This list of questions has been compiled for either group or personal reflection on the themes and ideas explored in Romans Disarmed. Questions have been contributed by other readers, the authors, and the editor of this guide.
If you or your group have questions that sparked reflection and discussion for you that you did you’d like to be considered for future iterations of this Guide, email us.
- In the Preface, the authors introduce us to Russet House Farm, the place they call home as a way of grounding the writing of this book and their reading of St. Paul in the minutiae and messiness of daily life. What else do you learn about the authors from reading the Preface?
- Based on what you know so far, why have you decided to read this book? What do you bring to it? What do you hope to gain from its reading?
- What attracts you to Paul’s letter to the Romans? What repels you about this letter?
- What are the questions that you bring to reading this letter and this book?
- What hopes do you have when it comes to engaging with this letter, with scripture, and in Christian community?
Reading Romans and Disarming Empire
- This chapter opens with a vision of a party where joy and sorrow share the stage with Red Rain. How does this tableau resonate with your experience and observation of the world? How do you respond to the words and emotions conveyed in “Iggy’s Song?” (pp. 4-5)?
- The authors suggest that lament is the way into reading Romans. What do you think of this? Does reading from a place of lament resonate with your experience and your community?
- The authors, following Costa Rican/Mexican theologian Elsa Tamez, suggest rereading Romans by replacing the word justice every time you read righteousness. How does this change your understanding of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome? What new questions does it bring up for you?
- How did you respond to the Targum of Romans 1:1-25 (pp. 24-31)? What made sense to you? What felt like a stretch? This book was written in the country colonially known as Canada: what would you add or change based on your own sociopolitical context?
- The authors intermingle robust scholarship with acts of daring imagination as a way of painting a picture of 1st Century life in Imperial Rome. How do you or your community practice and engage in imagination when it comes to listening to scripture? How do you understand the role of imagination in scripture study and Christian discipleship?
- “Imagination is never neutral or generic. It is rooted in specific stories and metaphors imbued with particular meaning in contrast to, and often in conflict with, other stories and metaphors” (p. 33). What imperial cultural stories and metaphors are you aware of that have shaped your Christian imagination? How has the gospel been enslaved by or liberated from these stories?
- How does your reading of scripture change when it is seen through the eyes of someone like Iggy? Considering Iggy’s point of view as best you can, what becomes important in reading a text like St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that might not have been important to you before? Why?
Kitchen Walls and Tenement Halls
- What is most striking to you about seeing this story at ground level, through the eyes of Iris and Nereus?
- Throughout this chapter, the authors come back time and again to peoples’ experiences of slavery. What are the ways in which slavery remains characteristic of the culture(s) and country you call home?
- If Paul were to be writing Romans—or any letter—to the 21st century, North American church, what label or identity/position, would he give himself that would parallel the experience of a slave in the Roman Empire?
- What role(s) did women play in these ground level stories in Chapter 2? What new questions does this bring up for you?
- Is it possible for a person of privilege to understand what being a slave for Jesus means? Or is that knowledge only accessible by slaves – like Iris? Did the non-slaves in the Roman church look to the members who were slaves for a way into that knowledge and experience? I’m not sure that we can answer the second part of this question, so let’s drop it.
- What parallels do you see between ancient Rome and the town or city in which you live?
- Is it fair to say that people of privilege need to befriend those who society has decided are not worthy of such privilege? What would it look like to take seriously Paul’s desire for mutual upbuilding (14:13, 19)?
- “How community deals with such different eating habits” is described as being “at the heart of the gospel”. What does it mean to contend with different eating habits in today’s culture and for those who first read Paul’s letter? How do you think this question critiques modern soup kitchens, food banks, and other charitable feeding programs?
- On page 48, the authors reference Paul saying, “with his mind he is a slave to the law of God, but that with his flesh he is a slave to the law of sin.” Iris appears to understand this as the tension between what Christ-followers commit to (in the mind), even while their bodies and behaviours are regulated by an Imperial orthodoxy over which the individual has little control should they wish to avoid violent repercussions. How does this speak to, or differ from your own understanding of Christian discipleship.
Empire and Broken Worldviews
- In Iris’ story, we encounter the everyday transactional nature of life in the Roman Empire. Iris exhibits as much agency as she can, but she finds herself coming up against the limits of her power in the loss of her children. Where in your life do you see yourself in Iris’ shoes? Where in your life do you see your self as more akin to her master?
- The authors suggest that Iris’ experience of injustice stands “as an indictment of the Roman ideology of peace, virtue, and justice.” In your own culture, community, country, whose experiences or stories might offer a lived experience or embodied indictment of your culture’s dominant ideology?
- What are the great overarching stories of the culture / country / faith community that you call home? Where do you see them falling short of the images they project?
- On page 72, the authors list five worldview questions as a way of understanding the worldview of the Roman Empire. How would you answer these questions for yourself? What story do these answers tell?
