Are You on the Wheel of Fortune?

No, I’m not talking about Pat Sajak or Vanna White. It’s something much more interesting. I’m reading Fr. Robert Barron’s book Heaven in Stone and Glass where he discusses the “spirituality of the great cathedrals.” In talking about the rose windows that are so characteristic of gothic cathedrals he mentions something known as “the wheel of fortune.” He writes,

“There is another circle found in many of the Gothic cathedrals that makes much the same spiritual point as the rose window. This is the so-called wheel of fortune. In most depictions of the wheel, a great circle is topped by a crowned figure, and over his head is the word regno (I am reigning). Moving clockwise along the rim of the wheel, we come to a man who has lost his crown and is tumbling downward, and next to him is the word regnavi (I have reigned). At the bottom of the wheel is a pauper dressed in rags, and his motto is the sad phrase sum sine regno (I have no power). Finally, as we move upward on the left side of the circle, we come to an ambitious figure eagerly climbing to the top. And he says, ‘regnabo‘ (I will reign). At the center of the wheel of fortune, at the meeting point of the spokes, is the figure of Christ.”

“The spiritual lesson is simple and profound. Throughout one’s life, the wheel of fortune turns, placing one sometimes in positions of power and pleasure, sometimes in poverty and ignominy, now moving up and now moving down. The one thing we can be sure of is that the wheel will revolve. But we must not live on the rim of that wheel, clinging to the shifting, fading, and unreliable goods of the world. Rather we must situate ourselves in the center, at the still-point where Christ stands. From this vantage point, we can watch the wheel turn, finally indifferent to success or failure, long life or short life, adulation or condemnation. At the center of the wheel we assume the spiritual freedom that soul masters call ‘detachment.'” (pp. 33-34)

Are you on the wheel of fortune or situated in the center with Christ?

Heaven in Stone and Glass is from Crossroad Publishing Company. It is a paperback with 128 pages and sells for $14.95.

Heaven in stone and glass

Determining the Genre of Genesis 1-11

I just finished reading Zondervan’s newest counterpoints book, Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?. It is one of the best in the series. I’ll offer more detailed comments in a future post. For now I want to highlight something said by the general editor, Charles Halton.

“Determining the genre of Gen 1-11 and its proper interpretation is an extremely difficult task. To do it competently, one must be able to read Genesis in Hebrew and Greek, have a knowledge of the history of its interpretation, be acquainted with critical methods and conclusions, understand the various theories of historiography and the ways in which ancient authors composed narratives of the past, be able to compare Gen 1-11 with cognate texts, and so on. No one scholar is an expert in all of these areas but he or she must be familiar enough with each of them to skillfully synthesize their results into an overarching determination. This is no easy feat to be sure. And, as we have seen, supremely capable interpreters often arrive at very different conclusions.” (p. 160)

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither is a paperback with 174 pages and sells for $16.99. The contributors are James K. Hoffmeier , Gordon John Wenham , Kenton Sparks.


The Disadvantage of “Fall” Language

John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology has just been released in a paperback edition. In the past couple of years I’ve grown in appreciation of Goldingay’s work so I took advantage to explore this volume. As usual it doesn’t take long before Goldingay gives me a lot to think about. Consider these paragraphs.

“One disadvantage of ‘Fall’ language is thus that it portrays human beings as in a position of splendor, prestige and exaltation, from which they ‘fell.’ They were immortal, and they ‘fell’ from immortality to mortality. We have seen that the motif of the life tree suggests a different perspective. Human beings were not created immortal, though God intended them to receive the gift of lasting life through eating the fruit of the life tree. Further, the ‘Fall’ idea can suggest that human beings originally lived a life of heaven-like happiness and closeness to God, while as a result of the ‘Fall’ their relationship with God was broken. But Genesis 1-2 itself does not say anything about how their life actually was before their disobedience. It does not describe them as living lives of obedience and bliss, only as having an opportunity to learn obedience and grow to moral maturity. The tragedy of Genesis 1-3 is not that human beings fell from a state of bliss but that they failed to realize a possibility, ‘fell short of the glory of God.’ Further, the ‘Fall’ idea suggests that whereas human beings could originally obey God, afterward they could not. But in Genesis 3 we find the same dynamics of temptation and disobedience on the way to the ‘Fall’ as we ourselves experience after it, while Genesis 4 pictures Adam and Eve after their disobedience and expulsion from God’s garden still working together with God, worshiping and conversing with God. Their disobedience affected their relationship with God and it cut them off from the garden, but it did not cut them off from God.”

