Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?

On why did Paul persecute the church, here is an idea from Mark Nanos that I think must feature in an answer in some way:

'That policy is the one for which he claims to be persecuted later, namely, for not “still” preaching circumcision of non-Jews (Gal 5:11). While Paul championed this move, he probably did not initiate it. Rather, since before the dramatic revelation of Christ in him and call to bring this message to the nations, he was the most vicious opponent of this policy, it is likely that this policy of including non-Jews as full members was a propositional truth for Christ based groups that predated his change of course. If so, what motivated Paul’s zealous was not a failure by Jewish members of the Christ groups to observe Torah per se. They were observing, for example, Sabbath and dietary customs, and circumcising their sons. At issue was a change of policy based on an alternative interpretation of Torah for defining the inclusion of non-Jews as full and equal members based on the claim that God has in Christ initiated the age to come kingdom with just such expectations for embers of the rest of the nations to join alongside Israel in the worship of the One God'.

Mark Nanos, ‘Paul and Judaism: Why Not Paul's Judaism,’ in Paul Unbound: Other Perspectives on Paul’ in Mark Given, ed. Paul Unbound: Other Perspectives on Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, forthcoming 2009). See an on-line version here.

Bird and Crossley on TV

James Crossley and I appeared together on Premiere Christian Radio's TV on demand channel where we discussed our book How Did Christianity Begin? You can watch the discussion here (goes for 23 minutes).

More New Blogs from Australia on Science and Theology

I have come across yet another Aussie blogger who is into all things Science, Philosophy, and Theology, and the engagement between the three. Roger Morris, who a medical doctor on the Sunshine Coast (I've been there and believe me it is appropriately named!), has started a blog called, Faithinterface.com which he introduces as: "The purpose of this blog is completely selfish - to allow me to bang on about my great love, the interface between science, philosophy and Christian theology. But it is also an opportunity to engage in discussions about these matters with others of all worldviews within the blogosphere. "

Monday, March 30, 2009

New Blog on Theology, Science, and Culture

Ross McKenzie is one of the world's leading quantum physicists and he's also a Christian and an Australian (and let's face it, it doesn't get much better than that!). Anyways, he has a blog called: Solio Deo Gloria: Thoughts on Theology, Science, and Culture which is worth checking out. He is also associated with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Notice: Binding the Strong Man - Ched Myers

Ched Myers
Binding the Strong Man: A Political reading of Mark's Story of Jesus
(2nd ed.; New York: Maryknoll, 2008)
Available from Amazon.com

When I was in theological college I had a revolutionary experience where I decided to leave Paul for Jesus in my immediate studies. I had naively thought that Paul had all the good theology and the Gospels (except perhaps for John) were merely the warm-up act for Paul. It was in a class on "Jesus and the Gospels" with, of all people, a pastoral studies lecturer that exposed us to study of Gospel of Mark with a social-scientific slant, it was there that the Gospels came alive to me in a fresh new way and I saw Jesus in ways that I never imagined. Since that time, Mark has always been my favourite Gospel and I have nearly twenty Gospel of Mark commentaries in my library. One book that I have found immensely stimulating is Ched Myer's liberationist reading Binding the Strong Man. Now I am no liberation theologian, but there are elements of this book that do make you really, really think about the social location of Jesus and Mark's readers and the socio-political implications of the Gospel story. In this 20 year anniversary edition are a number of testimonies by people as to how Ched Myer's book has influenced them. What caught my eye was this comment from Christopher Rowland of Oxford Uni:

"What I think is so striking about Ched Myer's Binding the Strong Man is that it's apparent on every page that it is written by a person whose understanding comes from within the struggles of life, and who knows, mutatis mutandis, what it is to follow Jesus 'in the way' and to understand the Bible out of that context. Ched understands something about the text, because he knows that what it means to be a follower of Jesus puts one in a position of being a nonconformist and an activist. If you're not, then one will miss things about the text and not grasp the wisdom and insight which is hidden in this strange story of a marginal Jew which we now as the Gospel of mark" (p. xliii).

Myers identifies three subplots in the Gospel of Mark: (1) There is Jesus' creation of a new community built around himself and his messainic preaching; (2) There is Jesus' mission to the crowds who teem with the poor and oppressed; and (3) There is Jesus' confrontation with the powers that held Israel in their dark grip. Let me give an example of Myer's approach with his summary of Mark 2.16-28:

"Jesus has challenged the ideological hegemony of the scribal and priestly classes by underminning their control of the redemptive media of purity and debt codes. This alone would be a programmatic statement, but Mark is not done. He now turns to the Pharisaic movement, which represented a different - though in Mark's view equally problematic - approach to the ideological maintenance of the people of God. I have noted above how the Pharisaic sect, which included both priests and scribes, pursued a program to extend the imperatives of the symbolic order to the masses while themselves following a rigorous practice of purity. Their attempts at building a popular base put them in direct competition with Mark's community. In the next three episodes Jesus' direct action campaign confronts the central tenets of the Pharisaic holiness code: their rules of table fellowship, pulic piety, and maintenance of the Sabbath" (pp. 157-58).

I should add another fairly unknown work on Mark that is a little gem and that is Herman C. Waetjen's volume A Reordering of Power. When you read his commentary on the passion narratives you will need a hankerchief or a kleenex nearby.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday is for Ad Fontes - Ebionites

In Against Heresies 1.16.2, Irenaeus says o thte Ebionites:

"Those who are called Ebionites, then, agree that hte world was made by God; but their opinions with regard to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates they use the Gospel according to Matthew only and repudiate the apostle Paul, saying that he was apostate from the Law. As to the prophetical writings, they do their best to expound them diligently; they practice circumcision, perseere in the customs which are according to the Law an dpractice a Jewish way of life, even adoring Jerusalem as if it were the house of God."

Our knowledge of the Ebionites is fragmentary and entirely derived from heresiologies of the early church (esp. Irenaeus and Epiphanius). I for one doubt that there ever was a guy called "Ebion" who kicked the whole thing off. The Ebionites take their names from the Hebrew word for "poor". What is often touted about the Ebionites is two things: (1) They stand in a genealogical relationship with the pre-70 AD Jerusalem church, and (2) Their christology also reflects the christology of the Jerualem church which was non-divine, no virgin birth, and adoptionist, posessionist (Jesus was possessed by the Holy Spirit) and perhaps even angelomorphic. In which case, by the end of the second century (so it goes) the earliest christology is now deemed heretical - as argued by Dunn, Goulder, and Ludemann.

I am not convinced by that. While I think the story of the flight of Jewish Christians to Pella shortly before the Roman siege of Jerusalem is authetic (Eusebius, HE 3.5.3 [see the article on this by Craig Koester]), I doubt the existence of an apostolic line of succession from Pella to Irenaus' account of the Ebionites (Irenaeus may himself be dependent upon an updated version of Justin Martyr's Syntagma). The Ebionites may have evolved out of the post-Pella survivors, but I wouldn't necessarily say that they preserved a specific Jewish Christian line that goes back to Jerusalem of the 30s and 40s. I am far from convinced that the Jerusalem church was (1) anti-Pauline as there was a diversity of views of Paul ranging from individuals such as Peter, James, Barnabas, and John Mark; and (2) I don't see any substantial evidence of an adoptionist or possession christology in the Jerusalem church. Those that try to pin adoptionism on use of Psalms 2, 110 and Rom. 1.3-4 are, I think, barking up the wrong tree.

Around the Blogsphere

At the T&T Clark blog, Chris Roberts introduces his book Creation and Covenant about a theology of marriage from the Patristic period to the present and he writes: "In the end, the research for this book lead me to embrace orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I hope that people who sympathize with this perspective will appreciate the book for its clear restatement of often under-developed and latent ideas within the tradition. Meanwhile, I hope that those who disagree with my conclusions - such as the undecided types that I once was, and the liberals with whom I interact - will feel like my book raises the standard of conversation for everyone, and helping them in particular to make better and more precise arguments."

