Romans 6:23: More About Identity, and Less About Everyone In Sin

Day 303: My Identity

Romans 6:23 — For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This tends to be rendered as a verse that describes this idea that all people are hidden in ‘sin’, and since all people are ruled by sin then all people die. That all people are headed to a destructive place called hell.

(Rather than dealing with a better rendering for sin as well as the mythology and rhetoric behind the ancient idea of hell, I would like to spend some time picking apart and re-contextualzing the verse.)

If you notice in this verse context, Paul is consistently making a contrast. He goes from verse-to-verse demonstrating either the destructive nature of sin or the complete and full gift of salvation. (In this context, salvation also means healing or restoration.) living as we are meant to be. living out of the best ‘us’. and so the less we spend our energy on not being ourselves the better we live out our salvation.

the word for wages is opsōnion — it is related to the wages of a soldier who deserved his pay. it was also used to describe a human to human transaction; for example, in the ancient times sometimes a debt was paid by one working for another to settle their debt. “The law was very strict in requiring daily payment of wages.” More on Wages here.

Thanatos is the Greek word for death. It tends to be defined in the bible as physical death, but i think its also important to remember that Thanatos was also a minor part of Greek Mythology. It is death personified. death in a person.

Maybe in this context, it might be better rendered as ‘the ability for a person to bring destruction everywhere they go when they are not living out the best them. The word also is connected to the idea of pestilence. which brings death. basically, the idea here is that sin and our intentional alignment with it can only bring daily destruction.

the word for eternal is better rendered as a ‘life of the ages’, or ‘life as you were intended to live out’.

So it seems Pauls is creating a contrast between two-types of people. people who align themselves with sin purposefully, will only experience and bring destruction wherever they go. those who choose to live out of the best them they were meant to be, bring healing and hope. so, then in this light it is less about how all of humanity has lost the plot and more about how all of us can choose to be people who either leave destruction or leave hope in the wake of our choices. which one are you striving to be?

So then the term connotes itself to the idea of a daily experience of sin. Sin defined as people not living out the best them.

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a review on Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Bible: A Biography’ by CharisManglican

The Bible, A Biography

(1) Tell us a bit of your story.

I became a Christian at the age of 12 at a camp run by independent, ‘non-denominational’ evangelical churches. From that time on I was always been in volunteer ministry, whether as a youth coach or a worship leader, and the church of my youth grow from about 80 to 800.

In the late nineties I began to engage postmodernism through popular Christian authors. First came Soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet. I read Finding Faith by Brian McLaren a bit late. Thus began a seven-year deconstruction of my faith. I self-identified as part of the emerging church. I read voraciously. I started to ‘get’ why me and my friends, all dedicated to Christ, nonetheless were restless and dissatisfied with the churches and the Christianity that we grew up with. In some ways it felt liberating: I didn’t feel alone in my dissatisfaction. I was getting rid of all sorts of ‘bad faith’. In other ways it was intimidating: what would remain at the end of my deconstruction? Because everything I believed was under scrutiny, I had no idea what faith would look like or if it would exist at the end of the journey. I had confidence in what I did NOT believe, but I wasn’t sure of what I DID believe. I had a vague feeling that God wanted me to actually do something. When and how would I fit some ‘construction’ in? When I shared my anxiety with a good friend of mine, he casually quoted Ecclesisastes: “There’s a time to tear down, and a time to build.” It was a relief somehow.

A time to build would come.

One of the more dramatic events during this period in my life was that I was excommunicated from the church of my youth. Not only had my paradigm let me down…now I was actually being abandoned by my spiritual family. My skepticism was at an all-time high. I thought I still believed in the church, but I didn’t know where she was. I started to think that God had withdrawn his Spirit from the West. I tried to find another church, but most were pretty much the same. We explored a church with no name that met in a kickboxing studio. We tried home church. We tried staying at home and playing video games. I can think of no better word than ‘grace’ to describe how I avoided total cynicism regarding the church. Instrumental in that grace were these five authors: Brian McLaren, N.T. Wright, John Howard Yoder, William Cavanaugh and Stanley Hauerwas. After about a year of being ‘ecclesially homeless’, my family somehow fell into the liturgical tradition. We are a part of St. Alban’s, a small Episcopal church in Yucaipa, California. I just gave my first sermon as a lay witness.

