Friday, September 20, 2019

Encountering the otherness of Barth, Part Two: Bible scholars read Romans 8-16

This is the second part of a short video series in which I present my paper, "Encountering the otherness of Barth: A New Testament scholar reads Der Römerbrief chapters 8-16".*

Instead of diving straight into the problems with Barth's commentary, I first establish what questions biblical scholars might seek to answer, thereby clarifying the contrast. So, in this video, I outline the kinds of concerns biblical scholars might have when reading Romans 8-16. I don't bother detailing everything, obviously, nor do I canvas all the hermeneutical possibilities.  But the video hopefully gives the gist of how commentary writers in the world of biblical studies might approach the text.

The next- and longest - video will showcase some of the problems biblical scholars may have with Barth's commentary.

The fourth will present some responses to these concerns and ask what Barth might teach contemporary biblical scholarship.




*It was delivered at the Barth Graduate Student Colloquium in August 2019 (http://barth.ptsem.edu/event/2019-barth-graduate-student-colloquium)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Introduction: Encountering the otherness of Barth

This is the introductory video in a three-part series in which I present my paper, "Encountering the otherness of Barth: A New Testament scholar reads Der Römerbrief chapters 8-16".

The second - and longest - video will showcase some of the problems biblical scholars may have with Barth's commentary.

The third will present some responses to these concerns and ask what Barth might teach contemporary biblical scholarship.



The paper was originally delivered at the Barth Graduate Student Colloquium in August 2019 (http://barth.ptsem.edu/event/2019-barth-graduate-student-colloquium

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 7

This post completes my summary of Gabriel's first chapter. His introduction is summarised in four parts, all of which can be read here.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

Chapter I. What is this Actually: the World?

You and the Universe

Materialism

“The World is Everything that is the Case”

What is the world? What is this totality to which we refer to with the word “world”? Clearly it is not simply the totality of objects in the world, but also the relation between objects, their particular way of interacting with one another and so on. Ludwig Wittgenstein saw this at the beginning of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (see Gabriel, 33):
I The world is everything that is the case.
II The world is the total of facts, not of things.
“A fact is something that is true of something”, defines Gabriel (33). Once again, Gabriel establishes his point with a thought experiment: “Let us assume that only things exist, but no facts. In that case, nothing would be true about these things. For such truths would be facts” (33). Moreover, in certain scenarios there may be facts but no things (consider “barren nothingness” for example). It follows from all of this that the world is the totality of objects and facts. But there is more, because “object domains” also exist, including the object domain of the universe. Remembering Gabriel’s refutation of materialism, he means by “object domain” not merely objects that can be studied by the natural sciences. Indeed, there are several domains of objects, indicating that there are ontological provinces.

But are these “ontological provinces” real? Or are they merely tricks of human speech? Is the distinction between the object domain of art history, for example, a different ontological province from the chemical and molecular constitution of pieces of art that can be studied in a laboratory? Maybe there are, then, no object domains in reality?

To answer this objection, Gabriel’s argument becomes a little more complex. First, he raises the notion of ontological reduction which is “undertaken when one discovers that an allegedly objective domain of discourse is – basically – mere idle talk” (234). He proffers the example of witches spoken about in Pope Innocent VIII’s bull. Now we know that these documents merely tell us something about the beliefs of mediaeval Catholics, they don’t give factual knowledge of witches casting successful spells and such like (37). In order, then, to understand that papal bull, some measure of ontological reduction is inevitable, which means that for many object domains an “error theory” is required, one which “points out the systematic error in a domain of discourse and traces this back to a series of erroneous assumptions” (38).

But, and this is key, this all means that we “cannot simply ontologically reduce all of the diverse object domains to a single one”. In order to do this one must help oneself to a particular method, which in turn assumes that there are several object domains, thereby refuting itself (see 38). The desire to reduce everything to one domain is too ambitious, simplistic and … lazy. It simply doesn’t follow that “all object domains are only human projections” (39).

Constructivism

This discussion naturally leads back to Gabriel’s opening criticism of constructivism, particularly the assumption that “we cannot discover any fact ‘in itself’” (39). He elaborates upon his rejection of constructivism at this point by sharpening the constructivist case. So he turns to “registries”, that “selection of premises, media, methods, and materials employed for the sake of acquiring knowledge and processing information” (235). Of course, there are very different registries. So, when one reads a poem, one could deploy registries that are structural, psychoanalytic, political and so on, all of which mean that we “register something differently” depending on the registry adopted. In other words, whatever humanly devised register is used will determine what is known. What is more, brain research has been used to endorse what Gabriel calls neuroconstructivism.

