Monday, May 31, 2010

Things to Click

Around the blogosophere let me note two things:

The new "Lutheran Airlines" (hilarious) and HT: Scot McKnight.

Seth Odom interviews Jo Fitzmyer who is not impressed with the NPP.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

John Dickson - Promoting the Gospel

One of the best kept secrets on books on Evangelism is John Dickson's book The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips. Forewords by Alister McGrath and Ravi Zacharias no less and an endorsement from N.T. Wright on the back as well! This is one of the best books on Evangelism I've read and I'm so glad that Zondervan has taken it up for international publication. I'll quickly give a few highlights. First, Dickson doesn't define the gospel as a syllogism of (1) God is holy, (2) Man is sinful, (3) Therefore, we need a mediator to take our sins away so we can stand before a holy God. Dickson has this insane idea that the gospel should include the life and deeds of Jesus as the context for his work on the cross and resurrection. He sticks Rom 1.3-4 and 1 Tim. 2.8 in your face about the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Dickson also boldly declares that the Gospels actually teach a gospel and the Evangelists are not just the warm-up acts to Paul's atonement theology. Second, Dickson shows how we can promote the gospel with our money, prayers, and how we should be ready to always provide an answer for the hope that is within us. This book has many cool analogies and anecdotes that will make you laugh and grimace in despair. If you read only one book about evangelism and mission this year, make it this one.

For more on John Dickson (who is a good friend) see the Centre for Public Christianity and he is Senior Minister at St. Andrews Roseville in Sydney.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nick Perrin responds to Judy Redman

Judy Redman is reading Nick Perrin's Thomas, the Other Gospel and offering some thoughts, comments, and reviews of the book as she works through it. Her posts so far focus on belief in Jesus in Thomas and speeches of Jesus and the canon in relation to Perrin and Perrin's interaction with April DeConick. Doug Chaplin chimes in with a response to Judy and Judy responds to Doug.

Here is Nick Perrin's response to the discussion:

This morning I was reading with interest Judy Redman’s blog comments about my book, Thomas: The Other Gospel (for which I am grateful), even as, earlier in the same morning I had just finished E. E. Popkes’s Das Menschenbild des Thomasevangeliums (WUNT 2007), which I am reviewing for CBQ. What a contrast. Indeed, it is hard to believe that how two students of Thomas can have such different takes. Redman seems impressed by April DeConick’s argument which traces Thomas’ sayings back to Jesus: Popkes is much less impressed. Tipping his hand in his introductory chapter, the latter writes: ‘Even if it is possible for the individual logia to have contained early stages of tradition, it would hardly be methodologically feasible to reconstruct the original text-from of Thomas’ (14-15). In fact, given the collection’s patent non-Jewish – even anti-Jewish – tenor, alongside its substantive dissimilarity to Q, ‘Thomas could not be employed as a plank in the reconstruction of an independently developing line of early Christianity’ (15). Popkes in fact goes on to argue for a basic unity of the Coptic text, its close ties to the Apocryphon of John, and its witness to a Gnosticism emerging no later than the second half of the second century. In terms of timeframe he ends up more or less where I end up, second half of second century, although the route by which he gets there is completely different. (I may finally be convinced by Popkes’s argument that Thomas is a Gnostic text after all.)

My point here is in not so much the proper dating of Thomas, but the reasons why Popkes and I tend to minimize the possibility of Thomas being a repository of the historical Jesus’ words – all in answer to Judy Redman’s question about my criticism of DeConick’s reconstruction of the Jesus tradition. Popkes’s entrée into the discussion is to point out that the un-Jewish and even anti-Jewish nature of Thomas makes it a priori unlikely that its sayings go back to Jesus or a very Jewish early Christianity. For Popkes, it isn’t just the well-known anti-Jewish logia in Thomas, it’s the individualizing tendency which permeates the collection and overwrites (on a redactional level) Jewish piety as a whole. He has a strong point here.

