McKnight on the Romans Road

June 21, 2007

Scot McKnight wrote earlier today on the subject of so-called “Romans road” evangelism (a style that uses Romans to emphasize the concepts of sin, faith, and forgiveness). You can read his post here.

In short, Scot says that the “Romans road” contains the gospel, but not the whole gospel. As usual, Scot provides a very thoughtful analysis of the issue that is also gracious and generous toward those with whom he disagrees.


Form and Substance

December 12, 2006

A few months ago, I listened to a lecture from Jedi Master Dallas Willard in which Willard told of an experience when he was a young student at Baylor University. He said he kept asking God to give him places to speak, and the reply he seemed to be getting from God was to “have something to say and then I’ll take care of the rest.”

As things turned out, Willard has had a thing or two to say that have been worth hearing.

I’ve tried to take Willard’s remarks to heart in the last few months. The work that Sheila and I have done in Romans has been more about immersion in the subject, in prayer, and in substantive reflection, rather than fascination over the details of presentation.

We’ve spent months and months talking about the theology and practical applications from Paul’s great work, but it has often been in only the last day or two before we get down to talking about exactly how we’re going to organize our 30-45 minute time slot.

At first, I was uncomfortable doing things this way. But Sheila prefers it. And the longer we’ve done it, the more I’ve seen how waiting on God’s wisdom is more important than rushing things into an outline.

Not that organization and planning are bad things in teaching or preaching, etc. I just think they are better off taking a back seat throughout most of the process.

Romans 3:21

November 12, 2006

Translating Paul can sometimes be incredibly difficult. Case in point: Romans 3:21. Here we find an important theme statement for Paul – yet there is little agreement as to exactly what he means.

The NIV translates Paul this way: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known….”

Conversely, the TNIV reads like this: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known…”

There is no small difference here. Is this verse praising God for his own glory or describing something that God has done for us? Both ideas are in play in Romans, of course, but your reading of the rest of Paul’s letter will be colored by what you take as Paul’s meaning here.

If you go with the NIV option, you likely agree with Luther, Calvin, and an assortment of other reformed scholars who believe that Romans is chiefly concerned with how we cannot achieve works-based perfection. We can only be “righteous” if God imputes his own righteousness on us.

NT Wright, a wide array of other “new perspective” scholars, and (it would seem) the TNIV translators, on the other hand, believe that “righteousness of God” makes perfect sense. Paul’s concern in Romans, they argue, is not to prove that absolute moral perfection by works is impossible. Nobody thought that. Not even the Judaizers, who advocated Gentile adherence to the law of Moses, were under the delusion that they were morally perfect.

Instead, they assert, Romans is concerned with God’s faithfulness to his promises. How will God honor his promise to bless all nations through Abraham? How will he deal with Israel’s unfaithfulness to their charge to be a light to the Gentiles? The “righteousness of God,” they argue, has been revealed for Paul: God has now come into human history to fulfill his promises.

The TNIV/Wright perspective makes more sense to me, at least insofar as I can follow the arguments. But I am not really qualified to be a participant in the debate.

The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that – under either perspective – 3:21 declares that it is only by God’s action (by either assigning to us his own righteousness OR by being faithful to his covenant) that it is possible for us to be justified.

Phoebe the Deacon

November 4, 2006

In Romans, lots of characters make Jabez-esque appearances of a verse or two, especially in Chapter 16. We are told a little snippet about them, and then they vanish – *poof* – right off of the pages of the text just when we were getting to know them.

In some ways its frustrating to know so little about so many people. In other ways, its encouraging. For me, it demonstrates that Romans wasn’t written by one guy who sat down at his computer and slammed out an email late one night – it is a product of the support and labor of a larger community.

Phoebe, in particular, has grabbed my attention. In one verse, we learn so much about her – yet I still long to hear more of her story. She is a “deacon”? In the port city of Cenchreae? She has provided financial support to Paul and others (read: she is loaded)? And she apparently has the means to travel to Rome, perhaps dropping Paul’s letter off while tending to business of her own? Sounds like quite an impressive person. Even moreso, she impresses me because Paul apparently entrusted her to carry this painstakingly drafted letter, carrying a message of personal importance to Paul, all the way from Corinth to Rome.

Scripture is filled with passing references to people like Phoebe. Their presence reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not limited to a few leaders who sit around deciding how everything is supposed to work. It is richly populated with all sorts of people: hospitable homeowners, dutiful scribes, substitute mothers, and – yes – even the occasional wealthy, but generous female deacon.

What other 1-2 verse characters from Romans (or elsewhere) intrigue you?

Magnum Opus

October 21, 2006

Every great artist has his or her magnum opus. DaVinci painted the Mona Lisa. Bethoven wrote his Fifth. Martin Luther King had his Dream, Lincoln his Gettysburgh, Van Gough his self portrait.

PaulThe defining work for Paul, trained in the arts of ancient greek rhetoric, is unquestionably his epistle to the Romans. Church history is filled with the names of people who came to faith – or whose faith was dramatically transformed – because of the message of this book. Luther’s 95 Theses were probably birthed after he had immersed himself in this letter. Wesley’s conversion also reportedly owes much to Paul’s message in Romans. If one subscribes to the theory that, without Paul, Christianity would never have been widely accepted outside of national Israel, it could be argued that contained within Romans are the most influential ideas ever to have been expressed by man.

So what is it about Paul’s message in Romans that is so compelling? The answers vary, but if you ask me, the power of Romans is felt in its “good news” that God is acting toward us in a way that is both just and good. Paul does not flinch for one moment in telling us that, because of our wickedness, all people are accountable to God. But Paul also assures us that God is good, that he has not abandoned us to sin and death. In Jesus, God deals with our wickedness not by destroying us, but by declaring us to be “right” and then leading us out of it.

Not everyone likes this message. Those whose identities are invested in systems of religiosity do not want to believe that it is that simple. They want to think that things they do, or wear, or eat, or the people they hang out with, or that places they go, are the things that make them right with God. They want to think that God is against everyone who doesn’t follow their system. For those clothed in religiosity, the message of Romans is too universal, too “easy.” It is dangerous and scandalous, despirately in need of appropriate tempering and watering-down. 

God really is good. It is a wonderful, dangerous message.

Gearing Up

October 12, 2006

Posts have been running slow, lately. I’m spending most of my spare time gearing up for the series on Romans that Sheila and I are starting in a couple of weeks.

I have no clue about whether this book is going to shake the rest of our class the way it has been affecting me, but if it does – some pretty exciting things are going to happen in our little faith-community-within-a-faith-community between now and Christmas. The timeless message of this book, which is as relevant today as it ever was,  is really amazing.

My plan is to eventually begin posting here on Romans every few days, but  I haven’t quite decided how its going to work. It will either paralell things in class or it will represent “sidetracks” that we won’t get to cover in class. Possibly both. Either way, there is an amazing wealth of hope, inspiration, and joy to be explored.

Strange Combinations

October 6, 2006

Sitting on my couch right now is a copy of the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, which includes N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans, opened to a section on Chapter 5. On top of that is a copy of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, opened up to the Medical Liablity Act.

For some reason, this sight strikes me as a very odd thing to appear on someone’s couch, but it is a pretty accurate reflection of who I am at this point in the journey.