Monday, September 27, 2004

For Those Who Appreciate Pomp and Symbolism

If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints' days more uplifting than the observance of Mother's Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.

The poet Dana Gioia, the current director of the National Endowment for the Arts, puts it nicely in the poem "Autumn Inaugural":

There will always be those who reject ceremony, who claim that resolution requires no fanfare, those who demand the spirit stay fixed like a desert saint, fed only on faith, to worship in no temple but the weather.

Gioia acknowledges the point:

Symbols betray us.They are always more or less than what is really meant.


But shall there be no processions by torchlight because we are weak? Praise to the rituals that celebrate change, old robes worn for new beginnings, solemn protocol where the mutable soul, surrounded by ancient experience, grows young in the imagination's white dress. Because it is not the rituals we honor but our trust in what they signify, these rites that honor us as witnesses--whether to watch lovers swear loyalty in a careless world or a newborn washed with water and oil.

If Christ is culture, let the sidewalks be lit with fire on Easter Eve, let traffic stop for a column of Christians waving palm branches on a spring morning, let streets be blocked off as the faithful gather for a Corpus Christi procession. Then will others know that there is another city in their midst, another commonwealth, one that has its face, like the faces of angels, turned toward the face of God.

Robert Louis Wilken, First Things, April 2004.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

The Contemporary Pulpit: Midrash at its Best! 

Instead of all the commotion some are causing in reformed-evangelical circles about the use of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism sources and whether or not they are helpful to current Christian discussions, one might begin by thanking these Jewish exegetes and preachers for the helpful framework and tradjectories they provided us with.  Can anyone truly admit that contemporary Christian preaching is anything other than midrash?  Richard N. Longenecker says that midrash is

"...exegesis which, going more deeply than the more literal sense, attempts to penetrate into the spirit of the Scriptures, to examine the text from all sides, and thereby to derive interpretations which are not immediately obvious." 


"Midrashic interpretation, in effect, ostensibly takes its point of departure from the biblical text itself (though psychologically it may be motivated by other factors) and seeks to explicate the hidden meanings contained by means of agreed on hermeneutical rules in order to contemporize the revelation of God for the people of God."  

Sound familiar?  We are post-modern midrashic preachers of Chirst!  

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Motley Crue

A lot could be said about this photo, but at the very least, "This is some Motley Crue!" But a Motley Crue that lacks Vince, Tommy, and the "other" Crue members of course.

Left to "Wright:" Justin "Midrash Le Yustin" Dombrowski, Professor Stephen "NPP" Taylor, Matty B. (that's me), Jerry "Big Daddy" Fourroux.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Epistemology: Van Til and Wright

This is my third reading of N.T. Wright's New Testament and the People of God. And with this pass I am struck--once again--by the similarities between Van Til and Wright. (1) Both authors argue that there is no such thing as a "brute fact" or "mere history," to use Wright's term; (2) both authors sternly critique the Enlightenment project and reveal its presuppositions and subsequent failures; (3) both authors argue for a way of doing theology and history that, at bottom, is circular (a very "post-modern" way of thinking); and (4) both authors recognize that all "knowing" involves circularity (there's just no ifs, ands, or buts about it!).

So what's all the commotion about? Oh, I get it: Wright is an Anglican and not a Presbyterian. And furthermore, he didn't teach at Westminster Theological Seminary. Therefore, he couldn't be saying anything we could embrace.

Friday, May 28, 2004

N.T. Wright Summerfest

For those of you who are interested (and for those of you who are not), I will be spending my summer rereading the first two volumes of N.T. Wright's series Christian Origins and the Question of God along with rereading The Climax of the Covenant, while beginning to sink my teeth into The Resurrection of the Son of God, vol. 3 of the aforementioned series. Moreover, I will work my way through Romans with the aid of Wright, Cranfield, Dunn and Luther (to throw in an "Old Perspective" reading).

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty, I'm Free at Last!

For those of you who are wondering why I fell off the face of the blogster-earth...I was trapped by my finals and papers in my last weeks at Westminster Theological Seminary. Thankfully, however, I will graduate this Thursday (hence the above title). WTS has been a great place to study and prepare for ministry. A special thanks goes out to:

Dr. Doug Green, for all the free commentaries he gave me and for putting up with me barging into his office almost everyday to shoot the breeze; Dr. Pete Enns and family who were kind enough to leave the light on for me for two years; Prof. Mike Kelly for all the great homebrew Scottish Ale and conversation on his porch; Prof. Steve Taylor for all the hours I took away from his own work to discuss Paul (but discussing Paul is a must!); to Dr. Paul David Tripp for all the 6:15am coffee meetings at Starbucks with the hopes of seeing me grow into a credible minister of the Word and God-honoring husband; and to all the friends I made over the last four years who put up with a brash NYer on campus (you know who you are). And last, but not least, the warmest of thanks to my wife Yi Ya who supported me both financially, emotionally and spiritually...thanks Sweetie, you must really love me!

Finally, I'm happy to report that I'll be working at Astoria Community Church, PCA, beginning June 15, 2004 thanks to Rev. David Ellis, Rev. Darcy Caires and the Redeemer Church Planting Center in NYC.

Praises to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Matty B. Out

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times a Van Tilian?

Nicholas Kristof is an Op-Ed writer for the NY Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his work during the Tianaman Square riots which was the research that produced his excellent book China Wakes. For many years I've been unsure of his position regarding evangelicals in New York and America since he likes to "straddle the line." In other words, he paints an ambiguous portrait. But his latest column, Hug an Evangelical, demonstrates, at the very least, that he thinks like a good Van Tilian! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to suggest that Kristof is a Christian, or something. I'm simply intrigued with his consistent reasoning. Kristof argues in the piece that the gay coalition is not fully in line with their own presuppositions which are central to their agenda. They demand "tolerance," but that's just what they lack...tolerance for the evangelical community. In other words, they are what they hate!

Good work Nick Van Til!

Monday, April 19, 2004

Apostolic Hermeneutics and an Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture:
Moving beyond a Modernist Impasse

Ever wonder how the apostles were handling their "Bibles?" This must read article by Dr. Peter Enns, associate professor of OT at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, deals with questions of the NT use of the OT. I strongly recommend it!

Friday, April 16, 2004

When Profs Can't Fly

Professor Douglas Green at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia attempting to levitate...but to no avail!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

N.T. Wright on the Radio in the UK

Listen to N.T. Wright defend the Easter message of the Resurrection of the Son of God on a radio interview from the UK.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Women and Silence: Is "Saul the Rabbi" Employing a Rabbinic Formula in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?

For my ethics class at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, I decided to engage the "women's issue" as my topic (but more specifically, "the women and silence" issue of 1 Cor 14). I thought it would be good for me--in my final semester--to wrestle with this issue, especially since it is one of the hot-button topics in post-Christian NYC. I chose to interact with Richard Hays on the matter: (1) because I agree with a handful of his outcomes; and (2) because I disagree (as of now) with his hermeneutical entry-gate into the issue. But to engage Hays means I must also engage Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza, Victor Paul Furnish and others, since Hays follows their lead on a variety of issues.

1 Corinthians 14:33-34 reads:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

Preliminary Considerations
(1) The first thing we must remember is that the punctuation is interpretive.
(2) With the punctuation in mind, the "As in all the congregations of the saints" of v. 33b should be read as continuing the thought of v. 33a, not beginning the thought of v. 34 (as the NIV renders/obscures it). By following the NIV, the thought of v. 33b is redundant, since the Greek for "congregations" and "churches" is the same word, ekklesia. "As in all the the churches."
(3) Hays uses Gal 3:28 as the hermeneutical lens into the 1 Corinthian passage. (Moreover, Hays believes that 1 Cor 14:33-36 is an interpolation. Fiorenza, on the other hand, says we must deal with it regardless if it is Pauline or deutero-Pauline.)
(4) Most commentators, including Hays, recognize that Gal 3:28 has rabbinic roots--it is part of the prayer that every good Jew of the first-century would say each day:

Rabbi Jehuda said, One must speak three prayers every day:
Blessed be God that he has not made me a Gentile.
Blessed be God that he has not made me a woman.
Blessed be God that he has not made me a boor.
(T. Berakoth)

(5) If Paul is echoing a rabbinic formula in Gal 3:28, why not in 1 Cor 14:33-35?
(6) With point (5) and point (1) in mind, can we read 1 Cor 14:34b-35 as follows: "[Women] are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says, "If [women] want to inquire about something, they should ask their husbands at home..."
(7) We do know that the women of the first-century were not entitled to speak in the ekklesia, both Jewish (the "assembly," in the LXX) and Greco-Roman (the "assembly" of the polis).
(8) Is Paul just carrying this understanding into the church?
(9) If so, what does that do to how we understand Paul's understanding of the "law?" Is Paul's understanding of the "law" wider than we have come to believe?

