“Conversion Into”

This post “Conversion Into” is written by the bishop’s wife (laughing) in Ammon, Idaho.  For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kristie Wood.

I was born right here in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

One of my funniest and most open LDS friends and I were visiting on a warm afternoon outside her home.  She had stated how she had grown frustrated with her young teen girl’s class at her ward “because they aren’t interested in religion”.  I smiled and said that I had “trouble getting our teens interested in religion too”.  She shockingly grinned at me as a fellow comrade on a similarly beguiling mission.  I then followed my quandary with this, “I think it’s because they need a relationship not a religion”.

God was so gracious to have her share so perfectly what I wanted to communicate to her.  It is not about conversion into a religion; it is however, about the spiritual conversion a soul has into Christ.

So in Christ what do I possess?  An exhaustive study of this topic would be like absorbing Todd’s 95 theses (laughing).  So I’ll commence with just one chapter in the Bible, – Ephesians 2.  It would be helpful to read along while we look at this rich treasure house.

*I’ve been quickened from death in my sins (v.1)

*I’ve been saved from the cruel mastery of Satan the “prince of the power of the air” (v.2).

*I’ve been saved from my old self with its fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind (v.3).

*I’ve been shown rich mercy (v.4).

*I’ve been shown great love (v.4)

*I’ve been made to sit together with Christ in “heavenly places” (v.6).

*I’ve been promised eternal riches because of his grace and kindness through Christ Jesus (v.7).

*It’s a gift, and therefore I can never boast that I earned it. (v.8).

*I’m his workmanship “created in Christ Jesus”, and not a product of my own feeble craftsmanship (v.10).

*I’m made useful to him for good works (v.10).

*I’m a Gentile who was once an alien of Israel but now “in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (v11-13).

*I’m unified with believing Jews (v.16-17).

*I’ve access “by one Spirit unto the Father” (v.18).

*I’m a “fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God” (v.19).

*I’m safe and secure as Jesus Christ is the “chief corner-stone” for my spiritual foundation (v.20).

*Alongside other believers I’ve been made a “fitly framed” member of God’s “holy temple in the Lord” (v.21).

*I’m a “habitation of God through the Spirit” (v.22) along with other believers.

A long-standing friend of mine from fifth grade has been considering a difficult decision.  He stated to me “You’re going to be disappointed with me, but I’m reconsidering joining the Mormon Church”.  I gently asked him in response “What more could the LDS church offer you than what Christ has already given you?  Please read Ephesians 2.”  Convert into Christ- not religion.

Thinking of heart issues,

Kristie Wood

38 comments

  1. Kristie,

    Scholars almost universally recognize that Ephesians is primarily about the unification of Jews and Gentiles in the early Church community, not an utterly “personal relationship” in some timeless system of salvation for each individual believer apart from the body of Christ. Paul’s writings (though I think Ephesians likely wasn’t written by Paul, but we can leave that aside for the moment) deal much more with ecclesiology than with individual soteriology. Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, etc. all have to do without breaking down schisms within a community and providing a theological basis for how Gentiles can be full participants in the covenant community without undergoing circumcision and following Torah regulations. Rarely does Paul discuss developing a “personal relationship” with Jesus outside of the context of a community of believers; in fact, now that I think about it, I am not even sure how he would have said such a modern notion in his koine Greek. I’ll have to think on that one. At any rate, can you even show me a passage that any scholar has translated with the words “personal relationship”?

    What I am trying to say is that he takes it for granted (as LDS Christians do as well) that one comes to believe in Jesus after hearing God’s word preached to them and is then baptized into the covenant community. Ancient cultures in the Near East, and especially early Christians, were a social/communal group. A timeless, utterly personal system of salvation separate from a body of others would have been a quite foreign concept to them. Our current modern culture in the west makes individuality and “separateness” a normality (however, many other cultures today still live communally). It is hard to comprehend for many in our society today that Paul likely always had others surrounding him in all his activities (probably even including going to the bathroom!) and likely never had “personal” reflective “alone” time. The modern notion of “privacy” would likely not have made much, if any, sense to him and others at that time. Ancient cultures in the Mediterranean and Near East just weren’t like that. Everything was done in primarily social situations, and thus, as even a simple reading of Paul’s letters makes clear, Paul almost always talks about any “personal” issues for believers as it relates to a community. My point in this paragraph is helping you understand the basic social context of Paul’s life and the early Christian movement and what influence it should perhaps have on your theology and terminology.