- What is one thing that challenged your acceptance of the worldview / cultural narrative that you inherited (whether from your family of origin, your faith community, culture at large)?
- Nereus, a Judean, fundamentally questions the presuppositions of the Imperial worldview, having seen the destruction it has done to his people. Even so, he feels trapped in the midst of that culture, constantly seeking ways to be faithful to God (not Caesar). Have you ever found yourself at odds with the powers of destruction? How did you respond? Where do you sense the need to be careful about living a life of resistance in your daily life?
- The authors write, “When the values of one culture, which are rooted in a particular narrative and worldview and armed with their own symbols and practices, are taken to be unequivocally universal, then they are assumed to be good news for everyone whether the colonized recipients of this good news recognized it or not” (p.80). Where do you see the clashes of values, symbols, praxis, narrative, and worldview in your own life? How do you choose to respond? What do you need to help you respond more faithfully?
- Is information on the extent of Genocide of Indigenous people in Canada new to you? What surprised you? Why do you think the authors included this story in a book about Paul’s letter to the Romans? What about this resonated with you? What fell short? Why?
- What do you think it looks like for churches (including your own faith community, should you have one) to turn away from or repent of genocide (p.86)? What are areas in which you have seen the church be complicit as agents of assimilation or imperial captivity (p.89)?
- Canada isn’t the only place past or present to contend with and to be in need of repentance of its destructive, assimilationist worldview and praxis. What are some ways in which you see the need for repentance of such practices in your own self / family / town / faith community / country?
- The chapter concludes with an analysis of the contemporary worldview of global capitalism. Did this interpretation of our own socio-cultural and economic context in the terms of empire resonate with you? What rang true? What didn’t seem to fit? Did you recognize the dominant western culture in the answers to the worldview questions (pp. 99-100)
- Is a culture of insatiable consumption and ecological destruction exercising a praxis of child sacrifice (97)?
- The authors leave us with a number of options in answer to the fifth worldview question in our contemporary context: What time is it? What do you think? How do you, perhaps as a study group, discern our present time? And having discerned the time, how would you describe your hope (or lack of hope)?
- The four studies in this chapter (Iris, Nereus, Indigenous North Americans, global capitalism) all lead to the question of home, the loss of home, and the longing for homecoming. Do you also perceive this motif running through the cultural realities described in this chapter? What is your sense of home and/or the crisis of home in our time?
- After this extensive exploration of Empire and Worldview, do you feel better equipped to engage with St. Paul’s letter to the Romans? What would you find helpful in moving forward?
Homeless in Rome
- When you consider the idea of home, what place comes to mind for you? What makes that place and that set of relationships home for you? What do you love about home? What makes it complicated?
- When you read Paul’s letter to the Romans, where do you see themes of home, homelessness, and homecoming? Where else in scripture do you hear such echoes?
- On page 106, the authors write, “Romans has been wielded as a weapon, often in service of theological violence. We know that can’t be right…”
- Where have you seen Romans wielded as a weapon?
- How does the authors’ contention that ‘that can’t be right,” sit with you?
- Do you think it possible that Romans can, in fact, be disarmed? What will it take?
- On page 109, the authors write, “Imperial regimes are always murderers of home, invariably in the name of home.”
- Where do you see this playing out in your own community or the rhetoric of the places you call home?
- Is it possible to make home without displacing others?
- In this chapter, the authors explore what it might mean to be subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ rather than to the lordship of Caesar. What do you find liberating about that contention? Thinking about your own background, the ways in which you’ve heard Romans used before, what do you find difficult or challenging about this reading? What questions does this interpretive approach bring up for you?
- The authors think it important that we notice how many times Paul uses the word ‘gospel’ in the opening verses of the letter. How does it affect your reading of this passage, and the entire letter, to consider that Paul’s words are being intentionally used to undercut the dominant (economic / political / military) announcements of the Romans Empire?
- From pages 110-138, the authors offer their own overview of the Epistle and what they think Paul is up to-that he is “writing an anti-imperial tract, but this time he writes to the centre of empire.” Do you find their overview and argument convincing? What resonates for you? What might you need to hear to be convinced? What might they be missing?
- Reading Romans from the perspective of home-breaking and home-making is a rather novel way to interpret this letter. What did you find compelling about this interpretation? Where did you find problems with such a reading? What does the interpretation help explain? What remains obscure or less convincing?
Chapter 5 (Part I)
Creation and the Defilement of Home (Lament)
- “The gods of empire always promise abundance while they suck the earth dry, grind down the heads of the poor, and destroy the inheritance of the meek.” Is this true? Where do you see the promises of empire in conflict with the reality of the poor in your own culture? Maybe in your own neighbourhood?
