Thursday, July 31, 2008

N.T. Wright on Scripture at Lambeth

Now on-line is NTW's Lambeth lecture on, The Bible and Tomorrow’s World, delivered on the 30th of July 2008.

How Wide the Anglican Divide?

On my addictive Lambeth-watching, the severity of the Anglican rift has become more evident by two things in recent net activity. First, an on-line video juxtaposes the views of Rt Rev Stacey Sauls, Bishop of Lexington, USA and the Most Rev Benjamin Nzimbi, Archbishop of Kenya on the topic of homosexuality. I have to say that Stacey is simply wrong that the ancient world did not know of life-long committted homosexual relationships (he should visit the Trajan exhibit in London). What is more, in terms of a future direction to resolve the crisis/challenges, he rejects the notion of the will of the majority being imposed, in other words, he is against democracy in the communion. Second, the hot-off-the-press Times article by Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda alledges a number of consecutive betrayals that the global south have had to suffer committed by the Americans Episcopalians and even by Rowan Williams!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jesus and Land

I am reading Karen J. Wenell's published dissertation Jesus and Land. There is much more I could say about this book but I find one comment curious and I would like to counterpose a quotation from Robert Wilken's book The Land Called Holy


Even so [speaking about the twelve tribes evokes twelve territories], we should be careful not to limit the spatial implications of the twelve tribes/twelve territories to some particular physical location. When looking at biblical texts relating to the tribes, entering the discussion is not predicated by an ability to place locations on a map, or to identify a particular territory (p. 106, emphasis added). 


For the ancient Israelites land always referred to an actual land. Eretz Israel was not a symbol of a higher reality. It was a distinct geographical entity, a territory with assumed if not always precise boundaries . . . For ancient Hebrews, idyllic descriptions of the land are always subservient to a territorial realism. The land is a geographical region that can be marked on a map, a place with memories as well as hopes, with a past as well as a future . . . The blessings associated with the land are this-worldly . . . No matter who utopian the language, the promised land was always real, not an ideal, country. Hence there could be no genuine fulfillment of the promise that was not historical, which is to say, political (pp. 8-9). 


There is just no doubt in my mind that Wilken is right. I found in reading Wenell's book that her use of anthological models of sacred space somewhat distracting and difficult to penetrate. Her approach, at least for me,  created a fog that was difficult to cut through to see what she was really saying. I am still uncertain for example what she thinks about the kingdom of God and the Land outside of crypt descriptions such as this: "the kingdom functions as an orienting mythical space with practical implications for followers in their daily life and conduct” (p. 17). Furthermore, she states "It is not necessary to decide whether the mathematical statement 'kingdom equal's land' is true or false; but it is important [sic] establish that the message of the kingdom evokes the promises to Abraham and defines a new sacred space with its own symbolic associations and practical implications" (p. 139).

"Kingdom does not mean Kingdom"

Of the "Kingdom of God" Wilken comments:

Like every aspect of Jesus' life and teaching, it has been the object of intensive scrutiny for generations, indeed centuries. More often than not the result of such studies has been to divest the term ["kingdom"] of its historical and geographical overtones. Kingdom of God is thought to refer neither to an event in time nor to a specific place but is seen as a metaphor for a spiritual, and often individual, truth. Kingdom does not mean kingdom (The Land, p. 47).

Origen and Jewish Identity

Robert Wilken's statement about Origen's hermeneutics raised my eyebrow. It is no wonder that by the fourth century it was impossible to both Jewish and Christian: 

It is of the utmost importance for Origen's hermeneutical program that no vestiges of Jewish national life exist within the Land of Israel (The Land, p. 73, emphasis added). 

Robert Wilken on "Jerusalem" in Galatians 4

I am reading a fantastic book that I only wish I had discovered years ago. It makes you wonder what books you have yet to read that would have made a difference in ones your research and thinking. The book is The Land Called Holy. I have found it to be a very important compliment to my own work on the importance of the land promise and the kingdom of God in the New Testament and early Christianity. I am not very far into it, but I came across Wilken's interpretation of the Jerusalems in Paul's allegory in Galatians 4. A passage and topic I have published on (ZNW 96, no 3-4, 188-210). 

I was encouraged to read that Wilken goes in a similar direction as I did in highlighting the eschatological significance of Paul's references to Jerusalem. I made the argument that Paul is reading Isa 54:11 and makes the "Present Jerusalem" an eschatological category for the present age while the "Jerusalem from above" he uses to one represent the new age that had dawned in the work of Jesus the Messiah. While not developing it in the way I did, his reading would complement my own. 

Wilken states:
If Paul is speaking eschatologically,--and the citation from Isaiah makes this likely,--the distinction he draws between the two cities may not be between a "heavenly city" (a term he does not use) and an "earthly city" (which he also does not use), but between Jerusalem as it is at present (in Greek, Jerusalem as it is now) and a future Jerusalem. The difference between the two cities is temporal, not metaphysical, between what exists at the present and is imperfect and flawed and what will one day take its place, a glorious new city not made by hands but graven on the palms of God (n. 42, pp. 281-82). 

I'm now a MAC user

In seminary back in the early 2000's I was told that the best Bible program on the market was Accordance. Of course Accordance is a MAC based program and I was not a MAC user. However, at that time, Accordance began to suggest that one could run Accordance even if one had a PC by using a MAC emulator. Now I am not a computer geek--although a geek nonetheless--but I bought into this idea and began to invest in Accordance running it on my PC with an emulator. One side note, you don't have to know a whole lot to set up the emulator. There are excellent instructions and it is, by the way, FREE. Well, I have over the years invested a significant amount of money in modules. The emulator does have draw backs and I had begun to wish that I could have a MAC. Along the way, I purchased an used clam shell MAC and was running the Accordance on that as well as on my PC. This situation went of for 5 years until this summer. Through a serendipitous conversation with the NPU commuter people I discovered that while it is not the normal practice to give MACs to profs, they do make concessions for individuals with good reasons. For example the Art Department all uses MAC. Anyway, I made request and to my great joy it was granted and I am typing this post from my new MacBook. 

Strange how the littlest things can make one so happy--perhaps the better word is "sad". I told the commuter guys that my job satisfaction has just been significantly increased. Thanks NPU!

One more thing, I have no beef with other Bible programs, such as BibleWorks. There are many happy users. Yet one of my commuter savy friends who is familiar with both programs says that Accordance is much more user friendly. It seems now though that there is little difference in which types of modules are available, although Accordance seems to still be more on the cutting edge of making original texts available. 

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Francis Watson on Pistis Christou

One of the best little quotes on the "px" debate that I've read (and believe me, I've read alot on this and had trouble making up my mind) comes from Francis Watson:

"As we have seen, the christological qualification of Paul's faith terminology is intended to refer neither to 'the faithfulness of Christ' nor to 'faith in Christ' but, more open-endedly, to the faith that pertains to God's saving action in Christ - originating in it, participating in it, and orientated towards it" (Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentile: Beyond the New Perspective, p. 255).

I submit that this warrants a return to the translation of the 'faith of Christ' in Bible translations in order to keep the gentive deliberately ambiguous (much like the 'righteousness of God'). I think this is where I'll nail my colours to the mast for now! This is a position that I think resonates also with the works of Mark Seifrid and Preston Sprinkle. Now I find the theological mileage that one gets out of the subjective gentive view absolutely scintilatting. In addition, some of Doug Campbell's and Ardel Caneday's arguments are quite thought-provoking on the matter and I'd probably give a tacit approval to a subjective genitival reading in Philippians 3 thanks to Markus Bockmuehl, Peter O'Brien, and Paul Foster (although Barry Matlock and Richard Bell make me highly cautious about it). But all in all, I think I have to lean more towards a modification of the objective gentive along the lines that Watson suggests above.