    Moreover, You’re post makes it sound as though the modern notion of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is something foreign to the LDS Church. Like Paul, I don’t think LDS Christians always discuss such issues in your non-biblical terms because it is simply taken for granted that we have a “personal relationship” in connection with our being a part of his “body”–not to mention that such terminology just isn’t found in Paul’s writings. I, for instance, just take it for granted that my personal relationship with Jesus and my involvement in His Community go hand in hand. I just can’t think of separating the two, and I suggest Paul couldn’t and didn’t suggest the separation you seem to be advocating either. At the very least your post makes it seem as though Christ’s Community/Church/”religion” (and how do you define “religion” anyway?) is secondary at best, and perhaps even just superfluous. That seems quite contra scripture to me (and I would hope you would agree). I would encourage you to reread Ephesians and Paul’s other letters in light of the NPP and much other current modern scholarship that expands much of what I have begun to explain. I would recommend anything by N.T. Wright as a starter. After that Krister Stendahl, James Dunn, E. P. Sanders, or even Ben Witherington would be good to read.

    Simply, I think you shouldn’t divorce Paul from his context. And the way your post comes off makes it seem as though you accuse LDS Christians of avoiding having a “relationship” with Jesus. I couldn’t think of anything more offensive to me personally and untrue as concerning the LDS Church and its members collectively.

  2. btw, if anybody is wondering over the large print, Kristie just gives me a bad time for my text being so small. She says it is enough to make her go cross-eyed trying to read.

  3. I wanted to highlight certain parts of my response to the post, but I don’t know how to italicise or bold certain words. I tried useing html code but it didn’t work. Any suggestions?

  4. This is an interesting dichotomy: Christ on the one hand, Mormonism on the other. Query: do you feel that your church draws people away from Christ, too? (I hope your answer is “it can. I work every day to make sure that it does not.) If so, why should we be involved in organized religion in any way? (I hope that your answer is something like “because Christ calls us to love and serve one another as an outgrowth of His love for us. Church provides an outlet for this aspect of our relationship with Christ, as well as an opportunity to learn from one another. Besides, the Bible teaches that where two or three are gathered in [Christ’s] name, [He] is with them.”)

    Mormons do not believe that our church replaces Christ any more than you believe that your church replaces Christ. I think you know this. But, you say, Mormons believe in additional scripture and ordinances foreign to traditional Christianity. This is true. We believe these differences are gifts from Christ. We do not claim to offer anything more than Christ offers, we just believe Christ offers more than you believe he offers.

  5. Ugly Mahana

    “we just believe Christ offers more than you believe he offers.”

    I have broken God’s commandments. I have been guilty of lying, covetousness (idolatry), lusting after women in my heart (adultery), hatred (murder), and stealing. In my heart, I am a murderer, adulterer, liar, thief and idolater. And that’s the short list! The Bible is VERY clear that the penalty for those that do these things is death.

    I believe that Jesus Christ took my penalty upon himself on the cross and paid for it in full and did ALL the work of reconciling me with the Father. The life I now live is because of my relationship with the Father in Christ, not in order to obtain a relationship with the Father.

    It’s not that Mormonism teaches that Christ offers MORE that bothers me, it is that Mormonism teaches that Christ offers far, far too little.

  6. Mike
    You said….
    At any rate, can you even show me a passage that any scholar has translated with the words “personal relationship”?

    Can you show me one passage that is translated with the words “covenant community”?

  7. Christopher Leavell,

    I will assume this question is being asked in good faith and that perhaps you either didn’t read all of my comment, or didn’t understand the substance of what I was saying.

    I used “covenant community” as one–just one–term in my post to synonomously describe what I also termed in my post as the “Church,” “body of Christ”, Church community, etc. Several of these other terms that I did use (and which you did not quote apparently) are obviously found in the writings of Paul. Paul (or a Pauline disciple writing in the name of Paul) also uses terms like “Commonwealth of Israel.” But for your benefit (and since we are talking about Ephesians especially), see: Eph. 2.12 which talks about Gentiles now being a part of the “Commonwealth of Israel” and heirs of the “covenant” on account of Jesus.

    However, my main point in asking her for a reference was merely to accentuate the substance of my argument (which you clearly didn’t engage), namely that not only is the terminology she uses improper but that at its foundation it misunderstands Paul, his writings, and the context of Paul’s life and writings, etc.

    Also I meant to highlight the fact that fundamentalist evangelicals who use the bible as their “sole” source of doctrine and regard it as inerrant, sufficient, etc. have and do clearly add to that book in their teachings and terminology (the creeds would be another good example). However, LDS Christians have not so limited the basis of their faith to the very “inerrant words” of the bible that other words could not also be properly used to express their faith. I was also merely suggesting that LDS Christians do not use such terminology as Kristie uses because it is both nonbiblical in wording and idea. The wording was actually quite a minor point given the length of my comment.

    I would also point out again that LDS Christians do in fact believe in having a “personal relationship” with Jesus. However, because such wording as Kristie uses is non-biblical, it “sounds” strange to most LDS Christians (I couldn’t find it in the other LDS scriptures either). Moreover, Paul and LDS Christians cannot separate their faith in Christ from their membership in His community/Church/body,etc. While it might be possible in some respects, it is clearly not as separable as Kristie tries to make it sound. As Kristie has written her post, it makes it sound as though it is superfluous at best.