The problems with all of this, however, are manifold. False conclusions are drawn, such as the claim that because human registries shape what is known, the facts must also be human projections. Facts remain facts irrespective of human perspective. What is more, if the neuroconstructivist case were to be believed, it immediately refutes itself as a theory claiming to state truth. Rather than offering a claim about reality as such, the neuroconstructivist theory must also remain a simulation, and literally a brainless one at that (see pp. 42-43). Better is to accept that “the conditions of the process of knowing are to be differentiated from the conditions of the known” (43-44).

His thought experiment, begun on page 41, draws attention to the rather mundane experience of sitting on a train and recognising that new passengers are boarding. This is used in order to expose the constructivist error, for passengers would have boarded the train whether someone observe them doing so or not. Their boarding remains, in other words, a fact. But this rather routine experience is helpfully used to question another constructivist claim, that “the interpretation of what is to be interpreted (an astronomical image, a literary text, a piano sonata) is much more complex than an everyday scene at the platform station” (44). But he rightly points out that even this – for some – daily experience involves complex and advanced epistemological apparatus, for “[n]o other animal on this planet is in the condition to know that passengers are boarding the train, because no other animal has the concept of trains or passengers” (44).

Philosophers and Physicists

This positions Gabriel to get straight to the point: because the world “has to be divided into domains” (which is what this section of the chapter has sought to defend), we are now in a position to ask what is meant by “the world”. It is, Gabriel claims, neither the totality of things nor the totality of facts; “it is the domain in which all existing domains are found” (45). Gabriel’s thesis is thus simply that all “there is no such thing as the domain of all domains” (45).

This leads Gabriel to finish chapter one by refuting other accounts of the world, the whole. Stephen Hawking wrongly assumes that “the world” is synonymous with the universe, but this is a position that has already been amply refuted by Gabriel in the introduction. While one might allow such philosophical illiteracy from a scientist, even Jürgen Habermas has succumbed, becoming “overawed” by modern natural science such that he can speak of the world as a “regulative idea” as the “sum total of all that is knowable”, as the “totality of objects” (citing Habermas, 47). But if the world were the totality of objects, facts would not exist! This absurd position is compounded with the realisation that not all facts are knowable, something underscored by Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle. There are objects that disappear (or change) whenever one observes them, thus refuting Habermas’s central contention about “the world”. No, the world is rather the domain of all domains (Heidegger).

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Bullet chess - testing the embedding code

Pick up and read

UPDATE: a pre-pub version of Rob's article is now available online, here.

Last year Michael McClymond published a learned and exhaustive contribution to debates surrounding Christian universalism, The Devil's Redemption. (Also, check out McClymond's impressive CV on his faculty page, containing a remarkable list of publications)

But do check out Roberto De La Noval's extremely incisive critical review of McClymond's book, here. Mark my words: Rob is one of the very brightest theological stars on the horizon. But you all need to know that I knew him before he was famous :-)

Universalism is a hot subject at the moment, what with the release of David Bentley Hart's That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, which argues that "if Christianity taken as a whole is indeed an entirely coherent and credible system of belief, then the universalist understanding of its message is the only one possible" (3). Typical DBH! I'm reading it at the mo, so will reserve judgement. But Douglas Farrow set my corner of the internet on fire by publishing his critical review of DBH's argument here.

But there is more, for the massively learned Ilaria Ramelli also published A Larger Hope?, Volume 1
Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich. She argues that Christian theology was the first to proclaim the salvation of all, and, contra McClymond, that the reasons for doing so were deeply christological.

To blog or not to blog

Blog of course.

Besides, any fancy "I'm not blogging anymore" seems melodramatic.

So, I'm going to return to that running book review of Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015) started back in ... 2016.

Not that many will read it, I realise that, but I have selfish reasons. Namely, I suspect that New Realism may have something to offer crucial debates surrounding the relationship between theology and history. Well that's my hunch, anyway.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Chrisendom best five books of 2018 awards

This is a definitive list of the best books of 2018 as I have read everything published. Yep, all of it. From Japanese poems, through theological text books, geological studies in Chinese, every Reddit or Facebook or blog post, DVD player installation instruction manuals, chess books on pawn and bishop endings, you name it: I read it all. Every word.

And this, my friends, is the very best of 2018.

5) The Chord Hugo 2 Amp and Digital to Analog Converter Instruction Manual (£0.00).

This one makes you look again at your life, rethink everything you hold dear, that’s how powerful it is (just like the grammar of this sentence). It's short, to the point, brilliant. Chord must have taken a genius poet captive and told her[1] to write magic for their recent DAC, or they’d kill her family. Chord produce the very best audiophile equipment, sure, but you don't want to cross them or they will kill you.

4) 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (£12.99) by Jordan B. Peterson

This. THIS.

