Ted Grimsrud

Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

The ethical importance of Jesus’ death

In Biblical theology, Salvation, Theology on July 26, 2008 at 8:40 am

The story of the death of Jesus continues to be central for Christian theology and spirituality–for better and for worse. One aspect of the story that is not often discussed, though, is how Jesus approach to his death serves as a model for the lives of those who would walk with him.  That is, even in his death, Jesus affirmed and modeled life

My article, “The way Jesus died is an example of the way Jesus lived,” published in Gospel Herald, April 4, 1995, reflects on this theme.

A theology of the world’s end

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Pacifism, Theology on July 25, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Biblical eschatology, I propose, is best understood if the think of “end” (eschatos) more in terms of purpose in the here and now and less in terms of the future outcome of history.  If we do think of eschatology in this way, we will be more likely to find present-day peaceable ethical significance of biblical teaching than if we think this world is inevitably heading for destruction.

I argue for this view of eschatology in my article, “The end of the world: why we are here,” first published in The Mennonite, August 6, 2002.

The Anabaptists: what we can learn from their troubles

In Anabaptism, Mennonites, Pacifism, Theology on July 25, 2008 at 10:49 am

The traumas the 16th-century Anabaptists faced due to their core convictions (church free from state control, refusal to support war, rejection of social hierarchies, and non-possessive economics) remain highly instructive, both for helping us understand problematic elements in Mennonite communities and for reminding us of the continuing relevance of those ideals.

This article, “The Anabaptist faith: a living tradition” that was published in The Mennonite (May 2, 2006), reflects on these themes.

The Old Testament message of mercy

In Biblical theology, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology on July 25, 2008 at 9:49 am

Many people, we could call them the “cultured despisers,” reject the Old Testament as a “bloody book.”  Many others, probably more, affirm the Old Testament as a “bloody book” and all too often use that “bloodiness” as a justification for their own.

This article, “Mercy not retribution,” argues for a reading of the Old Testament that recognizes the centrality of God’s mercy in the story–and sees that mercy as the biblical basis for Jesus’ own peaceable message.

It was originally published in The Mennonite, September 6, 2005.

Is the book of Revelation a resource for peacemaking?

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Pacifism, Politics, Revelation, Theology on July 24, 2008 at 9:22 pm

The book of Revelation, though having the reputation of being a book of violence, actually is more accurately read as a book supporting nonviolent resistance to empires and their servants.

This article, “How should 20th-century Christians read the book of Revelation?”, was originally published in Gospel Herald, January 21, 1992, shortly after the 1991 U.S. war on Iraq.

A pacifist response to 9/11

In Biblical theology, Mennonites, Pacifism, Politics on July 24, 2008 at 12:44 pm

The Sunday after September 11, 2001, I was asked to preach a sermon in response to the events of that tragic day. Here is an article based on that sermon, called “Grief and critique,” that was published in The Mennonite, October 2, 2001.

Reflections on why World War II should not be celebrated

In Mennonites, Pacifism, Politics on July 24, 2008 at 9:33 am

“Not a ‘good war’: We should mourn, not celebrate the victory of violence in World War II.”

Here is an article that was originally published in The Mennonite (June 13, 1995).

Romans commentary (chapter six)

In Biblical theology, Romans, Theology on July 16, 2008 at 5:07 pm

The sixth chapter of my running, preliminary commentary on the book of Romans is here.

These are some of the key points I discuss in the commentary,

1. Paul makes clear that his point about “grace abounding all the more” due to the “increase” of sin when “law came in” (5:20-21) has an ethical agenda at its heart. His thought is not that the abundance of God’s grace has to do with “going to heaven after we die,” but that it has to do with the empowerment of believers to live faithful lives in the present.

2. Paul sees a direct link between, on the one hand, Jesus’ own faithful life leading to the cross leading to vindication through resurrection and, on the other hand, the fate of those who seek to walk with Jesus. Paul’s central concern in these verses is to exhort his readers to share in Jesus’ way of life – the only authentic outcome for those who indeed do trust in God’s mercy.

3. The way to life is to give up trusting in idols. Easier said than done! This is why Paul places such an emphasis on the epoch transforming effect of God raising Jesus from the dead – and the believers’ identification with this work of God. We can be freed when we trust in God’s power of love.

4. Because Jesus himself was raised from the dead, his way of living free from the Powers, free from idolatry, free from the dominance of sin becomes the norm for all who would worship the true God. And Jesus’ way of living also is revealed as possible. Hence, Paul can exhort his readers to “not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies” (6:12).

5. When we respond to God’s mercy with faithfulness, “sin will have no dominion” over us (6:14). When we respond thus, we are “under grace” not “under law” – just like Abraham. Paul’s point here is not a chronological one, that in Old Testament times God wanted people to be “under law” and now, with the advent of Christianity, God wants people to be “under grace.” Romans four has made it clear (as do Jesus and the prophets) that God has always wanted people to be “under grace.”

6. Paul argues that we all are “slaves” to something – either to sin or to obedience. One kind of slavery fosters a narrowing down where we become like the lifeless things we are giving our allegiance to. The other kind of slavery is actually freedom.

7. Being in bondage to the Powers keeps one from living according to justice. The way to true life involves a complete upturning of the dynamics of slavery/freedom Paul has identified as leading to death. The person moving toward “sanctification” is a person who as a “slave of God” becomes “free in regard to sin” (6:22).

