Friday, October 31, 2008

95 Theses

I came across this totally cool rap called "95 Theses" (HT: Jason Hood).

Happy Reformation Day. Long live the Reformation!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Latest JSHJ

The latest issue JSHJ 6.2 (2008) includes:

Textual Criticism and the Historical Jesus
pp. 133-156
Author: Bird, Michael F.

This study argues that historical Jesus research needs to pay greater attention to the field of textual criticism and study of early Christian manuscripts. It is accordingly argued that the field of textual criticism impacts historical Jesus studies in at least three ways: (1) the textual integrity of the New Testament and the possibility of historical Jesus research; (2) the significance of the agrapha; and (3) text-critical contributions to historical issues in life of Jesus research.

pp. 157-168
Author: Byrskog, Samuel

pp. 169-181
Author: Catchpole, David

pp. 182-193
Author: Marshall, Howard I.

pp. 194-210
Author: Patterson, Stephen J.

Author: Weeden Sr., Theodore J.

pp. 225-253
Author: Bauckham, Richard

This is now the second journal this quarter to give a thorough multi-author review to Bauckham's Eyewitnesses (see the most recent issue of JSNT). Just goes to show how lively and interesting the debate is. Bob Webb (editor of JSHJ) has done a good job in recruiting a wide sway of reviews.

Paul's Theory of Resurrection: A Debate

The debate between Richard Carrier and Jake O'Connell on Paul and the Resurrection is on-line for all to see!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: How Did Christianity Begin?

Loren Rosson has a review of How Did Christianity Begin? written by myself and James Crossley. I think it's a fair review and Loren takes issue with both James and myself over various matters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Questions, Theology, and Postmodernism

My good friend Denny Burke gives a quote from Abraham Piper about the postmodern ethos of our day: “If you ask questions but you reject answers, you’re not actually asking anything. You’re just festooning tired, old propositions with trendier punctuation.” I agree entirely. I am highly unimpressed with the pomo obsession with questions that no-one answers and being-on-the-journey that doesn't go any where (or any where worth going to). Don't get me wrong, questions are a great way to do theology (see Thomas Aquinas no less), but without stating answers, even provisionally, it comes down to a meaningless word game. I say this because questions without answers (1) lead to indecision, inaction or inconsistency since the rationale to act is never established, and (2) little pomo popes wonder the country thinking that the more people they can confuse with their word games the greater their acumen and intelligence. Teachers should teach. They shoud not try to clone themselves nor aim to confuse. As Karl Barth once said to a student, we don't have time to play the devil's advocate!

Jesus used questions very effectively in his didactic ministry. Consider these two:
- Mark 10:18 Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
- Luke 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?
Jesus can guide people into answers through questions posed about story and scripture. Or else, he lets them discover the answer that is right on their nose after he has spoken the truth to them. But questions are never an end of themselves. In other words, questions are a good methodology but a poor epistemology!

Lest I be accused of pomo-bashing, there is a place for self-criticism and questioning the questions in theology. A question can often be loaded with assumptions like "Are you still beating your wife?" or pose false antitheses like "Are you a pre-mill KJV-only anti-ecumenical pro-segregationist man of God OR a liberal?". We can ask what is the agenda in the question and who does the implied answer favour. We can question the questions, but not indefinitely. We can deconstruct the question, but we must construct another one. In addition, we have to recognize that all answers are provisional since theological questions are posed through the limitations and contingencies that we have (linguistic, cutlural, historical, cognitive, etc) just as much as the answers are. As we sharpen up our questions so we sharpen up our answers as well. We begin to know God and to know ourselves better, which after all, should be the ultimate end of theology. That's my post-postmodern spin on theological method.

There endeth the lesson!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

D.A. Carson on Training the Next Generation of Evangelical Scholars

Thanks to Andy Naselli for posting D.A. Carson's 1998 ETS address about training the next generation of evangelical scholars (which is available in MP3).

A number of important points are raised by Carson. Let me mention a few:

1. I agree that evangelicalism must be defined theologically (as opposed to defining it sociologically or as a post-enlightenment religious renewal movement). For me the centre of evangelicalism must be the evangel, rather than things like inerrancy or complementarianism, while a number of theological corollaries follow from the evangel, nothing must displace the evangel as the theological center. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the distinctive element of an evangelical theology would be the setting out of the gospel as part of it's prolegomena.

2. I concur fully on the primacy of learning the content of the Bible. For me, there is not much point teaching the current academic debates or subltleties of NT background if one does not know the basic gist of each biblical document. And Carson is right, you cannot assume that seminary or college students have this basic knowledge of content any more because (a) many Christians who were converted in their teens or twenties never had any exposure to the Bible before (myself included here), and (b) many churches have dumbed down their biblical teaching This is why I included a chapter summarizing the content of all of Paul's letters in my book Bird's Eye-view of Paul and why I pain stakingly drive into my students the outline of the biblical books. Indeed, making students read a basic text book on Christian doctrine as an entrance requirement for seminary might not be a bad idea either. I recollect with horror an experience whereby a first year theological studies student [not at my current institution and a relatively new covert I must add], upon hearing the mention of the Trinity in a lecture, asked: "I didn't think that WE believed in that Catholic stuff?".

3. I could not agree more with the importance of biblical theology as something that needs to be taught in order to provide an over-arching meta-narrative for evangelical students and scholars. The sad fact is that it is not taught in a number of institutions and it desperately needs to be.

4. The issue of integrating subject areas is a real challenge and Carson identifies the need for this area to be given further thought. The role of the local church in mentoring and fostering a distinctively evangelical spiritual formation in training of students is another area worthy of consideration too.

5. Carson is also right that theological curriculum needs to be updated and reflect the challenges of the cultural context. That means adding courses and dropping courses as required. If I were ever to be made president and dean of my own imaginary seminary (located just off the Great Barrier Reef in central Queensland) I would include a multi-disciplinary module on "A Theology of Sexuality and Gender" taught jointly by a theologian, a sociologist, a psychologist, and a medical doctor (since these are the prevailing issues of the day, esp. for the conservatives in the mainline churches) and make every student take language courses in either Arabic or Chinese to make them eminently employable on the foreign mission field and on the cross-cultural mission field in their own cities.

Carson's lecture is worth listening to for anyone interested in theological education (even if you're not an evangelical). Soon I hope to read Dale B. Martin on Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal which may well provide a very different perspective on theological education.

