Sunday, October 31, 2010

Teaching Experiences - Second Guessing

This past week I had one of those classes that make you reflect on teaching. Teaching is a task that, if you allow yourself, you can constantly second guess yourself. There are classes where you have to be instinctual and go with your gut. You can plan only so much in teaching and sometimes all the planning in the world won’t produce or avoid certain exchanges in the classroom. In the middle of a discussion you make choices and it is difficult to know if you’ve made the right one at least in the moment. In retrospect I think I would have handled the situation differently, although it is hard to know for sure.

If I look at the results of the discussion, it appears to have had an affect on most of the class. First we had a number of students very angry. Two students actually got up and left the classroom because they were frustrated by particular responses from other classmates. There was a sizable group of students that were disengaged from the discussion altogether—probably a third to two-thirds. I don’t think this meant that they were not listening, but as one person from that group admitted at the end she simply did not know enough to even begin to offer an opinion. Finally there was the one student who was both vocal and contrarian. This student ended up dominating the discussion, as it became something of a debate between them and me. In retrospect I probably should have conceded that they would not accept the approach I was advocating and move on. Instead I engaged them in an attempt to show the student why I had come to the conclusions I had. At least with this student in the classroom, my engagement really didn’t get me anywhere.

Let me provide some context. We had read Pamela Eisenbaum’s Paul was Not a Christian and we were concluding with a discussion of our thoughts on the book. I had students read the book using a series of questions that assisted them in evaluating the author’s arguments. I intended for us to talk about what students thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the book. However I began with a general question: “What did you think of the book?”—We never got past that question.

A vocal group of more conservative students hated the book. Among other things, they felt that Eisenbaum caricatured Christians negatively—Eisenbaum is Jewish. After one person stated this a chorus of others agreed save one student. One of the students, our vocal-contrarian, disagreed and offered a very affirmative view of the book. She found convincing the universalism with which Eisenbaum concluded her book.

What ensued was a debate not so much about the book, but about universalism vs exclusivism and relativism, is any one interpretation better than another? These topics arose from the book of course—Eisenbaum concludes that Paul was a universalist and maintains a “two-ways” soteriology; further, she claims that Jesus saves only Gentiles—but the conversation hovered over the book at about 30,000 feet in a debate about abstract ideas. For my part, I decided to continue the conversation thinking that a conversation about critical thinking and critical realism would be beneficial for the entire class. I'm not so sure that was the best tack to take. I should report that in post-class correspondence there is a continuing engagement via email. One never knows.

I take solace in the fact that we’ll have another shot at it this week. What a wonderfully humbling profession we have.


BTW: Paul was not a Christian is a challenging book written in polemical style.

I would say some of the strengths are:
1. A historically contextual reading of Paul
2. The stress on the ambiguity of several of Paul's key phrases (e.g. pistis christou and ek ergo nomou)
3. The emphasis on ethnic distinctions in Paul

The weaknesses are significant:
1. The christology in the book is wanting- there's just no way Paul thinks that Jesus is Messiah only for Gentiles
2. The two-ways salvation and universalism in Paul is highly suspect; it could only be asserted by means of a contorted reading of Pauline texts.
3. The optimistic Pauline anthropology advocated is improbable

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Edition of the Greek New Testament

Logos Bible Software and the Society of Biblical Literature have teamed up to create new critically edited Greek text called SBLGNT. The official website is here and you can find the news at the ETC Blog. Well done to Prof. Michael Holmes for doing this! It should be available for SBL Atlanta in print and electronic editions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Timothy Gombis on Ephesians

Matt Montonini has a great interview with Tim Gombis on his new book on Ephesians called The Drama of Ephesians. It gives a cosmic-redemptive approach to Ephesians. I've read some of Gombis' stuff and I think this could be one of the best books on Ephesians since Markus Barth's The Broken Wall. I'll be looking for it at ETS/SBL.

Martin Hengel on Rudolf Bultmann

The Tyndale Fellowship volume in memoriam of Prof. Martin Hengel will include some freshly translated essays of Hengel's work. Among one of the essays to be newly translated is "Eine junge theologische Disziplin in der Krise" by Dr. Wayne Coppins. Below is an excerpt from Coppins' translation.

