Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Galatians 3.1-5 - Life in the Spirit

Experience is the oft neglected aspect of Paul's theological appeals and argumentation. In some of his most polemical contexts (i.e., Galatians and Corinthians), Paul can appeal to a common experience as the basis for shared beliefs and behaviours. Jimmy Dunn in BFJ, which I am STILL reading, writes this about Gal. 3.1-5:

"This repeated emphasis on experience has important theological corollaries. Paul's understanding of the gospel was rooted in experience, his own and that of others. Here are clear instances of the creative and transforming power of a lively spiritual experience. It did not conform to or allow itself readily to be pigeonholed into the language and categories of their already existing traditions. Rather, as the molten lava of a volcanic eruption breaks open old surfaces and carves out new channels, so the power of molten experience forced language and life patterns into new forms and expressions. Paul's gospel was not primarily and not only a sequence of theological affirmations deduced form Israel's history or Scriptures, or even from his knowledge of Jesus; rather, primarily for him, the gospel was rooted in an experience of the living God revealing himself through Jesus the Christ and his will to humankind in a personal and transforming way."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Coming out of the Closet

I have a post-Christmas confession. I am an introvert and Jesus still loves me. It feels so liberating to say that I am an introvert and a Christian. Some people will have trouble with that, but they just need to leave behind their victorian era views of Christian personality types and understand that this is the way that God made me and I'm proud of my introvertedness. I mean, really, didn't Moses hate public speaking. In fact, I'm going to start a lobby group called I-Force that will campaign for the acceptance and equality of introverts wherever they are in the fields of religion and academia.

More specifically, my personality type is INTJ (see here for description). Basically, this means that I'm a cold hearted book worm with a super-sized intellect in lieu of a sense of empathy. So I don't really care how you feel, but I know when I'm supposed to pretend to care in order to help someone if they need it. I'm task orientated with a capital "T" and if I'm on a mission just show where to bury the bodies of the people who get in my way. I like people, they are very useful entities, they need to be looked after, but after a while I need to be away from them. I do not understand why extroverts have some pathological and insatiable need to be around people all the flipping time. Extroversion is in fact a medical condition that I call "Barbara Streisand Syndrome" - People who need people are the weirdest people of all. Other INTJers around the blogosphere include Sean Michael Lucas, Michael Kruse, and M. Jay Bennett. For me, the real world is inside my head, and everything else is just the "Matrix".

When I tell people that I'm an introvert they scarcely believe me. Yes, I can project myself, yes I can speak in public and entertain folks. But don't confuse ego and the capacity for self-projection with personality. Ego is one of my major character flaws (I regularly cite 2 Cor 4.5 and Rom. 12.3 to try keep it in check) as I like to advertise to persons what I can do and show its value - in fact, my self-esteem is very much embedded in my capacity for intellectual success. I am also a natural entertainer so I can deliver sermons and lectures with little ease and I've learned fairly well how to read and work an audience. Truth be told, I'm actually a comedian and theology is just my medium. I enjoy being the life of the party - but only for a while - very quickly I feel the need to flee crowds before people drain me with their constant talking about stuff that I really don't care about. The hardest time for me after church is right after the service. If I'm preaching then I have to force myself to stand at the door and meet and greet everyone as they leave. If I'm not preaching then I have to make chit chat with folks and I have about 20 minutes of capacity for this, after that, I start looking for escape routes. Don't get me wrong, I like people, I love certain people, it's just that being around them can be so draining at time.

I'm saying all this because in 2010 one of the first books that I intend to read is Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

N.T. Wright's new book

N.T. Wright's next book is After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010) available around March in the USA.

Sandra Bullock on Christians

I very rarely care what Hollywood celebrities think of Christians or matters of faith (these people are more interested in defending Roman Polanski), but I thought that Sandra Bullock's thoughts on the faith of Leigh Anne Tuohy who she played in the move "Blind Side" was very interesting. See the newspaper article here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Messianic Secret

Over at Peje Iesous, Chris Skinner is reading Are You the One Who is to Come? and he offers his own reflections on Mark's "messianic secret". Notably, he regards the secrecy motif as essentially a Marcan construction over and against my efforts at showing its historical character. Let me offer a few thoughts in reply to Skinner:

1. There is no denying that the secrecy motif is a narrative and theological device in the Marcan plot. From the incipit in 1.1 the reader knows who Jesus is, yet the characters in the story bumble along with a mixture of comedy and irony in trying to ascertain who Jesus precisely is. Viewed this way, Mark deliberately creates a literary tension in terms of who Jesus is said to be and who he is regarded as by characters in the Gospel.

2. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that there was a "secrecy" motif in Jesus' ministry for a number of reasons: (a) Simply on account of social realism it make sense. Amidst the various prophetic figures of first century Judea, it was natural to ask "who is this guy?" or "who does this guy think he is?". If Jesus thought himself to be a messiah or deliberately evoking messianic themes in his speech and actions, and if this would have aroused the intervention of the authorities, it is entirely conceivable that he would keep the question, or at least his answer to it, a secret. (b) It is quite probable that Jesus, like other apocalyptic seers, thought himself privy to divine revelations that could not be manifested until the appointed time. One such revelation was the identity of Elijah and the Messiah.

3. On William Wrede, it is important to note that Wrede never ascribed the messianic secret to Mark himself, but rather, he contended that Mark merely amplified a tradition already known to him about secrecy tied to Jesus' messianic identity. The messianic secret arose in order to explain why the early church believed Jesus to be the messiah when in fact Jesus' earthly life was widely known to be non-messianic. I focused on Wrede in the book mainly because he's been so influential (e.g., Bultmann just assumed that Wrede was right). But I find his description very problematic on account that he assumes that it was belief in the resurrection that lead to the messianic faith of the early church which is a non sequitur. In addition, what is silenced in Mark is not messianic, and what is messianic is not always silenced!

Mike Bird at RBL

Over at RBL I have the rare pleasure of being both a reviewer and among the reviewed!

Carl P. Cosaert
The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria
Reviewed by Michael Bird

Michael F. Bird and James G. Crossley
How Did Christianity Begin? A Believer and Non-believer Examine the Evidence
Reviewed by Leif Vaage

Strangely enough, Leif Vaage doesn't think that there is an awful lot of difference between Crossley and I. I wonder what James would say to that (flattered or insulted?).

There are some other particularly reviews to note as well such as:

James F. McGrath
The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context
Reviewed by Lori Baron

David G. Firth and Jamie A. Grant, eds.
Words and the Word: Explorations in Biblical Interpretation and Literary Theory
Reviewed by Jacobus Kok

Have a happy boxing day, I'm hoping to watch a bit of the West Indies vs. Australia in the cricket!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Greetings

Blessings to you all for Christmas. I survived a night in Luton airport with my family stranded by the snow, and we'll be spending most of Christmas on an plane en route to Brisbane, Australia. But among your Christmas prayers please remember:

Christians in the UK as diversity/equity laws begin to work against them (I'm leaving at just the right time so it seems).

Orthodox Christians in Turkey who are still banned from setting up a seminary there (and folks really want Turkey in the EU!).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Seven

For the final sample of France's commentary I'll briefly consider his discussion of the  Mission Statements (10:5-6; 28:16-20).

In discussing the relationship between the two mission statements in Matthew, France interprets the second (28:19-20) as and extension of the first (10:5-6): he comments: “The Gentile mission extends the Jewish mission – not replaces it; Jesus nowhere revokes the mission to Israel (10:6), but merely adds a new mission revoking a previous prohibition (10:5)” (1115). France’s point is surely correct although I wish he would have developed this idea more. In what way is the mission new? Does the new mission consist of a different task along with its different target—thus, implying two complementary missions? Or does France think that the newness of the mission of 28:19-20 is merely in its scope—now the mission is to all nations, including Israel? From the statement itself, I am inclined to think that he would take the latter view.

France’s comments on the direction of reading Matthew’s Gospel are useful and interesting. It is of course commonplace to consider the end of Matthew as its Schlüssel and there is the tendency to read it from back to front. France admits the theological significance of this scene in Matthew influences the reading of the whole and gives the approach some legitimacy. Still he seems prefer to read Matthew from front to back as a literary work “arriving at this final pericope in which all the strands have come together”. I would go further than France and assert that one can understand the significance of the elements of 28:19-20 from Matthew’s perspective only after reading the unfolding narrative. For example the significance of Jesus’ proclamation: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” as well as the place of the Gentile mission. One of course would come away with the impression that Matthew’s Jesus has cosmic authority and that is the basis for a mission to the nations, but the texture of the ideas is lost without the narrative. 