- “It is always in the midst of lament that the prophets confess their audacious hope” (144). What is the difference between hope and optimism? How do each of these play out in your expression of Christian faithfulness?
- The authors write, “idolatry is what makes the stones cry out,” and “the creation itself is not mute, but eloquent” (146). Where do you hear the voice of creation? Can you share some experiences of that eloquence? What do you hear creation telling us about the state of the world, of our relationship to God and to one another?
- In a rather disheartening moment in the poem, the authors write, “We know that there are things we can never know about God because we have silenced creation.” Are there aspects of God’s creation that used to speak to you, that are unable to speak anymore because they have been harmed or destroyed?
- The authors contend that “Jesus calls us to give up our safety and security” (151-2). How does this look differently for people whose lives have greater or lesser access to safety and security? Where do you find yourself on this continuum? How do you respond to this statement, based on your sense of place on this continuum?
- In the midst of the poem, we are asked to consider what it would look like for creation were Christians to resist idolatry of all kinds (152-3). Are there systems of oppression (be they cultural, economic, technological, militaristic, religious, etc.) that Christians ought to opt out of for the sake of God’s good creation? How might our Christian communities need to change in order to support the renunciation of idolatry (as individuals, as whole communities) described here?
- The authors contend that “inevitability” and “no choice” is “the language of empire” (154). What does culture tell you is inevitable and cannot be changed? Do you think this is true? Should Christians hope differently? What do you hope for?
- The authors spend some time fixated on cell phones (154). What other aspects of life in the modern world lead to social isolation, environmental despoliation and the clouding of the loving, joyful character of God?
- In one powerful line, the poem reads: “When you first noticed that delight had turned to grief, did you weep?” (154). What about the state of the world causes you deep sadness and grief? Why?
- How does the image of God as a “brokenhearted God of grief” (156) resonate with your inherited or current images for God? How does it affect your sense of God, or of the Christian story to imagine God in this way?
- How might the thought that “living into the Spirit looks like the agony of childbirth” (157) reframe your own embodied approach to Christian faith?
- What stories do you know about the place you currently call home?What do you know about the plants, animals, the lands and the waters of the place you call home?
- Who are the people who have been tending that place since time immemorial?
- If you don’t know the names of the First Peoples on whose land you live, consider visiting https://native-land.ca/ to find out, and to begin the process of learning the story of your place.
- What do you know about those people? How might you start to educate yourself and your community about the people Indigenous to this land?
- How do you respond to the assertion, “If grief is the subtext, then God’s love is the text” (159)? What does this statement say about the relationship between God, land, and the people of the land?
- “If the crisis is communal,” the authors write, “then to community we must return” (160). How might you work with others in your neighbourhood / faith community / watershed to affirm and to build community in light of the observations and interpretation of pages 139-161?
- The poem concludes inviting readers to embrace the lament and sorrows of those who have experienced deep grief. Perhaps you have born such griefs and sorrows. Perhaps you are less acquainted with such pain. Wherever you come from, what do you think it looks like for individuals and communities to “image the suffering servant of creation that you are called to be” (161)?
Chapter 5 (Part II)
The Interlocutor returns
- What aspects of the dialogue between the authors and the interlocutor (conversation partner) do you resonate with? What aspects fall flat? If you were talking to the authors, what questions would you ask them?
- The authors state (on page 162): “It is clear that human suffering had a solid, rooted referent for Paul,” and follow this with a question, “Why is that we do not assume the same for his creational references?” Keeping in mind your own church context, how would you answer their question?
- Ellen F. Davis argues, “the condition of the land” is the “single best index of human responsiveness to God” (p.165). What does the state of land in your watershed tell you about peoples’ responsiveness to God in that place?
- Where are the areas of concern? Of hope?
- What might you or your community do to lament, confess, and become more responsive to God?
- In what ways do you and your community of disciples pay attention to and care for the lands on which you gather, worship, and on which your lives depend? How does the injunction that “land degradation is a sure sign that humans have turned away from God” challenge you to pay attention to place?
- How do you see / notice / live the link between spirituality and your daily economic and household practices? What do your daily practices say about the kind of God you worship?
- How have you previously heard or understood the description of suffering in Romans 8:35? How does the contention that this is more than “a theological formulation of the suffering that precedes a new age,” but comes with a specific face on the ground” (p. 170) affect your reading? Where do you see this playing out?
- The authors write (on p.170) “While Rome (like so many empires before it claimed to be the source of creational renewal, descriptions of the creation-destroying character of empire were common.” Where do you see discontinuity between the claims of the powerful and the practices of tending to creation, and responding to the current climate crisis on the ground?
- When you look at the state of the world around you, how do you respond emotionally? Do you feel joy? anger? grief? hope? How would you describe your response, and what leads you to feel that way?
- The authors provocatively suggest, “to read Romans as addressed only to upper-middle-class privileged churchgoers or to well-salaried academics is to strip it not only of its intent but also of its power” (p.175). How ought such folks respond to the challenge presented by Romans and this book’s authors?