    For Paul the historically defined Church/Covenant Community was of super importance. Kristie’s post seems to nullify that almost entirely.

    Are you actually going to engage the substance of my arguments now?

  8. Thanks Mike,
    I am just getting off of an all night shift so I have not gotten any sleep. I’ll try to be coherent but I’m not promising anything. 🙂

    The point I was trying to make is that while the words “personal relationship” and “covenant community” are not found directly in the Bible, their concepts are.

    I think there are several ways the “personal relationship” we have with Christ is expressed. I think it is foundational to the Biblical concept of “agape” (love). Also, the Greek word for “know,” “that I may know Him,” Philippians 3:4-10 speaks of an experiential knowledge of Christ. You get the sense from this passage, that for Paul, this was intensely personal.

    “For Paul the historically defined Church/Covenant Community was of super importance. Kristie’s post seems to nullify that almost entirely.”

    I’m not sure how she does this. She does make these comments in relation to Eph….

    *I’m a “fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God” (v.19
    *Alongside other believers I’ve been made a “fitly framed” member of God’s “holy temple in the Lord” (v.21).
    *I’m a “habitation of God through the Spirit” (v.22) along with other believers.

    It seems to me she is just personalizing the truths set forth in Eph.

    BTW… I completely agree with you about the church community being of super importance. You’re absolutely right that this is a fundamental reality of Christian life that is being overlooked by Evangelicals today. I don’t think I could agree more about the importance of church life for a Christian. As I read the writings of early Christians, I find there is no concept of a Christian outside of a local body of believers.

    “Moreover, Paul and LDS Christians cannot separate their faith in Christ from their membership in His community/Church/body,etc.”

    This is an Excellent point! Again, I can not agree more! You are absolutely right. As I read the writings of early Christians they are adamant that the faith can not be divorced from the church community and that they are equally concerned about faithfulness to the “faith once delivered.” Over and over again, they write about the faith they had received from the Apostles and the importance of clinging to that faith. The question is, does Mormonism even come close to resembling the faith that was delivered from the Apostles to men like Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papias, etc?

  9. “The question is, does Mormonism even come close to resembling the faith that was delivered from the Apostles to men like Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papias, etc?”

    I know conventional LDS wisdom says it does. But I’m not so sure. Nor do I think it really needs to resemble the “primitive church” in order to qualify as God’s Restored Church. But that’s just me.

  10. Thanks for the honesty, Seth. First time, I have heard this undecidedness among an LDS friend.

  11. Mike, my first question . . .

    Have you been to the communal bathrooms in Ephesus?

    Your earlier statement in #1 struck some humor with Kristie and me. We remember staring at a long row of holes. Wealthy bathroom participants could nicely talk with one another and even enjoy live instrumental music while in the act.

  12. Todd,

    I personally have not been to the ones in Ephesus. I am glad you caught the humor in the comment. Are you referring to the ones in Ephesus that you visited? It was just a common practice anciently.

  13. Christopher Leavall (#5):

    “It’s not that Mormonism teaches that Christ offers MORE that bothers me, it is that Mormonism teaches that Christ offers far, far too little.”

    I appreciate how this statement erases the dichotomy between Christ and mormonism and, simultaneously, between Christ and the teachings of any other denomination present in the initial question. You give dignity to my personal faith that the original question lacked. I disagree that Mormonism teaches that Christ offers less, but that is a discussion I do not have time to go into right now. For now, understand that I, too, “believe that Jesus Christ took my penalty upon himself on the cross and paid for it in full and did ALL the work of reconciling me with the Father” and that “the life I now live is because of my relationship with the Father in Christ, not in order to obtain a relationship with the Father.”

  14. Todd,

    I only read the post itself that you linked to regarding the NPP. As I am at work and studying right now, so I will be brief in saying that the post itself hardly does justice to what the NPP is, and misses several very important points. If you want I can summarize some of them later.

  15. Chris,

    Your final question “…does Mormonism even come close to resembling the faith that was delivered from the Apostles to men like Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papias, etc?”

    Obviously we have different answers to this question. Are you referring to something specific you want to discuss? If not, then there is no way for us to engage. I mean, if I would put the same question to you about evangelicalism not representing the early Christian faith, I would at least engage you on points over which I see disagreement (such as the creedal Trinty, Creatio Ex Nihilo, sola biblia, Lutheran/Reformed doctrines of salvation through faith alone through grace alone, etc).

    Lastly, I agree that Kristie uses “community language” when citing Ephesians. I see this as a simple contradiction in Kristie’s post; she seperates personal “faith” from “religion” so-called. The reason this fails is that the text she uses is taken out of its historical setting. Faith in Christ and being a part of a His community just goes hand in hand, and is simply inseperable.