Related to this point is one of the most important pieces of analysis in the whole commentary in my view. Here France rightly places the stress of the passage on the culmination of Jesus kingship. By doing so, he reveals that Matthew’s narrative climaxes with Jesus’ Davidic kingship. Matthew, then, ends where he began with the affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Davidic Messiah who is not simply “the king of Jews” as the Magi heralded, but is king over the heavens and the earth. France states, “It is the universal kingship of the Son of Man which has emerged as a distinctive feature of Matthew’s presentation of Jesus” (1113).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Latest Trinity Journal

The latest issue of Trinity Journal 30 NS 2 (2009) includes a number of articles celebrating the life and work of TEDS professor and missiologist Paul G. Hiebert (see his list of works here). Other articles in the issue include:

Kevin Giles
"Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker: The Son is Not Eternally Subordinated in Authority to the Father"

Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker
"The Son Really, Really is the Son: A Response to Kevin Giles"

Dane C. Ortlund
"The Insanity of Faith: Paul's Theological Use of Isaiah in Romans 9:33".

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is There Between Durham and Hillsong?

What common cause could there be between Bishop N.T. Wright and Hillsong Megachurch worship pastor Darlene Zschech? Well the answer is here. I think I can imagine a conspiracy theory about how N.T. Wright (the unknown love-child of Pope Pius IX) and Darlene Zschech (the last surviving montanist prophetess) hatched a plot in the early 1990's to bring down Reformed Christianity. Tom would strike against their theology of justification and Darlene would break their spirits with a series of worship songs that have four words, three notes, and get sung six times through. It all makes sense. Positively diabolical. It is a plan of sheer machiavellian brilliance. Now that I have uncovered this venile plot, I should be cast as Robert Langdon in the next Dan Brown Movie!

Cyril Lucaris - Orthodox and Calvinistic

Sometime ago I read Bob Letham's book Through Western Eyes about the Eastern Orthodox church and blogged on it here. One character in the OC that I find fascinating is Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) who was a Calvinistic Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. He wrote an interesting confession of faith that gives one pause for thought on how Calvinism can be expressed in eastern language. Less we get too excited, I would point out that Cyril's positions were opposed at the 1672 Jerusalem Synod with the Confession of Dositheus which doesn't hold back on the polemics!

Is there any hope for a Reformed-Orthodox reapproachment? Well, Anglicanism might be the best conduit in town for that dialogue. I note that Nashotah House (an Anglo-Catholic Seminary) and St. Vladamir's Seminary in the USA have a formal agreement to work towards unity. At the ACNA assembly this year metropolitan Bishop Jonah called for full communion with the new Anglican province (though he did call Calvinism a heresy along the way). I also note, with due understanding but with genuine disappointment all the same, that NT scholar Edith Humphrey has left the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and been received into the Orthodox Church (see her explanation here). Hopefully she'll be involved in Anglican/Orthodox discussion somewhere along the line. Michael Horton suggested possible eastern influences on Calvin's view of the eucharist in his excellent book, People and Place. I would also draw attention to a piece written by Jack D. Kinneer called A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy, which is significant because Kinneer is an OPC member and he studied at St. Vladamir seminary. How do you get John Calvin and John Chrysostom to sit at the one table and what would they agree on?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Six

I continue with my review of France's commentary with a reflection on his commentary on the Parable of the Vineyard (21:33-44).

France’s discussion of the Parable of the Vineyard provides a window into his understanding of Matthew’s perspective on Israel. Despite his comments in the introduction about the nature of early Christianity making the question of extra muros or intra muros complex, he seems to quite clearly in the extra muros camp.