Those interested in this further will have to wait until spring/summer 2009 for Paternoster and Hendrickson to release our book The Faith of Jesus Christ where these issues are explored more fully.

More Books to Watch Out For

1. On the historical Jesus, see Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus edited by Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter (I have an article here on 'the historical Jesus and the parting of the ways').

2. On the NT and Chrisitan Theology, see Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics edited by Markus Bockmuehl and Alan Torrance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

David deSilva on the Sacramental Life

One book on my ETS/SBL hit list is David deSilva's Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer which is searchable at but as of yet unreleased. In the introduction, deSilva writes: "I am a person of faith today precisely because the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer gave me a language and a context for encountering God in my youth that continues to be the essential vehicles for my own spiritual formation". As I've said before, I've learned to love and value the BCP, and it is very much part of my own devotional life now. Sounds like a good read!

Friday is for Ad Fontes - Xenophon and glory in suffering

Paul's glorying in his sufferings in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Colossians, reminded me of this passage from Xenophon: “A disaster such as this one had been was something to which the Spartans were quite unused, so there was great distress in the Laconian army – except in the cases of those whose sons, fathers, or brothers had fallen where they stood. Those whose relatives had so died went about like men who had won some great prize, with radiant faces, positively glorifying in their own suffering” (Hellenica, 4.5.10, trans. Rex Warner).

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Spanish Train - The Odyssey of Theodicy

Watch the above clip about the "Spanish Train" by Chris de Burgh.

Does evil win in the end? For the atheist, there is no god and belief in evil is merely the product of the evolution of our relational consciousness and derived from social engineering. The statement that "murder is wrong" is no more true than "I like chocolate", both expresses aesthetics, relative norms for a perceived collective good, but not an objective reality. For the Open Theist, evil might well win, but God is omnicompetent, he can handle anything, so lets wait and see. For the Buddhist, all life is suffering and suffering is defeated by the discipline of detachment until one reaches the point of nirvana which is somewhere between paradise and self-annihilation. The answer given in Chris de Burgh's Spanish Train is that evil wins, not in the absence of a God, but despite God. There is a duality in this song. One the one hand there is the desperate hope that "Lord you've got to win," for this is the hope of the dying, the suffering, the oppressed; a hope for a champion, a hero, a messiah, to defeat the tyrant of death and demons of tyranny. We cannot win or withstand the ferociousness of its might. You've got to win for us Lord. But the assumed reality on the song is that evil does win, suffering does prevail, death does reign, not because there is not God, there is a Lord, and "he's just doing his best". The god of de Burgh is noble and well intentioned, but periodicaly absent, somewhat impotent, and slightly naive.

But I would say that de Burgh's god more closely resembles the United Nations (emblematic for the self-striving of men and women against the tsunami of human depravity) and not the God who made himself known in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I were to choose how to defeat evil myself I would probably try to use a superior but slightly less malevolent form of violence. Kill the murderers, show no mercy to the merciless, torture the torturers and so forth. Or one could take on the Qumranic tactic: bring on the angels of death and wipe them all out before us! But how on such a day would stand? Not me, not you, not any of us. For even when we fight evil, we create evil. When we hunt the monster, we often become what we are trying to destroy (I think that's the message of the new Batman movie). Where is our deliverance, from evil, from ourselves? I have seen, heard, and smelled the evil that men do and it is too much to bear. I have interviewed soldiers who had to listen to the cries and screams of men, women, and children massacred in an adjacent valley in Rwanda while they were powerless to do anything other than count bodies the next day. I have seen the evil impulse in myself and hesistate to think what I might be capable off.

Does God win then? Yes, he does, but at the cross. To defeat evil, God must exhaust it's energy and release its grip on humanity, so that humanity can be freed from the penalty, power, and even the presence of evil for all time. What God achieves is not merely retribution against evil, but liberation from and cleasning of evil. As Paul wrote in Col. 2.15, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it [the cross]." It the greatest irony of all, the triumphant Lion of Judah is a blood stained lamb. The message of Revelation, as well now know, is that God wins in the end and so do his people. A new creation with no waters of terror or tears of pain. A world reborn anew. And we live between the death throes of an evil world dying and amidst the birth pains of a new world being reborn.

"Who'll be the king of this place?" the devil asks in Spanish Train. We see on the cross exactly who, "The King of the Jews". In Mark the word king occurs about 12 times, half of those are in chapter fifteen, Mark wants to show the link between Jesus' death and Jesus' kingship. Mark sets out for us the message of the kingdom and yet what we get at the end is the kingship of the crucified. The cross is not a defeat, but a glorious coronation. It is where the saving power of God manifests itself in the height of ignominy, shame, corruption, malevolence, and evil. Jesus is mocked by the priests that he is not "powerful enough" to save himself. But it is precisely in that moment of surrender and self-giving that divine power is made known, where sins are ransomed, the debt of transgression is expunged, and the sting of death is drained of its poison. And so the power of God's love becomes superior to men and their love for power.

But is it true? to be honest, there are days where I wonder myself and I muse over the words of Thénardiers from Les Miserable: "And God in his heaven, he don't interfere, cause he's dead as the stiffs at my feet. I raise my eyes to see the heavens and only the moon looks down, the harbours moon shines down". Does the abyss of evil prevail and are we just sophisticated dogs eating other dogs for survival or sport? But this counters it for me: (1) God is the reason why there is a something rather than a nothing, why the universe is wired up for life. (2) In the holy word of the Scriptures, in prayer and sacrament, and in my own experience I encounter something "other" than myself, something not me, something that has at once changed me and is still changing me. I am not what I am anymore. (3) It is the only story worth believing in and gives us hope as the medicine of our soul.

So instead of listening to "Spanish Train", I prefer singing about another mode of transport: "Swing Low Sweet Chariot".

Lambeth Conference on the Colbert Report

Drop the Dead Donkey, this was darn funny on the Colbert report.

Review of Divine Spiration

Out of the many reviews of Andrew McGowan's Divine Spiration of Scripture on the net, a sympathetic if concerned review can be found here.

Reformed AND Evangelical?

Sometime ago I was concerned and confused when I read this: "Great changes frequently go unnoticed when they happen. The true nature of such changes become evident only after the fact. For example, by rights, had the papacy been as powerful in the sixteenth century as it was in the thirteenth century, it seems incredible that Luther would have survived to challenge the existing order in the way he did. In fact, few were conscious of the weakness of the papacy in the sixteenth century, but it was weak and the Reformation survived. Most recently, the true weakness of Soviet-bloc communism was made manifest only by the refusal of certain nations and peoples to submit to Moscow. In a similar way, modernity has been mortally wounded, and the need for the broad evangelical coalition has passed. It is time for Reformed Christianity to move out of the evangelical ‘big tent’ and back into our own churches and to take up our confessions again and recover our own grammar, theology, and piety (R. Scott Clark, “How We Got Here.” Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, pp. 11-12)". Let me add that (from the few pages that I've browsed through so far) this volume looks like an exceptional modern exposition of the Lutheran view of justification as applied to intra-American Presbyterian debates. Luther would undoubtedly be proud, though Calvin perhaps more circumspect. But for a far more upbeat view on being "Reformed" and "Evangelical," I strenuously recomend the post over at JT's blog on the subject - it is refreshing, exciting, and edifying stuff. In preparing a course on Romans in the Reformed tradition, I was most pleased to read Charles Hodge's comments the about godly evangelical men he disagrees with on the interpretation of the "wretched man" in Romans 7.

