Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mark Seifrid Essay

For the past 5 weeks, now heading into the 6th week, I have been teaching a class on Romans at my church. It has been challenging, exciting, and rewarding. Since I left seminary it is by far the most important thing I have done from an academic ministerial standpoint.

One thing I have been reiterating to the class is Paul's insistence that his gospel is for both Jew and Gentile. Well, that comment is somewhat of a no-brainer I realize, but usually I would follow that up with an inference along the lines of "God has leveled the playing field."

It wasn't until I had the opportunity to read Mark Seifrid's fine essay "For the Jew first: Paul's Nota Bene for his Gentile Readers"(pp.24-39) in the new book To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (Grand Rapids: Kregel; 2008), that I thought I might not have clarified or nuanced my statement "God has levelled the playing field." More to the point, I thought I may have mislead my class into thinking that the gospel eradicates ethnic distinctiveness with regards to the Jews and Gentiles.

Seifrid states the matter beautifully:

We must not fail to see that when Paul enjoins Jews and Gentiles in the Roman house-churches to be of one mind, to accept one another, and to worship God with one voice, he presupposes that each will retain their ethnic identities. God is glorified not in the homogenization of the believing community, but precisely in our recognition that our unity is found solely in the risen Messiah in whom we all believe--in him and nowhere else. Such unity is the work of God, not the work of human beings. Only in this way can the common worship of Jews and Gentiles be a sign of hope for Israel and the world. Paul offers no formula by which to negotiate the form this worship is to take, or what sort of cultural imprint it is to bear. Indeed, in some sense worship may be countercultural to both Gentile and Jews. (37; emphasis mine)

Postscript: I was able to share these thoughts with my class, stressing that when Paul's gospel is approached in this vein, it becomes even more miraculous, as Seifrid again comments:

The entrance of Gentiles into salvation does not, however, result in an indiscriminate, and therefore bland, universalism in which all cultural distinctions are leveled. Rather, it represents a dramatic joining of highly fissile peoples, Jew and Gentile, who are held together solely by the risen Messiah. ...Had their cultural differences been leveled out and their earthly identities done away with, there would have been no cause to celebrate their union in Messiah (see Rom. 15:1-4; 25-26).

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