Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reading Odes of Solomon

Here is a photo of me reading Michael Lattke's erudite work The Odes of Solomon in the Hermeneia series at Michael Lattke's apartment. Great book, excellent depth of learning, many helpful excursuses.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

N.T. Wright going to St. Andrews Uni

In a surprise move, N.T. Wright will be leaving his position as Bishop of Durham and will be taking up a post as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University in Scotland. See the reports at the Diocese of Durham website and St. Andrews Uni website.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lebanese Night

Another Chris de Burgh song made me think and pray, this time for Lebanon.

Pray especially for Lebanon's reconstruction after the damage done in 2006 by the IDF; for political stability and for the end of interference from outsiders; and esp. for the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (including the visit of Paul Beasley-Murray).

Calvin on the Lord's Supper

I'm preparing to preach on 1 Cor 10.14-22 tomorrow so I thought I'd re-read over Calvin's Shorter Treatise on the Lord's Supper. On the bread and the wine Calvin states:

"We begin now to enter on the question so much debated, both anciently and at the present time—how we are to understand the words in which the bread is called the body of Christ, and the wine his blood. This may be disposed of without much difficulty, if we carefully observe the principle which I lately laid down, viz., that all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all. That being fixed, we will confess, without doubt, that to deny that a true communication of Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Supper, is to render this holy sacrament frivolous and useless—an execrable blasphemy unfit to be listened to."

In sum, no real presence = no real benefit!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chris de Burgh

I enjoy Chris de Burgh's music since his lyrics actually tell a story rather than just repeat stupid one liners over and over again like "I wanna get freaky with you" or "We've only got four minutes to save the world" or even "The boy does nothing, he does nothing" with a sick washing machine thumping in the background. Although he's apparently Catholic some of his songs have an anti-God ring to them or at least voice a complaint to God (e.g. A Spanish Train which is anti-theodicy). In the song Crusader it depicts the futility of religious violence (though historically very, very bad since Richard never actually took Jerusalem) and is good to listen to/watch:

"Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"

Recently I was driving on a highway in upper Wisconsin on a weekend away with the wife. Plastered on the side of a barn visible to everyone that drove by was the oft quoted evangelical proverb "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin". I have been reflecting on this idea for a while now and the more I think about it the more I realize it is by and large the basis of the evangelical community's relationship to the world. It  of course seems to capture the essential ideas of God's love for his fallen world, but as I have rolled this over in my mind I'm growing in my doubt about whether this is really a biblical concept for two reasons. 

First, the concept inappropriately separates deeds from person. The Bible seems to rather point the opposite direction: our deeds are  a reflection of who we are.  I find it all to common that people rationalize  deviant behavior with the thought "this isn't  really me".  My retort is: "No this is you. And until you embrace that fact there can be no growth". In my view, the mirror reflection of one's identity is one's deeds. 

Second, the perspective seems to undermine the radical message of Paul's Gospel of God's love for sinners. This is particularly pointed when I consider Romans 5:8-10:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
These verses suggest to me that God doesn't divide between person and deeds. God loves sinners full stop.

Do you think this oft quoted evangelical proverb is biblical?

Love is An Orientation

Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay CommunityAndrew Marin's book, Love is an Orientation sets out to offer an alterative, a third way, in evangelical outreach to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community [GLBT]. After over a decade of being immersed in the community in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, Marin seeks in his book to challenge and then assist evangelicals to raise the conversation with the gay community. Marin, a self-professed conservative, evangelical heterosexual, whose nickname among the gays is “Straighty Straigtherson” has provided a blueprint for evangelism and witness not only among the GLBT community, but also more broadly, in the 21st century North American culture.

The book sets out to consider a number of pertinent topics such as: (1) the psychology of sexual identity, (2) the social challenge of being gay in a straight culture, (3) the history of evangelical-GLBT dialogue and the current state of affairs, (4) the question of how homosexuality has shaped different people’s interpretation of Scripture, and (5) distinctive commitments to help evangelicals and the GLBT community work together toward more constructive dialogue about the love of God.

Combining two lines from different parts of the book allows me to express what I think is one of the book’s major contributions. First, Marin suggests a “new definition” of love, although one might quibble with the adjective “new” in view of John 13, as this: “tangible and measurable expressions of one’s unconditional behaviors toward another” (108). He expounds on this a bit more by saying “This type of love says that no matter who you are, no matter what you do or no matter what you say I have your back, and I refuse to give up—whether or not there’s ‘change’—because my Father will never give up on me” (109). The outcome of this kind of love for Marin in practice is seen in the second quote. Marin says the way forward for Evangelical Christians is: “From my experience that other way is to present themselves as an unforced open-ended option through sustainable relationships, and then accept whatever happens with their new understanding of what it means to love” (154).

