December 16, 2017

Mondays with Michael Spencer: July 11, 2016

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Mondays with Michael Spencer: July 11, 2016

Today we continue a series of Monday posts with excerpts of Michael Spencer’s thoughts about the Bible and what it does and does not promise to do for us.

• • •

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

• Galatians 3:15-26

As I was teaching through Galatians 3 this morning- through a particularly difficult passage requiring explanation of ideas quite far from the typical American evangelical’s mind — it occurred to me that it was somewhat astonishing that these words were even written by Paul at all.

I’m sure most of you know that several times in Galatians, the Apostle writes what amounts to this: “There’s a false Gospel loose in your church, and these false teachers of this false Gospel are bewitching you with a dangerous perversion of the truth.”

It’s sounds a bit like some of the watchbloggers you can find around the blogosphere or the discernment ministries around the evangelical world.

It sounds like some of the critics of The Shack, or of Rob Bell or Joel Osteen. (Yes, I see those fingers pointing at me.)

But here’s the thing: Paul goes into teaching mode, not harping, carping, condemning mode. And there he is in Galatians 3, teaching a radical view of the entire Biblical story with Jesus Christ at the center of everything God is doing.

For those who wanted to say that Christianity was Abraham and circumcision and law and Jesus and circumcision and law……Paul said “The Gospel is God making Jesus the true Israel and those who place their faith in him the true people of God.”

To those who wanted a people of Abrahamic descent, circumcised, keeping the law and claiming Jesus as the new way to be a Jew, Paul preached the Gospel of a Christ centered covenant, a spiritual circumcision through Jesus, a law that can’t save and a Christ that does save.

Paul’s radical reinterpretation of the whole idea of Israel as an interim arrangement waiting on Christ to fulfill God’s promises would have stood his Judaizing opponents on their ear. It would have been a debate worth getting a box seat to see.

So why is Paul doing it? Why is he teaching? Patiently, concept by concept? Deep in Judaism and deeper in Christ? Why spend so much ink, time, energy and passion on…..heretics? Apostates? Teachers of a false Gospel?

Is this just debate? Is Paul an angry internet polemicist firing theological bombs away from the safety of mom’s basement?

No. He’s trying to save his hearers in Galatia. And save those false teachers as well. He’s teaching the Gospel, giving every man an answer, and never saying, “These errors and falsehoods mark you as the enemy of Christ.”

He’s answering the Judaizing Gospel with the Jesus Gospel. He’s giving dignity to people who are on the wrong road. He’s teaching the truth instead of just condemning error.

He stopped shouting long enough to make the case for the Gospel and to make a way to see the entire Old Testament- Abraham, circumcision, covenant, law, messiah- in the light of Jesus.

If Paul was like many of us, there wouldn’t be a Galatians 3 or 4 or a I and II Corinthians or a Hebrews (not that Paul wrote it, but someone close to him did I’m sure.) If these writers were like many Christians, they would ridicule the error, label the heresy, ban the book and tell the true Christian to stay away…but you wouldn’t hear chapters and chapters of patient explanation, Gospel proclamation and Biblical interpretation.

There’s a lot to learn from Paul. Not just in what he said, but in his choice to say anything at all.

Comments

  1. Birdman says:

    I wish I coulda meet Michael on this side…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I will always remember the first time I found him. After a church meeting I did an Internet search for “i hate theology”. And one of the first results was his article on hating theology. There was a pastor writing – and publishing on the Internet! – about hating theology … and NOT lecturing me about a failure to appreciate ‘sound doctrine’, etc.. .

      Personally, I have never known a member of the clergy with the courage to say that – on the record. Yeah, they say all kinds of things one-on-one,… meh, but when present at a meeting where people are theologically brow-beat into compliance, they sit in silence.

      Michael was a gift.

    • StuartB says:

      I came really close once. I was talking about attending some young reformed restless conference back when I thought that was a good idea, and he reached out to me via email to say he was going and would be super excited to meet me. Sadly, it didn’t happen…finances and school and life did instead.

  2. Robert F says:

    As I’ve gotten older, one thing I’ve come to appreciate about Paul is that he was willing to improvise. I realize now that his ability to improvise for the sake of holding the early Christian communities together means that he could not have been the narrow, proud and chiding curmudgeon that I often thought he was when I was younger; in fact, though he was a man of his times in some ways, he was incredibly flexible, patient and even tolerant, with the flexibility and tolerance and patience that signal a character deeply formed by eschatological hope and expectation. He was a man of his times in some ways, yes; but he was a man of the eschaton in deeper ways, lasting ways.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      +1 I agree completely; partly due, I am certain, to the realization [with age] that we are all men of our times. What else could we be? What else could Paul be? And may we all purse “flexibility and tolerance and patience”.

  3. Christiane says:

    “He’s (St. Paul) giving dignity to people who are on the wrong road.
    He’s teaching the truth instead of just condemning error.”
    (Michael Spencer)

    THIS!

  4. Rick Ro. says:

    A little late here today, but I really like what Michael wrote in this piece, specifically:

    “Paul goes into teaching mode, not harping, carping, condemning mode. And there he is in Galatians 3, teaching a radical view of the entire Biblical story with Jesus Christ at the center of everything God is doing.
    For those who wanted to say that Christianity was Abraham and circumcision and law and Jesus and circumcision and law……Paul said “The Gospel is God making Jesus the true Israel and those who place their faith in him the true people of God.”
    To those who wanted a people of Abrahamic descent, circumcised, keeping the law and claiming Jesus as the new way to be a Jew, Paul preached the Gospel of a Christ centered covenant, a spiritual circumcision through Jesus, a law that can’t save and a Christ that does save.”

    Some of us have previously stated that many people build theologies around Paul’s epistles, taking elements of what he wrote and making THOSE the “Main Thing.” I think Paul himself would say, “Hey, people…it’s about Jesus and what he did, not about those things I wrote!”

  5. I stand with Peter in his assessment of Paul as a valuable commentator but sometimes hard to understand, this passage being a sterling example. I realize it was written in specific circumstances to specific people, but one wonders why this was saved and canonized as Scripture if it is next to impossible to figure out what it means or what it has to do with me. I’m guessing Paul might have been horrified if he had been told his letters would be raised to equal status with what he considered Scripture.

    When in doubt, see what Eugene has to say. The Message makes sense out of this legal mish mosh, or as much sense as can be extracted. I think the bottom line of the argument is that the promise of the Messiah came directly from God to us whereas Scripture did not. I’ll pass by the observation that the promise of the Messiah to Abraham is recorded in Scripture, and move on to the observation that Paul’s description of those kept prisoner by the law before the arrival of the Messiah is a pretty good description of a good portion of the church putting the Bible on the throne while awaiting the so called Second Coming.

    Jesus, who many believe spoke for God, spoke of waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit to arrive, much as Abraham was told to wait for the promise of the Messiah. Abraham had to wait roughly 2,000 years. The disciples had to wait about 50 days. A lot of the church is still standing outside looking up into the sky with a fifty pound Bible fastened to their ankle..