While acknowledging that the context demands that the “tenants” of the parable be understood as the “current Jerusalem leadership”, France takes Jesus statement “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and will be given to a nation which produces its fruit” as a suggesting Matthew conceives of a redefinition of Israel as a new people of God comprised of ethnic Israel and Gentiles. France states:

The vineyard, which is Israel, is not itself destroyed, but rather given a new lease on life, embodied now in a new “nation.” This “nation” is neither Israel nor the Gentiles, but a new entity, drawn from both, which is characterized not by ethnic origin but by faith in Jesus (817).

One, however, may wish to question when background “hints” (800) and subtle implications (810) become “fore grounded” arguments. It seems to me that such a reading inappropriately sidelines what is for Matthew’s narrative primary. Even if the Gentiles of Matthew 8:11-12 are included in this “nation” (note the singular) this does not imply redefinition, but fulfillment in line with the Isaianic prophecies of 56:3-7 and 66:18-21. This prophetic fulfillment in 21:13, Matthew has already echoed with his statement of rational for the Temple action: “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Isa 56:7).

Isa. 56:3-7
3 Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isa. 66:18-21
18 “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to comea and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. 19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyansb and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jimmy Dunn on "The Lord's Dinner" - II

Did unbelievers ever partake of the "Lord's Dinner"? Can the eucharist be evangelistic? Here Dunn makes an interesting point:

"All this leaves unresolved the question whether unbelievers and outsiders were admitted to the Lord's dinner. The implication of 14.23-24, that such could be present when believers came together as church, may apply only to gatherings for worship. At the same time, we should not assume that the shared meals had a specially sacred character that disbarred unbelievers and outsiders from sharing in them [cf. Rom. 14.6]. Was every shared meal 'the Lord's dinner'? Was the bread broken and the wine drunk at every meal 'in remembrance' of Jesus (11.24-25)? We have already noted the same ambiguity with regard to Luke's references to the 'breaking of bread'. And it would be unduly hasty to assume that the hospitality which a Christian couple like Aquila and Priscilla extended to fellow believers and others would have had a markedly different character (in their eyes) from the meals shared when the whole church gathered in one place. Whether or not the Lord's table was seen as an evangelistic opportunity in these early years, we can be fairly confident that Christian hospitality did result in many guests and visitors coming to faith in the Lord of their hosts" (Dunn, BFJ 647).

Jimmy Dunn on "The Lord's Dinner" - I

I'm still (yes, still!) reading through Beginning from Jerusalem. On the Lord's Supper, Dunn states:

"We should not fail to note that 'the Lord's Supper' was a complete meal, which would begin, we may suppose, in Jewish fashion, with the blessing, breaking and sharing of the bread. Paul's own description is explicit that the sharing of the cup took place 'after the meal', at the close of the meal (11.25). The point is obscured by the fact that the term 'supper' in 'the Lord's Supper is an old fashioned term and now more misleading than helpfully descriptive. The term Paul uses in 11.20 is deipnon, which refers to the main meal of the day, eaten in the evening; 'the Lord's dinner' would be a more accurate translation, however crassly it may ring in the modern ear. No doubt, a large part of the attractive the churches, as with associations generally, was the companionship (fellowship) and conviviality of these meals (not to mention a share in better food than many might be able to provide for themselves). The complete meal character of 'the dinner of the Lord' also carries an important theological corollary: to the extent that we can speak of the Lord's Supper in Corinth as a sacramental meal - as we can (10.16) - a key consideration is that the sacramental character embraced the whole meal, beginning with the shared bread and ending with the shared cup. Integral to the religious character of the meal was its shared character; for Paul the whole meal was to be shared in conscious memory of Jesus' last supper and, as in the earliest Jerusalem gatherings, probably in conscious continuation of Jesus' own table-fellowship." (pp. 645-46).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Five

Fulfillment of the Torah (5:17-20)
France’s conclusions about Matthew’s view on Torah-observance reveal a propensity , albeit a right one, to interpret Matthew against the wider context of the New Testament. But it should be said that the theological content of the NT context is a presupposition not argued for but assumed.