Scott Clark has also advocated that Reformed Baptist are not actually Reformed in the strictest sense of the term. His definition of Reformed means "one must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions in order to be Reformed". Few problems: (1) The Reformed faith has no magisterium to determine which confessions are Reformed. So how about the 1689 LBC? Sounds good to me, thoroughly calvinistic, some covenantal elements are there too. All in favour say, "Spurgeon". Jests aside, are some confessions more reformed than others, in which case it would mean that there is an inner-confessional canon within the confessions? This "canon" might appear in other documents too enabling us to broaden the number of "Reformed confessions" depending on how one defines the intra-reformed canon. (2) I have never met someone who holds to the entire WCF from the Pope is the anti-Christ to strict sabbatarianism. Now I think Scott would reply that it refers to the Reformed confessions as received by the churches and they have the right to modify elements if they so wish. But this is the bit I do not understand. Being Reformed means holding to the confession, but churches can change the confession and still be reformed. If the church holds to a confession that it has changed, modified, or edited, then of course they are holding to "every point of the Reformed confession". I think Scott's definition of Reformed has gone from strictly narrow to meaninglessly broad simply for the fact that any one can adhere to a confession that they've tinkered with. Undoubtedly it is not that simple, there are probably some bits that no-one is allowed to change, but I think this is the logic of his own position. (3) Does anyone have the chuzpah to go up to John Piper and Don Carson and inform them that they are not really reformed? Good luck. All-in-all, please pity us. Being Reformed Baptist ain't easy. Presbyterians don't want you, general Baptists view you with suspicion. Maybe we should just convert to Presbyterianism or Anglicanism to find a shelter for ourselves.

Summer Means Teaching

One of the great misconceptions of university professors is that they work only nine months out of the year and have off the other three. While there is some truth to this idea--let's be honest there are few professions that provide as good a quality of life as university teaching (speaking from one who was in ministry for many years--there is no comparison), it is a gross oversimplification. The fact is that most of us have gotten our educations at a high cost financially and will be paying back our student loans for the foreseeable future. In addition, while Christian higher education is not at the low end of annual incomes, it is certainly not much more than solidly middle class, at least at the start. What's more, with the cost of living skyrocketing (we have the added benefit/burden of living in a city)  it is almost impossible for a family to live on a professor's salary alone. One's income must be supplemented in various ways. For our family that means that Karla must work and I must find additional income teaching in the summer. This summer I have taught three classes: Introduction to the Bible, Ministry with Families and Suicide Greek. I am in the middle of the Greek course right now which goes five days a week 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. Needless to say there isn't much time for reading, research, writing and blogging--which is why I have been conspicuously absent. I would hope in the future that my salary would rise high enough that I could do less teaching and more research and writing in the summer's, but that doesn't look like it will happen for a very long time. 

From a different perspective, I do really enjoy teaching--especially Greek--and I have had a very good summer, although it has gone very fast. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Odour of Romans Law

Apparently the Roman emperor Claudius made a law promoting public flatulence for good health (Suetonius, Claud. 32). Suetonius wrote: "He gave frequent and grand dinner parties, as a rule in spacious places, where six hundred guests were often entertained at one time. He even gave a banquet close to the outlet of the Fucine Lake and was well-nigh drowned, when the water was let out with a rush and deluged the place. He always invited his own children to dinner along with the sons and daughters of distinguished men, having them sit at the arms of the couches as they ate, after the old time custom. When a guest was suspected of having stolen a golden bowl the day before, he invited him again the next day, but set before him an earthenware cup. He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty." I shall have to remember that next time I'm out for a spicey vindaloo curry!

GAFCON the evil dragon?

I never cease to be amazed as to how one can hold to 2000 years of Christian teaching and yet suddenly be demonized as a narrow right-wing fanatic. Watch this video by Gay and Lesbian leaders at the Lambeth conference which depicts a mock battle between the evil Dragon (GAFCON) and sir David (Rowan Williams) over the fair maiden ecclesia anglica. Words come to mind, mainly 2 Tim. 4.1-5.

Divine Identity Christology Conference at Tyndale House

This came from Dr. Peter Williams today:

Divine Identity Christology in the Gospels: Tyndale House Colloquium

Thursday 11 December 2008

Prof. Richard Bauckham and Prof. Richard Hays


9.45-11.00, Divine Identity Christology in Mark, Prof. Richard Bauckham

11.00-11.30, coffee

11.30-12.45, Divine Identity Christology in Luke, Prof. Richard Hays

12.45-13.45, lunch

13.45-15.00, Panel discussion with Professors Bauckham and Hays

Further details:
The event will be held at Tyndale House, 36 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge, CB3 9BA; Coffee will be available from 9.15. There is no admission charge for the colloquium, but a contribution of around £5 to cover costs including lunch would be appreciated. Spaces are limited, so please reserve a place in advance by contacting Ms Tania Raiola,; (01223 566602).

Books, Books, Books

On the book front note the following:

1. Tim Chester (a church planter in Sheffield, England) has written a new book about sanctification called, You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behaviour and Negative Emotions with endorsements from Tim Keller and Paul Tripp. This page has an excerpt of the book plus a short video of Tim introducing the book.

2. Scot McKnight is blogging his way through The Consolations of Theology edited by Brian Rosner and written by the faculty of Moore Theological College in Sydney. Six studies of human realities — anger, obsession, despair, anxiety, disappointment, and pain.

3. Daniel Harrington has an introduction to Paul out called, Meeting St. Paul Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission, and His Message. The subtitle sounds strangely familiar!

4. Andy Naselli points to D. A. Carson’s review of Roland Boer’s Rescuing the Bible. Carson gives no quarter and much to say has he. I have to include a quote from the review:

This book, a fascinating mix of dogmatic left-wing self-righteousness combined with rich and scathing condescension toward all who are even a tad less left than the author, is rich in unintended irony. Boer cannot see how implausible his arguments become. While nominally allowing “religious” people to believe in the supernatural so long as they support his left-wing agenda and join forces with him in a “worldly” secularism, what he says about the Bible and about biblical scholarship is so blatantly committed to philosophical naturalism and historical minimalism that even the most mild supernaturalism is ridiculed: no allowance can be made for divine revelation, anyone who thinks Moses existed is not really a scholar, biblical studies can be called “scientific” only if the scholars themselves do not preach, and so forth. Boer consistently damns everyone on the right by ridiculing the obvious targets, but probably he would not appreciate it if a counterpart on the right ridiculed those on the left by skewering Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot. It turns out that Boer wants to “rescue” the Bible not only from what people on the right say that it means but from what the Bible itself says, for whenever the Bible, in all its multivalence, disagrees with Boer’s vision of the summum bonum, it is to be undermined, set aside, and mocked—not even wrestled with. Readers are repeatedly told that those nasty right-wingers have “stolen” the Bible. Boer never considers the possibility that quite a few left-wingers have simply abandoned the Bible, leaving the terrain open for those who at least take it seriously. What will satisfy Boer, it seems, is not the liberation of the Bible but the liberation of the Bible from any agenda he considers right-wing, so that it can be locked in servitude to a left-wing agenda. Boer’s dismissive arguments to prove the Bible is hopelessly multivalent—a commonplace among many modern and postmodern readers today—is spectacularly unconvincing because he does not interact with any serious literature (and there is two thousand years’ worth of such literature) that argues, with various degrees of success, how the Bible does hang together. But perhaps this is not too surprising from an author who cherishes chaos precisely because chaos undermines God’s authority—and all authority save Boer’s must be overthrown. I think that many biblical writers would call that choice idolatry. At the end of the day, Boer is trying to rescue the Bible from God.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BBC Documentary on Peter Akinola and GAFCON