- The authors suggest that “we need to read the text ‘for and with’ those who have been marginalized, neglected, and despised” (p.175). How are we to do so if our churches and communities are amongst those who do not find themselves on the margins (or perhaps who push people to the margins)? How might you and your church not just read for but with and amongst those who society and the church have pushed to the edges? Is it possible to do this work without retraumatizing folks?
- The authors offer the following related thoughts: “Genuine grief and repentance is a sign of repentance,” and “Grief is the doorway to repentance” and “It is too easy just to jump into solutions without having realized the depths of our sin” (p.176). Are you ever tempted to skip over the messy bits? What are the advantages and disadvantages of that posture? What would it take to dwell in and confront the mess?
- How do you respond to the authors when they say “maybe we begin by asking not ‘what are the solutions,’ but rather ‘where is the pain?’” Are you the kind of person who likes to seek solutions, or to seek the pain? What do you find challenging or liberating about this proposed approach?
- On page 178, the authors ask the interlocuter “what are some of the idolatries of which we need to repent?” How would you answer this question? How would you answer it as a neighbourhood, community, church, watershed?
- “Ecology, or creation, isn’t the only loser in the war that our economic system wages.” Who are the winners and losers in your local economy? How have you seen economy and ecology at odds in your local context, region, or country? How do you respond? How would you like to respond?
- How might the world look different if we weren’t “addicted to the wealth generated by the exploitational desecration of Indigenous resources?” (179)
- What do you see when you “allow your imagination to be liberated by a vision of creational redemption” (179)? What would the world look like if we lived as though we were drawn deeply into God’s story of redemption, and in so doing, repented of our idolatry?
- The authors acknowledge the challenge of acting in face of the overwhelming global spiritual crisis presented by the climate emergency, and then point to the importance of cultivating “small fidelities, skills, and desires” (182) alongside broad systemic change. What shifts can you make, or can be made by your faith community to become more faithful?
- How might you unpack the challenge that “we should not be willing to sacrifice any community anywhere or anyone else’s welfare for our own idolatry” (182)?
- After reflecting on a shift in personal practice, the authors remind us that “community is at the heart of a faithful response” (184). Are there some practices your community (perhaps the group studying this book) is willing to experiment with as a means of testing this out in community?
- How can you see the discernment process laid out on p.186 being used? What are its strengths? Challenges? Where might you, and your community use it first?
- On page 188, the authors write, “The original sin was to eat something out of season.” How does this discussion of food and fidelity in this section cause you to reflect differently on the Genesis creation narrative, or on the practices of growing, preparing, sharing, eating, and composting food?
- What are the native species of plants and trees in your region? What foods do you most anticipate and look forward to at their first harvest?
- “Paul is offering this vision of healing of the earth as an alternative imagination to that of empire” (196) What do you find compelling about Paul’s vision? What doesn’t resonate? Two thousand years and half a world away, how do you imagine these words taking on flesh?
- The interlocutor identifies their challenge: “I live so far from where I was born that I only go back for visits now. And with school and work, I haven’t lived anywhere long enough to feel that it is a place in which I am rooted, a place that is my home” (200). Does this struggle resonate with you? With the stories of people you know? What do you see as a possible remedy to this challenge?
- This entire chapter has been a challenge for communities to take action, summarized in the following passage:
“We can’t say that we want reconciliation with the land and with the people we have dispossessed if we are not willing to engage in the hard work of making repaarations, listeining to what justice would look like, and then in humility standing with those seeking such justice.”
What is your gut response to this statement? Do you feel compelled to take further action? To listen more deeply? What do you and your community need in order to take your next faithful steps?
26. On page 206, the authors describe the practice of watershed discipleship. What intrigues you? What do you want to learn more about?
27. What do you imagine “a new life for our community, for ourselves, and for all creatures on the earth” might look like in your watershed/town/neighbourhood? What might help spark your imagination? Who might you explore it with? Are there others doing this work who inspire you?
Economic Justice and the Kingdom of Life
1. The foundational question of this chapter is: “Is Paul’s creation theology broad and deep enough to engender a theological vision for economics?” (209). Having read the chapter, what do you think? Is there an economic vision in Paul’s letter to the Romans? If yes, then what bit of the argument was most convincing to you? If no, where did the argument fail to convince?