Ken Schenck of "Methodists-R-Us" is blogging through N.T. Wright's new book. Darrell Bock gives a review of Bart Ehrman's latest rant against belief. Judy Redman reviews How Did Christianity Begin? (with a smiley face from Steph in the comments!). Trevin Wax is starting to read Introducing Paul. Peter Enns is interviewed by Zondervan (on you.tube) about how C.S. Lewis has influenced him.

Scott Clark starts his series explaining Paedo-Baptism. I liked his final quote, " Historic practice, however, suggests a certain presumption in favor of infant baptism. Nevertheless, tradition alone is not sufficient reason for any practice in the church. Therefore Reformed Christians practice covenant baptism because we are commanded to do so in both the Old and New Covenant Scriptures. We believe that the Bible alone is the Spirit inspired, infallible, Word of God written. God’s Word alone is the source of our faith. Comparing our ideas with God’s clear revelation in the Bible is the only way to safety and certainty."

Reformation Irony

I couldn't help but notice the irony after I ordered both of these items from Amazon.com:

A commentary on Galatians by Catholic scholar Frank Matera from the Sacra Pagina series.

The 2003 movie "Luther" starring Joseph Fiennes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Scottish Churches House

Scottish Churches House is an ecumenical conference centre on the Cathedral square in Dunblane, Scotland. They have a programme called "Grasping Nettles" and on the 1st of April (next week), I'll speaking there with Helen Bond (Edinburgh University) on "The Bible – literal truth or metaphor?" It kicks off at 5.30 p.m. and if you're in that part of Scotland then feel free to come along and hear two scholars talk and exchange views over the nature and form of the Gospels.

Karl Barth on the "Faithfulness of Christ"

For the Barthophiles out there:

"The fact that I live in the faith of the Son of God, in my faith in him, has its basis in the fact that He Himself, the Son of God, first believed for me ... the great work of faith has already been done by the One whom I follow in my faith, even before I believe, even if I no longer believe, in such a way that He is always, as Heb 12:2 puts it, the originator and completer of our faith ... His faith is the victory which has overcome the world"

CD II/2, 559.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Skunk Doth Speakth

I have done my best to try to demonstrate that there are aspects of the "New Perspective of Paul" that those of the Reformed faith can appropriate without losing their way. I've also been critical of the New Perspective (if you don't believe me then ask Tom Wright or Jimmy Dunn who see me as a sympathetic critic). But I've recently learnt that much of this conversation is immensely futile.

Scott Clark has a blog entry on Can Reformed Theology and the NPP Be Synthesized? which links to Guy Waters' review of Dan Kirk's new book Unlocking Romans. I chimed in the comments to the effect that: "There are different ways of appropriating the NPP. The most promising is to recognize the horizontal aspects of justification which NPP interpreters have pointed out (though without reducing justification to a social epiphenomena as some NPP proponents can do). It is this aspect that has been neglected in post-Reformation dogmatics since Paul is just as much concerned with 'Who are the people of God?' as he is with 'What must I do to be saved?'. Whether ya like it or not, this is one aspect that we can learn from the NPP. I would add that Sanders’ participationist eschatology is far more likely to be the centre of Paul’s thought than the imputed righteousness of the active obedience of Jesus Christ in order to fulfil the covenant of works!" I thought that, that was a fairly straight foward comment stated in a cordial and generous way.

There was a response from the Rev. Gary Johnson (co-editor with Guy Waters of By Faith Alone: Answering the challenges to the Doctrine of Justification) which labels me, and this is classic, as a "sneaky, low-down skunk who embraced the NPP ... while stilling claiming to be Reformed". How does one respond to that?

I have genuinely tried to have a serious and gracious conversation with certain folks in the conservative Reformed wing about Pauline theology, but I am now led to believe that this is an exercise in futility. I trust, then, that my interaction in a forthcoming book by IVP with a bonafide Reformed scholar in Michael Horton will show how to have a fruitful and cordial discussion on these issues. I doubt whether I'll be able to convince Mike Horton (and vice-versa), but hopefully we can present a model of civilized and Christian conversation within the Reformed tradition to which we both belong.

Monday, March 23, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and the Definition of the Gospel

In many discussions of the “Gospel” when reference is made to 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the actual context is nearly overlooked and often ignored. This ignorance is most evident in that the text quoted is usually cut off at verse 4:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .

Given the context and point of the chapter, it seems to me that this is a significant error since it is in these latter verses 5-8 that Paul speaks of the resurrection appearances:
. . . and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Here then Paul is not attempting to define the Gospel in all its complexity, but to assert the reality of the resurrection. His brief summary statement of the Gospel’s content (vv. 3-4) is in service to his primary argument. To claim that this passage is Paul’s “statement” of the Gospel’s full content is inappropriate at best. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Notice: Craig Koester - The Word of Life

Craig Koester
The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.
Available at Amazon.com

There are a number of good introductons to the Gospel of John (e.g. W. Carter, J. Ashton, R.E. Brown, R. Kysar, G. Burge), but my favourite for the moment is Craig Koester's new book The Word of Life. The TOC is viewable here. My favourite part is the final section on "Jesus as the Way in a Pluralistic World":

"The Fourth Gospel presents a particular message with a universal scope. At the beginning of our study we noted that the evangelist wrote in a world of varied religious traditions. The people depicted in this Gospel have different ideas about God, and their viewpoints conflict. John is no stranger to interreligious controversy. In this context, he seeks to show that God is known in a definitive way through what God has done in Jesus. John can speak to the pluralistic world in which his readers live because he has something particular to offer. To make the message less particular would mean making the love of God less radical, since the evangelist understands that divine love is definitively conveyed through the crucified and risen Messiah. At the same time, John understands that God's love is given in this particular way for the sake of the world (3:16). This means that the Gospel writer cannot say, 'Jesus is the way for me but not for you.' To say that would be to say that 'the love of God is for me but not for you,' or that 'Jesus went the way of the cross and resurrection for me but not for you.' The Jesus of John's Gospel sends his followers into the world. There they meet human beigns who, like themselves, have no innnate ability to generate relationship with God. What the followers of Jesus bring is what they themselves have received: the message of the cruciform love of God that calls any and all to faith and life. This is the purpose for which John's Gospel was written (20:31)." (page 214).

If I were teaching a course of the Gospel of John, I would probably set my materials as:

1. Introduction: Craig Koester, The Word of Life (though Burge and Kysar are quite tempting).

2. Commentary: Andreas Köstenberger, John BECNT series (but with D.A. Carson, Leon Morris, C.K. Barrett, CraigItalic Keener on a reading list).

3. Other: The Gospel of John on DVD which I ordinarily watch over 13 weeks with my NT 102 students and it is most beneficial.

4. Further recommended reading would have to based around M. Hengel, R. Brown, R. Bauckham, and D. Moody Smith and their assorted works.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

D.A. Carson on the Biblical Gospel

There is a PDF on-line written by D.A. Carson on the Biblical Gospel. It is a good read and includes this quote:

Thus the gospel is integrally tied to the Bible’s story-line. Indeed, it is incomprehensible without understanding that story-line. God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath. But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects. In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell.6 What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, March 20, 2009

Michael Bird - Wrestler

As many of you know, I have red hair, my mother is Welsh, and I'm fairly atheltic (my preference is for kickboxing or tennis, but wrestling can be fun too). Watch and enjoy this match for a youth club in Wales:

An Evening Reflecting on Markus Barth

I've said before, that one my favourite NT Theologians is Markus Barth. This evening I've been sipping a nice cab sav and reading about good old MB (brilliant initials you have to agree). Markus Barth (b. October 6, 1915 – d. July 1, 1994) studied Protestant theology in Bern, Basel, Berlin, and Edinburgh. From 1940 to 1953 he was pastor in Bubendorf near Basel. In 1947 he received a doctorate in New Testament from the University of Göttingen. Between 1953 and 1972 he held professorships in New Testament at theological schools in Dubuque (Iowa), Chicago, and Pittsburgh. From 1973 to 1985 he was professor of New Testament in Basel. I'm amazed of how much stuff that has gained currency in NT studies was prefigured by Markus Barth. For example:

Resurrection and Justification: Acquittal by Resurrection (with Verne H. Fletcher; New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1964). I thought my own ruminations on this subject were unprecedented, original, and masterful - until I read MB on the subject and learned that he'd said the same thing 35 years before me.