Informative BBC documentary about Nigerian Anglican leader Peter Akinola, aka "The Hammer of God" (watch to find out why he's called so, this lad has balls, two big brass one's) and the GAFCON movement. Tom Wright does a few cameos as the orthodox bishop who still supports Rowan Williams and gives a minority report against GAFCON. John Chane, episcopal bishop of Washington, gives the liberal side and looks like a cross between machiavellian merchant banker and the grand inquisitor. Chane's message seems to be that absolute pluralism is the new orthodoxy of Anglicanism and those who demur are, well, listen for yourself! The BBC reporter was about as objective as Pravada reporting on American politics and constantly digging at these feisty conservatives who demand allegiance to "their" interpretation. Once more, he neglects the fact that their interpretation on sexuality happens to be the one formally endorsed at Lambeth 1998 and he fails to recognize the far ranging diversity in the GAFCON movement itself. Still, a very insightful and eye opening account, esp. the testimony by one of the Nigerian bishops.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Book Review: Greek NT: Reader's Editions

Barclay M. Newman
The UBS Greek New Testament: A Reader's Edition
Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/Hendrickson, 2007.
Available in the US from
Available in the UK from Alban Books

Most nights I do a 10-15 minute reading from the Greek New Testament. Since I haven't mastered all of the Greek quite yet, I sit in bed with three books: Kubo's lexicon, an NIV Bible, and my trusty UBS4. With my little library in bed with me (next to the wife) it gets pretty crowded. Well I'm glad to say that I only take the one book to bed with me now which is the new UBS reader's edition of the Gk NT. This is a gem of book which includes the UBS4 Greek text, a running Greek-English dictionary of words that occur 30 times or less, a Greek dictionary and maps at the end of the volume.

I found the "Reader's Edition" very helpful in reading through Hebrews completely in Greek, which I've never done before, as Hebrews has a large number of hapax. It made reading easier and quicker. There is also a very good review of the edition over at RBL. I would strongly recommend this book to those who want to upgrade from seminary Greek to fully reading Greek unaided. Unlike an interlinear, as a reading aid, this book won't make you lazy and your Greek will improve as will your vocab. Too many students take 2-3 years of Greek and then just forget about it when they go into ministry. This book is a good tool not just to help you maintain your Greek, but to actually excel in your reading of Greek.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lectures by Thomas Schreiner on Perseverance

Tom Schreiner's lectures at Oak Hill are available. What I found particularly enjoyable was his lecture on, "Persevering in Faith is not Works-Righteousness". Main points were:

1. Schreiner confesses that he cannot tell the difference beteween an English accent and an Australian accent. I could say so many derogatory things about Americans here, but I shall restrain myself out of my respect for Tom.
2. Schreiner says that there is no eschatological salvation without obedience.
3. He gives a good examination of Romans 2 as referring to Gentile Christians (esp. vv. 25-29).
4. He regards obedience not as the basis of salvation, but obedience is the necessary evidence of salvation.
5. Works and Faith are distinguishable, but inseparable.
6. Schreiner is emphatic about embracing the perspective and paradigm of the cross for Christian faith.
7. Apostasy in Hebrews and Galatians is not retreating to libertinism but works-righteousness.
8. Schreiner provides some interesting reflection on what it means to "deny Christ".
9. He offers some good thoughts on assurance too.

BBC Summary of Anglican Divide

There is an excellent introduction to the theological differences in the Anglican communion on the BBC radio listen to it all (about 9 minutes). I agree with the last commentator, Graham Kings, that if the Anglican covenant is not bland but "has teeth", the centre may yet hold!

HT: Titusonenine.

New Blog: This is the Day

One of my students, Andreas Boyes, has a blog called This is the Day on life as an undergraduate theology student balancing study, family, and work. Andrea is one of those students who makes sure that class is never dull. Another student of mine, David Kirk, is offering some reflections on life at the end of second year.

New Book on Acts

My thanks to James Crossley for tipping me off about a forthcoming book entitled, Reading Acts in the Second Century, edited by Ruben Depertuis and Todd Penner. The description reads:

This volume brings together essays by scholars in various sub-disciplines of early Christian studies, with the aim of situating the Acts of the Apostles in the second century. Rather than addressing the question of the date of Acts directly, the focus of these contributions is to explore reading Acts in the context of second-century historical and socio-cultural issues, including a reading of the book alongside second century writers, Christian and other. This book offers a new and radical departure for Christian origins studies, moving the debate beyond explicit historical delineations and filiations, drawing instead on wide and diverse associations between Acts and diverse second century texts, writers, social and textual histories, and broader cultural phenomena of the Second Sophistic. As a result, a better appreciation of the importance of the second century in the construction of Christian origins is gained, opening up the exploration of the second century as a primary formative epoch for Christian beginnings. Further, this collection of essays generates much needed discussion on the reception of Acts—and Christian myth-making practices more generally—in the second century.


1. Rubén Dupertuis and Todd Penner (the Editors): “Reading Backwards from the Beginning: Acts of the Second Century and Christian Origin Studies”

2. Heike Omerzu (University of Mainz): “Reading Acts without Luke? On the Reception of the Lukan Acts in the Second Century”

3. Milton Moreland (Rhodes College): “Jerusalem Destroyed: The Unacknowledged Setting of the Readers of Acts”

4. Joseph Tyson (Southern Methodist University): “Reading Acts at a Time of Uncertainty: Issues of Leadership in the Second Century”

5. David M. Reis (University of Oregon): “Spectacular Sights: Vision, Power, and Apostolic Identity in the Acts of the Apostles”

6. Loveday Alexander (University of Sheffield): “Bacchus and Christ: Reading Luke's Acts in an Enchanted World”

7. John Moles (Newcastle University): "Space and Time Travel in Luke-Acts"

8. Shelly Matthews (Furman University): “Luke-Acts, Empire, and Marcion’s Children”

9. Christopher Mount (DePaul University): “Why Were Early Christians Persecuted? Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius, and the Acts of the Apostles”

10. Rubén R. Dupertuis (Trinity University): “Philosophical Imagery in Acts and the Apologists”

11. Andrew Gregory (University College, Oxford): “Reading Acts with Justin and Irenaeus”

12. Kavin Rowe (Duke Divinity School): “Political Theology: Tertullian as a Reader of Acts”

13. Claire Clivaz (University of Lausanne): “Reading Luke-Acts in Alexandria in the Second Century: Between Clement’s and Apollonius’s Shadow”

14. Todd Penner (Austin College): “Dating Acts (Scholarship): Origins, Purity, and Modernity”

Same-Sex Relations on the Blog

I should call attention to multiple posts by Ben Myers (with input from Ray S. Anderson) on reflections on the same-sex relations controversy, Doug Chaplin is also blogging on the issue and raising many important questions, and Oliver O'Donovan has a new book out on the topic entitled, Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More on Anglican Debates

I for one was most perplexed and stunned that a document commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and written by the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission and given to delegates of the current Lambeth Conference made it apparent that bishops who have transgressed diocesan and provincial boundaries in search of "orthodox" primatial oversight are considered guilty of undermining collegiality. An even worse sin, it is suggested, was boycotting the Lambeth conference. Now I am a moderate evangelical and I am genuinely trying to empathize with the good Archbishop's plight caught as he is between a rock and a hard place, but that kind of stuff just really ticks me off. Who started the whole "jolly" thing? Who defied the corporate will of the communion by deliberately flouting Lambeth resolution 1.10? Are the structures of the Church more important than the Church's message? Can unity exist in the absence of a basic creedal unity? Why are the Americans at Lambeth but the Africans are not?

