Monday, June 28, 2010

Australasian Christian Conference for the Academy and the Church

Tomorrow in the city of Brisvegas the Australasian Christian Conference for the Academy and the Church begins tomorrow with guest speakers including Markus Bockmuehl and Robert Gordon. It's the first conference that I've been to for a while that won't require 8-24 hrs of travel! I'm giving a paper on "From Concept to Publication" for research students and "Salvation in Paul's Judaism" for the NT section. Hope to see you there!

Book Notice: 1-2 Thessalonians by Gordon Fee

Gordon D. Fee
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians
NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.
Available from

Gordon Fee is well known for his works on textual criticism, introduction to NT interpretation, and various commentaries on Paul (esp. 1 Corinthians, Philippians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Galatians). This volume on 1-2 Thessalonians is vintage Fee as he exegetes the text with normal vigor and acumen. As for some highlights. Fee regards the "wrath" in 1 Thess. 1.10 as God's future judgment and not the wrath of a tribulation. He accepts the authenticity of 1 Thess. 2.14-16 and maintains that the passage is "simply too Pauline" and there are more logical places for such an interpolation if this were one. 1 Thess. 4.13-18 contains little information about the actual process of the Lord's coming because, Fee writes, "The reason is simple: Paul has almost no interest whatever in our final eschatological 'geography'; rather, his interest is altogether personal, having to do with their being 'with the Lord,' whose 'abode' is regularly expressed as 'in heaven'." On the significance of the second coming in 1 Thess. 5.4-11, Fee comments: "One of the unfortunate aspects of the emphasis in some North American Christian communities on the Lord's return is that this passage, which was intended as a word of assurance and hope for those beleaguered believers, has so often been used by preachers as a threat, so as either to spur believers on to behave righteously or to frighten them to do so". Fee accepts Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians and follows I. Howard Marshall's view that several weak arguments don't add up to one strong one. Fee states: "When one reads the literature by those who argue that Paul is not the author of this letter, one is struck by the 'thinness' of the argumentation as such, especially since there is hardly a single argument that does not take some form of subjectivity on the part of its proponent(s)". As for 2 Thess. 8.11 and the meaning of "he who restrains" Fee is agnostic and comments: "So, at the end of the day, we should probably leave the sentence as it is - something that he and they both knew, and because they did know, we do not, and most likely never will this side of eternity".

Be ready also for Gordon Fee's forthcoming Revelation commentary in the New Covenant Commentary Series published by Wipf & Stock.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New Blog: Grace at the Table

Jim Allman a Bible Exposition Professor at DTS has a blog called Grace at the Table and it is about: "Two great passions motivate me in my thinking and teaching: the grace of God and the Lord’s Supper. These will be the themes I’ll most often explore in these sessions online. Grace changed my life 25 years ago, and at about the same time, I began thinking more deeply about the Supper. The two serve one another now in moving me passionately".

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Helsinki Conference on Jewish Continuity in the Church Unites and Challenges


The FIRST ecumenical conference of Jewish believers in Jesus in modern times met in Helsinki, Finland June 14-15 2010 to affirm their Jewish identity, their faith in Jesus and their desire for unity.

Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Messianic scholars – all of them Jewish - met to discuss the global growth of Jewish believers in Jesus in a conference jointly organized by Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (MJTI) and the Helsinki Studium Catholicum. They issued a statement affirming the significance of Jewish continuity in the Church, as an ongoing link between its historic beginnings, its present life, and its future hope.

Dr. Mark Kinzer, President of MJTI, said “this was an unprecedented conference bringing together Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah from a very wide range of communities and traditions. We met together to discuss the presence of Jews in our respective congregations and the issues we face.  The increasing number of Jewish followers of Jesus is a phenomenon of great importance, impacting the worldwide Church as it rediscovers the Jewish roots and character of its faith. The presence of Jews in its midst is a resource and means of blessing that the historic churches can not afford to ignore.”

Father Antoine Lévy, OP, Director of the Helsinki Studium Catholicum, affirmed the continuing identity of Jews in their various Christian congregations and offered his own perspective on the unique condition and calling of Jewish disciples of Christ. “We exist, and despite 2,000 years where the Church and the Jewish people have been separated and often hostile to each other, we are a living bond that demonstrates the Messiah Jesus’ own solidarity with His people, as much as the richness of the heritage of Israel that has been opened up to the Church made up of Israel and the nations.”

Fifteen scholars and theologians from eight countries met for two days of open conference and two days of working sessions to issue a document, the Helsinki Statement. Topics discussed included Jewish identity in the Messiah; responding to anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism; the place of Messianic Jewish worship and observance; the Jewishness of Jesus; the biblical, theological and historical background to the present situation of Jewish believers in Jesus; and future plans. The papers presented are due to be published in the journal Kesher, an academic journal of MJTI. A similar event is planned for 2011.

Speakers from Europe, Russia, Israel and the United States included Father David Neuhaus, SJ, Patriarchal Vicar General for Hebrew speaking Catholics, and Boris Balter, Researcher in Physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences and member of the Judeo-Christian circle "Bridge of Friendship". Conference papers were given in English and Russian.