In studying post-liberalism and the early church, I have come to see non-violent, self-giving, enemy-love at the heart of the gospel. I call myself a Christian anarcho-pacifist as my way of teasing out the implications of this discovery. I’m attempting to live simply and to peacefully participate in giving and receiving in community with all earth’s creatures.

Last year I left my job as a top-producing mortgage consultant to homeschool my kids, work for my wife’s photography business and to begin organic farming. I told my wife once that I now know why Jesus self-identified as ‘the way’ rather than ‘the destination’. He keeps taking me on new adventures.

(2) What has influenced your belief system?

What hasn’t?

I used to make my living as a rock musician. People would ask us what style we were or who were our influences. While I have my favorite music, we were literally influenced by everything. I was influenced by John Steinbeck and by shampoo commercials. Whether I liked it or not, it influenced me. I have come to think of faith that way.

Currently I’m reading a book on home-scale permaculture (Gaia’s Garden). This is heavily influencing me. Last night I watched Michael Moore’s “Sicko”. It’s influencing me. Post-liberalism has caused me to live at peace with my historical contingency, and even revel in it. So while I can critique postmodernism as simply late western modernism, I’m not unaware at how my habits of thought are culturally postmodern. In order to understand, I’m willing to ‘stand under’ a multitude of teachers and let them influence me. Engage critically, but engage.

 
(3) What book are you reading now, and why that one?
 

After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre. It’s not an easy read. I’m taking it on because of the influence MacIntyre has had on the five authors that I mentioned earlier (N.T. Wright’s newest book, for example).

Here’s a juicy bit I just read:

“Contemporary moral experience…has a paradoxical character. For each of us is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of us also becomes engaged by modes of practice, aesthetic or bureaucratic, which involve us in manipulative relationships with others. Seeking to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated by others; seeking to incarnate our own principles and stand-point in the world of practice, we find no way open to us to do so except by directing others towards those very manipulative modes of relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case. The incoherence of our attitudes and our experience arises from the incoherent conceptual scheme which we have inherited.”

He traces the history of this incoherence from contemporary philosophy back to the ancient world. This work is considered one of the most lucid deconstructions of western modernism.

(4) You just read The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong. What in the book would you say agree with?

 

I’m not sure I have the standing to agree or disagree with Ms. Armstrong. My areas of study have touched on historical criticism, but only in a very limited sense. It might make more sense to say what I liked about the book.

And I did like the book. Karen is obviously a great teacher. I wasn’t prepared for the historical scope. I guess I thought she would address the beginnings of the scriptures among those peculiar nomads in the middle east, but I didn’t know that she’d continue to trace developments all the way through the twentieth century. This is the strength of the book: it is an overview of the compilation and interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures covering about three thousand years. And she tells it in such a way that is almost like a novel. It’s a page-turner.

 

(5) What are some areas you might disagree with and why?

 

My favorite authors give me a sense of their struggle, a sense of their editorial choices. For example, in A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn is very forthright about his editorial choices. In a very different sort of book (A Severe Mercy), C.S. Lewis lays bare the vulnerability of his faith in the face of suffering. The Bible: A Biography may not have been a page-turning overview if Armstrong gave a full account of her historical vision, but I can’t escape the feeling that she’s simply good at teaching other people’s conclusions. I would have liked the book more if it didn’t pretend to objectivity, if it instead revealed the author’s own struggle and choices. I’m left wondering: is Karen Armstrong aware of her own historical contingency?

 
(6) Do you think Karen Armstrong has something to say to the Church (at large)?
 

It’s a shame that so many Christians have a ‘magical’ view of the scriptures. (It’s also important to note that this is not always the case in traditional churches; Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams come to mind as church leaders who publicly engage historical criticism.) If I were teaching an introductory course on the history of the scriptures, I wouldn’t mind using this book.

However, I would want to balance it out with other works that address the theological and philosophical choices we make and why. Why do we think the way we do? History, theology, philosophy and politics were impoverished in the modern age by their isolation as separate disciplines, engaged only by ‘experts’. Zinn has demonstrated that history should be understood politically. Wright says that “Christianity appeals to history, so to history we must go.” Slavoj Zizek the atheist philosopher critically engages John Milbank the social critic…and both do theology.

When a theologian doesn’t understand ‘the history of theology’, or a historian doesn’t understand ‘the philosophy of history’ and so on, error is immanent. That Christians have a ‘magical’ view of the scriptures is not likely to be cured by historical facts, but rather by a wider engagement with other disciplines.