Fortunately my discontent was placated by reading: (1) The GAFCON primates' counter-response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's response to their Jerusalem conference; (2) Their response also to St. Andrews draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant.

I have to say that with Anglican politics who needs Soap Opera or even American Politics - this is far more interesting - so we can wait with optimism on the outcome of Lambeth and see if the dialogue and discussion really will bring a closer bond of unity between the provinces and promote confidence building measures. But with over 25% of the worldwide bishops absent from the global south it might be too little too late and only benefit those already converted to the Archbishop's side. More important is whether Rowan Williams is willing to extend an olive branch to the GAFCON primates which might be a better option for reconciliation and unity than Lambeth. I hope so!

Friday is for Ad Fontes: Chrysostom on Scripture

I'm happily reading through Chrysostom's homilies in Colossians and found this quotation:

Tarry not, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou has the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory's sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for your soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations, or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee, keep them in thy mind. [For] this is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe. Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them." (Hom. 9; NPNF, 13.300-1).

Christian Sex Guides

I was surprised to read in the Sydney Morning Herald an article about Christian Sex Guides. Sorry, no pictures (I say that for the benefit of Ben Myers!).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Francis Watson on "Faith" and "Works"

Writing about the patterns of religion in Philippians 3, Francis Watson states:

'"Faith alone" brings salvation only in the sense that for Paul "faith" comprehends not only "belief" or "trust" in the narrow sense but also the adoption of a new way of life with the social reorientation that this entails. There is, then, no tension whatsoever between the exhortation to accomplish one's own salvation (in response to divine grace and with divine help) and the stress of the efficacy of faith in 3:9. The problem arises only if faith and works are understood as abstract and logically incompatible principles, rather than as terms that encapsulate two different ways of life in two different communities. The anithesis between "law" and "faith of Christ" is to be understood not theoretically, as a logical contradiciton, but practically, as an imperative' (Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective, p. 148).

Marcion Bibliography

Thanks to Robert Bradshaw who has created an excellent biography of resources on Marcion. Marcion is a figure, known only from the church fathers and his influence on the process of canonisation, who triggered many of the debates that shaped second century Christianity and its approach to the Scriptures.

Archbishop goes Troppo

Thanks to Ruth Gledhill of the Times, I have to post this photo of Rowan Williams. I would like to have a caption competition. Let me get the ball rolling:

1. Scottish Alcoholic: "Och Ai laddy, kin ya git me nother wee drum of lafroy?"

2. Insane apocalypticism: "Ha ha ha ha ... you fools ... the end is nigh ... ha ha ha ... GAFCON will destroy us all ... ha ha ha ... Gene Robinson ... TEC ... repent I tells you, repent ... before we all perish ... ha ha ha ... it is the end I says ... EPA ... EEEEPA."

3. Health: "Why I'm fine your majesty, no sleep and much medication make Rowy a most happy boy."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Karl Barth on Vegetarians

I have never met so many vegetarians since coming to the UK. I'm more of Peteresque, "kill and eat" kind of a guy. If found interesting then, Barth's comments on Romans 14 about vegetarians:

"Contrasted with the strong man is the weak man who – eateth only vegetables. This, at any rate, is a clear, concrete standpoint. The uninstructed, non-Pauline man has this advantage at least. His ambiguity is not at once obvious; he does, at any rate, do something. Party-men, Sectarians, Churchmen, are vigorous and full of life. They occupy a position. They have pronounce characteristics. Their lives form a proper subject for the biographer. They are concerned with ‘deeds and facts’. Ranged behind the vegetable eaters at Rome we see the devotees of Orpheus and of Dionysus, the Neo-Pythagoreans, the Therapeutes, and the Essences, of the Ancient World; the Monks of the Middle Ages; the Baptists of the Age of the Reformation; the Total Abstainers, the Open-Air Enthusiasts and the Vegetarians of the Present Day."

This passage needs to be put in context of what Barth says about freedom, detachment, and the true Paulinist; however, Pagans and Baptists and Vegetarians are just different manifestations of the same problem.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Blog: Theological Scribbles

My good friend and editor Robin Parry, from Paternoter Press, has started his own blog, which will be a delight to read in the future no doubt. Robin is one of these rare chaps who is incredibly well read on a variety of topics in NT, OT, Theology, Ethics, and Missions. Welcome to the party that is biblioblogdom Robin!

Lincoln on the Christ Hymn of Col. 1.15-20

The NIB commentary series is good value and I particularly enjoy the "Reflections" section by most writers. Lincoln has this reflection on Col. 1.15-20:

"All the talk about the use of the hymn and its possible structure should remind us that the writer of Colossians has chosen to use the language of praise of Christ at a vital point in his message in order to reinforce the perspective he and his readers shared and to draw out its implication. It is an effective means of communication because it builds on religious experience - that of worship - and taps the religious emotions so frequently associated with songs of praise. From the perspective of Old Testament studies, Brueggemann has called attention to the power of doxology in the encounter with contemporary idolatries and ideologies. In its response to God, he claims, praise is also an assertion of an alternative world. The liturgy sings and proclaims that God reigns, disestablishing worldly powers and exposing their claims to ultimacy and control. Much the same can be said of the hymn in praise of Christ in Colossians. Its doxological language reinforces for its readers the alternative vision of the Pauline gospel in which Christ is supreme over the cosmos over all powers and has dealt with their disintegrating threat threat through his work of reconciliation. The language of worship still has both educative and affective force. Theological reflection and preaching would do well, therefore, to learn to employ the sources of traditional and contemporary hymns and poetry and to include a rhetoric of devotion in its repertoire in the attempt to instruct, to move, and to motivate congregations to live out of the alternative world of gospel values, where the crucified and risen Christ is cosmic Lord" (p. 611).

Summary of Colossians 1

It is amazing how Col. 1.21-23 presents such a neat little summary of several major themes in the epistle so far. This short little section, Witherington regards it as a partitio, recapiulates a number of ideas already presented, including: hope and gospel (1.5), world-wide mission (1.6), perseverance (1.11), salvation as transference to a new state (1.12-14), and reconciliation through Jesus’ death (1.20). Sounds like a good five point sermon on Colossians 1!

John Locke on Romans - Must Read This!

I have found many precursors to the New Perspective on Paul. By that I mean those who find the centre of gravity in Romans to be how Gentiles are incorporated into the people of God and how they relate to (i) Jesus-believing Jews, and (ii) unbelieving Israel as opposed to schemes that see Romans as focused mainly on individual soteriology. Working backwards from E.P. Sanders there is Markus Barth, Krister Stendhal, W.D. Davies, and F.C. Baur. It is possible to find similar thoughts in the Church Fathers, esp. Origen and even Augustine, and I would be prepared to argue that even the magisterial Reformers like Luther and Calvin were not completely oblivious to these issues even if their expositions and analyses were dominated by dogmatic questions and wrongly sidelined the social and salvation-historical present in the text.

