NT 101C: New Testament Survey Syllabus

If you are a student at Vanguard University and are enrolled in NT 101C: New Testament Survey, welcome! You can download a copy of the syllabus here. (If prompted for a password, please click on the "Read Only" button.) Please check back to this site on a weekly basis for class announcements, lecture podcasts, and links to issues mentioned in class.



THEO 300C: Developing a Christian Worldview Syllabus

If you are a student at Vanguard University and are enrolled in THEO 300C: Developing a Christian Worldview, welcome! You can download a copy of the syllabus here. (If prompted for a password, please click on the "Read Only" button.) Please check back to this site on a weekly basis for class announcements, lecture podcasts, and links to issues mentioned in class.

Greetings from St. Petersburg!

For the past 3 days, I've been in St. Petersburg, Russia, as part of a Baltic cruise with my family, celebrating my parents' 40th anniversary. So, blogging has been light. But I'll resume blogging after Labor Day. Today we got to see the Hermitage, including Rembrandt's wonderful, "The Return of the Prodigal." Henri Nouwen has a wonderful book about the painting. I'll blog more about the trip (with pictures) when I return.

The Remnant (Romans 11.1-6)

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For the past few weeks, we have been studying Romans 9-11. In these chapters, Paul asks why his fellow Jews rejected Jesus and whether this rejection indicates a failure on God’s part. In Romans 10.21, which quotes Isaiah 65.2, Paul describes Israel as “a disobedient and obstinate people.” Israel’s disobedience and obstinacy, then, explain its rejection of Jesus. 

But isn’t this a dangerous answer? I mean, haven’t Christian anti-Semites throughout the centuries used Israel’s disobedience and obstinacy as an excuse for their persecutions against Jews? Haven’t pogroms been legitimized by appeals to Jewish incorrigibility? Unfortunately, yes. The history of the church is scarred by the anti-Semitism of many Gentile Christians. 

Had those Christian anti-Semites interpreted the Bible correctly, however, they would not have persecuted the Jews. No passage in the New Testament offers warrant for Christians to persecute Jews, and Christians should not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form. Moreover, even though most Jews in Paul’s day rejected Jesus, God has not rejected them. Romans 11 explains that God still loves the Jews. Indeed, verse 26 prophesies that “all Israel will be saved.” Far from being a failure on God’s part, the Jewish rejection of Jesus in the first century turns out to be hinge in God’s plan to extend salvation to all people, culminating in the redemption of Israel too. 

Consider Romans 11.1-6, in this regard: 

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. 

Although most Jews in Paul’s day rejected Jesus, not all did. Paul is the most obvious counterexample, along with the other apostles and the thriving, first-century community of Messianic believers. These believers constituted “a remnant chosen by grace.” 

The remnant is a familiar concept in Old Testament prophecy. In Elijah’s day, so many of the Israelites had begun to worship idols that Elijah felt he was the only true believer left. God revealed to him in fact that he was one of 7000. A small number to be sure, but a small number of committed believers can exercise influence disproportionate to their numbers. Paul saw the Messianic believers of his own day as such an influential minority. 

The concept of the remnant teaches us three important lessons. First, contrary to the anti-Semites, disobedience and obstinacy are not Jewish traits, per se. Some Jews believed in Jesus; others didn’t. Some Gentiles believed; others didn’t. Each group made its choices. Second, God never fails, even though it’s sometimes difficult to see his successes. And third, when we don’t see those successes, we shouldn’t despair. In his grace, God is not yet done with us—or with the world.

Pastors Retreat Network

Debra Young of Pastors Retreat Network asked me to post this message. PRN looks like a pretty good ministry, so I'm more than happy to oblige.

valleyviewhome.jpgThe Pastors Retreat Network is a ministry that has energized more than 3,500 pastors nationwide by offering free retreats to both them and their spouses. Their goal is straightforward: to glorify God and build His kingdom by strengthening Christian pastors for better ministry to the people they lead.
The United States is currently losing approximately 1,200 small churches and 1,500 pastors each month. One of the reasons is that the work of ministry often takes precedence over their personal relationship with God – the reason they entered ministry in the first place.

While a pastor's job can be exceedingly rewarding, it also can be weighed down by the responsibilities and stresses associated with serving their congregations. Their ability to succeed and thrive in ministry is deeply rooted in the quality of their personal relationship with God.

That relationship can best be attended to and developed during times of solitude, prayer and reflection, and in company of others who share a similar calling.  If you know of a pastor who might be interested in a retreat, will you please forward this information to him/her?

Please assure them there is no fee involved because the five-day retreats are supported through private, charitable contributions. That's the beauty of this ministry. Now there's a program available that cares for pastors and their spouses who spend so much time caring for others. If you have questions, please go to www.pastorsretreatnetwork.com or call toll-free 1-866-703-9544. Thanks!

The Failure of Evangelism (Romans 10.18-21)

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I often talk with people about how to best reach their friends with the gospel. Usually, those conversations focus on presenting the gospel with language and concepts that nonreligious friends can understand. The unstated assumption is that if we could just find the right words, people would come to Christ. But what if that assumption is wrong?

In Romans 10.18-21, the Apostle Paul asks why his fellow Jews failed to accept Christ. He offers three explanations, rejecting the first two in favor of the third.

The first explanation Paul offers is that they have not heard the gospel. In verse 18, he writes, "But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did." He proves this by citing Psalm 19.4, which says:

"Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world."  

Paul exaggerates here a bit. Even if the gospel had not been preached in every corner of the globe in Paul's day, however, it had been preached in Jewish synagogues throughout the ancient world. According to Acts 17.2, it was Paul's custom to preach in Jewish synagogues first before taking the message to Gentile audiences. So, most of Paul's fellow Jews had heard the gospel.

The second explanation Paul offers is that his fellow Jews did not understand the gospel. In verse 19, he writes, "Again I ask: Did Israel not understand?" Paul answers this question negatively, and proves his answer by quoting Deuteronomy 32.21 and Isaiah 65.1:

First, Moses says,

"I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding."  

And Isaiah boldly says,

"I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me."  

In both passages, "I" refers to God, "you" refers to Israel, and "those" refers to Gentiles. And in both cases, the original context of God's remark is Israel's betrayal of his covenant with them. According to Paul, then, his fellow Jews failed to accept Jesus not because of intellectual misunderstanding  but because of spiritual disobedience.

Paul proves this third explanation by going on to quote Isaiah 65.2:

But concerning Israel he says,

"All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people."

Over the centuries, anti-Semites have used passages such as Romans 10.18-21 to accuse Jews of incorrigibility. Such people were and are wrong to do so. If Jews are noticeably "disobedient and obstinate," it is only because they receive so much notice period. If the Bible were the story of Americans, the whole world would no doubt notice our incorrigibility. Sin, in other words, doesn't know the difference between Jews and Gentiles.

You need to remember this as you share the gospel with others. Even if they hear a winsome, understandable presentation of the good news, they still might reject it. Sin makes people do stupid things. You're responsible to share the gospel anyway. How they answer is their responsibility.

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