Monday, August 31, 2009

Honorable Mention for the "Bird's-Eye"

My book A Bird's-Eye View of Paul (IVP) has received an honorable mention at the Australian Christian Books of the Year awards in the category of "2009 Australian Christian Theological Writers' Award". It was in good company alongside Andrew Sloane for his book At Home in a Strange Land: Using the Old Testament in Christian Ethics. The ultimate winner of the prize was Paul Barnett for After Jesus, Volume 3: Finding the Historical Christ. So close, and yet so far. Well, I guess, there's always next year!

The Return of the Messianic Jesus

Over at Bible and Interpretation is my short piece on "The Messianic Jesus Makes a Comeback".

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Book Notice: Greg Carey - Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers

Greg Carey
Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers
Waco, TX: Baylor, 2009.
Available from

In this provocatively named book Greg Carey (Lancaster Theological Seminary) looks at how the early Christians included deviance and transgression of social norms as part of their self-identity, and so explodes the common myth that Christianity is the religion of social respectability. In chapter one, Carey uses the story of the "sinful woman" of Lk. 7.36-50 to show that "sin" is not simply a theological idea but also a social construct. In chapter two, he looks at Jesus' association with tax collector and sinners and believes that there is no tradition in the Gospels of Jesus criticizing these sinners or calling them to repentance. Chapter three tackles the complex subject of Jesus and the purity laws. In the healing stories of the Gospels, Jesus did not violate the purity laws (which lead to Christian anti-semitism) as much as he does simply respond positively to unclean people who impose themselves upon him. In chapter four, Carey looks at how Jesus and Paul disregard conventional social norms about masculinity. Chapters five and six are dedicated to the cross where it is suggested that Jesus did indeed sin in the eyes of public officials by creating a public disturbance. Carey goes onto suggest that we should queston the notion of Jesus' sinlessness so that "we might conceive of the incarnation as God's full investment in the human condition, including its moral brokenness" (p. x). In chapter seven Carey shows how deviant Christians were considered in their own social locations by outsiders. He also looks at the Jewish and pagan perspective as to why Christians were considered as threats to the social and cultural order. In a touching epilogue, Carey notes how some of his own faith heroes have had the courage to violate social norms and identify with sinners.

This is a most interesting book. Carey shifts between exegesis, theological reflection, and personal anecdotes with great ease and to great effect. Elements that I enjoyed were his description of Jesus and purity laws in Judaism. Much of what he says is correct, esp. that Jesus did not abrogate the Torah and contracting impurity was not necessarily sinful in Judaism since it was part of life. Though I think that for some groups (e.g. Qumran) moral impurity and ritual impurity were closely equated and the Pharisees might not have always neatly distinguished Torah from halakah. In what sounds like a paradoxical blend of Crossley meets Blomberg, Carey suggests that Jesus acted as if holiness were more powerful than impurity as evidenced in his physical touching of lepers. The chapter on the scandal of the cross also raised some valid points about whether the shame of crucifixion led some gnosis-oriented Christians to abandon the cross as a saving event. He also provides a good study on the social awkwardness of the Christians as those seeking socio-political legitimation, but regarded as deviants in Graeco-Roman society. In many ways, this book reminds me of Richard Burridge's recent volume on Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics and perhaps should be read beside it. Justify Full

But I have two major criticism of this book: (1) Carey does not want to refute the doctrine of Jesus' sinlessness, but he believes that it has some "serious liabilities" and he suggests "let's ditch the language of Jesus' sinlessness and talk about his righteousness and faithfulness instead" (p. 98). So be it, but what grounds is there for regarding these as opposites, why must we abandoned the canonical testimony to Jesus' specific sinlessness if it becomes socially awkward for us? Carey regards Jesus as participating in the social sins of society by virtue of him being in society and he thinks sin is also necessary for personal development and moral growth. To his credit, Carey wants a robust doctrine of incarnation, Jesus participates fully in humanity to the point of participating in its sinfulness. In response, I would deny that the experience of sin is necessary to be human, because sin is precisely an inhuman act. By sinning we become less than human. Jesus is fully human, properly human, and is therefore without sin. He is not the model of fallen humanity that rises upward, but the exemplary humanity, the new humanity of the new age. Jesus is what humanity was always meant to be and what it will one day be. What sinful humanity needs is not a God-man who can sympathize with their sinfulness; no, what they need is the God-man to deliver them from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin. The sinlessness of Jesus does not indicate the absence of sympathy with sinners, it is the ground of the sinners hope, in that one has been sinless for us. (2) Carey is correct to appreciate the under applied elements of inclusiveness towards outcasts and pariahs in the Gospels. But where he flounders, I think, is that the Jesus tradition also contains a large amount of asceticism, imagery filled with apocalyptic judgment, and ethical rigorism as a criterion for discipleship. Understandably, Matthew 23 does not figure prominently in Carey's paradigm for following Jesus. Likewise, Paul for all his ethnic inclusiveness, also has detailed vice-lists and practiced church discipline, and only the most tortured exegesis can make him a proponent of hyper-inclusiveness (that said, Carey does recognize the rigor of Pauline ethics about issues relating to gender and sexuality esp. when Christians were in the public eye).

The strength of this book is its historical examination of Jesus, Paul, and the first Christians, coupled with theological reflection on certain topics, and a social commentary on Christianity in "white America". Though I don't profess to be convinced by the major premise of the book, it is instructive about the social context of the first Christians and how to live out the inclusiveness of Jesus towards those that society casts aside. As I often tell my students (most Americans won't get the metaphor): Jesus accepts the fish that John West rejects!

The Origin of Paul's Gospel

I have always wondered how to reconcile Gal 1.11-12 ("I did not receive [parelabon] the gospel from humans, neither was I taught it, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ") and 1 Cor 15.3 ("I received [parelabon] as the gospel that Christ died for our sins ..."). In Beginning from Jerusalem(p. 354), Jimmy Dunn offers his own resolution which I find interesting:
"Paul assuredly did not think of his gospel as a different gospel from that agreed upon by Peter, James and John (Gal. 2.2-9); the gospel of 1 Cor. 15.3-4/5 was the gospel which they all preached (1 Cor. 15.11). What was different about Paul's gospel was his conviction that it was open also to Gentiles, that the gospel he received in the tradition handed down to him at the time of his conversion (1 Cor. 15.3) was the message regarding God's Son which he had been commissioned to deliver to the Gentiles (Gal. 1.16). That was why Paul was such an uncomfortable bed fellow with his fellow apostles: he saw himself as first and foremost 'apostle to the Gentiles'; and as far as Paul himself wasa concerned, that had been the case from his commissioning itself."

