Reading Romans in a globalised, urban world (David W. Smith)

My sense is that in the emerging globalised world we are seeing more and more urban poverty issues. For example, as I highlighted in the past, there are a lot of elderly people living in poverty in Hong Kong, despite the enormous amount of wealth among the rich in the city. (Click here to see the post.)

In his book, The Kindness of God: Christian Witness in our Troubled World (Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2013), David W. Smith insightfully talks about how we may read Romans in our globalised urban world. Here are a few excerpts.

The collapse of Christendom, and the resulting crisis for the churches of the West, the massive growth of Christianity across the Global South, especially . . . in contexts of urban poverty and suffering, and the accelerating expansion of cities, driven by economic and ideological forces which pose similar questions to those we have seen Paul expressing with regard to the Roman imperium, all of these developments in our world presage a new epoch in Christian history. The Hispanic theologian Justo González comments that we are living ‘in time of vast changes in the church’s self-understanding’, and that the consequences of the shifts taking place today ‘will be more drastic than those which took place in the sixteenth century’. The loss of Christendom, González says, should not be lamented since it opens up the possibility that the meaning of Scripture may become clearer to us as truth is seen to consist not in abstract, intellectual concepts, but rather as ‘closely bound with bread and wine, with justice and peace, with a coming Reign of God . . .

González points out that one of the features of the transformation taking place around us is that whole swathes of the human population, taught of their superiors and betters, are today finding their voices. Ethnic minorities, women and children, people who ‘for reasons of class, nationality, sex, . . . , will no longer be silent’. What this suggests is that the most significant insights into Paul’s message are likely to come from below, from people whose socio-economic situations in a globalized world corresponds closely to that of the majority of the original recipients of this letter [that is, Paul’s letter to the Romans] in the slums of the megacity of Rome.

This fact is highlighted by Peter Oakes’ use of archaeological evidence in the ruins of Pompeii to construct an imagined ’house church’ in first-century Rome. Such a group certainly included slaves, including women who were almost routinely subjected to sexual exploitation. How would such followers of Jesus have heard Paul’s letter?

Indeed, in the twenty-first century we must do more than think about this, we must ask our brothers and sisters in the slums of Sao Paulo, Nairobi and Mumbai how they hear this ancient letter and what following Jesus means in practice in their daily lives.

 

Sources: The references to González above are from Justo González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 48, 50. The excerpts from David Smith’s The Kindness of God are from location 1443–1478 in the Kindle version of the book.

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Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God

Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God: Christian Witness in our Troubled World (Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2013).

In his book, The Kindness of God, David Smith asks some penetrating questions about how to bear witness in a trouble world. Smith turns his readers’ attention to two things at the beginning of the book. First, he talks about his experience as a speaker at a conference in Jos, Nigeria. Jos is described as a post-colonial city that owes its existence to the expansion of European colonial power, and it sits on the fault line between African Christianity and Islam. Second, Smith refers to the foresight of the well-known missionary and scholar, Leslie Newbigin, that in the coming century there would be three factors that would compete for people’s allegiance: the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

The book then proceeds to discuss many issues concerning the world today: globalisation, urbanisation, market economy, suffering, poverty, violence, and religious tension. Smith argues that we need to translate the gospel for the globalised world in the twenty-first century. He challenges Christians to critique their own understanding of the gospel in light of the Scripture. He skilfully proposes an informed reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans for the urban world. Smith concludes by bringing his readers back to his experience in Jos, Nigeria, as well as Newbigin’s insightful comments about the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

David Smith's The Kindness of God

David Smith is well versed in the history of mission, missiology, and the Bible. This is demonstrated by his familiarity with the works of Justo González, Walter Brueggemann, Kevin Vanhoozer, Robert Jewett, and Leslie Newbigin. His competence in these areas allows him to provide a lucid, insightful, and informed discussion on Christian witness in a world of racial conflicts and religious tensions. His book helps its readers to understand the historical and present inter-relationships between faith, the free market, globalisation, and urbanisation. This, in turn, assists Christians to assess the way they face the challenges that lie ahead of them.

