Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Willitts and Bird on CT

I don't know how I missed this, but Joel Willitts and me both get quoted at Christianity Today about Evangelicals and SBL in an article on "Scholars and 'Snake Handlers'" by Bobby Ross Jr.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beginning with Moses

The excellent Biblical Theology website Beginning with Moses is back up and running with a new look and some fresh stuff. Do check it out.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Some Recent Passings

In recent times there have been a number of passings of well-known Christian academics. Sadly Clark Pinnock, Gerald F. Hawthorne both passed away last week. I cannot say I ever remotely got into Clark's Open Theism, but I did appreciate his emphasis on divine love and the renewing experience of the Holy Spirit. What is more, I remember him as trying to be biblical, as seen in his rejection of prevenient grace despite the fact that it was the typical Arminian response to how God overcomes sin. Gerald Hawthorne has a residence named after him in Cambridge and his Philippians commentary in the WBC series is a model of sane and sober exegesis.

I was very saddened to learn of the passing away of Donald Bloesch. Bloesch represented a Reformed Evangelical appropriation of Karl Barth. He also remained committed to his mainline church in the United Church of Christ despite its liberalizing direction. I use several of his books as class texts in theology courses that I teach such as God the Almighty and Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord. By far the quality of Bloesch that I appreciated the most was that his robust evangelical theology was not the reactionary conservative kind. He did not feel the need to affirm reactionary positions in order to affirm his orthodoxy. There were several evaluations of his work including these:

Mark Noll described his work as probably "the most notable evangelical theology coming from the mainline churches" and one that is "somewhat unexpectedly . . . providing some of the theological maturity and biblical comprehension absent in the more strictly evangelical bodies." Bernard Ramm referred to Bloesch's work as a "real pioneering effort," while Clark Pinnock said of one of Bloesch's major volumes, "Now we have a self-conscious effort to present evangelical convictions in the light of comprehensive awareness of historical and contemporary theology.".

HT: David Parker.

Requiescat in pace

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

C.K. Barrett on New Testament Theology

‘Some historical element is not only admissible but is in fact essential, without it New Testament Theology will hardly escape degeneration into a collection of texta probantia. And the historian must not scorn the contribution of philosophical questioning to supplement his historical criticism. He who is master of both history and theology will write the greatest New Testament theology’.

C.K. Barrett, ‘Historia Theologiae Genetrix,’ in Aufgabe und Durchführung einer Theologie des Neuen Testaments, eds. C. Breytenbach and J. Frey (WUNT 205; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2007), 205-6.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book Notice: Perriman, The Future of the People of God

Andrew Perriman
The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010.

In this new and provocative book, Andrew Perriman argues that the way forward for the church in the post-Christian, post-postmodern West is to reclaim a historically situated understanding of the Christ faith.

His book is an attempt to read Paul's letter to the Romans fettered, yes incumbered [these are my words not his], by all its historical particularity. While admitting such an approach will "set limits to the dogmatic and pastoral significance of the letter" [and this fact will no doubt concern many], he believes it "opens up interesting possibilities" for solving or at least soothing the church's present self-identity crisis in an age much like that of Paul's when "it is no longer possible (or desirable) to represent the victory of YHWH over the gods of the nations through various forms of political, social, and cultural dominance that made up Christendom" (p. 10).

There is likely much in this book to critically assess and, truth be told, I have not read this book "analytically", in Adler and Van Doren's terminology. The best I've done thus far is a "superficial reading". Still Perriman's hermeneutical intuition is correct in my view and I think the following quote is worth the price of book:
Because the narrative is bounded both geopolitically and temporarlly, because it proceeds the fulfillment that came to be interpreted in accordance with the overweening intellectual self-confidence of Western civilization, we would do well to disable the universalizing assumptions that we bring to the text and, in the interests of exegesis, re-contextualize ourselves--to the point that we come to share Paul's necessarily myopic outlook and limited horizon, to the point that the fate of national Israel matters more to us than the theoretical relationship of the Law to faith, to the point that we are more troubled by the prospect of a pagan backlash than by the suspicion that others have not rightly understood justification theory (p. 9).

