A Word in Edgewise

Paul’s Missionary Strategy (Pt. 2)

I continue some thoughts today on Paul’s missionary strategy.  Make sure you go back to read part 1!

Found—Common Ground

When Paul began his ministry in a city, whether with Jews or Gentiles, he worked hard to find common ground. In the synagogue, marketplace, and homes that welcomed him, Paul preached Christ after connecting with his audiences. Generally speaking, when Paul stood with the Jews, he found common ground in the Scriptures, their common heritage, and shared history. As he read and reread his Bible, Paul saw the story of Jesus in the characters, plots, hopes, and warnings of the scrolls. Today, the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, forms a vital backdrop to our culture and lives. In our Western culture, there is a residue of the Christian story. Who hasn’t met a “Good Samaritan” or heard “the Golden Rule”? This residue offers us a location where we can move deeper with our friends and fellow citizens into the Scriptures. If we are open to these kinds of conversations, we will find ample opportunities to share our unique stories.  Too often, Christians today avoid music, movies, and literature that are not immersed in obvious Christian themes. When we isolate ourselves in this way, we cut ourselves off from a great source of inspiration and truth. Art, music, literature, and movies are all created by people made in the image of God. Even if the divine image has suffered under the domination of sin, “secular” art betrays what it means to be human. We see in secular forms the beauty of creation, the ugliness of sin, and the need for redemption, meaning, and life. We should recognize secular art for what it is: attempts to capture and express truth in a world longing for reconciliation. When we study a culture respectfully, we will find in every expression an opportunity to bear witness to the broader, deeper truth recognized by the church, that part of the world already reconciled to God through Christ.paul-painting-pic-croped

Preached the Kerygma

Paul laid a foundation with a simple message, the kerygma. Kerygma is a Greek term, meaning “preaching” or “proclamation.” It does not refer to the style (how) or location (where) of the preaching. It refers to the content of the gospel. In short, Paul’s kerygma consisted of these essential points:

  1. Jesus inaugurated the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.
  2. He did good and performed miracles.
  3. He was crucified according to God’s plan.
  4. He was resurrected and exalted to the right hand of God the Father.
  5. He will come again in glory, honor, and judgment.
  6. Therefore, repent, believe, and be baptized.

When he was permitted, Paul declared this gospel message among Jews and Gentiles. The message was simple, but powerful. God has acted decisively in and through Jesus, who is the long-awaited Messiah or Liberating King. In Jesus God has come to us and acted in history for all to see. At the heart of the message is a crucified Messiah, vindicated in the resurrection. For Paul, Christ had changed everything; a new creation had begun. The parousia (second coming) of Jesus would complete what He started. Because all this is true, the only proper response is for men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, to change how they think and act, put faith in Christ, and undergo baptism (ceremonial washing) in His name.

Paul’s Missionary Strategy (Pt. 1)

Over the next couple of posts I’m going to lay out some key elements to Paul’s missionary strategy.

Paul’s Example

By all accounts, Saul the Pharisee, the former persecutor of the church, is credited as the one who engineered and established the mission to the nations. More than any other, he dislodged “the Way” from its cultural and territorial moorings so that it could reach the ends of the earth, just as Isaiah had predicted. Luke’s insistence that believers remember Paul’s example is more than an interesting feature of Luke’s story. It’s a central theme. In other words, Luke wants us to learn from Paul how our congregations can extend the mission of the Liberating King into our changing culture. Everything Paul did was intentional, strategic. We see his strategies on every page of Luke’s Acts. We discover them as we read between the lines of his letters.  Often, today’s church leaders look to mega-churches to see what they are doing and which programs are working. Then we try to duplicate those programs or methods in our own fields. Results are frequently mixed. Watching the strategies of the mega-churches can provide us some help, but they’re not the only places where we ought to seek guidance. Rather than looking to modern trends, Luke invites us to learn from the Apostle to the Gentiles, then to return to our times and situations with a renewed sense of what the church is and how we ought to tactically approach our own mission.