Note what Hengel has to say about Bultmann and his influence in Germany in the 1960s which literally drove Hengel into NT studies:

"After I became Stiftsrepetent [i.e., a student instructor] in 1954, my colleagues at the instructors’ table (with the exception of my friend Otto Betz, who had already then recognized the significance of the Qumran texts) appeared to me to be “ drunk from the sweet wine from Marburg”. In hearing the new theses I could time and again only shake my head: a radical synoptic criticism on the basis of “form criticism,” an unmessianic Jesus of whom Paul knew hardly anything more than the “that of his having come,” the radical separation between “Palestinian” and “Hellenistic” community, earliest Christianity as “syncretistic religion” profoundly influenced by a pre-Christian Gnosis and oriental mysteries, Paul and John as opponents of Jewish apocalyptic and as the first “demythologizers,” Luke by contrast as a contemptible “early catholic,” and above all a fundamental devaluation of all “objectifying” historical knowledge and behind it all a latent Marcionism, for which the term “Biblical theology” was almost already a swearword. Although I, being fascinated by the early church and ancient history, had more of an inclination to devote myself to church history, I began, to a certain extent as a protest against these “new insights,” a New Testament dissertation, which dealt with Judaism as the birthing ground of Christianity (Die Zeloten [AGSU 1], Leiden 1961). It was the then so fashionable theses of R. Bultmann, which dominated the field but were questionable in my judgment, that brought me to the New Testament."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mondays with J. Ramsay Michaels

Michael's commentary on Jn 1:51 (a verse near and dear to the heart of my former student David Kirk) says this:

"In simplest terms, 'the angels of God going up and coming down over the Son of man' represent the 'glory' (doxa) to be displayed in Jesus' ministry (compare v. 14), from the wedding at Cana (2:11) to the raising of Lazarus fro the dead (11:4, 40) - all of it preliminary to the Son of man's final 'glorification' in the passion narratives ... As to the term 'Son of man' ... [i]n its strategic context here, it trumps all the other [titles] - even 'Son of God' - as the defining title for Jesus in this Gospel. This is appropriate because, unlike the others, 'Son of man' is not a title someone else gives to Jesus, but one that he claims for himself, just as in he other Gospels. (137-38).

Latest SBET

The latest issue of SBET includes:

Globalization: Opportunity or Threat? (Finlayson Lecture)

The Church Moves South: Elucidation and Implication

Luther on Union with Christ

Sin, Grace, and Virtue in Calvin: A Matrix for Dogmatic Consideration

Meaning, Reference, and Tetxtuality: An Evangelical Appropriation of Hans Frei

Michael Jensen on Fundamentalism

Over at Religion and Ethics at ABC News, Michael Jensen (Moore Theological College) has a good antipodean view on "Fundamentalism".

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chris Wright

Lausanne III has two of my favourite preachers (Vaughan Roberts and Christopher Wright). Here is part of a sermon by Christopher Wright.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The latest issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is dedicated to Galatians and includes some essays by Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Ardel Caneday. I should point out that among the SBTS faculty that Tom Schreiner (ZEC), Mark Seifrid (HTA), and Brian Vickers (NCCS) are all writing Galatians commentaries (Mark Seifrid is writing his in German!). See the cover page here.

Those in favor of SBTS holding a conference on Galatians please type "Aye" in the comments!

More on the Historical Jesus and Christ of Faith

Here is a well-known quote from Kittel on the historical Jesus vs. Christ of faith:

The Jesus of History is valueless and unintelligible unless He be experienced and confessed by faith as the living Christ. But, if we would be true to the New Testament, we must at once reverse this judgment. The Christ of faith has no existence, is mere noise and smoke, apart from the reality of Jesus of History. These two are utterly inseparable in the New Testament. They cannot even be thought of apart … Anyone who attempts first to separate the two and then to describe only one of them, has nothing in common with the New Testament.

Gerhard Kittel, G. K. A. Bell and A. Deissman (eds), Mysterium Christi (London, 1930), 49.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Michaels on Faith and Works in John

I'm reading bits of J. Ramsay Michael's massive and magisterial John commentary in the NICNT series (though secretly it breaks my heart to see anyone replace Leon Morris on "John"). For me, the verse I always turn to first to see how a commentator handles the text is John 5:28-29:

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is cominga when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
Michaels comments that: "The second problem [in addition to the futurist eschatology that seems out of whack with the rest of John] is that good works, not faith, seem to determine salvation ... But again the problem exists only for modern readers, who have learned from centuries of biblical interpretation to set faith against works. It is not noticeably a problem for Jesus' hearers on the scene, nor for the implied readers the author has in mind ... Coming to the Light, or to Jesus, and 'hearing my word' (v. 24) or 'voice' (v. 25) amount to the same thing. Either way, believing in Jesus is what counts. Those who 'do good things' or 'do the truth' are those who believe" (322).