2. This book has engaged in a number of exegetical strategies. The opening chapter introduces a contextual reading of Romans (especially chapter one) that sets the letter in the context of the Roman empire. This strategy seeks parallels in language and theme between imperial discourse and the epistle in order to demonstrate that Paul is writing a counter-imperial letter. That is then followed up with a targum that imaginatively rehears Romans 1 as if it was written into our own imperial context. In chapter two the authors engage in historical fiction in order to help us situate the epistle in the real life experience of first century recipients of the letter. And then in chapter four they offer an integrative reading of the whole epistle from the perspective of one grounding and integrating theme, viz., home. In the second half of chapter five, and now throughout chapter six, the authors have engaged in what may be described as an intertextual exegesis of quotation, echo and allusion. While there are sections of the epistle that are overtly economic such as the list of vices at the end of Rom. 1, the authors are also building their case on the way in which Hebrew texts that are cited or alluded to by Paul, invariably have an economic focus.
Was this exegesis clear to you? And was it convincing? Were there any “aha” moments in your reading?
3. On p. 214 the authors describe the kind of economic hardship that Christians might face because of their faith in the context of the Roman empire. Do Christians in the West face similar economic hardship because of their faith? If not, then why not?
4. Reflecting on Rom. 1.29-31, the authors write: “The privatization of this list of vices as if they were a description of individual sinfulness devoid of socioeconomic and cultural reference has tamed this text, stripped it of its counter-imperial force, and rendered it economically benign.” (219) Where have you seen this kind of privatization of the text, and why do you think the church has taken such a socioeconomically benign reading for so long?
5. Writing about the notion of suppressing the truth in Rom. 1.18, with its allusions to Isa. 59.14-15, the authors write: “Paul isn’t just referring to the ‘personal’ lies that reveal the deceptions in our personal relationships but to the systemic lies that are necessary to uphold a political and economic system that maintains the wealth and status of the rich and ensures the continued exclusion and enslavement of those without social, economic or political power.” (225) What are the “systemic” lies that uphold our political and economic system today?
6. On p. 229 the authors return to Iris and the transformation of her identity in Christ: “No longer was she reduced to a ‘body’ owned by another. Now she could know herself as an indispensable ‘member’ of a body of love. No longer was she a mere economic unit to be bought and sold on the market. She now had a new identity rooted in ‘gift’.” How about you and your community? In the context of our own imperial context, how is your identity transformed in Christ? How would you describe that transformation?
7. From 229 to 237 the authors describe Paul’s theology of resurrection in terms of restorative justice. Did you find their exegesis convincing? If your hope of resurrection goes beyond personal life after death to encompass such a life-transforming restorative justice, then what implications would this have for your prayer life, piety, politics, economic practices and creational stewardship? What does “embodied justice” (234) look like?
8. “You know what time it is” the apostle writes in Rom. 13.11. The authors argue that Paul is saying that the community is at a “kairos moment” that must be properly discerned and acted upon. It is the end of the empire. “Since time is up for the idolatrous empire, Paul says to no longer live by the dictates and patterns of that empire, for the times they are a-changin’.” (241) How about us? What time is it? Are we in a “kairos moment”? And what would it mean for us to stop living by the dictates and patterns of our own declining empire?
Welcoming the Powerless
1. “Much depends on dinner” wrote anthropologist Margaret Visser. And now in this book the authors argue that the “whole anti-imperial agenda of this letter, together with its commitment to the formation of an alternative home at the heart of the empire, hangs on what happens when Jesus followers gather for the family dinner.” (243) The embodied truth of the gospel in the lives of the Roman house fellowships is proven, or disproven, by how they come together at the agape feasts, at the Eucharist. Two questions here:
First, did the exegesis of Romans 14 and 15 in light of the whole counter-imperial force of the epistle make sense to you? Was there an “aha” moment, or were there moments when you were thinking “wait a minute, that doesn’t work”?
Second, is the same true for the contemporary church? How much of our public witness hangs on the way in which we gather together to eat? In what ways do our Eucharistic practices bear witness to and manifest food justice? Are our tables – both in church and in our homes – sites of welcome and hospitality? Are there ways in which our eating habits mimmic the empire?
2. On page 244 the authors write: “Indeed, the conflict within the house churches in Rome is a greater threat to the furthering of the gospel than anything that the empire itself can throw at these young followers of Jesus.” If this was true in the Roman empire, might it be true today? Is the disunity of the church (especially when the divides we create are along socio-economic, racial, or sexual/gender lines) more destructive today than the powers of the modern empire?
3. Following on question #2, we read on page 250: “The harmony that Paul is seeking in the house churches of Rome has both pastoral and evangelistic significance. Neither gentiles nor anyone else will be attracted to come home to God in Jesus if that home is manifestly dysfunctional and perpetuates injustice in its midst.” Does this ring true to you? Have you found yourself to be not-at-home in the church? Has the church community been the place where you would really want to bring your non-Christian friends?
4. The interlocutor interrupts with a number of questions. “Where do I sign up?” “Why didn’t anyone tell me any of this before?”(254) Do these questions resonate with you at this point of your reading? The interlocutor feels somewhat betrayed by the narrowly personalistic readings of Romans, devoid of a broader sense of justice. Do you share such a sense of betrayal? What do we do with these kinds of feelings?