  16. Todd,

    I will comment briefly as I have spare moments.

    First, the major work that began the impetus of the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP) was E. P. Sanders “Paul and Palestinian Judaism” (1977). Prior to this book most biblical commentaries typically dealt with the letters of Paul from a primarily Lutheran/Reformed perspective that suggested that Paul’s major contention with the “law” and Judiasm was that second-temple Jews were somehow trying to “earn” their salvation or eternal life; in other words, that the pattern of their religion was some type of legalism or moralism that sought to earn the favor/grace of God through works-righteousness. (This interpretation is also found in the Augustinian tradition.) However, Sander’s sought to correct this charicature of Judaism by insisting/emphasizing that it was indeed a religion of grace and not legalism/self-help moralism.

    The point is that if Judaism was not a legalistic/moralistic religion that did not seek to earn God’s grace through “works” then all of Paul’s letters would need to be reanalyzed for he would not be critiquing it as though it were. It is hard to overemphasize how important this point is. If Sanders is right that Judaism was a religion of grace, then it means Augustine (vs. Pelagius) and Luther (vs. Catholic Church/Erastus) read into the letters of Paul a context, debate, and meaning that simply did not exist in Paul’s day. Instead they pulled from Paul’s letters proof-texts to combat the problems they were facing in their own times regardless of what they actually meant.

    So what did Sanders describe the pattern of second temple Judiam to be?

    He summarized thus:

    “The all-pervasive view [of Judaism] can be summarized in the phrase ‘covenantal nomism’. Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression…obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such. It simply keeps an individual in the group which is the recipient of God’s grace…“…covenantal nomism is this: (1) God has chosen Israel and (2) given the law. The law implies both (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and (4) the requirement to obey. (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression. (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship. (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.”

    Let me restate the point of all this before going on and explaining what Sanders is saying in the above quotes. The context of what Judaism actually believed is all-important in determining what Paul’s critique of it would have actually been. If the context is missing, the interpretation of critical Pauline themes (such as God’s righteousness, justification by faith, etc.) will be skewed, perverted, and misunderstood.

    However, I have to go now. I will post more later. This is just a taste. I will explain what Sanders meant by the above quotations and where the NPP has gone from Sanders landmark study later; as well as more on how it relates to the Lutheran/Reformed views. Hopefully you can begin to see why they have called it (in some quarters) the “Sander’s revolution.”

  17. Mike, I have no books by Sanders in my home. And I admit, I have read no books authored by him. Thanks for this so far.

    In the “Sander’s revolution” is there no room for biblical exegesis substantianting individual election/salvation?

  18. Todd,

    I will get to all of that. 🙂

    I go to school in the day, however, and work at night. I am taking a relatively heavy semester load right now too. But enough pity talk.

    That was just one post with more to come.

  19. Todd,

    Sorry I had to leave off last time so abruptly. I will encourage everyone to re-read my previous comment before reading this one.

    James Dunn explains Sanders’ point (from the previous comment) further:

    “This covenant relationship [between God and Israel] was regulated by the Law, not as a way of entering the covenant, or of gaining merit, but as the way of living within the covenant; and that included the provision of sacrifice and atonement for those who confessed their sins and thus repented. This attitude Sanders characterized by the now well known phrase “covenantal nomism”—that is, “the maintenance of status” among the chosen people of God by observing the law given by God as part of that covenant relationship.”

    The need that Sanders and Dunn are addressing is the need to explain the relationship Paul would have seen in first century Judaism between the Law (Torah) and covenant. Again, context is all important. If Judaism really believed that the Law was granted as a way of properly MAINTAINING their covenant status, and NOT as a
    way of EARNING or meriting the gracious covenant relationship with God, then Paul would certainly not have been arguing that Jews were seeking to merit God’s favor or eternal life through works-righteousness. As Dunn and Sanders have said, Torah clearly regulated the “maintenance of status” and did not merit God’s saving
    covenant relationship. The covenant was given
    first then Torah. Israel did not keep Torah to be given the
    covenant, but rather the covenant was given with Torah as the way to properly remain in, or maintain, the relationship that God had graciously offered. The point is that obeying Torah for Judaism in Paul’s day was thus the necessity of properly responding to God’s prior unmerited
    benefaction/grace when he offered the covenant relationship; it was not seen as a way of earning eternal life or salvation, and was thus not a form of legalism or moralism as Luther and Augstine had interpreted Paul’s arguements (in their efforts to combat the Catholic Church and Pelegius, respectively.)

    As you can tell properly understanding covenant is all important as well. We will come back to the covenant more later. Simply, Paul was a covenant theologian. Also, this means that what Paul typically means by “law” (greek nomos) will need to be modified from the Augustinian/Lutheran interpretation which makes him out as though he were referring to some form of legalistic or moralistic trend in Judaism that sought to merit God’s grace. Rather, the Law (ho nomos) should almost always refer to Torah. We will come back to this more later also.

