What Was Paul Thinking?

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Reproduced by permission of the author. For some such people, it is Scripture that brings them to life—the book where they meet Jesus and find him speaking to them.

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They read, or listen to, Scripture in the way that they would listen to a favorite symphony or folk song. It recreates their world, the world where they and God get it together, the world where all things are possible to those who believe. Not everybody sees things that way. For some, Scripture itself, except for highly select verses and passages, has become as dry and dusty as dogma itself. It is full of problems and puzzles, alternative readings and private theories of interpretation, and seems to them like a black hole that can suck down all the energy of otherwise good Christian people exegetes and preachers and give nothing much back in return.

For them, what matters is invoking the Spirit, worshipping for longer and longer, extended prayer and praise meetings, telling others how wonderful it is to have a living relationship with Jesus. The third category completes the circle. There are some for whom the books of devotion appear stale, but for whom, as C.

Lewis once put it, the heart sings unbidden when working through a book of dogmatic theology with pipe in teeth and pencil in hand.

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For such people, as well, the endless and increasingly labyrinthine productions of the Great Exegetical Factory, especially the older Germans on the one hand and the newer Americans on the other, leave them cold. The lexicographical, historical, sociological, and rhetorical mountains of secular exegesis all move, and every so often there emerges a ridiculous mouse that squeaks some vaguely religious version of a currently popular self-help slogan. Meanwhile, the real mountains—the enormous, looming questions of God and the world, of church and society, of Jesus then and now, of death and resurrection—remain unaddressed.

He himself, however, has written operas about gods and heroes, and he has made them ordinary. Where are the so-called ordinary people in all of this? Is there a better way not only of understanding the relationship between Scripture and doctrine but also of allowing either or both to bear fruit in the postmodern church and world? To say that I want to begin to address this with some remarks about Scripture and narrative may provoke a sigh from at least some dogmaticians: They are even giving it up at Yale now.


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Can any good thing come out of narrative? You could say, of course, that this is all due to those who chose the books and shaped the canon, but if you look at the ones they left out, you would have to say either that even if you put them all in, you would still have the same narrative or that if you put some of them in the gnostic Gospels, for instance , you would precisely deconstruct what would still be a huge, powerful narrative and offer instead a very different one from which, ultimately, you would have to exclude more or less everything else that is there.

The gnostic Gospels, if made canonical, would eventually act like the baby cuckoo in the nest, kicking out all the native chicks, but if the chicks got together where they had landed on the ground, they would still have a massive family likeness. You cannot, in the end, take the anticanonical rhetoric of much contemporary writing to its logical conclusion without ending up having the canon again, only now as the alternative narrative.

It is as though engineers from different workshops were invited to produce bits and pieces of cantilevers which ended up, when put together without the different work-shops knowing of it, producing the Forth Bridge. And the case I have made elsewhere, to bring this into sharp focus, is that Paul was aware of enough of this large story at least to add his own bit and point to the completion, even though other writers, such as the seer of Revelation, finish the narrative sequence with a different metaphor: Now of course, within the grand narrative from the first garden to the new city there are multiple smaller narratives, some of them pulling this way and that within the larger one, sometimes even seemingly in opposite directions.

That is to be expected, and actually it is only if we shrink the grand narrative from its full proportions that this becomes a problem. And within this narrative, and sometimes within its subgenres, there are statements of overarching truth or inalienable moral duty: And because I hold, as I always have done, a very high view of Scripture, not only as dogma but also as method, I find myself bound to ask whether doctrine, including, be it said, doctrine about Scripture itself, has really taken on board this element.

Is this even the right question to be asking? Might it not seem to imply 1 that it is doctrine that really matters, that will give life and energy and focus to the church; 2 that Scripture is the authority for our doctrine, since that is itself a foundational doctrine, but 3 that Scripture as we find it seems singularly unsuited for the purpose as Winston Churchill said about a golf club in relation to the task of conveying a ball into a small and distant hole?

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  • What do I mean? When I am at home, my clothes live in wardrobes, and my books on bookshelves. But when I need to be away from home, I put them in bags and suitcases. It is not easy to carry suits, robes, and shoes, let alone books and notebooks, a laptop computer, an MP3 player, and so on, all loose, on and off the London Underground. The bags and suitcases perform a vital function.

    Scripture, Doctrine, and Life: The Puzzle of Perception

    But when I get to my destination, even if I am only there for a single night, I get almost everything out, hang up the clothes and robes, and arrange the books on a desk or table, not because the suitcases were not important, but rather because they were. The bits and pieces have got where they were going and must be allowed to be themselves again. This model suggests a to-and-fro between Scripture and doctrine that goes something like the following.