Wow! Read that again. And again. Read it several times. Surely wiser words have rarely been spoken in contemporary Pauline studies.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dan Wallace on KJV-ism

If you've ever met a KJV-only person and tried discussing Bible versions with them you'll know that it's like talking to a cave man about quantum physics. Personally I think their biggest problem is that they cannot get into their heads the notion that Christianity is not about "them". They have a peculiar belief that the Christianity that they know with its worship style, Bible translation, sub-culture, and sociology is the way Christianity was in the beginning and the way it should always be.

I do not lie when I say that a friend of mine lost his job in a church back in the late 70s when he started using the NIV in a youth group. The senior pastor had him removed on the grounds that, "If the Queen's English was good enough for Jesus then it is good enough for me". I've met Independent Baptist Missionaries in Europe who are trying to translate the Bible into Spanish, not modern Spanish, but into 17th century Spanish so that it is comparable with the KJV. Then there is Grace Baptist College in Michigan that includes in its doctrinal statement the assertion that "We believe Greek study has been and will continue to be the downfall of Protestantism".

What the heck do you do with that stuff? What can you possibly say that will persuade them otherwise? How can you reason with ignorance and arrogance? So generally speaking I don't bother trying to reason with these folks any more. You cannot reason with someone who has more fruitcake that a Christmas party and more nuts in their head than Brazil. So I when I do come across one of these chaps the best thing I can do for them is refer them onto some things that they might like to consider:

1. D.A. Carson's book, The King James Only Debate: A Plea for Realism
2. The KJVO blog by ex-KJVO's.
3. Dan Wallace's short and sweet article on the topic.

Update on the CEB

If you want to find out about the state of the forthcoming Common English Bible, then check out the website where you can find videos, samples, and texts to compare. John Byron, one of the contributors to the CEB, offers some thoughts on the approach to gender language in this translation.

Paul and John

Many have wondered about the influence of the Gospels: Did Paul impact the shape of Mark? Was Matthew hostile to Paul? Was Luke really a companion of Paul? But the Paul - John relationship is never really studied. William Wrede had this to say about the influence of Paul on John:

“When the Johannine Christ recounts how he was with the Father before he became flesh, it is Paul himself who is speaking to us; and when in this gospel John the Baptist extols Jesus as the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, the voice again is that of Paul ... The Pauline Son of God could now be shown in the flesh. In fact, the Pauline doctrine of Christ was, in John, poured int the mould of an image of the earthly life, and in this way won a new charm and new power over our hearts.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gentiles for Moses?

Over at Bible and Interpretation is my article on "'Gentiles for Moses': The Debate about the Nature and Intensity of Jewish Proselytizing Efforts in Ancient Judaism".

Central Themes in Hebrews

I've recently been reading through the Greek text of Hebrews (which I honestly find a struggle since there are so many words not used elsewhere in the NT). I've noticed two main areas that I think give the real gist of what the book is about. First, Heb. 2.1-4 functions a bit like a propositio or central contention and it pertains to the danger of ignoring "such a great salvation". Second, there is passing remark in Heb. 12.15, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many". In light of that, I think the author recognizes that the church he writes to is an ecclesia mixta, that is to say that it includes peoples who have varied levels of adherence and association with the Christian faith. The author exhorts his audience to have a community that is aware of the warnings of neglecting the salvation that is offered, but there is also an exhortation to make sure that the grace of God will have a magnetic effect upon fence sitters and have a pruning effect upon everyone.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jowett on the "Righteousness of God"

I've contended that the "righteousness of God" is a rich and layered phrase denoting more than one aspect of God's activity. It incorporates God's redemptive actions in both creation (establishing justice throughout all the earth), in the covenant (being faithful to Israel), and in the future (the apocalyptic revelation in the gospel). I was chuffed to see someone saying much the same thing about two hundred years ago:

Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) wrote: "And so the expression ‘righteousness of God,’ instead of being confined to one abstract point of view or meaning, seems to swell out into several: the attribute of God, embodied in Christ, manifested in the world, revealed in the Gospel, communicated to the individual soul; the righteousness not of law, but of faith" (cited from Baird, History of New Testament Research, 1.357).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Film + Theology - Avatar

Orientation to the film
Avatar is a 2009 epic science fiction fantasy film written, directed and co-produced by James Cameron. It has been hailed both as “sensational entertainment” and a “technological breakthrough” (Ebert). Many have compared the film to the likes of Star Wars. Roger Ebert’s testimony is characteristic: “Watching Avatar, I felt sort of the same as when I saw Star Wars in 1977”.