    Unfortunately, I will have to comment more later; I have to go. Hopefully you are beginning to see answers to your questions about election (if not, I will be coming back to that more later anyway). If you do have general questions that you might like me to touch on in future posts, let me know also.

  20. I would like to see how they work through Galatians. Also, would like to know their take on some miscellaneous: separate covenants, law abusers, legalism, covenantal union in Christ, and Christ’s law for today, etc.

    What are the titles of the books you are tapping into, Mike?

  21. Todd,

    If I could recommend a good introduction to the NPP as well as a commentary in that perspective I would suggest these books:

    N.T. Wright: New Interpreter’s Bible Volume 10 (a 400 page commentary on Romans that interacts with current modern scholarship and comes from one of the leading proponents of the NPP. Very accessible.)

    N.T. Wright: What St. Paul Really Said? (A 140 page introduction to the NPP and its arguments from a leading NPP scholar; it builds off of and is a summary of sorts of his more in-depth scholarly treatments. Very accessible.)

    ——

    But also check these out for sure:

    E.P. Sander’s: Paul and Palestinian Judaism. (The Book that started it all; still a foundational book for discussion of major Pauline themes.)

    James Dunn: The Theology of the Apostle Paul (A semi-systematic treatment of major Pauline teachings from a leading NPP scholar.)

    James Dunn: Romans WBC. 2 Volumes. (A two volume commentary on Romans from the World Biblical Commentary series. Very in-depth treatments; Perhaps not as good an introduction as the works by N.T. Wright listed above, but essential reading nonetheless. Written by a leading NPP scholar.)

    I would start with these books Todd. Good luck!

    Oh and I will try and get to your questions throughout my posts as I go along.

  22. Todd,

    I am going to skip to another topic of great importance for the NPP and its relation to the Lutheran/Reformed traditions–that of the “righteousness of God.”

    An important component of the NPP is understanding properly the phrase “dikaiosune theou”, i.e., “the righteousness of God” (e.g., Rom. 1.16-17)

    The first question that should be asked is this: What would a first-century Jew or Jewish Christian have understood by the phrase “the righteousness of God”? This phrase occurs throughout the Septuagint, and typically refers to God’s covenant faithfulness—especially within the Psalms and Isaiah, both of which were frequently quoted or alluded to by early Christians, including Paul. That is, it is typically employed to express God’s own faithfulness to his covenant(s).

    As Richard Hays said:

    “God’s righteousness is manifest in his resolute faithfulness to the covenant with Israel. Indeed, in the lament Psalms, the Psalmist can frequently appeal to God’s righteousness as a way of invoking the…covenant blessing (cf. Ps 31:1; 71:2)… [God’s righteousness] characterizes not merely an abstract attribute of God, but an [specific] aspect of the divine character made manifest in the action of claiming and delivering Israel.”

    Before proceeding further, however, it must further be understood that “righteousness” language as a theological concept within biblical literature (including Paul) and Second-Temple Judaism has its roots in the metaphor of the law courts of ancient Israel. In ancient Israel, the law court was where the plaintiff or defendant would be “vindicated,” or declared “righteous,” after the trial had been heard by a judge. The “righteousness” at stake for the defendant or plaintiff is that of a status (not necessarily a judgment of the general moral character of the individual) after the trial has concluded, and which shows them to be in the right. The “righteousness” at stake for the judge, however, is not a status, but a quality of impartiality and commitment to fairness and “justice” (which comes from the same word as righteousness) that he uses in deciding the case. It is clear within this context that when calling the Judge “righteous” or the defendant or plaintiff “righteous,” two quite different meanings are being posited. It simply is a conflation of usage to say that the Judge has “imputed” or “imparted” his own righteousness to the defendant or plaintiff after a case has been decided, as if “righteousness” is a “substance” that can be transferred from one to another; nor does it make any sense to say that the Judge has a “status” of righteousness after the trial has been concluded. Simply, the Judge’s “righteousness” and the plaintiff’s or defendant’s “righteousness” are different categorically. (This point will become important when analyzing the history of interpretation of Paul’s use of dikaiosune theou in Romans discussed further down.)

    One more critical point must also be understood concerning “righteousness/justification” language and the theological metaphor of the law court—it only makes full sense when the understanding of God’s righteousness (as Judge) is firmly fixed within the understanding of the covenant with Israel. For it is within the analogy of the law court that the God of Israel (as the Great Judge) will pass apocalyptic judgment upon the Gentiles, vindicate Israel, and set the world to rights (i.e., dealing with evil and sin [which is one of the great purposes of the covenant(s)]).

    It is at that time then that the world will be put to rights and within which God’s vindication of Israel is often portrayed within biblical texts (especially Isaiah and Psalms).