E. Earle Ellis on F.C. Baur

E. Earle Ellis (who is apparently making good progress on his ICC commentary on 1 Corinthians) has an appendix on F.C. Baur in his major work on the origins of the New Testament. He commends Baur as a committed churchman and thinks of him primarily as a systematizer rather than as an independent critical historian. In the end, Ellis says of Baur:

"In Tuebingen today there is properly a 'Ferdinand Christian Baur Street' to commemorate a great figure of the city's past. As is appropriate, it is a branch off 'Philosophers Way.' Equally appropriate, I believe, it is a Sackgasse, a blind alley. Baur produced a construct of early Christianity that was too artificial and exegetically too poorly grounded to serve as a viable historical representation. If Baur failed, however, he nevertheless identified many of the problems that must still be addressed and resolved." (The Making of the New Testament Documents [Leiden: Brill, 1999], 445).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Latest Issue of JETS

The latest issue of JETS 51.3 (2008) includes:

Rodger Dalman
"Egypt and Early Israel's Cultural Setting: A Quest for Evidential Possibilities".

Douglas Petrovich
"The Dating of Hazor's Destruction in Joshua 11 by Way of Biblical, Arachaeological, and Epigraphical Evidence".

Andrew E. Steinmann
"A Chronological note: The Return of the Exiles under Shesbazzar and Zerubbabel (Ezra 1-2)".

Alan J. Thompson
"Unity in Acts: Idealization or Reality?"

Marus johnson
"New or Nuanced Perspective on Calvin? A Rely to Thomas Wenger".

Thomas L. Wenger
"Theological Spectacles and a Paradigm of Centrality: A Reply to Marcus Johnson".

David M. Ciocchi
"Suspending the Debate about Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom".

Michael A. Farely
"What is 'Biblical' Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship".

There is a good review of my book Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission by Steven M. Bryan. He concludes: "That the early church still struggled with the terms of Gentile admission into the holy people of God suggests that a mission to Gentiles cannot be reliably traced to the pre-Easter period. Yet, as Bird shows, a mission to Gentiles can be confidently placed within the effective history of Jesus. Bird's demonstration of the continuities between Jesus and the Gentile mission is thus to be welcomed as an important contribution to our understanding of the indespensable role of Jesus in the rise of early Christianity" (p. 645).

Israel in the NT- Part 2

Thanks to Michael for the notice below about Voorwinde's article on Israel in the New Testament. While I have yet to read it, I agree that his three point summary is useful. Generally, however, I find scholarly discussions of the meaning of Israel do not adequately take into account the multivalent nature of the term. 

So my question is what "Israel" is he referring to or we for that matter when we speak of "Israel" in the NT. Can we really take for granted what that term means. In a particular context is the term "Israel" denoting: the patriarch, the twelve tribe league, the northern tribal alliance before the kingdom, the northern and southern tribal alliances under the united kingdom of David and Solomon, the northern kingdom in contrast to the southern kingdom, the Judean returnees? 

When Paul states "all Israel will be saved"? To what is he referring? 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Short Hand Guide to Eschatological Refutations

Let me give a quick (and deliberately comical) guide to refuting various eschatologies. Here is how to refute:

1. Amillennialismism. Read Revelation 20.1-10 and recite the Lord's Prayer. Those who partake of the first resurrection do not partake of the second one and the kingdom of God is coming to earth after all.

2. Postmillennialism. Read todays newspaper! The world is not getting better.

3. Dispensational premillennialism. Stop reading the Left Behind series, sell your Ryrie Study Bible, and start reading 2 Thessalonians 2. Being kept from the hour of trial applied only to the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3.10) not to the corporate church and the anti-Christ (Barack Obama?) must first be revealed (2 Thess. 2.3).

It is Friday evening now!

Israel in the NT

A good little article to read on Israel in the NT is by Stephen Voorwinde, 'How Jewish is Israel in the New Testament?' Reformed Theological Review 67 (2008), 61-90. It is a good piece though I might have slightly different takes on Gal. 6.16 and Rev. 7.4-9.

Voorwinde makes three basic points: (1) The Church in the NT does not replace Israel, rather, it is engrafted into Israel; (2) There is still a bright prospect that a majority of Jews will yet believe the gospel; and (3) Evangelistically, it means we should continue our witness to the Jewish people.

I think this a good summary since the language of 'new Israel' or 'true Israel' occurs nowhere in the NT and 'Israel' is usually an ethnic category (even in Rom. 11.25-26). I prefer to speak of the church as the representative of Israel in the messianic age and (with other Jewish Christians) are part of the Israel-within-Israel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Around the blogosphere

Around the traps:

Nelson Moore gives a review of James McGrath's new book on the Burial of Jesus.

Lynn Cohick has a great post on the Canannite Woman of Matthew 15.

Richard Hays will be lecturing on "Hidden in order to be Revealed: Jesus as the God of Israel in Mark's Gospel" (I wish my good friend James Crossley was in the audience).

Desi Alexander has a new book on biblical theology called From Eden to the New Jerusalem.

And CT has an article on the Vatican and biblical authority and an on-line poll about whether inerrancy is still the best word for communicating the nature and authority of the Bible (this has been taken off now and from memory those who said that inerrancy was still a useful word got the largest vote, but the largest vote was only 44% overall, and other categories were: useful but needs tweaking and never was a good word).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Positions in Biblical Studies and Theology

Carey College in New Zealand (a Baptist College) has two vacant positions for a new principal and a director in pastoral leadership (the current principal Paul Windsor has accepted a position with Langham Preaching). Durham University in England is also searching for a Chair/Reader in Ancient Judaism or New Testament.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday is for Ad Fontes

It's Friday so that means: time for a glass (or two) of wine, an open fire, and some reading of the primary sources. Tonight I've been reading the Epistula Apostolorum. EA is partly an epistle that purports to have been revealed by Jesus Christ as a letter which was subsequently revealed to the council of apostles, their disciples, and to Catholics. Yet it's not really an epistle since the majority of the content is more like a Resurrection Dialogue. It is extant in Ethiopic and Coptic versions though Greek might have been the original language. Date is probably the second century given high hopes for the parousia to occur imminently and critiques of Gnosticism. A few observations:

1. Building on the previous post about "Heresy Hunting" and the "Christian Apocrypha", EA demonstrates that Apocryphal writings were also written by Heresy Hunters. Part of the purpose of EA is to discredit "Simon and Cerinthus, that no one should follow them - for in them is deceit with which they kill men - that you may be established and not waver, not be shaken and turn not away from the word of the Gospel that you have heard" (EA 1).

2. I am impressed at the way that in EA the purpose of the apostolic mission is to go to the twelve tribes of Israel and the nations (EA 30, 36). No supersession of a Jewish mission for a gentile mission in this document.

3. There is also a glowing account of the yet-to-come Paul (EA 31, 33) and Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for him (in which case we'd have to say that more preparation was probably needed).