There are several other topics in the book that Marin deals with that are worthy of consideration and thought. Perhaps Brian McClaren’s foreword sums it up best: “When you turn the last page some of you will be disappointed that Andrew didn’t go far further. And others of you will be concerned that Andrew went too far” (14). From my point of view, Marin succeeded in sticking his finger in both the eyes of the Evangelical Christian and the GLBT communities. And by doing so has made an important contribution to the very difficult and yet ever so crucial issue for the Evangelical church.

Four Gospels as One Book

I liked this quote from David Parker's An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts:

"The Four Gospels, the Tetraevangelium, is the book of Christianity - not four books, but one codex. Such manuscripts comprise more than a half of all continuous-text Greek copies of New Testament writings. In every ancient language of Christianity, copies of the Gospels predominate among what survives. And in case this preoccupation is seen as an ancient phenomenon, be it noted that the Gospels in these ancient languages are traditionally far better served with editions and results of research than is any other part of the New Testament. Moreover, more editions of the Gospel manuscripts have been published, in facsimile or in some other form" (p. 311).

One thing I like about the Book of Common Prayer is that every day has a Gospel reading. Though Protestants, esp. those of the evangelical and reformed variety, have a special affection for Paul, that should never interfere with the special and devout attention that Christians have for the story and teaching of Jesus.

Wheaton Wright Conference and T4G Conference

It was inevitably that someone was going to make a juxtaposition of the recent conferences at Wheaton engaging with N.T. Wright and Together for the Gospel in Louisville on the unadjusted Gospel. Over at CT, Brian McCracken has an article on the Wrightians and the Neo-Reformed. Sadly, I'm not so optimistic about a possible rapprochement or unity between the two. The differences are just too radical and run deep. In fact, both have some defficiencies at the ecclesial level. For instance, I cannot buy into Wright's "nothing ever justifies schism" as long as I live believe in the marks of the Church like apostolicity and holiness, but neither can I digest the ecclessiological solipsism of T4G as long as John 17 remains in the canon. So don't expect a joint conference any time soon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thinks to Click

Scot McKnight has a great image to ponder about being pro-life. Doug Moo tweets the meaning of justification by faith (do read!). Ardel Caneday has a new blog on Greek exegesis. Tom Schreiner is replacing John Piper as a plenary speaker at ETS at Atlanta. Mike Koke has a good round up of stuff on the Secret Gospel of Mark. Michael Jensen has 10 observations about the New Testament. And Bishop Mouneer Anis calls for a new Anglican Communion Structure.

Peter/Mark of Papias versus Peter/Glaucias of Basilides

The testimony of Papias that the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark out of Peter’s anecdotes is recorded by Eusebius (HE 3.39.15):

And the elder used to say this: ‘Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterwards, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord’s sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or take any false statement in them’ (trans. M. Holmes).

Some argue (e.g., Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8, 23) that the appeal to Mark as the interpreter of Peter is a deliberate rejoinder to the claim by some Gnostic figures that Basilides was taught by Glaucias the interpreter of Peter (Clement, Strom. 7.106). However, I would point out: (a) Imitation is a great means of admiration, but hardly an effective form of refutation. (b) The Peter-Glaucias tradition itself may have been influenced by the Peter-Mark tradition rather than vice-versa. As Birger A. Pearson (‘Basilides the Gnostic’, in A Companion to Second-Centry Christian ‘Heretics’, eds. A. Marjanen and P. Luomanen Leiden: Brill, 2005, 4) writes: ‘The Peter-Glaukias tradition (whoever Glaukias was) can possibly be seen as a Basilidian counter to the Peter-Mark tradition current in Alexandrian ecclesiastical circles’. (c) The aetiological stories of the genetic relationship between ‘heretics’ recorded by the Heresiologists are chiefly polemical rather than historical (though this should be assessed case by case). (d) Irenaeus connects Basilides with a different Gnostic genealogy that is traced through Simon Magus and Menander (Adv. Haer. 1.24.3-7), while the Basilidians themselves laid claim to the teachings of the apostle Matthias (Clement, Strom. 7.108; Hippolytus, Haer. 7.20.1). So I doubt that the Peter-Mark tradition was derived (or contrived) as a response to the Peter-Glaucias tradition found in Basilidian circles.