The book contains many perceptive uses of Scripture. Smith refers to the Bible frequently, with one chapter focussing on Romans and its implications for the urban churches today. He argues that in church history there were times when Christians interpreted the same Scripture in opposite manners. He then suggests that in our troubled world nowadays Christians still read the Bible differently, resulting in opposing interpretations and applications for the same issues. Smith calls for a faithful reading of Scripture in our troubled world—one that is in line with our allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ rather than human idolatrous desires.

The book is not for those looking for a self-help book that simply tells people what to believe in. But if you want to read a book that invites you to think carefully and respond thoughtfully about Christian witness in the world, then The Kindness of God is for you. Smith does not go into convoluted theological arguments. He is, however, a passionate and persuasive writer. The book is engaging, full of insights, and challenging. It will leave the reader with plenty to ponder.

Finally, it is worth citing an excerpt of the endorsement by Jonathan Lamb, Director, Langham Preaching.

[The book provokes] us to think freshly not only about the missiological challenges out there . . . but also the challenges at home that we so easily neglect — a church shaped by materialism, a gospel distorted by secular culture, a proclamation of the cross without the experience of its weakness and power. In this troubled world, he urges us to rediscover the fullness of the gospel . . . and to listen to the voices of compassion from the underside of globalisation . . . this book provokes reflection on the hope which flows from the kindness of God. It is an urgent, prophetic and compassionate book that is rooted in our broken world but lifts our eyes to see God’s purposes for his global church.

A quick reflection on reading Romans missionally

I spoke at a mission event recently. Here is a thought I shared, based on Romans 8:3–4, 29; 12:2, 9, 13.

A missional reading of Romans urges us to see God’s purpose of creating a Christ-community that has given its allegiance to Jesus because of his self-sacrificing death. This community seeks to be conformed to the image of the Son, so that it may be transformed into a Christ-centred, love-motivated and stranger-loving missional church.

New book Suffering in Romans (Foreword by Todd Still and written by Siu Fung Wu) is now available

The new book, Suffering in Romans, is now available for order. (Click here to go to the publisher’s website.)

Draft Book Cover—Front

Book description.

Most of the Jesus-followers in Rome would have been familiar with socioeconomic hardship. Suffering was a daily reality either for themselves or for someone they knew. Many lived below or just above subsistence level. Some were slaves, homeless, or chronically sick. Followers of Christ might have experienced persecution because of their refusal to take part in the local religious festivals. Suffering is, of course, a significant theme in Rom 5:1–11 and 8:17, 18–39. Paul mentions various types of afflictions many times in these texts. How might Paul’s audience have understood them? In Suffering in Romans Siu Fung Wu argues that Paul speaks of the vocation of the Jesus-fllowers to participate in Christ’s suffering, with the purpose that they may be glorified with him. Indeed, their identification with Christ’s suffering is an integral part of God’s project of transforming humanity and renewing creation. It is in their faithful suffering that Christ-followers participate in God’s triumph over evil. This is counter-intuitive, because most people think that victory is won by power and strength. Yet the children of God partake in his cosmic victory by their suffering, aided by the Spirit and the hope of glory.

An excerpt from Professor Todd Still can be found here.

Endorsement by Tim Gombis can be found by clicking here. Endorsements by Keith DyerGeorge M. Wieland, and Sean Winter can be found here.

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

Suffering transforms us, according to a student

One of the blessings of being a lecturer of Scripture is that you see the growth of students over time. As they learn more to interpret the Bible with diligence, they discover more about the God they love and serve.

I was grading an undergraduate exegetical paper yesterday, and the following is a nice reflection by a student [with minor corrections] after she has worked on Romans 5:1–11.

This passage is at complete disparity with the contemporary culture. Paul’s concept of perseverance and endurance of suffering resulting in character and hope is inconceivable to the current society; a society that avoids suffering at all costs. Paul’s teaching reveals a pathway to knowing, understanding and depending upon God. It is through suffering that an individual is made aware of the corruption of humankind, the frivolousness of life apart from God and the complete lack of control they have over their lives. It is through this realization and grasping of God’s truth that character is formed. Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:1-11 could be described as a transformative understanding of suffering. (Used with permission)

One may debate the fine details of her theology. But her reflection calls all of us to reconsider what it means to be followers of Jesus in our world today.