The Death of David Williams

I just read the news of the passing of the Australian Anglican NT scholar David Williams. An obituary is provided by Ridley College in Melbourne. He is probably most well known for a book on Paul's Metaphors and a commentary on Acts in the NIBC series.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tony Burke on "Heresy Hunting"

Over at the SBL Forum Tony Burke of York University has a provocative post on Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium. In sum, he takes to task a number of recent books that criticize the writings of the Christian Apocrpha and those who purportedly glory in them. In response, Rob Bowman of Religious Researcher has an interesting post entitled, Defending Heresy in the New Millennium which criticizes a number of Burke's contentions. Burke himself responds elsewhere.

I credit Burke with correctly identifying the ideological profile of many of the books which he criticizes (Christian apologetics written from an evangelical point of view), their negative evaluation of the Christian Apocrypha, and their sometimes too general or uncritical handling of the Christian Apocrypha itself by some authors. I don't like the term "Christian Apocrypha" and I simply call these writings non-canonical documents that were not regarded as corresponding to proto-orthodoxy. I wouldn't reject everthing that Burke complains about, that said I'd like to raise a number of issues based on Burke's short piece.

1. Burke seems to assume that "heresy hunting" is in fact a bad thing, but that of course is itself a value laden judgment against those who conduct Christian apologetics. But there is nothing wrong with, say, identifying a christological pattern in a given document (like docetism in the Apocalypse of Peter) and saying that it does not correspond with the christological pattern of the New Testament and the proto-orthodoxy of the developing church. If one genuinely believes in "false belief" as the NT indicates and "heresy" as the church fathers did, then there is nothing inherently wrong in exposing deviant forms of belief and behaviour that do not correspond to a perceived norm. Christian Apologetics is legitimate so far as it can explain to lay people why the "lost" Gospels (i.e. excluded, non-canonical, apocryphal, gnostic or whatever) lost out. It explains why the church leaders rejected writings that were androgynist (like the Gospel of Thomas) or too ascetic (like the Acts of Paul). What is more, and I hope Burke would agree, debunking inappropriate use of the non-canonical writings by Dan Brown is a good thing (even Bart Ehrman wrote a book on that one) and other erroneous but populist theories like the "Jesus Dynasty" or the "Jesus Tomb" are worthy of refutation by sane scholarship.

2. Concerning the use of the non-canonical writings in research of early Christianity, I think some strands of scholarship employ them inaccurately and inappropriately. First, in regards to those who focus on Q and the Gospel of Thomas as a seedbed of the early church, I concur with Francois Bovon that some scholars have taken what was peripheral to the early church and tried to make it central. Second, the non-canonical writings are often used to show the radical diversity of the early church and how wrong Eusebius was in his depiction of orthodoxy preceding heresy and how right Walter Bauer was in his view of the development of Christianity. I genuinely concur on the radical diversity and density of the early church. However, Bauer's thesis has come under severe criticism from a number of sources (and not just from conservatives but from others like Birger Pearson and Arland Hultgren) and using non-canonical writings to under write Bauer's thesis is equally illegitimate (Burke follows Bauer without hesistation, see here with remarks against conservative responses to Bauer). Alas, Eusebius and Bauer are not the only two models for explaining the rise of orthodoxy and heresy in the early church. There is nothing wrong about giving the voices from the margin a good and fair hearing, as long as we recognize that they are from the margin and were never really contenders for becoming the official scripture of the early church. Third, we should be cautious and critical of those who promote an alternative "liberal myth" of Chrisian Origins. Something that supposes that the two hundred years of the church was a period of innocent pluralism and tolerance that was destroyed by the machinations of a self-appointed and needlessly narrow oligarchy of bishops who imposed their orthodox faith on a vibrant and diverse church. Yet perhaps the proto-orthodox were more charitable that is often assumed. Serapion, bishop of Antioch, was generous in allowing a congregation to initially use the Gospel of Peter until it was used in support of docetism (my suspicion is that the Gospel of Peter is conducive to docetism and not necessarily advocating it except perhaps in a crytpic way). The inclusion of the antilegomena in the canon meant the inclusion of writings, as Christian scripture no less, that many were still unsure about. When Burke writes, "The ancient heresy hunters were instrumental in the suppression of the Christian groups they found objectionable," while this is true to a degree, it can also be used to support the fallacy that orthodoxy was more or less forcibly imposed. Larry Hurtado writes: "There was, after all, no real means of 'top-down' coercive success for any version of Christianity over others until after Constantine, when imperial endorsement and power could be brought to bear. Second-century bishops were elected by Christians of the locale in which they were to serve. So, for example, if a bishop did not have (or could not win) sufficient support from the local Christians, he could hardly impose on them some version of faith contrary to the preferences of the majority. Thus, if any version of Christianity enjoyed success and became more prominent than others in the first three centuries (whether locally or translocally), it was largely the result of its superior ability to commend itself to sufficient numbers of adherents and supporters. To reiterate the point, the apparent success of what I am calling 'proto-orthodox' Christianity was probably the result of teaching and behavior that were more readily comprehended and embraced by larger numbers of ordinary Christians of the time than were the alternative".

3. What about those who urge Christians to explore the spirituality of the non-canonical writings which is part of Elaine Pagel's writings. Rodney Stark humorously calls such persons "Ivy League Gnostics". His book, Cities of God, is worth quoting at length (Burke strangely omits Stark from his survey):

"Purely as a matter of faith, one is free to prefer Gnostic interpretations and to avow that they give us access to secret knowledge concerning a more authentic Christianity, as several popular authors have recently done. But one is not free to claim that the early church fathers rejected these writings for nefarious reasons. The conflicts between many of these manuscripts and the New Testament are so monumental that no thinking person could embrace both (p. 142)."

"Elain Pagels stresses that the Gnostic writers 'did not regard themselves as "heretics"'. Of course note. But the issue of heresy is hardly a matter of self-designation. Let us assume that these writers (including forgers) sincerely believed that they possessed the truth and that the conventional Christians had it all wrong, while the conventional Christians were equally sure that theirs was the true Christianity. Within the confines of faith, the charge of heresy can be resolved objectively only on the basis of which side more accurately transmitted the original teachings of Jesus. That decision must come down to sources (p. 152)."

"Had the Gnostics prevailed, they presumably would be viewed today rather more in the manner that Pagels and other 'Ivy League' Gnostics would wish, assuming that such a thing as Christianity still existed. But the Gnostics did not prevail, because they did not present nearly so plausible a faith, nor did they seem to understand how to create sturdy organizations. Instead, most of them did and taught their own 'thing'. To sum up, the Gnostics gospels were rejected for good reason: they constitute idiosyncratic, often lurid personal visions reported by scholarly mystics, ambitious pretenders, and various outsiders who found their life's calling in dissent. Whatever else might be said about them, surely they were heretics. As N.T. Wright put it, they 'represent ... a form of spirituality which, while still claiming the name of Jesus, has left behind them every things that made Jesus who he was, and that made the early Christians what they were' (p. 154)."