Of course, point (6) is not fully substantiated at this moment. But I am hopeful to find something in the rabbinic sources that makes some sense of it.

Again, these were just some of my initial thoughts.

Sunday, April 11, 2004


Monday, March 22, 2004


What is the "center" of Paul's theology? Is it the doctrine of justification? Is it his doctrine of the Holy Spirit? Or, to ask a more profound question: Is there a center to Paul's thought or any other NT writer, for that matter?

In Reformed circles some years ago, we began to employ the term "Christocentric" to describe Paul's hermeneutic as well as the hermeneutics of other NT writers. At WTS, Philadelphia, Dr. Douglas Green borrowed a term from Richard Hays ("ecclesio-telic") and applied the "telic" sense of this term to the way the NT writers interpreted the OT. Green began to speak of "Christo-telic" hermeneutics--finding a passage's fulfillment in Christ, but still doing justice to what he called a "first reading." (This is especially true when exegeting OT passages.) This is a profound tweaking of the former "Christocentric" understanding. It basically says that our hermeneutic should have Christ as its telos. But does "Christo-telic" do justice to how the OT writers were thinking? Were they awaiting Jesus Christ? Probably not specifically! Let us consider this: Euangellio-telic or Gospel-telic. I believe it does justice to both the anticipated fulfillment of the OT writers as well as the realized fulfillment of the NT writers.

Monday, March 08, 2004

New Testament Backgrounds and World Christianity

According to Lamin Sanneh--D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and professor of history at Yale Divinity School--World Christianity as opposed to Christendom or Global Christianity may benefit the western Christian mindset by providing a fresh perspective into NT backgrounds. Sanneh writes in Whose Religion Is Christianity: The Gospel Beyond the West,

The West can encounter in the world Christian movement the gospel as it is being embraced by societies that had not been shaped by the Enlightenment, and so gain an insight into the culture that shaped the origins of the NT church. That might bring about a greater appreciation for the NT background of Christianity. It might also shed light on the issues the early church faced as it moved between Jewish and Gentile worlds.

This statement flies in the face of those who would state unequivocally that the New Perspective on Paul and contemporary Jesus studies like that of N.T. Wright are a direct result of a post-Holocaust agenda and sentiment. To not recognize how the world Christian movement may contribute to our own understanding of scripture and practice is to be thoroughly anti-catholic and perpetuate our post-Enlightenment self-delusion.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Why I Haven't Blogged

For those of you who sneak a peak at my blog from time to time and are now frustrated with the lack of activity, let me offer you a defense. My wife Yi Ya was hospitalized three weeks ago after undergoing emergency surgery and a transfusion. Please be patient with me as I give my time to other more important things.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Echoes of the Psalms in the Gospel of Mark

As I was preparing a Bible study for a homegroup that meets in Brooklyn, I was struck by Mark's use of, or reflection on, Psalm 23 in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. Mark is undeniably painting Jesus as the shepherd of that psalm, or we might even go as far to say that Mark is finding Psalm 23's fulfillment in the feeding of the five-thousand. For me the dead give away was Mark's mention that "Jesus directed them [the apostles] to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass" (v. 39). After noticing this, I immediately turned to the LXX to see how it rendered the green grass of Psalm 23 in the MT. Both the LXX and Mark employ a derivative of cloros. But that's not where it ends. The obvious reflection is v. 34, "They were like sheep without a shepherd," which echoes v. 1 of Psalm 23. Furthermore, v. 42 of Mark 6 says that "they all ate and were satisfied," which echoes vv. 5a and 1 of Psalm 23, "You prepare a table before me" and "I shall not be in want." It was disappointing to find that the commentaries were silent on this one (not that my commentary library is exhaustive). But I was encouraged to see that Mark Horne's excellent book, The Victory According to Mark (which I just picked up this week), does, in fact, point this up.

Friday, January 30, 2004

What Can We Learn from the Quote of the Day?

"The reason we're doing this is to make God a part of the relationship. We are making our union with God in public. We do see it as a sacrament" (Jeffery A. Manley, who will exchange vows with his male partner in a church in March). Read the article.

What has happened to the New York Times Quote of the Day. I'm sure in years past, profound statements by politicians, statesmen and others of notoriety were published, intended for the readers growth. But now it has become a slot of the paper/rag to promote the "way-liberal" agenda! Yes, most NYers--including myself-- are "liberal," or, at least, registered democrats. But that shouldn't suggest that all NYers affirm the "extreme-left's" every agenda. We can, however, affirm the policies of the liberal-left that are in line with the truth of the gospel (e.g., social justice and all that it stands for and accomplishes)! But same-sex union is out of the question. My question today to the New York Times is: How is this quote helpful to the masses? It's far from a quote from Jesus Christ our Lord, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman or Bugs Bunny (for that matter).