Faithfulness of Jesus Christ: "The Faith of the Messiah," Heythrop Journal 10 (1969): 363-70. MB long ago recognized that God's faithfulness is revealed in the faithfulness of the Messiah.

The New Perspective: “Jews and Gentiles: The Social Character of Justification in Paul,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 5 (1968): 241-67. Forget Stendahl and Sanders, the New Perspective on Paul was really launched by the Barthians.

The 1995 issue of Horizons in Biblical Theology is dedicated to Markus Barth and includes several articles interacting with his work and, importantly, inlcudes a reflective piece by Donald E. Gowan, "In Memory of Markus Barth: A Personal Note". Several quotes from Gowan stand out:

"One of the advantages of having Markus Barth as one's model teacher is that his style was so unique that it was impossible to imitate him, as other students have tried to imitate the styles of their favourite teachers. One had to develop one's own style, with the aim of making a similar impression on one's students: namely the impression made by Markus' committment to Scripture as the Word of God, his dedication to thoroughness, and his obvious joy in discovering new things in Scripture. I sometimes tell my classes how he answered a student's question at Dubuque as to why he did not open his classes with prayer: He said he made no sharp distinction between his exegetical work and his prayer life".

"The quiet, gentle man was also in truth a daunting person, for he expected us to work."

"At the Divinity School [i.e. Chicago], he represented a challenge to the old, Chicago liberalism for which that school was famous The Divinity School News reported on a congenial, but vigorous discussion between Barth and Bernard Loomer, an advocate of process theology ... the significance of Markus' appointment to the Divinity School was emphasized by one student's blunt question: 'Why did the school appointment Dr. Markus Barth to this faculty?'"

"During my first year there, the Biblical Colloquium involved graduate students and Bible faculty in a year-long study of Romans, and the exchanges between Barth and Robert Grant, who represented significantly different approaches to interpretation, offered young scholars a great learning experience. The open forums at his home that year were no less stimulating; we worked our way through Bultmann's New Testament Theology during those evenings."

Another article by Charles Dickinson, "Markus Barth and Biblical Theology: A Personal Re-View" is no less entertaining than Gowan's article.

"After breaking a lance with the Bultmannians [Kasemann's review of Barth's doctoral dissertation Der Augenzeuge was savage]; serving a pastorate in Bubendorf, Switzerland; and publishing a tome on baptism, Markus was called to teach New Testament at Dubuque, Iowa; at the University of Chicago; at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; and finally to succeed Oscar Cullmann in his beloved home town of Base, Switzerland. It was in Chicago in 1962/63 that something of a theological parousia occurred in my own life, when not only did Markus Barth - primarily through his weekly theological evenings 'at home' - become my own mentor, advisor, and 'spiritual father,' but Karl Barth himself came to the University of Chicago in 1962 to deliver the lectures which became the beginning of Evangelical Theology: An Introduction and to speak with us students at Markus' 'at-home' that week".

I also found it interesting to learn that Markus Barth's first publication was: "Die Gestapo gegen die Bekenntniskirche," BN June 19-20 (1937). Heck of a topic to start your publishing career on!!! I honestly wish I'd met the guy, oh well, I'll compensate for that by reading his many works, esp. on baptism and eurcharist.

If anyone can get me a copy of Markus Barth's audio lectures on Galatians (do I have any friends in Princeton who have access to them?), I would dearly love to listen to them!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mark Dever Responds to Critics

Over at the 9Marks blog, Mark Dever responds to his critics "The Sin of Infant Baptism", written by a sinning Baptist.

Dever writes with genuine humility and honest charity (esp. in his quote from J.L. Reynolds). It is a good response to his critics. As I said, I have no beef with Baptists being Baptist and holding to their own way (as Dever passionately does). Yet, I still think the term "sinful" is not a useful description for those brothers and sisters whose theology deviates from yours, mine or anyone elses on non-essential areas. I might be convinced that continuationism is correct, but I wouldn't call cessationists "sinful". I might find historical pre-millennialism more persuasive, but I wouldn't say postmillennialism is "sinful". I think open communion is more biblical, but I wouldn't say that those who practice closed communion are sinful. I say that because there are degrees of theological certainty. On subjects that call for theological construction we need to have a hermeneutic of humility in areas that are contestable because we do not have a God's eye-view of things. I think Dever would agree with that in principle, but his language could be construed to suggest otherwise. Dever says: "It is simply that on this point they've got it wrong, and their error, involving as it does a requiring of something Scripture does not require (infant baptism), and the consequence of a denying of an action Scripture does require (believers baptism) is sinful (though unintentionally so)." Dever admits that he is theologically fallible, but that concession needs to be integrated more fully into his quote above and this, I think, would lead to a different articulation of how to handle theological differences even if you're convinced that you're right!

Ephesians 4.4-5 says: "There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (ESV). In his Ephesians commentary, F.F. Bruce asks what baptism is referred to here, is it believers baptism or infant baptism? He answers: "It is Christian baptism", i.e. any baptism performed in the name of Jesus Christ. No doubt that will be a bit vacuous for some, but he had a point (and he was a good old Brethren boy!).

I should also mention that IVP has a book on Three Views of Baptism coming out featuring Sinclair Ferguson, Bruce Ware, and Tony Lane. I understand Tony Lane is arguing for some kind of both/and view rather like the Evangelical Free Church. That will be a good volume to read no doubt!
Rick Phillips of Reformation21 provides a further paedo-baptist response to Mark Dever which raises similar concerns to the ones that I have.

Latest European Journal of Theology

The latest issue of EJT 17.2 (2008) is out and includes:

Myriam Klinker-De Clerck
The Pastoral Epistles: authentic Pauline writings

Klaus Wetzel
Die Missionsgeschichte Deutschlands im Kontext der europaeschen Missionsgeschichte

Leonardo De Chirico
Ethics and the Internet, Starting from Theology

Nazaareno Ulfo
The Challenge of Cyberculture

Thomas Gerold
Liebende Selfsthingabe als anfanghafter Glaube? Eine Antwort an Lydia Jaeger

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Soggy Fish Award - Mark Dever

It's been a while since I've handed out a soggy fish award (i.e. an award reserved for people who should be slapped in the face with a very soggy fish until they come to their senses), but I'm gonna hand one out to (I cannot believe I'm saying this) Mark Dever for a statement he made in recent article in the 9marks eJournal about things he can or cannot live with as a pastor.

I cannot live with infant baptism. Having said that, if I were the pastor of the only church allowed in Mecca, maybe… But even then, I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized. It is, as one said not too long ago, “above my pay-grade.” I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.

Now I know people who are Baptists with a big "B" and find being a Baptist to be really, really exciting, they love Baptist history, they stand by the Baptist way of doing church, they love etymological studies of the word Baptizo and so forth. I've spent the majority of my Christian life in Baptist churches too, so I respect that, but truth be told, I find the gospel more exciting than Baptist distinctives. Consequently, I have to say that to call paedobaptists sinful is outta line. It doesn't bother me that he thinks paedobaptism is wrong and he'd never permit within his own congregation, but "sinful"! That sort of language belongs elsewhere. If we should not have fellowship with sinful people (heaps of Scripture on that one, e.g. Psalm 1), then what the heck is Mark Dever doing with the sinful paedobaptists of Together for the Gospel? Personally, I think the fact that he wouldn't share communion with Ligon Duncan or R.C. Sproul is proof that they are not really together in the senses that matter. I mean if you won't break bread and share wine in Jesus' name with someone and if you insist on calling them sinful, exactly what kind of togetherness are you celebrating? What is more, to label a divergent theological view which is a non-essential to the faith "sinful" is theologically irresponsible, pastorally insensitive, and ecclesially arrogant. I benefitted immensely from Mark Dever's book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (a good alternative to much Church Growth junk), but this attitude is not healthy for a kingdom perspective on baptism. So Pastor Mark, God-bless your Baptist socks, but this fish is for you!