France begins this section with the notice that a plain surface reading of the passage, which clearly presents an author who took a very conservative line on Torah observance, would be “out of step with the overall thrust of NT Christianity and with the almost universal consensus of Christians ever since” (179). Later in the section again he comments similarly about 5:19:
The use of the verb ‘do’ in v. 19 is easily read as meaning that the rules of the OT law must still be followed as they were before Jesus came, and thus as reinforcing the ‘righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’ which the next verse will disparage. But if that is what Matthew intended these words to mean, he would here be contradicting the whole tenor of the NT by declaring that, for instance, the sacrificial and food laws of the OT are still binding on Jesus’ disciples – and surely by the time Matthew wrote Christians were already broadly agreed that they were no longer required” (186).
While there is much to commend with France’s analysis of this important Matthean text, I find the manner in which he attempts to harmonize Paul with Matthew inappropriate (180). He does suggest that one can see the tension with the surface reading of 5:17-20 within Matthew itself (e.g. 15:11), but it appears that the tensions in Matthew present themselves clearly only when one brings a certain reading of Paul’s perspective to Matthew. Furthermore, his attempt to show that Matthew has brought together different responses to two opposing tendencies—a Pauline Torah-free and a Pharisaic Torah observance—in the paragraph is a reach to far in my estimation (181). There is little in the text of Matthew to support such a hypothesis especially given the unity of the paragraph and the section as a whole.

Salvation in Post-Exilic Judaism

I am currently doing research on both 1 Esdras and Judith for two different projects. Along the way, I am very interested in the soteriology of both documents and what they have to say about "salvation" in post-exilic Judaism.

In 1 Esdras, salvation is primarily seen in the successful (albeit problematic) return of the exiles to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. A soteriological summary of 1 Esdras could be made with the words “we obtained mercy” (1 Esdr 8:53) where the returning exiles stress their reliance on God in prayer for deliverance during their sojourn to Jerusalem. At two key points in the narrative God is extolled for his mercy (1 Esd 8:53; 8:75) as he preserved the nation in the slavery of exile and enabled them to make a safe journey despite all the perils back in the land of Judea. At the beginning of the story the sin of the nation and its leaders is highlighted (e.g., 1:22, 32-55), yet God’s mercy returns in the decree of Cyrus (1:1-7), the triumph of Zerubbabel (4:59-63), and the call of Ezra (8:1-7). In the midst of the wickedness of the people and priests (1:47), God send them a messenger (i.e., Jeremiah) to call them because “he was trying to spare them and his dwelling place” (1:48), and yet this is met with their mockery and scoffing that earns God’s anger (1:49-50). It is clear that in 1:47-49 shows how God’s mercy is sandwiched between the impiety and hard heartedness of the people even if it is not efficacious. Nonetheless, even judgment can be worked ultimately for redemptive purposes and the exile is not meant to be permanent (1:55). Towards the end of the story, in Ezra’s penitential prayer (8:71-87), there is recognition that God has been faithful and merciful to his people in that he preserved them in exile, brought them back into the land, left them with a “root”, and continues preserves them with sustenance in their current state; although the people have sinned like their forefathers by intermarrying with foreigners since returning to the land. That in turn leads to contrition among the people, to the rectification of their misdeeds, and the offering of the appropriate sacrifices (8:88–9:20). In sum, 1 Esdras narrates the story of how a people who are “in” but who have violated God’s law take steps in response to their transgression (see Enns 2001: 75). It is in response to their experience of divine mercy, the exiles take measured steps to prevent any further catastrophe of divine judgment through a strenuous emphasis on separation from the nations, concerted efforts to rebuild the temple and Jerualem, and they attempt to reconstitute the body of exiles into a Torah-observant Judean society. Despite the nation’s manifold sin, both pre- and post-exile, the book focuses on how God did not completely forsake the nation. The initiative for the return from exile is attributed exclusively to God and not due to any prayer or petetiton by pious exiles. Yet preservation in the land appears to be contingent upon rebuilding Judean life in accordance with the Law of Moses (8:21-24; cf. 1:31; 5:50; 8:7, 84, 90; 9:37-50). All in all, 1 Esdras exemplifies the pattern of religion called “covenantal nomism” where God’s grace precedes the act of obedience that follows. Enns (2001: 77) aptly summarizes: “We have, in other words, transgression by the people of God, but for which there is a means of rectifying their position before God.