For more information contact:
Dr. Mark Kinzer: +1 -530-334-6584
Messianic Jewish Theological Institute
PO Box 54410,
Los Angeles, CA 90054

Antoine Lévy O.P.:  +358 (0)50 304 2778    
Studium Catholicum
Ritarikatu 3 B A 4
00170 Helsinki

HT: David Rudolph

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Notice: Romans 4 and the NPP

Gerhard H. Visscher
Romans 4 and the New Perspective on Paul: Faith Embraces the Promise
SBL 122; New York: Peter Lang, 2009
Available from

This volume was written as a Ph.D dissertation under Stephen Westerholm at McMasters University in Canada and it focuses on the significance of Romans 4 in NPP interpretation. It gives a survey on the usual suspects (E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, N.T. Wright, T. Donaldson, H. Raisanen) and various critics of the NPP as well (Thomas Schreiner, Frank Thielman, Mark Seifrid, Simon Gathercole, Stephen Westerholm). There is a chapter discussing the context of Romans 4 and an in depth analysis of Rom. 4.1-25. In his final reflections Visscher writes:

"To be sure, one does not need to be entrenched in an old perspective view wherein Judaism as such is seen as preoccupied with righteousness by works to adhere to such a view of Romans today. Sanders' work has presented a laudable corrected to such a view. Nonetheless there were those in Paul's day who wanted to impose upon Gentiles [sic] believers a necessity for circumcision and other forms of obedience to the law as a basis for righteousness and entrance into the Christian community. To those who were inclined to steer the early church in that direction, Paul wanted to clarify that it is not his view but theirs that is to be rejected. Observance of the law cannot lead sinners to righteousness" (p. 226).

Abraham and Moses

In Reformed theology there is sometimes is a tendency to play off Abraham and Moses driven by a particular covenantal scheme. But if God has one plan, then there must continuity between the two covenants. One of the best books on covenant theology that I've read in recent years is Michael Williams, Far As the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburgh, NJ: P&R, 2005), who says this: "God's Sinai covenant with Israel (Ex. 19) harks back to his promises to Abraham (Gen. 12). Yahweh is reminding Israel that he is not a deity restricted to a particular territory or tribe. Rather, 'the whole earth is mine.' God's selection of one people out of all the earth, while maintaining his sovereign rights over all nations, leads to the conclusion that the election of the one is for the blessing of all. Israel's calling is a means toward the end of universal blessings" (p. 138). And in a footnote there is mention of Bill Dumbrell's suggestion that Exod. 19.4-5 is a virtual restatement of Gen. 12.1-3 and that the Mosaic covenant is a restatement and expansion of the Abrahamic promises of Genesis 12.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SBL Responds to Hendel

See the page at SBL responding to Ronald S. Hendel.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Euangelion Plugged at Koinonia

Over at Zondervan's Koinonia blog there is a plug for Euangelion as one of the favorite and most recommended blogs! I should add that Joel Willitts is co-author of Euangelion and my chum-in-arms does not always get a mention in dispatches. Several other blogs and sites are mentioned as well.

Trinity without Tiers - Graham Cole

Graham Cole teaches Systematics at TEDS and at Anglicans Together he gave a very good lecture on Trinity without Tiers. Basically it's a response to Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware about subordination in the Trinity. Myself and Robert Shillaker get a mention in despatches (@ 34.45 mins). It's easily the best lecture I've heard on the subject in terms of introducing the topic, what the debate is, who are the key players, and what is at stake. Though I'd press Cole on a few things such as whether "Christ" in the 1 Corinthians passages means Jesus' messianic role as opposed to his divine sonship before the Father. Also, I think he's a bit blaise with Rahner's rule. As long as the incarnation tells us something of the eternal life of God, then Rahner's rule (however imprecise in certain details) remains valid.

I stand by the point I've made with Robert Shillaker in a couple of Trinity Journal articles. (1) Ontological equality with functional subordination is biblical and orthodox. (2) The word "subordination" is dangerously flirting with Arianism and we need a better term like "the Son's obedient self-distinction from the Father". (3) This whole debate is being driven by gender issues in North American evangelicalism and I simply doubt whether intra-Trinitarian relationships can be or should be applied to male-female relationships.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

ABC on the New Face of American Evangelicals

Over at ABC (American not Australian) is an interesting segment with a panel of young American evangelical activists over what matters to them and what issues they are concerned about and what differentiates them from the religious right. Most illuminating.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Film + Theology - 2012

Last night we launched a new event with our college ministry CRAVE. Inspired by Mars Hill Church's Cinemagogue, we started our own version of Film and Theology.

Film + Theology: What are we doing here?
Since this is officially our first Film + Theology event I want to take a few minutes at the beginning to answer the question: What is Film + Theology? What are we doing here? Film and Theology is a forum where we can (1) appreciate and enjoy the artistic impulse God has given to humans as expressed in film; and (2) critically engage culture. Here at Christ Community Church we believe that humanity is created in the image of God. God’s image in humans is multifaceted, but one particular aspect of it is our creative impulse. God has given humanity the ability to be artistic and create and tell stories. Film and story telling in our view should be enjoyed and celebrated as a gift.

Today, however, there is no more powerful vehicle for cultural propaganda than the movie theater. Films present ideas in the form of stories or worldviews. I heard some say recently that today’s local multiplexes are modern day pulpits where thousands flock weekly and let film directors and screen writers influence the way they think, feel and live. Films are one way modern culture artistically expresses itself. But films also shape culture. Films should be enjoyed then, but they should also be thoughtfully consumed. 

Film and Theology seeks to provide a space in which to engage the cultural messages that films communicate and put them into dialogue with a Gospel-centric Christian worldview.

2012 – Orientation to the movie
2012 was co-written and directed by German-born filmmaker Roland Emmerich. Emmerich has distinguished himself as a premier filmmaker in the disaster genre with movies such as Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) to his credit. Emmerich’s films have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide making him the country’s 14th highest grossing director of all time. Emmerich has the reputation of being one of “the few directors capable of consistently making critically-derided movies that nonetheless [make] enormous amounts of money”.

His film 2012 is no different. While critics of the film were generally negative (apparently only 40% gave a positive review according to Rotten Tomatoes), its first weekend at the box office earned a total of $290 million worldwide and ultimately grossed nearly $768 million making it the 5th-highest grossing film in 2009. Some film critics as expected lambast it, while others—the likes of Roger Ebert, called it the “mother of all disaster movies” concluding that the movie “gives you your money’s worth” and asserting that the movie is “as good as a disaster movie can be”. In other words, if you like disaster movies, you’ll love this one. What these box office receipts say is that Emmerich’s movie 2012 was consumed by a worldwide audience no matter what the critics said. This film is representative of the power of a movie in that (1) it reaches the many and not just the few, and (2) it is revolutionary in that it invades diverse cultures creating a common.