5. On pages 255-256 the authors sum up much of the argument of the book thus far by addressing the first four worldview questions that were introduced in chapter 3. How helpful did you find this summary? Did it bring things together for you? Were there things in the summary that you had perhaps missed in your reading of the earlier sections of the book? Were there important insights from those sections that were missed in the summary?
6. When the authors then turn to the “What time is it?” question they offer a sobering description of the shift from a Pax Americana to the even more virulent ideology of “Make America Great Again.” Does this short analysis ring true to your perception of the American empire at this time in history? How do we account for the fact that the majority of evangelical Christians, all for whom the letter to the Romans is central to their faith, embraced the MAGA ideology of Donald Trump?
7. On page 261 the authors claim “that those who pay the closest attention to the crisis of climate change, together with the failures of our economic system to produce anything approaching a sustainable equity in the world, call for nothing less than a new worldview to replace the discredited and disastrous vision of life that has brought us to this place of rising economic inequality and ecological crisis. What is needed is not a few adjustments to the economic systems in which we live, but nothing less than a comprehensive worldview shift.” Does this kind of language energize and excite you or leave you with a disempowered paralysis?
8. In the section “An Economy of Care” (261-267) the authors sketch out in broad strokes what an economy of care might look like in contrast to the economics of profit, extraction and inequality that is now in crisis. (262-263) and then they offer a series of proposals for what this kind of economics looks like on the ground. These proposals range from a guaranteed basic income to universal health care, affordable housing, divesting from fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy initiatives, public transit, Indigenous justice, taxation reforms, etc. This gives rise to three questions:
First, is this simply the socio-political agenda of the authors being imposed upon their reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans, or can you see a natural and direct line from their exegesis to their proposals regarding an economy of care?
Second, if the economy of care that they sketch out does not clearly flow from Paul’s vision of economic justice and creational restoration, then what kind of an economy does?
Third, pretty much everything in their vision of a biblically rooted economy of care would be dismissed as anti-American socialism by most evangelicals in the United States (and many such folks around the world). What do you think? Does Paul’s vision of economic justice and creational restoration result in some sort of socialism? If so, then why are evangelicals so deathly afraid of such a perspective?
9. In the concluding section of this chapter, “Ways of Engagement” (268-275) the authors offer a broad list of various kinds of personal acts of economic justice that any of us can embrace. They range from local currencies, to farmer’s markets, community shared agriculture, fair trade, investments, retirement plans, to sheltering the homeless and refugees. When you consider these various ways in which you could live your life, which options were the most appealing and which were most appalling? Where did you find your comfort level especially challenged? How do you respond to the assertion that “neither Paul nor Jesus cared much about helping us find our comfort levels. God’s kingdom is not about making life comfortable for any of us. It is about the far more radical vision of justice and shalom, a vision that will push the boundaries, a vision that will make some of us decidedly uncomfortable”? (273-274)
The Pax Romana and the Gospel of Peace
1. At the end of chapter 7 the interlocutor raises the question of politics, the state, and specifically Romans 13. Were these questions beginning to percolate in your mind as well over the last couple of chapters? Have you been wondering about Romans 13 and how this passage can possibly fit into a counter-imperial reading of Romans? And what has been your experience with this text and the traditional interpretation that we are simply to be good citizens, subject to the state? Has this sat well with you? Have you struggled with this? How have you responded when various leaders have appealed to Romans 13 to legitimate a particular political regime?
2. Since Romans 13 is such a contested passage it might be worth your time to take a few minutes and be sure that you have understood the interpretation that the authors offer in this book. The argument is multi-faceted, with different twists and turns. How would you summarize the argument? Is it convincing? If not, where are the holes in the argument? What did you think of the idea that Paul was employing irony in this passage?
3. On p. 285 the authors unpack how Paul is undermining the honour system of the Roman empire throughout the letter, but especially in Rom. 12. Is there a contemporary version of such a culture of honour? Might this be a way to understand how “privilege” plays out in our society along racial, gender, economic, cultural, settler, and class lines? What would it mean to undermine such privilege in our cultural context? In our churches?
4. In their discussions of Romans 12.17-21 (285-290) and 13.7-8 (293-295) the authors both call for a loving of enemies and seeking of peace in the face of civil unrest, and raise the possibility and necessity of civil disobedience. What did you think of their exegetical arguments? And how can you hold these two things together?
5. The authors return to the genre of targum on pp. 297-320, as a way to engender a Christian political imagination. Make sure that you read the targum with the biblical text open beside you. It is important to both see how they are retelling these ancient words, and to hold them accountable to a faithful re-interpretation of the text. How successful was this targum? Where did it resonate with you? Where was it jarring? Did you find it to be faithful to the text?