This is in some ways analogous to the point I want to make about Jesus’ immediate followers and the high likelihood of their commitment to correlating Jesus’ words and deeds. I take on board Redman’s point that Jesus’ likely gave the same stump speech multiple times. That Jesus had much of the Sermon on the Mount on file is quite possible – fair enough. But a good bit of the sayings materials in the canonical gospels is not presented as merely free-standing sermonic material. A good bit is presented as being issued in the context of historical situations.

Now DeConick seems to argue – like the first form critics of a hundred years ago -- that as a rule Jesus’ earliest followers were quite willing to sit loose to the historical context of Jesus’ sayings. However, given the current state of Jesus scholarship, this is a problematic stance. If the historical Jesus is to be understood in a Jewish context (which now just about every Jesus scholar writing today says we must do), then we have at least grounds for presuming that Jesus was not a sage espousing abstract, universally-valid truths but a Jewish-style prophet who issued his teachings in response to a particular context and with reference to specific addressees (the disciples, the priesthood, the crowds, etc.). He also presumably expected his closest followers to understand the relevance of context to his utterances. Such a prophet, I would offer, would also normally expect to have his words interpreted within his historically-specific context. That Jesus’ followers were eager (in their re-presentation of Jesus) to abstract Jesus’ words from his deeds means either that the Third Quest is simply wrong or that the disciples fundamentally betrayed their master. Neither of these paths seems very helpful.

I am happy with the possibility (although it is merely a speculative possibility – Thomas offers us nothing more than very speculative evidence here) that a free-floating collection of Jesus sayings circulated with the Jesus’ backstory fully in mind. Presumably, this backstory could be communicated alongside the sayings of Jesus. I am not willing to make the historically indefensible move of saying that Jesus’ earliest followers transmitted the words of Jesus without giving a darn about the context/backstory. That’s the move Bultmann made; that’s what DeConick seems to want to do. If this is also the move Judy Redman wants to make, then I think she too is running up the pretty steep hill of current Jesus scholarship consensus. It is eminently un-Jewish to separate a prophet’s words from his deeds; in the Jewish scriptures, the two are always mutually reinforcing.

Latest Issue of RTR

The latest issue of Reformed Theological Review includes:

Andrew G. Shead
"Is There a Musical Note in the Body? Cranmer on the Reformation of Music".

Stephen Rockwell
"Assurance as the Interpretive Key to Understanding the Message of 1 John"

Joe Mock
"Bullinger and Romans"

Andrew M. Bain
"Re-reading Scripture with the Latin Fathers"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Latest Issue of SBET

The new editor of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology is Dr. David Reimer of Edinburgh University. Also, the articles in the latest issue of SBET are:

Exile, Diaspora, and Old Testament Theology

Imputation in Pauline Theology: Christ’s Righteousness or a Justified Status?

Robert Moffat and Human Equality

Sanctification By Justification: The Forgotten Insight of Bavinck and Berkouwer on Progressive Sanctification

Stanley Grenz’s Relatedness and Relevancy to British Evangelicalism

Cultural Discipleship in a Time of God’s Patience

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gospel Audiences

Note this new book which continues the debate started by Richard Bauckham on the Gospels for All Christians, about whether the Gospels were written for "communities" or for wide distribution amongst Christians.

Edward W. Klink III (editor)
(LNTS; London: Continuum, 2010).
Note: You can read part of the book via the link.

Essays include:

Edward Klink
"Gospel Audience and Origin: The Current Debate"

Michael F. Bird
"Sectarian Gospels for Sectarian Christians? The Non-Canonical Gospels and Bauckham's The Gospels for All Christians"

Justin Marc Smith
"About Friends, by Friends, for Others: Author-Subject Relationships in Contemporary Greco-Roman Biographies"

Richard Bauckham
"Is There Patristic Counter-Evidence? A Response to Margaret Mitchell"

Craig L. Blomberg
"The Gospels for Specific Communities and All Christians"

Adele Reinhartz
"Gospel Audiences: Variations on a Theme"

Edward Klink
"Conclusion: The Origin and Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity"

My essay argues that appeals to the extra-canonical Gospels as a way of proving that all the Gospels were written for specific audiences does not hold water. I point out that the extra-canonical Gospels were probably reactions to the canonical Gospels in terms of supplementation, attempts to displace them, and strive to imitate their content and replicate their wide distribution. Furthermore, many of the extra-canonical Gospels were conducive to dissemination beyond their own original circle and were probably intended to circulate wider than a limited circle. The essay also includes some remarks about unity and diversity in early Christianity.