On Books

I just received a pile of reviews of my book Introducing Paul from IVP-USA. It is always fun to read reviews of your own work and to see what people remember, like, and dislike about it. Generally the reviews are rather good, but sometimes highly amusing. My favourite review is there one where I'm called a "Scottish lecturer in New Testament". Sadly, I shall have to work on my Scottish accent a bit more, perhaps a Shrek marathon will help with Mike Myers as my voice coach. One review, that was quite positive and written from a conservative Reformed perspective had these two detractions: "Bird appears to give preference to a biblical-theological approach to the Scriptures at the expense of systematic theology" and "Bird is less than precise in some of his theological formulations. He fails to explicitly affirm a covenant of works that Adam failed to keep and that Jesus fulfilled as the Last Adam". I have to confess to being guilty as charged on those points, though the first criticism probably explains the existence of the second one! Thank you to all those who the took time to read and comment, pro and con, on that little Paul book.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Latest Issue of Themelios

The latest issue of Themelios from the Gospel Coalition is on-line. In it I heartily recommend the review essay by my good friend Nijay Gupta on "New Commentaries on Colossians: A Survey of Approaches, An Analysis of Trends, and the State of Research".

D.A. Carson on the "Trial of Biblical Studies"

Thanks to Andy Naselli, available on-line is D.A. Carson's popular level essay, "The Trials of Biblical Studies" where he warns of several potential pitfalls in doing biblical studies: Integration, Work, Pride, Manipulation of Scripture, and Priorities. The section on pride is definitely worth the read. The biggest temptation for seminary students and biblical scholars is to take pride in their career of advanced learning as setting them apart from others. I try to offset this temptation with my daily citation of 2 Cor 4.5 and Rom. 12.3, though others will determine if that rote citation is effective in my own case. Carson's essay finishes with a call for humility in the study of the Bible. All those engrossed in biblical studies should read this short essay!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Canonical Jesus vs. Historical Jesus

The canonical Jesus is making a come back while interest in waning in the historical Jesus. Evidence of this (1) The Wright vs. Hays engagement at the 2008 SBL in Boston and the 2010 Theology conference in Wheaton; (2) Scot McKnight's recent article in Christianity Today with responses by N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, and Darrell Bock; and (3) Dale C. Allison writing two books on Jesus that reshape his understanding of the Jesus Quest. I intend to address this issue more thoroughly in a couple of years when I get into my New Covenant Theology, but let me make two observations:

1. We still need the historical. Today I read John Piper's T4G sermon, which all in all ain't a bad exposition, especially if understood as a Reformed theological reading of Luke 18:9-14 and a forthright attempt to find unity between Paul and Jesus. However, there are elements of Piper's sermon that left me gobsmacked. Consider the following remarks from Piper:

So I am starting where R. C. Sproul left off in his message to us yesterday. And I consider this message as an exegetical extension and defense of what he said: “If you don’t have imputation, you don’t have sola fide (faith alone), and if you don’t have sola fide, you don’t have the gospel.” And my goal is to argue that Jesus preached the gospel of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law, understood as the imputation of his righteousness through faith alone.

First, a word about method. One of my goals in this message is to fire you up for serious lifelong meditation on the four Gospels as they stand. I am so jealous that you not get sidetracked into peeling away the so-called layers of tradition to find the so-called historical Jesus. I want you to feel the truth and depth and wonder that awaits your lifelong labor of love in pondering the inexhaustible portraits of Jesus given us by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I confess that I am primary a Gospels scholar and not a Paul-man. I've done work on the historical Jesus, the Gospel of Mark in particular, and made forays into Paul as well in light of those studies. So I have to confess that it defies a straight forward reading of the Gospels to say that Jesus preached his own imputed righteousness. I don't think Paul preached imputation if Acts is anything to go by. At best, imputation is theological corollary of Paul's understanding of union with Christ (that's Leon Morris talking!). To be honest, even if Jesus did preach the imputation of his own righteousness, I doubt that anyone until John Calvin would have had the foggiest idea what he was talking about. This reading emerges if one believes or (more properly) practices the view that the context in which Jesus is best understood is 16th century Geneva or 19th century Princeton. I submit that the WCF and LBC 1689 are not the contexts for understanding Jesus' proclamation of a gospel. Rather, I would say that Isa. 52.7, Ps. Sol. 11.1-7, 4Q521, and the Priene inscription help us to understand what Jesus and the Evangelists meant by "gospel". When I read Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:16-21; Matt 24:14, imputation does not come to my mind or to the the mind of any ancient Gospel commentary that I know of. Jesus' "gospel" is Isaianic not Calvinistic (and this is coming from a Calvinist!). What is more, Piper rules out of bounds the tools that would falsify what he has said. Piper is right, the church's Jesus is not the Jesus of tradition-history (i.e., excavated beneath layers of "faith and theology" and devoid of anything of interest to Christians), but the (historical) Jesus that should interest us is the one who make sense in the context of first century Palestine. I've made similar warnings in my article "The Perils of Modernizing Jesus and the Crisis of Not Contemporizing the Christ," EQ 78 (2006). If Piper's Jesus is canonical, then Matthew becomes a Gospel of straw! I would also point out that in the history of the church you'll be hard pressed to show how the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ was part of the universal church's confession of faith (yes I know about Epistle of Diognetus 9.1-5, but I don't think it's saying quite as much as some folks would like it to say). Piper's Jesus, on this point about imputation, is a construct conducive to a particular hermeneutical community, but it is neither canonical, nor catholic, nor historical. Piper is setting off on a noble task of trying to show the parity of Jesus and Paul when it's all the rage to drive them apart. The problem is that rather than showing that Paul was a faithful follower of Jesus, he seems to make Jesus an advocate of a theologically freighted reading of Paul (for a better effort on this task I recommend the work of David Wenham).