Things to Click

According to the Vatican, Homer Simpson is Catholic.

Israel is going to put the Dead Sea Scrolls on-line.

Durham University (who topped the UK RAE) is advertizing a position in NT.

Larry Hurtado has a great post on NT Diversity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things to Click

Jason Hood has some diabolical fun with 666.

Matt Montonin has an interview with J. Ramsay Michaels about his new John commentary.

Ben Myers has 13 Theses on Writing.

Lesslie Newbiggin - New Creation & New Community

Classic Newbiggin:

This presence of a new reality, the presence in the shared life of the Church of the Spirit who is the arrabōn of the kingdom, has become possible because of what Jesus has done, because of his incarnation, his ministry as the obedient child of his Father, his suffering and death, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his session at the right hand of God. When the apostles are asked to explain the new reality, the new power to find joy in tribulation, healing in sickness, freedom in bondage, life in death, this is the explanation they give. It follows that the visible embodiment of this new reality is not a movement that will take control of history and shape the future according to its own vision, not a new imperialism, not a victorious crusade. Its visible embodiment will be a community that lives by this story, a community whose existence is visibly defined in the regular rehearsing and reenactment of this story which has given it birth, the story of the self-emptying of God in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Its visible centre as a continuing social entity is that weekly repeated event in which believers share bread and wine as Jesus commanded, as his pledge to them and their pledge to him that they are one with him in his passion and one with him in his victory. Instead of the celebration of the sabbath as the end of God’s old creation, they celebrate the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, as the beginning of the new creation. In this they find enacted and affirmed the meaning and goal of their lives as part of the life of the cosmos, their stories part of the universal story. This story does indeed lead to a glorious end and is therefore filled with meaning, but the end is not some far distant date in terrestrial history. The end is the day when Jesus shall come again, when his hidden rule will become manifest and all things will be seen as they truly are. That is why we repeat at each celebration of the Lord’s Supper the words which encapsulate the whole mystery of the faith: “Christ has died, Christ has risen: Christ shall come again.”
Lesslie J. Newbiggin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 120-21.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Book Notice: Getting the Reformation Wrong

James R. Payton
Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings
Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.
Available at

This helpful volume looks at the Reformation. Payton deals with a number of views that are often much misunderstood. For example, that the medieval catholic church was monolithic and moribund in its corruption. The Reformation progressed smoothly and rapidly. The Reformers agreed with each other on most issues. The Reformation was a huge success with no downside. Payton shows that the facts are a little bit more complex on this.

A good example is how Payton shows how the Reformers, though agreeing on key details like jusitification by faith alone, still had some differences among themselves on justification. He writes:

"The various Reformers reflected on how the great transaction promised in the gospel 'worked,' and they came to somewhat different insights. These sometimes reinforced each other, but at times they were in conflict. Luther emphasized the 'sweet exchange' between the sinner and 'Christ and that sinners are united to Christ by that faith impelled in them by the Holy Spirit. Melanchthon's regular stress on divine mercy fits closely with this, although bringing a different accent. Zwingli tied justification to the divine decree of election, with fail the temporal manifestation of what God intended from eternity past from his chosen. Bucer stressed that justification includes the reception of the Holy Spirit, who leads believers to live for God: 'Hence he [St. Paul] never uses the word "justify" in this way without appearing to speak no less of this imparting of true righteousness than of the found and head of our entire salvation, the forgiveness of sins.' Calvin stepped back from Bucer's declaration when he asserted that justification by faith precludes 'the sense ... that we receive within any righteousness,' but Calvin brought another emphasis when he asserted, 'Christ, therefore, makes us thus participants in himself in order that we, who are in ourselves sinners, may be, through Christ's righteousness, considered just before the throne of God.' But these differences were variant modulations within the Reforms' concerto. The Protestant Reformers agreed in emphasizing justification sola fide."

