consumed your never the same again. Being consumed means you totally surrender. Surrender your life over to the will of God. Everything over to Him. Yourself. Your family. Your ministry. Your money and posessions. When you are consumed you understand that God is going to provide. When you are consumed your life is all about loving God and following His will for your life. The good pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).



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Kacie Mann

posted November 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm


My Romans class at MBI was one of my least favorite, largely because the professor didn’t allow for much debate or disagreement, and was extremely conservative. I know others enjoyed it, but I did not.
On the other hand, as I wrestle to redefine my faith, I have been reading slowly through Romans and found it so relieving! It is a spectacular book, and I almost prefer it without commentary.



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Peggy

posted November 13, 2007 at 2:50 pm


Back when I was an associate pastor, I was asked to preach…which didn’t happen that often, with 9 associates! It’s challenging to only get one shot every once in a while, so I struggled with what to do. But I am a storyteller at heart…and a lover of reading God’s Word…so I decided to read Ephesians–yup, the whole book–and do it as if I was Priscilla being asked to bring it to them from Paul. I asked them to close their Bibles and listen…and I read from a different version then they are used to hearing (but not The Message).
There were basically three responses. The first one was the normal one…no response from the majority–same old same old. The third one I also expected, because I had joked to a colleague: well, if they don’t like that message, they’ll have to take it up with Paul. Well, they didn’t take it up with Paul, but they did make sure to comment to the senior pastor on his return that they didn’t appreciate the unusual experience.
The second one was exactly what I was hoping for: many came up afterward and commented that they almost felt compelled to leave their seats and sit down on the floor in front of the auditorium…like gathering around a campfire to listen…that they had never heard the Word in that way before–addressed TO them–and had never heard Ephesians read all the way through.
The whole thing only took 25 minutes!



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:34 am


Michael & Ron,
Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll check them out.
Matthew,
I love the ideas you put forth. I’m going to adapt them for the first class session when I teach Romans this coming January.
Peggy,
Fantastic idea. I think that the majority of churches spend far too little time just listening to Scripture.



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MatthewS

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:38 am


Brad,
Thanks! The one thing I would say: do a dry run with someone like your wife first. It is so easy for us to get excited about the details and not realize we are starting to pile too much on. That is one thing I always have to watch out for, and it usually results in me having to leave something or another back on the cutting room floor. Not like you don’t know that already.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:13 am


Matthew #18,
Thanks for the tip. Blessings.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 15, 2007 at 12:09 am


Scot and Matthew,
Thanks! This is just what I needed. The creative juices are starting to flow….
I’m thinking ancient Roman bread (or just sourdough) with honey, grapes, and water. (The olives are a great idea but I’m afraid that they might give some people heartburn just looking at them at 8:45am!) ;)
I’ll have “Phoebe” deliver the letter at the beginning of class and pass it around the class rolled up and labeled in Greek letters (perhaps APO PAULOS).
I’ll sit on a wooden bench at the front in period dress…..
Well, I’ve got some other ideas but I don’t have time tonight to type them all up.
Anyways….Thanks!



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Scott M

posted November 15, 2007 at 6:21 am


In an oral culture, where “letters” like Romans were essentially lectures delivered in writing with no spacing between words and no punctuation, it was typically the responsibility of the one carrying the letter to deliver it orally as the author had intended.
When you mentioned Phoebe, I thought I should point that out. An essentially oral culture is different in a lot of ways from our essentially literate one.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 15, 2007 at 10:25 am


Scott #21,
I was thinking (maybe just imagining) that church’s had designated readers who would read the letters. I’ll have to check into that. But since I’m not into crossdressing, we’ll have to do it that way anyways. ;)



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Beomhee

posted November 19, 2012 at 3:20 am


My Dear love one in Christ, I just came upon your site, and was going through the prreyas and information, thank you so much for being obedient to God I have been going through so much, because of the Call of God on my live and even resistence where family members are concerned that God has placed in position to help me. Also, health problems right ear with growth and tinnitus, various attacks. Thank you and again God’s riches blessings upon you and yours.Dr. LMR Condeso



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