2012 – Spiritual themes
2012 is a popcorn film and although the film has significant weaknesses at the level of script and plot it does raise several interesting spiritual themes.

You may assume that the primary theme of the movie is the end of the world. The title of the film leads to the belief that the central idea of the movie relates to the Mayan myth of the world coming to an end in 2012. This myth has been made popular in recent years when it was noted that the Mayan calendar only has 5,125 years with the last year ending on 12/12/2012. However this is in fact a mistaken notion. As Emmerich himself explains in an interview, the Mayan element came after the initial seed idea for the movie was being developed. For the movie the contribution of the Mayan myth is simply that the “fact that the Mayan calendar ends”. “This gave us the year”, Emmerich says. The Mayan myth provided the day that the global flood was to take place. On that day, as well see in the film, a solar storm leads to changes in the Earth’s core with the result that the earth’s crust is displaced creating super-tsunamis that flood the earth. So what was the seed-idea for the movie? The film’s seed-idea actually was a “global flood”, a “modern retelling” of the Noah’s ark story. “We came up with this idea that maybe a global flood would be a great movie because we could do a retelling of Noah’s Ark in a modern way”. In Emmerich’s words, “the whole third act is more a different kind of movie [than a disaster movie]. It’s about who will survive in the arks”. In fact, for Emmerich the movie is “about” decisions about who is gets on the arks and who gets left behind.

At its simplest, 2012’s story is about people who know the world is coming to an end by a global flood and people who do not. The people who know secretly build ships they call “arks”. So Emmerich’s “Noah” is a US led coalition of countries who secretly build ships and don’t tell anyone. The governments realize that the disaster is coming much sooner than they had anticipated and it becomes a race to get to the ships which were constructed in Tibet in the Himalayas.

When the catastrophe begins worldwide disaster is experienced illustrated onscreen by the destruction of recognizable landmarks with a notable emphasis on the demolition of Christian-Catholic sites. One Catholic reviewer pointed out that while the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s basilica and Rio de Janerio’s Christ the Redeemer statue are destroyed, Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site isn’t, at least on screen. He wryly commented, “because, you know Christians, don’t do fatwas”.

In Emmerich’s flood story, interestingly, God is absent. If there is a god figure in the film it is science or better nature. Emmerich attempts to strip humanity down to the point where faith makes little-to-no difference. He says, “Yes, it’s good to be spiritual, but praying in the face of disaster will not stop the disaster. Fate, luck and coincidence might help you survive, but not prayer”. “When you destroy the Vatican or the Jesus in Rio, you tell people, even God can’t help you”. For Emmerich the film becomes a question of morality, what is right and wrong, absent of God: “It comes down to what should people do in a situation like that, what is morally right to do”.

Within this large frame there are characters typical of the disaster drama. For example John Cusack’s character, Jackson Curtis, is the cliché of the average guy; he’s a deadbeat divorced father of two. In addition to being less than successful at family life, Curtis is a fledging science-fiction writer whose writing career is at bottom when we first meet him on screen. Through the disaster, however, Curtis finds redemption through heroic acts. Courageously he sets out on a perilous journey to get his family to the arks and in the end finding his marriage and family relationships are restored.

Another character is the eccentric Charlie Frost (played by Woody Harrelson) a radio talk show host-cum-apocalyptic preacher (a John the Baptist type) who lives in his Winnebago in Yellowstone National Park awaiting the end of the world. He promulgates over the airwaves a conspiracy theory that few if any believe. It seems, however, ironically he is the only other person beside the government that knows what’s going on. 

While this kind of movie does not reward careful character analysis, it does raise several spiritual themes worth engaging. I suggest that following as representative.

1. End of the world - What should a Christian’s response be to doomsday predictions? And what is the appeal of disaster films? Why are they so wildly popular worldwide in spite of the severe criticism by reviewers?

2. Faith in the midst and in the face of disaster - What can faith do in the midst of and in the face of disaster?

3. Morality absent of God - What is morality without God? On what bases did the characters in the film determine right and wrong absent of God?

4. Global flood - How do the global floods of the Bible (Gen 6—9) and 2012 compare?

Feminist Approach to Ezekiel

I'm not opposed to feminist scholarship, mainly because I am not particularly excited by it. But a couple of years ago at the Tyndale Fellowship there was a very stimulating paper by Dr. Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer on Ezekiel as Christian Scripture. She engaged the topic of how do we reconcile the idea of a God of love with the horrendous violence inflicted on Judea in the sacking of Jerusalem. The things that happened in the sacking of a city - rape, torture, infanticide, murder - can seem disproportionate to the sin of the people and inconsistent with divine goodness. Her solution is to read Ezekiel in tandem with Lamentations and so complain that God has gone too far, and leave the response up to God. Tiemeyer wants to follow the story of the text rather than explain it away like some do, also she does not want to adopt radical feminist approaches that demand condemning the text either. Her concern is mainly theodicy. Her piece is now published in Expository Times. At the conference myself and Chris Wright suggested that perhaps a canonical reading of Ezekiel should also take into account the NT as well and see what the lens of the cross informs us of God's purposes on this subject.