In sum, I'm all for more accurate and more rigorous use of the non-canonical writings. Yet I advocate that Christian Apologetics written by "conservative authors" is a legitimate activity since it correctly casts aspersions on the theological character and historical origins of the non-canonicals for lay audiences whose own theological profile attempts to line up with the NT canon. The non-canonical writings can be equally abused by "liberal authors" who use them to construct an alternative Bauerian myth of Christian Origins (the unassailable liberal orthodoxy) and they sometimes enjoin a spirituality that is devious and harmful from the view point of historic orthodoxy. Note the italics here as I admit the theological and pastoral motivation that guides certain authors and even myself at times when dealing with this material. Burke is free to critique those who use the non-canonical writings in their construction of Christian history or to question how accurately the content and provenance of the non-canonical documents are described. Yet he cannot disparage the theological and pastoral motivations for critiquing these documents unless he himself comes clean on his own theological and ideological biases. In fact, I think I can detect Burke's biases when he states: "The audiences of the heresy hunters were also the writers' fellow orthodox Christians; perhaps their fears of losing members of their group to heresy were also unwarranted. Perhaps we assume too readily, based on the passion of the refutations, that the heretics were a grave threat to ancient orthodoxy". Burke can empathize with the non-canonical authors but not at all with the fears and concerns of the Christian heresiologists. Burke also wants modern apologists to reconsider if the non-canonical writings are, "late, derivative, and ultimately deserving of censure". Cool bananas, but what happens if we are led to affirm on the basis of evidence (not bias) that this is indeed the case. What if the Gospel of Thomas is early to mid second century, dependent upon the Four Gospels, and promoting esoteric schemes of salvation comparatively different from the canonical Gospels. I certainly don't want seminarians getting their theology of gender from the Gospel of Thomas or preaching the empty tomb story from the Gospel of Peter on Easter Sunday. In Burke's opinion, what does that make me? I'd like to know! For what it's worth, maybe Irenaeus' concerns were legitimate and his intentions good. The good bish wrote: "Inasmuch as certain men have set aside the truth, and bring in lying words and vain and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, 'minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,' and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations.]"

Scot McKnight Ain't Catholic (with reflections on unity)

Sometime ago Scot McKnight did an excellent post on Why I Am Not a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I couldn't put it better myself. I think the definition of a Christian given in Rom. 10.9-10 is alot broader than any statement of faith or confession and it obviously can include RCC and EO persons respectively. I've also met some excellent Catholic deacons, scholars, and priests who are closer to the kingdom of God than many Protestants and Evangelicals that I know. The Catholics are the only group on American (and Australian) TV that one can demonize by portraying them all as a bunch of ultra right-wing hypocrites, child molestors, who strangely always quote the Bible in King James English and I pity them. During my time in the Army I found that most of the Catholic Chaplains were more interested in doing Bible studies than their Protestant colleagues. I don't have a huge problem with episcopal church government (and neither did John Calvin!) even if it's not my preferred modus operandi. Protestants need to remember that before the Reformation that the RCC was our Church and in some ways, while we are currently separated from it (with good reason too), it continues to be our Church and so we should be interested in its affairs. However, I think the RCC has substituted the Church for the Holy Spirit. I'm all for reading Scripture in light of Tradition but, if Tradition is a tool for reading Scripture, then Scripture has to be allowed to critique Tradition and that is lacking. Priestly celibacy has got to go and it was a late development any way. Papal infallibility is an issue and I'll never forget talking to a Catholic Priest who did not believe in Papal infallibility because he'd been to Rome and seen where they buried all the mistresses and illegitimate children of the Popes. I'm happy with the communion of the saints, but not if it compromizes Jesus as the only mediator. The bread and wine of communion still looks, smells, and tastes like bread and wine to me and transubstantiation does not sound convincing to a non-Aristotlean. The only place I ever want to see a "Hail Mary" is on the football field and if the RCC ever officially makes Mary co-redemptrix, then, all bets are off concerning ecumenical futures. Vatican II did not change the doctrine and theology of the Catholic Church and as proof that the 1993 Catechism is thoroughly Tridentine and that remains an obstacle to unity. I would love to see a meeting between the Pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a Protestant representative to speak for the largest body of Christians on matters they can agree on, but I'm not optomistic that it will ever happen. At the end of the day I want to stand in continuity with the apostolic gospel and the ancient church and the challenge of Protestantism is how to do so without forfeiting the Protest of the Reformation and without becoming a sect with a "Sesame Street Ecclesiology" where every believer "does his own thing" and multiplies the endless divisions and denominations of Protestantism. In a recent article in an Australian Presbyterian magazine, Iain Murray (of Banner of Truth fame) said that "unity was overrated". Unity at any price is indeed overrated, but exhortations to unity and one mindedness in 1 Cor. 1.10-17; Phil. 2.1-4, John 17.20-23, Acts 2.44, and Eph. 4.3-6 are there and they are there to be obeyed.

N.T. Wright wows Roman Synod

A friend of mine heard N.T. Wright speak in Brisbane, Australia at the invitation of the Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby (I imagine that the local Anglican Archbishop Philip Aspinall would be not be likely the invite the Bishop of Durham since Jack Spong is more his thing). Well, apparently John Barthersby said that for him reading Jesus and the Victory of God was like "meeting Jesus for the first time"! More recently, Wright is impressing the Catholics again this time as a "fraternal delegate" at a gathering of bishops in Rome. Read about it here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kingdom in 1 Thessalonians

My Aussie friend Dr. David Luckensmeyer writes:

"In First Thessalonians, the basileia tou theou is the royal rule of God which began with the death and resurrection of Jesus and is established at the parousia of the Lord. It is a paradigmatic alternative to the Imperial rule, where the benevolent King, through a mediator (Jesus), offers a community identity and existence which rises above a this-worldly social disintegration. The eschatological discourse in the letter offers a balanced perspective regarding present conflict and future reality. The kerygmatic hope, which includes a responsibility to holy living, centres on the parousia of the Lord. That occurence is representative of life (1:9; 4:15, 17: 5:10), of deliverance from orge (1:10; 5:9), of hope, glory, joy, and a crown of boasting (2:12, 19, 20), of resurrection (4:14, 16), of celebration (4:17), of being with the Lord always (4:17), and of salvation (5:9). The picture that emerges in the eschatological discourse of First Thessalonians is nothing short of the basileia tou theou itself."

David Luckensmeyer, "Basileia in First Thessalonians," in "I Sowed Fruits into Hearts" (Odes sol. 17:13): Festschrift for Professor Michael Lattke (ECS 12; Strathfield: St. Paul's, 2007), 155.