    The narrative is implicitly carried within the title; at any point, you can reach in and get the bit of the story you need. At this point, already, I must introduce a further element. In addition, I do this to help you the reader, and not solely to drive business to my company or create SEO. What is Paul Thinking? Other stuff you might like to know…. Father… husband same woman since — another accomplishment right?

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    Give me 2 ounces and let me go. The commitment to serve God as a sacrificial offering is also a commitment to change. This change involves the mind and what will shape our thinking. The Gentile mind is darkened and distorted. This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

    But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth Ephesians 4: The commitment to become a living sacrifice is a commitment to change.

    It is a commitment to a radical change, a reversal of our thinking and values, of our motives and methods. It is not a minor repair but a tearing down and complete rebuilding. This change is evidenced in the instructions Paul gives in the rest of Romans. It is not we who change ourselves. In the final analysis, our thinking will be shaped by something or someone outside ourselves. Our culture constantly seeks to shape us. Like teenage children, we think we are expressing our individuality and independence when we differ with God.

    In reality, we are merely following the world, the flesh, and the devil in rebellion and unbelief. When we give our lives to God, we give ourselves over to His influence and control. Giving our lives to God as a living sacrifice is the decision to be shaped and influenced by God and not by our fallen world. The end result of our sacrificial offering, and of the transformation which results from the renewing of our minds, is proving out the will of God. We should explore just what this means. There may be an element of truth in saying that when we surrender our wills and our lives to God, God will then make it clear to us what He wants us to do.

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    From all that Paul has already taught in Romans, I believe we would have to say this: The will of God here has a much wider scope than just me and my choices. Those who have given themselves to God, and whose minds are increasingly in tune with the mind of God, recognize that He is at work and rejoice in it.

    Read through these verses from Romans 1, and consider them with me in the light of Romans 12, verses 1 and In Romans 1, Paul indicted those to whom God had revealed Himself by means of creation. God revealed something of His character and attributes by the creation which is before us. Men should be able to look at creation and see not only that it was created by a Creator, but that this Creator has a divine nature and eternal power. These invisible attributes are visibly demonstrated in His creation Romans 1: Instead of worshipping God, men chose to worship the creation.

    In the final analysis, men began to worship their own images, to worship themselves. Men put God down and elevated themselves to His place of honor and glory and praise see Romans 1: He gave their minds over to depraved and distorted thinking. They began to think themselves wise, but in reality they were becoming fools. They became futile in their speculative thinking and darkened in their ability to see and to perceive the truth Romans 1: He also gave men over to their sinful passions.

    God gave fallen men and women over to their lusts, so that they not only lived in excesses, they even began to practice perversion, that which was unnatural and unholy Romans 1: In both mind and body, God gave men over to their sin, to its distortions and perversions. How could this downward spiral be stopped? How could these adverse effects of sin be reversed?

    Only through the grace of God, manifested in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He offers men not only forgiveness but also restoration and renewal. The process by which that renewal takes place is outlined in Romans Beyond the limited scope of the revelation of God in nature Romans 1: He has revealed not only our sin but His righteousness. He has offered to all who will believe forgiveness of sins and eternal life. To those whom He has chosen, and who have believed the gospel, He has poured out His mercies. These mercies are the subject of chapters of Romans. On the basis of this great revelation of the kindness and severity of God, Paul has called upon believers in the Lord Jesus to respond in a way appropriate to the revelation we have received.

    We are to respond in worship. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. We are to honor and serve Him. We are to live holy and obedient lives. Those who respond in worship as Paul has urged will enter into the life-long process of renewal and restoration. The grip of this age will loosen, and the process of transformation will begin by the renewing of our minds.

    As a result, both our bodies and our minds will begin to be conformed to Christ and His image. The steps Paul urges the believer to take in our text are the steps to renewal and restoration, steps required to reverse the devastation of sin. Much more could be said about this text, but there is one thing Paul urges us to do.

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    The point of this passage is to urge each Christian to offer himself to God as a thank offering, based upon the mercy and the grace of God which has been poured out on those who believe. Have you trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation? Have you experienced the mercies of God? If so, then have you offered your life to Him, as a sacrifice, for His glory and praise?

    Just as men are called upon to make a decision concerning salvation, Paul calls on believers to make the decision to worship God by offering our lives to Him, and by this to please Him who has loved us and given Himself for us. I urge you to do this today, because of His manifold mercies.