Danger Alert: Religious People Attend SBL

Jim Davilla points to an article by Ronald S. Hendel at BAR on "Biblical Views: Farewell to SBL". Hendel has failed to renew his membership at SBL due to the increasing presence of religious persons within SBL. Hendel's complaint is that SBL, by allowing the mix of faith and reason, is "falling into a confused domain of dissension and hypocrisy". Even worse, in a bid to bring up its numbers, SBL has reached out to evangelical and fundamentalist groups. He is particularly affronted by the presence of Pentecostals at SBL! He even makes the observation that some scholars appear to be influenced and even driven by religious perspectives in their academic pursuits. Hendel opines the removal of the words "critical investigation" from SBL's mission statement so that its mission is to "foster biblical scholarship" rather than to stimulate "critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures" and this broadening as to what counts as biblical scholarship is particularly disconcerting to him. He finished his piece with this provocative quote:

The battle royal between faith and reason is now in the center ring at the SBL circus. While the cultured despisers of reason may rejoice—including some postmodernists, feminists and eco-theologians—I find it dispiriting. I don’t want to belong to a professional society where people want to convert me, and where they hint in their book reviews that I’m going to hell. As a scholar of the humanities—and I might add, as a Jew—I do not feel at home in such a place. What to do? Well, I’ve let my membership in SBL lapse. Maybe that’s a cowardly response, but sometimes, as Shakespeare wrote, “The better part of valor is discretion.” Sometimes it’s reasonable to avoid conflict. And like Pascal and Spinoza, I’m partial to reason in matters of scholarship. But my heart, for reasons of its own, gently grieves.

1. Whose "reason" is he talking about and who established that it is inconsistent with "faith"? Evidently the postmodern critique of Enlightenment "reason" must have been something that just happened to other people besides Hendel. But indulge me if you will to deconstruct Hendel's "reason". One might think, on the surface at least, that by "reason" he means a correspondence theory of truth whereby the assured results of critical investigation of the Bible show a disparity between its findings and the content of religious beliefs derived from the Bible. Thus implying the intellectual illegitimacy of faith or calling for the quarantining of faith from rationally held beliefs. But in fact, what he means by "reason" is really the predisposed conviction of a certain sub-group that its reading of history and biblical literature is inconsistent with religious claims and is thus authoritative over religious claims. This is put in service of an ideological agenda to cleanse religious persons from the academic sphere, or in the very least, to force the hegemony of his own particular community over those religious communities. Could his appeal to "reason" function as little more than a sanction for the legitimacy of an ideological power play designed to ensure the unrivaled hegemony of his own judgments about the meaning of history, religion, and the academy? I'm being hypothetical. I'm just asking the question that arises with this appeal to "reason"! "Reason" is a freighted term, let us rationally inquire (irony alert) what freight is he carrying, why, and for what end?

2. "By the extremes ye shall judge them". Hendel's complaint about fundamentalists at SBL goes to show how uninformed he is about fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are defined by their separation from institution like SBL. A bona fide fundamentalist would not in good conscience and consistency with his position as a fundamentlist attend an event like ETS with women, open theists, charismatics, and even Anglicans lurking around, let alone SBL with secularists, gay hermeneutics groups, feminist scholars, Mormons, and satanic luminaries like N.T. Wright and Bart Ehrman. Hendel's voice of reason is surprisingly ignorant of the phenomenon that he seeks to confront. Thus, I surmise that his use of the term "fundamentalist" is largely a rhetorical device used to promote fear among his peers about persons whose conservative religious view points are being seen and heard at SBL. His fear mongering of "fundamentalists under the bed" is a form of deviant labeling designed to promote alarm about religious groups who are actually religious obtaining intellectual sanction in a learned society. Is this a reasonable thing to do? You decide!

3. Hendel draws attention to proselytizing groups at SBL and he mentions one particularly unpleasant experience he had. I imagine that this was probably an isolated incident, I've never experienced anything like it. SBL is not the most appropriate place to hold a "Jews for Jesus" or "Jews for Judaism" crusade. But rather than storm off in a huff, I would suggest that stuff like this can usually be solved with a polite email to a chair or head of any section about taking things a tad too far. But more importantly, the free exchange of ideas that goes with academic freedom (not to mention religious freedom), means that you can find yourself confronted with people saying stuff you may not actually like. There is alot of stuff that goes on at SBL that I find intellectually absurd, culturally offensive, and religiously insensitive. But in the words Salmon Rushdie: "Who told you that you have the right not to be offended?" But why do I put up with it? Well, because of those good old liberal values: academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. If ya don't like it, apply for a post at the University of Pyongyang.

4. Is SBL an inclusive society? Who decides what counts as genuine scholarship? Ultimately this will be a peer reviewed process that reflects the breadth of the society - and so it should be. What groups are allowed to run which seminars, symposia, and panels will go through the normal channels and likely reflect the needs and desires of the SBL constituency - and so it should. But rather than let the will of the majority reign as the basis of who is included, a small vociferous minority of usually secular fundamentalists (irony alert!) would like to purge the organisation of those who are actually religious. This is rather comical. There are actually people who are enraged and flabbergasted that a society dedicated to the study of religious texts is mostly populated by people who are actually religious! This somehow confusing and concerning for them. For my own parody of this issue see my amusing post about The Society of Baseball Literature that makes fun of them. I think one of the benefits of SBL is that you get to hear from a diversity of presenters: on textual criticism there is Michael Holmes and Bart Ehrman; on the historical Jesus there is Maurice Casey and Craig Evans; on the Gospel of Mark there is James Crossley and James Dunn; on Gospel traditions there A.Y. Collins and Richard Bauckham, etc. I don't know what religious or areligious disposition Hendel has. He claims the identity of a "Jew" but without unpacking it (orthodox, progressive, liberal, secular, high holidays). I won't try to guess nor do I wish to judge it negatively. I don't assume that he is a Jewish version of Gerd Ludemann. But his approach seems more conducive to a hyper-secular approach of excluding others, rather than a broad and inclusive approach as to who gets a guersey at the academic table in the study of religious texts.

Hendel's piece is written from annoyance rather than anger. He is frustrated with demographics rather than fuming with resentment. So I say, let's leave the porch light on for him. If he comes back then we'll kill a fattened calf, place a purple robe on him, and put a ring on his finger. But in leaving SBL I think it shows that he has a fundamental misunderstanding about what the society is. It's not about "me", it's about "us". The collective and collaborative effort of scholars from all walks of life and traditions who genuinely want to further the aggregate knowledge in our academic field.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Flags in Church!

Let's make 18 June an annual "remove flags from your church sanctuary day". I confess that I have always been perplexed why Americans have flags in their places of worship. It is borderline idolatry, it confuses the kingdom of God with a worldly government, and it (deliberately?) creates the view that America somehow has a special relationship with God that other nations don't have. I've been in churches all around the world and Americans are the only one's who put flags in churches as far as I can tell. By all means, keep your flags for Veterans Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day, or even Oprah Day. Bring them to the Olympics and World Cup Football, but take them out of the churches.

On the same topic, see this excellent video clip by Doug Wilson who thinks that flags in churches is "deranged" (HT: Text, Community, Mission).

Update: Nick Norelli adds his two cents.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Old and New Perspectives in Diognetus

I'm currently working on the reception of Paul in the Epistle to Diognetus. Along the way I've noticed that the Old and New Perspectives on Paul can both find roots in ED which confirms my view that the Reformed and NPP views simply aren't new and are not mutually exclusive. Consider the following:

First, note this soteriological picture in ED concerning a forensic alien righteousness that clothes believers.

"So then, having already planned everything in his mind together with his Child, he permitted us during the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because he took delight in our sins, but because he was patient; not because he approved of that former season of unrighteousness, but because he was creating the present season of righteousness, in order that we who in the former time were convicted by our own deeds as unworthy of life might now by the goodness of God be made worthy, and, having clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the kingdom of God on our own, might be enabled to do so by God’s power. (2) But when our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death—were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, “the just for the unjust,” the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. (3) For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? (4) In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? (5) O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners! (6) Having demonstrated, therefore, in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed the Savior’s power to save even the powerless, he willed that for both these reasons we should believe in his goodness and regard him as nurse, father, teacher, counselor, healer, mind, light, honor, glory, strength, life, and not be anxious about food and clothing." (ED 9.1-6).

Second, note the condemnation of Jewish boundary markers in ED, especially about boasting in circumcision by Jews.

"But with regard to their qualms about meats, and superstition concerning the Sabbath, and pride in circumcision, and hypocrisy about fasting and new moons, I doubt that you need to learn from me that they are ridiculous and not worth discussing. (2) For is it not unlawful to accept some of the things created by God for human use as created good but to refuse others as useless and superfluous? (3) And is it not impious to slander God, as though he forbids us to do any good thing on the Sabbath day? (4) And is it not also ridiculous to take pride in the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of election, as though they were especially beloved by God because of this? (5) And as for the way they watch the stars and the moon, so as to observe months and days, and to make distinctions between the changing seasons ordained by God, making some into feasts and others into times of mourning according to their own inclinations, who would regard this as an example of godliness and not much more of a lack of understanding? (6) So then, I think you have been sufficiently instructed to realize that the Christians are right to keep their distance from the thoughtlessness and deception common to both groups and from the fussiness and pride of the Jews. But as for the mystery of the Christian’s own religion, do not expect to be able to learn this from man." (ED 4.1-6).

So we have a very Pauline soteriology with a clear forensic justification plus a recognition of the boasting of Jews in their elect status, arguing for the freedom of Gentiles from Jewish observances - Jimmy Dunn plus Martin Luther are now reconciled - how wonderful it is when brothers dwell in unity, it's like oil flowing down the beard of Aaron.

Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (547–549). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

USA v England

It is beginning. . .

Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott

Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John StottI just finished reading the biography of John Stott by Roger Steer Basic Christian. My knowledge of Stott is probably much like many on this side of the pond. We have been aware of him for as long as we can remember as the British evangelical pastor scholar who wrote The Cross of Christ, but we know very little about him. I can say I had the privilege of hearing him preach at Saint Andrew the Great (StAG) while in Cambridge.

Roger Steer’s book takes a narrative approach to Stott’s life and presents it from a personal angle. The book is a brief but comprehensive, personal, sympathetic narrative of the life of John Stott. I found it easy to read and hard to put down. Steer is to be commended for his approach to the organization of the book with its short chapters—there are essentially 31 chapters comprising 282 pages. The brief chapter structure allows one to duck into John’s life for a brief spell without feeling the need to spend a whole afternoon there. This does not mean that you’ll not take an afternoon. In reading it I had trouble stopping with just one—I have the same trouble with a bowl of ice cream.

Reflecting on John Stott’s life and ministry of over 5 decades through this brief and well-written account had a significant affect on me. As I reflect on the John Stott I met in the book several adjectives come to my mind:

John’s ministry was centered on the ministry of the Gospel understood wholistically. He spent his life spreading it, defending it and living it. He defined and embodied the Gospel in traditionally and nontraditionally evangelical ways. His Gospel centricity resulted in two moves that for some will seem divergent paths: the Cross of Christ and an aggressive social program represented in the Lausanne Covenant. To compare him to personalities popular today, John Stott was/is a mixture of John Piper and Bono. Not exactly two names you would naturally coordinate. But that combination reveals the uniqueness of John Stott.

Culturally engaged
John did not cloister himself away from the culture around him. Instead he engaged it and as such is the epitome of the “everyday theologian” Vanhoozer describes. John provides a clear example of a Christian who critically engaged the culture within which the church of the twentieth and early twenty-first century lived and lives.

Driven & disciplined
John was a driven and disciplined person with a tremendous work ethic. More than once, the value he placed on punctuality is mentioned in the book by his study assistants.

Intellectual & theological
John was an intellectual in the best sense of the word. He was a theological intellectual without being irrelevant. His nearly 30 books and the important “congresses” he founded, such as Lausanne, are a testimony to his intellectual power. All this intellectual activity was conducted from the context of the church. For this reason I nominate John Stott, if he's not already, as the patron saint for the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology (SAET).

Irenicly evangelical
John was an evangelical in the best sense of the word. I think his close relationship with Billy Graham on the one hand and his falling out with Martyn Lloyd-Jones over his decision not to leave the Anglican Church on the other show that he exemplified a winsome evangelicalism that could not be equated with the more sectarian forms.