Payton also gives some good summaries of the careers of the Reformers and whether their careers were a success. In the case of Martin Bucer, all of his Reforms in Strasbourg over a 25 year period where undone and he went into exile in England.

Overall, Payton believes that the Reformation was a triumph because it led to a return to the gospel. However, he considers it a tragedy since it led to the fracturing of the church, not just from Rome, but into over 30, 000 Protestant denominations.

This book is a reasonably short, enjoyable, and easy read that allows one to gain a far more nuanced perspective on the Reformation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wanted Translators

Myself and Jason Maston are editing some papers from the Tyndale Fellowship conference for a volume in honour of the late Prof. Martin Hengel. We will also include an appendix in the volume that will contain several newly translated essays from Hengel's collected writings. As such, I'm looking for three to four chaps who are willing to do a translation of Hengel's essays for inclusion in the book. Criteria for involvement in the project is: (1) Proficiency in German and English; (2) Have a Ph.D in NT or at least be a Ph.D candidate; (3) Can do the translation by the end of the year. Translators will receive due acknowledgment of their work and get a gratis copy of the book.

Richard Hays on guarding the Gospel

Richard Hays: “The Christian community as a community of love is not infinitely inclusive: those who reject Jesus are not and cannot be part of it. There is great danger to the church, in Paul’s view, when some people represent themselves as Christians while rejecting the apostolically proclaimed gospel.”
Richard Hays, First Corinthians (Interp; Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1997), 291-92.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Perils of Porn

ABC Lateline has an excellent interview with Gail Dines, Professor of Sociology at Boston University about her book Pornland which argues that pornography has hijacked sexuality. She is very forthright about what pornography does to women, men, and why it needs to be stopped. Porn has become increasingly violent and brutal in the last 20 years in order to keep its consumers interested. She comments at the end:

This is why we started Stop Porn Culture and I encourage people in Australia also to start an organisation because nobody said that pornographers have the right to come in and do a stealth attack on our culture the way they have done.

I should also give a plug to Tim Chester's book Captured by a Better Vision: Living Porn Free which is apparently a cracking read.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A New Explanation for the Resurrection

I"m reading Charles Freeman's book A New History of Early Christianity which includes a rather innovative explanation for the resurrection.

Freeman grants the reality of the empty tomb, but then proposes that Caiaphas solved the problem of Jesus’ disciples who might become trouble makers. He writes: “Removing the body, making sure that the tomb was left open and leaving a message with ‘a young man’ that Jesus would reappear in Galilee would solve the problem without further brutality” (p. 32). Thus Caiaphas is the origin of the resurrection story! He substantiates this by appeal to the Gospel of Peter and he suggests that the story of the two men carrying the cross out of the tomb is in fact based on an actual story of two men removing the body while the guards were awake. He also chastizes Tom Wright for failing to consider this possibility in RSG. Freeman calls his theory “pure speculation” and “circumstantial evidence” (pp. 33-34), but I am more inclined to say that he has understated his caveats and his proposal is little more than imaginative fiction masquerading as a historical study.

Friday, October 01, 2010


Over at CT there is an article on the Common English Bible and the politics and power-plays of Bible translation in the USA.

The Trinity in the New Testament

I'm spasmodically plugging away at an eventual "Evangelical Theology" volume. I'm currently getting into the Trinity and I am looking at the biblical basis of Trinitarian theology. Along the way I've found a couple of good quotes on the subject:

Concerning the devotional practices of early Christianity and the Trinity, Larry Hurtado writes:

The struggle to work out doctrinal formulations that could express in some coherent way this peculiar view of God (as “one” and yet somehow comprising “the Father” and Jesus, thereafter also including the Spirit as the “third Person” of the Trinity) occupied the best minds in early Christian orthodox/catholic tradition for the first several centuries. But the doctrinal problem they worked on was not of their own making. It was forced upon them by the earnest convictions and devotional practices of believers from the earliest observable years of the Christian movement.
Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 651

On the Trinitarian nature of the baptismal formula in Matt 28:19-20, John Meier states:

Certainly, one could hardly imagine a more forceful proclamation of Christ’s divinity – and incidentally, of the Spirit’s distinct personality – that this listing together, on a level of equality, of Father, Son, and Spirit. One does not baptize in the name of a divine person, a holy creature, and an impersonal force.
John P. Meier, Matthew (NTM 3; Delaware: Liturgical, 1980), 371-72