Monday, January 28, 2013

The Life and Witness of Peter - Larry R. Helyer




In view of Christ’s return, Peter espouses the witness of suffering.

The Life and Witness of Peter
Author: Larry R. Helyer
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 329

In The Life and Witness of Peter Larry R. Helyer connects the biographical, historical and theological. Readers will see how Peter’s teaching is informed by his life experiences, especially pivotal events like his eyewitness account of Christ’s transfiguration. The latter is prominent in the eschatology of 2 Peter, “In short, the transfiguration was a theophany (cf. Ex 19), an epiphany and a preview of the parousia. Peter’s eyewitness testimony confirms what the prophets foretold: the Lord will come on the clouds and establish his undisputed rule over all peoples. Evil doers are put on notice: a day of reckoning is looming—false teachers beware!” (258).

The author goes on to make a possible connection between the wording of the divine utterance at the transfiguration and God’s summons to Abraham. “Beloved,” “son” and the idea of being well-loved or pleasing are prominent. “A typological link between the binding of Isaac and the transfiguration of Christ is relevant if we remember the placement of this event in Jesus’ ministry. Shortly after coming down from the mountain, Jesus reveals the fate awaiting the Son of man in Jerusalem during the festival of Passover (Mk 9:20-32; Mt 17:22-23; Lk 9:43-45) (259). Humiliation precedes exaltation.” The binding precedes Christ bringing many sons and daughters to glory as alluded to by the author.

“Furthermore, the conclusion of the story of the binding of Isaac promises that Abraham’s offspring would be ‘as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore’ (Gen 22:17-18). So too, at the parousia, the elect are gathered ‘from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’ (Mt 24:31), and they ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world’ (Mt 25:34). The Abraham cycle concludes with this declaration: ‘Abraham gave all he had to Isaac’ (Gen 25:5). Believers, being ‘participants of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4), are also ‘heirs of the gracious gift of life’ (1 Pet 3:7), indeed, heirs of ‘an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven’ (1 Pet 1:4). In Paul’s words, believers are ‘heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ’ (Rom 8:17). A typological reading of Scripture results in a richly textured theology” (259). Indeed, it does, just as Helyer’s analysis of Peter and his doctrine is rewarding throughout.

Particularly helpful are the asides and commentary on controversial passages. In Peter’s confession of Christ and the subsequent response from his Lord, Helyer identifies the conundrum, “The first question is this: Is Peter himself the rock, or is the rock the confession he makes? In the past, ecclesiastical affiliation virtually dictated one’s response. Roman Catholics affirmed the former and Protestants the latter. This oversimplifies the situation, and today one finds a wider range of nuances. Still, these two options remain the primary contenders.” Can you see in these words a voice of reason? Whether one agrees or not with what follows, this is the kind of perspective I value.

After some analysis, Helyer writes, “Though possible, the interpretation that the rock is Peter’s confession seems forced. Rather, Jesus designates Peter as the one who will exercise authority within the movement” (44).

Before anyone picks up stones, please consider the wisdom in his concluding comments, “Such an interpretation is a far cry from the fully developed Roman Catholic teaching on the origin of the papacy. One is not logically or historically compelled to acknowledge the latter by affirming Peter (and the apostles) as the foundation of the church” (Eph 2:20) (44). Balanced thoughts like these make books like this worth reading. It thrills me to see someone showing where the truth points without accepting distorted ramifications.

Being broadminded does not require having views that are not biblical. Indicative of his generosity in spirit, in a footnote toward the end of the book, the author writes, “I take this opportunity to encourage my fellow evangelicals to read some of Benedict XVI’s books. Three that I have found helpful are Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007); Saint Paul (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009); Credo for Today: What Christians Believe (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009). May he, like Peter, faithfully ‘tend the flock of God that is in [his] charge’ and ‘win the crown of glory that never fades away’ (1 Pet 5:2, 4)” (283).

This is not a commentary, and yet, it serves as one indirectly, especially in relation to 1 & 2 Peter. One example is the exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-22. Questions arise from the first two verses of the passage: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison” (ESV). Helyer identifies the key questions as:

·         Where did Christ go after having been made alive “in the Spirit (or spirit)”?
·         When did Christ go there?
·         Who are “the spirits in prison”?
·         What was the nature of the proclamation to them? (149)

He then summarizes three leading interpretations before sharing the one he favors accompanied by the merits and deficiencies of each view. In short, the first view sees Christ preaching through Noah to the pre-flood generation. The second advocates Christ preaching in the spiritual realm to the souls of deceased humans, consisting either of those who perished during the flood of Noah’s time, the souls that died before Christ’s incarnation or all souls, who are believed to have a postmortem opportunity to respond to the gospel. The author clearly favors the third view of Christ proclaiming “his victory over the rebellious spirits (fallen angels and/or their demonic offspring) who were imprisoned as a consequence of their sin (Gen 6). This preaching, which was not an invitation to be saved, announced their certain, final judgment and took place during his ascension” (149-150). The preaching occurred between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in the first two options. This is all serves as an example of the careful and informed scholarship that you consistently find.

It would be a mistake, however, to think of this only in terms of the academic. Pastoral applications and insights abound. One in particular, which stems from a verse most often applied to women, is broadened in a beautiful way. “Futhermore, a gentle and quiet spirit is not a gender-specific admonition; it is powerful paradigm for both genders, since it is the path trod by the Suffering Servant who invites each believer to follow in his steps (1 Pet 3:4, 7; cf. 1 Pet 2:23)” (304). This fits wonderfully with what Helyer sees as paramount in Peter’s theology, “The testimony of bearing up in a Christ-like manner when undergoing suffering for his name should never be underestimated” (181-182). 
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