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Let Us All Continue To Confuse the Issues

"Let's get this straight: The god called variously 'Allah,' 'Yahweh' and 'God' are all one and the same" (John Kearney, My God Is Your God, New York Times, Wednesday, January 28, 2004).

What categories are Mr. Kearney confusing?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The PCA and Urban America

The PCA considers itself to be a churchplanting movement and denomiation. Yet the PCA's history is one that some might label "southern presbyterian" (and southern presbyterianism is a "dirty word" to urbanites since it embodies, espouses and promotes a culture that is foreign to much of this country's urban centers). With the ever increasing urbanization of America (and the world for that matter), how can the PCA continue to plant relavant churches in this country's urban centers?

Harvey Conn and Manuel Ortiz are the churchplanting "gurus" in Reformed-Evangelical circles in the United States. They believe that churchplanting in particular and ministry in general must begin with the indigenous leaders already available within the boundaries of the targeted cities. Conversely, the PCA is (and has been) notorious for raising up leaders steeped in southern-presbyterianism and supplanting them in the urban centers around the country (especially in the north). For Conn and Ortiz this is where the problem begins. Conn and Ortiz make their point extremely clear when they write:

It has been our experience, as well as that of others
with experience in urban ministry and leadership
training, that the kind of leaders necessary for the
task of urban mission already live in the targeted
urban community. To exclude the community as a
resource for selecting and developing leadership is to
exhibit superior and paternalistic attitudes. It
demonstrates lack of respect for the people we hope to
serve. We are long overdue in developing mission
strategies that reflect the fact that leadership for
the present and future of the ministry are already in
the community and that such indigenous leadership is
necessary for healthy and long-term witness. It is
inappropriate, inept and unnecessary to recruit from
outside and impose in a community the leaders we deem
requisite to carry the mission forward, as if there
were no potential leaders in that particular urban
community (Urban Ministry, p. 412-413).

Could it be that Conn and Ortiz are just simply reflecting on, or beginning with, the Pastoral Epistles (especially Titus 1:5)? Why don't we?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Argument for Infant Baptism from a Socio-Political Perspective (from Rabbi Saul's Blog)

The practice of infant baptism rules out the possibility of the Church becoming a mere voluntary society. Voluntary societies are not 'public' to the degree that the Church should be.

The State is not a voluntary society and, when the Church becomes a voluntary society it loses the power to truly challenge the rulers of this world. A kingdom or nation does not begin with the voluntary membership of its citizens. This would compromise the possibility of its being a true society. It begins with the reality of a public authority and not with the autonomous choice of the individual agent.

If God is not permitted to put His name on us in baptism until we decide that we want to let Him do so, we have made the authority of God bow to the claims of human autonomy. This lies at the root of a lot of Baptist problems: the desire to say 'I am what I say I am, not what God says I am'. Baptism does not indelibly mark you out because it is founded upon your own decision. If you ever move away from that decision any meaning the baptism had is seen to be annulled.

If the sole valid basis for receiving baptism is an autonomous decision on my part then even the Church, in the final analysis, has to admit that her authority comes from below and not from above. It becomes a human construct, rather than the new nation under Christ.

It is very important to come to grips with the fact that Jesus is Lord. These reflections appear to me to be a valuable application of that Lordship, in terms of the biblical revelation concerning the character of the Church.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Has the New Perspective on Paul Created a New "Left" and/or a New "Right?"

A rather strange thing has occurred in Reformed-Evangelical circles (especially in the PCA). What was once a neatly divided front--conservatives on the right and progressives on the left--is now no longer as neat. The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has allied these two "old" fronts. Both the old "conservatives" and the old "progressives" see the NPP as a threat. But what does the NPP threaten for each of these groups? On the one hand, the old conservatives believe that the NPP begins with less-than-Christian presuppositions, which can only lead (so they believe) to less-than-Christian results. Moreover, since these old conservatives have a skewed understanding of sola scriptura, they feel that the NPP directly threatens this reformation doctrine since it makes great use of Second Temple literature and history. On the other hand, the old "progressives"--who tend to be Sonship-types--see the NPP as a direct threat to the gospel. This unfortunate reality comes as a direct result of equating justification by faith with the gospel proclamation itself.

So is the NPP creating a new "right" or new "left" in Reformed-Evangelical circles?