One more thing. I was surprised when I saw that my friend John Yates was featured in the book. John and I were both at Cambridge working with Markus Bockmuehl – by the way I feel like I’ve said this before (e.g. Charles Anderson). I knew that John had been a study assistant with Stott, but now I wish I had taken the opportunity to pursue conversations about Stott with John. John I don’t know if you read our blog, but if you do, be prepared the next time I see you to have a long conversation about your assistantship. I’ll certainly buy you a beer or two in return. Perhaps at the upcoming SAET fellowship in October if you're attending.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Pseudepigrapha Survey - Please Participate!

Please fill out this survey if you teach a course that might assign a one volume commentary on the Pseudepigrapha as a text book or assigned reading.

Pseudepigrapha Commentary
Would you use a one volume commentary on the Pseudepigrapha as a text book for a course on ancient Jewish literature or New Testament backgrounds at a college, seminary, or university?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Notice: Vanhoozer, Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Cultural Exegesis)Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson and Michael J. Sleasman
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Everyday Theology teaches the skill of “reading culture” theologically. This means achieving Christian understanding of "what is going on in our part of the world, why it is going on, and how we should respond” (9). According to the editors every Christian should gain some competency in reading and interpreting culture through the lens of the Bible and Christian faith. The book is designed to both teach and illustrate how one “makes Christian sense” of everyday life. This is accomplished by a length introductory essay followed by a number of case studies in which the methodology introduced is illustrated. The concept of the book is well executed.

The book's central thesis is that Christ followers must learn to discern how our faith is shaped by the world we live in and how we are to embody our faith in forms of everyday life. The book then is intended to help achieve a cultural literacy, that is the ability to read and write culture, by providing the basic tools and a method. The book’s purpose is to equipped followers of Jesus to critically and constructively engage culture for the sake of the gospel. Everyday Theology is comprised of a foundational essay (ch 1) by Kevin Vanhoozer with another 10 essays as illustrative of the method Vanhoozer outlined. The book's genesis was a course at TEDS that Vanhoozer taught and the editors are former students.

Full disclosure: Charles is a dear friend of mine. We overlapped in Cambridge and both were students of Markus Bockmuehl. You'll find our names together in the list of students that attended the "Grandchester Meadows Group" in the preface to Markus' book Seeing the Word

I think the concept that the book seeks to articulate and illustrate is important, fascinating and timely. There has always been a need for pastors to be able to exegete both the Bible and the culture. But the need has never been greater than it is today. Vanhoozer has provided a tool for those who want to be “cultural agents” in the world. I for one found the book’s central idea compelling and deeply motivating. It touches a deep passion for competency as a critical thinker. I would have to say that this is one of my chief life pursuits. I want to be a critical thinker in every area of my life and not least culture. Quoting Silverman and Rader, Vanhoozer states, “You can be in the world more fully if you are a critical, thoughtful, insightful reader of the world around you” (55).

The book’s first essay written by Vanhoozer (55 pgs long) is a crash course in cultural hermeneutics. In addition to outlining a hermeneutical method, the chapter provides a context for the approach by providing an overview of background information such as definition, history of research and theological and biblical warrants. I think this is a must read for pastors, although it is "thick" and will take patience to muddle through. You won't be disappointed for the work though.

Here’s my one criticism of an otherwise excellent book. The expectations implicit in the method are unrealistic for the everyday pastor let alone Christian. This is slightly problematic since the books major contention is that every Christian should be an everyday theologian. How will the average Christian—and that is to say nothing of the average biblical scholar or theologian (of which I consider myself)—be able to competently employ the multiperspectival, multilevel, multidimensional approach Vanhoozer advocates. He argues that to adequately interpret culture we need to be “light on our feet”. By which he means “prepared to move between history, economics, psychology, sociology, film studies, architectural engineering, marketing, and of course theology” (45). While his point is no doubt true, the reality is that only the most gifted of persons can hope to be that light of foot and I certainly don’t count myself among that group.
One more thing. Three times over the next three months I'm leading an event with the college ministry, called CRAVE, and Twenty's ministry at my church called Film + Theology, an idea I stole from  Mark Driscoll's church Mars Hill. I'm going to attempt to employ Vanhoozer's Method in my studying of the films we'll be viewing. The book has a well-written chapter (ch 6) on film written by Michael Sleasman.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Alan Bandy on Revelation

My good friend Alan Bandy has had his Ph.D thesis on Revelation published by Sheffield Phoenix Press. It is called, The Prophetic Lawsuit in the Book of Revelation, with more details available here.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Matt Miller Interviews N.T. Wright - Part II

Here is the second part of Matt Miller's interview with NTW (pt II) and it includes a delightful quip about Americans having an "irony deficiency".

New Course: Calling to Ministry

At Crossway College, I'm nominally down to teach a new module called "Calling to Ministry" and the descriptor is as follows:

Ministry, Call to PM 104
Discovering your True Calling

This course will be required for degree students (B.Min, B.Th, M.Div). The purpose is to exhaustively examine the nature of the call to ministry. It will slowly but surely weed out the ministerial candidates who have a messianic complex. Such students will be isolated until only one student is recognized as the true Messiah. This group will then be provided with the necessary assistance to form their own cult and escapees from the group will then be studied by a cohort of psychologists and sociologists. Those hearing a voice from God (or in some cases "voices" plural) will be referred to the appropriate psychiatric care and given a white coat with no sleeves and a nice soft cosey room made entirely of rubber. The remaining students who continue on the course will engage in a "boot camp" learning environment with several arduous tests designed to see if their sense of call endures under intense suffering and mockery. The camp will include immunity contests and one student will be voted off the course every week until only one remains. This champion student will then be given a mega church to pastor where his or her immense ego will lead the church into a new period prosperity or inaugurate an ecclesial apocalypse. Students surviving with some self-esteem in tact will be perfectly suited to being ineffective pastors and will be farmed out to denominations that we don't really like. There is no exam and all assessment is competency based. Applications to be received no later that 15 July.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Diversity and Development in the Early Church: In Search of a Diagram

James McGrath posts a diagram on diversity and development in the early church by Darrell Pursiful (modified from Raymond Brown). I think the diagram is okay, but the problem is that Hebraic/Hellenistic can and do overlap (let's not return to Baur, Bultmann et al), Peter is part of the Hebraic tradition, and even the John tradition is also Hebraic. Can anyone come up with a better diagram that visibly displays diversity and development in the early church?