Blogging and Biblical Studies

A new book published by Crossway is out called The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ edited by John Mark Reynolds and Roger Overton with a stack of interesting contributors. Should be one to read! In addition, James Crossley's new volume Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century (and from eyewitness accounts an alternative title should be, “How to be a Nigel No-Friends in Academia: Offending Colleagues and Ticking Off People Who Have Never Heard of You”) also has some stuff on biblical studies and blogging. That one I intend to read out of a morbid curiosity and as to how many relationships James can sever and how many enemies he can make in one book.

Larry Hurtado on Martin Hengel

Larry Hurtado, ‘Martin Hengel’s Impact on English-Speaking Scholarship,’ ExpT 120.2 (2008): 70-76.

“First, Hengel has set a high standard of thoroughness of research that continues to instruct and inspire. Second, his frank acknowledgement of his Christian stance and theological concerns is commendable, both in its honesty and in his demonstration (contrary to the anxieties of some) such a commitment can actually inspire dedicated and critical historical analysis that wins the praise of scholars of various faith-stances. Third, over and against both anti-critical conservatism of a creedalistic or fundamentalistic nature, and over and against the now-fashionable disdain of the validity of critical historical investigation in some so-called ‘post-modernist’ circles, and also over and against the tendency by some other NT scholars to play off critical historical study and hermeneutical concerns, Hengel’s body of work stands as a monumental refutation and inspiration.” (p. 75).

The areas where I have found Hengel to be helpful and even inspirational are: 1. He is a first class exponent of primary sources. 2. He combines historical acumen with theological sensitivity. 3. The breadth of his research and learning is immense. 4. He has shown that views often touted as conservative (e.g. history in Acts, Jesus as a messianic claimant, critical of form criticism) are not based on theological prejudices but on sound historical evidence.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Philo on Angels and Demons

Gig. 1:6 - "Those beings, whom other philosophers call demons, Moses usually calls angels; and they are souls hovering in the air". I wonder if this reflects the peculiar verse in Eph. 2.2 concerning Satan as "the ruler of the power of the air"?

Somn. 1:141 - "Now philosophers in general are wont to call these demons, but the sacred scripture calls them angels, using a name more in accordance with nature".

Roland Boer, the Bible, and Secularism

Over at Religion Compass Exchange, Roland Boer has a post on Books: Stolen Bibles which raises some interesting and provocative points. Let me offer some thoughts in relation to Roland's post (at Roland's invitation!):

1. Roland assumes that the left is correct in their views and values. Now I write this as a social conservative and a proponent of a free market economy with socialist sympathies. I cannot join the radical left and here's why. I believe passionately in civil rights and defending the most defenceless which is precisely why I'll part with my head rather than consent to abortion on demand and euthanasia. I think high levels of government intervention in a free market is better than a communist system against the ownership of private property. Legalized drugs profits only drug dealers and prostitution, legal or illegal, is the most common means of exploiting girls under the age of 17. To give another example, Christian sexual ethics of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage (despite the fact it's not uniquely Christian and is common in many non-western cultures) is not oppressive but is actually good for individuals and society in my view. Compare that to the sexualizing of children in recent art exhibitions in Australia and I'll chose Benny 16 over Bill Henson any day of the week! I'm not stupid enough to try legislate Christian sexual ethics for people who are not Christians, but I tire of being called a sexophobe because I belong to a tradition that values chastity, purity, and fidelity. (Note, none of these issues are raised by Roland and it's just my rant as to why I'm not a leftie).

2. What Roland calls the extreme religious right seems to refer to those who hold to teachings and beliefs that are centuries old (esp. in regards to sexuality, the uniqueness of Christ, belief in the authority of Scriptures, etc). The problem here is that you can become right wing just by standing still in 2000 years of Christian teaching! Roland also seems glabberghasted by the fact that the Pope is Catholic! If Roland wants to rescue the Bible from those who use it to support the Iraq War, oppress the Palestinians, oppose climate control measures, support American military and economic hegemony, and the right to carry arms and form militias - no objection from me and I'll give you an "amen" - but I think his idea of the religious right also seems to absorb those more moderate Christians who would adhere to what C.S. Lewis called "mere Christianity". Now maybe Roland has teased this out elsewhere, but there is alot of people in between the extremes represented by Liberation Theology on the one hand and those represented by the Rapture Index on the other hand. Most of us evangelical Christians are neither!

3. An alliance between the religious left and secular left? I see no reason why the secular left will ever want to make use of the Bible any more than the Vatican would want to make use of the Humanist Manifesto. Some secular groups (I think of the Greens in Australia) are determined to exterminate the non-religious left from the public landscape. The Australian Greens oppose the existence of Christian private schools and public schools having chaplains. The left wing intelligentsia preaches pluralism and tolerance but does not tolerate anyone who does not accept their view of religious and social pluralism. As for the religious left losing the Bible, well, the problem is not that they lost it, but they abandoned it. In the left-leaning American Episcopal Church their mission is based more on the UN Millennium Goals and Al Gore's home movies than on Scripture. Call the Bible a fractious and multivalent document if ya like, but in ecclesial communities it is a symphonic arrangement of voices that sing about the story of God, God's Word, and God's new world revealed in his Son. Perhaps this is what the religious left needs to learn again rather than taking a course on Marxism 101.

4. The pro-religion secular left (i.e. those who see religion as having a legitimate and helpful place in a secular society) would do better to partner up with moderate conservatives rather than gravitate to the vocal but impotent ultra-religious left and spend their time fighting the ultra-right. Despise the evangelicals if ya like for their opposition to gay marriage and abortion, their claim that Jesus is the only saviour, but take into account their philanthropic exploits. I know of more Christians Doctors who leave their practices and go to Africa and Asia than areligious or atheist Doctors who do the same (now there can be atheist Philanthropists, Bill Hayden comes to mind), but you're more likely to see the Salvation Army on the Streets of Sydney after dark helping the homeless than members of the Australian Humanist Society. As James Crossley and I concluded in our book How Did Christianity Begin? secularists and evangelicals can work together to enhance the human condition. Though we might disagree with what is enhancing (e.g. gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research) there can be agreement on fighting world poverty, HIV-AIDS programs, and promoting religious freedom. If you know of organisations like the International Justice Mission, Tear Fund, or Compassion Australia, then you'll see that the evangelicals have already gone ahead of you.

Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Sermon on the Mount

Thanks to one of my students, I came across this quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Sermon on the Mount:

"[T]he Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals. It is not to be regarded as a law- a kind of new ‘Ten Commandments’ or set of rules and regulations which are to be carried out by us-but rather as a description of what we Christians are meant to be" (D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Vol.1, [IVP, 1966], 23).