6. Targums, like all texts (including the epistle to the Romans) are written in time. In fact, the writing of a targum quite intentionally seeks to hear the text as if it were written for our time and our cultural, political and social context. And just as we need to discern the context of the ancient text in terms of the Roman empire in which it was written, so also must we discern our own times if we are to hear the text speak to us anew? [That is why the authors departed from exegesis in chapter 3 in order to engage in cultural analysis.] Are you convinced by the cultural discernment, the reading of the times, that underlies this targum? What especially struck you as important and valid? Where did they miss the mark? What might the authors have overlooked that you would think to be crucial?
7. A fun little question. The targum has a number of very explicit cultural references that would be hard to miss. That is obvious and easy to note when there is a direct quotation like the reference to Bruce Cockburn’s song “Santiago Dawn” on p. 318 or the allusion to Donald Trump coming down his golden escalator to announce his candidacy in 2016 on p. 308. But the targum is full of such allusions to contemporary culture and politics, and songs. How many can you discern?
8. There are all kinds of things worth talking about in the targum, and it would be good in a group study to spend some time on the sections that different people wanted to discuss. Perhaps one of the most in-your-face sections of the targum is when the authors write about how love requires us to hate on pp. 306-307. How did you respond to the repeated call to “hate” different practices and attitudes?
9. Why don’t you put your hand to writing a targum of your own? Learning from the two examples in this book (here and in chapter one) and attending to the criteria for such targum writing that the authors suggested on pp. 34-37, take a passage from Romans, even a passage that the authors have already rendered into a targum, and write your own targum to share with your study group, friends, and church.
10. There is a decidedly political understanding of the church running throughout the targum, rooted in the exegesis of Rom. 12. The church is a body-politic, the authors argue. In what ways has your experience of the church either confirmed or denied such an understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ? When is the church at its best in being such a “body”? When has it been at its worst?
11. What are the political initiatives that you feel especially called to in the light of reading this chapter? What will all of this mean in your neighbourhood, city, or nation?
Imperial Sexuality and Covenantal Faithfulness
1. There is no such thing as a totally objective detached reader, especially when it comes to a chapter that deals with sexuality. What did you bring to your reading of this chapter? Were you apprehensive about what the chapter might argue? If you were apprehensive, were your fears allayed or heightened?
2. How does the “elephant in the room” of homosexuality play itself out in your life? Do you also experience the double standards that are discussed in the chapter?
3.The authors frame the chapter as a dialogue with the interlocutor who has appeared throughout the book. How well did the interlocutor’s questions and concerns resonate with your own?
4. The fictional “lesbian friend” is something of a composite of a number of people and their experiences being gay and Christian. Do you recognize either yourself or people in your life in this fictional character?
5. The authors argue that Paul is launching a critique of the “imperial sexuality” that can be seen on display in the royal household of Caesar and throughout the life of the empire. Where do we see a similar imperial sexuality in play in our own culture?
6. What was most startling or disturbing for you in this chapter?
7. On pp. 341-343 the authors make the argument that the context for Paul’s critique of imperial idolatry, and therefore Roman sexual and economic practices, is what is revealed about God through creation. If creation reveals the nature of God to be one of faithfulness, justice and love, then humans are called to “image” that faithfulness, justice and love in all of their lives, including their sexual lives. What do you think of this interpretation of Rom. 1.18-32? The authors argue that this interpretation in fact gives biblical basis for affirming and encouraging same sex marriage. Was that convincing? If yes, what clinched the argument for you? If no, then where are the holes in the argument?
7. On pp. 345-347 the authors offer another “targum” picking up from Rom 1.24 and running to 2.1. Did this targum resonate with you? Did it seem to miss the point or feel like it was agenda-driven? If you read the targum alongside the text in your bible, where does it work and where does it miss the mark?
8. Does exegesis ever change anyone’s mind when it comes to the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the life of the church? Or are minds already made up on some other basis on these issues? How do we come to discern a faithfully Christian response to LGBTQ+ identity and neighbours?
9. The authors revisit the idea of biblical authority by employing N.T. Wright’s model of the bible as an unfinished drama. We are called to live in the drama while engaging in faithful improvisation. What do you think about this model of biblical authority and interpretation? How do you account for the fact that Wright and many others come to radically different conclusions about what faithful improvisation looks like with regard to LGBTQ+ welcome and inclusion?
10. On pp. 354-358 the authors spend considerable time talking about the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 as a model for how the church engages in faithful improvisation when it comes to deeply divisive questions of inclusion in the body of Christ. Was this helpful? Are you convinced that the way in which the early church arrived at gentile inclusion should function as a model for how the contemporary church addresses LGBTQ+ inclusion? If not, why not? Where are the limits of the model?
11. The chapter ends with bearing witness to a number of LGBTQ+ friends of the authors who live deeply Christian, Spirit-filled lives. Do you have friends like these? Do you find yourself in their descriptions of these good folk? The interlocutor had tears welling up as they read these descriptions. How about you?
