Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paul's Two Mothers

Michael Bird, a young Australian evangelical, has a solid post at Euangelion on two lines of thought on the origins of Paul's theology: 1) mission and 2) apocalyptic. If you haven't visited this blog site, check it out periodically.


jakemaxwel said...

Parousia, eschatology, seriology---oh my! Now throw in apocalyptic, and you have some heavy weight terminology. Now as for his topic, the missional mother is pretty easy to understand. The apocalyptic is altogether a different kettle of fish, especially when "apocalyptic", "parousia", and "eschatology are in that kettle. He says, "Now all apocalypticism is eschatological, but not all eschatology is apocalyptic." Now I get that. An event versus the study of final things includes several possibilities. But when it comes to the Parousia, and since we still await it, I can't see the apocalyptic mother as being as valid. (I feel a bit on the edge of my knowledge using these words since I haven't made them my own yet in terms of comfortable vocabulary tools! Do I make any sense at all, John?)

Judy H. said...

C'mon, Jake, I know you must discuss centrum Paulinium every morning at the breakfast table! I know just this morning Bob and I were discussing how the shadow of the Parousia affects our view of soteriology, especially regarding the apocalypticism of Paul's eschatology. Seriously, John! I practically had to diagram Bird's sentences to make sense of them!

I think it would be easier to remain one of those "people" Bird refers to, who sees the center of Paul's theology in his soteriology: redemption, justification, reconciliation, sanctification. Those are terms we're more familiar with; something straight out of
our old John Wilson notes. But when it comes to apocalypticism and eschatology,
I'm in over my head.

I do appreciate, though, what Bird has to say about "mission" being one of the driving forces of Paul's theology. If we believe that Jesus has ushered in the kingdom of God, that it is here and now in the present and we are part of it, then mission becomes very important. Our goal becomes not so much the future eschaton, though the promise of that is very important, but our goal becomes how we transform THIS world as we ourselves are being transformed. What does it mean to "do justice and love kindness"? How does that look when acted out sincerely and purposely in this world? That's what "mission"
leads us to explore.

I hear so many people in my church tradition say things like, "The goal of every Christian must be to get to heaven," or "I have to be a good Christian or I won't go to heaven." That
always troubles me. It makes it seem like the Christian life is more about "what I'm going to get out of it" than how God can use me to further his purposes here. We all want to be with God, and I feel certain that whatever God has planned in the afterlife will be
grand. But being driven by "eschatological" concerns just doesn't seem as appropriate as being driven by "missional" concerns, if that makes sense.

And that brings us back to Bird's point that "apocalypticism " is a second "mother" of Pauline theology "to the extent that just about everything in the NT is pervaded by eschatology." I wonder if some of Paul's teaching might have been different if he had understood that the end was not imminent, that the kingdom of
God would be lived out on this earth for many years to come. I wonder if there would have been more encouragement to enjoy the
wonders of God's good creation.

jakemaxwel said...

I feel better now, Judy. If Bird spoke as clearly as you do, I wouldn't have had this headache! And when it comes right down to it, what I understand or do not understand about the parousia, etc. won't change its reality. I think you are probably right; if he had realized the second coming wasn't imminent, he would have been further along in his mission on earth. I guess that is where we come in and where we need to pay more attention to the life we are living today.

revJohn said...

Jake and Judy, thanks for your comments and willingness to work through Michael's terminology. I think it is helpful to discuss how Paul was impacted by apocalyptic thinking and then look for examples of it in his letters. It shaped the way he understood his life (celibate) and the pastoral advice he dispensed. It drove his mission and allowed him to endure much adversity. And he was completely wrong! If we take the documentary output of the first 150 years of Christianity, we can see the church coming to terms with the fact that the Lord was NOT coming soon and figuring out how then to live. We are still at that task today.