Friday, October 30, 2009

Evangelicals and Catholics

Over at CT is a piece by Colin Hansen entitled, Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which points to a division among the IVCF chapter at George Washington University over whether Catholics can hold positions of leadership in an IVCF chapter.

Part of the article suggests that N.T. Wright is responsible for driving evangelicals to Rome. I had a big on-line exchange with Dan Wallace about his remark on a book blurb that "in some respects" there is "hardly" any difference between N.T. Wright's doctrines on justification and that of Rome [In fairness to Wallace this was a remark from a book blurb, for a fuller word from Wallace about N.T. Wright see here]. Now I confess that I don't want to get a reputation for being an apologist for N.T. Wright (though it might be too late for that). Although I greatly admire his work, I have some genuine criticisms that I have voiced in an excursus in SROG, and I gave John Piper some feedback on his manuscript The Future of Justification on what I think are the weaker nodes of Wright's arguments. But the attempt to make Wright look like John Henry Newman in an evangelical garb is a bit too much. Wright has criticized Anglo-Catholic views of the afterlife re: purgatory, he holds to a forensic justification as his critics even admit, and his view of grace is different from catholic sacramental theology. Contra Francis Beckwith who is cited in the article, I simply don't know how Wright can give someone an appreciation of a Catholic view of grace that is somehow different from a protestant view of grace. Part of the problem is that some folks want to reduce the debate to "Geneva" versus "Rome" as if they are the only two games in town: they are not! For a start, there is a lot of diversity among the residents of Geneva. The Westminster and Augsburg confessions disagree on what is imputed, Melanchthon and Luther disagreed on whether good works are necessary for salvation, John Calvin was also able to hold together justification and sanctification through union with Christ in a unique way, Martin Bucer held to a two-fold imputation for the impious and the pious, the Puritans weren't exactly monolithic on justification either as a comparison of Richard Baxter and John Owen shows, I think it was George Joye (like Ambrosiaster from the Church Fathers) who saw God's righteousness as his faithfulness rather than as a righteousness imputed from God, etc. Then look at Rome. Yes, we have Trent that was reactive and heavy-handed, and therefore, given to a theology born out of polemics. But read some modern Catholic commentators like Joseph Fitzmyer and I remain confused as to how his Romans commentary which is sooo protestantesque in places was ever granted nihil obstat. D.A. Carson tells a story of how he asked Joseph Fitzmyer what did he believe: his Romans commentary or the 1993 catechism which is solidly tridentine when it came to justification? Then there's a guy like Scott Hahn who is a better and more consistent covenant theologian than some Presbyterians I know. Then what about the Barthians who have a more christocentric approach to the matter that is speaking a different language altogether? Hans Kung saw in Karl Barth a bridge between Protestants and Rome. Not forgetting the post-Bultmann Lutherans like Ernst Kasemann and Peter Stuhlmacher who don't fit neatly into any precise camp with their view of justification as transformative in the sense of God both declaring and making the sinners righteous. Then go east young man with the Orthodox theologians who can integrate justification closely to their leitmotif of theosis. Now suddenly the multiple-choice theology of Geneva or Rome seems highly simplistic doesn't it? Wright's critique of Reformed interpretation, overstated and full of generalization I often find it!, can only cause folk to go to Rome if they are caught in this Geneva or Rome dichotomy. In other words, if you ingrain into people that Geneva (or one suburb of Geneva) and Rome (= Trent) are the only two options, once they question some of their Reformed heritage, you haven't left them with any other option.

In my mind, the most analogous antecedent figure to N.T. Wright is Martin Bucer. Bucer regarded "works of the law" as Jewish ceremonies (which is kinda like boundary markers) and he wanted to integrate the Spirit into the process of the Christian life and saw a second justifying work in the life of the Christ. I think a good project for some brave soul would be to compare Bucer and Wright on Romans 2 and Galatians 4-5 to see where they agree and disagree. I would add that perhaps some affinities with Richard Baxter (see Paul Helm) can be made as well. If I had time to read-up further, I'd say a little bit of Ulrich Zwingli on regeneration and Richard Hooker on the sacraments might be a good comparison with N.T. Wright as well. In other words, Wright is clearly "in" the broad Reformed camp, even though he has some camping gear that I don't like.

I genuinely believe that good progress has been made in Catholic-Protestant relations since the Reformation. This is evidenced by the Evangelicals and Catholics Together as well as the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification which were positive moves forward (see Richard Mouw's quotation from Charles Spurgeon on Spurgeon's trip to a Catholic Church). I can honestly say that I'd rather worship and pray with an Orthodox Catholic than with a Liberal Protestant. I believe in the Reformation and yet recognize that the definition of a Christian in Rom 10:9-10 is broader than my own doctrinal statement. Still, at the end of the day there remains several incommensurable and irreconcilable differences between evangelicals and Catholics over the distinction between justification and sanctification, the nature of Christian assurance, the eucharist, the papacy, doctrines of Mary, and priestly celibacy. In the end, rediscovering covenant as a unifying theological category, experiencing the blessings of liturgy, digesting the church fathers in a serious way, and seeking transformation rather than transcendence, should be a means of enriching our own theological tradition rather than a reason for running to Rome. What is more, resources to do these things actually are available in the Reformed tradition if you look far and deep enough.