HT: Art.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dan Reid on the Pauline Strip

Dan Reid and I are both memorising Colossians (mind you I'm only memorising 1.15-20). In the course of the way, Dan posts on Col. 2.15 in talking about the Pauline strip. It comes down to whether you take the participle apekdusamenos as middle 'Christ stripped himself' or as deponent 'Christ stripped the powers'. Dan takes the former (as per most patristic authors) and I take the latter (with most modern commentators). Or we could put it this way with by noting J.B. Lightfoot: 'The powers of evil, which had clung like a Nessus robe about his humanity, were torn off and cast aside for ever. And the victory of mankind is involved in the victory of Christ. In his cross we too are divested of the poisonous and clinging garments of temptation and sin and death' (Colossians, 190). Or go with Stanley E. Porter: ‘Jesus Christ’s beneficial or participatory stripping of the defeated demonic enemies of their power makes better sense of the imagery’ (Stan Porter, Idioms, 69).

Note also how the Gospel of Truth echoes Col. 2.15 in this regard: ‘Having stripped himself of the perishable rags, he put on imperishability ... he passed through those who were stripped naked by oblivion’ A gnostic appropriation is of course no argument against the middle force of the participle. But I tend to think that the link of 2.15 with 1.12-14 and the military imagery of defeated hostile forces makes disarming or stripping the powers the most likely image to readers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Latest BBR

The latest issue of BBR 19.1 (2009) includes:

Richard S. Hess
Questions of Reading and Writing in Ancient Israel

Gary N. Knoppers
The Synoptic Problem? An Old Testament Perspective

Craig Blomberg
Jesus, Sinners, and Table Fellowship

John G. Nordling
A More Positive View of Slavery: Establishing Servile Identity in the Christian Assemblies

G.K. Beale
The Overstated 'New' Perspective?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pauline Soteriology Interviews: Douglas Campbell (Part 3)

Here is the third installment of my interview with Doug Campbell on his forthcoming book The Deliverance of God.

5. What is the central argument in your forthcoming book, The Deliverance of God?

Perhaps if I could refer back at this point to question 3, I suggested there that the geniuses of the twentieth century that you mentioned—and one or two others besides—left us with a large number of acutely important problems that were also almost entirely unresolved—Paul’s apparently unfair account of Judaism in certain texts; his oscillation between prospective and retrospective gospels and epistemologies; and so on. (And this was really my suggestion in question 1 as well.) DOG tries to solve a particular cluster of these difficulties, although their complexity necessitates an argument in several stages, and hence the length of the book. In particular—and I am almost embarrassed to admit this—DOG tries merely to reread Paul’s Justification or JF texts in a way that is ultimately compatible with a PPME reading of his gospel. It does not eliminate Justification language—of deliverance from bondage and jail, of belief and fidelity, and so on—but it does eliminate the overarching construal of his gospel at these points in terms of the JF system, replacing that with a tightly contingent argument that ultimately points to a PPME construal. And it is worth emphasising that my approach to the key texts is deeply grounded in practical problems Paul sees unfolding at Rome. We might say then that in response to a critical set of problems raised by Schweitzer and Sanders—and in a way partly presaged by Sanders—I reread Paul’s Justification texts in a way that Martyn would probably approve of, satisfying Beker’s dictum en route as well (which the conventional reading really can not). Hence, I make much of the difficulties caused for Paul by “the Teacher,” who is the leader of a group of Jewish Christian missionaries hostile to Paul’s suggestion that pagans can convert to Christ and then live lives of ethical probity without (for males!) undertaking circumcision and law-observance. These figures clearly regarded Paul as irresponsible and attempted to derail his mission in no uncertain terms. And he regards them as insufficiently Christological, ignoring the route to resurrection that God has actually provided in Christ. So they are “false brothers” (etc.: cf. Gal. 1:7; 2:4)!

It has taken me upward of fifteen years to get my head around all this. But I think it is finally all making sense.

6. What is the major contribution of DOG to Pauline research?

If the solution I am suggesting works, then we have cleared the ground fairly significantly and enabled a new phase of Pauline research to begin. And a kinder, simpler Paul should emerge. I anticipate that this research should be dynamically integrative as well. That is, we can begin to have a lot of conversations that have been difficult if not impossible to have up to this point—at least, not clearly. And I suspect that those conversations will integrate theological and sociological data and modelling, probably by way of a strong missiological emphasis in Paul’s practices. It could be a profoundly exciting time for Pauline interpreters. There is now something of a new verdant field opening up for us all to play on. Why refuse to join in?

7. How does your understanding of the nature of the Christ-event differ from standard Evangelical-Reformed and Barthian approaches?

I would want to suggest fairly firmly that it doesn’t, although a lot depends on what you mean by the word “standard” here. I view my understanding as a thoroughly Evangelical (particularly in the broader, German sense), Reformed, and Barthian construal of the Christ event that draws directly on theological work that stands squarely in these interpretative traditions—especially Irenaeus, the late Augustine, the Cappadocians, Athanasius, Calvin, parts of Luther, McLeod Campbell, Barth, and the Torrances. (Some of my colleagues at Duke insist that Aquinas and/or Wesley, rightly understood, belong here as well!) Indeed, I see myself very much as attempting to clarify and affirm this set of traditions as clearly as I can. But I hope that my understanding is also thoroughly catholic as well, not to mention Catholic in the best sense.

In the light of these traditions, however, I do push back on the western contractual ordo salutis, which I take to be less central if not alien to Evangelical, Reformed, and Barthian Christology and soteriology. There are occasional footholds for the ordo in some of those thinkers and traditions, but nothing deep or intrinsic. I hold that Paul has been misinterpreted at certain key points by this alternative and essentially alien, non-Evangelical trajectory. Indeed, it is the intrusion of this misinterpretation that has caused so many of our problems. But arguably it is time now to drive the money-changers from the temple!

Unfortunately—and as is probably apparent by now—the clash between these two very different conceptions of the Christ event characterises much of the material that you have introduced here, so there is probably not a single, “standard” view running through it. There is, however, in the end of the day, an authentic view and an alien and unhelpful one. There have been occasional attempts to impose the latter view as the standard one, and even to overrule and expel advocates of the former. But these are deeply misguided, even if frequently also deeply well-intentioned, actions. My book suggests that they are also fundamentally unpauline—something that has perhaps not been appreciated so clearly until now.

8. What is next on the research agenda for you with this book now finished?

I need to recover.

That said, I have been working away sporadically on Paul’s biography in tandem with my work on Justification, in the light of Beker’s important dictum. I have a preliminary framing biography already significantly complete, with most of the key chronological points in Paul researched in detail, and a solution to the overarching chronological puzzles worked out. So I hope to finish this work up shortly.

I want, after this, to write an integrated theological biography—a sustained advocacy of Paul’s gospel in terms of PPME of course! But it will also emphasise issues of theological and ethical contextualisation and missiological innovation, thereby continuing to try to work beyond troublesome thought-act and being-act dichotomies.

9. Does your wife design the covers to your books?

She does. (She is a professional: see http://www.rachelcampbellpaintings.com/.) And they are of course the most thought out and appealing things in them. So in my case please judge a book by its cover.

Doug, on behalf of myself and the readers of Euangelion, thank you very much for your time and we hope that the book does well. Incidentally, I should mention that there will be a review session of DOG at SBL in New Orleans in November!

Pauline Soteriology Interviews: Douglas Campbell (Part 2)

Here is the second installment of my interview with Doug Campbell on his forthcoming book The Deliverance of God.

3. Do you see yourself as heir to Albert Schweitzer, Ernst Käsemann, J.-C. Beker, E.P. Sanders, and J.L. Martyn? How would you situate your own work in relation to their earlier contributions to Paul?