BP Oil Spill

I have been given a revelation as to the one thing that is big enough, heavy enough, dense enough, thick enough, and solid enough to plug the whole in the BP Oil spill in the Gulf. Click here to see it. A second possible option is here.

HT: Joey Dodson.

Book Notice: Revelation by Brian K. Blount

Brian K. Blount
Revelation: A Commentary
NTL; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2009.
$32.97 at

This volume is an exegetical commentary on Revelation with liberationist sympathies. Blount defends Revelation against those who think it is sub-canonical because it is too violent. In dialogue with Miroslav Volf and Allan Boesak, he responds that those who criticize Revelation as violent do so from a perspective of a "suburban ideology" that is detached from those who experience pain, evil, and terror in their living rooms. Or as I would say, we can only be Pacificists if God isn't one. A good summary of Blount's approach can be found in the preface: "While Mark's Jesus asks his disciples to take up their crosses and follow, John's Christ demands that they witness to the same testimony to which Jesus testified the very declaration of the lordship that took Jesus to his own cross. Both are asking the Jesus/Christ followers to emulate their Lords' defiant belief that he, and not any human power, was master and Lord of human history. All the many visions of the Apocalypse testify to this single revelation, which was declared by Jesus and demanded by Jesus of his followers: Jesus Christ is Lord! That declaration of faith has powerful implications for the construction and maintenance of social and political life. In other words, what is revealed in and from heaven dramatically alters how humans should expect to conduct life here on earth" (ix-x). On the millennium (since that is what everyone is interested in as a test case for Revelation commentaries), Blount starts with the observation that "too much has been made of a concept to which John gave very little attention" (366). The main function of the millennium in Revelation 20 is, according to Blount, that it is symbolic of a transitory period of time that precedes God's reward of the faithful. It looks forward to God's vindication and that believers will rule over the very world that has persecuted and destroyed them (367).

I confess that I still like Beale, Witherington, Aune, and Caird as my top Revelation commentaries, but this one is very well written and thought provoking at several points to deserve consultation.

History of NT Research

I've just finished reading William Baird, History of NT Research: Volume One: From Deism to Tubingen, and it's been a great read. Here's a few highlights.

Philip Jakob Spener: "a young man who fervently loves God, although adorned with limited gifts, will be more useful to the church of God with his meager talent and academic achievement than a vain and worldly fool with double doctor's degrees who is very clever but has not been taught by God".

J.A. Bengel: "The expositor who nullifies the historical ground-work of Scripture for the sake of finding only spiritual truths everywhere, brings death on all correct interpretation".

Jean-Alphonse Turretin advocated the unity of Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans. On Rom. 1.17, Turrentin thought that "righteousness" referred to God's justification of his people, although in 3.26 he thinks it refers to both God's act of justifying and to God's fidelity.

G.E. Lessing coined the term "bibliolatry" (Bibliolatrie). Though Samuel Coleridge may have first found the term in the writings of John Byrom who died in 1763.

J.P. Gabler: "The true exegete combines both: exegesis is his point of departure; exposition is his goal".

Baird's comment on Schleiermacher: "one is tempted to say he would have been a great biblical scholar if he had not been preoccupied with theology".

August Neander: the writer of a life of Jesus must begin with the basic premise "that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in a sense which cannot be predicted of any human beings, - the perfect image of the person of God in the form of that humanity that was estranged from him".

Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer: "So long as God will maintain for me in my old age the necessary measure of strength, I shall continue my quiet participation, as unimportant as it is, in the service of biblical exegesis".

John Armstrong on Infant Baptism

John Armstrong gives a over view of why he changed his view of credobaptism to paedobaptism. It is a good honest read.

Friday, June 04, 2010

More on Unity and Diversity

Following up on my review of Kostenberger and Kruger, James McGrath has a few thoughts on the subject and Ari puts Bauer's thesis of a dominant Roman church to the test.

Matt Miller Interviews N.T. Wright

Over at Academics, Matthew Miller interviews N.T. Wright on several of his recent books and his decision to return to the academy (two-parts, this is part one).

Wright Reviews Planet Narnia

At the, N.T. Wright reviews Michael Ward's book Planet Narnia.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger
The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped our Understanding of Early Christianity
Foreword by I. Howard Marshall
Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

I have on my desk a book to review for RBL by Charles Freeman called A History of Early Christianity and the blurb of this book states: "Charles Freeman shows how freedom of thought was curtailed by the development of the concept of faith. The imposition of "correct belief", religious uniformity, and an institutional framework that enforced orthodoxy were both consolidating and stifling. Uncovering the difficulties in establishing the Christian Church, he examines its relationship to Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman society, and he offers dramatic new accounts of Paul, the resurrection, and the church fathers, and emperors". I won't prejudge this book since I haven't fully read it yet, but it looks like a fairly predictable narrative replayed over and over since Walter Bauer, Elaine Pagels, Karen King, and Bart Ehrman. It is what I call the "Myth of Christian Origins" whereby:

The early church was characterized by a deep-seated diversity where proto- orthodox and proto-gnostic Christians existed side-by-side from the beginning, there were yet no heresies or heretics (except perhaps for Paul), neither were there any hierarchical orders, no single theology of Christ’s person was in expression, and it was a period of innocent pluralism; but this ended some time between AD 80-100 when a vociferous minority of proto-orthodox leaders sought to silence certain voices within the Christian movement and imposed their own rigid theology, ethical rigorism, sacred texts, and ecclesial hierarchy upon a religious movement that was beginning to tire in the absence of Christ’s parousia and this led to the eventual catholizing of the church (see my TynBul article on New Testament Theology Re-Loaded).