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Urban Strategy

Paul’s mission strategy took him first to the cities. This was appropriate for two reasons. First, Paul himself was a city-fellow, and Paul knew he would be most effective with people like himself. Some call this the “homogenous unit principle.” Rather than retreat in embarrassment from this principle of social behavior, we ought to accept it and then exploit it. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t try to transcend the limitations of our unique “flocks.” If we want to be effective in our own mission strategies, then we have to know who we are. But there is second reason that Paul’s mission strategy was primarily urban: he went to where the people gathered. They might live outside the city, but weekly they would journey to the city to shop, trade, and worship in the synagogues and temples lining the main roads of these Roman cities. Paul’s strategy is clear: we must go to where most of the people are.

Two Heads—Better than One

Paul was a man of his time, not of ours. In Paul’s day, there were no rugged individualists, no self-made men. He knew well what modern generations have forgotten: humans are hard-wired for community. He knew the mission would be most effective with the vitality, support, protection, help, and wisdom of a community of like-minded, otherwise-gifted men and women deeply committed to “the Way.” Paul taught that the church was a body, not a business. In this body, members are organically connected, mutually dependent, and spiritually animated. The church is a family, a household of faith, with God as Father, Jesus as elder brother, and fellow believers as brothers and sisters. If we gain anything from a gentle read through Acts, we will lose the business mentality and embrace a more organic, human, team approach to kingdom work.

Cross-cultural Mission

Paul was no fool. He didn’t enter a city and immediately look up the local atheists and skeptics. His strategy took him to communities and places where people already believed in God, knew the Scriptures, and shared similar perspectives on the world. He went to the Jews first. Whenever Paul entered a city, he looked first for the local synagogue. Paul did this not only because it made sense. He did it because the prophecies had to be fulfilled. To Paul’s profound sorrow, often Jews in the cities he visited rejected both the gospel and Paul himself. He worshiped with them, shared with them, argued the meaning of Scripture with them, and sometimes ran from their stones. When the opposition became stiff—or should we say hard as a rock—Paul shook the dust off his feet in symbolic protest and took the message of Jesus to the God-fearing Gentiles (those non-Jews who were attracted to the one God of Israel and closely identified, without losing their skins, with the Jews). We don’t know the depth of his discomfort the first time he ate a meal prepared by one who didn’t follow the purity rituals.  We didn’t invent cross-cultural missions. It started in Antioch and Galatia, around a common table, as Jews and Gentiles broke bread together. There is something unique about table fellowship. For us the table means friendship. It is an overture to enter with us in a relationship that is risky, open, and transparent. To be “on mission” means we sit often at the table with new friends, we open up our lives, and we bear witness. It means that we learn of other cultures, eat strange foods, and stop insisting that everybody be like us. Like Paul we may start our mission by sharing Christ with people who look, talk, and act like we do, but we had better not stop there. One day we will sit at the table with people gathered from the four corners of the world, representing every family, every tribe, and every nation. A good deal of ministry happens “in church” around liturgies, especially as we break the bread and drink the wine of the Eucharist. But the spiritual power of the Eucharist is ultimately found in the love feast and in dinners at our homes, with people like and unlike us.


This is part one of Paul’s Missionary Strategy.  Come back for parts two and three over the next week or so.

Correcting the Record

A few days ago I posted a brief review of Dr. Crispin Fletcher-Louis’ recent book, Jesus Monotheism (Cascade, 2015).  This particular volume is entitled Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond.  I made a statement in trying to summarize Crispin’s position that mischaracterizes and goes beyond what he is claiming.  So I want to correct the record.  crispin-fletcher-louis

Let me quote my earlier paragraph in full:

Fletcher-Louis thinks that there are antecedent traditions which anticipate the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity (Bauckham’s phrase). While the worship of Jesus alongside God and beliefs in his divine identity are new and surprising, they could have been anticipated if we were attuned correctly to certain movements and ideas within second temple Judaism.

The sentence in question is the second sentence of that paragraph.  In private correspondence Crispin indicated he agreed with the first part, that is, that including Jesus within the identity of Israel’s One God and worshipping him alongside God are new and surprising claims and actions on the part of early Jesus followers.  He does not, however, agree with the second part.