 (7) Do you think she represents a scholarly version of the postmodern conversation?

I actually think that Armstrong is vulnerable to postmodern critique. As I said, she seems to speak from objectivity rather than historically contingency. And because ‘the postmodern conversation’ has collapsed the neat boundaries between the disciplines (history, ethics, science, theology, philosophy, the arts), I’m not sure Armstrong’s book has the breadth necessary to be considered scholarly in our context.

In 1996 Jack Miles won a Pulitzer Prize for God: A Biography. To me this symbolized the mainstreaming of a postmodern shift in regards to the scriptures. The prominent questions have become more broad than mere historical accuracy: “What kind of book is this? What does this have to say? Why is this book here?” It’s the difference between studying a frog by dissection and studying a frog by observing it in its natural habitat.

I’ve been participating in a course from The Teaching Company in which Amy Jill Levine teaches the Old Testament as myth, saga and history. I’ve been reading William Cavanaugh’s radical visions of Christianity (ironically not proposing anything very new, but rather born of a deep exploration of Church history). Zizek uses Lacanian  Psychoanalysis to discuss how German toilets differ from French and American toilets. MacIntyre published After Virtue in 1981. In comparison to these, Armstrong’s book (published in 2007) seems neither very scholarly nor postmodern. In fact, it seems quite conservative, hearkening back to the time when history, like science, had its own inviolable corner of the truth.

(8) Anything else you would like to add/thoughts/critiques/questions/challenges
Because Armstrong doesn’t make explicit her viewpoint, I couldn’t help but detect what I thought was an implicit bias.

In her last chapter (“Modernity”) she reviews the thought of Michael Fishbane, Professor of Jewish Studies at Chicago University and author of The Notion of a Sacred Text. She quotes a passage from Fishbane where he presents Isaiah’s eschatological vision of all the nations converging on the city of peace, then another pasage where the prophet Micah talks about each nation going forward “each in the name of its own god.” Armstrong says: “It is almost as though Micah foresaw our own time of multiple visions converging on a common truth, which for Israel had been expressed by the idea of their god.” I thought the idea of mankind ‘converging on a common truth’ has been discredited by continental philosophy and postmodern deconstruction.

And what is the ‘common truth’ being offered to us? I can’t tell if Armstrong is quoting Fishbane approvingly or disinterestedly. But I can hazard a guess.

Armstrong seems delighted throughout her book when she writes of Jewish and Christian communities whose exegesis of scripture appears as proto-democratic liberalism. This thread of thought is thoroughly steeped in modernism. What does the Enlightenment mean, after all, but that Western Civilization has the true light…that we represent progress, peace and freedom? In the words of Francis Fukuyama, liberal democratic capitalism is “The End of History.” But what do you do if history refuses to stop?

In regards to Philosophy: The meta-narrative of history as progress and enlightenment has been discredited.

In regards to Theology: The belief that the ancient Jewish prophetic tradition was an appetizer for the prophets of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson is idolatry. In regards to Politics: This false universality shows no signs of culminating in Isaiah’s eschatological vision. Instead, it has led to violence and empire.

About Joey Aszterbaum,  a failed rock star and banking burnout who lives on a small farm in San Jacinto with his wife Jolynne (a wedding photographer) their four children, two other small families. He loves Jesus, non-violence, homeschooling, movies, post-liberal theology and farm-fresh eggs. He blogs over at CharisManglican, check it out: http://www.Charismanglican.com

scandalous electricity.

Make love not war

alive /əˈlaɪv/ Show Spelled[uh-lahyv]

–adjective 1.
having life; living; existing; not dead or lifeless.

2.

living (used for emphasis): the proudest man alive.

3.

in a state of action; in force or operation; active: to keep hope alive.

4.

full of energy and spirit; lively: Grandmother’s more alive than most of her contemporaries.

5.

having the quality of life; vivid; vibrant: The room was alive with color.

6.