Gregory MacDonald Revealeld

The controversial book, The Evangelical Universalist was written under the pseudonymn "Gregory MacDonald". The question of "who is Gregory MacDonald?" has caused one of the greatest man-hunts in the history of British evangelicalism since someone stole Martin Lloyd Jones' reading glasses (turns out it was Michael Ramsay!). Well, the mystery is over, and Gregory MacDonald is none other than my good friend Robin Parry (read esp. his justification for writing the book and for using the pseudonymn). Well, got to admire his chutzpah in both writing the book and coming out of the clauset! (I have to confess that I thought it was Oliver Crisp so apologies to Olly). I offered my own thoughts about the topic here. I guess I'll now have to read the book. Anyways, Rob and I are down to drive to BNTC late this week and now we certainly have something to talk about during the drive.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fleeting thoughts on Romans 1:1-4

After a curry, a few glasses of wine, three journal articles, and with my buddy BW8, this is what I've come up with on Romans 1:1-4.

"The Apostolic vocation which Paul carries out has as its centrepiece the gospel. Paul was called to be an apostle and set apart for the sake of the “gospel of God”. When Paul mentions the gospel it is most often in association with Jesus Christ as its foci (see 1 Cor 9:12; 15:1-5; 2 Cor 2:12; 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:17; 1 Thess 3:2; 2 Thess 1:8; 2 Tim 2:8). In fact, Paul will very quickly go on to relate the “gospel of God” to the gospel “concerning his son” in 1:3 and the “gospel of his Son” in 1:9 (see Rom 2:16; 16:25). Yet here it is the “gospel of God” (see Rom 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:11). The sense is deliberately open as it might mean a gospel from God or a gospel about God. Most likely, both senses are intended. The gospel is both a revelation from God (Gal 1:12) and is about what God himself has done in the faithfulness, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. To tell the gospel of God is to tell the story of Jesus. And yet the story of Jesus is entirely inexplicable apart from the story of God. Paul is the quintessential Jesus-freak, but he is not a mono-Jesus adherent. That is because God, Son, and Spirit all figure prominently in his opening narration of the gospel story in Rom 1:1-4. In fact, Romans is the most theocentric letter of the Pauline corpus with the word theos occurring 153 times! John Webster rightly states: “The matter to which Christian theology is commanded to attend, and by which it is directed in all its operations, is the presence of the perfect God as it is announced in the gospel”. As the Apostle sent and set apart by God, Paul sets out before the Roman Christians the story of how God’s plan to repossess the world for himself have now been executed in his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."

Russell Moore on Exploitation of the Poor through Gambling

Russel Moore of SBTS has an excellent post on the moral injustice of gambling. Sadly, my childhood saw the worst that gambling can do to persons and families. In fact, I'm quite prepared to say that I hope to one day fulfil a life long ambition by sabatoging the Melbourne Cup and inflicting the most horrific of financial disasters on the parasitic and predatory gambling industry of Australia. Homer Simpon is right. Gambling is an evil monster called "Gamblor" and I pray that he and his minions are crushed like a Japanese scrum against the All-Blacks.

Jerome's Isaiah Commentary in English??

Does any of our readers know where I can find Jerome's Isaiah Commentary in an English translation? I've found the Latin, but unfortunately my Latin is as good as my Russian. Martin Hengel's lament, in a personal conversation, that seminaries don't require Latin along with Greek and Hebrew is now acutely felt.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bible Works 8 - Part 1

Before I start my review of Bible Works 8, I need to recollect my first encounter with the program. I vividly remember when I first met my one-day-to-be-wife and thinking to myself, "She's kinda cute". And then I learned that she was only seventeen so I backed off for obvious legal reasons - well, until she turned eighteen. However, I did have a similar (but less intense) experience when I first met Bible Works! I'd started doctoral studies and I was still, can you believe, using the Englishman's Greek Concordance for word searches. Then I got given a copy of BW 5 and it was like I had met the enchanted princess of the Shangrila of biblical software. "Where have you been all of my life baby?" I had instant access to Greek and Hebrew texts and various English translations at my finger tips. Since then I've been a fan of Bible Works as it has saved me so much time and the features that it adds keep getting better. In later Bible Works versions, having English and Greek texts of Philo and Josephus were smashing as I use them frequently. Also, being able to have BDAG and HALOT data appear as you put the cursor on certain words makes preparing exegetical notes a dream. Likewise, the complete text of Metzger's textual commentary on the Greek NT was also very handy. You can also get additional resources from the Bible Works Blog. Well that's how it all began. In my next post on BW I'll talk a little about the new features of BW8.

SAET Fellows

The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology is looking to enlarge its fellowship and further the cause of (and case for!) Pastor-Theologians. See the details here. On a side note, I think one of the best ways for us to bridge the academic/church divide is to have more doctor's in the church.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Things on Romans to Click

On Romans studies, Alan Bandy has an excellent discussion on the interpretation of ek pisteos eis pistin from Rom 1:17 that I recommend. Also, David Kirk has been blogging through Romans with verve and sensibility.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hebrew: "The Language Pleasing to God"

In reading Pseudo-Clementine's Recognitions for my devotions . . . (just kidding!) I came across this rather amusing passage:
In the fifteenth generation, men first worshiped fire and constructed idols. Now, until that time one language prevailed, the language pleasing to God: Hebrew (1.30.5)
All my OT pals will love this quote!

Mark Nanos on the Myth of the Law-Free Paul

My friend Mark Nanos has published his ETS-paper on "The Myth of the 'Law-Free' Paul Standing Between Christians and Jews" at the on-line journal Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. Mark there gives his arguments for Paul being a law-observant Jew.

Latest Tyndale Fellowship News Letter

As usual, some great things are happening around Tyndale House, check out the latest newsletter here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

High Christology in the Fourth Gospel and Revelation?

I've just finished reading A.Y. Collins and J.J. Collins King and Messiah as Son of God, and what blew me over was this concluding quote from A.Y. Collins about the christology of the Gospel of John and Revelation:

"The Gospel and Revelation both present Jesus as pre-existence and as divine in some sense. In the Gospel he is either an emanation of God or God's first creature, namely, the only-begotten god. In Revelation, the evidence suggests that he is God's first creature, namely, the principal angel" (p. 203).

I like some of Adela Collins' stuff, but that is about as convincing as Dick van Dyke's cockney accent in the musical Mary Popins! I think I might tackle this in my post-1 Esdras book on Jesus as Messiah and Lord. On another note, Adela may have given the JW's the best source of apologetic argumentation that they've had for years.

Interview with Trevin Wax about Jesus as Messiah

As a follow up to his review of Are You the One Who is to Come: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, Trevin Wax interviews me about the book.

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor on Paul's Conversion

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor writes:

"His encounter with Christ reveals the truth of what he had once taken as falsehood by forcing a new assessment of what became the Christological and soteriological poles of his gospel. Christ was the new Adam, the embodiment of authentic humanity. The Law was no longer an obstacle to the salvation of Gentiles; they could be saved without becoming Jews" (Paul: A Critical Life, p. 79).