The film is set in the future, 2154 to be exact, although the date is never stated in the movie. Humans, Americans really, are mining a precious mineral called un-ob-tan-ium on Pandora, a lush moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, wherever that is. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na’vi—a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora.

The film’s title “Avatar” is a word that derives from Hindu mythology. It describes the descent of a deity to earth in an incarnate form. The term is also used in a less theological way to describe an embodiment or personification of a principle or attitude.

In the film “Avatar” refers to the genetically engineered Na’vi-human hybrid bodies used by a team of researchers to interact with the natives of Pandora.

By the way, Avatar will be re-released later this month in 3-D and IMAX theaters with an additional 8 minutes of footage.

Spiritual Themes
Avatar is not simply a movie it has become a phenomenon. This surely has to do with the fact that this film engages the person perhaps more than any other film in the history of filmmaking. While criticized for its cliché story and weak script, Avatar’s popularity is not localized. It has received global acclaim. Its national and international box office receipts are over 2 billion dollars making it the highest grossing film of all time eclipsing James Cameron’s last film Titanic. And nearly 73% of the gross is in international markets.

Let these figures settle in for a moment. James Cameron is influencing a global audience with the message of this film. He enhanced the vehicle for the delivery of a message that reaches trans-culturally. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Cameron admitted that the primary motivation for making a technologically groundbreaking movie was to “engage people in different languages [with a message] because I’m speaking in cinema not English or French”. Such an interesting phrase “speaking in cinema”.

What’s the message? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

But allow me say two things.

First, this film is unique in the sense that it is the product largely of one person’s mind. Unlike most Hollywood movies, which are the result of a cooperative effort and represent “multiple authorship”, Avatar was written, directed, and produced by Cameron alone. His clout in Hollywood allowed him a tremendous amount of control, although he admits to having to make some concessions to the studio.

As such Avatar is one man’s view of the world. When you think critically about Avatar you are thinking critically about Cameron’s perspective.

Second, an obscured albeit foundational point in thinking considering the film theologically is Avatar’s science fiction genre.

In articulating the usefulness of the genre Cameron, in an interview with Charlie Rose, commented on the power that science fiction has to change the perception of the audience through the course of the story. When done well science fiction allows for the audience to see itself from a vantage point 180-degrees around.

Viewers can leave a science fiction film looking at themselves from the outside. In the case of Avatar the audience emerges by the end on the side of the Na’vi and against the humans, or better Americans.

As one film critic sarcastically stated “If you can get a theater full of people in Kentucky to stand and applaud the defeat of their country in war, then you’ve got some amazing special effects” (R.D. Moore, at Christian Post).

Cameron believes that Avatar allows us to “ourselves, human culture, human civilization, as nature sees us, as the intruder, as the invader, as that which is threatening” (Interview Charlie Rose).

So what we have in the film is James Cameron’s view of nature looking at James Cameron’s view of human culture.

1. Nature and Humanity. At least one of the fundamental questions of the film then is: What are James Cameron’s views of nature and humanity as presented in the cinematic language of the film? Do we agree with his perspective? Does any of it line up with the Bible’s view?

2. Relationship between political and religious themes. Another is whether there is a relationship between the political and religious themes in the film? Does one form the basis of the other? Is it possible that Cameron has not simply dumped into this film “every liberal idea ever thought up”? Do the themes have some kind of coherence?

3. Deep critique of religious foundations. Having watched the film a couple of times and read numerous reviews and a number of interviews of Cameron I wondering: Are Cameron’s overt political messages in the film (environmentalism, colonialism, racism, militarism, corporate greed, etc) the result of a deep criticism of the historic religious foundations on which the present western, and particularly American, culture is built? What do think? Do you see such a criticism in the film? Would such a criticism be warranted? Why or why not? While every evangelical likely would be able to commend the truthfulness of most, or at least much, of Judeo-Christian foundations of American cultural, is the worldview open to critical assessment?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jobs: OT and Theology

The Bible College of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia is looking for applicants for two positions in Old Testament and Systematic Theology. Inquiries should be send to ahorswell@bcv.vic.edu.au.

Crossing Over Sea and Land: Review by John Byron

John Byron of Ashland Theological Seminary reviews my book Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period, over at his blog The Biblical World.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Ernst Kasemann on Discipleship

I think it was N.T. Wright who said that he if he had to be stranded on a desert island with one NT exegete, it would have been Ernst Kasemann. I've always been ambivalent about Kasemann since I've loved his apocalyptic approach to Paul, but never found him all that convincing on Gospels or pre-Pauline stuff. His work on the "righteousness of God" and the necessity of study of the historical Jesus was crucial in its day, but I never found him convincing on what he had wrote about Christian prophets who speak in the name of the risen Lord or his take on the origin of Col. 1.15-20. Though I can proudly say that my doktorvater's doktorvater's doktorvater was none other that Kasemann himself (whom I affectionately call "The Cheeseman" to students).

What is necessary reading, however, is the newly released book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010). Let me say that the opening saying, largely biographical, is worth the price of the book. I was amazed to learn that one of the strongest influences on Kasemann was his Lutheran youth pastor Wilhelm Weigle! Here are a few gem quotes from the opening essay:

"It is not enough to demythologize texts with Bultmann. Before doing such, the world and human beings need to be demytholoigzed, in, say, their self-mastery, their ideology, and the religious superstition to which they have surrendered. This takes place in the power of the gospel. This power streamed forth from Weigle. I will never forget his funeral."

"The Christian must always confess the Lord where idols rule on earth, whether under the sign of lust for power, or superstition, or of Mammon. From the Christian point of view, the first commandment is personified in Christ, It is this solus Christus that separates the gospel from all religions and worldviews, often even from a bourgeois or proletarian Christianity."

"As a last word and as my bequest, let me call to you in Huguenot style: 'Resistez!' Discipleship of the Crucified leads necessarily to resistance to idolatry on every front. This resistance is and must be the most important mark of Christian freedom."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Personality types in biblical studies

Thanks to Daniel Kirk for this:

I bet my Friday fellowship group is thinking: "That is soooo Mike Bird".

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

N.T.Wright on C.S. Lewis

Over at Touchstone, N.T. Wright has an interesting piece on C.S. Lewis.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Interview with Gordon Fee on Revelation

Forthcoming is Gordon Fee's Revelation commentary in the NCCS. There is a video interview with Gordon Fee at Grace Communion International where he talks about his Revelation book.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Book Notice: Jerusalem Testament by Melanie May

Melanie A. May
Jerusalem Testament: Palestinian Christians Speak, 1988 - 2008
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.
Available at Amazon.com

This volume by Melanie A. May (Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School New York) documents the joint statements made by Palestinian Christians experiencing the duress of the Israeli occupation. The statements listed are those issues over a twenty year period by the following representatives: Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Greek Catholic Patriarch, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Jordan, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Custos of the Holy Land.

In response to the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, the Palestinian churches wrote this joint statement:

1. The so-called "Christian Embassy" does not represent nor replace the Christian community in Jerusalem or the majority of the Faithful all over the world. We do not acknowledge this body nor its activities and conferences. The teachings of our Lord and the light of the Gospel have gone out from this very Holy Land. We are the representatives of Christianity here, venerating and safeguarding the Holy Places, and we do not expect people coming from abroad, unaware of our problems, to act on our behalf.
2. We categorically refuse and reject any political interpretation of the Holy Scripture.
3. According to our Lord's commands, we seek peace and justice for all the people of the world, and especially the region, without any kind of discrimination or violence.

The various periods including before and after the intifada, the Oslo peace accords, and the separation wall. It is very informative for hearing the voice of Palestinian Christians caught in the cross fire of Muslim extremism and Zionism. Particularly poignant was the call issues in August 2006:

"We call upon Christians in churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism".

This is a very interesting and informative read that gives a perspective of Christians on the other side of the wall. It would be very interesting to see how a Messianic Jew would respond to this book. Those interested in the state of the Church in the middle east would do well to read this book. The testimony is very moving as to how our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ struggle within the political turmoil of the Holy Land.

May there be peace in Jerusalem!