Another Soggy Fish Award

It's been a while since I've handed out an SFA (soggy fish award) for somebody who needs to be slapped in the face with a soggy fish, but this one now goes to Glenn Beck! (I should add that my wife's cousin Bobby recently appeared on his show as a legal immigrant to the USA who supported Beck's view on illegal immigration). Glenn Beck opposes churches who are into "social justice". Now if by "social justice" he meant the gospel of old liberalism, I could understand. But Beck seems to be just dead set against any church that is into social justice. CT points out that Beck recently recruited Jerry Falwell Jr. (Liberty University) and Peter Lillback (Westminster Seminary) to be on his show and to support his point of view that social justice is a bad thing. Now maybe I'm getting liberal in my old age (I do turn 36 this year), but I do recollect the words of our Lord as follows:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

So Dr. Glenn Beck (Yes, Liberty University gave an honorary doctorate to this Republican Mormon), this fish is for you!

So who are Tongues and Prophecy for?

As I prepare my sermon on 1 Corinthians 14 tomorrow, I'm intrigued by vv. 20-25 and exactly who is Tongues and Prophecy for? Are they for believers or unbelievers? The line of argumentation is less than clear:

22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?
24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,
25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you (ESV).

Probably the answer to this apparent contradiction is through the word "sign" (semeia). Notably the ESV probably gets it wrong by having "sign" twice in v. 22, since it only occurs in the first half of the verse in the Greek. Prophecy is not a "sign" for believers, but simply "for" believers. Garland offers some helpful comments in his BECNT commentary:

'In my view, “sign” has a double meaning in this context that is both negative and positive (cf. Grudem 1979; Fee 1987: 683). Glossolalia as a sign is to be taken in a negative sense with regard to unbelievers because it hardens them in their unbelief, as it did Israel in Isa. 28 (Rengstorf, TDNT 8:259; Sweet 1966–67: 244–45; Dunn 1975: 230–32; Grudem 1979: 390–91). It is a sign of alienation that will lead to judgment. On the other hand, glossolalia cannot be a negative sign for believers, because they are already believers. To Christians, speaking in tongues is a manifestation of the Spirit, though they may not understand what is said. Thiselton (2000: 1125) objects that tongues seem to have a negative effect on uninitiated Christians as well as on unbelievers. But Paul does not say that believers are driven away or hardened in their disobedience by witnessing someone speaking in tongues, only that they do not understand and consequently are not edified—a more neutral result.'

Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (650–651). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"The Intention of the Evangelists"