In his own words (used by permission):

I agree with the first half of that sentence, but not the second. Christological monotheism is so surprising no one could have anticipated it. There are ideas in the Bible and there were movements in the Second Temple period that are in some ways conceptually continuous with Christological monotheism, but in several respects the Christian worship of Jesus and associated beliefs about him and his deity are without clear precedent. We have no evidence that anyone did anticipate the full pattern of Christ devotion that the NT texts describe (and that Hurtado has laid out in his work), and I would be rather surprised if some new text emerged that showed anyone did anticipate the full pattern. Furthermore, the evidence of the earliest Gospels is that Jesus’ followers were not expecting a messiah who would receive precisely the kind of devotion that those same followers apparently ended up giving to Jesus after his death and resurrection.

I find myself in broad agreement with Crispin on this and I’m grateful for his clarifying for me this aspect of his project which is scheduled to take four volumes to work out.  Scholarship is about putting forth an idea, presenting the evidence, and drawing conclusions with the hope that you’ll get a fair hearing. I certainly want to read, understand and present his work fairly.  So I’m grateful for the kind and generous way he approached me on this.  Dr. Fletcher-Louis has been and continues to be an important partner in the conversation regarding how Christ devotion developed so quickly after the execution of Jesus.

HGST Blog Launches

The official HGST blog launched August 1, 2016.  The link is here.  Or if you want to type it into your browser, here is the address: http://www.hgstblog.wordpress.comcoffee-shop

The first post was by our own, Dr. James Furr, president of HGST. Every week one of our faculty, friends, trustees and/or students shares some thought or insight with our readers.  You’ll find book announcements and book reviews there.  You may even find an occasional movie review. We use the site to share with you podcasts and videos you will want to see.  Our Bible faculty offer insights from Scripture and theology.  Our counselors share recent trends in counseling theory and technique.  Just enough to whet the appetite.  Our preaching faculty may give us a sermon outline or two.  Who knows?

Why are we doing this?  Well, it is simple.  We see it as furthering the important mission of HGST: to equip women and men to be ministers and messengers of God’s mission of reconciliation through academic excellence, personal transformation and leadership development.

Are you looking for a seminary? Why not check out Houston Graduate School of Theology: www.hgst.edu.

A Man Attested by God


Daniel Kirk has written an important new book entitled A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Eerdmans 2016).  At the heart of his project is an attempt to resuscitate an idealized humanity at the heart of the Gospels.  The tendency for many, he thinks, is to read Matthew, Mark, and Luke through the lens of John’s Gospel or of Paul’s divine Christology expressed in say, the Philippian hymn (Phil 2:6-11).kirk-a-man-attested

For Kirk Jesus is an extraordinary figure of history.  But he is not just extraordinary because of his deity; he is extraordinary because of his humanity.  The grand scheme of the Bible presents the God of Israel as One who does not give up on humanity.  From the beginning (Genesis) God had a great plan and vision for what humanity was supposed to be.  So Kirk proposes that the Synoptics offer a high human Christology (a play on words based on the emerging consensus of “an early high Christology”).  In this case high does not equal divine, but a fully realized and idealized humanity. In other words the Synoptic Gospels present us with a Jesus who is everything humanity was created to be.

Now Kirk doesn’t deny the orthodox picture of a divine Christ.  He just thinks the Synoptics are telling a different sort of story, a story that can be easily lost in accentuating Jesus’ divinity.  As long as we stress Jesus’ divinity, we don’t have to take seriously what it means to walk as he walk, live as lived, love as he loved.  In other words “following Jesus.”

Kirk’s monograph stands in contrast to recent work done on the Gospels by the likes of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and even his own former teacher, Richard Hays.  But more about this in another post.

Jesus Monotheism

I met Crispin Fletcher-Louis in 1998 at a conference at St. Andrews. He was a rising star in historical and theological matters relating to the origins of Christianity. His star continues to rise.