2. Even canonical folks need the historical. Before we abandon the historical for the canonical (and feel free to make canonical an adjective to any subject that you like - Jesus, Paul, early church, etc.), everyone still pleads the historical at some point. Note that Luke Timothy Johnson was advocating the canonical Jesus over and against the historical Jesus long before it became fashionable again. However, I would point out that Johnson is very set on a historical reading of Luke-Acts. He rejects attempts to loosen the hypen between Luke-Acts when it is claimed that the two where never really read together in the early church. In the reception of Acts, Acts was ordinarily read with the Apostolos (Catholic Letters) and the Praxaapostolic (Paul, Catholic Leters, Acts). But Johnson appeals to the authorial intent and original audience of Luke-Acts that read them together, that is, he concerns himself with the historical situation of the original composition and dissemination of Luke-Acts.

In sum, the relationship between the canonical, historical, and catholic (= reception-history) Jesus is a future area of research for some brave soul!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

TFG Sessions

Together for the Gospel Sessions are also available on-line. Lig Duncan's sermon looks interesting, esp. if he exposited the Epistle to Diognetus.

LST's insight on-line

The London School of Theology rag Insight is now out with its latest addition that includes an article by Steve Walton on "Luke the Roman Empire and Politics".

Wheaton Theology Conference On-line

I just discovered much to my joy that the sessions from the Wheaton Theology Conference on N.T. Wright is available for viewing on-line. See here to start watching. I just finished watching Kevin Vanhoozer's paper on "Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation: The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology". Vanhoozer proposes bridging the gap between tradition Protestant dogmatics and the NPP through several mechanisms such as viewing Jesus' obedience as his covenantal relatedness, by advocating a form of "incorporated righteousness" so that God's declaration is to declare someone as a man in Christ, and seeing adoption as a means of bringing together ecclesiology and soteriology (all thoughts near and dear to my heart in SROG). Vanhoozer was clear, witty, and engaging as ever - classic Vanhoozer. Some of my undergraduate students might want to watch this in particular since they've just finished writing an essay on Vanhoozer's book The Drama of Doctrine where they had to answer, "To what extent does the subject of theology determine the method?".

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This time ... I mean it!

Okay folks. As a Reformed Evangelical I am naturally concerned about the state of the Reformed Evangelical church all over the world. But lately I have spent too much time offering my commentary on debates in conservative circles in the USA. I've tried to be a peace maker and a defender of those who are in my opinion wrongly criticized over secondary issues. But truth be told, it is bringing out the worst side of my personality when I'm in defensive mode and I find myself engaging too polemically when it is me or my friends who are the subject of discussion. I want to be known for what I'm for, not who I am against. Moreover, I'm also outside of the American context which could mean on the one hand that I approach these issues with fresh insight, though it could also mean on the other hand that I have an ignorance of the dynamics and culture of these people and places. In addition, I'm probably not achieving much. People who were already evangelically broad will like my evangelical breadth, while for those who are more conservative my posts only succeeded in keeping their disgust fresh. But there's no point preaching to the choir or kicking the goads. So thanks for the emails encouraging me to stand up for a moderate and catholic evangelical position. Sorry for the offense I've caused to anyone else. I shall refrain from all future commentary and remarks about the situation in the conservative reformed churches of the USA. Save this last one, go and read Gal. 6.15, "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another" (ESV). I'd like to formally apply for associate membership in the EPC and AMiA if they'll have me. From now on I'm sticking to biblical studies, theology, and the life of the pan-evangelical Christian churches. And this time I mean it!