In light of this now all too standard mantra of "diversity, diversity" and the wicked orthodox who imposed their views on everyone else, the volume by Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger is a breathe of fresh air that ably tackles these revisionist histories of early Christianity.

D.A. Carson's endorsement of the volume rings true: "In the beginning was Diversity. And the Diversity was with God, and the Diversity was God. Without Diversity was nothing made that has been made. And it came to pass that nasty old 'orthodoxy' people narrowed down diversity and finally squeezed it out, dismissing it as heresy. But in the fullness of time (which is, of course, our time), Diversity rose up and smote orthodoxy hip and thigh. Now, praise be, the only heresy is orthodoxy. As widely and as unthinkingly accepted as this reconstruction is, it is historical nonsense: the emperor has no clothes." And Carson is right that Kostenberger and Kruger have exposed his nakedness.

The book moves in three parts. Part one examines "The Heresy of Orthodoxy: Pluralism and the Christian Origins of the New Testament". This is by far the best section of the book as the Bauer thesis is taken apart brick by brick. Bauer over-estimated the influence of the Roman church, certain groups like the Valentians were parasitic on the proto-orthodoxy rather than prior to and independent of them, and Bauer claimed to know too much based on far too little. There is no denial that Christianity was diverse, but there are good arguments provided to support the notion that the groups that were later judged as "heretical" deviated from a common core of widely accepted beliefs and traditions.

The second section covers "Picking the Books: Tracing the Development of the New Testament Canon" where it is claimed that the canon was not created by the church but received by the church, meaning that it was not an arbitrary collection based on little more than ecclesial politics. The third section "Changing the Story: Manuscripts, Scribes, and Transmission" directly challenges Bart Ehrman's claim that the text of the NT is highly corrupted and was deliberately molested by scribes who sought to conform the text to their own theological perspective. Here I would highlight the discussion on canon, covenant, and community that demonstrates the dynamic relationship between the faith of a community, the expectations of new Scripture that accompany a new covenant, and the textual tradition that the community itself creates.

This is a great book that deserves to be read and it is an excellent counter-point to the repeated assertions that the early church was just a nebulous array of diverse sub-groups until one was able to strong arm the rest. That said, there were a few points that I would contest.

First, Paul's opponents in Galatia are called "Judaizers" and "Heretics" in the book (p. 90). Strictly speaking only Gentiles can Judaize while Jews can proselytize. This is a term that needs to be eradicated from our nomenclature for Paul's adversaries in Galatia. But calling his opponents "heretics" is anachronistic as well. Heresy should be reserved for those who depart from the mature creedal statements of the Church's faith. Galatians was written during a period of the church's formative theological development where the issues of how much of the old carries over into the new was still an open question. Paul calls his opponents "false" not "heretical" since their position departed from an agreed norm with the Jerusalem apostles. But Paul's own view of the Law was developing as well and Galatians is a very raw and radical response to an intrusion onto his turf. Paul's Christ/Law contrast remains fairly consistent throughout his epistles, however, his remarks in Romans are obviously more mature and moderate compared to the explosive rejoinder in Galatians. In fact, if Galatians was the first and last word on the Law, Marcion might well have had a better case for rejecting the Old Testament. In the NT we can identify various positions concerning the Law (Matthew, James, Luke, Revelation) and the early church exhibited a wide diversity of opinion on the matter. Paul was right to object to any view of the Law that denigrated the work of Christ and argued that Christian Gentiles must embrace Judaism, but Paul's own formulation of Christ vis-a-vis the Law was not the unanimous view in the early church at this juncture.

Second, I remain unconvinced by the authors' reiteration of the Protestant apologetic claim that the church discovered the canon rather than created it (pp. 120-21). It is obvious that the church is a creatura Verbi, that is, a creation of the divine word. However, the church was the means by which the the divine word was placed into its canonical context. In my mind, the authors do not adequately distinguish between "Scripture" as a text of religious significance and authoritative weight for a community and a canon which is a closed register of sacred books. As such, I prefer Craig Allert's account of the formation of the canon (see also the book I've edited by Michael Pahl called The Sacred Text which deals with this issue in the opening chapters). I think that the building blocks for the canon are pretty much set in place by the mid to late second century. However, we cannot escape the genuine diversity within the canonical lists, books judged to be inspired were done so retrospectively, that is, after they met the criteria of apostolicity, catholicity, and orthodoxy. That is when they evolved from Scripture into Canon. There was no treasure hunt for inspired works that were found and then declared canonical. Those qualifications aside, the authors are right that: "The Holy Spirit was at work in both the canonical documents and the communities that received them, thus providing a means by which early Christians could rightly recognize these books" (p. 124).

Anyone studying NT Theology, unity and diversity in the early church, or historical theology would do well to consider this book.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

John Meier on the Halakic Jesus

I'm just finishing a review of John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew vol. 4: Law and Love which has been a great read. One quote I have to mention is this one:

"We return, then [after a study of the love commandment], to our theme song of the historical Jesus being the halakic Jesus. A 'historical' Jesus who is not involved in the lively halakic debates of his fellow Jews in first-century Palestine, who does not reason about the Law in typically Jewish fashion, and who does not display his charismatic authority as the eschatological prophet by issuing some startling legal pronouncements, is not the historical Jesus. He is instead a modern and largely American construct, favored by some Christians because he is appealing to the marketplace of popular religion in the United Stated today - a religion that is highly emotional, mostly self-centred, predictably uninterested in stringent commandments, and woefully ignorant of history. This American 'historical' Jesus could never have interacted with first-century Palestinian Jews, a community centred on the Law and a community that, unlike many present-day Americans, understood perfectly what its God meant when he commanded love." (p. 528).

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Beverly Gaventa Reviews Doug Campbell

Over at Christian Century Beverly Gaventa (who is a short red head like me and she lacks only an Aussie accent to achieve final sanctification) reviews Douglas Campbell's book The Deliverance of God.