Recently he published the first volume of a four volume series entitled Jesus Monotheism. This particular volume is Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Cascade, 2015).

In this series Fletcher-Louis hopes to explain how it happened that early Jesus-followers came to see him as divine and worshiped him in continuity with the worship of the One God of Israel (what I like to call an early high Christology). His purpose is historical: where did it happen? With whom? What caused it? What shape did it take?jewish-monotheism

I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article.  For now at least let me introduce the key elements.

Fletcher-Louis thinks that there are antecedent traditions which anticipate the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity (Bauckham’s phrase). While the worship of Jesus alongside God and beliefs in his divine identity are new and surprising, they could have been anticipated if we were attuned correctly to certain movements and ideas within second temple Judaism.

Fletcher-Louis situates the causative factor for an early high Christology not in powerful religious experiences post-resurrection but in Jesus’ own self-awareness. He claims that the historical Jesus had an incarnational self-consciousness. The resurrection, of course, is a key event. For the crucifixion appears on the surface to deny Jesus’ messianic and divine claims. In the event Christians call the resurrection something happened to reverse the negating elements of Jesus’ death and confirm not only that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah but that he is also the incarnation of a divine being. Now, for those of you who’ve been following the scholarship in this arena, that is a bold claim.

Fletcher-Louis starts with the emerging consensus. Frankly, I don’t know recall who coined the phrase but it is a good one. The emerging consensus among many scholars is that a divine Christology is indeed early (that’s why I am a founding member of the early high Christology club) and located historically within Jewish milieu. It did not arise late in the first century only after Gentiles had streamed in and overtaken the Jesus movement.   Divine Christology means that early followers included Jesus within the divine identity and engaged in actions toward him which can only be described as worship, or as Larry Hurtado has put it “Christ devotion.”

There are scholars, however, who haven’t emerged. These include Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn, James McGrath, and Bart Ehrman.

To this point Fletcher-Louis finds himself in broad agreement with the emerging consensus and its leading lights, Hurtado and Bauckham. Where he goes “beyond” is to try to locate (historically) the belief in a divine Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism and in the self-awareness of Jesus. Jewish writings which could have a pre-Christian origin such as the Life of Adam and Eve and the Similitudes of Enoch can be read in such a way to suggest that Jews before Jesus had a messianic expectation which included a divine Messiah who comes from heaven.

Hurtado has made the case that it is powerful religious experiences post- resurrection which caused these early, Jewish followers to consider Jesus divine and to worship him. Apparently, through visions and prophetic utterances early Christians “saw” Jesus enthroned at God’s right hand and came to believe that worshiping Jesus was the will of God. While Fletcher-Louis applauds Hurtado’s sense that we need to take seriously the role of religious experience, he does not consider it is enough to account for what happened so quickly after Jesus’ execution. The problem, as he sees it, is that with no precedent for the worship of a divine person or Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism or without taking seriously the possibility that Jesus’ himself had a sense of his own divine identity, it is hard to account for the speed and exact shape Christ devotion took in the first decades after Jesus’ execution. It is more believable, according to Fletcher-Louis, that Jesus had a divine self-consciousness.

Well, his chips are on the table. Scholars, emerging and otherwise, are likely to agree with some of his points and disagree with others. Three more volumes to come. These are a welcome additions to the conversation.


I found a podcast series which may interest you.  Matt & Matt cohost this series which describes itself as “conversations on current biblical scholarship.”  The reason I found it is because a friend, Chris Tilling, was a guest on their podcast recently to discuss a topic I have interest in: New Testament Divine Christology.Chris-Tilling

If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’ve highlighted Chris’ book Paul’s Divine Christology on a couple of occasions.  Chris is on to an important and overlooked feature of early Christology.

In the podcast Matt & Matt do a good job in laying out the contours of where current Christological discussions have gone over the past 20-30 years.  Chris is well-versed in “the state of the question.”  If you’re interested in whether the earlies followers of Jesus regarded him as divine, then you will want to take some time and listen to Chris’ take on things.

Here’s a link: