Book Notice: T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament (@TandTClark, @JBrianTucker)

As a pastor I’m always looking for approaches to the Bible that shed light on the dynamics of the early Christian communities. Understanding those dynamics helps me relate the text of scripture to present-day Christian communities (including the one I pastor!). That’s why I’m excited to see the publication of the T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament edited by Brian Tucker and Aaron Kuecker. It’s a one-volume commentary with chapters on each book of the New Testament. Each chapter draws on insights from the field of social identity theory (SIT) with the goal of illumining aspects of the text that may not have been apparent before. SIT is all about how individuals come together to form groups, how they think of themselves as sharing certain traits that define them as a group, and how they distinguish themselves as a group from other groups. Personally, I’ve found SIT to be one of the most useful tools available for thinking about how I appropriate the biblical text as a leader in a 21st century church. It’s aided me in strategy sessions, conflict resolutions, personal leadership style, and more. And considering how those dynamics are at play in the New Testament has deeply shaped my approach to pastoral leadership. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to write the chapters on 1 and 2 Thessalonians for this one-volume commentary. That research and writing was rich preparation for the series of sermons I just wrapped-up on 1 Thessalonians called “People of the Day” (check out the playlist below). This one-volume commentary is a companion to the T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament, which will take interested folks even further into the theory and how it can benefit our readings of the scriptures. The commentary is a bit pricey, but that is because it’s quite long. If the cost is prohibitive, wait till the paperback copy comes out.

Here’s my sermon series on 1 Thessalonians:

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice (SBL Press).

The State of New Testament Studies: A Quick Review

The field of New Testament studies is vast. And it’s growing at a remarkable pace. That reality is both exciting and discouraging. Exciting because these all-important documents are getting the attention they deserve and the field as a whole continues to thrive. Discouraging because no single person could possibly keep up with all the literature. In light of that, we can be grateful to Scot McKnight and Nijay Gupta for editing a new book titled The State of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Current Research (Baker Academic) which brings together a top-notch group of New Testament scholars to survey the major developments in their areas of specialization.

The contributions fall into four major sections. Part 1 is on the ancient context of the New Testament and attends to the relationship between early Christianity and the Roman Empire along with attitudes toward women in the ancient world. Part 2 takes up questions related to interpretation with chapters focused on hermeneutics, Old Testament use in the New Testament, the genre of the canonical Gospels, and developments in the study of Greek. Part 3 contains essays generally oriented around the relationship between history and theology in scholarship on Jesus, Paul, eschatology, and ethics. The final section is Part 4, which contains chapters surveying scholarship on most of the New Testament texts.

I found the book fascinating. One of the challenges with edited volumes is maintaining a sense of coherence between chapters written by different authors. This navigates that challenge well. In general, the chapters do a good job surveying the major movements in each area. They consistently relate newer scholarship to older scholarship and every chapter draws attention to voices that have been marginalized in the interpretation of the New Testament. The chapters focused on my area of specialization (i.e., Paul) helpfully clarified a few matters regarding how different streams in Pauline scholarship relate to one another. And the chapters focused on areas of the NT beyond my specialization were particularly helpful in orienting me to the major emphases in those discussions.

I will say that I would have liked to have seen more on Paul in Part 4. The only text from Paul that gets serious and extended treatment as a text is Romans, which means the rest of the Pauline corpus (and the extensive scholarship on it) was dealt with to a lesser degree than other New Testament documents. I think I understand the editorial choice here. Romans is useful for orienting people to Pauline scholarship, and more chapters on other letters in the Pauline collection would have made an already lengthy book even more so. Nevertheless, I would have very much enjoyed a chapter on the Corinthian correspondence and some attention to the shorter letters. Of course, this is no reason not to read the book. If anything, it’s a testament to its value. Upon reading a nearly 500 page book, I found myself wanting more.

The book will be most useful to graduate students in biblical studies. Every New Testament PhD student should read the whole thing. It will be immensely valuable in navigating the intimidating mountain of secondary literature with which students need to become familiar, and many chapters draw attention to potentially fruitful avenues for future study. Established scholars will already be familiar with much of the material, and will find the book most helpful in orienting them to areas of the New Testament that might lie outside their established research agendas. Academically-minded pastors may also find the book of interest.

All in all, I’m happy to recommend The State of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research. I plan to keep my copy close at hand and expect to consult it often.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

New Video: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12)

We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly explains why it was necessary – and how our weaknesses can be a theater Jesus’ power.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

 

Heaven Is Not Enough (Resurrection Matters)

Watch this video on YouTube.

Many Christians look forward to heaven. But the Bible doesn’t actually portray life after death as the heart of Christian hope. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks you through Revelation 6:9-10 to introduce you to some people who went to heaven but weren’t happy about it. You’ll learn why heaven is not the sum and substance of Christian hope. Rather, Christian hope is always resurrection hope.

Did you enjoy this video? Give it a thumbs up. Then subscribe for more.

Check out Matt’s favorite books on (rethinking) heaven.
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright: https://amzn.to/2pLLzTD
Heaven Misplaced by Douglas Wilson: https://amzn.to/2A1MzJd

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

Can Suffering Be a Gift? | Understanding Philippians

It’s easy to blame other people when we suffer. Sometimes we even blame God. That’s why the apostle Paul’s attitude toward suffering in Philippians 1:29 is so surprising. He sees some suffering as a gift of God’s grace. But how can that be? In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks us through this tough passage in the Bible and points to how suffering can sometimes be redemptive.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

When Christians Suffer and Fight

Understanding Philippians means understanding the problems the church in Philippi faced. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks us through the two major challenges that Paul had to deal with and shows how they apply to the contemporary church.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

When is a church not a church? | Mulholland on Revelation #UMC

The book of Revelation is full of practical application for today’s church. One of my favorite things about Bob Mulholland’s commentary on Revelation is the attention he gives to the formative power of the Apocalypse. One good example of this comes in his analysis of the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. Mulholland observes that, according to Acts 19-20, when the gospel first came to Ephesus, believers responded in a way that carried significant impact in the city, economic not least. They believed the gospel and they behaved in a way that brought the implications of the gospel to bear on the city of Ephesus. But by the time Revelation is written, while the Ephesians still believe the right things (Rev 2:2), they have lost their first love (Rev 2:4). They remain orthodox, but they’re no longer evangelistic. So Mulholland says

…we see that orthodoxy and evangelism are the inseparable foci of a healthy church. Both must be kept in dynamic balance. Evangelism without orthodoxy becomes a tolerant pluralism and results in a community formed around diffuse human values and criteria. Orthodoxy without evangelism becomes a cold, harsh legalism and results in a community formed around debilitating “do’s and don’ts.” Sound orthodoxy and fervent evangelism result in a community of faith whose growing wholeness of life is a powerful witness of the cleansing, healing, liberating life in Christ to a soiled, wounded, and imprisoned world (435).

Mulholland seems to be using the language of evangelism to refer broadly to the various ways churches might engage their community in ministry, even though that language typically refers to a clear articulation of the truth of the gospel and a call to faith in Jesus. In any case, his point is made. And some may think he doesn’t go far enough, since there are segments of some denominations that are neither orthodox nor evangelistic.

Commitment to truth is important, but it’s not enough. And that commitment must translate into action. Likewise, engaging the culture must be grounded in truth. If it isn’t, there are consequences. Jesus commanded the church in Ephesus to remember and do the works they did at first (Rev 2:5). If they do not, he will remove their lampstand. That is, their status as a church. What’s the point? A church that doesn’t maintain the balance between orthodoxy and evangelism will not long be a church. And that, of course, raises another question. When is a church no longer a church?

Have you ever been in a church setting that did a good job keeping the balance between evangelism and orthodoxy ? A church that did not? What are the keys to keeping the balance? Why do churches struggle to keep that balance? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and experience.

Get your copy of Revelation by Robert Mulholland.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

3 Books to Understand Revelation

Revelation is the hardest book in the New Testament. With all the numbers, symbols, and images, it’s intimidating (and even scary!) to the average reader. On top of that, there’s plenty of unhelpful material out there. This video gives a quick intro to 3 books on Revelation that are accessible and rewarding. Read these and you’ll be well on your way to understanding Revelation.

  1. Revelation for Everyone by N.T. Wright
  2. Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael J. Gorman
  3. Revelation by Robert Mulholland

Also, here’s a short essay of mine called “How to Read Revelation in Church.”

Do you have a favorite book on Revelation? Leave a comment and tell us what it is.

No Redemption without Resurrection


Easter has come, but it hasn’t gone. We are now several days into The Great 50 Days (or Eastertide), the period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It’s an important reminder that Easter is not just one day on the calendar, it’s a season. So, I’m continuing to reflect on the importance of resurrection. (In truth, the significance of resurrection occupies my thinking  most of the year, not just this season.) The bottom line from my Easter sermon was this: “There’s no redemption without resurrection.” Here are a couple of reasons that’s true.

God Loses

If there is no bodily resurrection, sin wins and God loses. God did not design human beings to die. All through scripture death is the consequence of sin. From Genesis 2:17, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die,” to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” We are bound to decay and death because of sin. So we can infer that if God intended human beings obey the command to not sin, then God did not design human beings to die. That was not his intent. It was not the plan. Sin and death are the twin enemies of God, his people, and creation as a whole.