John Knox on Pauline Chronology

The American scholar John Knox in his little book Chapters In a Life of Paul, comments on Gal 1:18-22 about Paul's denial with an oath that he had never seen any of the other apostles except James:

"Sometimes the scholars argue as to why Paul felt constrained to take a solemn oath to the truth of his statement here. I am tempted to suggest that he did so because he had some premonition that most of the books to be written about him in the centuries afteward were going to say to him in effect: 'You are wrong about this, Paul. Of course you are not deliberately lying, but quite obviously you are mistaken. For the Acts of the Apostles gives a quite different story. It was written, we have good reason to believe, by Luke, who was a traveling companion of yours and therefre, you will agree, could hardly have been mistaken on a point like this.' As if to forestall such an answer, Paul took a solmen oath; but certainly to little avail; nine out of ten of the 'lives of Paul' have preferred Luke's version." (p. 37)

I think that scores a 12.6 on the sarcasmometer when it's only meant to go up to ten!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Trevin Wax reviews "Are You the One to Come?"

Book review blogging machine Trevin Wax has a review of my Are You the One to Come? over at his blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Latest SBET

The latest issue of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology includes:

Kevin F. Scott
"The Church and the Urgent Patience of Christ"

James Read
"More than the Spirit of Mission? Revisiting the Work of the Spirit in the Book of Acts"

Jason Hood
"Christ-Centred Interpretation Only? Moral Instruction from Scripture's Self-Interpretation as Caveat and Guide"

James Eglinton
"Image Rights and Iconoclasm: A Study on the Relationship Between Christology and Idolatry"

Benjamin Myers
"The Impossibility of the Secular: Double Prevenience in Karl Barth's Ethics of Reconciliation"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

For Whom Did Christ Die? Three Views!

Some time tomorrow I'll be putting up three short blog entries from three different scholars all answering the question "For Whom Did Christ Die?" in about 250-300 words. The line-up of scholars includes:

Paul Helm (Calvinist View)
Michael Jensen (Amyraldian View)
Ben Witherington (Arminian View)

It is a ripper, so stay tuned!

For Whom Did Christ Die? - Paul Helm (Calvinist View)

According to Paul Helm (Highland Theological College):

‘Definite atonement’ is an improvement on ‘Limited atonement’, but neither phrase clearly captures and expresses the idea, which is not exclusively to do with the atonement. The view is that the Triune God ensures the salvation of men and women, boys and girls. He does not merely make possible their salvation, leaving it to the sinner to make up his own mind. Rather, whom he intends to save, he saves, through the distinct but inseparable work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Augustine puts it in his letter to Simplicianus in AD 396, God’s grace is effectual, effective, actually ensuring that those ordained to eternal life believe, secured by the golden chain of Romans 8.

What is at issue is an estimate of divine grace. The biblical basis for the view does not rest upon a single proof verse, or a few of these, (though verses such as John 6.37 and Acts 13.48 and of course Romans 8 28f should be borne in mind). Rather it is founded on the implications of Scripture’s overall witness to God’s powerful love, to the spiritual death of fallen mankind, and to the actual salvation of countless people.

By contrast, the Arminius-inspired view leaves the outcome of the work of redemption uncertainly suspended upon human choice, even though valiant efforts are made to link it to the divine foreknowledge, though in a weaker-than-biblical sense. And the Amyraldian view is in danger of upsetting the unity of the Trinity, and confounding the work of the preacher, heralding the grace of God indiscriminately to all, with the work of God. Through such means as preaching, God brings his elect to be justified, and to be sanctified, and to be glorified, calling them all out of darkness into his marvellous light.

For Whom Did Christ Die? - Michael Jensen (Amyraldian View)

According to Michael Jensen (Moore Theological College):

Like the great evangelical Calvinist preacher Charles Simeon once said: "I refuse to be more consistent than the Bible!" Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). He died to reconcile all things in heaven and earth (Col 1:15-20). But, he lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). The most significant problem for the limited/definite atonement position is of course that the text of Scripture tells against it again and again. This is not in doubt! One only has to read John Owen's text-twisting in The Death of Death to realize that a system is driving exegesis. If all are not finally saved, it shall not be for any deficiency in Christ's sacrifice, but rather because of their unbelief (contra high Calvinsim). And if any are saved, it will be entirely on account of the work of the Son on the cross and the Holy Spirit effecting the regeneration of the believer (contra Arminianism). As Calvin himself writes: "Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him... It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world." This is not an affirmation of the Arminian view which elevates human free choice over election - though the dispute with Arminianism is not so much to do with the extent of the atonement, but more over the nature and significance of election. Anglican evangelical bishop J.C. Ryle wrote: "I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system".

For Whom Did Christ Die? - Ben Witherington (Arminian View)

According to Ben Witherington (Asbury Theological Seminary):

Christ died for the sins of the world, and to ransom that world. 1 Tim. 2.4-5 puts the matter succinctly. God our savior "wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people." One could compare this to John 3.17, God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world, or the repeated refrain in Hebrews that Christ died once for all time, for all persons, and so on. (See the discussion of these matters in my forthcoming volumes on NT Theology and Ethics entitled The Indelible Image).

But this is not just a matter of finding sufficient proof texts (of which there are many more), it is a matter of one's theology of the divine character. God is love, holy love, to be sure, but nonetheless love, and as 1 Tim. 2.4 says, the desire of God's heart is that all persons be saved. It is not just the elect whom God loves, but as John 3.16 says, the world, for whom Christ was sent to die. It follows from this that Christ's atoning death is sufficient for the salvation of all persons, but only efficient for those who respond in faith to God's gracious provision of redemption.

Even more foundational is the understanding of the meaning of saying that God is love. Among other things, this means God is committed to relating to those created in his image in love. Now real love must be freely given, and freely received. It cannot be predetermined, manipulated, coerced or else it becomes contrary to what the Bible says love is (see 1 Cor. 13). In the debate between whether the primary trait of God is God's sovereignty or God's love, it seems clear that God exercises his power in love, and for loving ends. Even his acts of judgment, short of final judgment, are not meant to be punitive but rather corrective and restorative. God in short, is unlike vindictive human beings, very unlike them. Thus Hosea relates that God says "All my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger ... For I am God and not a human being." God, the divine parent, is not less loving than the best of human parents, God is more loving. If Christ is the perfect incarnation of the character of God, then the answer to the question, for whom did Christ die, becomes theologically self-evident--- for the world which God created and still loves.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Interview with Kavin Rowe on Luke-Acts

One of the most exciting young scholars in the USA right now is C. Kavin Rowe who is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Duke University. Kavin was gracious enough to spare me some of his time to talk about a few of his recent books on Luke-Acts:

1. In your first book, Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke you argue that Luke's usage of Kyrios and redaction of Mark makes an "essential claim about the relation between Jesus and the God of Israel: Jesus of Nazareth is the movement of God in one human life so much so that it is possible to speak of God and Jesus together as kyrios". Dunn argues that this identification of the risen and exalted kyrios with the man Jesus of Nazareth is the centre of NT Theology. Do you agree with that hypothesis?

