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The Forgiving Grace and Transforming Grace of God

We tend to read Romans as a theological explanation of our salvation, a clarification about how we are justified or made righteous.  This is a part—a large part—of what Romans teaches.  If you check in your English Standard Version translation of Romans, for instance, you will find that Romans mentions ‘justification’ three times, ‘justify’ one time, and ‘just’ and ‘justifier’ in one verse (3.26).  Yet there is considerably more to this.  The same Greek word for ‘justification’ (and its other forms) more often gets translated as ‘righteous/righteousness,’ which appears forty times in Romans (ESV).  Thus, Romans does, indeed, speak to the issue of how the unrighteous are made righteous.  Yet this focus on our condition obscures other aspects of the theology of Romans.  (One of these, not discussed here, is about God’s plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles—a corporate reading of the theological argument in Romans.)  If Romans is about our salvation, it is also about God’s grace.  This…

Freedom: A Universal Human Right versus A Value within a Particular (i.e., Christian) Tradition

The purpose of this brief essay is to offer a different basis for freedom than that given in post-Enlightenment, free societies of the West.  The argument presented is that freedom understood as a universal human right ends up with various conflicting views and fails in a variety of ways.  Christians often seek to establish freedom for their faith on the grounds of universal rights, but the position taken here is that they need to articulate their view of freedom from within their own religious tradition.
The Present State of the Argument
The defense of freedom in free societies seems to require defending not only good things but also bad things.  We defend free speech, but to do so we end up defending the free speech rights of hateful groups or the purveyors of pornography.  Freedom of religion is defended in such a way as to defend all belief systems: to defend one, one must defend the right of all.  This only makes sense to those who do not enquire too deeply into the beliefs and …

Twenty-Five Theses on Theological Education in North America and Beyond

In Martin Luther’s day, a list of proposed theses would be posted somewhere in public (like the church door) so that they could be read ahead of a debate.  Day in and day out, I am involved with discussions or debates about theological education—its curriculum, its costs, its goals, its modes of delivery, etc.  These theses, then, represent views I have come to ‘after the debate’.  And yet, most points below are highly controversial and, I expect, too challenging to implement given the present structures and commitments of educational institutions in North America.  My hope, then, is that my points offer alternatives for those developing theological training elsewhere in the world.  My appeal is: Please do not duplicate the model of theological education that dominates the scene in North America.  Yet, even in North America, I expect that these theses will someday become relevant due to the issues being faced—financial, pedagogical, technological, ecclesiastical, ministry and missiona…

A Missional Movement or an Institution? Understanding the Church and Its Mission in the Early Church and Today

Earlier New Testament scholarship—say, in the 1960s-1980s—was beholden to the idea that the early Church began as a ‘charismatic’ movement that developed into a ‘catholic’ institution by the beginning of the second century.  This ‘early Catholicism’ theory was defined in terms of one cause and two developments.  What allegedly precipitated this development was a supposed crisis: (1) the delay of the Parousia.  On the slightest evidence, scholars assumed that the early Christians believed Jesus was going to return in their lifetime.[1]  When the years rolled on and Jesus did not return, the Church had to rethink itself in terms of ecclesiastical structure, appointing deacons, elders, and bishops, and of orthodox doctrine.[2]The developments were: (1) a move from faith as an act of believing to faith as a system of belief, and (2) the church as a community with various ‘charisms’ or gifts to an institution with a hierarchy of leadership. 
To maintain this theory, a number of assumptio…

What Was Missing in the Senate Judicial Committee’s Kavanaugh Hearings?

The Senate Judicial Committee's hearings on the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were painful enough to watch.  Yet they captured social pressure points throughout society.  The elephant in the room was the Roe v. Wade decision that unborn children lack personhood and may be put to death at any time up to birth.  That dividing issue in the USA led to all the tricks and theatrics in the hearings.  Yet the presenting issue had to be something else since the ‘Ginsburg Rule’ says that candidates will not reveal how they would vote on particular issues.
What better way, then, to bring the candidate down in the #MeToo era than to make a claim of sexual abuse?  As a real Catholic, unlike lip-serving Catholics in high governmental positions who regularly advocate for abortion and homosexuality, Kavanaugh surely personally opposes abortion.  While we do not know how, as a judge, he would vote on the matter (for his role is to interpret laws, not make them), he would…