What an honour to be mentioned in the same sentence as these extraordinary and gifted interpretative forbears! In fact I draw heavily on four of them in particular.

Albert Schweitzer was fortunate enough to stand in a tradition of insightful German interpreters (Deissmann, Wrede, etc.) who understood well that Paul possessed an alternative soteriological system to Justification (although at times for slightly odd and outmoded reasons), and he pressed that hard himself, supplying some of the best reasons ever penned in favour of the centrality of what I am calling PPME. (In a way he also benefited from being out of the German academic mainstream as he finished his own positive work on Paul, because he thereby avoided a strong, rather pessimistic swing back to more traditional Lutheran categories after WWI.)

J.-C. Beker has articulated with matchless force the need to interpret Paul carefully in “contingent” terms, never pressing straight through to “coherence.” I share Martyn’s opinion that Beker’s advocacy of “apocalyptic” is at times a little confused—dallying too long with salvation-history for example (that is, in a foundational role). But I will return to his key methodological insight just below.

E. P. Sanders has been enormously important for my work. I regard him as in many ways still the premier Pauline analyst, despite having done his most original and important work on Paul in the late 70s and through the 80s, which is to say that he has set the agenda in Pauline studies—and certainly in theological terms—that we all still struggle with. He sees and states with unparalleled force the conundrum of the Jewish question that I noted above in relation to “otherness,” but he also grasps clearly the clashing soteriological discourses in Paul—notably JF and PPME. He presses in certain very interesting ways on the key Justification texts in Paul, probing them to see if they will yield a more retrospective sense. He struggles with the prevailing reading of Romans 1-3 that lies at the heart of so many of our difficulties. But I maintain that although Sanders—a little ironically—stated “the problem,” he did not provide “the solution.” He left us with a fundamentally unfair and incoherent Paul. (This is of course my reading of Sanders’s and not his own opinion of his work; but I address this point in DOG at some length—see chs. 6 and 12.) It may be that Paul just was these things, as Sanders asserts, but read on....

J. L. Martyn in my view grasped and articulated the retrospective theological and epistemological event that lay at the heart of Paul’s gospel with matchless insight, clarity, and precision. I view myself as very much a disciple of his reading. But the challenge lies not so much in establishing what Martyn has largely proved through Galatians (although it can be tightened a little in certain respects), as in extending that reading plausibly through the Pauline text that most resists it—Romans! And this is largely why I have written DOG. In sum, we might say that Martyn is potentially the solution to the conundrums raised by Schweitzer, and then later, more comprehensively, by Sanders. That solution must also navigate the central dilemma posed by Beker. DOG begins to do this. (I view Ernst Käsemann as wonderfully insightful, but also deeply ambivalent. Although associated with apocalyptic, and clear-sightedly opposed to any foundationalist salvation-history, much of his reconstrual is still quite Lutheran, and that makes him something of a mixed bag for me.)

But may I add one or two figures to your list?

As I engaged in detail through the texts with Martyn’s readings, I found myself weaving Richard Hays’s views on intertextuality tightly into the conversation, and of course I also pursued strongly the subjective reading he has championed in relation to various key pistis genitives—a reading that I actually learned from Longenecker. I found that Hays’s intertextual methods uncovered the detailed dynamics of the texts at certain key points where Martyn had relied—perhaps a little unwisely—on form critical claims. These are not the only things I have learned from Hays, but they were very important for this project.

I was also walking in step at these points with various other “apocalyptic” readers of Paul who I view as on parallel paths to me--Lee Keck, Beverly Gaventa, Mike Gorman, Alex Brown, Kathy Grieb, Ann Jervis, Susan Eastman, and Ross Wagner. (I apologise for any omissions from this somewhat random list; note that I would be honoured if Tom Wright felt appropriately included, but I don’t want to list him here without his permission!)

Finally—and returning in part to Beker’s concern with contingency—I must note the enormous amount that I have learned about the gritty social realities of Paul’s mission and churches, especially at Rome, from Robert Jewett and Peter Lampe. These two brilliantly insightful scholars have begun the considerable task of integrating Romans into an authentically contingent account of Paul’s mission and thinking—the letter that invariably resists that reading and its accompanying interpretative controls, arguably with rather tragic results. The guild has yet to respond fully to their work (and the work of those like them), but hopefully that response is slowly coming.

4. What would you maintain are the top five arguments for understanding pistis christou as a subjective genitive?

We are shifting gears here a bit, but also picking up a key issue from our previous discussion. (Sanders in my view hamstrung his ability to analyze Paul successfully partly by resisting the interpretative possibilities offered by the subjective reading of these constructions.)

It’s difficult to limit things to five but I will try!

a. In Romans 3:22, I find it incoherent to suggest that anything other than that the fidelity of Jesus Christ (i.e., to and through death to resurrection—cf. Hab. 2:4 in 1:17) instrumentally reveals God’s decisive righteous act that saves us, which is what the Greek text says. Christ’s death and life do of course directly reveal God’s salvation to us; they are God’s saving act! So we can in effect “see” it there. Our faith doesn’t actually reveal anything in this sense—although it is an important consequence of this act of divine disclosure, so 3:22b.

b. Similarly, in Romans 3:25 it is difficult if not impossible to refer the phrase “through fidelity” to anyone other than Jesus, since it also seems to be functioning instrumentally, here in the effecting of atonement by God in Christ. (A “parenthetical” function looks unworkable, in particular because it requires the supply of question-begging elisions.) This phrase resumes the fuller genitive construction in 3:22, hence the use of the article—and also anticipates the characterisation of “Jesus” as “faithful” in v. 26. So the pistis texts in Rom. 3:22 and 25 reinforce one another in a christocentric direction.

c. The appositional construction in Gal. 2:20 sends all the right arthrous signals to be read subjectively—in terms of Apollonius’s dictum—and this seems confirmed by its explicitly participatory context—that is, where Paul lives by way of participation in Christ’s death and life. There are reasons why the other pistis Christou texts generally don’t supply articles—principally because the fidelity phrases are a quotation of or allusion to an anarthrous phrase in Hab. 2:4, and names don’t need to take co-ordinating articles in genitive constructions, Paul elsewhere using a combination of the names “Jesus” and “Christ.” But clearly these considerations don’t apply to this instance, which uses pistis simpliciter and “the son of God,” a title. So the fully arthrous construction suddenly appears! (I’m also assuming that the battle over 2:16 has proved—at the least—indecisive, so the reader is not carrying a strong weight of expectation forward at this point. I think that text also tilts in a subjective direction, but it’s not one of the more obvious cases. Certainly I don’t read it as obvious either way.)

d. Gal. 3:22 anchors a series of pistis statements that have proved famously problematic for anthropocentric readers, but are nicely susceptible to a Christological reference (Hays’s point some time ago that is still basically correct and could be taken more seriously by some). Moreover, the surrounding argument really forces this identification, since the “promised pistis that comes” corresponds to the “promised seed who comes,” who is identified by Paul explicitly, earlier on, as Christ! (I could say much more at this point, and in ch. 20 of DOG attempt to do so.)

e. 5:5-6, as Choi has recently suggested (JBL 2005), reads best with christological references for Paul’s uses of pistis, especially in v. 6. Paul frequently abolishes what he takes to be secondary created binary oppositions through Galatians in the name of a primary opposition between creation and the new creation in Christ (cf. esp. 6:14-15). And the new creation is denoted consistently through Galatians by the church’s location “in Christ,” suggesting that pistis in v. 6 refers to him again. Evoking 2:20, Paul’s use of pistis in a Christological sense in 5:6 can also then be given the force it needs in context of “effecting” itself through love (the participle is in the middle; alternatively, the fidelity is effected through love, reading the participle as a passive middle). We now no longer need to appeal to an unattested deponent reading for the participle that also struggles to account for just exactly how faith effects love!

Note that underlying all this language is a constant intertextual echo of Habakkuk 2:4, understood messianically. So a strict translation would often simply render the key material “through fidelity,” but the accurate reader should grasp the echo of the underlying Christological intertext—“the Righteous One through fidelity will live.” Paul is speaking throughout metaleptically, as Hays puts it, of the Christ event—that is, of Easter.