I appreciate Dunn’s work very much, but as you’ve phrased it here I would have two hesitations or objections. First, there are not two figures – one figure, a man named Jesus, and another figure, the risen and exalted Lord – who are somehow “identified.” Much to the contrary, as the NT portrays it, there is only one figure, the human being Jesus whose identity is that of the risen and exalted Lord – or, conversely, the exalted Lord whose human identity is the man Jesus of Nazareth. To phrase it this way is to point to a deeper philosophical matter in relation to how we think of “identity”: my worry about the language in the question is that it betrays our failure to think narratively about human identity. But of course there is no other way to articulate the unity of a human life than by writing or telling a story.

Second, I do not find the “center” imagery particularly helpful for thinking about NT theology. I would rather think in terms of complex clusters of normative commitments, all of which are related to one another in mutually dependent and illuminating ways. Such commitments are made intelligible by their interrelation and not apart from it. So, to stay with our example above, to say that Jesus’ identity runs from birth through death to resurrection is already to invoke a complex set of other equally important commitments, commitments which make intelligible what it means to speak of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus (e.g., how he is conceived, why his death is salvific, who raises him, what life is in light of him, how he relates to the God of Israel, and so forth). Moreover, speaking of the center in the way that is commonly done (die Mitte der Schrift, and so on) also risks a reproduction of the false dichotomy between intellection and life – a dichotomy of which the NT knows nothing – because it can encourage us to look for conceptual content to the exclusion of the practices in which concepts are embedded (so, e.g., justification can be discussed apart from what a justified life actually is). By contrast, to speak of the mutual dependence and interrelation of normative commitments allows one to articulate and display the unity between thought and practice that is basic to the theology of the NT (e.g., that Jesus’ Lordship is not simply a statement about his status but is also a distinctive habitus or pattern of life).

2. How do you situate the christology of Luke between that of Paul and John?

In my judgment, Luke’s christology is materially similar to that of John and Paul, though it obviously differs formally. Or, to put it a different way, Luke, John, and Paul all make substantively corresponding judgments about the identity of Jesus – his full humanity, his relation to God, his resurrection, his continued presence by the Spirit, his salvific significance for the world, and so on – even if the ways in which they display such judgments are conceptually diverse and different (I owe the distinction between judgments and concepts to theologian David Yeago – it is not perfect, of course, but it is analytically useful when asking questions of coherence, comparison, and so forth).

But, once again, we should not confuse narrative as “genre” with narrative as a necessary ordering mode of rendering identity. It is true – though by now platitudinous – to observe that Paul writes letters, while Luke and John write Gospels (although very different kinds). This is simply a statement about the surface structure or appearance of the writing, i.e., its genre. If, however, the material dimension of christological judgments is not entirely dependent on genre – and it is not – then one can notice immediately substantive christological similarities between the story that Luke and John tell and that Paul presupposes. “Story” here is shorthand for the narrative articulation of the identity of Jesus. It is the “matter” (die Sache, res, etc.) of this articulation on which these three would agree. Finally, such “matter” cannot be abstracted from the story that renders Jesus’ identity but is instead given through it (whoever “Jesus” is will always be specified by the writing or telling of a story); this is why comparing these christologies requires us not only to look at the linguistic surface layer of the Pauline corpus but also to explicate the story that underlies the particular focus of the individual letters. To think christologically along with the NT is to move inside the substantive judgments of the narratives employed – whether explicitly or as presupposition – to articulate the identity of Jesus.

3. In your new book, World upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age you demur from dominant perspectives that see Luke as providing an apology for Christianity as harmless vis-a-vis Rome, but also against more recent attempts to make Acts some kind of encoded protest against Roman power. In contrast, you state: "Luke's second volume is a highly charged and theologically sophisticated political document that aims at nothing less that the construction of an alternative total way of life - a comprehensive pattern of being - one that runs counter to the life-patterns of the Graeco-Roman world" Or in other words, "New culture, yes - coup, no." How did you come to this view? In what stages does your own argument proceed?

One of the main methodological points of World Upside Down is that in order to read the Acts narrative well, we need to do justice both to the passages that appear to proclaim Christianity’s political innocence (e.g., through the mouths of Roman officials) and to those that appear to speak about the potential of the Christian mission to interrupt and dismantle deeply important patterns of pagan life (e.g., the mantic girl in Philippi). The tendency has been to mistake one of these sets of passages for the whole (and ignore or downplay the other). But this way of reading severs the narrative connection Luke so carefully develops. Thus what I tried to do was to think both sets of passages at once. That is to say, to think out their tension in terms of the necessary interconnection between them, and then to articulate the way in which Luke tells the story such that both kinds of passages are needed to describe narratively the cultural contour of the Christian mission.

This led me to a way of presenting the argument that actually tries to move the reader through the kind of thinking that ultimately requires the inclusion of both sets of passages as necessary to the description of Christian life. Chapter two (on cultural destabilization) leads immediately to the question raised in Chapter three (on Luke’s rejection of sedition and the like). Chapter four then explores the core ecclesial practices that generate the tension that emerges from reading chapters two and three together (these core practices are: confession of Jesus as Lord, universal mission, social assembly). Thus the body of the book attempts both to explicate the thickness of Luke’s political description (including the entire narrative rather than privileging one kind of passage over another) and to account for it by tracing its roots to the distinctive pattern of life that Luke commends.

4. What is the epistemological framework that makes this transformation possible for Luke?

Insofar as we can describe Luke’s epistemological framework, I would simply call it Christian. This is not to be coy or unserious. Much to the contrary, I think it is mistaken to suppose that there is an epistemological framework that is more basic than the way in which the Christian theological one teaches you to see the world. If we learned from Luke how to think of epistemology, then we would learn that epistemology is not something detachable from a larger pattern of life, a moment in the overall process of intellection in which we think about how we know what we know (or don’t or can’t). Epistemology in a deeply Lukan sense is instead but the way we come to know through a pattern of life how Jesus’ universal Lordship shapes salvifically the totality of human existence. Of course there are specific, identifiable features of the way Luke thinks: for example, he is able to think the particular and universal together (Jesus and world, one man and everyone else, etc.); or, to take another example, he knows or intuits something of what Gadamer would much later see as the unity between legal and theological hermeneutics – i.e., Luke is able to work hermeneutically with Roman jurisprudential traditions vis-à-vis Christian life, and so forth. But such features of his thinking as we can identify result from his Christian habitus rather than a distinctive, discrete epistemological framework.