    The story goes like this: Israel has been constantly oppressed throughout her history by the Gentile nations (whether depicted as the Assyrians, Babylonians, or, for first century Judaism, Rome), and seeks vindication in God’s metaphorical law court by bringing a suit against them. In this scenario Israel (as plaintiff) seeks to be declared “righteous” or “vindicated”–as God’s true people on the grounds of God’s faithfulness to the covenant that he has graciously made with them. If Israel truly is God’s chosen community as he has promised and declared, then his righteousness—his resolute faithfulness to this covenant to deliver Israel and honor his covenant with them—they believe, will assure them their victory in court (i.e., the apocalyptic day of judgment).

    [((However what happens if God’s impartiality as Judge to condemn sin and social injustice in the metaphorical lawcourt seems to conflict with his righteousness–his covenant faithfulness–to vindicate (oppressed) Israel, which was so often sinful and unjust (just like the nations it was complaining against!) and thus unable to fulfill one of its great purposes of its being called into covenant relationship (i.e., to alleviate evil, sin, and injustice)? This is a theme I will return to more later as it bears great importance in understanding Paul’s view of the “Law.”))]

    For now it is important to note that it is quite clear that when dikaiosune theou refers to God’s own righteousness, Paul quickly becomes dislodged from later Augustinian, Lutheran, and Reformed readings that make his discussion of the “righteousness of God” in Romans part of the explanation of how God can allow (through either being “imputed” or “infused” as ” righteous” through His own/Christ’s righteousness) unholy and impure sinners into his glorious presence. However, by placing Paul’s writings in their proper first century context, it becomes clear that the”dikaiosune theou” is a subjective and/or possessive genitival construction referring back to God himself—it is God’s own righteousness that is being discussed in Paul’s writings in terms of his covenant faithfulness (possessive genitive) and his closely related acts of covenant faithfulness (subjective genitive).

    Because Lutheran, Reformed, and Augustinian readings have most often erroneously taken Paul’s discussion of the “righteousness of God” (often in connection with the term-phrase “Justification by faith;” another topic I will most certainly return too) as the terminology for how a human can come to stand in God’s holy presence, they have instead turned the phrase “righteousness of God” into a genitive of origin (denoting “righteousness” as either an “imparted” or “imputed” status given to humans that declares them “righteous”) or an objective genitive (denoting righteousness as a “quality” that some humans have [or are given from God] that God recognizes as effectual). However, Paul is simply not addressing how an individual sinner is “accounted” as “saved” when he discusses the “righteousness of God” (or when he uses “justification” language for that matter). God’s righteousness is as the great Judge, and is simply not a transferable “substance”; there is no legal fiction/fictional moral character that comes to an individual sinner because of God’s righteousness being “imparted”, “infused”, or “imputed” for/to/into humans to make them worthy to dwell in His heavenly presence despite their actual state of sinfulness–for God’s righteousness simply cannot be transferred or “given” to another. Righteousness is a utterly personal quality that cannot be handed around from one to another.

    As N.T. Wright has stated “The Jewish context…creates such a strong presumption in favour [sic] of [righteousness as referring to God himself] that it could only be overthrown if Paul quite clearly argued against it.”

    Richard Hays summarized it thus:

    Once it is recognized that “the righteousness of God” in Romans is deliberately explicated in terms of this covenant conceptuality, it becomes apparent that the term refers neither to an abstract ideal of divine distributive justice nor to a legal status or moral character imputed or conveyed by God to human beings. It refers rather to God’s own unshakable faithfulness…Insofar as “righteousness” may be ascribed to human beneficiaries of God’s grace…this righteousness should be interpreted primarily in terms of the covenant relationship to God and membership within the covenant community…”Righteousness” refers to God’s covenant-faithfulness which declares persons full participants in the community of God’s people. This declaration has a quasi-legal dimension, but there is no question here of a legal fiction whereby God juggles his heavenly account books and pretends not to notice human sin. The legal language points rather to the formal inclusion of those who once were “not my people” in a concrete historical community of the “sons of the living God” (Rom. 9.25-26)

    This will help pave the way for our discussions of “Justification by faith” as well as judgment by works.

    (P.S. Sorry if this isn’t as clear as I would like to be; I am tired and just trying to finish it–if you have more questions put them down again as you did before.)

  23. Mike, a couple more questions.

    According to the NPP, what were the hermeneutical problems in interpretation that caused Paul’s countrymen to erupt in anger, slander, and violence toward the apostle everywhere he went? I would think they would be happy about a message, promoting the faithfulness of God to the Jews and the importance of maintaining covenantal duties, if this were the contextualized message.

    According to the NPP, what is the central message of Christ and the central work of Christ on the behalf of his people?

    btw, Kristie has been meaning to pop on here sometime. She probably will; however she has been very sick.