But I have just been able to access John Locke's paraphrase of Paul's letters (1709) and this is cool. Stop what you are doing and read it this weekend! It is available to read and download at Google Books. Let me give you a quote from what he says on Rom. 3.26: ‘God rejected them [i.e. the Jews] for being his people, and took the Gentiles into his church, and made them his people jointly and equally with the few believing Jews. This is plainly the sense of the apostle here, where he is discoursing the nation of the Jews and their state in comparison with the Gentiles; not of the state of private persons. Let anyone without prepossession attentatively read the context, and he will find it to be so’. Locke stands in sharp contrast to the highly individualistic and pietistic readings of Romans by the English Puritans in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century. His preface to Romans, his introduction to each section, his paraphrase, and notes all contain thoughts that gained currency later. In many ways he anticipates F.C. Baur by seeing Romans not as a dogmatic treatise but as Paul's justification for the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. Locke does not like 'imputation' in Romans 5, he treats the 'I' of Romans 7 as all those who were under the law in order to show that Gentiles do not have to submit to the law of Moses. I bring this to peoples attention not because I am necessarily convinced by Locke's exegesis at every point, but because Locke was way ahead of his time and he anticipates alot of the debate that was to come three hundred years later. Take up and read!

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Messiah Stone

Over at CNN there is a good video clip on the New Biblical controversy around what can be called the "Messiah Stone" that appears to predict the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The question of whether or not a dying and rising Messiah was extant in pre-Christian Judaism was been a moot question in scholarship. In a footnote to a forthcoming book on the historical Jesus as a messianic claimant I note that:

It is possible that some Jewish texts refer to a suffering Messiah (Zech 13.7; Dan. 9.26; Tgs. Isa. 53; T.Benj. 3.8; 4Q541 frags. 9, 24; 4Q285 5.4; 4 Ezra 7.29-30; 2 Bar. 30.1; Justin, Dial. Tryph. 39, 89-90; Tg. Zech. 12.10; Hippolytus, Haer. Omn. Haer. 9.25; b.Suk. 52) and several scholars have inferred from this a form of intertestamental messianic expectation that provides the background to the messianism of Jesus and of the early church (Horbury, Jewish Messianism, p. 33; Hengel, ‘Messiah of Israel’, p. 37; Bockmuehl, This Jesus, 50; idem, ‘A “Slain Messiah” in 4QSerekh Milhamah [4Q285]?’ TynBul 43 [1992], pp. 155-69; R.A. Rosenberg, ‘The Slain Messiah in the Old Testament,’ ZAW 99 [1987], pp. 259-61). But if there was a well-known tradition about a suffering or dying Messiah, how could the hopes of the disciples be shattered after Good Friday (cf. Lk. 24.21)? If such a tradition was extant then, on the contrary, their hope that Jesus was the Messiah would have been confirmed not dashed. Likewise, the scandal of a crucified Messiah would dissipate if it was thought possible that the Messiah would suffer rather than conquer. Geza Vermes (Authentic Gospel of Jesus, p. 387) writes: ‘It should be recalled that neither the death nor the resurrection of the Messiah formed part of the beliefs and expectations of the Jews in the first century AD’. Belief in a suffering Messiah (Messiah son of Ephraim or Messiah son of Joseph) may have arisen in response to the failed messianic aspirations of Bar Kochba in the post-135 CE period; see also Vermes, Jesus the Jew, pp. 139-40; Wright, People of God, p. 320; idem, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 488; Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 540-41; Stuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 27; Schürer, History of the Jewish People, vol. 2, pp. 547-49; Evans, ‘Messianism’, p. 703; Collins, Sceptre and the Star, pp. 123-26.

The rhetorical function of Col. 1.15-20

I doubt that the NT epistles are woodenly structured according to the types of outlines for speeches given in the rhetorical handbook. Yet given the prevalence of rhetoric in the ancient world and the aural/oral nature of the New Testament's, rhetoric probably figured somewhat in the structure and function of various units. What rhetorical function does the hymn/poem of Col. 1.15-20 have then? Andrew Lincoln argues that it is part of the exordium and Ben Witherington places it in a narratio. I would be more inclined to see it akin to a propositio since it contains a summary of many of themes of the letter (see also Markus Barth and Margaret MacDonald who hold a similar view). But if Col. 1.15-20 is a preview of the theological contents of the letter how does that relate to the hymn's origin? Would a pre-written hymn/poem just happen to fit so neatly with Paul's exhortation to the Colossians? Or was the hymn/poem selected precisely because it was suited to the context of Colossae and perhaps embellished only slightly to make it more direct?

New Themelios

Themelios has been taken over from the UCCF by the Gospel Coalition based at TEDS. Its newest issue is now on-line and it includes my review of Mark Reasoner's book Romans in Full Circle.

Tyndale Fellowship 2008

I just got back from the Tyndale Fellowship conference in Cambridge which was an excellent time dedicated to the study of 1-2 Peter.  The list of papers can be viewed here. Highlights for me were the discussions of missiological perspectives, papers on the authorship of 2 Peter, and the use of the OT in 1 Peter. Richard Bauckham presented an extended paper on Jesus and the Eyewitnesses in the Gospel of Mark (in fact, Bauckham is planning a follow up book to his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that gives a more exegetical substantiation to his view of eyewitness testimony in the Gospel of Mark). Markus Bockmuehl gave an extended paper on the so-called anti-Paulinism of the Pseudo-Clementines. It was quite convincing on the whole that Simon Magus is not a cipher for Paul. I gave the annual Tyndale Fellowship NT Lecture for this year on "New Testament Theology Re-Loaded: Integrating Christian Origins and Biblical Theology". It was well received, although, several members of the Christian Doctrine group had a few good questions about the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology. Next years NT group meeting will focus on NT ethics.

Congrats All Round

Good news on the blogosphere includes:

1. Denny Burke has just been appointed as Dean of Boyce College located at SBTS.
2. Alan Bandy has been appointed to SEBTS as assistant director of the Ph.D programme.
3. Michael Pahl receives his Ph.D: congrats to the new doktorb!
4. And this blogger is pregnant.

Congrats to everyone. May your crops be plentiful, the road rise up to meet you, and all your children be masculine and calvinistic.

Gal 3.28 - Negation, Inclusion, or Transformation?

Galatians 3:28-29 reads: "here is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring,1 heirs according to the promise." (NRSV).

For a while I had thought that Paul in Gal. 3.28, Paul was negating these distinctions within the body of Christ. For me this was implied by the ouk ... oude series that seemed to deliberately cancel out certain ethnic and gender distinctions within the church (though in practice this could never be absolute). That is not to say that we no longer had a distinct skin colour, gender, or ethnicity, but only that in the sphere of salvation and in the church, these things no longer have any determinative value or become a means to status. In other words, in Christ such distinctions do not ideally exist! But I am beginning to rethink that in light of a number of studies that emphasize inclusion rather than negation as the main point of the passage. Consider the following:

Pamela Eisenbaum writes: "In sum, I do not believe the dictum in Gal. 3:28 as used by Paul was meant to articulate the destruction of human categories of existence so that people might share the same human essence. Rather, he articulated the construction of new human social relations based on the model of family. Gal. 3:28 encapsulates the message that people who are different can, if they so choose, come to understand themselves as meaningfully related to each other, committed to their well being, and part of a shared world." [1]

Mark Seifrid writes: "The entrance of Gentiles into salvation does not, however, result in an indiscriminate, and therefore bland, universalism in which all cultural distinctions are leveled. Rather, it represents a dramatic joining of highly fissile peoples, Jew and Gentile, who are held together solely by the risen Messiah. ...Had their cultural differences been leveled out and their earthly identities done away with, there would have been no cause to celebrate their union in Messiah ... We must not fail to see that when Paul enjoins Jews and Gentiles in the Roman house-churches to be of one mind, to accept one another, and to worship God with one voice, he presupposes that each will retain their ethnic identities. God is glorified not in the homogenization of the believing community, but precisely in our recognition that our unity is found solely in the risen Messiah in whom we all believe--in him and nowhere else. Such unity is the work of God, not the work of human beings. Only in this way can the common worship of Jews and Gentiles be a sign of hope for Israel and the world. Paul offers no formula by which to negotiate the form this worship is to take, or what sort of cultural imprint it is to bear. Indeed, in some sense worship may be countercultural to both Gentile and Jews." [2]

It seems to me that the emphasis in Gal. 3.28-29 is not the negation of identity (ouk ... oude), but the inclusion of multiple identities (i.e. pantes ... heis) under a single meta-identity (i.e. en Christō). But that can only be true if the existing identities, which are a means of distinction and status, are themselves negated in value and lessened in their ability to cause differentiation, and are thereby transformed and subsumed beneath a shared meta-identity that can sustain an array of diverse entities within it. So I am a man but an in-Christ-man. I am a gentile but an in-Christ-gentile. The distinctions of male, gentile, Jew, female, Barbarian are enveloped by and subordinated to the designation and function of being en Christō which sustains within its horizon a network of identities co-existing together under a shared meta-identity.

