It was a good, full week in Connecticut. My in-laws were such wonderful hosts, as usual. Because of them, anytime I'm there I have a house, a car, home-cooked meals, etc. My mother-in-law is not a coffee drinker. But she sets up the coffee maker every morning I'm staying at her place. When I get up, all I have to do is plug it in. My father-in-law gives up his car while I'm there. The only time I have a new car is when I'm staying at his place!
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Last week's Romans class with Harold Attridge was like a return trip to the Grand Canyon. Always breath-taking, but leaving you knowing that there's so much more there than you've actually seen and appreciated. And what about the history of that place? The Canyon is big and deep. It's been there for a long time and has meant different things to different people. All along, it's simply been what it is with all its power and beauty and mystery. What you take away has something to do with who you are, what you brought and expected. That's Romans.
Turns out, I learned as much from Attridge's teaching method as I did about the content of Paul's letter. Sometimes we preacher-and-teacher types need to focus on form. Most of us already know a good bit about the basic content, what we want to communicate. But do we have a parable? Have we figured out the best way to say it, helping others to learn and to see what we see?
Regarding the so-called "New Perspective on Paul," as many of you readers already know, its most-basic observation is that Paul was a complete Jew, and that he never thought of himself as the founder (or main proponent) of a new religion called Christianity. Connected to this, the New Perspective also emphasizes that the challenge of the early Christian movement was not some tension between a works-righteousness religion called Judaism versus a grace-by-faith religion called Christianity. When the letters of Paul are read not through the lenses of Augustine and Luther but rather in their first-century contexts, what we see over and over again is that the real questions revolve around how one understands the inclusion of Gentiles in the Israel of God and what it means for them, in Christ, to obey the Law of God. There's much more, of course. But those are a couple of the basics.
Is it right? I'm confident that its basic convictions are correct. However, one thing to keep in mind when trying to evaluate the New Perspective is the when of its development. Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright. What do they all have in common? Their coming to the New Perspective is a completely post-Holocaust and Christian thing.
That's is not to say their observations are wrong. Again, for what it's worth, my sense is that the basic outline of the New Perspective is correct. At the same time, it seems clear that the social, cultural and political atmosphere of the last 60 years has been favorable to its development. I think it's certain that, say, one hundred years from now our scholarly descendants will have problems with the "New" Perspective much like I might have problems with interpretations of Paul written one hundred years ago. So stay tuned. By the way, very little of what I'm saying here is original. The observation I'm making was inspired by a short essay by New Testament scholar Diana Swancutt. The essay appeared in a fine little journal called "Reflections" published by Yale Divinity School. You can order back issues, at no charge, or sign up for a free subscription here.
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Last Friday, I got to be the proud Dad as Abigail received three honors: the President's Award for Academic Excellence, Outstanding Student in Arts and Music, and the President's Physical Fitness Award (pictures to follow, I hope). Almost casually, she tells me she plans to go to Yale. I'll be saving a little more this year.
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As planned, Ben and I got to travel up to Kent, CT to join over 300 others for the Northeastern States Men's Retreat last weekend. The speaker, Howard Wright, did a superb job with the lessons on leadership and mentoring. Wright explains and illustrates his thoughts so very well. He's easy to listen to, and got quite a compliment when my 17-year-old son gave him two thumbs up.
I started attending this retreat back in 1994 and have missed only a few times since then. There's nothing else quite like it in the Churches of Christ. Men from places like Harlem and the suburbs of Boston gather in a scenic spot tucked away in the top left corner of Connecticut, and spend two days and one night there focused on their opportunities and responsibilities as Christian men. If you ever have the chance to go, you should try it out.
Like any other retreat, one of the best parts is getting to meet and reconnect with people you wouldn't otherwise know. Having bumped into each other for the first time last year, the Brian Nicklaus and I decided to spend some time together this year during one of the longer breaks. So on Saturday morning, we met up at the Kent Public Library book sale (it's always going on during the retreat). Then we walked down the street to one of the little coffee-and-pastry shops where we compared our latest acquisitions and talked about all things Church of Christ. What a pleasure. What a blessing.