  24. Todd,

    Sorry to hear Kristie is sick.

    Not every Jew obviously saw the crucified Jesus as Messiah. His life and mission seemed almost the reverse of what the expected Messiah should have been. It was ridiculous, if not blasphemous, to many (such as Saul the Pharisee!) that a crucified “criminal” could be God’s chosen agent for redeeming Israel. Also, not everyone (speaking of early Jews as well as many Jewish Christians) liked the idea of Gentiles being in close fellowship with Jews (part of the covenant community), which is what Paul sought to make a reality; and in connection with that they would not have liked the idea that the Torah was not binding on Gentiles, etc. There are both religious and social aspects to this. Sure Paul lived, breathed and thought in the terms of the covenant to Israel and God’s faithfulness to it, but his ideas were surely revolutionary (or as he might say, revealed!) in his time and society and not shared by many others. He was changing others deep held beliefs, and changing social structures that had existed for a long time. There is more to all of this, and when I get to discussing Paul’s view of Torah more of this will fall into place.

    [[BTW, You would think no one would get mad enough to shoot, plunder, kill, and drive people out of a “free” country because of their religious beliefs and their message that God had spoken to man again through a prophet. You would think people would be happy to hear God had spoken again and was doing now what had always been done in scripture. But sometimes strange things happen, y’know?]]

    As far as the Romans are concerned, his message could also be seen as subversive in some ways. I will certainly get to the gospel proclamation in due time, as well as talk about this and its relationship to the Roman authorities.

    Thanks for the questions.

  25. Another question, Mike. 🙂

    I am looking at II Corinthians 12 . . . you know Paul’s optasia and apokalupsis . . . and being caught up to the third heaven . . . paradeisos (which by the way, if LDS friends cut me off from experiencing this abode of the throne room of God, His presence, that would be hell for me).

    I then come to the aorist middle subjunctive, logisetai, in verse 6.

    Looking at the word, triggers for me the meaning of logizomai: to reckon, to charge, to credit to one’s account.

    In light of what you have mentioned earlier, do NPP scholars say it is impossible that Christ’s righteousness can be credited to a sinful creature who looks (weak or strong) upon him in faith?

  26. Todd,

    I am about to head to bed, but I will respond briefly, and comment more in depth tomorrow.

    My first point is that NPP scholars are not necessarily univocal in everything that I discuss. I am trying to emphasize main points (such as the context of Jewish religion, Torah, God’s righteousness, covenant, judgment, eschatology, justification by faith etc.) and sometimes I have to digress into more explanatory peripherals.

    However, as far as the dikaisune theou being either imparted, imputed, or infused into a human from God, I am unaware of a respected NPP scholar that would agree that Paul was saying any such thing as far as those terms have been defined by traditional Lutheran/Reformed interpretations. Again, re-read my posts concerning the context of the phrase, as well as the context in which this language is typically used from a Jewish perspective. We will delve into how Paul then uses this very typical Jewish theme of God’s righteousness–his covenant faithfulness–in Romans and Galatians, etc. later.

    I will flesh more of this out as I go along. I will also comment on logizomai later. For now, it is time to sleep.

  27. #16… “Obviously we have different answers to this question. Are you referring to something specific you want to discuss? If not, then there is no way for us to engage. I mean, if I would put the same question to you about evangelicalism not representing the early Christian faith, I would at least engage you on points over which I see disagreement (such as the creedal Trinty, Creatio Ex Nihilo, sola biblia, Lutheran/Reformed doctrines of salvation through faith alone through grace alone, etc).”

    Mike,

    The reality of the writings of early Christians is that they are not as clear as anyone would like them to be. As far as the doctrines you mention, I believe they all can be found in different forms expressed in differing ways throughout early Christian history. It is obvious there is diversity of outlook, but I also think one can find in certain aspects, surprising uniformity.

    Although it can be difficult to pinpoint a particular theological position in early Christianity, it is far easier to pinpoint what is clearly outside of the thinking and teachings of early Christianity.

    I’m sure you are familiar with many of the statements and writings of LDS prophets and others on God himself being an exalted man. What do you believe about this and are you aware of anything even close to this being taught by early Christians?
    Also, how about eternal marriage and the importance of marriage for exaltation? There does not even seem to be consciousness of the concept of eternal marriage in early Christianity.

  28. Chris,

    I am about to head to bed, but I will give you a few thoughts.

    You said:

    “Although it can be difficult to pinpoint a particular theological position in early Christianity, it is far easier to pinpoint what is clearly outside of the thinking and teachings of early Christianity.”