In Judith, there is no reference to divine initiative in bringing the nation out of exile. Instead, there is a big emphasis on the efficacy of prayer, fasting, and self-humiliation as mechanisms that prompt God's saving action to deliver the nation from Nebuchadnezzar (king of Assyria!). Any intervention by God for the nation is noticeably absent from the description of the return from exile: "But when they departed from the way he had prescribed for them, they were utterly defeated in many battles and were led away captive to a foreign land. The temple of their God was razed to the ground, and their towns were occupied by their enemies. But now they have returned to their God, and have come back from the places where they were scattered, and have occupied Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and have settled in the hill country, because it was uninhabited (Jdt 5:18-19)". Elsewhere, Judith states that a town on the verge of famine must continue to trust God rather than surrender. She argues that God is an ineffable mystery and that he reveals his salvation as he pleases and purposes (8:15-16). She is confident God will save them because they have not committed idolatry. In the end she exhorts her audience with the words: "Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him (Jdt 8:17)". There is a twofold paradox in Judith. First, Judith says that God is "not won over by pleading" (Jdt 8:16), yet the whole narrative assumes the efficacy of prayer to enable God "to hear our voice if it pleases him" (Jdt 8:17). Second, Judith urges the audience to "wait for his deliverance," but in the end she does not herself wait, rather, she acts quickly, decisively, cunningly, and violently to kill Israel's enemy. For those outside of the community, like Achior, salvation is by proselytism as the means by which one joins the "house of Israel" (Jdt 14:10). In the book, God is portrayed as mysterious and able to save, but the actual cause of salvation is the initiative of the people. I hesistate at calling this "legalism," but divine action is de-emphasized and divine initiative is entirely absent. In Judith, salvation is perhaps best achieved through covenantal piety which may or may not evoke God's favor. God’s election, covenant, and relationship with his people are largely assumed, but they are clearly conditional. Salvation is neither automatic nor efficacious. It is due to appropriate ritual appeals, godliness and contrition, obedience, the absence of sin, and merited by pious individuals like Joakim, Achior, Uzziah, and Judith. Overall, deliverance is only possible under the conditions of covenantal obedience which explains why Israel went into exile in the first place (Jdth. 5.18; 8.18).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Book Give Away

Nijay Gupta is giving away a free copy of The Faith of Jesus Christ, but there's a catch, you have to write 500 words on the topic! So good luck.

University Bias against Evangelicals?

If you have discovered yet there is a very interesting discussion happening right now by Dan Wallace over at Parchment and Pen and over at Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight. Both men I have had the privilege to know very well and consider friends. I think I've said before on this blog that I was one of Dan's interns at DTS and of course Scot is my colleague now.

For my two sense, I think Scot is right in his response. I attended DTS and was not accepted at any American universities I applied to and attended a British university. One element that has not been discussed is the ecomonic angle. American universities especially the top end schools (e.g. Duke, Notre Dame, etc) don't need students. They have 100 applicants for 2 spots each year. Furthermore, one has to score extremely well on the GRE before one is even given a siff. These kind of odds make it extremely difficult to get into the program no matter who you are.

On the other hand, as has been well documented, British universities are in desperate financial crises. And many of the more well-known schools are dependent on North American students to bolster their bottom line. The economics of the situation make it easier for an evangelical student to get accepted into a British university and that has nothing to do with a non-liberal bias. This is not to say that the British system is not more "open" in ways pointed out by both Dan and Scot. Indeed it is and this is a strength of a British research degree: You're on your own with regard to your research.

One last personal note. I have not felt slighted at the SBL meetings because of my evangelical pedigree. I am a co-chair of the Matthew section and have had very positive engagement with non-evangelicals-many of whom I consider good friends. I think it is not so much that you are an evangelical, it is how you wear it that really matters.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Things to Click

Things to click include:

According to the University of Chicago, Archaic Mark is a fake, it is probably based on Philipp Buttmann's 1860 edition of the Greek NT, and thus Stephen Carlson is right!

Scot McKnight posts this cool clip on a Liturgical Sense of Salvation. I like the "saved, being saved, will be saved" approach, but the "cooperating with grace" bit does make the Calvinist in me grind my teeth.

Nijay Gupta posts on Martin Hengel's pothumously published English translation of his book on Saint Peter by Eerdmans.

The Episcopal Diocese of L.A. has elected a partnered Lesbian as a suffragan Bishop (Ruth Gledhill).