I wrote earlier this week on why dying and going to heaven is not enough. And this reflection reinforces that point. If the body dies and we find ourselves conscious in heaven (as scripture teaches), and if that’s the climax of salvation (which scripture does not teach), then sin wins and God loses. Why? Because going to heaven is another way of saying the body is dead. An essential part of our human existence remains in the grave. Dying and going to heaven does not mean we are more alive than ever – despite what D.L. Moody may have thought. Dying and going to heaven means we are dead. Now let me be clear: I am not denying that believers enter the presence of Jesus when they die. I affirm that wholeheartedly. What I am saying is that heaven should be seen the way scripture portrays it: as a period of waiting for bodily resurrection. Only when the body is raised will any of us be more alive – and more fully human – than ever before.

That’s why there’s no redemption without resurrection. Sin is our enemy. Death is the consequence of sin. If we die and remain dead, the enemy wins and God loses. That’s why scripture spends so much time on the past resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of believers. That’s why Paul says, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). And that enemy is destroyed when Christ returns to raise the dead. Only “then will the saying that is written be fulfilled, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory'” (1 Cor 15:54). Note the future tense verb. The dead in Christ are still dead. The saying has not yet been fulfilled. We’re still waiting on that, because (like the saints in heaven) we are still waiting to be raised from the dead.

More than forgiveness

Sometimes (not always) the way we do evangelism suggests that we only need forgiveness from sin. Think about it. How often are people invited to pray and ask forgiveness so they can go to heaven? The focus there is on what the individual must do to avoid the consequence of their sin. You’ve heard the cliché about salvation as fire insurance; this sort of evangelism is what it’s talking about.

Again, let me be clear. I’m not saying that we don’t need forgiveness. Of course, we do. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do evangelism. Of course, we should. What I’m saying is that we need more than forgiveness. We need new life. The one is a means to the other. Forgiveness is a means. New life is the end. That new life looks like growth in holiness now and bodily resurrection later. That’s what God wants. Of course, God has to forgive our sins. He can’t fill a bunch of unforgiven sinners with the beauty of his holy love. But forgiveness is not the goal. Holiness leading to resurrection life is.

Think about the death and resurrection of Jesus this way. Christ died and his blood was shed to forgive our sin. He was raised from the dead to launch God’s new creation and give us new life. The death and resurrection of Jesus are two parts of one complete redemptive event. The cross is not enough. That’s why Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 that if Christ hasn’t been raised, faith is a waste of time. We need the new life that comes out of the tomb on Easter morning.

And our evangelism should reflect that need. Forgiveness is not the goal of evangelism, and we shouldn’t evangelize as if it were. Our proclamation of the gospel – our Lord  Jesus Christ has died and was raised – should present forgiveness of sin as a step that enables us to experience new transformed life in the present and resurrection of the body in the future. There’s no redemption without resurrection because we need more than forgiveness of sin.

For more on holiness now and resurrection later, watch this Seven Minute Seminary.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

Heaven Is Not Enough

Views about heaven abound. Some are helpful. Some are not. When it comes to the Bible, some passages about heaven come with surprises. One of those is the vision of the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11. Now a martyr is by definition someone who has died and gone to heaven. They loved Jesus more than life, and so they were “slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given” (Rev 6:9). What’s surprising about this passage is the attitude of the martyrs. Most people think of heaven in terms of eternal joy and bliss. After all, if you’ve entered into the presence of God, what more could you want? Apparently, that isn’t how these martyrs view the situation. They have a complaint. And they’d like it resolved quickly. From their position under the heavenly altar they are said to cry out in a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). They’ve died and gone to heaven, but heaven isn’t enough. They want more.

Dissatisfied with Heaven

So what are they waiting for? To answer that question we need to look more closely at their appeal. Their complaint revolves around the wrong done to them. They did nothing wrong, yet they’ve lost their lives. They were perfectly faithful, but they suffered deep injustice. They died for their faith. And from their perspective, entrance into heaven does nothing to make things right. They want to be vindicated. So they appeal to their “Sovereign” to do something about it, and they’ll be dissatisfied with heaven until he does.

Resurrection as Vindication

But we still haven’t answered the question. If heaven isn’t enough, what is? What does vindication look like for the faithful dead? The answer comes later in Revelation. After Babylon falls to God’s judgment (in Revelation Babylon is a symbol of the forces that oppose God and oppress his people), the martyrs are raised from the dead and participate in Christ’s reign. This is what they’ve been waiting for – the resurrection of the body. After all, if the body is killed, that wrong cannot be made right as long as the body is in the grave. To say they’ve died and gone to heaven is to say their bodies are still dead. The injustice of their deaths can only be rectified by bodily resurrection. Their bodies must rise from the grave for the wrong to be made right. And this is true not only for the martyrs. It is an affront to God any time a creature made in God’s image dies. That’s why the hope for resurrection permeates the New Testament. Heaven is great, but if we’re talking about a disembodied spiritual experience, it’s not the goal. Ultimate redemption only comes with bodily resurrection.

Check out this Seven Minute Seminary for more on what the Bible says about life after death.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.