1. Pamela Eisenbaum, "Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?" Cross Currents (Winter 2000-01).
2. Mark Seifrid, "For the Jew first: Paul's Nota Bene for his Gentile Readers" in To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 26-27, 37. HT: Matt Montonini.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Baptist Anglophile Reflections on GAFCON

Given my number of Anglican friends, I'm always interested in events in the worldwide Anglican communion. So I thought I'd offer a few thoughts on the GAFCON statement from a Baptist Anglophile perspective (but for a less sanguine observation from a similar background see Sean the Baptist):

1. I really wish I was there at GAFCON just to see an international gathering of orthodox Christians united in a common worship. What a joy to join with Asians, African, Americans, and Australians all united in Christ Jesus and gathered to share in eucharistic fellowship.

2. Yet I have to question the rationale of holding the conference in Jerusalem. Yes, I understand the symbolic value of Jerusalem, but the place is expensive, hard to get to, dangerous, Anglicans from Pakistan and Sudan cannot even get in, and the local bishop was not exactly supportive.  Next time I say hold it in Africa, somewhere like Carthage or Alexandria, cradles of African Theology!

3. The statement is a wonderful and succinct summary of orthodoxy that is acceptable to both evangelicals, moderates, and anglo-catholics. Some observers are probably wondering why the word "inerrancy" is not used, well, they're Anglican not SBC or PCA and not given to parochial North American matters. Also, it does not flatten out Anglican distinctives and reaffirms the 39 Articles and 1662 Prayer Book.  I also agree with the need for a new Anglican Province in North America. 

4. The biggest reservation I have is that the Primates council intends to assume authority to "authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions". What does that mean in practice? Does it mean assenting to the GAFCON/FOCA doctrinal statements and accepting the pastoral authority of the primates council? If a Diocese or Bishop upholds Lambeth resolution 1.10 but is not necessarily in with GAFCON/FOCA, what status do they have? The problem is, does the Primates council see itself as the leadership of an Anglican renewal organisation akin to the Good News Network in the UMC or the New Wine Skins Network in the PCUSA, OR, do they see themselves as, or function like, a kind of Anglican government in exile. The links to Canterbury are treated as historic rather than essential. I understand reservations about the "instruments of unity" in being able to uphold discipline and orthodoxy in the communion. Call me cynical, but I've been following this story long enough to learn that the will of the Primates are ignored, the ABC (Archbishop of Canterbury) won't lift a finger against the Americans, the Anglican Communion Council is a puppet of TEC, and the Lambeth conference will be nothing more than a bitch-n-winge fest and propaganda campaign for the pro-pansexuals; but the Anglican Covenant is the last ditch effort to save the communion and Rowan Williams has to retire one day! So nobody has to leave Brigadoon just yet. Don't forget that it took nearly fifty years to fully resolve the Arian controversy and patience is needed. GAFCON/FOCA is a good mechanism to promote gospel renewal in Anglican churches across the world and to remind the ABC that everybody's patience has a limit. As such I can appreciate Tom Wright's sympathetic but concerning response to GAFCON. Yes to the new network, but give peace a chance!

5. The biggest danger for GAFCON/FOCA is keeping all the folk together. With the recognition of "diversity" and "freedom in secondary matters" is the question of how much diversity and what is secondary? Let me give two examples: While the Reformed Evangelicals want lay presidency the Anglo-Catholics will fume over it. While the Reformed Evangelical and Anglo-Catholics reject women's ordination to the priesthood, Moderate Evangelicals strenuously promote it. Will the centre of gravity, the evangel, hold these conservative groups together. I hope so!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mark Seifrid on N.T. Wright's "Moral Idealism"

Mark Seifrid is one of my favourite evangelical Pauline scholars and I have enjoyed meeting him and talking with him in person. This evening I read his article: The Narrative of Scripture and Justification by Faith: A Fresh Response to N.T. WrightConcordia Theological Journal 72:1 (January 2008): 19-44.

Seifrid has two major elements to his critique of Wright. First, he argues that Wright engages in a form of idealism in so far as he idealizes the virtue of faithfulness, salvation as the enhancement of the human condition, notions of representation, and the role of the covenant and Israel in biblical history. This creates more dilemmas than it solves. Second, Seifrid sets a thematic (synchronic) reading of the Old Testament (God-Man-Christ-Response by Faith) over against a diachronic redemptive-historical approach (Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration). [1]

There is some interesting material here. Seifrid points out that a failure of the salvation-historical approach was its inability of the assigned narrative to address human beings in the here and now. Consequently, Wright has to resort to a moral idealism in order to address this gap according to Seifrid (p. 22). A larger problem looming for the narrative approach is that it attempts to reduce Scripture to a single unified vision of God and God's dealings with the World. Seifrid states: "It is worth reminding ourselves that just as Scripture has not been given to us as a dogmatic outline, neither has it been given to us as a single unified story. It is a collection of narratives that not only complement one another but also overlap and stand in tension with one another. There are two accounts of creation in Genesis, two accounts of the Davidic monarch, and four Gospels. The Psalms tell and retell the story of Israel in ways that are sometimes remarkably different from one another" (p. 24). In which  case, our connection to the biblical story is not punctiliar (p. 23). Seifrid objects that: "In Wright's work, the drive for a unified interpretation leads to an idealism that overruns the irreducibly different ways in which God speaks to us in and through the Scriptures" (p. 26). He also points out that Paul's use of diatheke is often raised in the context of discontinuity (e.g. Gal 4, Rom 9, 2 Cor 3) (pp. 27-28) and the story of Abraham can be used to highlight the distinction between promise and law. Seifrid also exposes a conundrum in Wright's work concerning the role of Torah and Israel in biblical history. Did God give Torah in order to enable Israel to be a light to the nations or to highlight sin and point to the coming of the Messiah (pp. 31-32)? Also, did God intend for Israel to be the recipients of salvation or the means of salvation. If the latter, then did God intend for Israel to die for the sins of the world? If Israel had been faithful to God, would it have fulfilled this role? (p. 34).