Theare are two video clips of N.T. Wright interviewed at the Centre for Theological Inquiry talking about CTI as a research environment and his forthcoming Paul book.

Stephen Holmes talks about Evangelical Theology and this line caught my eyes: "Scotland still knows extremely orthodox Presbyterians who however have no evangelical spirit at all" - which is sad, but very true!

Nick Mackison wonders why reformed theologians with their big emphasis on the imputed active obedience of Christ have not taken to the subjective reading of pistis christou.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Four

Introduction of Galilean Mission (4:12-17)
In these verses Matthew introduces Jesus Galilean mission supported by a quotation from Isaiah 9:1-2. I think this passage reveals the need for a more robust understanding by France of the territorial interests of Matthew that he has himself so usefully pointed out. This weakness also relates to his view of the central concept of the kingdom of Heaven.

Isaianic Quotation
With respect to the significance of the Isaianic quotation, I think France overlooks a significant point that his own comments have suggested. He much to briefly sets aside Matthew’s reference to the tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphthali as merely echoes of Isaiah’s prophesy which he was about to write. Since, according to him, “tribal areas had little actual relevance by NT times”, Matthew’s mention of them was only apparently at the level of style and not theology. This is an unconvincing argument because it overlooks both his exegesis and a major point of emphasis for the significance of Jesus’ mission according to Matthew.

First, France shows an inconsistency in his reading of Matthew’s geographical interests by concluding that Matthew’s mention of the land of Zebulun and Naphthali is of little importance. Earlier when discussing Matt 2:6, France makes much of Matthew’s insertion of “land of Judah” into the quotation substituting it for “Ephrathah”. Contrasting with others who have seen little importance in this alteration, France suggests that Judah is emphasized to underline Jesus’ Judean origins and Davidic identity (2:6). Matthew seems theological (I would say politically as well) driven in his mention of geographical information not just in 2:6, but also here in 4:13 and else where.

Also, France notes that Matthew’s abbreviated citation “throws the focus on the geographical terms” of the quotation emphasizing “the link between his Galilean location and the dawning of the light”. Furthermore, he comments that Matthew’s rendition put the phrases: “way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” and “land of Zebulun and Naphthali” in apposition and suggest a westward looking orientation. France asks: “Did he then understand Isaiah to be speaking not from his own Palestinian standpoint but from that of the Assyrian invader?” Finally, France sees “Galilee of the nations” as referring to the significance Gentile presence in the northern region of Israel due to the “Assyrian conquest”.

These points suggest that Matthew is placing Jesus kingdom proclamation in the context of Israel’s exile. This point France seems to miss. It is curious because his observations point strongly in this direction. Instead he seems to read these clear points as “hints” of Matthew’s Gentile mission not launched until 28:16-20. However, Matthew’s opening genealogy focused on the exilic condition of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises of a restored Davidic throne. Matthew’s narrative is enfolding this story. It seems that the introduction to the Galilean mission reveals Jesus mission in Galilee as the inauguration of the reversal of Israel’s exilic condition.

Kingship of God (4:17; cf. 3:2)
Given France’s stress on the Davidic focus of the Gospel it may come as a surprise, at least it did to me, that when he defines the central phrase “kingdom of heaven/God” in 3:2 (referring back to it when discussing 4:17), he does not bring the Davidic element into the discussion or allow it to exercise any influence on his understanding of the definition of the kingdom. Instead France offers a familiar definition that posits a more spiritually oriented sense of the term. He criticizes the use of the term “kingdom” and opts for “kingship” as a better definition: the kingship of God” since this better captures the idea of God’s reign. While there is nothing wrong or unbiblical about his definition, it is not the whole story. If France is right about Matthew’s fixation on Davidic messianism then the kingship of God is seen in the presence of the Davidic messiah and his kingship. The Old Testament expectations of a future Davidic king are dependent on the statements in 2 Samuel 7 wherein God links his own kingship to David’s such that in time and space God’s kingship is tangible perceived through the Davidic dynastic reign. Thus, it is not simply “the coming of God” that is in view, but the coming of God through the coming of Messiah. The kingdom of God can no more be limited to reign as it can to realm. The creational kingship of God through Davidic messianism is a kingship through Israel over the all the nations.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Goswell on Early Readers of the Gospels

