The New Christians

Under Original Sin: Paul, Romans 5, and the Heart of the Issue, Brian provides with a helpful primer to the various views of interpreting Romans:

Romans is important to the conversation about the doctrine of
Original Sin” for several reasons. First, many other people have
brought it up in their comments. Second, Augustine (the person who
developed “original sin”) was converted to Christianity after reading
Romans. So, perhaps a wider conversation about Romans might be helpful
to add to the focus text highlighted by Tony Jones. So this comment is
going to highlight one way to overview Romans. Romans tends to have
three main types of interpretations.

First, forensic interpretations explore the theological argument
whereby Paul describes the logic of how both Jews and Gentiles are
sinners and can only receive the God’s grace through God’s own
justification/acquittal in Christ
. All are equally sinners. All are
equally guilty. All are acquitted through Christ. The problem is that
this interpretation doesn’t focus on sanctification/change. Someone who
is a rapist or racist is acquitted through Christ, but they are not
necessarily overtly challenged to change their behavior and make
restitution for the pain they have already caused. A sense of quick and
easy forgiveness can enable people to remain stuck in unhealthy and
anti-social behaviors. This is called cheap grace. Bonhoeffer wrote a
great book about this problem. This is where the other interpretations
are important.

Second, new covenant interpretations explore the rhetoric whereby
Paul calls on people to change their behavior by imitating the
self-giving love of Christ.
Both Jews and Gentiles were supposed to be
humble. Both were supposed to guide and encourage each other in love.
People with different levels of power were supposed to adapt so they
could work together as a community of equals. Powerful nations such as
the USA need this message so that they remember that other nations must
also have a voice in our shared world. This idea is emphasized in a
great hymn, “My country’ s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight
beams on clover leaf and pine; but other lands have sunlight too and
clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.” All must be seen as
co-equal, the strong and the weak together.

Third, apocalyptic interpretations explore the discourse whereby Paul
attempts to empower people in their daily life by discussing God’s
ongoing, saving power in Christ.
Sin and evil are still present in the
world, even in Christian communities (3:23, 7:18-20). Paul always seems
to suggest that people are between saint and sinner; and between
already reconciled yet still needing saving. So living the Christian
life is an ongoing process. This ongoing process is carried out by
sharing God’s saving revelation and gifts “from faith to faith” (1:17)
as the “body of Christ” (12:5), with each member having a “measure of
faith (12:3). The contributions of each member is needed for the
betterment of the whole community (12:3-8). Therefore, when having
conversations on blogs, we all need to remember that each of us has
important gifts, thoughts, and theologies to share. Each of us is
important for the good of the whole. Since we all are limited and “see
through a glass dimly” and “know only in part” (I Cor. 13:9-12), the
best way to see more clearly and fully is to work together mutually as
the body of Christ.

Paul seems kind of postmodern here with his idea of mutual ministry
and communal knowlege. Maybe he was an Emergent Church leader. Oh wait,
he was! The Church was literally emerging while Paul was writing. And
the Church continues to emerge today. The question we face is whether
we’re going to idolize only a few doctrines or whether we’re going to
continue to emerge through a “renewing of our minds” (12:2).

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