The broader importance of this debate is the opening it creates for an understanding of Paul’s “faith” texts in terms of participation, and for a consequent relocation of the virtue of Christian faithfulness precisely in the Christian condition, as a sign of its reality and hence functioning theologically in terms of assurance, and not as a potential condition, the fulfillment of which allows the gospel’s appropriation. These are critical distinctions for the broader shape of Paul’s gospel. The former reading in terms of participation and assurance allows a retrospective construal of Paul’s gospel as a whole; it leads to a PPME construal. The latter understanding in terms of conditionality and appropriation necessitates—at least at these points—a foundationalist and conditional understanding of Paul’s gospel and a JF approach more broadly—two diametrically opposed theological and epistemological constructions. If Paul is ever to be read coherently in broader terms, then his “faith” language needs to be read in participatory terms. And the not infrequent references to Christ’s fidelity point to the accuracy of this approach.

Pauline Soterilogy Interviews: Doug Campbell (Part 1)

In the coming weeks I shall be interviewing Douglas Campbell Associate Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School and Michael Gorman of St. Mary's Seminary about their forthcoming books on Pauline soteriology (both with Eerdmans).

I first met Doug at SBL in 2005 (Philadelphia). I had just brought his book The Quest for Paul's Gospel, walked about 30m down the book exhibit, and then bumped into him. So I got him to sign it for me and we had a brief chat. Doug is great because he confirms my prejudice that the best biblical scholars in the world are antipodian! Doug is also the most prominent champion of the subjective genitive interpretation of the pistis christou construction in Paul's letters these days. Anyways, here is the first installment of my interview with Doug Campbell on his forthcoming book The Deliverance of God.

1. Can you tell us about your intellectual journey in Pauline soteriology? What were the major moments in your research and what has influenced you the most?

That’s an excellent question to begin with. (Incidentally, I explain all this in more detail in the Preface to The Deliverance of God—hereafter DOG.)

My doctoral work took place in the 80s in Toronto, mostly under the aegis of Dick Longenecker, but influenced by John Hurd, Schuyler Brown, and Peter Richardson as well—all wonderful scholars in their own ways. Longenecker was writing his Word commentary on Galatians at the time, as well as lecturing on Romans, so that conjunction of events really shaped the future of my life. He was heavily engaged with Sanders’s work. (Sanders began his teaching career in Canada and so the two scholars knew each other quite well; moreover, Longenecker had anticipated many of Sanders’s celebrated claims about Judaism in his earlier book Paul, Apostle of Liberty). Longenecker was a strong advocate of participatory approaches to Pauline soteriology in ultimate dependence on Deissmann; of the correctness of the faithfulness of Christ reading of Romans 3:22 etc.; of a positive approach to Paul’s Jewish background; and of the broader importance of Jewish martyrological thinking for Paul’s development. So my work is clearly just a fairly direct continuation of his agenda!

The difficulty I was left with after my doctoral work—during which I focused eventually on Romans 3:21-26—was that Longenecker left most of these dynamic interpretative trends unresolved in relation to one another. One didn’t need to be too stringent interpreting a proto-Rabbi in his view. And this didn’t really satisfy me.

The next event that really changed my life occurred during my first teaching job, at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The local Presbyterian seminary had just appointed a very young and brilliant theologian, Alan Torrance, to its theology chair (son of J.B., and nephew of T.F.). Alan and I became great friends, and during the course of our many conversations about fishing, music, sport, and university politics, I received an excellent theological education. His father’s work on the role of contractualism in Scottish Presbyterianism over against an unconditional covenantalism was especially important for me at this time—something I learned about after Alan had passed on this material to me (and explained it!). I noticed that it coordinated and articulated with enviable clarity many of the debates that we were struggling with in Pauline studies—concerning the role of Jews and Judaism, the atonement, faith, and so on, that is, many of the very questions that Longenecker’s teaching had left me with. The application of James Torrance’s categories to the concerns and texts of the Pauline interpreter seemed to promise an exciting moment of clarification and theological progress—although this was a task that proved harder to fulfill in detail than to envisage in broad prospect!

In 1996 I accepted a lecturing position in New Testament at King’s College London, partly to continue to work alongside Alan, who had left NZ in the interim, and partly to learn how to do rigorous NT work from scholars like Graham Stanton and Francis Watson. (Graham moved shortly after to the chair in Cambridge, and was replaced by the equally adept Judith Lieu; I also learned a lot at this time from my long-time friend and colleague at Kings, Eddie Adams.) But conditions were very difficult in UK universities in the late 90s and I struggled to make real progress on my project. A year in Germany got it going, but there was still a long way to go. So I moved to Duke in 2003, and finally got the support I needed to get the treatment finished. But this move also enriched the analysis in some additional ways.

I learned in particular from Stanley Hauerwas—who was admittedly in certain respects reinforcing many of the things I had learned at King’s from Colin Gunton—that I needed to incorporate explicitly the political and ethical dimensions in the reading strategy that I was criticising. Putting things at their bluntest, there was an important connection between exegesis and execution that I had not really grasped. But how could I overlook it when I had moved, partly unawares, to a state that still killed criminals, supported all the while by its surrounding, heavily churchgoing populace? Articulating these connections slowed me down and expanded the project still more, but seemed important. I also continued to press against any thought-act and being-act dichotomies in interpretation, and away from universality and “principles” toward particularities. These concerns continued to open up both the primary text and the secondary literature in some surprising ways.

So that’s basically how I ended up writing The Deliverance of God in the broader setting of my academic career. It’s been a long journey, but hopefully it will have been worth the wait.

2. In your last book, The Quest for Paul's Gospel, you championed an approach that you abbreviated PPME. What is PPME and how does it differ from the justification by faith model and salvation-history model?

PPME is just a teaching rubric I use that expands on Sanders’s formula for the heart of Paul’s soteriology for the purposes of greater precision. He—quite rightly in my opinion—viewed the centre of Paul’s gospel in terms of “participationist eschatology,” so in my abbreviation, PE. (He was drawing to a degree on W. D. Davies at this point.) But I have a couple of difficulties with leaving things at this level. I worried in particular that some of my students might be prone to misunderstanding or overlooking some key issues. So paying the price of complexity, I expanded this formula in two ways.

First, I added a P to the P already denoting participationist/participatory to indicate that this all-important process was effected by none other than the Holy Spirit. Our participation in Christ is, in other words, irreducibly and non-negotiably pneumatological. No other sort of participation makes sense, yet this form of participation leads us to the heart of Christian reality. That is, by adding this further P, I was intimating that the very structure of Paul’s soteriological thinking was Trinitarian—not admittedly in a fully developed or articulated form, but irreducibly and inherently so. And recall that consternation about just how participation works or is effected is one of the main criticisms leveled against this particular construal of Paul’s gospel. It is, after all, fundamentally a miracle that we can participate in the new creation of the age to come.

I also worried that an emphasis on participationist eschatology was too oriented toward the resurrection and Christian triumphalism—positions that Paul spent much of his time combatting. So I introduced an M before E, denoting “martyrological,” to indicate that the Christ event in which Christians participated—pneumatologically!—had two critical trajectories spanning the cross as well as the resurrection. The M denotes, in short, Paul’s theology of the cross. And in flagging this up I was also creating a space for the narrative of Jesus’s crucifixion to be told, as elaborated in Phil. 2:5-11 and related texts, that allowed in turn an appropriate emphasis at some point on the way Christ’s fidelity and submission created the space in and through which others are saved. So I was creating a door through which JF terminology could be coherently integrated with what I was already arguing in relation to the heart of Paul’s concerns in PE terms so to speak.