C. F. D. Moule wrote a very interesting piece in a collection of essays in honor of T. W. Manson in a book titled, rather plainly, New Testament Essays (Manchester University Press, 1959). I don't remember now how I became aware of the essay . . . perhaps in my research for the essay I'm writing on Paul and Matthew. While its content was not relevant to my essay's interest,  its argument is quite poignant especially in light of the discussions being had at least on this blog about the Historical Jesus. The essence of the essay is that the narratives of the four Gospels should be differentiated from the epistles of the NT because they are not strictly part of the "liturgy" of the church, but to the church's apologetic and outward evangelistic witness. Moule compares the Gospels to the narrative books of the OT:
At the time when the Gospels were being written and first used, the Church was well aware of a distinction between the "the Jesus of history" and "the Christ of faith" to use the modern cliches; and that, in so far as the Gospels were used in Christian worship at all (and we shall have to ask how far, after all, that was the case), they filled a place broadly comparable to the narrative parts of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Synagogue, as the historical background against which the interpretative writings might be read (165).
He contents that the Gospels as narratives would not have their most proper place in the context of worship, but rather in the support of the worship life of the church as its foundation story. Moule is answering the widespread view in his day that the Gospels cannot be viewed as reliable history since it was thought they represented only religious convictions and were infected beyond hope with the interpretation of the church; and thus the Gospels belong rather to liturgy and to "high theology" than to history. Their value as history was [still is] suspect. Moule admits that this dichotomy is a false one; these are not devoid of value-judgments or eccelesiastical interests. Nevertheless, he beleives that the Gospels, when read on their own terms, reveal, as it has been said, "the past of Jesus".  "The Christians knew the difference between the two--between the pre-resurrection situation and the post-resurrection situation--and that their aim was to try to tell faithfully the story of how the former led to the latter". Their intentions, where they have been discerned, constrained the Evangelists to keep embellishments and interpretive glosses to the barest minimum. Moule argued that the Gospels as narrative 
Remain in some sense distinguishable from theological deductions, form the preaching of the way of salvation, and from adoration. It is only one ingredient in worship; and its very nature demands that, so far as possible, it be kept in this distinguishable condition and not overlaid by interpretation.
One more quotation about the nature of the Gospels is significant in view of  discussion of the necessity of historical study of Jesus:
And--another point--its purpose accordingly was not only or even chiefly to be sued for worship. Still more, it was to equip Christians with a knowledge of their origins, for use in evangelism and apologetic. The real core of worship was the experience of the risen Christ within the Christian church through the participation in the Spirit [this sounds like Bonhoeffer -- forgive me I'm reading Joel Lawrence's book]. But [heres the important bit] Christians knew well that if they lost sight of the story behind that experience their worship would be like a house built on sand; and that if they preached salvation without the story of how it came they would be powerless as evangelists; and that if they could not explain how they came to stand where they did, they would be failing to give a reason for their hope.
It is the task of the church to read these narratives of Jesus historically so as not to fall into the same pit. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review of Colossians/Philemon

David Schrock of the blog Via Emmaus reviews my Colossians/Philemon commentary in the NCCS series over at TGC Reviews. Its a very positive review (which is good since it's the first one) and I probably owe David a coke for his kind words.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Interview with Lynn Cohick on Ephesians

Below I talk to Lynn Cohick (Wheaton College) about her newly published commentary on Ephesians in the New Covenant Commentary Series.

1. What is your take on the provenance and purpose of Ephesians?

a. provenance: although “to the Ephesians” is not found in some ancient manuscripts, I argue that the apostle Paul is the author and is writing to believers who lived in Ephesus and the towns orbiting Ephesus. Relative to the overall size of the commentary, I spend a fair bit of time reviewing the authorship arguments so that the reader might draw their own informed conclusion.

b. Paul’s purpose in writing Ephesians (while imprisoned in Rome) is not as easily discerned as, say, his reasons for writing to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians. However, his burden to challenge the Ephesians to act on their new life in Christ, as well as his concern that the churches embrace fully the unity that is theirs in Christ, rings from its pages.

2. What is the central message of Ephesians?

Ephesians’ message is two-fold: it presents God’s mysterious, marvelous plan of reconciling all people to himself through the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it elaborates on how such a plan should be and can be experienced in the Church.

3. How do you interpret the household code of Ephesians 5?

The short answer is: very carefully J. Actually I spend quite a bit of time in the commentary establishing Paul’s comments in context, looking at the assumptions of the honor/shame culture and its beliefs of social and gender hierarchy. I suggest that the gospel message weakens the foundations of this hierarchy. For example, I highlight the revolutionary move made by Paul (and also Peter in 1 Peter 2) in addressing slaves directly – this was not done in Greco-Roman writings. Moreover, Paul challenges slave owners with the knowledge that God shows no favoritism, and thus will not look upon them more highly because they have a more exalted social status. So while Paul does not suggest directly the abolition of slavery, he describes the responsibilities of the owner in such a way that if lived out fully in the gospel, would cause the demise of the institution of slavery.

In Paul’s day, wives were viewed as inferior to their husbands, and thus they should properly submit to them. Submission implied an inferior social status. I should note parenthetically that everyone, man or woman was to submit to another person, for example their patron, or a government representative. Thus a male slave or a freedman submitted to his female owner or patroness. So in and of itself, submission was something everyone did at some level; the key was to make sure that you were submitting properly to the proper person.