Greg Goswell has an interesting article in JGRChJ 6 (2009) on, "Early Readers of the Gospels: The Kephalalia and Titloi of Codex Alexandrinus". It's good to see Greg (an OT guy) writing on NT mss! This affirms my suspicion that all OT folk are closet NT wannabees!! Anyways, Goswell's article shows the significance of chapter divisions (Kephalalia) in codex Alexandrinus and how they provide an indication of scribal evaluations about the shape of individual pericopes and provide a commentary on the perceived literary structures of the text.

Are Idols non-entities or faces of demonic powers

It is interesting how in 1 Cor 8:4, Paul can say that idols “nothing,” but then in 1 Cor 10:19-21 he associates them with the worship of demons. Are idols nothing or are they a front for demonic powers? Perhaps it is the case that: “Idols are nonentities, but demonic powers used idols to inveigle humans into worshipping false gods” (David Garland, 1 Corinthians 372).

Gordon Fee on 1 Cor 15.12-19

In reading Gordon Fee's commentary on 1 Corinthians, I have this excellent summary about theh indispensability of Christ's resurrection for Christian faith:

“Both this final sentence and the whole argument of this paragraph are especially troublesome to those within the Christian faith who have done what is here only hypothetical for the Corinthians – denied Christ’s resurrection and thus ours as well. There seems to be little hope of getting around Paul’s argument, that to deny Christ’s resurrection is tantamount to a denial of Christian existence altogether. Yet many do so – to make the faith more palatable to ‘modern man,’ we are told. But that will scarcely do. What modern man accepts in its place is no longer the Christian faith, and those who reject the actuality of the resurrection of Christ need to face the consequences of such rejection, that they are bearing false witness against God himself. Like the Corinthians they will have believed in vain since faith is finally predicated on whether or not Paul is right on this issue” (p. 745).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Grace as Event

Today I gave my final lecture at HTC. It was on 1 Corinthians 15. I've read over this passage many times, but in my preparation I was struck by Paul's usage of "grace" in 15.10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them-- though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Co 15:10 NRSV). Paul says that because he was so unworthy and so unexpected a candidate to become an apostle, he responded to "grace" with a more concerted ministerial effort than his contemporaries. And yet that response Paul again attributes to God's grace. In effect, Paul says that he encountered God's grace, a grace that demanded his response, and now he attributes that very response to God's grace working through him as well! Thus, God's grace works in an initial call and produces the neccesary effects in its subject. This signifies that Bultmann was right when had a section in his NT Theology entitled: "Grace as Event".

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Three

Continuing the series of posts reviewing France's Matthew commentary in the NICNT, I begin addressing specific passages. The first is the Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)

France’s comments on the genealogy reveal his view on the question of the proper theological context for the interpretation of the First Gospel. France rightly presents Davidic Messianism as fundamental to Matthew’s presentation of Jesus.

Matthew’s genealogy is divided into three sets of 14 generations as is well known. Careful study shows that this can only be accomplished by a selective and historically imbalanced presentation. The point that France makes from this observation is that Matthew’s genealogy is a selective “survey of the history of the people of God” including a “royal list”, a “dynastic document” to imply that the succession of the Davidic throne continued while the actual monarchy had not. France concludes that the genealogy “focuses on the royal dimension . . . which finds its culmination in the coming of Jesus, the “son of David” and thus potentially in the restoration of the monarchy” (32).

The structure of the list with its two pivots at David (1:6) and the Exile (1:12), reveals Matthew’s interests in the issues of Davidic kingship and exile. France summarizes:

Its aim is clear enough: to locate Jesus within the story of God’s people, as its intended climax, and to do it with a special focus on the Davidic monarchy as the proper context for a theological understanding of the role of the person to whom Matthew, more than the other gospel writers, will delight to refer not only as “Messiah” but also more specifically as “Son of David” (33).

The Davidic character of the opening of the Gospel is absolutely the “proper context for a theological understanding” of Jesus’ mission. This observation is impressive and important. Although most would not disagree, few, even France himself, have yet to provide a reading of Matthew that is thoroughly Davidic.