5. Is it possible (for Luke or even todays Christians) to be culturally destablizing without being political seditious or disloyal?

Good question. As far as I can see, the answer depends on (at least) two different things. (1) On perspective (or, differently said, the irreducible particularity of political vision): It would be easy enough, say, to argue that for present Western culture to flourish politically it could do with some destabilizing (advanced modernity has not exactly been good for addressing discrepancies between rich and poor, and so on). But whether such destabilization is construed as sedition or as the bringing of light will finally depend on your reading of the reality in question, which will, in turn, be indissolubly linked to the particularlized perspective from which you see the world. There is no third place to which one can be removed and from which one can evaluate political life (the so-called “view from nowhere” does not exist: it is essentially an idolatrous construction whose existential use is to hide or deny our radical finitude). We are quite simply caught in the concrete situation of having to make evaluative judgments that derive from, correspond to, and even inform the particularized perspective from which we read the world. So, in relation to Luke: Rome qua Rome will not understand Luke’s claim that the early Christian mission is not actually seditious precisely – and here is epistemology – because they cannot: they do not have the requisite categories of knowledge in which this kind of claim can make sense; for Luke, cultural destabilization is the outworking of God’s salvific action in Jesus Christ, it is not sedition. To understand the necessary connection between Jesus and a new reality (pattern of communal life in his name – the Way, ecclesia, etc.) is already to know that Christian political life truly is God’s light, however destabilizing it may be for the present order. I.e., for Rome to make the connection Luke makes between Christian political life and light, their particularized perspective would need to undergo a dramatic change (from pagan to Christian). Otherwise, what counts as sedition and what doesn’t remains intractably in dispute. In sum: the issue of truth that’s involved in the particularized reading of the Christian reality is what’s ultimately at stake in the question of whether one is “seditious” or not. If Luke is right, then they’re not seditious: they are participating in the peaceful creation of a new way of life; if Rome is right, they’re seditious. As far as I can see, there is no way around this conflict of interpretation.

(2) On what one means by “(dis)loyal”: As an example, let’s move past Luke a few years. Tertullian used to say – and here I’m roughly paraphrasing of course – “for crying out loud, we’re the best citizens you have! We don’t lie, kill, cheat, rob, etc. We even pray for you; we even pray for the Emperor! We just won’t call him god or sacrifice to him, etc.” In one way, it’s hard to imagine a more compelling argument for loyalty: we pray for you, don’t cheat you, work hard, uphold virtue, and so on – all the things that are necessary for a well-ordered and stable society. In another way, however, the Christian refusal vis-à-vis the Emperor is the pinnacle of political disloyalty. So which is it? Are they loyal or disloyal? Taking this question seriously helps to show that there is not some third thing that is knowable ahead of time – loyalty – which Christians either embody or do not. Loyalty will always take its meaning from the inside of the pattern of life from which the question “loyal or not?” emerges. Christians are loyal to the Christian pattern of life – this pattern of life will itself appear to be “loyal” to various forms of government at some times, and at others it will appear as “disloyal.” We are thus brought back to the question of irreducibly particular perspectives for reading the world: inside Tertullian’s argument, Christians are loyal; outside his argument, they are not.

6. For me the highlight of the book was the final section where you demonstrate that polytheism was not quite as tolerant as is often supposed. How can Christian communities find in Luke-Acts a guide or manifesto for living culturally destablizing lives in Western cultures that are becoming increasingly secular and aggressively pluralistic. What place does the universal lordship of Jesus Christ have for ecclesial groups in such societies?

I think Charles Taylor’s 2007 book A Secular Age does a good job of describing the general conditions under which Christian life takes shape today (at least in the parts of the world that are influenced substantively by modern Western political, economic, intellectual, and religious traditions – whether such areas are in the West or not). Though there are some interesting questions about the so-called “American exception,” it seems hard to deny that the deeper intellectual, political, etc. currents flow powerfully against many normative commitments of classical Christianity. In such a time, Acts speaks perhaps as directly to Christian communities as it has since the early church – precisely because it offers a vision for living in a pattern of life that is defined by the Lordship of Jesus Christ in an overall cultural context that did not know what that was (i.e., Christian communities were literally witnesses to something strange and different). To put it rather simply, Acts gives Christians theological resources to be Christians, come what may – and it is this basic sense of living in a total pattern of life that is crucial overall to developing and sustaining Christian identity through time. I don’t think this is reducible to a lesson or two (do this or don’t do that), but requires us to nurture the type of analogical thinking where Christian faith is taken seriously as the deepest and most comprehensive way to configure human life. To learn from Acts is to cultivate a kind of thinking that rejects the notion that “Christian” is but one feature of one’s existence, or – to return to grammar school – could ever play the adjective to the more basic reality of the noun (as our English language wants it to do – Christian social worker or Christian scholar or Christian athlete, etc.). For Acts, to be Christian is learning to inhabit an entire reality, one whose cultural negotiations always take place from within a comprehensive identity.

If in countries where seminaries are losing their accreditation for retaining a distinctively ecclesial raison d’être and pedagogical telos this means that Christians need to learn to train and educate people without accreditation, then that is exactly what it means. There will of course be “loss” of some kind or another, perhaps even profound – as there was for the early Christians – but the kinds of communities that Acts seeks to form are never communities whose goal it is to satisfy or preserve fundamentally dispensable forms of life (of which official accreditation is surely a good example). When the political machinery of a state is against – or begins to move against – fundamental forms of Christian life, then the Christians are by definition problematical. And their form of life will therefore gradually – or even suddenly! – become culturally more destabilizing.

7. Finally, you are co-editing another volume on the unity of Luke-Acts with Andrew Gregory. What is your approach to the unity of Luke-Acts (or Luke/Acts !)?

Yes, Andrew Gregory and I do have a book coming out with University of South Carolina Press in 2010 provisionally entitled Rethinking the Unity and Reception of Luke and Acts. In brief, my approach is: (a) Luke-Acts is indisputably a literary and theological unity – two volumes of one work; (b) Attending to the known history of their reception discloses the fact that the two volumes were not read as one literary work to the exclusion of other Christian texts (i.e., especially the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John) from at least the 2nd C. on. This does not disprove the idea that at the earliest stages Luke and Acts were read together as Luke-Acts by a Lukan community (or Theophilus), but it does raise questions for those scholars who rely on the all-too-easy assumption of equivalence between modern reconstructions of a community that reads Luke-Acts and early reading practices (i.e., there is not a single trace of such a community). The historian, moreover, is required to posit reasons for the “separation” and very different reception histories of the two texts on the basis of an original unity. These reasons must transcend the old “canonization” theory (Luke and Acts were somehow separated in the textual drift we call the canonical process), which simply does not do enough work in light of the differences in the reception histories of the two texts; such reasons are much harder to come by than is typically thought; (c) Scholars who persist in identifying modern reconstructed readings of Luke-Acts with ancient hermeneutical reading strategies have likely not grasped the way in which the NT authors, early Apologists or Church Fathers actually worked with scripture and have, therefore, distorted hermeneutically the historical worth of their reconstructions. To base “historical” work on a fully modernized reading strategy is already to have forfeited the possibility of real reconstructive historical work.