“In broader Christian usage, ‘Fall’ describes not only the consequences of Adam and Eve’s yielding to temptation, but the act itself. In this connection, too, the usage looks questionable. On the basis of Genesis itself, Jonathan Magonet asks whether they fell or whether they were pushed, while Paul calls Adam and Eve’s sin a paraptōma not a ptōma (Rom 5:14)–not an accident or calamity, something that happened to them, but a transgression, a deliberate false step.” (p. 146)

Old Testament Theology, Volume One: Israel’s Gospel is a paperback with 940 pages and sells for $45.00.

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary

Old Testament Theology



Has the New Covenant Been Established?

It’s seems like a strange question to ask when the New Testament seems so clear about it. But John Goldingay offers an important qualification on the issue in his new release Do We Need the New Testament? (IVP Academic).

“My point involves recognizing a paradox within Hebrews itself. It declares that the new covenant of which Jeremiah spoke has been established, through Jesus (Heb 8:7-13; 10:15-18). Yet a moment’s reflection confirms that this statement involves some oversimplification. The new covenant was to effect the writing of God’s revelation into people’s minds, with the result that they no longer needed to teach each other. Thus another of the contrasts between the Testaments that I listed in the introduction to this volume is that God’s teaching is now written into our minds rather than written only on stone. Yet the very existence and contents of Hebrews shows that God’s revelation is not written into people’s minds. Hebrews addresses an audience that needs basic instructions on matters such as love, hospitality, faithfulness in marriage, contentment and the role of their leaders in teaching them (Heb 13:1-25). Those instructions are not far from being a restatement of the Ten Commandments. The instruction that the audience needs is basic indeed. People who have experienced that of which Jeremiah 31 speaks would not be vulnerable to the comment about needing their faculties to be trained to distinguish good and evil (Heb 5:14). Whatever new potential there is in Jeremiah’s new covenant, it is not realized in the congregation that Hebrews addresses, nor in other New Testament congregations such as that at Corinth. Nor does the church today look like an embodiment of the new covenant. In this sense, the new covenant has surely not been established.”

“There is a converse point. Jeremiah 31:31-34 was a promise made to Israel on the verge of the fall of Jerusalem into exile. It would not be particularly good news to its hearers if it was destined for fulfillment only six centuries later. Indeed, it did not wait six centuries. Within a few decades, there was again a worshipping community in Jerusalem living as Yahweh’s people with Yahweh as their God, one that in due course showed itself to be a community with quite a lot of Torah written into its minds–people no longer worshiped other gods, made images, neglected the Sabbath and so on. I don’t know that they avoided adultery or other covetousness, but then, neither does the church in the New Testament, or today.”

“The fact that the new covenant has not been effectively implemented in the church means that we are not in so different a situation from that of Israel. Our lives do not look to be morally superior to Israel’s, nor do we seem to have a closer relationship with God than the one the First Testament speaks of. Hebrews itself speaks in this way in its telling exposition of Psalm 95. When it refers to the way the wilderness generation failed to enter God’s rest, and goes on to take ‘rest’ as an image for salvation in Christ, one might have expected it to be implying that the church has entered this rest, but in fact it urges people to make sure that they don’t follow the wilderness generation’s example. They could fail to enter this rest as that generation did, and as in effect later generations of Israel could, notwithstanding their being physically in the land. Believers in Jesus are not in a less vulnerable position that Israel’s. They are in the same position. . . . It is worth noting that Paul also quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, in Romans 11:27, and does so in connection with what God will do at the End, not what God has already done.” (pp. 97-99)

Do We Need the New Testament? is a paperback with 184 pages and sells for $22.00.

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was previously principal and a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at St John’s Theological College in Nottingham, England.

Do we Need the New Testament

Book Give Away

This week I’m offering Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul by Simon Gathercole. The atonement is enjoying lively debate currently and this book will be a welcome voice. Here are two of the endorsements:

“The meaning of Jesus’s death remains controversial. In this short exploratory study Simon Gathercole draws on a range of classical as well as biblical sources to argue that for Paul, at least, the notion of substitution remained central. Many questions remain, but this book will give new energy to the ongoing discussion.”

N. T. Wright, Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

“Can Christ’s work of atonement be substitutionary in nature? Though Reformation Protestantism has replied in the affirmative, much recent scholarship has tended to have a negative view of this atonement motif. Simon Gathercole is to be congratulated for intervening in this debate with a short, clear, and lively book that argues the case for a substitutionary motif from a biblical perspective, and with an eye to both the Christian tradition and recent debates in the literature. This is a work all those interested in the atonement will want to read and engage. It is certainly a book I shall be recommending to my students.”

Oliver D. Crisp, Fuller Theological Seminary

Leave your name in the comments section by NLT Friday, May 22nd 6:00 am EST. I’ll announce the winner that Friday. If I don’t hear back from the winner within seven days the book will go to another entry.

Defending Substitution