Theistic Evolution - Trojan Horse?

Over at Reformation21 Rick Phillips has a provocative piece called Theistic Evolution: A Hermeneutical Trojan Horse. Now I have friends who are special creationists, theistic evolutionists, and progressive creationists. We all get along just fine even though we disagree about how to read Genesis 1-3 and the validity of scientific models for understanding the formation of the universe and the beginning of life. When I was in seminary I read Derek Kidner's Genesis commentary in the TOTC series and I remember him saying that Genesis 1-3 contained a mixture of "history and parable" which seemed pretty good to me and still does. Some of the best Reformed Christians I know in Australia are Anglicans in Sydney who are mostly theistic evolutionists. But I have to ask, why can't you American Presbyterians do the same and recognize that the literalness of Genesis 1-3 is a secondary matter to faith and order? There is nothing wrong with having strong convictions on this area, trying persuade others to your view, contending that one view has negative implications, having forthright and honest discussions in appropriate forums, but we don't lambast people over this stuff. Phillips' piece abounds in highly charged and polemical remarks against Enns and Waltke. I count Enns as a personal friend and the things Phillips attributes to Enns are just plain false: Enns believes the divine authority of Scripture and he believes in the biblical accounts of creation. In the case of Waltke, the tragedy is that he has been so gracious during the whole unpleasant process with RTS, putting the seminary ahead of himself, and yet we see him treated in the most ungracious fashion by Phillips. Waltke is derided as the Trojan bringing in the horse of "atheist" hermeneutics into the church. Would anyone who knows Waltke say that of him? I invite you to read the piece and list all of the things that Phillips accuses Enns and Walke of: smuggling in atheist hermeneutics, naivete, and evacuating the Bible of its divine authority. If he was talking about Jack Spong I could understand, but this is Bruce Waltke for heaven's sake. Some of you objected to my earlier post that it was too stereotypical of Reformed ideologues, yet this is what I'm talking about. A critique of Enns/Waltke is one thing, but to do so in freighted and pejorative terms is unnecessary. How does that glorify God or extend the kingdom? It amazes me that those who believe so earnestly in the doctrines of grace seem to practice so little with those whom they disagree. Furthermore, it seems that Reformation21 has become little more than a podium for irate and self-assured men to make the most uncharitable and ungracious remarks about other Christians who confess Jesus Christ as Lord (note that I'm still annoyed at Carl Trueman's tirade against evangelicals in the Church of Scotland!). Finally, I'm not worried about atheists mocking Christians by saying, "Ha, they don't believe in evolution". But I am concerned about atheists mocking Christians by saying, "Ha, see how these Christians love one another!" .

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Things to Click

Around the blogosphere please note:

Justin Taylor blogs on ambition and the imitation of Christ (with some good quotes from an article by Jason Hood). Craig Evans debates Bart Ehrman on the historical reliability of the Gospels. The Bibledex has some good videos on Jude and 1 Peter. Stephen Carlson notes two recent articles in JTS about forgeries concerning Mark. The division in evangelicalism today is probably represented with the two conferences running in Wheaton (Annual Theology Conference) and Louisville (T4G) respectively and Brian LePort asks people where they'd rather be.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Waltke Update

Justin Taylor has helpfully posted further information about Bruce Waltke's departure from RTS. It seems that the parting was amicable, though I do get the feeling that some pressure was placed on Waltke to this effect (hence Waltke's comment, "I find no fault with the RTS administration, in fact, I think they did the right thing"). Was the "right thing" asking him to renege his views, to explain them further, or to resign? It seems that Waltke is going to be picked up by Knox Theological Seminary which shows that one man's loss is another man's gain.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

1100 for NTW Conference

Michael Gorman asks why are 1100 people going to a conference about N.T. Wright? That is important given that SBL gets 6000, ETS about 2000, and IBR about 800. Gorman then provides some answers:

1. Bishop Tom is a first-rate historian, New Testament scholar, theologian, churchman, and rhetorician all rolled into one. He is the total package.