Finally, in relation to this forthcoming book, I should mention that Andrew and I definitely do not agree on everything (Irenaeus, etc.); indeed, the book arises as much from our disagreement as agreement. Nor do the rest of our contributors necessarily agree with us or with each other. There is vigorous debate on virtually every important issue surrounding this question. But, of course, that is part of the point – and joy – of being a scholar.

Friday is for Ad Fontes - Exagogue

In Ezekiel the Tragedian, we find this interesting dream sequence:

"68 MOSES [SPEAKS]: There seems to be a throne on Sinai's mountain peaks,
69 so great it reaches from the hillside up to heaven,
70 and on it sits a noble man,
71 with diadems all crowned, with mighty scepter held
72 in his left hand. And with the right to me
73 he waved, and I was set before the throne.
74 To me he gave the scepter, and on that great throne
75 he said to sit. The kingly being gave to me
76 the diadems, as he himself stepped off the throne.
77 And I was looking at the earth all circling round,
78 the things of earth below, of heaven up above.
79 The multitude of stars to me upon their knees
80 fell down, and I was counting all of them
81 as they passed by like troops of mortal men.
82 Then being startled, I was wakened out of sleep.
83 [REUEL]: O stranger, God has given this good sign to you
84 of life: these things will happen to you at some time.
85 Will you, then, be exalted on a mighty throne,
86 and be yourself a judge and guide for mortal men?
87 And you will see the whole inhabited earth,
88 both things below, and things above the heaven of God
89 And you will see the things that are, that were, things that will be."
(ETR 1:68-89 OPE)

Interesting tale. Moses dreams of God on his throne and God generously gives up his throne and puts Moses on it! What does this mean for our understanding of Jewish monotheism? Could some Jews quite easily assimilate other beings (angels, humans, demons) into the sphere of divine sovereignty? Or is Jewish monotheism relatively strict (i.e. exclusive) and the story here should be interpreted hyperbolically in celebrating Moses' role as deliverer and God's exaltation of him?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Divine Will and Election in Romans 9-11

As we get ready for the next BNTC in Aberdeen in early September, I still remember John Barclay's paper from last year on, "Two Versions of Grace: Romans 9-11 and the Wisdom of Solomon". Moreover, I've finally been able to access a quote from that presentation that has stuck in my head:

"The purposes of God are reducible to his will, a will that initially appears equally set to harden or to save, but turns out on closer inspection, and in the end, to harden only in order to save, to hate only in order to love, and to consign all to disobedience only in order to have mercy on all. What has twisted Paul's theology into this strange shape is his understanding of a "gift" that has redefined the meanings of charis and eleos and defies explanation or rationale. That gift is the Christ-event which reconciled the world "while we were enemies" (Rom 5:6-10) and justified the ungodly (4:4-6)"
- John Barclay

A Christian Academic

I present here a reflection on what I think it means to be a Christian academic. Simply stated, my scholarship is an expression of my faith and my faith is an expression of my scholarship. In my view, the two are inextricably related and cannot be separated. In an article I wrote not long ago, I suggested that New Testament scholarship in my generation requires a different tact than the one that had been handed down to us by our teachers. Even those of us who came out of confessionally conservative seminaries and graduate schools have been handed a method of biblical interpretation that believes that it not only must, but also that it can separate the scholar from the scholarship. Biblical scholarship of seemingly every theological stripe has asserted over the course of the last hundred-plus years that, in order to be considered credible, research must be free from confessional faith-based presuppositions and bias—a value-neutral scholarship. The cornerstone of this approach is the view that with the use of the historical-critical method, scholars can produce objective and scientific-like statements about Christianity origins and the New Testament that are based on evidence alone free from personal bias and subjectivity.

Clearly scholarly efforts within this approach have produced major advances in the study of early Christianity. One need only to think of the Copernican revolution known as the New Perspective on Paul in the last 30 years to see how New Testament studies has benefited from such methods. However, the strengths of the historical-critical method, and there are many, do not outweigh its weaknesses or false assumptions. The most glaring of the latter in my view is the idea that a confessional approach to Biblical research is antithetical to good historical inquiry. This view is both unwarranted and unrealistic. It is unwarranted, because, while I would not wish to pronounce all confessional scholarship as good historical research—there are many examples to the contrary, it has neither been demonstrated nor am I persuaded that in order to do good historical research, one must fence off confessionalism. And that is to say nothing of whether or not this is even possible. It seems to me that good historical scholarship is neither a result of confessionalism nor neutrality, if the latter even exists, but engagement with the sources and the ability to make sense of the data within its own historical setting. The predominant view is also unrealistic, because the view ignores the glaring reality that every scholar functions within some confession, whether this confession is the theological tenets of the church or of tradition criticism or of something else. There is no such thing as value-neutral scholarship.

Thus, I advocate a view of scholar and scholarship that is confessional in nature or value-based, by which I mean one that embraces faith-based presuppositions, although not necessarily Christian or even religious. As such, the scholar and her scholarship are humble and accountable within both her confessional community and within the wider scholarly community. Perhaps J. P. Meier’s ‘unpapal conclave’ of a confessional Catholic, Protestant, Jew and agnostic (and/or even an atheist) can be reintroduced with significant modification. In my approach this conclave would be locked up in the bowels of a library not until they achieved a ‘limited consensus’, but until they reach a mutual understanding of each other’s views; views based on their distinctive presuppositions and consequent procedures. This setting would not be any less scholarly of an endeavor as their views would be defendable and rooted in the history and culture of Second-Temple Judaism. Yet, rather than being forced to create a document that states the least common denominator, they were forced to listen to each other and learn from each other in the context of community; rather than check their convictions at the door and pursue consensus, they participate in full awareness of themselves and the others and pursue understanding; rather than debate in order to win, they discuss in order to understand, acknowledging that the truth is both self authenticating and convincing in the first instance when demonstrated in life.

For me, the most significant test of my scholarship is its impact on the community of faith, the church. My scholarship should be within the context of and accountable to my confessional community and should ultimately serve to further strengthen that community. At the present time I am a member of an evangelical non-denominational church in the suburbs of Chicago. While my wife and I are not tied to a denomination with an established tradition, I would characterize my community of faith with four adjectives; my faith is apostolic, catholic, Reformation-al and evangelical.