This is not how you should interpret the SOTM! This makes the strenuous commands of the SOTM more like ideals one can gaze at with awe, rather than seeing it as the manifesto for the new kingdom community that Jesus called his disciples to be. Disciples of Jesus are to be followers, not fans of his teachings. They are called to radical obedience not meditation on how good we might conceivably be one day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

N.T. Wright at the White Horse Inn

The Theology of N.T. Wright is discussed at the White Horse Inn led by Michael Horton (with some interesting sound bites from J.I. Packer). While it is very critical of Wright, it is appreciative of Wright too esp. on the resurrection, his emphasis on redemptive-history, and showing the value of NT background. I would agree with some of the criticisms in the sense that Luther and Calvin were a bit more nuanced than is often recognized in the New Perspective on Paul, I think Wright did (esp. in earlier works like WSPRS) over emphasize the ecclesiological content of justification, and I do find some of Wright's statements on future justification to be potentially alarming if they are not seriously nuanced. I also concur with the panelists that the NPP is stalling because of works like (in my listing) John Barclay, Francis Watson, Andrew Das, Robert Jewett, and Simon Gathercole - but the aftermath should not be a return to traditional Reformation doctrine; in my opinion, we need a more socially framed and ecclesially aware depiction of Paul's soteriology. I see no reason to abandon the essential architecture bequeathed to us by the Reformation, but it needs a serious make over at points!

The major criticisms I have with the discussion are that the allegations of Wright as a pelagian, an anabaptist, and that he does not know what to do with the cross are not just slightly off target but are totally inaccurate (for the love of Martha, Wright believes in propitiation). But at the start of the discussion Michael Horton raises a number of more appropriate criticisms which are worth discussing in relation to the NPP:

1. Wright sets being right with God over and against the membership of Gentiles in the people of God as the content of justification. I think Wright has over emphasized the ecclesial side at times, but he has never repudiated the notion that justification refers to the 'sinner being right with God' . He has tried to maintain a bit of both and as proof of this I recommend his BAR response to Paul Barnett and his book Paul: Fresh Perspectives. But if Wright has over emphasized the ecclesial aspect of justification, then the Reformed tradition has also been guilty of basically ignoring the ecclesial or social (i.e. horizontal) implications of justification.

2. Wright often equates 'faith' with 'faithfulness'. Perhaps so, but this is perhaps not such a bad thing in specific passages (I've recently studied a number of texts in Colossians that seem to fit better with 'faithfulness' rather than with 'faith' as the proper translation of pistis). Even John Macarthur and Rudolf Bultmann agree that pistis implies obedience!

3. Wright fails to distinguish the covenant of grace and the Sinai covenant leading to a confusion of law and gospel. I did a quick browse of my concordance and could not find "covenant of grace". Obviously my TNIV concordance has been corrupted by the translation committee which consists of a bunch of Arminian, Pelagian, Wright-loving, democrat voting, universal health care believing, feminist liberals. Most concerning! I'll have to check the ESV concordance which I'm sure has it in there somewhere. Doh! I just checked and it's not in the ESV either. Well dang, stuffed if I know where they got it from then. But in all seriousness, I think one area where Wright and Piper would agree is that an Adam/Christ framework supersedes the traditional categories of Reformed Covenant Theology! If you drop the Covenant of Grace you do not necessarily subsume gospel benneath law (if you don't believe me then ask John Piper as I've heard him say as much in person with Michael Horton in the same room!). [Disclaimer: imagine me saying this paragraph with a smile on my face, it's meant to be humourous not flippant!].

4. Justification based on our "total life lived" and no "imputation". Genuinely valid points! I often grimace when I read some of Wright's one-liners on the future element of justification and I don't like what he does with the Holy Spirit here as the energizer of works. But I've found that if you read him widely and closely enough, he seems to come down on the view that works are finally instrumental rather than evidential and you certainly don't lose assurance on his take (see his commentary on Rom. 8.1). For Wright everything that the imputation of Jesus' active obedience gives you, he would say you get from Jesus's faithfulness and union with Christ. Like others in the Reformed tradition I think union with Christ is the key matrix for justification and imputation is a necessary corollary from that relationship.

5. On Wright's definition of Gospel as "Jesus is Lord" (and he is thus against American military actions and American multi-national corporations) Horton contests this. Yet it works well in Rom. 1.3-4 and 2 Tim. 2.8, but I stress in critique of Wright that it doesn't work in 1 Cor. 15.3-8. I think the gospel is the person of Christ (Messiah and Lord) and work of Christ (death and resurrection). It is both/and! Yet, notice this Wrightesque definition of gospel from Martin Luther: “The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.” (Martin Luther, “A brief instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels,” in Luther’s Works [ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; 55 vols.; Fortress: Philadelphia, 1960] 35.118.). I don't think that Jesus is Lord is bad news at all, since he expresses his lordship by submitting himself to death on a cross (Phil. 2.6-8) and he is the judge of the enemies of the people of God (Rom. 2.16)! I think the language of gospel has definite theopolitical implications even if it is not the primary content. Those implications would be clear to any Greco-Roman audience who heard the words "Lord, Gospel, Saviour, Parousia" in the same sentence.

I found the discussion to be a bit hit and miss. All the same, Michael Horton is a sharp guy and a good speaker who successfully raises many of the contested issues.

Trinitarian Debates at Trinity

CT and Andy Naselli report on debates about the Trinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Central to the debate has been the subject of whether the Son eternally submits to the Father. Together Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware argued that relations of authority and submission do indeed exist among the persons of the Godhead, while Tom McCall and Keith Yandell argued against this proposal.

Ironically, myself and my systematics colleague Dr. Robert Shillaker have an article coming out on this very topic in Trinity Journal published by TEDS! A few thoughts:

I argue that the dynamics of the Father-Son relationship in the Fourth Gospel and key Pauline texts (e.g. Phil. 2.5-11, 1 Cor. 11.1-3, 15.28) all imply the functional subordination of the Son to the Father. If we hold to Rahner's axiom that the economic Trinity corresponds to the immanent Trinity, then these relations are rooted in the eternality of God and the Son is eternally sent by the Father. The incarnation of the Son (as opposed to the Father or the Spirit) was singularly appropriate to the Son in view of his eternal relationship the Father. The Son is of the same substance of the Father and Spirit, but has a different function within the Godhead.