Thus Paul’s injunction for wives to submit to their husbands was par for the course; what is astounding is Paul’s suggestion that husbands love their wives. We do not see this expressed prescriptively in Greco-Roman or Jewish literature, although we do see endearing epitaphs written by husbands about their deceased wives. Even more, I suggest (following G. Dawes, 1998) that Paul hints at reciprocity when he states that a husband should see his wife as his own body. Is the reverse also true, that a wife should see her husband’s body as her own? If so, then mutuality in marriage seems to be the direction Paul is heading. A further pointer in this direction is Paul’s insistence on “the two become one flesh.” The mystery of the oneness of Christ and his church is seen here, but Paul also insists in 2:14 that in Christ the Jew and Gentile also become one. The gospel breaks down the dividing walls of social hierarchy and division; the two entities remain distinct, but united as social equals in Christ.

4. What should we make of the references to "spiritual warfare" in Ephesians 6?

Answering this question presupposes other questions, including what was Paul’s view of the spiritual world, and do we need to embrace that view (if it is different than our own). Today it is popular, and not without warrant, to interpret the concept of spiritual warfare in terms of multinational corporations and globalized economies. Such modern entities are related to the imperial structure of the Roman Empire of Paul’s day. This position is helpful in alerting modern readers to aspects of evil that transcend personal sins, and help the church today address materialism, racism, and political corruption. However, such a position can lead to a vision of the church as a new, independent incarnation of Christ, rather than understanding the church as the body whose necessary head is Christ. Additionally, this position tends to see the armor of God as equipping the church for offensive warfare; however, Paul’s language in my reading suggests a defensive posture. Finally, this position tends to minimize the individual’s responsibility in taking up his/her armor. While it is certainly true that Paul stresses the church community throughout Ephesians (and many other letters), he also focuses on each individual’s responsibility to walk in those good works God has prepared, and to put on the new self (4:24).

5. What can Christians gain by reading and studying Ephesians today?

Often the western Christian leans towards individualism – Ephesians stresses our corporate identity in Christ. Coupled with this is a robust portrayal of the power that the unified Body of Christ presents to the world (as well as to the spiritual powers and principalities). Paul emphasizes that God in His wisdom has established a new people empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, Ephesians pulls together what often has been pushed apart, namely one’s salvation and subsequent life of faith and good deeds. Paul stresses God’s grace is calling believers, not for the sake of their souls alone, but because He has work for them to do in living the gospel light in a dark world. Paul connects theology and ethics, for the goal of theology is an upright life overflowing with wisdom and charity.

6. What is your favourite part of Ephesians?

This is like asking which of my children do I like the best – unfair question! I enjoy the exuberance of Paul’s language, the beauty with which he described God’s love in redeeming believers through Christ. I like the soaring vision of what believers can rightfully claim as their birthright in Christ, and the possibility laid out of great joy and godly freedom in Christ, walking in the Spirit.

7. What other works like commentaries or monographs on Ephesians did you find useful?

Peter T O’Brien’s commentary in the Pillar NT series (Eerdmans, 1999) as well as Harold Hoehner’s commentary (Baker Academic, 2002) were quite useful.

Two works were very helpful in sorting through authorship issues: Terry Wilder’s work on pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity (University Press of America, 2004) and Kent Clarke’s essay “The Problem of Pseudonymity in Biblical Literature and Its Implications for Canon Formation (The Canon Debate, edited by Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, 2002)

Useful for understanding Paul’s imprisonment were Richard J. Cassidy’s Paul in Chains (Crossroads, 2001), Brian Rapske’s The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody (Eerdmans, 1994) and Craig Wansink’s Chained in Christ (Sheffield Academic, 1996).