A Christian scholar is never (or at least should not be) over against the church, but functions as a member of Christ’s body and exercises his teaching gift for the building up of the body. While scholars should be given freedom to think, to ask questions and to push back on well-worn assumptions, we should always be mindful that our work is not an end in itself. But rather our work is the means to the end of bringing glory to God by extending his kingdom in the world.

Long Weekend of Theology at St. Andrews

The Institute for Bible, Theology, and Hermeneutics, is having three guest lectures over the long weekend of 28 and 31 August at St. Mary's College in St. Andrews. Featured lectures include:

Bruce McCormack (Princeton Theological Seminary)
"Election and the Trinity: Theses in Response to George Hunsinger"

Jeffrey Bingham (Dallas Theological Seminary)
"Reading Rome in Lyons!

John Franke (Biblical Theological Seminary)
"The Freedom of the Word: Reading the Bible in Community"

I've heard all three speak before and they will be worth going to if you're around on those days.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles AND Jews?

Every now and then I turn to an issue that has continued to fascinate me, namely, Paul's missional work among Jews. Martin Hengel wrote: “It was never possible to draw a neat division between mission to the Gentiles and mission to the Jews in the church”.[1] I think this is entirely correct. Yes, Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, nations, Greeks, uncircumcised, those-without-law, and idol worshippers (1 Cor 9.21; Gal 2.7-9; Rom 11:13; 1 Thess 1:9, etc.). But he sure spent a lot of time in synagogues according to Acts and he mentions Jewish evangelism in 1 Cor 9:20 and Rom 10:14-14. Note also how Paul describes his apostolate as beginning from Jerusalem as far around as Illycrium (Rom. 15.19) - what Gentiles did he proclaim the gospel to in Jerusalem? If Paul was intent on heading to Spain, maybe he was influenced by Isa 66.19-20 which depicts Jews and Gentiles as journeying from there to Jerusalem in order to share in the new creation. Anyway, my part-time research project (beyond 1 Esdras at the moment) consists of looking at evidence for Paul as Apostle to the Jews among the nations.

[1] Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, 154.

The Wretched Man is not a Christian

I've been preparing further notes on Romans 7 for one of my courses today. Here's my solid gold, top four arguments why the Wretched Man is not a Christian:

(1) Paul asks two questions in Rom 7.7 (What then should we say? That the law is sin?) and Rom. 7.13 (Did what is good, then, bring death to me?) which relates to the thoughts about pre-conversion stated in Rom 7.5 about how the law aroused sin and lead to death. Paul argues that while the law activated sin leading to death, the law is not the author of sin and death.

(2) The references to being in the ‘flesh’ (vv. 14, 18, 25) show that 7.14-25 are a commentary on what the life in flesh first mentioned in 7.5 looks like.

(3) When Paul describes the ‘I’ as ‘sold under sin’ (Rom. 7.14) this conflicts with what he says about Christians in Romans 6 where he declares that they have been freed from sin (Rom. 6.6-7, 17-18, 22).

(4) The subject struggles to obey the law (Rom. 7.22, 25), while Christians are free from the law (Rom. 6.14-15; 7.6).

Paul Meyer wrote: ‘There is not a syllable in Romans 7:7-25 about life in Christ, and … Paul himself has signaled to his readings in both 7:6 and 8:1-2 that the rest of chapter 7 is to be understood as the antithesis to chapter 8 and not in simple continuity with it’.[1].Ultimately what is described here is not the Christian’s struggle with sin, but the absolute defeat of the self by sin’s power in the unregenerate state.[2]

[1] Paul W. Meyer, ‘The Worm at the Core of the Apple: Exegetical Reflections on Romans 7,’ in The Conversation Continues: Studies in Paul and John, ed. R.T. Fortna and B.R. Gaventa (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990), 68.
[2] Charles H. Talbert, Romans (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 188-89.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Developing as an Undergraduate Teacher

I am up for a promotion this year and I have been working on my portfolio to present to the University. Basically I have to convince them why they should promote me. Here I reflect over my development as an undergraduate teacher at North Park. Perhaps you can relate or learn from my mistakes.

Over the course of the last three years, as I begin now my fourth year at North Park University, I have developed and improved my teaching effectiveness with each semester. I will be the first to admit that I committed all of the sins of a “freshly minted-Ph.D.” teacher. My first classes will attest that I had far too high of expectations for my undergrads. In that first semester for one of my classes I must have submitted over 4 syllabus revisions as I was undergoing “on-the-job-training”. Those early classes of students were so accommodating, as I would again announce a syllabus change. Many of those students have since graduated and we laugh together over the memory and to my gratitude they tell me they learned a good deal notwithstanding. Funny they never complained as I was eliminating assignments.

Admittedly I had much to learn in spite of some prior teaching experience and my passion for the subject and for students. One of my strengths, which is also a weakness as it was in this case, is my stubbornness and drive when I feel passionately about something. The end result of such a character is the proverbial truth of “learning the hard way”. This was evident in the way I went about teaching the Paul course at first. My colleagues, especially Scot McKnight, advised me that a certain methodology that I was quite sure was essential had proved ineffective for him in teaching undergrads at earlier stage of his teaching career and I should abandon it. Stubborn as I was, I thought to myself, “I can do this!” I will passionately communicate the importance of the practice and they will learn to love it as they make discoveries for themselves. Invariably, Scot was right; he usually is. Although there were a number of students who benefited from the approach, most were left frustrated and disinterested. I found myself constantly needing to coach and inspire in the use of method instead of teaching the Pauline ideas.

My initial reaction to the circumstance was to try harder. I attempted to use even more convincing rhetoric, better materials, and enlisted tutors to give further assistance outside of class. When this too did not work, then I became bitter toward my students: “They just weren’t trying hard enough” was the kind of thought I had.

Soon I awoke to the harsh reality. My approach wasn’t working. The problem was not the students or a lack of effort on my part; it was simply the wrong approach for the situational context of my teaching. While I would still strongly advocate the methodology I was attempting to incorporate in my class for biblical interpretation, I had yet to fully grasp the context of my teaching: to appreciate the appropriateness within the unique context of NPU. I did not adequately comprehended “the whom” of my teaching. What’s more, I had not fully inculcated the role I was to be playing in the larger University GE curriculum.

Over the course of the last year these two realizations have functioned significantly in revising my course strategies and intended outcomes. While I believed that I was approaching the students holistically, I have realized I had not fully comprehended the situation within which I was teaching. In other words, it has taken me three years to grapple fully with the context of my teaching. Last semester I performed a significant overhaul of two of my GE courses in response to these realizations. As the student evaluations attest, this has greatly increased my teaching effectiveness. To put it bluntly and somewhat embarrassingly, I think for the first two years I was teaching toward only a small percentage of our undergrad population. Now my courses, while still quite rigorous, are much more widely accessible.