Nonetheless, I would make several important qualification. (1) I do not like the term "subordination" because, whether you like it or not, you're beginning to edge yourself towards the categories of Arrianism. Instead, following Pannenberg, I prefer to speak of the Son's obedient self-distinction from the Father which is eternal. (2) I am concerned that a debate about intra-Trinitarian relations is being rigorously and inappropriately applied to gender roles within the church. Grudem and Ware are both avid complementarians and their interest in the debate is the application of the same principle (equal in being but subordinated in rank) to male/female relationships. My response is: (a) Yes, it is fine to have equality in being and subordination in rank, but there is nothing about the Trinity that tells you that rank is determined by gender; (b) the Trinity has three persons so it's application to marriage or ministry strikes me as exceedingly limited (unless you're marriage consists of some bizaar love triangle); (c) 1 Cor. 11.3 does relate divine headship to male/female relations, however, Paul does not say that man is the head of woman because the Father is the head of Christ, instead, he provides three analogies of headship to make the point that women and men must respect their respective heads! (d) The issue of gender roles in the home and women-in-ministy should be settled on more firmer exegetical ground than be based on the selective and slippery application of Trinitarian relations within the God-head. In fact, I think I could easily develop a Trinitarian argument based on subordination for the role of women in pastoral ministry if I had too! (e) As a result I would kindly ask all theologians, be they egalitarian or complementarian, to cease and desist from using the Trinity in any gender debates because the arguments are informed by other theological questions, by competing cultural ideas of gender and personhood, and denominational battles over the qualifications for pastoral ministry.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Notice: Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church

James W. Aageson
Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church
Library of Pauline Studies (ed. S.E. Porter)
Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008
Available at Alban Books in the UK
Available at in the USA

In this volume James Aageson tries to place the Pastoral Epistles (PE) in the context of the reception of Paul and development of the Pauline tradition in the early church. He declares in his intoduction that that the PE show that Paul and his theology can be represented in new contexts and they foreshadow important issues confronting the church in the first two centuries. In chapter two he establishes the particular theological pattern in each of the PE (rather than analyzing their theology as a single corpus). Then in chapter three he compares and contrasts them in order to position the PE in the symbolic and theological context of early Pauline tradition. Aageson believes that evidence from 1 Timothy, Titus, and the undisputed letters suggests that these two letters represents a more conservative and conformist social strand in the development of Pauline tradition than does 2 Timothy which includes (analogous to Philippians) a non-conformist ethos. In chapter four, Aageson maintains that the PE are pregnated with a Pauline concept of scripture as a precursor to a Pauline canon. He thinks that Ephesians and Colossians stand at a closer distance to Paul than the PE which would make the PE a third generation document. Then, in chapters five and six, Aageson looks at how the PE contributed to the image and reception of Paul in the post-apostolic church (Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement) and the later church (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen). He finds that the theological worlds of the PE reflect and intersect with the development of Christian orthodoxy. Chapter seven covers the PE and the Acts of Paul and Thecla and Aageson contends that both represent extensions of Pauline tradition and community needs have reshaped the tradition. In the conclusion, Aageson surmizes that the PE were written after Paul's death but before Ignatius wrote his letters (I think some such as H. Koester date the PE to the 150s!). He believes that they reflect only a modest concern for the matters raised in the undisputed letters such as Jew-Gentile relations in the church but show an acute concern for issuees related to Christian life in the late first-century empire. Importantly, he finds the PE crucial for understanding the transformation of Paul's theology and the development of Paul's legacy in the early church.

This is an interesting and well-written volume on the development of Pauline tradition. For me the main benefit was the way that Aaegeson shows the relevance of the reception of Paul for the theology of the later church. I'm more sanguine about Pauline authorship of the PE (through a secretary or close disciple at least; see L.T. Johnson's contribution to the subject) but I admit that the language, situation, and theology of the PE has both continuities and discontinuities with the undisputed letters (I think I have a footnote on this in Bird's Eye-View of Paul). So there is development in the PE and the question is whether it can be placed at the end of Paul's life time. Aageson's thesis could still work, in some respect, even if Paul is closer to the PE than what the scholarly consensus would allow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday is for Ad Fontes

My favourite letter among the Apostolic Fathers, the Epistel to Diognetus, note these two verses:

"In a word, what the soul is to be the body, Christians are to the world." (6.1).

"If this faith is what you too long for, then first of all you must acquire full knowledge of the Father. God God loved humanity, for whose sake he made the world, to whom he subjected everything on earth, to whom he gave reason, to whom he gave mind; them alone he permitted to look up to heaven, them he created in his own image, to them he sent his one and only Son, to them he promised the kingdom in heaven, which he will give to those who have loved him." (10.1-2).

Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and Engish Translations (3rd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).

New Book on the Psalms of Solomon

Danny Zacharias' maiden volume is now out. So congrats to Danny. I've read the manuscript and can honestly say that this is a great little book on two important chapters of the Psalms of Solomon.

“Raise up to them their King” - Psalms of Solomon 17-18 in the Context of Early Jewish Messianism
H. Daniel Zacharias
VDM, 2008
108 pages
Available at

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Latest Issue of JETS

The latest Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51.2 (2008) out is available. I think this is the best issue that I've seen for some time!

A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a Late-Date Exodus-Conquest.
Rodger C. Young and Bryant G. Wood.

The Date of the Exodus-Conquest Is Still an Open Question: A Response to Rodger Young and Bryant Wood. K. Hawkins

The Gospel in the Gospels: Answering the Question "What Must I Do to Be Saved?" from the Gospels.
Edmund K. Neufeld
[Excellent discussion on pp. 292-96 and he argues that "saving obedience" is a necessary condition of salvation in Synoptic perspective].

Paul and the Testimonia: Quo Vademus?
David Lincicum
[Argues, contra Charles Stanley, that while Paul had access to traditional materials and digests of OT texts, his engagement with Scripture cannot be reduced to reliance upon a testimonia or excerpta source.]

Is Paul's Gospel Counterimperial?Evaluating the Prospects of the "Fresh Perspective" for Evangelical Theology.
Denny Burke
[My good friend Denny gives a critique of overly politicized readings of Paul. While I am certain that there is a theopolitical aspect to Paul's gospel (see my Bird's Eye-View of Paul), Denny offers a good critique of inappropriate use of parallels, the views of Richard Horsley, and some exegetical gymnastics done with Rom. 13.1-7 to try make it sound anti-imperial! I think Denny is a little too eager to defend America from charges of imperialism (see pp. 328-30), but it is still a good counter-point to much current discussion].

Shouting in the Apocalypse: The Influence of First-Century Acclamations on the Praise Utterances in Revelation 4:8 and 11.
David Seal

New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament: The Theological Rationale of Midrashic Exegesis.
Martin Pickup
[This article would have been more useful had it been published in JETS in 1982! Anyway, Pickup argues that midrash rather than a grammatical-historical approach is the best way to understand NT handling of the OT. He states: "The ancient Jewish hermeneutic subsumes the various proposals that evangelicals traditionally have offered as solutions to problematic cases of NT exegesis. The concepts of generic promise, corporate solidarity, typology, sensus plenior, and canonical process reading all find a place within teh midrashic framework, for they serve to highlight the ways iin which the interconnections of God's revelation may occur, and these interconnections are what permit a midrashic reading" p. 379].

BBC and Codex Sinaiticus

Over at ETC, Dirk Jongkind has a good post on the BBC's news article about Codex Sinaiticus.