2. As an historian and interpreter of texts, he is enormously insightful in his analysis and creative in his synthesis.

3. He has almost boundless energy and is simply a spellbinding speaker. As one noted speaker said when introduced as the next presenter following the bishop’s magical presentation, “No one should have to follow Tome Wright on a program.” Amazingly, he can do what he does often with little time for preparation—for instance, a riveting lecture or sermon prepared in a few minutes early in the morning and delivered before the rest of us have begun to think for the day. As one good friend of mine says, it’ a question of theodicy, of the justice of God, that someone can do that.

4. He is sometimes traditional and sometimes progressive, and often both at the same time.

5. He brings theology and Scripture to life, making the connection between them and the role of Christians in the real world.

6. Finally (at least for now) he has helped to revolutionize and solidify our understanding of many things about Jesus and Paul and the mission of the church. That’s not to say anyone, including me, agrees with him all the time. But he must always be taken seriously.

I would add:

7. He reintroduced people to Jesus - not a christological supposition, not a sunday school Jesus - but a Jesus of Nazareth who stands comfortably within the environment of first century Palestine and how his actions and teaching influenced the early church.

8. He is able to bring Christians to the big picture of redemptive history. As Markus Bockmuehl said about his resurrection book: Some people can't see the forest for the trees, but Wright is trying to map out the intergalactic ecosphere [or words to that effect].

9. He is an orthodox alternative to cranky Reformedism and excessive Dispensationalism.

10. He's foreign and exotic with a funny accent and a dry sense of wit.

11. The beard!

American and Global Evangelicalism

I've just read the latest issue of the Briefing published by Matthias Media which has a fantastic article by John Woodhouse (principal of Moore Theological College) on "Where Have All the Miracles Gone? Cessationism, Continuationism, and the Bible". But one of the paragraphs in his introduction is very illuminating on the differences between American and global Evangelicalism:

"Evangelical Christianity in the US has often been marked by sharply polarized debates peculiar to the American context. For example, in the UK, the doctrine of Scripture was fought out against liberalism, and it was Jim Packer's writings - especially Fundamentalism and the Word of God - that set the terms of evangelical thinking about Scripture in much of the English-speaking world for a generation. In the US, however, there was a fierce fight within so-called evangelical circles over 'inerrancy' verses 'infallibility'. Harold Lindsell's Battle for the Bible, represented one side of this sharply polarized conflict. I do not believe that Lindsell's book would have been written in England (or Sydney for that matter). An American Christian of the time may well have viewed English evangelicals as lukewarm about the Bible because they were not fighting the same battle, whereas an English evangelical was likely to view the American battle as strange - as drawing distinctions foreign to the Bible itself".

Historical Jesus We Never Knew

Over at CT is a spate of intriguing articles on the historical Jesus. First, there is Scot McKnight on The Jesus We'll Never Know, which basically argues that the quest for the historical Jesus is over and it does not give us anything of value any ways. Then there are responses by N.T. Wright (No, We Need History), Craig Keener (No, Jesus Studies Matter), and Darrell Bock (No, We Need Context). Then there is also a poll about the question!

In recent years I've gained a greater appreciation for the canonical Jesus as providing the bricks and mortar of the Christian faith. Yet at the same time, I'm convinced that the Gospels are pressing us to look back to something that we call the "Historical Jesus", i.e., an actual figure and what he said and did, but in the context of early church's proclamation about him. So for me the big the question is not a historical vs. a non-historical Jesus, but whether we will examine the history through the lens of a kergymatic or non-kergymatic way of looking at him. Do we sympathize with the Gospels as we read about Jesus, or do we read against the grain to find the "real" Jesus? Ultimately, I think the historical Jesus and canonical Jesus are different domains of discourse, but ultimately they are complimentary and necessary for an understanding of Jesus.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The End of Reformed Evangelical OT Scholars

As a biblical scholar of a Reformed Evangelical persuasion, I confess that I find myself scratching my head about what is happening in North American circles with respect to biblical studies, particularly the Old Testament. First, there was the Peter Enns affair at Westminster. Now truth be told I'm not sold on Enns' model of applying the incarnation to Scripture (J.I. Packer and John Webster have given reasons for rejecting that model), but Enns' attempt to situate the Old Testament in the context of ANE literature is fairly standard and uncontroversial in Christian circles outside of North America. Second, we have this week seen the resignations ( = dismissals) of two of the most eminent Evangelical Professors of biblical studies in the USA, Bruce Waltke and Tremper Longman, from their adjunct posts at Reformed seminaries. Waltke resigned in order it seems to become embroiled in controversy because he asserted in a video that evangelicals should embrace evolution as being consistent with the biblical accounts of creation and Longman was fired because he stated in a video that belief in a historical Adam was not necessary. The story about Waltke even made the news at USA Today (HT Camden Busey) and Christianity Today. Then there is the very critical response made by Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia to John Walton's book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, which Poythress says "makes unsound claims" about creation. Combine this with the vituperative responses made against the writings of N.T. Wright and the chorus of rebuke at John Piper for inviting Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God Conference, all coming from Reformed circles, and you have a clearly discernible trend. This trend is what I simply have to call a Fundamentalist Resurgence in what were once historical Evangelical Denominations and Institutions.