The price paid for these qualifications was of course a degree of complexity. Perhaps it has been a mistake in retrospect, and I should have stuck with a mere name. But the formula PPME was intended primarily to be a teaching rubric, not a scholarly contribution. And I think it has worked pretty well in those terms for me at Duke. Scholars who already know all this should of course feel free to ignore it and to use simpler, more traditional names like “participation,” remaining aware that in any discussion with me I am going to want to supplement that descriptor early on with further qualifications in terms of pneumatology, martyrology—or, perhaps better, cruciformity in Mike Gorman’s insightful word—and eschatology!

Now to address the second part of your question—an equally important set of queries.

The PPME model differs from both Justification and Salvation-historical construals of Paul’s gospel in certain absolutely crucial ways. But before detailing those, let me first note that I use rubrics for these approaches as well in Quest to avoid providing extensive subliminal reinforcement for what I view as deeply problematic translation decisions—especially in relation to “justification by faith.” So I will speak in what follows of the JF and SH models.

The key point to grasp is that these two models—JF and SH—are both variants on classical theological foundationalism, which is to say that, in Sanders’s charming phrase (more or less), they “work” or “think forward.” What he means by this is that their epistemology is established prior to the Christian state, from the ground up so to speak, by human reflection of some sort. The specifics of their reflections and resulting (theological) epistemologies are rather different, but their basic modality is therefore the same. Essentially a phase of human reasoning takes place prior to the proclamation of the gospel to “ground” that proclamation in terms of truths and criteria that have already been clearly established. And this ultimately generates all sorts of problems.

(1) In the entire history of human thought, it has consistently proved untrue. That is, the opening phase that supposedly establishes axioms and criteria that are universally agreed upon invariably fails, creating a question-begging or even deceptive set of preliminary claims.

(2) Those claims tend to turn out instead to be self-reifying (usually in tandem with a sinister othering project). That is, instead of resting on universally demonstrable or perceptible claims, the key axioms and criteria in any foundationalist project invariably turn out to privilege the person or group making those claims in terms of their social and historical location(s)—so the JF model says precious little about regimes in which white, elite, men have (for example) enslaved black, foreign men, women, and children (and so on); it turns rather a blind eye to such situations. (Note Charles Marsh’s devastating account of Douglas Hudgins in God’s Long Summer at this point.) Moreover, Christian foundationalist projects have invariably constructed their notions of soteriological success out of prior “objective” failures in Judaism, generating “necessarily and objectively true claims” about the stupidity and/or immorality of Jews—clearly not a good thing. I am of course painting with a broad brush at this point, but careful and detailed examination of foundationalist projects invariably reveals these sinister tendencies, whether to a greater or lesser extent.

(3) These stringent, if false and self-serving, prior criteria tend to function as a tremendous obstacle to the new categories and truths introduced by the gospel, overruling any attempted evangelical corrections. So, for example, if a conception of the gospel that seems deeply grounded in the nature of Christ, and in the nature of God as revealed by Christ, challenges prior criteria, it tends to get overruled or ignored, or even branded as heretical! (Some of the recent disputes over the atonement spring to mind at this point.)

(4) Of particular relevance to Pauline interpretation is a fourth major point that these models or construals that work forward must intrinsically exist in diametric tension with those construals that work backward. You cannot think forward and backward at the same time—in terms of the derivation of your key theological criteria (i.e., not psychologically)—without being in a terrible muddle. Moreover, the very nature of the axioms and criteria generated foundationally will tend to contradict the very nature of the axioms and criteria revealed through Christ retrospectively. So it does not take much time to detect that the JF and SH models tend to contradict the PPME model at every level, in relation to every major issue—epistemological, theological (i.e., the basic attributes of God), Christological, soteriological, pneumatological, anthropological, ecclesial, ethical, and so on. So we are not talking here about superficial or secondary points of tension, but major faultlines running through the middle of the most important things that Paul says. If Paul thinks both forward and backward at the same time then he is largely useless to the church for theological reconstruction (i.e., in historical terms) because he is so deeply contradictory; different answers could be generated to every major question in terms of the different systems supposedly operative in his work. And at this point I have clearly segued into my suggested solution, that I pursue down one important avenue in DOG, having sketched it out programmatically in Quest—the need to find one basic construal of the gospel, preferably retrospective, that can explain the bulk of Paul responsibly and in a way that eliminates fundamental dependence on basic prospective models.

We need to show in detail and responsibly that Paul primarily thought backward. And this means pushing back against the JF and SH models, in favour of a PPME approach. Enormously important issues are at stake in this comparatively simple set of recommendations.

Evangelistic Sermons

Con Campbell (Aussie NT linguistic, jazz musician, and evangelist extraordinaire) has a good blog post on what texts to use for evangelistic sermons. I agree in part with his warning of forcing texts to say something that they don't say. The old mantra "Christ in every sermon" works better in some texts than others. But I think there has to be a balance between respecting the context, content, and concern of an OT text and reading the OT canonically. After all, in our reading of the OT we bring the gospel story with us even if we have to be careful to avoid spiritualizing allegory and eisegesis. We don't preach or listen to Zechariah 5 from the vantage point of post-exilic Judeans, but as Christians. Well, that's my thoughts. But I agree with Con in the comments, Romans 5:8 is a great text to preach evangelistically!

Joel Willitts reviews R.B. Wright on Psalms of Solomon

My esteemed co-blogger, Joel Willitts, has a review at RBL on R.B. Wright's criticial edition of the Psalms of Solomon. For another good read in Psalms of Solomon see Danny Zacharias' pubilcation: "Raise up to them their King" - Psalms of Solomon 17-18 in the Context of Early Jewish Messianism.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

F.F. Bruce on the Warning Passage

F.F. Bruce's NICNT commentary on Hebrews says the following on Heb. 6.4-6:

The reason why there is no point in laying the foundation over again is now stated: apostasy is irremediable. Once more our author emphasizes that continuance is the test of reality. In these verses he is not questioning the perseverance of the saints; we might say that rather he is insisting that those who persevere are the true saints. But in fact he is stating a practical truth that has verified itself repeatedly in the experience of the church. Those who have shared the covenant privileges of the people of God, and then deliberately renounce them, are the most difficult persons of all to reclaim for the faith. It is indeed impossible to reclaim them, says our author. We know, of course, that nothing of this sort is ultimately impossible for the grace of God, but as a matter of human experience the reclamation of such people is, practically speaking, impossible. People are frequently immunized against a disease with a mild form of it, or with a related but milder disease. And in the spiritual realm experience suggests that it is possible to be "immunized" against Christianity by being innoculated with something which, for the time being, looks so like the real thing that it is generally mistaken for it. This is not a question of those who are attached in a formal way to the profession of true religion without having experienced its power; it is blessedly possible for such people to have an experience of God's grace which changes what was once a matter of formal attachment into a matter of inward reality. It is a question of people who see clearly where the truth lies, and perhaps for a period to conform to it, but then, for one reason or another, renounce it (p. 144).

Tiptoeing through the TULIPS

CT reports on rumoured divisions at SWBTS and whether Calvinistic professors risk losing their jobs as those to be possibly axed under the auspices of economic cut backs.

Pray for the SBC that it does not come to a Arminians vs. Calvinists war in churches, seminaries, or in the denomination.

John Stackhouse on Worship

Canadian Theologian John Stackhouse takes aim at Christian songwriter Chris Tomlin about worship lyrics and Stackhouse makes this quotable remark:

Well, enough’s enough. We are the most educated Christians in history, and yet our lyrics are considerably stupider than our much less educated Christian forebears–the people who sang lyrics by Fanny Crosby or Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts.



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Neither Jew nor Arab

Over at CT is a great article about an education initiative in Israel that links together messianic Jewish and Arab Christian schools. The Israel Education forum would, "provide a framework for prayer, sharing and mutual encouragement, and through which organizations could be supported in all areas in their work, and through which strategic development of education and discipleship can be undertaken". To see Jewish Christians and Arab Christians working together is something that we should all want to see much more of.

Monday, March 09, 2009

New Blog - Galatians

Today I came across a fairly new blog called Paul's Epistle to the Galatians by Thomas who is a Canadian grad of Trinity Western University and Regent College. It looks like a good place to get your Galatians fix for the day. My Pauline Theology students (who are exegeting Galatians) might want to check it out.

