John Barclay on grace in Paul’s letters

In a recent interview with Wesley Hill of Christianity Today (31st Dec 2015), John M. G. Barclay talks about his latest book, Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), and explains his understanding of the grace of God. In many ways Barclay speaks of my own understanding of grace, based on what I have learned in recent years through my engagement with the poor, cross-cultural mission, and my study of the issues around poverty and culture. It seems to me that, to a large extent, our understanding of the meaning of grace, the gospel, and the Scripture determines how live out our Christian life.

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Barclay said many amazing things in the interview, and here are some of them (emphasis added).

Paul talks about Christ as the gift of God, the grace of God. What is striking about this is that this gift is given without regard to the worth of the people who receive it. God doesn’t give discriminately to seemingly fitting recipients. He gives without regard to their social, gender, or ethnic worth. Nothing about them makes them worthy of this gift.

Think of someone who sits with a homeless man on the street and listens to him, . . . or those who give up “good jobs” in order to spend their lives with people with severe learning difficulties . . . When he talks about the grace of God in Christ, that is the kind of gift Paul is talking about.

Paul’s theology of grace is not just about an individual’s self-understanding and status before God. It’s also about communities that crossed ethnic, social, and cultural boundaries.

[S]ome Protestants believe it’s inappropriate for God to expect something in return, because it would somehow work against grace . . . However, that can lead to notions of cheap grace . . . While there is no prior worth for receiving the gift, God indeed expects something in return. Paul expects those who receive the Spirit to be transformed by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit. As he puts it, we are under grace, which can legitimately lead to obedience, even obligation.

What I find so profound is the capacity of grace to dissolve our inherent and inherited systems—what we might call social capital. What counts before God is not what we pride ourselves on—or what we doubt ourselves on. What counts is simply that we are loved in Christ. This is massively liberating, not only to us as individuals but also to communities, because it gives them the capacity to reform and to be countercultural.

That’s why some of the most exciting churches today are not necessarily the big ones, but rather the small, multicultural, urban churches where you discover that different ethnicities and languages don’t count before God. Our education, our age, our job, the kind of music we listen to, the books we read—these do not ultimately define us. What defines us is who we are in Christ. We all are on the same level together and are therefore able to form countercultural relationships despite our differences. And that opens up the possibility for hugely creative Christian communities.

Source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/january-february/whats-so-dangerous-about-grace.html Accessed on 13th Jan 2016

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Tim Gombis’ endorsement for the new book Suffering in Romans

In a previous post I mentioned the new book Suffering in Romans, which will be released soon. Here is Tim Gombis’ endorsement for it. (For more information about the book, click here.)

Wu’s analysis of Romans 5–8 represents an original contribution to the study of Paul’s great letter . . . Against the backdrop of his social reconstruction, Wu elucidates Paul’s argument regarding the creation of a new humanity in Christ and its vocation to suffer in anticipation of sharing in Christ’s glory. Deftly drawing together several lines of inquiry —Scriptural echoes, the Greco-Roman religio-political matrix—Wu engages a wide rang of scholarship to provide a sound exegetical study.

Timothy G. Gombis, Associate Professor of New Testament, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

Draft Book Cover—Front

New book on Suffering in Romans (Foreword by Professor Todd Still)

A new book Suffering in Romans will be released soon.

This is from the Foreword.

Dr Wu treated with clarity and care the theme of suffering in Romans 5–8 with special reference to 5:1–11 and 8:14–39 and persuasively demonstrated the centrality of the subject in that pivotal portion of Paul’s magisterial letter to Roman believers . . . Herein you will find a serious, scholarly study that offers salient insight into a long-neglected topic in an oft-interpreted text. Indeed, it is the most comprehensive and persuasive treatment to date.

Todd D. Still, DeLancey Dean and Hinson Professor, Baylor University, Truett Seminary

More endorsements of the book can be found by clicking here.

Draft Book Cover—Front

Paul’s spirituality and a cross-shaped Christian life (wisdom from Michael Gorman)

How does crucified Christ and risen Lord shape our lives? How do we understand the apostle Paul’s spirituality in relation to our daily life? These are important questions for every follower of Jesus.

Here are some excerpts from an article written by Prof Michael Gorman, which help to answer the above questions.

Cruciformity is the spiritual-moral dimension of the theology of the death of Jesus by crucifixion found in Paul, in the rest of the New Testament, and throughout much of the Christian tradition. With respect to Paul, at least, this conformity to the crucified Messiah is not an abstract moral principle but a spiritual. Or even mystical, reality. This mystical reality is rooted, paradoxically, in a profoundly this-worldly reality (Jesus’ crucifixion) and produces, no less paradoxically, a variety of very this-worldly results. (p. 66)

For Paul, Jesus is the crucified Messiah whom God raised from the dead, vindicating him as Messiah, validating his path of lifelong, self-giving, faithful obedience that led to the cross, and establishing him as the Lord of all who shares in the divine name, glory, and worship. As the resurrected, glorified, and living Lord, Jesus remains the crucified Messiah. (p. 66)

Cruciformity, then is cross-shaped existence in Jesus the Messiah. It is letting the cross of the crucified Messiah be the shape, as well as the source, of life in him. It is participating in and embodying the cross. Paul himself might put all this together this way (a paraphrase of Gal 2:19-20): “It is no longer I or we who live our own lives, but it is God’s crucified and resurrected Messiah who lives in me and in us by his Spirit, empowering us to embody his kind of faithfulness and love.” Because of the relational quality of this reality, we must be careful (as others have said) not to focus on “the cross” per se but  on “the crucified.” Further, although Paul can use the language of imitation (e.g., 1 Cor 11:1), we must distinguish this Pauline spirituality from a simple ethic of imitation Christi, since Paul’s focus is on the activity of the living, indwelling Messiah, which is at the same time the work of God’s indwelling Spirit. (p. 67)

As we will now see, the events that are repeated are constituted by the narrative of Christ’s self-giving faith and love that were quintessentially expressed in his (incarnation and) death on the cross. Crucifiormity is, therefore, a narrative spirituality, a spirituality that tells a story, the story of Christi crucified. (p. 67)

Source: Michael J. Gorman, “Paul and the Cruciform Way of God in Christ,” Journal of Moral Theology, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2013): 64-83. (The journal article can be accessed here and here.)