That the Future Becomes the Present

I’ve just began reading through J. R. Daniel Kirk’s latest book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? and I cam across this great paragraph:

     The story Paul tells is one in which the God who made all things maintained an unshaken commitment to his beloved creation.  It is not a story of escape from a fallen world on which God has given up.  It is a story of God restoring the world and winning a victory over the powers that had supplanted his rule.  Paul’s letters should be read as an attempt to help the young Christian communities of the ancient Mediterranean world figure out how to live under the reign of the resurrected Christ, which is to say, guiding them in how to take hold of the future of the redeemed world and bring it to bear on the present.  Jesus is raised to restore the rule of God, and the churches are the entry points for this restoration project (p. 21).

There’s a lot said in claimed about Paul aims and intentions in this paragraph.  In no certain order, here is what I like that Kirk reminds us of with this paragraph:

  • Paul is operating out of the grand sweeping story of creation and redemption.  The story is one of God’s great love for creation demonstrated through his redemptive work in Christ.  The story is a kingdom story whereby God restores creation and rules over it as God did in the beginning.
  • In terms of theology, this summary is christological, ecclesiological, and eschatological.  That is, the story is about what God is doing in Christ (christology), how the Christian community participates in this story (ecclesiology), and how participation in this story is bringing the future into the present (eschatology).
  • This summary provides a healthy hermeneutical port by reminding us that Paul’s aim is to help the “Christian communities of the ancient Mediterranean world…”  That is an important reminder to keep in mind as we read scripture (e.g., 1 Corinthians) that Paul is not speaking directly to our own issues.  Faithfully living as witnesses of Jesus does not necessarily demand carrying out the teaching of scripture in the same exact matter of these ancient Mediterranean churches (which, despite claims to the contrary, I have never met a church that reproduced the teaching of scripture in the exact manner it is given in scripture).

So even though I am far from being a Pauline scholar, this paragraph summarizes well what I have learning over the last ten years while studying and preaching/teaching through various epistles of Paul.

4 responses to “That the Future Becomes the Present

  1. Rex,

    The emphasis on the future now is key. So many people in the American church seem to follow some kind of escapism mentality that says heaven is our escape route from an evil, corrupt world. Sounds like Gnosticism to me.
    The other point you make that is right to the point is who are we to think that we have “restored” the New Testament church? In some cases I wouldn’t want to restore some of them. In other cases, we fall way short of what some in the first century did in terms of loving and caring for each other and their world.

    • Yep. I’ve met some churches who thought they have fully “restored” the NT church based on their worship practices while ignoring the poor and tolerating racism (which always denies the social claim of the gospel).

  2. I think this author nailed it! I agree with every point and the comments as well.

    I have been very disappointed with some coc men who are do deeply invested in a works based salvation that the openly suggest that much of Paul’s letters be removed from the Bible. Unless Paul was an outright liar and a fraud we should hear him. He claimed he got his gospel by direct revelation. I believe him.

    • Amen!!! I can’t imagine suggesting to remove any part of scripture no matter how difficult it might be to understand or challenging to my own faith. That would sort of be like telling God to “shut up” because I would rather remain as I am.

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