Latest Tyndale House Newsletter

The latest TH newsletter is out and details the many happenings in that part of the world.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Perseverance in Hebrews

In my Greek Texts class we are working our way through Heb. 5.11-6.12 and looking at apostasy and perseverance in the letter. I also preached on this passage in chapel this week under the title"Once Saved, Always . . .?" It seems to me that the passage is clearly talking about people who profess Christian faith (of some form) and are part of the believing community (to some degree). The language used of the persons (enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shares in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of God’s word and powers of age to come) I think clearly refers to those who are in a Christian community and profess faith and enjoy its benefits, they are on track for salvation and yet their status seems to remain in question. In fact, the author of Hebrews is perhaps himself unsure about their spiritual state, but through the effect of his warnings he hopes that he is able to keep them on course.

Does this passage teach that you can lose your salvation? Yes and No! On the one hand, the persons warned are inhabiting a murky inbetween state wavering in belief and committment, they know and experience enough of salvation to be moving in the right "heavenly direction", but they perhaps are not fully convinced or fully committed to Christ. They risk losing that which a good start should assure them of. On the other hand, the author of Hebrews stresses at numerous points that genuine believers will persevere to the end (Heb. 6.11; 10.39).

In the end, I don't like the bumper sticker theological slogan: "Once Saved, Always Saved" precisely because it can give a false sense of assurance to people who should not have it. A better stock standard phrase might be once saved, always saved, if saved! Overall, addressed to the community, the warning passages in Hebrews 5.11-6.12 teach: (1) That God's grace should be recieved but not presumed upon, (2) Genuine assurance is available to those who genuinely profess faith in Christ, (3) Those who fall away cannot be brought back, (4) the future element of salvation in Hebrews (see David deSilva on this) means that we should speak of eschatological security, rooted in God's faithfulness, rather than eternal security.

John Piper has a good sermon on The Doctrine of Perseverance: The Future of a Fruitless Field which includes this illustration that I found powerful and threatening in a godly way.

I've told the story once before of the vulture who spotted the corpse of a fox on a big hunk of ice floating down the river toward Niagara Falls. He flies to the ice, lands, and begins to eat the fox. He watches the falls approaching and hears the warnings of danger, but he tells himself that he has wings and is free and does not need to pay attention to such warnings. He is destined for the sky. At the last minute he finishes his feast and spreads his wings but he can't fly because his talons have frozen in the ice and he is dragged over the falls to his destruction. And so it will be with people who have heard the warnings of Scripture to abandon their worldly lusts and pursue holiness, but who say, "I have wings, I am a Christian. I can fly anytime I want to." The day will come when they may try and will not be able to repent because they are so hardened and addicted to the world they can't even feel one genuine spiritual affection (12:17).

Bibliographical Resources on this I recommend:

McKnight, Scot. ‘The Warning Passages of Hebrews: A Formal Analysis and Theological Conclusion,’ TrinJ 13 (1992): 21-59.

DeSilva, D.A. ‘Hebrews 6:4-8: A socio-rhetorical investigation (Part 1),’ TynBul 50 (1999): 33-57.

DeSilva, D.A. 'Hebrews 6:4-8: A Socio-Rhetorical Investigation (Part 2),' TynBul 50 (1999):225-37.

Bateman, Hermann (ed.)., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2008) [esp. G.H. Guthrie's conclusion which is worth the price of the book].

Schreiner, Thomas R. New Testamant Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday is for Ad Fontes - NDIEC

As a Ph.D student I remember Prof. Michael Lattke giving me two bibliographic pieces of advice: (1) BDAG [i.e. the Greek-English Lexicon] should be on your desk, not your bookshelf; and (2) You should own every copy of New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity. The NDIEC series is put together and edited by the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre Macquarie University in Sydey, Australia.

I have BDAG in both hard copy and electronic forms. And, finally, I've just started acquiring the NDIEC volumes. The first one I've got is volume nine which I found useful for composition of my Colossians/Philemon commentary (forthcoming with Cascade books).

To give an example, I point to one of the texts in NDIEC 9.36-37 which mentions a king being in the "image" of Zeus:

"great [Hephaestus,] king like [the Sun, great king of the up]per and lower regions, [child of the Benefactor gods,] of whom Hephaestrus appr[oved to whom the sun gave his po]wer, living image of Ze[us, son of the Sun]". Text is dated ca. 221-25 BC from Egypt. While theologians debate what it means to be in the "image of God" the designation was a royal title in ANE literature and to attribute it to humanity, as happens in Genesis 1 and 9, is perhaps to say no more than humanity is royal in God's eyes.

Also, the Society for the Study of Early Christianity is having its annual conference on "The Paradoxes of Paul" and keynote speakers include Judith Lieu and Beverly Gaventa in Sydney on 8 May 2009.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

New Gospel Tract

Apparently Campus Crusade rejected this gospel tract!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Two Websites You Need to Know About

I have come across a couple of excellent websites that you need to know of:

1. 4 Gospels is provided by Tyndale House and it provides lectures and discussions on the canonical and non-canonical Gospels.

2. The Gospel and Culture Project which equips Christians to understand and apply the Gospel as truth capable of transforming human culture.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Romans 9.5

Many of you know the tricky grammatical and exegetical problems surrounding Rom. 9.5 (compare the RSV and NIV and spot the difference that a comma makes). One very good article on this subject is Hans-Christian Kammler, ‘Die Prädikation of Jesu Christi als „Gott“ and die paunlinische Christologie: Erwägungen zur Exegese von Röm 9,5b.’ ZNW 92 (2003): 164-80. Kammler does a fine job of situating Rom. 9.5 in relation to the wider array of evidence in Pauline christology in Romans. On-line here at pay per view.

Open Letter to Steph

I have finally realized that I have a blog nemesis (or stalker) of sorts. She often posts highly negative comments on this blog and it sometimes feels like on other blogs that I comment on that she is there soon after as well with bitter and derogatory against me no matter what I'm talking about (even on something as prosaic as NT essay topics on Chris Tilling's blog). Her name is Stephanie. I do not know her personally, but I know about her through friends and colleagues. We evidently have different views about faith and biblical scholarship. But the mean spiritedness and needless character of her invective remarks spurns me on to make a response in the same public forum that she is active in maligning me. For case in point, this is what she wrote on a comment when I announced the birth of my son Markus:

"'Fruit' of your 'loins'!!?? You read a book during the birth?? You name the boys??? and this one after a dubious military person???? and then turn him into you? I hope he has the freedom and courage to think for himself.Congratulations..."

Now there was a cordial "congratulations" there, but you'll note that all of the other words seem to cast aspersions on myself as a husband, a parent, on my family, and now even on my son as prone to indoctrinisation. Is this what the biblioblogosphere is for? Is this collegiality? I was celebrating the birth of my son and this woman could not even say "congrats" without attaching some barb on the end. Thus, I make an appeal to Stephanie:

Dear Stephanie,

It has become apparent that we are not kindred spirits (despite our shared antipodian roots). My views on faith, theology, scholarship, biblical studies do not align with your own convictions. But I feel that your comments about me, on this blog and others, have exceeded the bounds of civility and cordiality that has come to typify the biblioblogsophere. If you knew me personally, you would realize that I am not quite the ultra-right wing fundamentalist that you seem to picture (or is it caricature) me as. I get on well with other secular scholars (e.g. James Crossley whom I count as a genuine friend) and I see no reason why we could not be friends either. So I politely ask you to desist from your vitriolic comments about me. I do not mind criticism (on this blog or others) but criticism does not need to exhibit an ad hominem character in order to be effective or provocative. If, however, your animosity towards me cannot be placated or assuaged, and if you have no interest in being on friendly terms with someone you disagree with, well, in that case could you (a) just stop commenting about me any where and everywhere, and (b) in return I will abstain from commenting on James Crossley's blog in order to keep us from crossing swords on that terrain as I know that it is one of your favourite haunts.

Cordially yours

Michael Bird