Monday, January 30, 2006

Revision: Introduction to First Series Ever

It's a monumental moment for the history of The Orthodoctor. I am beginning, for the first time, a three part series entitled, "Why Mainstream Evangelicalism has the Power and the Potential to Become One of the Most Dangerous Heretical Sects in Christian History." It's a long title, but one with a punch. Essentially, I am going to briefly evaluate mainstream evangelicalism based upon the Protestant marks of the Church; 1) the preaching of the pure Word of God, 2) due administration of the sacraments, 3) the community rightly ordered. The three posts will be divided into these three categories. So, put on your theology caps and let's get underway as your input will be greatly appreciated.

After careful consideration I have decided to forego this series for the moment. I have decided that my initial intent was designed in such a way as to invite vast and varied misinterpretations and therefore unintended negative repercussions. Perhaps I will make some changes and return; probably not. Instead, I have some other ideas floating in my head. Bear with me, as I hope to articulate them soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Amazing Grace

Last week I read a book entitled "Honor, Patronage, Kingship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture," by David A. deSilva. He discusses at length the social-context of the word grace as well as the importance of honor, kinship, and purity in the first century culture. The book is incredibly accessible and readable yet is powerfully academic and provides much needed insight into the usage of grace in the New Testament.

We tend to think of the word grace as being a uniquely religious word. When we speak of grace it virtually always has overt religious overtones. But in the first century, and for the writers of the New Testament, grace was not primarily a religious word. In fact, grace was a word that was used in everyday life and one which found its most important significance for us in the system of patronage and reciprocity. A patron was a person who provided gifts to a client. Usually, but not always, a client was a person who did not have access to the means which the patron did. At times the client would seek a patron for help financially, other times a client would seek a patron in order to communicate with an even greater patron. The patron in between would act as a mediator between his client and the greater patron.

There were certain societal rules that dictated how the patron-client relationship operated. While there weren’t any legal ramifications for breaking these rules, there certainly were social consequences. Many ancient philosophers discussed in length how such a relationship was to be conducted. It is within this relationship that we find the usage of the word grace. A patron was to give a gift without expecting anything in return. The gift was to be given solely for the benefit of the client. If the patron gave with ulterior motives he gave dishonorable. Showing such generosity meant the patron was showing grace. He gave grace to a client. The client was expected to receive the gift, or grace, and respond in gratitude. This gratitude was called grace. The patron gave grace and the client who received this grace was expected to return grace to the patron. Of course, the return of grace would be different than the gift from the patron himself. The client was expected to spread the name and honor of the patron and also seek to repay the patron in whatever manner possible. An honorable patron would “forget” that he had given a gift and the client was to never forget, always knowing that he would never be able to repay the gift of grace from the patron.

If the client did not show gratitude he was deemed an ingrate and this was something to be greatly avoided in that culture which operated by means of honor and shame. It also meant that the client may have difficulty developing a relationship with a future patron. Patrons were advised by the philosophers to avoid entering a relationship with a client who had a history of ingratitude. The philosopher Seneca wrote, “Ingratitude is something to be avoided in itself because there is nothing that so effectually disrupts and destroys the harmony of the human race as this vice. For how else do we live in security if it is not that we help each other by an exchange of good offices? It is only through the interchange of benefits that life becomes in some measure equipped and fortified against sudden disasters. Take us singly, and what are we? The prey of all creatures.”

The New Testament authors use grace in such a way as to view God as our patron, and we as his clients. Grace, for the New Testament authors, does not operate differently than in the patron-client relationship, but rather it differs in degree and quality. God’s grace is wholly grander than any earthly patron could ever give. As clients, we are expected to return grace for grace.

Layman, pastor, professor, or student, all should read this book. Seriously, go buy it right now.

So what do you think? How does the social-context of grace illuminate the manner in which the New Testament authors used and understood the concept?
Is there any connection in our current doctrines of grace that resemble this context?
In what ways has the development of the doctrine of grace been beneficial or perhaps erroneous?

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Semester Ahead

The new semester has begun and my schedule has quickly been filled with reading, writing, and research. Fortunately, some of my classes are arranged in such a manner as to allow me to spend a great deal of time reading primary source texts. Here's what's on my plate this coming semester.

Getting better acquainted with Augustine

I am currently taking a class entitled "The Life and Legacy of Augustine of Hippo." The class is taught by the academically austere Dr. Chris Bounds and has already allowed me to get to know Augustine's theological mind as it pertains to both Confessions and his Treatise on Faith and the Creed. I am especially excited about the research I will be doing as it pertains to Augustine's doctrine of grace. The work of Augustine is so foundational for the Western Church and his insight in this specific area will greatly aid the larger research project that I am undertaking.

Beginning research for my Honors College thesis

I met with Dr. Bounds today to begin create a plan for how I will be conducting my research for my thesis. Essentially, the thesis will seek to develop an articulated doctrine of grace. I will be investigating the doctrine of grace in the Ante-Nicene Fathers as well as John Wesley. My research will be compared and contrasted with the Wesleyan Church's current doctrine of grace in order to illuminate a more theologically correct doctrine not only for the Wesleyan Church, but hopefully ecumenically as well. This is no small task and there is very little secondary source material on the subject.

Learning to be a better student of the Bible

I have taken many classes designed to improve my knowledge of interpreting the biblical text, yet I have found that I often sacrifice reading the text itself for a milieu of other books which occupy the shelves of my library. While I am anxious to crack open some books I received for Christmas (namely books by Richard Hays, John Milbank, and Reinhold Niebuhr), I have realized the deep need to be more immersed in the pages of the Bible. I can know the tools of interpretation but if I am not familiar with that which I am interpreting I will most assuredly be a horrible exegete.

Grow a sweet beard

I am currently in the process of beginning to grow a beard. It is coming along nicely and should provide some extra insulation should the snow ever return. Nonetheless, I figure if I hope to be a serious theologian I had better be sportin' the beard. Well, at least as long as my wife lets me.

So please stop by frequently as I hope to continue my theological journey with your most cherished input.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Years!

Some pics from New Years eve. Yes, that's right, we spooned.