I suspect that this resurgence is driven by two main factors. First, fear of liberalism and fear of upsetting one's constituency. All Evangelical organizations face the temptation of drifting leftward and the laity in many churches do a good job of not tolerating speakers and teachers who dig at that "ol tim religion". Rocking the boat on controversial issues can also lead to funding problems and student numbers shrinking in seminaries. Still, the Evangelical churches have always regarded views of creation as a secondary matter, at least in the parts of the world I've lived in (UK and Australia). What is more, Waltke and Longman have impeccable credentials in having a high view of Scripture and are at the forefront of their discipline and are widely respected as scholars and churchmen. I would add that the job of Christian professors is not to tell the laity what they want to hear (whether that's on healthcare or science or Bible versions), but to assist students, pastors, and churches to have a "faith seeking understanding" and to help bridge the academy and church divide. Second, I think a bigger factor is that leaders in some Reformed institutions like to be perceived as "saviours" of orthodoxy. Luther saved us from Roman Catholicism and J.G. Machen saved us from liberalism and we want to be like them. But how can you be a "saviour" when there are no Catholics or Liberals in your midst? Well, you have to do the next best thing and find some villains that you can save the masses from. The easiest option is to find issues that are controversial and secondary and then proclaim that they are not disputed and not secondary and there is only one correct answer and all other answers are "heretical". Write blog posts, publish books, and hold conferences to convince a closed circle of followers that you and your homeboys are the guardians of the true orthodoxy. Please note that I'm being hyperbolic and cynical here (always imagine me smiling when I write things like this), but the "saviour syndrome" clearly exists in Reformed circles and it seems to be something that is unique to Reformed Evangelical Circles too. I think the response to Waltke and Longman is a mix of both one and two. Some leaders genuinely not wanting to be controversial before a conservative constituency about evolution, which in North America has always been a major issue, but also a desire by some to be perceived and celebrated as a "saviour" of the true faith.

But is there a future for Reformed Evangelical Old Testament Professors in the USA? I'm starting to think that there probably is not. Not unless they restrict themselves to writing devotional works. Or perhaps they can survive only if they are willing to allow Systematic Theologians to provide them with a script to read on all critical and background questions to the Old Testament. That would meaning bowing before Systematic and Historical Theologians and allowing them to dictate the proper relationship of Ancient Near Eastern literature to the Old Testament, to determine the limitations of Science for explaining Creation narratives, to establish the proper meaning of Semitic and oriental languages, to legislate the sources and authorship and date of all Old Testament writings, and to state the proper significance of archaeological evidence relating to biblical places and persons. But who wants to do that?

Perhaps the chief irony in all of this is that B.B. Warfield, who is revered in some circles as a virtual emmanation of the Logos, was himself a believer in Evolution (or at least held do its compatibility with the Bible). So it seems that even B.B. Warfield (peace be upon him) could not teach in many Reformed Seminaries these days! Note, I'm not saying that theistic evolution is the model of choice. Yet special creation, theistic evolution, and progressive creation are all consistent with a Christian worldview and a high view of the Scriptures. I don't want to speculate about who certain colleges and seminaries will replace folks like Longman and Waltke with, however, we can safely assume that the brilliance of Longman and Waltke will be very hard to match. You don't replace guys like these by flicking through your rollerdex. The temptation will be to hire persons who are "safe" and tow the party line. Unfortunately, that could mean hiring academics who are satisfactory teachers and prosaic researchers, but who will parrot the standard mantras when required. That might not happen, but it will be the temptation. Yet the Reformed churches deserve the best evangelical academics that we have - biblical, godly, and confessional, combined with the qualities of being a dynamic teacher and cutting edge researcher - but that cannot happen if we narrow the field by making secondary issues primary points of doctrinal agreement. We need to recapture the genuine evangelical breadth of the Reformed churches and demonstrate the intellectual coherence of the Reformed Tradition. The opposite would be to narrow the definition of who is "in" and to retreat to hyper-conservative positions on contested issues. The departure of Longman and Waltke signify a move in the wrong direction.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Peter T. O'Brien on Hebrews

Peter T. O’Brien. The Letter to the Hebrews. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.

This hefty gem just arrived on my desk and I'm reading through it with great satisfaction. Of course, what we all want to know first is what O'Brien thinks of the warning passage in 6.4-8. O'Brien closes his discussion of this section with the words: "Apostasy is a real danger that threatens the community, even though the author of Hebrews does not save that members have already abandoned their faith. But there is no way back from such an abandonment to a renewal of the initial act of repentance. They must avoid the danger at all costs; the point of the warning, and of the encouraging words of vv. 9-12, is to urge the listeners to persevere in faith and obedience" (p. 227). With respect to the "joy" of Jesus in Heb 12.2, O'Brien comments: "Jesus' assumption of the position at the right hand of God represents the joy set before him for the sake of which he endured shame and death. It is the prize that came to him at the end of his race. 'His session at the right hand is the guarantee of the absoluteness of Christ's exaltation and thus the utter security of those who have placed their hope in him' [F.F. Bruce]. When believers, who are still running their race, fix their eyes on Jesus and rely on him for support and help, they know that he is the perfecter of faith who is seated at God's right hand, having endured the cross and shame for them. His exemplary fidelity is understood so as to encourage them to persevere in faithfulness" (p. 458). On the "eternal covenant" of 13.20, O'Brien states: "The new covenant is that eternal covenant: our author uses the adjective eternal in relation to salvation (5:9), judgment (6:2), redemption (9:12), the Spirit (9:14), and inheritance (9:15), all of which are intimately related to the new covenant" (p. 535).

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Helmut Koester on the Provenance of Mark

Helmut Koester is one of the world's leading authorities on early Christian Gospels and gospel-traditions. In his book From Jesus to the Gospels I did observe one acute irony. Concerning the Gospel of Mark, Koester states, "I am, of course, aware of the widespread assumption of scholars that the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome. There is, however, no single piece of evidence. Mark was used by Matthew in Syria and by Luke in Antioch or Ephesus in the last third of the first century. That a gospel written in Rome should have been brought to the East as such an early time seems most unlikely" (p. 29, n. 30). And yet this footnote is attached to the statement above it that "Were it not for the single reference to a passage from Mark in Justin Martyr's Dialogue, we would not have any evidence for the presence of that gospel in Rome in the middle of the second century". My problem is: (1) What is so implausible about the Gospel of Mark reaching Syria/Ephesus when Christians travelled widely and frequently?; (2) Surely the fact that the first external attestation of the Gospel of Mark is in Rome does at least factor in the evidence about its original provenance.

Latest EQ

The two latest issues of Evangelical Quarterly 82.1-2 (2010) include the following articles:

Allan M. Harman
The Impact of Matthew Henry's Exposition on Eighteenth-Century Christianity

M. Habets
Walking in mirabilibus supra me: How C.S. Lewis transposes theosis

Paul Sands
The Imago Dei as Vocation

Benno van den Toren
Challenges and Possibilities of Inter-Religious and Cross-Cultural Apologetic Persuasion

Gregory R. Goswell
Keeping God out of the Book of Esther

Gary L. Schulz
Why a Genuine Universal Gospel Call Requires an Atonement that Paid for the Sins of All People

Carsten Timothy Lotz
A Critical Evaluation of Youngmo Cho: Spirit in the Writings of Luke and Paul: An Attempt to Reconcile These Concepts

Derek Flood
Substitutionary Atonement and the Church Fathers: A reply to the authors of Pierced for Our Transgression.

- Good to see two Aussies getting a guernsey.
- Glad Yongmo Cho's work is getting attention, albeit critically
- Gary Schulz's article will cheese off most Calvinists

Monday, April 05, 2010

Review: One to Come

Over at RBL, Christopher Skinner has a review of Are You the One To Come?.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Turns of Phrase

There is perhaps no New Testament scholar better at turns of phrase then Tom Wright. Not long ago I was reading in his The Resurrection of the Son of God and came across this gem about his argument concerning "Christos": 
But, as I say, even if this is not so, it merely tightens the screw of the argument even tighter, because clearly it would mean that the very early Christians used the word so frequently for Jesus that it had worn smooth (557).
That is amazing prose. Tom is a pleasure to read and it is this that scares some folks. Why would they be fearful? Because people will actually read him!

Review of Saving Righteousness

Somewhat late in terms of book releases, but nice all the same, James Miller of Glasgow has a positive review of The Saving Righteousness of God.