Update: Note the response from Wright via Trevin Wax.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Michael Horton Reviews N.T. Wright on "Justification"

Thanks to Trevin Wax, here is a list of Michael Horton's series of reviews on N.T. Wright's book on Justification.

Horton makes some good points here, several criticisms I would qualify or contest, but an even handed review overall. Horton and I will be engaging each other in a forthcoming IVP volume on four views of justification in the future where I'm down to advocate something called the "progressive reformed view" (sadly the word "progressive" carries all sorts of freighted connotations that I'll have to carefully qualify).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Other Wright & The Mission of God

In just over a week from now, the Biblical and Theological Studies Faculty at North Park University will be hosting the annual Kermit Zarley Lectures. This year we are pleased have Chris Wright as our speaker. The date of the lectures is November 2 and 3, 2009 at 3:30-5:00 PM in Anderson Chapel on the campus of NPU. The Lectures are free to attend and open to all. If you are in Chicagoland please make plans to attend.

The title of his lectures is: “The Bible and the Mission of God."

The subtitle: "What Justification is there for Christian Mission to the World?" (or, "Can Christian Mission to the World be Justified?")

Title of Lecture 1: The Bible and the Scandal of Universality

Lecture 1 will show how our understanding of the validity of Christian mission flows from the world view presented to us in Scripture as a whole. This of course will require some definition of 'worldview', and defense of seeing the overarching biblical narrative as constitutive for Christian understanding of God, the universe, history, etc. We would look at some key themes in OT theology, that flow into the emergence of NT mission - especially the universality of the Abrahamic calling and God's ultimate purposes for the nations. We will also try to distinguish the theology and ideals of biblical mission from the sad and acknowledged failures and abuses that the church has perpetrated through the ages.

Lecture 2: Jesus Christ and the Scandal of Particularity.

Lecture 2 will basically be asking, What makes Jesus unique, such that the Christian mission of bearing witness to him is unavoidable for those who choose to follow him. And again, we will distinguish humble witness to Christ from Christendom pretensions, imperialism, cultural superiorities, etc.

Chris of course is well known as an OT scholar and missionary. His works are numerous, but he recently published perhaps his most significant work The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative. In this work he seeks to defend what he calls the “missional hermeneutic”. Essentially he argues that the Bible is a missional document from cover to cover. He clarifies that he doesn’t think it is a missionary document, as he sees no missionary mandate in the OT. However, from the very beginning of the Bible, Wright argues, that God is on mission. And he invites humanity to join him in his mission.

There are so many interesting points he discusses in over 581 pages including indexes that it would be impossible to even scratch the surface. I would like to comment on just one point that I have found important in biblical theology, but that, as Wright states, is not often addressed: the conflict with idolatry. He avers: “It has long seemed to me that the biblical category of idolatry is in danger of shallow understanding and simplistic responses. Yet surely it is a fundamental, if negative, aspect of a fully biblical monotheism” (137). Implicitly, if not explicitly, Wright shows that the whole mission of God has set as its goal the removal of idolatry from the earth. He provides a quite in-depth discussion of the nature of idolatry in Scripture. Wright observes that the overwhelmingly clear idea about idolatry is that it is a product of human creativity, although more rarely it is tied to demonic activity. As such, the primary implication is idolatry is the pinnacle of the human quest of autonomy from its Creator. He remarks: “Since God’s mission is to restore creation to its full original purpose of bringing all glory to God himself and thereby to enable all creation to enjoy the fullness of blessing that he desires for it, God battles against all forms of idolatry and calls us to join him in that conflict (188).

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Testament Position


New Testament

Highland Theological College - HTC

Salary: On application

Start Date: January 2010

Highland Theological College UHI is seeking applications for the post of Lecturer in New Testament. Based in Dingwall, Scotland, HTC is a non-denominational, theological college in the evangelical and reformed tradition. The College offers academic programmes at all levels from Access to PhD and seeks to prepare men and women for Christian ministry. HTC is an academic partner of the UHI Millennium Institute, a partnership of colleges and research centres, working together to provide university-level education throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (see for more details). Since 2006, the Highland Theological College has been approved to train candidates for the Church of Scotland ministry. More information about the mission, aims, history and governance of HTC can be found on our website at

The successful candidate will hold a PhD in New Testament or will be in the final stages of completing doctoral studies. The appointee will play their part in teaching, research and administration within the College. The post will involve:

  • teaching New Testament and Greek language modules at undergraduate and taught Masters levels;
  • research-degree supervision;
  • engaging in academic research and publication; and,
  • participation in academic administration and the committee structures of HTC and UHI.

The person appointed will be committed to the mission, aims and theological position of the College, which is a Genuine Occupational Requirement in terms of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

Further information and Application Forms can be obtained from Mrs Fiona Cameron ( or 01349 780000).

Applications should be received by 20 November, and all applicants will be contacted shortly thereafter.

[On a personal note: HTC is a great place to teach New Testament! The faculty, staff, and students have been a pure delight to work with. I cannot imagine a better cohort of colleagues and I will genuinely miss my students. HTC is part of the UHI Millennium Institute which is moving steadily towards University Title hopefully in 2010. In addition to having 40+ on-campus students there is also a very good distance learning programme delivering theological education to the more remote parts of Scotland through a mix of hard copy materials, web-based platforms, and video conferencing. Class sizes range from 5 to 15 students plus distance students per module. There is a real encouragement of excellence in teaching, research, and involvement with local churches as well. HTC is a reformed evangelical college and stands in the British Evangelical Tradition (e.g., Tyndale House). Its doctrinal standard is the WCF, though I would point out that Baptists and Anglicans with a calvinistic soteriology and confessional ethos are most welcomed there. Teaching load is about 10-12 hrs per week, a fair share of admin and committee work, there is good support from HTC/UHI for conference travel funding (e.g., ETS/SBL), and many invitations to preach in local churches].

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Philemon and P.Oxy 1423

Nijay Gupta (Ashland Seminary) points out the relevance of P. Oxy 1423 to the debate about whether Onesimus was a runaway slave, an absconded slave, or simply on "loan" to Paul. P. Oxy 1423 provides an instance of the case of the former:

Flavius Ammonas … to Flavius Dorotheus, officialis, greeting. I order and depute you to arrest my slave called Magnus, who ran away and is staying at Hermopolis and has carried off certain articles belonging to me, and to bring him as a prisoner together with the head-man of Sesphtha. This order is valid, and in answer to the formal question I gave my consent. I, Flavius Ammonas, officialis on the staff of the praefect of Egypt, have made this order.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anglican News

The program Compass has a doco on the Sydney Anglicans and in the interview Peter Jensen shows why he is one of the premier Christian statesman in his answer to some very freighted questions that were designed to catch him out. In other news, the British Telegraph reports that Rome may soon be announcing a provision for Anglicans who want to convert to Catholicism while retaining an Anglican liturgy. This will include mostly dissident Anglo-Catholics drawn from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAG). Incidentally, TAG is headed by a former Australian Army Chaplain.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Academic Editing

A good friend of mine, Anya McKee, has as an editing company called which specializes in proof reading, editing, and also indexing academic works. It's a very good service, well-priced, and ideal for getting someone to double check your Ph.D thesis prior to submission (esp. for persons whose first language is not English!). Also since she is in Australia in means Americans and Brits get a good exchange rate on the price! I intend to make use of this for essays that I write since I am the worst proof reader of my own work (as anyone who has read my SROG will know!).

Calvin on Romans

In the May 2009 issue of Australian Presbyterian, my good friend Joe Mock has an article on "Roman Adventure: Paul's Epistle Provides a Passageway to Profound Treasure" (p. 12) which presents an overview of the influence of Romans on John Calvin. A good short read!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kevin Vanhoozer's 10 theses on Theological Interpretation

I am fortunate enough to have a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer's paper on "Systematic Theology: The State of the Evangelical (Dis)union" delivered at Gordon-Conwell. It includes these 10 theses on theological interpretation:

1. The nature and function of the Bible are insufficiently grasped unless and until we see the Bible as an element in the economy of triune discourse.

2. An appreciation of the theological nature of the Bible entails a rejection of a methodological atheism that treats the texts as having a “natural history” only.

3. The message of the Bible is “finally” about the loving power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), the definitive or final gospel Word of God that comes to brightest light in the word’s final form.

4. Because God acts in space-time (of Israel, Jesus Christ, and the church), theological interpretation requires thick descriptions that plumb the height and depth of history, not only its length.

5. Theological interpreters view the historical events recounted in Scripture as ingredients in a unified story ordered by an economy of triune providence.

6. The Old Testament testifies to the same drama of redemption as the New, hence the church rightly reads both Testaments together, two parts of a single authoritative script.

7. The Spirit who speaks with magisterial authority in the Scripture speaks with ministerial authority in church tradition.

8. In an era marked by the conflict of interpretations, there is good reason provisionally to acknowledge the superiority of catholic interpretation.

9. The end of biblical interpretation is not simply communication - the sharing of information - but communion, a sharing in the light, life, and love of God.

10. The church is that community where good habits of theological interpretation are best formed and where the fruit of these habits are best exhibited.

I really liked this quote from Vanhoozer towards the end of the paper:

"Seminary faculties need the courage to be evangelically Protestant for the sake of forming theological interpreters of Scripture able to preach and minister the word. The preacher is a “man on a wire,” whose sermons must walk the tightrope between Scripture and the contemporary situation. I believe that we should preparing our best students for this gospel ministry. The pastor-theologian, I submit, should be evangelicalism’s default public intellectual, with preaching the preferred public mode of theological interpretation of Scripture."

Michael Horton on Semper Reformanda

Not long ago I set my M.Th students an essay on "How does Semper Reformanda shape reformed theological method?" My interest in the phrase is that it gets used as a license to abandon historic Christianity by liberal theologians, or else it gets used in the sense of finding new ways of maintaining the status quo because Reformed theology is already "done" according to some conservatives. Interestingly enough, Michael Horton has a good piece on the meaning of Semper Reformanda including historic use and modern abuse of the phrase. At the end of his short article Horton closes with these words:

This perspective keeps us from making tradition infallible but equally from imbibing the radical Protestant obsession with starting from scratch in every generation. When God's Word is the source of our life, our ultimate loyalty is not to the past as such or to the present and the future, but to "that Word above all earthly pow'rs," to borrow from Luther's famous hymn. Neither behind us nor ahead of us, but above us, reigns our sovereign Lord over His body in all times and places. When we invoke the whole phrase -- "the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God" -- we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age

Friday, October 16, 2009

J.I. Packer the "failure"?

Dr. Carl Trueman of WTS-Philly has a short video giving a critical appraisal of J.I. Packer. Trueman is genuinely appreciative of Packer for producing helpful books on Christian spirituality and theology and Trueman regards him as a success as a Christian intellectual. I don't doubt the sincerity of his affection for Packer and no Christian leader is beyond criticism as we look at their careers in retrospect. Yet Trueman regards Packer ultimately as a "failure" for two quite peculiar reasons. First, Packer never wrote a systematic theology. True, but it's not like there is exactly a shortage of them. Packer invested himself more in his students than into his own writings. He preferred the popular level works to the massive tomes with great effect. Second, according to Trueman Packer failed to be a leader of the non-conformist churches in the UK. Trueman is right that Packer would have been a good corrective to the "Doctor" and pushed the movement in a more confessional direction and given it more intellectual depth. But Packer could not do this as he did not share the sectarian ecclesiology of certain individuals associated with Martin Lloyd Jones circle. To give an example of the ecclesiology of this group, I will never forget reading an article in the Australian Presbyterian where Iain Murray said "Unity is overrated". I read that and the first thing that I thought to myself was: Was the prayer of Jesus in John 17, "that they may be one as we are one" overrated? Is the exhortation to unity 1 Corinthians 1 and Philippians 2 overrated? Are the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 133 that brothers dwelling in unity is like "oil on the head running down on the beard" overrated? If Murray had said, unity at the expense of theological integrity is overrated, I could agree; but that's not what he said nor what he meant. So comparing an Evangelical Catholic like Packer with the more sectarian fundamentalism of certain non-conformist leaders like Murray is analogous to comparing apples and oranges. Trueman should have surveyed a wider constituency to determine the reception of Packer in evangelical and reformed churches and he would have got a very different point of view. Moreover, I think Trueman's assessment of evangelical Anglicanism is a bit over simplistic too as there is and has been for some time a rich and vibrant form of confessional Anglicanism (e.g., Moore Theological College and Oak Hill College come to mind). So thank God for J.I. Packer, may his legacy live on for many years to come!

Update: After re-listening to Trueman's spiel a few times, I confess that I have written too harshly. Although I find it hard to put the word "failure" into the same sentence as "J.I. Packer", I have modified what was written above with due apologies to Dr. Trueman.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bauckham vs. Crossley on Christology

Over at Unbelievable, Justin Brierley (the handsomist Christian radio host around), interviews James Crossley and Richard Bauckham about early christology and monotheism, esp. in relation to Richard's new (and really cool) book: Jesus and the God of Israel.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evangelical Ecclesiology - Apostolicity

Evangelical churhes have a reputation for being "ecclesiologically lite" and bigger on soteriology and individual piety. I remember having a conversation long ago with a liberal protestant minister who told me that the problem with evangelicals is that "you don't have an ecclesiology". To which I replied, "no, I think our problem is that we don't have your ecclesiology" which I thought was a good come back. But this makes me wonder, how does an evangelical ecclesilogy differ from a liberal protestant, anglo-catholic, othodox, or Roman catholic one.? Given that evangelicalism is made up of various denominations with divergent ecclesiologies the notion of a shared ecclesiology is a bit of an impossibility in the absolute sense. Still, I think one of the key differences between evangelical and liberal protestant churches is how they understand apostolicity. What should be valued more: the integrity of the apostolic message or the physical representation of unity in the apostolic churches? If one defines apostilicity theologically (and I think we must), what do we do with those churches that stand in a genealogical relationship to the ancient church, but for a variety of reasons have departed from the apostolic message according to our perceptions? Is there any value in having a genealogical relationship (i.e., apostolic succession) with the ancient church? If so, how do evangelicals get some of it? Alternatively, does faithfully holding to the apostolic message enable a spiritual unity that reaches across all boundaries and borders of space, time, and place that is more important than institutional unity? Many questions here, much to think about!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Recent Articles in ISJT on Calvin

Now that I'm "all about systematics," I thought I'd draw attention to a couple of interesting articles in the International Journal of Systematic Theology 11.4 (2009):

Union and Communion: Calvin's Theology of Word and Sacrament
"Some scholars consider Calvin's teaching on the sacraments to be an integral part of his theology. Others have challenged the Reformer's consistency in this area, regarding Calvin's eucharistic teaching in particular as a 'foreign, uncongenial element' in his work. My argument in this article is that Calvin's eucharistic teaching, particularly in its 'more nearly patristic' emphases, is neither inimical nor secondary to his system but is in fact an essential and promising outworking of his theology. As with other perspectives, Calvin's understanding of Word and sacrament generates a particular kind of ecclesiology with emphases that remain ecumenically significant and vital for the life and mission of the church."

Imputation as Attribution: Union with Christ, Reification and Justification as Declarative Word
"Calvin's integration of the christological features of the eucharistic controversy with soteriological questions in his refutation of Andreas Osiander marks a critical development in Reformed theology. In this article, that development is extended further in reconsideration of the nature of imputation as a linguistic action. It is argued that imputation is a soteriological corollary of the christological idea of attribution. Imputation thus conceived clarifies not only how it is located within the doctrine of union with Christ, but how that union and imputation provide clarity in ongoing discussions about reification of sin and righteousness as well as the nature of justification as a declarative word."

John Calvin's Soteriology: On the Multifaceted 'Sum' of the Gospel
"This article explores John Calvin's soteriology through examining his multivalent and yet succinct 'sum' of the gospel: the double grace of justification and sanctification received in union with Christ. The essay begins with a description of the scope and range of this teaching in Calvin, its biblical, patristic and Reformational sources, and its application to a wide range of doctrinal loci. After this, particular features of Calvin's account are highlighted as promising for contemporary retrieval. The essay concludes with historiographic reflections that intersect with ongoing disputes in interpreting Calvin's teaching on union with Christ and the double grace."

A Mirror for God and for Us: Christology and Exegesis in Calvin's Doctrine of Election
"Although John Calvin's doctrine of election is often criticized, it remains seriously under-described in both content and form. By attending to one strand of its content (Christ and election), and one persistently unappreciated aspect of its form (exegesis), this article attempts a substantial construal of the doctrine in Calvin's theology. It aims to show that, for Calvin, Christ is the subject of election in that he is its author, and Christ is the object of election in that he mediates both election itself and the salvation which flows from election. The focus on Calvin's exegesis of election and Christology establishes contact points with some important theological concerns: Karl Barth's reading of Calvin; election and the extra Calvinisticum; and 'christocentrism' in Calvin's theology."

Around the blogs

Things around the blogs to note:

1. The other letter of Paul to the Corinthians:

HT: Rachel Marszalek

2. Listen (with nice pictures) to a performance of the earliest extant copy of a Christan hymn with musical annotations sung from a papyri fragment discovered in Oxyrhynchus (P. Oxy. XV 1786). Totally cool! Although the Odes of Solomon is probably the earliest Christian hymn book (see Michael Lattke's recently published magisterial commentary on the Odes in the Hermeneia series), the P.Oxy fragment is the oldest extant piece of Christian hymnody dating from the third century.

HT: Mark Goodacre

3. My good buddy Jim Hamilton advocates the case for a pre-millennial eschatology against Sam Storms (amillennial) and Doug Wilson (post-millennial) in a forum hosted by John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the USA. Well-worth listening to.

A Theology of the New Covenant

Two years ago I was honoured to give the annual Tyndale Fellowship New Testament lecture at Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK. My subject was "New Testament Theology Re-loaded: Integrating Biblical Theology and Christian Origins". This is about to be published in Tyndale Bulletin and the editors have have granted me permission to post it on my website. It is the manifesto for a larger volume on A Theology of the New Covenant that I hope to complete by late 2013 with IVP (Lord willing!).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Notice: Baker Books on Revelation and Apocalyptic Thought

Baker has a couple of cool books out on Revelation and Apocalyptic thought:

James L Resseguie
The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.
Available at

Resseguie opens with a primer on narrative analysis and examines John's usage of metaphors [my NT101 students might find that useful for their essay], verbal threads, chiasms, inclusios, two-step progressions, and other rhetorical devices like use of numbers, geography, etc. The book proceeds chapter by chapter on Revelation providing a narrative over view and description rather than a verse by verse commentary. He treats John as an organic and unified narrative (e.g., the issues facing the churches in Revelation 2-3 are developed and elaborated in Revelation 13 and 17). Resseguie also focuses on the literary and theological complexities of the text. He comments on Rev 20:4-6, "Throughout the Apocalypse the call to endure, persevere, and hold fast to the faith of Jesus is embedded with narratives of distress (e.g., 13:10; 14:12). Christians have lost their lives because they have held fast to the faith of Jesus (6:10), and from a below point of view the beast appears to be victorious. But from an above point of view God's are vindicated adn the martyrs are victorious. This is the meaning of the millennium" (pp. 245-46). This is a good book and would a good counter-point to a source critical book on Revelation like David Aune's.

Robert J. Daley, SJ (editor)
Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.
Available via

This volume in the Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History Series, explores how early Christian understandings of apocalyptic writings and teachings are reflected in the theology, social practices and institutions of the early church. The highlight for me wasBernard McGinn's piece on "Turning Points in Early Christian Apocalypse Exegesis" where he notes ambivalence towards the Book of Revelation by many groups (eastern churches thought it flirted with Montanism and Marcionites considered it a Jewish book). A critical turn comes with Hippolytus as his christological and ecclesiological reading of Revelation 12, i.e. he read it about the present and not about the future, became the baseline of "orthodox" readings of the Apocalypse. Brian Daley also thinks that the Apocalypse ceased to be read as "a revelation of unknown things to come [and more as] an affirmation of the victory of Christ and a representation of the life of the church, his body, in its present time of struggle".

Nathan MacDonald on the Rule of Faith

Nathan MacDonald (lecturer of OT at St. Andrews but currently working away at the University of Gottingen) has a robust rejoinder to readings of the Rule of Faith as an overarching narrative of Scripture. This appears in the forthcoming issue of Journal of Theological Interpretation 3.2 (2009): 267-84 in a piece entitled: "Israel and the Old Testament Story in Irenaeus' Presentation of the Rule of Faith". The abstract reads:

"In recent years, it has become common to point to the early church's Rule of Faith as evidence for the reading of Scripture as an overarching story. Appeal is typically made to Irenaeus' account of the Rule of Faith with particular importance being attached to the rehearsal of the Rule in the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. It has been argued that in Irenaeus' Demosntration the lacuna between the statements about God the Creator and the salvific events of the life of Christ are filled out with the story of God's dealings with Israel. This article rexamines Irenaeus's understanding of the Rule of Faith and argues that accounts of this sort are mistaken and invovle a misreading of the Demonstration. Irenaeus does not present a metanarrative that extends from creation to consummation; rather, he works with a two-part OT canon and shows how both parts prefigure and predict salvation in Jesus Christ. This article concludes with a reconsideration of the relationship between narrative and the Rule of Faith and how Israel is to be figured into Christian faith".

A good follow up to my Paul Blower posts previously!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Missional Significance of the Crowds in Matt 5:1

The narrative introduction to the Sermon on the Mount contains a number of important elements for one’s understanding the church’s mission according to Matthew. Not only does it presents Jesus’ mission as both proclaiming and procuring the kingdom through word and deed, but it also presents the reader with an important paradigm for the church’s relationship to the outside world.

Matthew 5:1-2 states

Seeing the crowds, Yeshua walked up the hill. After he sat down,his talmidim came to him, and he began to speak. This is whathe taught them (CJB).

Matthew juxtaposes the disciples with the crowds as he presents the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew here makes clear that the sermon is for disciples. The disciples gathered to him and he taught them. This perspective is of course born out through a study of the sermon. It is important to point out that at this stage in Matthew’s narrative the disciples are not yet identified as the Twelve. This will happen later in Matthew 10. So the disciples here are different than the crowd, but not yet the Twelve. Interestingly, after chapter 10 when Matthew uses the term disciples it is equivalent to the Twelve.

Yet, while the sermon is for the disciples it is in earshot of the crowds. The crowds while not the direct recipients of the message are nevertheless hearing the message. This point should not be too quickly passed over. The question deserves to be deeply reflected on: What might the juxtaposition of the “crowds” with the “disciples”, to whom Jesus message is directed, mean for how the church engages with the world? At the very least, it means that our message to ourselves should not be whispered in a corner. The “crowds” must overhear the message of the nature of discipleship. Discipleship is not a tag on after one comes to faith in Jesus. The uncompromising message of discipleship is to be heard by those on the outside.