8. Paul seeks to challenge the imaginations of his readers. What seems in the present and to superficial sight (dimmed by the dynamics of idolatry, Romans one) as attractive about enslavement to the Powers and unattractive about enslavement to God is a false impression. Genuine life results only from freedom from idolatry and trust in the only true God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Romans commentary (chapter five)

In Biblical theology, Romans, Theology on July 16, 2008 at 12:13 pm

The fifth chapter of my preliminary, running commentary on Romans may be found here.

Here are some key points from chapter five that I discuss in the commentary.

1. Because trust in God as revealed in Jesus is the one non-idolatrous trust, we may indeed “boast” in “our hope of sharing the glory of God” (5:2). “We boast in our sufferings” (5:3) because when we walk with Jesus we will mark ourselves as threats to the Powers. And they will retaliate, causing us to suffer, leading to endurance that enhances character and produces hope (5:3-4).

2. As evidence that God will reward our faithfulness with healing, Paul points to the presence in our lives right now of God’s love through the Holy Spirit. Paul certainly believes in an ultimate future vindication, but with this reference to the present reality of the Spirit of love, he points to a genuine experience of wholeness with God in the present as well.

3. As a rule, people do not give up their lives for others (5:7). However, God does precisely this. Paul overtly couches the mysteries of Jesus’ crucifixion strictly in terms of God’s love. There is no hint here of retributive justice, no hint of any kind of mechanistic dynamic whereby a “holy” God needs some act of propitiation in order, according to the dictates of a love-less “justice” to offer pardon.

4. We have been made whole (“justified”) by Jesus’ “blood” (5:9; that is, his life of faithfulness unto death leading to his blood being shed as a witness to the transforming character of his life that evoked such hostility from the Powers).

5. God reaches out to us while we are still God’s enemies. God’s initiative is centered on the witness of Jesus, who loved even to the point of a self-sacrificial death at the hands of the Powers (and we should remember that Paul surely had himself in mind here as an “enemy of God’ who used violence against Jesus’ followers).

6. By pointing back to Adam, Paul makes clear that the Law was not to blame. Sin was in the world before God’s revelation to Moses. However, it takes the Law to be able clearly to define sin (idolatry) for what it is. The Law, though, was never intended to solve the problem of sin. What it does is offer guidance for transformative obedience as the appropriate response to God’s mercy – mercy that does indeed solve the problem of sin.

7. Following Adam’s path leads to condemnation. Following Jesus’ path leads to “justification and life for all” (5:18). Adam’s way unleashes the Powers who tighten the spiral of death and injustice, resulting in many people being “made sinners” (5:19).

8. How does “the one man’s obedience” lead to the making just of the many (5:19)? We should think in terms of Jesus’ “saving work” having to do with his model of freedom from the Powers, vindicated by God raising him from the dead, and sustained by the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit among those who do trust in God’s mercy.

9. Paul is committed to the conviction that God’s grace will have the final word. As distressing as the reality of sin is, and as troubling as having the insight to see the deadly dynamics of idolatry might be, Paul insists that God’s mercy will be more powerful yet. Ultimately, the growth of sin will lead to a growth in mercy. The more need there will be God’s healing justice, the more God will bestow healing justice.

Romans commentary (chapter four)

In Biblical theology, Romans, Theology on July 16, 2008 at 10:50 am

The fourth chapter of my running, preliminary commentary on Romans may be found here

These are some key points from Romans 4 that I discuss in my commentary:

1. How was Abraham justified (made whole in his relationship with God)?  God’s gifting call came first, then Abraham’s trust, and then, in response, Abraham’s following the commands (i.e., circumcision, the classic boundary-marking command).

2. To one who trusts in following the commands as the way of gaining God’s favor, the favor God bestows (“wages”) are “something due,” not a “gift” (4:4).  In contrast, to one who recognizes that God’s favor is from the start a gift that need not be earned, trust in God is what counts as the basis for their being seen as just.

3. In Genesis, Abraham was called in chapter 12 and not circumcised until chapter 17.  The circumcision was a “sign” that served as a “seal of the justice he had by faith” (4:11).  The justice, though, was established before Abraham’s circumcision.  

4. When Paul speaks of God’s promise that Abraham and his descendants “would inherit the world” (4:13), he may have in mind the promise of Genesis 12:3 that Abraham’s descendents would “bless all the families of the earth.”  Paul’s own apostleship to the Gentiles (1:5) may be seen as his acting on the confidence that he is part of the embodiment of the “inheritance” promised Abraham.

5. “The law brings wrath” (4:15) means: “Trusting in the law as an idol separated from God’s motivating mercy brings with it negative consequences.  Those so trusting lose touch with this mercy and instead are possessed by the rules in ways that lead to violence and injustice.”

6. Paul is not meaning to imply that Israel is no longer part of God’s covenant.  He merely argues, based on the original scope of the promise to Abraham and Sarah, that this promise includes both “adherents  of the law” and those “outside the law,” that is, both Jews and Gentiles.

7. In the beginning of Israel, God brought into being something new, out of nothing, an act of pure mercy.  If God did such a work in the time of Abraham, there is no reason why God could not do it again.  The Gentiles who trust in God in Paul’s context are not less worthy of God’s mercy (and no less uncircumcised) than Abraham had been when God first called him.

8. Paul’s punch line: “the words ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for [Abraham’s] sake alone, but for ours also” (4:23-24).  This story Abraham is a present reality throughout all of history, showing how God works with human beings and providing a model for human responsiveness to God.