Electricity. live2 (def. 17).
a few years i back i had a friend of mine look at the current state of her life, which was that her car had broke down on the side of the freeway, she was losing her job, and her and her boyfriend had just split-up! and her reaction makes perfect sense, she said: ” my life is falling apart!”
i think if i was in her situation, i might have responded the same. ever sense that moment and her words though, it has made me think about how we define our alives, or even what it means to be alive. we tend to look like the woman above did to inanimate things, lifeless things as objects that determine how valuable our life is or isn’t. for some, their life worth is determined whether they get this one job, or if they make it on American Idol, or if their refrigerator breaks down and they have to buy groceries all over again!
i don’t want to minimize the importance of the events above or even seem to trivialize events like them, but i do want us to see how we have come to define life. that for most of us we get into the ruts because things aren’t working out the way we think they should. and because the events or objects aren’t working to our presupposed maximum expectations, than our lives either don’t make sense or we feel less alive. so for most of us, alive isn’t about breathing, its about being in control. when we are in control of our world, and things goes ‘as planned’ (which really means: ‘how i want them to go’) then we feel alive. we enjoy life. but when it doesn’t we feel like we’ve lost our electricity. we’ve lost our juice, our fire for life has left.
the ancient hebrew poets believed that as we breathe in and breathe out that we were inhaling and exhaling the holy breath that god gave each of us. that each breathe was a holy act and recognition that we are not only on borrowed breath, but that we can proclaim together that we ‘alive!’ electricity is a surge of life. it brings life into wherever it is. it sustains life. for us to embrace our electricity means we also bring that electricity into the lives of others. it means we see that life isn’t summed up by what we have, dont’ have or how in control we are. that to be alive means to be fully aware. fully responsible with the divine act of breathing we have been given for our 75 years.
In the movie ‘Holy Man’, Eddie Murphy plays a guru who shares some of his wisdom, one part of the movie shows him talking to the audience on the frailty of life and that the realization of who short is, spurs us to do something — now! listen in:
“Seventy-five years. That’s
how much time you get if you’re lucky.
 

Being alive means being alive right now. we don’t wait to be alive. we are alive. how we choose to live it helps determine how alive we are while we are still breathing. there always going to be things distracting, creating fear, creating  joy even, but being alive means we have to make choices.

being alive means we accept the responsibility to be alive. to breathe in and breathe out. go ahead, breathe in and breathe out. and then go and find ways to incarnate that respiration. find ways to engage with the world. with others, strangers, family members, flowers, trees, books, songs. jump into the scandalous electricity that is life!!

 
Seventy-five years.
Seventy-five winters…

 
seventy-five springtimes, seventy-five
summers and seventy-five autumns.

 
When you look at it like that,
it’s not a lot of time, is it?

 
Don’t waste them.
Get your head out of the rat race…

 
and forget about the superficial things
that preoccupy your existence…

 
and get back
to what’s important now.

 
Right now, this very second.”

meet truths relatives.

Colorful Muslim Family

truth is a murky subject. because some believe there is objective truth. others believe that truth is subjective. some might even believe that truth can b discovered in 66 books, others believe it can be found in the forest. some believe truth is a person, and others believe truth is an illusion. but why not both? why can’t truth have elements of all of the above rather than constantly fighting against one another. that maybe each characteristic above along with a whole gamut of others can teach us things about truth and its nature and how we can discover it. i think truth can even be like a dysfunctional family. but a family nonetheless.

Meet Truth ‘The Father’: Truth as a father cares for us. supplies our needs. works hard for our development. guides us. corrects us. advises us. loves us. can believe in you.

Meet Truth ‘The Mother’: Truth as a mother is compassionate. is powerful. is independent. is loving. accepting. correcting. beautiful. nurturing. listening. teaching. meets our needs.can believe in you.

Meet Truth ‘The Siblings’: Truth as siblings can annoy you. can upset you. can enter your world when you don’t want it to. can be there for you when you least expect it. can stick up for you. can love you. can spur you on. can borrow things without ever returning them. can be your hero. can believe in you.

Meet Truth ‘The Cousin’: Truth as a Cousin can seem distant. out of reach. uknown. cold. out of contact. unsupportive. OR close. within reach. known. warm and inviting. accessible. can believe in you.

Truth as a family teaches us that present within the fabric of truth is diversity. there is transformation. but that truth believes in us. truth cares for us. truth is also different to each person as you can see the characteristics being played out, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t truth out there that isn’t objective, it means that all of our attempts can barely graspe the full depth of truth. it doesn’t mean we don’t try, what it means is we enjoy the journey. we let it unfold us, rather than trying to colonize it. we allow the relationships we have in truth to expound upon us rather than us trying to comment on it. the less we try to influence truth to be what we think it should be, the more truth can influence us to find who were are meant to be.