NPP and FV

While debates about the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision may only be of interest to certain Presbyterian denominations in the USA (e.g. PCA and OPC), still, a good article about the subject is Within the Bounds of Orthodoxy by Joseph Minich which is worth reading for those interested. The FV thing is not my turf so I make no adjudication about it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Decline of the American Empire?

I've read the best article yet on the American economic crisis and what it means for the world (incidentally, so far, Australia is weathering the storm with good economic fundamentals). The article is How did it get to this, America shatters and, once you get past the anti-American rhetoric, it actually makes some good points. All I want to say is: (1) the GOP ideology of tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts is not what you do during times of war. Every civilization I know of raises taxes during time of war in order to avoid bankrupting the country with debt! (2) The great preachers of free market non-interventionist economics have finally seen the chickens come home to roost. Some government intervention and regulation in a free market economy might actually be a good thing and we now have 700 billion pieces of proof why this is so. (3) While the world economic environment will change with this, I doubt if it means the ultimate decline of America's economic power since it is too big and too rich to go down just yet. If you don't believe me, check out the endowments of Harvard University and Princeton Theological Seminary. (4) Whinge about American hegemony and imperialism all ya like, but I can't help but think that America has tried, in ideal at least, to be a benevolent nation. I cannot help but prefer American hegemony to a hegemonic Russia or China (ask people in those countries what they think on it before you mock me as a yanky sycophant on that one!). (5) When I think of the US finanical meltdown I think of Revelation 18.9-17 where the kings and merchants of the earth are literally beside themselves with grief that the economic boom of Babylon has come to an end. America is not God's anointed servant to bring capitalism and democracy to the world, but nor is she the whore of Babylon either. America is just another pagan nation with many good Christian folk. As Christians we should not put our trust in any one nation since nations rise and fall but the Kingdom of God endures forever.

Latest JSHJ

The latest issue of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6.1 (2008) is out and includes:

Editorial Foreword
Webb, Robert L.

Did the Historical Jesus Prohibit All Oaths? Part 2
Meier, John P.

A Response to John P. Meier's 'Did the Historical Jesus Prohibit All Oaths?'
Hagner, Donald A.

The Prohibition of Oaths and Contra-scriptural Halakhot: A Response to John P. Meier
Klawans, Jonathan

Historical Jesus and Oaths: A Response to Donald A. Hagner and Jonathan Klawans
Meier, John P.

A Prophet Is Rejected in His Home Town (Mark 6.4 and Parallels): A Study in the Methodological (In)Consistency of the Jesus Seminar
Lyons, William John

Eyewitnesses and the Oral Jesus Tradition
Dunn, James D.G.

Morton Smith as M. Madiotes: Stephen Carlson's Attribution of Secret Mark to a Bald Swindler Pantuck, Allan J.; Brown, Scott G.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Philemon and Theology

Barth and Blanke write in their ECC Philemon commentary:

"According to Paul’s best-known letters, every person, whether Jew or Gentile, needs forgiveness of sins, salvation by Christ’s blood rather than self-salvation by the misunderstood and misused law of God, and redemption from eternal death. For everyone the spiritual freedom has immediate consequences in the social setting of his or her own life. But Philem 16 makes it explicit that salvation and redemption, freedom and equality are divine gifts far too precious to be left to the handling of even so good a Christian and so legal a slave owner as Philemon. When this man receives and treats Onesimus as a brother he receives, according to verse 17, a person ‘sent back’ (v. 12) by Paul who is to be received the same way as the apostle hopes to be received. Not only brother Paul but also brother Onesimus will have to show and tell brother Philemon a few things relevant to faith and life, and the latter will have to listen to and follow good advice and proposals. if this be applied to twentieth-century conditions, it means that professional philosophers and social scientists, pastors and theology professors, politicians and industrial managers, trade unionists and revolutionaries have no monopoly on representing and proclaiming a social order that would deserve to be called free and just and peaceful."

Does God Create Faith?

One of the reasons why I identify with the Reformed tradition is because it emphasizes the gracious initiative and saving power of God in the event of salvation. Furthermore, it is my contention that God does not "draw out" or "woo" faith from us, but gives it as a gift through his efficacious Word. Several texts point in this direction:

1. Philippians 1:29 - "For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him." What has been graciously given (εχαρισθη) is to both believe and to suffer on behalf of Christ.

2. Ephesians 2:8 - "For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." This passage is slightly deceptive! The closest antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun τουτο (this) is πιστεως (faith). But πιστεως is feminine while τουτο is neuter (as is δωρον [gift]). So it is not strictly saying that faith is a gift from God. Rather, και τουτο is probably an adverbial explication of χαριτι εστε σεσωσμενοι (by grace you are saved). Yet the gift of grace-salvation leads to faith implying that God is behind everything that brings salvation to its fullest form, otherwise grace is hardly a gift.

3. Romans 10:17 - "Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ." The logic of the passage is that the word of Christ + hearing = faith. In light of Rom. 10.8, we can say that the "word of faith" is often efficacious in its result, but in light of Rom. 10.18-19 it is ineffective at other times. It would be unwise to try use this passage to create a precise ordo salutis, but all the same, the preached word is the logical and causal antecedent of faith which is specifically linked to God's electing purposes.

4. Acts 16:14 - "A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying." The infinitive προσεχειν means more than "listen intently" and connotes a positive response as well. That the "Lord opened her heart" to so respond seems like a pretty clear indication of divine initiative and not merely divine assistance.

Overall, I think Martin Luther is right: God creates faith the same way that he made the universe, he found nothing and made something!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Books on Philemon to Read

Philemon is a good little letter and here's the main books that you need to consult when examining it:

John Knox, Philemon among the letters of Paul: a new view of its place and importance (New York: Abingdon, 1959).

Norman R. Petersen, Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the sociology of Paul's narrative world (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).

Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, Philemon (ECC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000).

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Letter to Philemon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2000).

Lamb Christology in Revelation

My NT 101 students (whom I haven't had a chance to actually instruct yet) have been set an essay on the Christology of the Book of Revelation. Central to that subject must obviously be the Lamb Christology in the book. Steve Moyise has a good section on this in ch. 8 of his Evoking Scripture. Moyise summarizes Thomas Slater's summery (Christ and Community: A Socio-Historical Study of the Christology of Revelation [1999]) of the Lamb image in the book:
  • The Lamb is worthy to open the scroll by virtue of its sacrificial death;
  • The Lamb inaugurates the events that lead to victory and salvation for the people of God;
  • The Lamb makes war on the enemies of God's people and defeats them;
  • The Lamb holds the book of life with the names of the 'saved';
  • The Lamb protects the community from harm; and
  • The Lamb shares divine honours with God.
The theme is introduced in Rev. 5.6 and occurs a further nine times in Revelation 5-7 and seven times in Revelation 21-22. For those interested in the theme further, they should consult Loren L. Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John (2003).