8. What projects are you working on in the future?

I am currently working on a Philippians commentary for a new Zondervan series, Regula Fidei. And I will be co-authoring with one of my colleagues at Wheaton College a book on Christian women in the second through sixth centuries.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Notice: Lawrence, Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer:: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)Joel Lawrence
New York, London: T & T Clark, 2010

Truth be told, Joel Lawrence is one of my best friends. He and his wife Myndi have been significant partners with Karla and I for a decade now. Joel and I both graduated from Dallas Seminary [although we only became acquainted at the very end of our ThM years] and we both worked on an MPhil and PhD at Cambridge at the very same time [2001-2005/6].  Joel and I once lived in a single room together for two months will attending a Goehte Institute course in Prien am Chimsee in southeastern Germany. So I can hardly be seen as an objective reader of his new book on Bonhoeffer. Nevertheless, I can promise that the book is a result of an intensive study over the last ten years beginning in his Masters work in Cambridge. Joel did his thesis on Bonhoeffer. I can remember many times discussing Bonhoeffer over a beer and a pipe in some pub in Cambridge.

There is a resurgence of late in interest in Bonhoeffer. One can point, for example, to the very recent biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy published by Eric Metazas. Joel's book on Bonhoeffer provides a useful introduction to his thought. The book is both accessible and brief. But its brevity and accessibility should not be confused for elementary or unsophisticated; Joel's work is a serious engagement with the challenges of interpreting Bonhoeffer. Because Bonhoeffer remains in many ways an enigma given that both this life and theological work were cut short by his death at the hands of the Nazis, his theological outlook can be difficult to ascertain. What's more, as Joel puts it,
Because of the nature of his theology and the fact that he died young before he had the opportunity to answer the questions he raised, one can make Bonhoeffer say just about anything one wants (9).
Joel attempts to assist an interested reader of Bonhoeffer in sorting out his thought by rooting in his historical and theological context and by integrating the various  strands of Bonhoeffer's thought. Joel identifies three fundamental themes of Bonhoeffer's work: Christ, the Church and the world. Joel uses these to assist the reader in keeping the "big picture" as they work with a particular portion of Bonhoeffer's writings. Working from back to front historically, Joel shows in the chapters of his book that the questions Bonhoeffer raised in his letters from prison were the outgrowth of his earlier seeds of thought. Joel is adamant that one must read Bonhoeffer's work comprehensively always taking into account the corpus of his ideas. He cautions readers of Bonhoeffer to appreciate the unfinished nature of Bonhoeffer's thought espeically in his prision letters. He admonishes readers to avoid  ripping sound bites out of his writings to prop up one's particular pet theological idea. Joel says, "There can be no 'cheap' readinds of Bonhoeffer, only 'costly' readings" (112).

Joel concludes the book with a chapter on the continued significance of Bonhoeffer for the 21st century suggesting that Bonhoeffer has a prophetic voice to us through the themes of Christian worldiness, the suffering of God and religionless Christianity.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A book every university student should read

I'm going to spend eight weeks through the months of June and July taking a small group of college students through a book on discipleship. These are students we've identified in the ministry who have leadership potential. My goal is to call them into deeper level of followership. In preparation I've been thinking about which text would be best for the study. So I'll pose it to you and see what you think. Simply asked:
What do you think is one (or two) book(s) every university student should read?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Latest TynBul

The latest issue of Tyndale Bulletin 61.1 (2010) includes:

Larry Hurtado
The Origins of Jesus-Devotion: A Response to Crispin Fletcher-Louis

A rather robust counter-response to Fletcher-Louis by Hurtado. I confess that I was sceptical of Fletcher-Louis' criticism of Hurtado as teaching a three-stage christological development. Hurtado does not suffer fools or theologians gladly.

Jonathan Moo
Continuity, Discontinuity, and Hope: The Contribution of New Testament: The Contribution of New Testament Eschatology to a Distinctively Christian Environmental Ethos

I heard this paper at the Tyndale Fellowship and it was a treat. Highlight of the essay is the discussion on 2 Peter 3 which is the anti-green text in the NT (why save the planet if it is only going to be destroyed one day any way?). Moo contends that in 2 Pet. 3.7 the fire is cleansing rather than destructive for the created order. He writes: "We are left with the cataclysmic fire of God's judgement, but its function in the context is primarily to lay the earth bare before God, to reveal it as it is and to leave human beings and their works without any place to hide" (34).

