Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Reading Plan

This year for Advent, I am going to follow the reading plan from a new book call The First Days of Jesus by Kรถstenberger and Alexander Stewart. It is a follow up to their previous book, The Final Days of Jesus which is a unique blend of theology, background and devotional reading of the final week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. This book is similar but starts at the beginning with Jesus' birth and early life. You can pick up the book on Amazon and follow the reading plan they provide below. If you don't pick up the book, you can still follow the scripture reading plan that is only a few verses each day leading up to Christmas.

December 1   - Luke 1:1-4, Introduction in First Days of Jesus
December 2   - Genesis 49:8-12, Chap. 1
December 3   - Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5, Chap. 1
December 4   - Micah 5:2-4, Chap. 1
December 5   - Matthew 1:1-17, Chap. 1
December 6   - Matthew 1:18-25, Chap. 2
December 7   - Matthew 2:1-12, Chap. 3
December 8   - Matthew 2:13-15, Chap. 4
December 9   - Matthew 2:16-18, Chap. 4
December 10 - Matthew 2:19-23, Chap. 4
December 11 - Luke 1:5-25, Chap. 5
December 12 - Luke 1:26-38, Chap. 5
December 13 - Luke 1:39-45, Chap. 6
December 14 - Luke 1:46-56, Chap. 6
December 15 - Luke 1:57-66, Chap. 7
December 16 - Luke 1:67-80, Chap. 7
December 17 - Luke 2:1-7, Chap. 8
December 18 - Luke 2:8-21, Chap. 9
December 19 - Luke 2:22-40, Chap. 10
December 20 - John 1:1-5, 18, Chap. 11
December 21 - John 1:6-8, 15, Chap. 12
December 22 - John 1:9-14, Chap. 13
December 23 - John 1:16-17, Chap. 14
December 24 - Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Chap. 15
December 25 - Revelation 21:1-8, Epilogue

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Who Wrote 2 Peter?

We are starting a new series this week leading up to Christmas, 2 Peter: The Promise of His Coming. 2 Peter is a neglected book that speaks to a church fending off attacks that Christ is not coming so the ethical demands of the faith are not binding. Not exactly a "Christmas cheer" message. The coming of Christ is often associated with hope and the good news of Jesus making the world right. What is sometimes glossed over is that to make the world right, judgment must come.
The letter is short and attributed to Simon Peter (cf. Acts. 15:14), a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1). He writes that he is going to die soon (1:14), witnessed Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (1:18-19), and that this is the second letter he wrote (3:1). He also has read some of Paul's letters and affirms them as scripture (3:15-16). But there are significant stylistic differences to 1 Peter and its apparent dependence on the book of Jude (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1-17) make it difficult for many to accept a date prior to Peter's martyrdom in the mid- to late 60s AD. For these and other reasons, the authorship of 2 Peter has been heavily disputed, more so than any other book in the New Testament. This was true even in the early church and part of the reason it was among the few books that faced an uphill battle to be included in the NT canon.
The significance is whether 2 Peter is a reliable testimony from an eye witness and apostle of Jesus Christ – the infamous Simon Peter, the "rock," who ministered in Rome. It also matters based on how we read the letter and its circumstances. While it cannot be definitively proven, Richard Bauckham has demonstrated 2 Peter has the qualities of being a "last testament," a Jewish genre often written shortly after the death of a notable hero and accepted as consistent with their teaching. Bauckham therefore argues for a mediating view between traditional authorship and outright rejection that Peter was behind it at all. He contends that it was written by a close associate of Peter, perhaps Linus who was Clement's predecessor in Rome, published after his death in the 70's to 90's AD. He also argues this does not infringe on the letter's integrity or its acceptance as divinely inspired scripture for inclusion in the canon.
But Michael Green and others have argued that we can accept the letter as written by Peter. It still received far greater support than apocryphal works attributed to Peter. 1 Peter's more refined style can be due to the help of Silvanus (1 Pet. 5:12). There is little reason to think just because Peter felt free to use Jude's arguments he could not have penned it or that it would have been too early for that to be possible. The theological concern about the delay of Christ's coming is seen in early Christian writings that are widely accepted so it is not a later development (cf. 1 & 2 Thessalonians). Peter Davids makes an excellent point that both Green and Bauckham offer a reasonable defense for their conclusions but based on historical grounds alone; we simply do not know enough about Peter's life or have a large enough sample of his work to definitely say he did or did not write 2 Peter. The tie then goes to internal testimony of the letter itself combined with church tradition. The best evidence we have is the letter itself.
Accepting that Peter wrote it, late in his life but before his death which Jesus' foreshadowed (John 21), we have his final words to the church. He was pleading with them to remember his testimony to who Jesus was and how we should live in light of his coming. He sharply warns them against those who would lead them astray and again pleads they remain faithful. The coming of the Lord compels us to live by kingdom ethics and his delay is so that as many people as possible may have an opportunity to respond to him in faith (2 Pet. 3:8-10).
Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.
Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Center For Pastor Theologians Conference

Last week I went to a conference in Chicago for the Center for Pastor Theologians. The basic vision of this group is to bring about theological renewal for the church and by the church through the "pastor theologian." Some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the church have been pastors: Augustine, Gregory the Great, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Bonhoeffer, etc. A pastor theologian is uniquely positioned to fill the gap that exists in the modern world between the academic sphere and the life of the church.

The problem is many today look to scholars or professional theologians for leadership and not to their local pastor. There is a vast amount of research that is done by these professionals, much of it good, but it is inaccessible or of little benefit to the church. On the other hand, Christian bookstores are filled with much devotional literature that is superficial and theologically suspect. There are few works that serve the church with deep reflection on scripture and the gospel that gives rise to greater worship. Historically examples include works like Augustine's Confessions or Bonhoeffer's Life Together.

There were numerous highlights from the conference. Gerald Heistand articulated different kinds of pastoral theologians. Peter Leithart taught how a pastoral theologian can fill the gap while illustrating it with Revelation 14 (an amazing feet). Jamie Smith spoke on the pastor theologian as "political theologian" (political in the sense of the life of the people). Kevin Vanhoozer spoke on how the pastor theologian ministers the reality of being in Christ to the people and what that means. Lastly, Todd Wilson spoke on the role of suffering as being one of the primary places God shapes the theology of the pastor for the good of the church. What was clear throughout is the importance of the sermon and the life of the church to form and shape one's theology. There was a push against the idea that the best place to do theology is in the library divorced from real life. Yet, at the same time serious academic study does equip a pastor for greater clarity of thought and rigorous research skills. There was a lot of encouragement that more of the church's best minds should seek pastoral ministry rather than the academy.

The benefit for me was the encouragement to continue to be serious about theology and at the same time to keep it grounded and accessible to people. Each speaker stressed to not underestimate people's appetite for challenging works of Christian theology or the ability for people to think theologically. It was also helpful to see how some maintain the worshipful nature of deep Christian reflection without getting bogged down in endless technical debates and speculation. It is possible to be both deep and appeal broadly.

I was very encouraged by the conference and was thankful for the opportunity to go. It gave me further clarity for my own passions and calling and what it may look like for me to strive to be a pastor who is a local theologian for the glory of God and in service to the church.

You can learn more about the conference at their website: