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Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation Paperback – February 12, 2011
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The authors make a good case -- relying on modern scholarship -- that early Christians believed that Jesus died as a martyr for their new faith -- not as a sacrificial atonement -- and that Christians would receive salvation not only through faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the resurrected Christ, but also through the doing of good works imitating their founding martyr's life..
They argue that the Catholic and Protestant beliefs current today among many Christians -- the fall of man, salvation only through faith, Christ's sacrificial atonement on the cross -- and related doctrines -- are based on medieval Catholic and Reformation Protestant theologians having access only to poor translations of the Bible and being so separated in time and space from the original Christians that the theologians frequently misinterpreted key Gospel and Pauline texts.
The authors are respectful of both conservative and liberal views of the Bible and theology, and base themselves solidly on modern scholarship that has learned far more about correct translations of Greek and Hebrew terms, and also far more about the Jewish and Greek cultures of Christ's era than was accessible to medieval Catholic and Reformation Protestant theologians.
It's hard to summarize such a rich book in a few words. I would suggest that you read it yourself and see what you think. I'm still mulling over their arguments in my mind. I'm not entirely convinced that generations of Christian theologians are completely wrong, but the book is making me re-examine my beliefs.
The Original Saints believed and taught that you MUST come clean with God in Repentance BEFORE the Holy Spirit would indwell. No one was 'Saved in sin or did any early Saint teach that man was Born in Sin. They understood that man possessed free and unhindered ability to Obey God and DO what was Right. Most of professing Christianity today is under a massive System of Error that has negated genuine repentance and substituted it with a wretched man profession that keeps them in slavery to their sin
The other reviews of this book are also excellent and worth reading. Faith without works is dead as James wrote. In an effort to grow, most churches only demand a yes answer to a few questions and bingo, you are accepted into membership, (now, don't forget to tithe). This results in a shallow church body. In contrast to the early church, that required 3 yeas of godly living before a person was allowed to be baptized into membership. Real Christians will love this book.
1) Discussion of historical context: Probably the very worst aspect of a majority of Christian churches today is a widespread ignorance by clergy of the historical context of the New Testament beyond the oft-repeated stereotypes about the period, and the failure to accurately address and reflect upon them in sermons and homilies. The authors here do a fine job of laying the framework for the 2nd Temple Judaic culture of Jesus's time, through which one can understand his ministry more much more clearly and succinctly. Also the discussion of cultural understandings of ideas revolving around sacrifice, martyrdom, and Torah are very interesting.
2) The widespread use of references: Unlike many modern books on Christian thought, the authors here just don't toss out a few Bible citations and construct whole chapters that appear to be just their own theological musings. Every paragraph and sometimes every sentence are backed up with numerous citations found both within the Bible and early Church writings (with some other historical/academic pieces on the period thrown in for good measure). This enables the reader to look at the passages themselves and decide whether they concur with the author's assertions and also open their eyes to new ways of viewing Bible passages.
3) Addressing Counter Arguments: The authors know full well their thesis runs counter to Reformed Theology (and I'd argue against some major pillars of the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches) and they address these and then tell the reader why they do not conform with early Christianity. One is amazed to see how s much of modern 'doctrine' and creeds are inventions made many hundreds of years after Christ.
Now a few minor issues with the book:
1) Does not go at all into Biblical Higher Criticism: This may have been asking too much of the authors considering their already extensive subject matter, but with the historical lens they already use, it would have been nice to see how for example, the letters scholars agree were definitely written by Paul, support their thesis greater than the later forged letters (such as 1 Timothy and Ephesians).
2) A little repetitious: A few chapters appeared to drag on and on with the authors affirming the same ideas over and over again. No-one should ever be discouraged from providing further evidence (especially on the topic of early Christianity!) but in certain sections an appendix or other add-ons may have been more fitting in terms of readability
3) Messy conglomeration of 'Church Fathers': It is useful and important to note the philosophies of early Church leaders when describing how the views of the earliest Christians evolved over the centuries. But I felt that the authors too often seemed to lump the Fathers of the first 300 years together, without enough discussion of their own particular theologies and biases. The way its constructed in the book, the Christian Church pre-Middle Ages faithfully adhered to Jesus's original message. While the answer to that assertion is complicated, the authors fail to mention how Jesus's moral transformation message generally got obstructed shortly after he died . . by the 2nd century, many 'Church Fathers' had invented ideads that were solely their own and had nothing to do with the Gospels. This is not addressed.
As for the contents and my personal views, generally since I was a child I've always agreed with the main premise that the Gospels are ALL ABOUT moral transformation than being 'saved through faith'. If one tosses out the, in my opinion, absurd view that Paul's letters should hold as much weight as the teachings of Jesus (or even worse, as I've read, that Paul's letters supersede Jesus's ministry b/c God was dictating to him the Gospel post-New Covenant), one gets a firm view that Jesus was teaching that how we treat others is far more important than giving 'praise' to God through formal worship and other practices (that said, Paul's writings are often poorly translated and not understood in their proper context; a topic partially addressed in this book).
Matthew 31-46 is pretty much the Gospel in a nutshell, but how the modern Church has distorted this to no end!! This book should be required reading in any Divinity School 101 class. In summary, and as other reviewers have noted, the Gospel is not complicated, but has been made complicated by angry, hateful clerics in the ensuing centuries of the Christian Church, and Christianity really hasn't recovered from it ever since.
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