John C. Poirier
'Theological Interpretation' and its Contradistinctions

Here Jack Poirier continues his critique theological/canonical interpretation (see his article 'The Canonical Approach to the Idea of Scripture,' ExpT 116.11 [2005]: 366-70) and he responds by saying that historical-criticism is indeed capable of being theologically grounded. Evidently his hermeneutics are definitely not derived from the KJV (i.e. Kevin J. Vanhoozer)!

Erkki Koskenniemi
Forgotten Guardians and Matthew 18:10

Back in seminary I did an exegesis paper on Matt. 18.10 and found it fascinating. In fact, I was discussing this passage with a student only last night! I don't think it refers to 'guardian angels' but to angelic beings who are ready to unleash a barrel of apocalyptic whoop-ass on anyone found messing with new converts to faith in Christ. In Matthew the role of angels is normally limited to acts of judgment. For Koskenniemi, this verse refers to a group of very mighty angels (see Tob. 12.15) who pay special attention to those hurting children in order to punish them after their death.

Peter Head
Editio Critica Maior: An Introduction and Assessment

Every exegete should read this short summary and evaluation of the ECM since it is the new thing in text critical studies. Strange coincidence again, tomorrow I'm taking my students through the ECM edition of Jude, esp. Jude 5.

Music in the Wee Free

In Scotland I was a member of a lovely Free Church of Scotland congregation in Dingwall. Friendly people, good preaching, mission focused, genuine care for the community, and very austere worship. One of the distinctive elements of the Free Church of Scotland is that they mandate the exclusive use of unaccompanied psalmody in worship. Singing the Psalms acapella can be very lovely, moving, serene, and stirring; but it can also be dull, painful, and leave you positively catatonic. There is a move afoot in the FCS to allow congregations to use musical instruments and to sing hymns and choruses in their public worship. There is an interesting article about the debate going on in the FCS available here. Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College is pushing for this change (note that every third man in Scotland is called either Donald MacLeod or Donald MacDonald) and he's right. So with a mix of seriousness and comedy, I have to make several criticisms of my former denomination:

1. It is a very strange feeling of acute irony to sing psalms about worshipping God with a tambourine, a harp, and a lyre (e.g., Psa 33.2-3; 57.8; 71.22; 81.2; 92.3; 108.2; 144.9; 150.3-5) in a denomination that would efficiently excommunicate you if you ever did attempt to worship God with a tambourine, harp, or lyre.

2. In my Colossians commentary, I offered an alternative translation of Col. 3.16 for the benefit of the die hard traditionalists in the FCS which runs: "singing psalms, unmusical psalms, and even more psalms". Afterall, why let a biblical text get in the way of a bad theology of worship?

3. Worshipping God like it's 1843 is great if you are actually living in the year 1843, but probably not so great for those of us living in 2010.

4. Singing the songs of Israel's experience keeps us deeply rooted in the historical worship experience of God's people and even the kind of worship that Jesus celebrated. However, it would also be nice to sing songs, hymns, and choruses as a New Testament believer once in a while.

5. The Rev. Jock McPlop of Falkirk FC in Ayershire has just announced that his congregation will be boycotting the Wedding Supper of the Lamb on the grounds that new age songs will be used in the ceremony (Rev 15.3).

6. Probably the biggest problem is that the FCS has been dominated by a Hebridean Church culture which has been confused with Christianity itself. The Hebridean way of "being church" is assumed to be canonical, authoritative, normative, and binding on all Christians in all times and in all places (even in Africa where the same worship principles are imposed by FCS churches planted there).

7. In the aforementioned article, the author laments that he'll be very disappointed if the psalm singing disappears since it'll be a cultural loss to Scotland and Britain. The problem is that no-one will be forced to do away with psalm singing and other denominations like the Free Presbyterians (very serious people) and the Associated Presbyterians (slightly serious people) will no doubt keep it too. I'm not concerned about psalm singing disappearing as much as I'm concerned with the FCS disappearing unless they make headway among young people in Scotland. Stephen Holmes, a theology lecturer at St. Andrews University, once noted that Scotland is filled with churches that are theologically orthodox but spiritually lifeless. I've spoken to FC ministers in university cities who have huge problems attracting Christians who come to Scotland for study because the worship is just so different or even archaic compared to what they are used to. So unless the FCS broadens it's acceptable practices of worship, I'm afraid that there won't be a FCS in 30 years time.