Do you want to know the methodology? Sentence Diagramming and Discourse Analysis Scott Hafemann style.

Religious Freedom Threatened in Australia

News out indicates that the Australian state of Victoria is to consider erasing religious exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act. That would mean, I guess, that faith-based charities, religious schools, and churches would no longer be able to not employ someone because their beliefs or life-style choice conflicts with a religious body's statement of faith. Read more about it in the Age. Call me cynical, but I bet you all a coke that the headshed of the Uniting Church of Australia will support it! Good to see the Victorian Presbytians taking a stand and they win my vote for the "testicular fortitude and chutzpah award" for the year so far.

Friday, August 07, 2009

New D.A. Carson books (and the musical Cats)

As a good follow up to the last post, Andy Naselli at Between Two Worlds announces D.A. Carson's two new forthcoming books on Tolerance and Evangelicalism. I have to confess that everytime someone asks, "What is an Evangelical?" I keep hearing a song in my head from the musical Cats, Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, but with different lyrics: "Once were you blind, but now do you see? Do you own six copies of Today's NIV ... Because (Evan)gelicals can and (Evan)gelicals do, (Evan)gelicals can and (Evan)gelicals do ... Do you know how to get to the Billy Graham Centre? Do you think Rick Warren's your mentor ... cause (Evan)gelicals can and (Evan)gelicals do ... (Evan)gelical songs for (Evan)gelical Saps" etc. I don't know why, I wanted to be a lyricist when I was younger, maybe I am just disturbed.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

M. Bird Zondervan Interview (Serious This Time!)

Over at the Koinonia blog there is another interview with me (serious this time, no funny stuff) about the two authors who have influenced me the most: N.T. Wright and D.A. Carson - yes, I know some will think that I'm schizophrenic, but that's just how it is!

Publications in the Year that was Paul

Over at Religion and Ethics, Allen Dwight Callahan has an interesting piece on The Real Paul: Review Essay, which looks at recent books on Paul from Crossan/Borg to Benny16. Note this cartoon that was in it:

HT: Mark Goodacre

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Graham Cole on the Atonement

Graham Cole (Systematics Lecturer at TEDS and an Australian, ergo, everything he says is true and simultaneously brilliant) has new book on the atonement entitled, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom. I've wrestled with the issue of the place of penal substitution (PS) in biblical theology. In my mind, PS is clearly taught in Scripture (e.g. Mark 10:45; Gal 3:13; Rom 8:3), but is it THE central atonement motif or is it derivative from another. I. Howard Marshall and Thomas Schreiner present a good case that PS is the predominant atonement motif in the NT undergirding all the others, although I do find the Christus Victor theme attractive as a possible controlling premise as well. Any how, in an interview with Andy Naselli, Graham Cole says:

"Penal substitution provides a good example. It seems to me that following the biblical plotline, the first note struck is the Christus Victor one (i.e., the defeat of evil) in the protevangelium (first gospel) set out in Genesis 3:15. But how is the evil one defeated? The grounds of accusation need to be removed that stand against us, and the fear of death that is the devil’s tool needs to be addressed as well. The cross of Christ disarms the evil one by removing the grounds of accusation against us (Col 2). Christ died in our place (1 Peter 2)), experienced the righteous divine wrath that we deserve (Rom 5) and so, if we are in Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom 8). Because we stand clothed in Christ’s righteousness we will not face the divine judgment of the great white throne for our sins (Rev 20). Our names are in the Lamb’s book of life. The fear of death, which lies in judgment, is thereby addressed (Heb 2). Evangelicals in my view need to do more justice to the Christus Victor theme and in so doing find that penal substitution is integral or central to it."

HT: Andy Naselli.

One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Free Church

In my trip to Grand Rapids, I popped into the Eerdmans book store and brought for the bargain price of $1.60, I Believe: The Nicene Creed, which contains the Nicene Creed illustrated with lavish pictures by Pauline Baynes. The idea is to pictorialize the creed and make it easier for children to read. In the last few evenings I've been reading this with my girls. But I had a big smile on my face when my youngest daughter, Alyssa, recited it back to me, "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Free Church". Apparently the Free Church of Scotland now has creedal status in the mind of one four year old girl!

Swedish Seminaries in Peril

Over at CT-online is an article on the plight of seminaries in Sweden and how the government is threatening to withdraw accreditation from them. This shows that secularism and pluralism, far from being ideologies that promote harmony and diversity within society, can become rampantly aggressive and seek to eradicate all dissent to their political and cultural hegemony. Pray for Sweden!

New Journal: Early Christianity

Mohr/Siebeck has launched a new journal called Early Christianity (EC). The journal seems concerned to break out of the limitation of the "New Testament" and the "first century". Sounds good, but I wouldn't exactly call the "New Testament" something that has "hindered the development of the discipline" which sounds oh so Wredian.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Gerald Bray and Paul Helm on N.T. Wright

My two HTC colleagues, Gerald Bray and Paul Helm, have written some direct and animated criticisms about N.T. Wright's latest book on justification which will prompt much discussion on the internet.

Darrell Bock at CPX

John Dickson of CPX (Centre for Public Christianity [not Command Post Exercise for you ex-military folks!]) interviews Darrell Bock about Bart Ehrman and the Gospels.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Markus Barth on "Justified by Faith"

Markus Barth writes:

"'Justified by faith' means, accordingly, tried by the faithful God, sentenced conformably to the appearance, death, and rising of the obedient and loving Son, acquitted and set free in a manner identical with new creation and recognizably only with rejoicing and thanksgiving. God's faith, the faith of Jesus Christ, and man's answer in faith are - each in its own way - the means by which the righteousness and life are given to the community of sinful Jews and Gentiles. It is true: man is justified sola fide, by faith alone But this saving faith is much more than a mere existential posture and response of man. Faith is first of all the characteristic and gift of God and his Son. Built on the faithfulness of the Judge and the Advocate, the human trust and faithfulness toward God stand on firm ground. There is no other requisite or means of justification beyond this."

Hanging with Big Kev

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of joining Kevin Vanhoozer for lunch. I watched him do a video with Zondervan which included him playing the piano; a truly remarkable man. Back in my Ph.D studies Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text? was my sword and shield when I was getting grilled like a cheese burger about methodology in my doctoral presentations. We share a friendship with Bob Gundry who is Vanhoozer's mentor (I got to have coffee with Gundry last year at SBL in Boston). Vanhoozer is also writing a paper on "Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation" for a conference in Wheaton next April.

Mike Bird on Billy Graham

For the final installment of "Flying with the Bird" in the American mid-west, see this clip with commentary about Billy Graham and Evangelicalism.