    I would simply state that it is very easy to demonstrate the quite clear development of the doctrine of the Trinity, creatio ex nihilo, and the later beliefs of sola scriptura and inerrancy, etc. This really isn’t even a matter of debate. I am unaware of any serious scholars (including evangelicals, albeit not fundamentalists, and catholic scholars who in their personal faith hold to some of these beliefs [though I am not sure if any serious scholars actaully hold to inerrancy]) who posit that any of these beliefs were actually held by any of the NT writers as they later came to be defined by the councils and reformation theologians. Of course, some were later held during the second and third and fourth (and much later) centuries–but that doesn’t really matter to me as far as your question is concerned.

    As for your more pointed questions:

    “I’m sure you are familiar with many of the statements and writings of LDS prophets and others on God himself being an exalted man. What do you believe about this and are you aware of anything even close to this being taught by early Christians? Also, how about eternal marriage and the importance of marriage for exaltation? There does not even seem to be consciousness of the concept of eternal marriage in early Christianity.”

    I personally believe that God the Father has always been God. In fact, I believe Jesus has always been divine as well. Now, whether early Christians and Jews believed God to be anthropomorphic (or better yet, man theomorphic), I think it is nearly certain they did so and I could offer studies demonstrating such. I also think that “anything even close to this” doctrine as you say, may be found in such statements as Acts 17:28 about mankind being the genos (offspring, children, kind, race, sort–take your pick) of God. In my view, man and God are certainly of the same genos. There is no “ontological divide” in the natures of man and God, just as a child is not ontologically different than its parent (even a little baby incapable of rational thinking, control of bodily functions, etc. can hardly be said to be of a different ontological kind than its parent even if it is different in significant ways). The distinctions between the divine realms and the human realm are often blurred in the bible. I might also add that discussions of ontology are simply not contained within the worldviews of the ancient Israelites and early Christians who authored the biblical texts.

    Lastly I would add that I also, like Seth, don’t believe or feel compelled to believe that every unique doctrine found among LDS Christians must also be found among the earliest Christians and NT writers. I don’t think there is a complete uniformity of belief on every doctrine to be found among the NT writers anyway (or among LDS leaders for that matter). They are humans who had different theological views shaped on their unique experiences, and to expect such a standard of utter perfection that fundamentalists hold the biblical “writers” (if they can even be considered to have “authored” anything) to is ridiculous in my view. Unless I believed in inerrancy (a 19th century development I might add), I don’t even know why I would expect something so rigid, so unhuman. I might add also that I see clear strains of esoteric practice amongst earliest Christians as well, and I don’t think everything that is contained within the bible is really all that there was. But this hardly bothers me since I don’t consider God limited to an all-sufficient book.

  29. Mike, in America, if one believes in the trustworthiness of the Bible, one will not be allowed in the revered status of mainstream biblical scholarship.

    I am not a gifted, godly scholar as talented men of the past like William Tyndale or someone remote today like John Frame.

    Yet in considering the doctrine and faith practice promoted by most scholars today, I am a serious rebel to the “serious scholars”.

  30. Todd,

    I should point out that “trustworthiness” and “inerrancy” are not the same thing.

    Also, what someones personal faith is doesn’t negate their historical reconstructions. Arguments should be met on their own merits and evidences. For instance, if an atheist presented historical arguments that early Christians regarded Christ as divine then I would try and engage the arguments made and not attack the faith of the person making the claim.

    Also, as I say again, I know catholic and evangelical scholars (although not fundamentalists) who agree with the points I mentioned above.

  31. #33
    I am smiling on the nuance you detected in the first statement. Would you equate your rejection of “inerrancy,” as it has been defined in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy? Sometime, we will need to explore trustworthiness and inerrancy more thoroughly.

    Your last sentence – yep, I think you could find an “evangelical scholar” to support every major tenet of what you might be believing presently. Sadly, some segments of evangelicalism in America, today, have no more doctrinal parameters.

    I think LDS general authorities will need to follow the lead of evangelicals in becoming more pluralistic, less fundamentalistic in “thus saith the Lord”, if they are to hold any numbers among America’s skeptical populace. Historical, propositional truth is a big yawn to many. And authoritative prophetical messages with one clear sense are taboo. Will it be the next generation when general authorities go emergent?

    It is just my observation, but I think that both evangelicalism and mormonism are morphing with the prevalent scholarly opinions. It is not the LDS authorities who have captured and sustained the minds of the many thinkers.

    Feel free to correct me if I am way off the mark.

    I would be highly interesting in knowing who are some of the main LDS biblical expositors, today, leading the way, who believing LDS look up to with respect like let’s say, Talmadge.

  32. Todd,

    I am quite unaware of the current state of Mormon biblical studies. I know there are some biblical studies students over at FPR, but I don’t know any of them or what their fields of training are. Further, I don’t know what they are doing with their training as pertains to improving general LDS understandings of the bible. I also don’t know who”believing LDS” look to for information in biblical exegesis.

    As for me, I would say I have been more influenced Blake Ostler than any other current LDS writer.

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