Wisdom from the Bishop

Today at BCQ we had a visit by the Rt. Rev. Peter Brain bishop of Armidale. It included a meeting with the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion in Brisbane and a great little talk to students about ministry in the Armidale region of Australia. Bishop Brain had some really cool one-liners:

"Before you talk to the people about God, you need to talk to God about the people".

"The way that you treat the Bible on Sunday is how the people in your congregation will treat the Bible during the rest of the week".

C.H. Dodd on Unity and Diversity in the NT

In a little classic, but sadly now neglected book, C.H. Dodd in The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, said this about unity and diversity in the NT:

"In this survey of the apostolic Preaching and its developments two facts have come into view: first, that within the New Testament there is an immense range of variety in the interpretation that is given to the kerygma; and, secondly, that in all such interpretation the essential elements of the original kerygma are steadily kept in view. Indeed, the farther we move from the primitive modes of expression, the more decisively is the central purport of it affirmed. With all the diversity of the New Testament writings, they form a unity in their proclamation of the one Gospel. At a former stage of criticism, the study of the New testament was vitalized by the recognition of the individuality of its various writers and their teachings. The result of this analytical stage of criticism are of permanent value. With these results in mind, we can now do fuller justice to the rich many-sidedness of the central Gospel which is expressed in the whole. The present task of New Testament criticism, as it seems to me, is the task of synthesis. Perhaps, however, 'synthesis' is not quite the right word, for it may imply the creation of unity out of originally diverse elements. But in the New Testament the unity is original. We have explore, by a comparative study of the several writings, the common faith which evoked them, and which they aimed at interpreting to an ever-widening public."

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Book Notice: Thiselton, The Living Paul

The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle's Life and ThoughtAnthony C. Thiselton
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009

When I saw this title in the back of the recent issue of BBR I was very excited to get my hands on it. Those who know Thiselton are aware of his significant scholarship and his magisterial commentary on 1 Corinthians. When a scholar like this writes an introduction to Paul you are compelled to look at it. What's more, reading the blurb by the late Graham Stanton only heightened my interest: "In the hands of a master scholar and teacher, Paul's letters come alive for a wide readership. This is an outstanding, reliable guide to the great apostle's life and thought". 

Perhaps my expectations were set to high by the time the volume arrived at my door; truth is, I am not that impressed with it. I suppose the strength of the book is that it attempts to be comprehensive in a mere 162 pages of text. The seventeen brief chapters cover Paul's life and apostolic career as well as major theological themes: christology, theology, sin, the Holy Spirit, Justification and the law, the church, ministry, the sacraments, ethics and eschatology. In addition there is a chapter on postmodernism and Paul and two introductory chapters on obstacles to studying Paul. 

It's strength, however, is also its weakness. The discussions in my view feel quite truncated. While I appreciate a volume that seeks to introduce Paul comprehensively in brief, one feels that the discussions are insufficient. For example in a chapter on Jesus Christ in Paul, Thiselton does not discuss the term "Christ" or the broader issue of messianism. I felt several times that the discussion were incomplete or lacked sufficient transitions and conclusions. It seems as if in the quest for brevity key sentences were omitted. At times it seemed that Thiselton merely listed positions without much analysis. This is true of his section on "The law and faith" in a chapter titled "Justification and the law". Thiselton mentions abruptly a debate that James Dunn and Seyoon Kim are having about the nature of the 'works of the law'. After mentioning their differing views, Thiselton adds a quotation from N.T. Wright. There is no analysis of the three positions or how one is to relate Wright with the two others. This discussion is followed by what seems like a non-sequitor about 'gifts of the spirit' (100). The topic is crucial for Paul, but one leaves the page and one half without any better understanding of what Paul thinks about the relationship between law and faith. 

I'm always keeping my eye out for new introductions to Paul. Anthony Thiselton's book does provide discussions on a wide-ranging set of Pauline ideas, but I think it would confuse students more than help them. Conciseness is a characteristic of an excellent introduction, but The Living Paul is more elliptic than it is concise.