Perhaps we as a western church in the late 20th and early 21st century have been far to concerned not to offend or unnecessarily confuse the "basic" message of the Gospel with teaching on the life of discipleship.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Return of the Bird

I am glad (and a little sad) to announce to the blogosphere that as of January 2010 I shall be taking up a position at the Bible College of Queensland as lecturer in Theology and Apologetics. This is a huge thing for me and the family as it means returning to Brisbane (a.k.a Brisvegas) to be closer to family. The Highland Theological College is a wonderful place with a fantastic colleagues and great students situated in the scenic Highlands of Scotland. But after four and a bit years abroad the tug on the heart strings (not to mention death threats from the mother-in-law) means that we have been praying and waiting for an opportunity to return which has now eventuated. I will miss everyone here, esp. my "young padawans", and the New Testament scene in the UK with the British New Testament Conference and Tyndale Fellowship in particular. For those interested, yes, BCQ does have a Th.D programme accredited by the Australian College of Theology. I am excited also about a move into theology, although they'll still be allowing me to teach a little NT on the side. I was told that the great Australian NT scholars Leon Morris taught Gospel of John and Systematics at Ridley College in Melboure so the precedent for expanding one's theological horizons is set by old saint Leon himself. I like to think of my goal as (1) indigenizing Kevin Vanhoozer in the antipodes, (2) demonstrating that the presuppositional apologetic argument "God exists therefore ... God exists" is not really persuasive; (3) proving that evangelicals really can learn something from Karl Barth; (4) demonstrating that the Regula fidei is the context for reading Scripture; (5) showing how to traverse biblical and systematic theology; (6) committing students to what John Wester calls "biblical reasoning"; (7) convincing folks that the centre of evangelical theology is the evangel; and (8) preparing men and women to articulate and live out a Christian worldview that is soaked in Scripture, that seriously interacts with patristic and reformed tradition, and engages the ecclesial communities around them.

Some New IVP Books on Ministry

I get regularly get books in the mail from publishers and I have a batch of two little gems from IVP.

Derek Tidball
Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership
(Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009).

Derek Tidball is the former principal of London School of Theology and currently visiting scholar at Spurgeon's College. Tidball's contention in this book is that biblical ministry is "multicoloured, not monochrome" and he advocates "that the New Testament writers set before us a number of models of ministry, each one of which is shaped by the needs of the church they were serving and, no doubt, by their own individual personalities and interests as well". Tidball believers that "An in-depth review of the books of the New Testament on ministry will lead to a far richer understanding of the mulvaried forms of ministry that is customary among most churches today. It can prove a very releasing exercise for many pastors who struggle to fit into a current ecclesiastical mould even when they know their gifts do not quite match it, helping them to play to their strenghts. It can prove a very salutary exercise for church authorities, whether national or local, who have attempted to compress the variety of God's gifts into a dull uniformity" (pp. 14-15). I know exactly what Tidball means. I've seen some seminaries that are in effect clone factories where the graduates end up believing all the same stuff, preaching with the same style, and more scarily even end up dressing the same! I'm very grateful for the college that I trained at, but if I had to make one criticism, it is that I got the feeling that our sole purpose was to try to become the next Rick Warren. Tidball gives a good survey of the patterns of ministry in the NT.

Darrel W. Johnson
The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God's Transformation of the World
(Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009).

This book is a book to encourage preachers. I've never been a pastor, but I know what it's like to stand in front of people Sunday after Sunday and wonder to myself "Is anybody really listening to this? Are they gonna remember any of this after lunch? Would they rather be watching football or shopping than listening to me?" Johnson wants to emphasize preaching as the transformative moment where we encounter God. He quotes the second Helvetic confession: "The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God". He believes that when God speaks, something happens. When the preacher speaks, God is speaking. When God speaks something happens like we get a clear vision of the living God in Jesus; a better understanding of the gospel; an alternative reading of reality; a new way of seeing things, feeling, and acting; and a new power to enable us to walk in this new reality. His book word is, hence, "participation". It's a book about "Dare to preach ... and see what happens". Most encouraging!

Questions on Canon

Over at Google Books you can read an excellent introduction to "Canon" by Michael Holmes in the Oxford Handbook to Early Christian Studies. He notes the important difference between "Scripture" and "Canon" among other things. One good question raised (which would be a great essay topic for students in Church History, New Testament, or Doctrine of Scripture class) is "is canon a list of authoritative books or an authoritative list of books?". In the former the emphasis is on the intrinsic authority of the books, in the latter case the emphasis is on the authority of the prescribed list itself.

Australia Facing Academic Exodus

Interesting article over at ABC News about an academic exodus in Australia (exiting to retirement, private sector, and overseas). Raises some interesting points about the differences between the American and British system for "growing" academics.

Paul and salvation in Judaism(s)

I've added what I think is an important paragraph to my "Salvation in Paul's Judaism" article about Paul's discontinuities as being intra or contra Judaism:

My own view is that Paul very much straddles the “contra” and “intra” Judaism fence depending on what part of his career one looks at, what we make of the gravity of his rhetoric, and contingent upon what social pressures he was facing at the time. Paul is intra-Judaism insofar as most of his community debates can normally be paralleled in halakhic discussions and they are often analogous to similar debates that took place among Jews in the Diaspora (Paul was not the first Jew to argue about food and circumcision and the Gentiles!). On the top of that, Paul’s rhetoric fits the sectarian context of second temple Judaism with rancorous polemics between sects and Paul never intended to set up a new religious entity. Yet Paul can also be seen to be contra Judaism in a very real sense as he seems to be willing to go where very few Jews would wish to follow by lowering the currency of Israel’s election in including Gentiles as part of the “Israel of God”. Indeed, Paul’s exegesis of Lev 18:5, his anthropological pessimism, the triadic link of law-sin-death that he makes, and attributing the law to angels are too raw and radical for most of his contemporaries to accept as “in-house” debates. In any case, Paul’s contrariety will depend entirely on which salvation scheme in Judaism we are talking about for it seems that Paul knew several. In Rom 1:18-32, his critique of idolatry and pagan immorality mirrors the “ethical monotheism” of Philo, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach as Paul doubts the existence of pagan philosophers who have a soul that is on its own sojourn towards God and the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul evidently knows of a “covenantal nomism” whereby grace is embedded in the covenant and obedience is merely the appreciative response to maintain one’s election, yet his objection remains that covenantal grace is only efficacious in the context of covenantal obedience which is precisely what Israel lacks (Romans 2–3, 9–11). Paul responds most virulently to an “ethnocentric nomism” (Gal 2:1–3:24; Phil 3:1-9) whereby Christ is merely an add-on to the Sinaitic covenant so that Christ tops-up rather than displaces the salvific function of portions of the Torah. This effectively keeps the butterfly in the cocoon and locates salvation exclusively within the Jewish constituency. Paul strenuously objects that the gospel is the good news that pagans can be saved by becoming Jews. Paul also responds to a “sapiential nomism” (1 Cor 1:10–3:23) that I postulate as a scheme arising in Corinth that perceives in Christ and the Torah a means to wisdom, power and glory. Finally, Paul opposes an “apocalyptic mysticism” that locates salvation as something acquired through law-observance coupled with visionary ascents to heaven couched in the language of Hellenistic philosophy (Colossians).

Paul Blowers - Rule of Faith 3

"The regula fidei was authoritative for early Christians because it preserved a particular story (this story as opposed to another) as the ground and canon of faith. But therein also lay its properly doctrinal authority and its sanction of constructive theology. Reading through the principal renditions of the Rule of Faith, or through the Apostles' Creed of a later time, one is less struck by the pure linearity of the narrtive than by its 'thickness,' the sudden collapasing of divine eternity and humanity history in an economy initiatied and fulfilled by Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's narrative flow as such runs through this thickness. Only God himself - principally by the strategy of the incarnation - can fully penetrate the thickness and make sense of its complexity. Yet from the church's faith-perspective, the economy stakes out a way of access, however restricted, to the very Godhead. It can rightly be argued that the Rule of Faith provided at least the groundwork of a trinitarian ontology which honored the mystery and integrity of the Three Persons just as it envisioned the destiny of creation within their extraverted life. It would be left to the ecumenical councils, and to great Christian thinkers of the fourth century and beyond - of the caliber of the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, and Thomas Aquinas - to advance the search for suitable language and precise theological means to negotiate Christian faith between oikonomia and theologia, between theprophetic and evangelic narrative of divine self-revelation in history and the ineffable reality of the Triune God."

Bible Works 8 - Part 3

Readers of Euangelion may have noted the Bible Software divisons between Joel and myself. With both of us changing slogans "I am of Bible Works", "I amof Accordance", and probably others somewhere in the blogosophere chanting "I am of Logos".

In my final Bible Works 8 post I'll mention some of the benefits of the programme. (1) Value. BW8 (depending on exchange rate) costs around £180 (= $350 USD) and with all the goodies you get it is more than worth it. (2) Easy to Use and Flexible. Even a non-technical boffin like me can find my way around it, adjust settings, and find stuff that I need to find very quickly and simply. (3) Comprehensive. It contains all the stuff that I need when I do exegesis, sermon prep, and biblical research. Having the Greek NT, Hebrew Bible, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, several Lexicons, Bible dictionaries, Vulgate, Targums, Church Fathers, Josephus, Philo, dozens of Bible versions just makes things so much darn easier. (4) Time Saver. This is close to the best reason for getting BW8. It saves me looking up stuff in the libary or searching the web. (5) Searchable. You can't search William Whiston's translation of Josephus or the LCL diglot in paper back, but you can search them with electronic access in BW8. You want to know what Philo thinks of pistis then you are two clicks from finding out. Searching Justin Martyr on "Scripture" is the same. (6) Help. I've emailed the guys at BW a number of times and they've always gotten back to me within 48 hrs with help/advice that was understandable (i.e., non-technical) and friendly. A great product, worth considering for anyone who is seriously into biblical studies.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

M.D. Hooker reviews Maurice Casey's "Solution" to the Son of Man problem

Over at Oxford Journals, M.D. Hooker (no stranger to the "Son of Man" debate) has a review of Maurice Casey's volume, The 'Solution' to the Son of Man Problem which is worth reading.

HT: Danny Zacharias.