A few flags can be raised. First, one objection I have here is that when I read Ezekiel 16 and Acts 7, I get the feeling that we are dealing with a single story-line. Different tellings of one story do not negate the unity and continuity of an overarching narrative. The phrase "according to the Scriptures" implies a connection between the story of Jesus and the church with the story of Israel and Abraham. Second, there are indeed continuities and discontinuities between the old and new covenants, but I suggest that a mere reading of the Last Supper (esp. Luke's version) highlights the continuity between the two epochs regardless of what one thinks of a "new" covenant or a "renewed" covenant. Third, Seifrid is quite right about the Law vs. Promise contrast in Galatians 3, but I would point out that as well that in Paul's reference to the Abrahamic narrative God also gave the gospel in advance to Abraham and that in Romans 4 Abraham is the prototype of the Gentile Christian, that is continuity. Third, on the role of Israel and Torah in biblical history, I think Seifrid raises some good questions for the narrative approach. There is indeed an underlying tension: does Israel subjugate and destroy the nations or draw them to Zion to worship God? I need to think more on this, but this may represent the tension within the biblical story-line of Israel being separate from the nations but also a light to the nations (cf. Isa. 42.6; 49.6), but I doubt whether it necessarily equates to competing visions of Israel's vocation. Moreover, if Jesus is the embodiment or representative of Adam and Israel (implied by the temptation stories) then, in a sense, Israel does die for the sins of the world!

Seifrid takes Wright to task on justification and argues that Wright's articulation of faith ultimately means losing assurance and down plays individual judgment in favour of the corporate reality provided by the concept of covenant (pp. 36-40. In contrast, Seifrid understands the righteousness of God as "an event in which God establishes saving justice in the rebellious and corrupt world which he nevertheless rules" (p. 41). There is a strong theocentric element to Seifrid's exegesis and one that emphasizes the justification of God against his enemies and the punitive justice of God against human sin and rebellion. Furthermore, Seifrid understands the "faith of Christ" not as Christ's faithfulness but as the faith that flows from Christ and has the crucified and risen Christ as its source (see Seifrid's forthcoming essay in the book The Faith of Jesus Christ) (p. 43). Seifrid also includes four theses on justification at the very end of the essay which are worth reading and meditating on (p. 44). On this justification section, there is alot I agree with here. I certainly do not think that one can reduce God's righteousness to his covenant faithfulness, but it seems to me that it is at least one aspect of it. I do not think that one can eliminate either the spheres of covenant and creation as coordinates in which God's righteousness is worked out. I would also sharply contest Seifrid's inference that "the reason that the inclusion of Gentiles figures so regularly in connection with Paul's teaching on justification is that their participation in the people of God was a visible and bodily expression of the justification of the ungodly, an event which cannot be reduced to a moral vision" (p. 44). That reduces the historical context of Paul's letters to illustrative examples of atemporal theological concepts being proved. While righteousness by faith and the sola gratia principle of Pauline soteriology precedes debates about the status of Gentiles in the early church, the concrete setting in which Paul articulated, shaped, and construed justification was in the context of legitimizing the identity of his Gentile converts in mixed Jesus-believing gatherings. The Jew-Gentile question is constitutive of justification by faith and not mere illustrative of an abstract theological principle.

This essay is stimulating but I would draw attention to two major areas that I would question. First, I ask whether a charge of "moral idealism", in the platonic sense that Seifrid urges, is a suitable critique of Wright's position. Undoubtedly Wright makes much of corporate models, ideas of representation, and becoming more human through Christ, but these are biblical concepts which are perhaps over used and sometimes foistered ad nauseum, but I have reservations about a charge of moral idealism. Second, if Wright is guilty of moral idealism, then I suggest that Seifrid is on the verge of an existential Lutheranism! Seifrid states: "In the gospel, God reveals himself to us beyond all other encounters with him as our loving, forgiving, and saving Creator" (p. 25) and "The unity of the story-line of Scripture - which remains for us in the form of promise - is found solely in Jesus the Christ and his story in all its particularity (Luke 24:25-27, 44-49)" (p. 25-26). This sounds to me more like Bultmann than Paul! I have to ask, if God is knowable beyond all other encounters with him, do we need the story of Israel at all in order to understand Jesus? Does Seifrid reduce the story of Israel to a promise of salvation, if so, does he really need Israel at all for the scheme to work? 

This is a stimulating article and my mind wonders what would happen if Seifrid combined his thesis with a Kasemannesque apocalyptic approach to Paul's theology. But that's enough for tonight.

[1] I owe that thought to a comment by Jared at Between Two Worlds

Keeping the Faith: In Sydney

On the one hand, I have a secret ambition to stand in St. Peter's Bascilica and yell out, "Long live the Reformation," but on the other hand I did enjoy a photo article in the SMH about Catholics in Sydney.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

N.T. Wright on Evangelism

In his Colossians commentary, Wright asserts: 'The task of evangelism is therefore best understood as the proclamation that Jesus is already Lord, that in him God's new creation has broken into history, and that all people are therefore summoned to submit to him in love, worship and obedience. The logic of this message requires that those who announce it should be seeking to bring Christ's Lordship to bear on every area of human and worldly existence' (pp. 79-80).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Preeminence of Christ in Colossians

Gradually working my way through a commentary on Colossians. I much enjoyed writing this section of the supremacy or preeminence of Christ:

Paul provides two reasons why God has purposed to launch this new creation through his Son and what singularly suited him to this redemptive role. First, God’s plan was that in all things that Jesus would have preeminence or we could say ‘supremacy’ (NIB, NIV, NJB) or ‘first place’ (NRSV, NASB, NET). Here we are talking about far more than being a very important person. We are talking about authority, honour, and power rolled into one. The most analogous background I can think of was the Roman Emperor Augustus who claimed to exceed everyone in auctoritas, that is, a combination of power and prestige. The Augustan age created a pyramid of power and hierarchy that put him inviolabily at the top. Indicative of this is that Augustus held the proconsulship of Rome well beyond the normal limitations of service, he was invested with the power of the tribunate with power of veto over the senate, he was the princeps or chief citizen of the government, he had direct military command of over three-quarters of the Roman legions, the power of invention in imperial provinces, he was given titles like pontifex maximus or ‘high priest’ of the Empire and Imperator Caesar divi filius that is ‘emperor and son of a god’. The implied rhetoric in this poem is that Jesus as the preeminent one, Jesus is the real auctoritas over and against the pretentious claims of Caesar to be sovereign and divine. This becomes all the more powerful if we remember that Paul is perhaps imprisoned in Rome under the meglomaniac emperor Nero when writing this. Caesar is at best a twisted parody of the real Lord of the world and at worst a malevolent tyrrant who creates ‘peace’ through the application of violence. A second thought is proffered by Paul and that is Jesus’ unique qualification to be the agent of reconciliation. Paul say that in him [God] was pleased to have all his fullness dwell. The subject for the verb pleased (eudokeō) is missing, but the implied subject is God. God was pleased to have all his fullness inhabit the Messiah. The word for fullness (plērōma) was a near technical term in Valentian gnosticism for the totality of intermediaries or emmendations radiating from the supreme God. There may be an implied critique here of something from hellenistic philosophy that eventually became part of a gnostic cosmological framework and might even be part of the Colossian philosophy, but the main point is surely christological, the fullness of God - that is God’s word, wisdom, glory, spirit, and power - dwell in the Messiah.

A Barthian Prayer

Ready for the mid-week prayer meeting? Here's a warm up:

"Great, holy, and merciful God, we yearn for your ultimate revelation, in which it will be clear to all that the whole created world and all of history, all people and their life stories were, are, and will be in your gracious and strict hand. We thank you that we may look forward to this revelation. All this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom you have loved, chosen, and called us from eternity. Amen."

Barth, Fifty Prayers, p. 55.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Books You Need: NDIEC

Any one serious about studying the New Testament and Early Christianity should do their utmost to get hold of and read the NDIEC series (= New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity). They are a vault of golden primary source data and info. Buy them yourself or get your library to purchase them for you!