12. Chapter 9 addresses difficult personal, pastoral, theological and exegetical questions that in fact emerge in the very first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans? Why do you think the authors held back on addressing the LGBTQ+ question until so late in the book? What kind of groundwork needed to be laid before an informed conversation could ensue?
Further note to this chapter.
Shortly after the publication of this book the Anglican Church of Canada was addressing a motion to change the marriage canon to allow for marriage equality for LGBTQ+ persons. In May and June of 2019 The Living Church blog site ran a number of articles opposing this change in the canon. Sylvia and Brian decided to respond to each of these essays with their critique and alternative. Some of the materials in this chapter appear in those responses, all posted here at Empire Remixed. For easy reference, here are the pieces that they posted:
Brian Walsh, “From Jerusalem to Vancouver: The Pharisees Strike Back” – Acts 15 revisited.
Brian Walsh, “The Heresy of Procreative Evangelism” – debunking the procreation argument
Sylvia Keesmaat, “Whatever Happened to the Bible in the Marriage Canon Debate?” – the “clobber texts revisited
Sylvia Keesmaat, “The Fruit of Faithfulness: A response to ‘Fruits Worthy of Repentance'” – God’s judgement falls upon us when we do not bear the fruit of faithfulness in our lives, including in our lives with LGBTQ+ siblings.
Sylvia Keesmaat, “Unity and a Crucified Messiah: A Response to ‘Testing the Spirits'” – on why “unity” is a false goal when employed in the marriage canon debate.
Brian Walsh, “The Good News of Romans 1 for Same Sex Marriage” – the argument from what creation teaches us about God
Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh, “Episcopal Authority and the Mission of the Church” – on debunking the double standards in the argument for alternative episcopal authority when it comes to the marriage canon.
Sylvia Keesmaat, “The Mysterious Authority of the Bible: A Response to David Ney” – at the heart of the issue is contrasting understanding of the nature and function of biblical authority.
Brian Walsh, “Jesus and the Theological Priority of the Marginalized” – pastoral care in the way of Jesus always gives theological priority to those who are most marginalized.
Salvation, Lament, and Hope
1. Someone asks you, “Are you saved?” How do you respond? What emotions, ideas, hopes and/or anxieties does such a question occasion for you?
2. On pp. 370-371 the authors look closely at the texts that Paul employs in Rom. 10 to give further depth and biblical support for their suggestion that salvation is all about homecoming. How successful do you think this exegesis was? Does this open up a new meaning of salvation for you? Is this comforting or distressing?
3. Coming to the end of a book that began in a place of lament and grief, the authors return us to “the deep pathos at the heart of God.” (p. 373) At the very beginning of the book they wrote, “Somehow we will have to find ourselves in the midst of this pathos, this sorrow and anguish, if we are going to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans.” (p.6) Have you found this to be true? Have you been able to access that pathos, grief and sorrow in your own life and the life of your community as an entry point into this ancient epistle?
4. When groups are asked to identify what attracts and repels them about the letter to the Romans, one text is often identified in both categories – Romans 8.28. “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” For some people this is incredibly comforting and for others it is deeply alienating. Set within the context of a discussion of being at a loss for words, and being reduced in inarticulate groans (Rom. 8.22-27) the authors offer an alternative interpretation (and translation) of Rom. 8.28. What is your response to this interpretation? Does it make exegetical sense? Does it resonate with you pastorally? Does it change your understanding of this text within its broader context?
5. On pp. 377-378 the authors offer an alternative interpretation of things like predestination, foreknowledge, and (perhaps more importantly) “glory.” Was this a new interpretation to you? Is it convincing and helpful. If so, how? If not, how did it fail?
6. If this book has offered lament as the way in to Paul’s letter to the Romans, then the experience of the grief of the most marginalized has interpretive priority for understanding this letter both in its original and contemporary context. On p. 381 the authors provide a list of the kinds of folks whose voice and experience needs to be at the foundation of our interpretation. They include Indigenous peoples, the poor, homeless, refugees and the LGBTQ+ community. Do you agree that these are crucial voices for interpreting Romans? Are there other voices that need to be heard? Whose voices are deemed less relevant?
7. Recall the questions, biases, problems that you had with Paul’s letter to Romans when you began this study. Recall how you understood Christian faith. What has changed? What has remained the same? What new questions, problems and insights have you developed?
8. On the last page of the book, the authors write:
“Can we envision a world where the voices of the suffering are allowed to subvert the ideology of militarism and consumption that dominates our imagination? Can we imagine a world where those of us with privilege sacrifice that privilege in order to enter into the suffering of others, of creation, of God? It is clear that Paul could envision such a world, and this is a world that we want to live in too.” (p. 383)
How about you? Where do you go with this vision that we meet in Romans?