Well, it was meh, to be honest, and about as theological determined as our 5th place winner above. It wasn’t banal, exactly, perhaps a bit more interesting than most self-help kinda books, I guess.

Look, in truth I’m only including the book here because its fun to watch the hysterical go into full-scale meltdown mode at the mere mention of his name, convulsing into fits while mouthing with bright red faces and sharply pointed finger “NAAAZIIIII SCCCUUUMMM”, and then all their friends pat them on the back for being such uncompromising keyboard warriors and they end up feeling much better about not being other people.[2] And who wouldn't want to cause all of that?

I am now at least more hesitant to eat lobster.

3) The Gratitude Journal for Women: Find Happiness and Peace in 5 Minutes a Day (£10.29) by Katherine Furman (Author) and Katie Vernon (Illustrator).

All I can say is that I’m very grateful for grateful womxn[3] in my life who keep gratitude journals in order to stay happy. I particularly liked the copious, large flower pictures. Plus, as you would expect, it wasn’t chock full of patronising truisms.

2) Finding Jesus, by Winston Rowntree (£6.33).

This was admittedly published in 2014, but it is a timeless classic. It’s like discernment medicine, making it easy to find Jesus where you might have otherwise lost him. Way better than the Synoptics, it’s top-notch training for the saints.

1) The Day I Emailed Jesus, by Norman Moss / Jesus (for £68.38)

Winning this year, hands down, is Jesus. He’s been busy emailing a bloke called Norman who published a book containing numerous “emails from Jesus”.

---------------------------------------
[1] You see what I subtly did there? You were expecting a masculine pronoun weren't you, you misogynist pig! I award myself one woke point.
[2] I guess this means my first point gets deleted.
[3] Daaaaammn, me righteous long time!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Eerdmans advent video contribution


But seriously though, here's my Amazon wish list: http://amzn.eu/0Vt4FvL And although you are not under any formal obligation to purchase me books there, which is to say that it is not strictly a salvation issue, it remains true that it is better to give than receive, which does make your response a matter of proper discipleship / sanctification / maturity.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sielecki's fantastic Keep It Simple 1.e4


"So I go there, then he goes there, then I go there, and if he goes there then I GET TO HAND HIS ASS TO HIM!"

With Christof's book you may find that there's no need to spike your opponents tea with laxative, no need to deploy the "annoying humming" manoeuvre (which you immediately deny when an arbiter is called, obviously), no need for the old "obsessive J'adoube tick" to disturb your luckless opponent.

You can win by learning good moves.

Indeed, this repertoire is easy to understand and learn because it - by and large - seeks consistency of theme against Black's responses. Sielecki's prose clarifies so much without being verbose, and the lines are detailed enough without overwhelming the reader. Not only do you have the full content of Chessable's version, Christof has now added fully annotated sample games at the end of each section. I'm hoping he produces the same for his 1.c4 repertoire...

Keep it Simple is perhaps the best book of its kind, and I own more than I care to admit.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Two Rules for Being a Man

Following Mike Bird’s 50 Maxims for Being a Man, I’ve been inspired to pen the Chris Tilling Really Very Holy Ministries Two Rules pertaining to the same. Mine are obviously more condensed, more 95 Theses, or even 39 Articles, than Mike’s 2 Kings.

First, congratulations for being a man! Well done, you! But, and this is really important, don’t be a dick about it. Seriously though, this is 1st class stamp level litmus test golden rule wisdom. It’s going to be tough to top this one, actually.

Second, this one hardly needs to be said, but … spend more time thinking about the stuff you want to buy on Black Fridays a couple of days before Black Friday, otherwise things get way too busy when you should be focused on making purchases, and you’ll end up getting overwhelmed thinking about which shopping carts duplicate items and get confused about where you found the cheapest deals, and then you’ll miss the best buys and all because you didn’t plan ahead.

Wait, got another one

Third, and as I recently learnt, don't feel you need to eat reindeer jerky only during advent just because it feels seasonal. Eat it when you want, and simply because you can. The first steps to alpha male assertiveness - because lobsters - can be small, but you'll be king lobstering in the right direction.

Crikey, got another!

Fourth, sin boldly! Of course, I don't mean literally sin boldly, I mean do righteous stuff boldly. Never sin.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Apostle Paul Charity Foundation - Urgent Request

Was way up north recently, further north even than Derby. What a barren place this far north is - driving through villages I passed so many empty faces, hunched shoulders, purposeless lives, street urchins covered in coal dust, old people watching our car with pleading expressions, grey bricks, small corner shops, brown corduroy trousers and wellington boots covered in actual dirt. No sooner had we passed through one town I found myself mesmerised by field after field of emptiness, dotted with occasional animals. Even the cows had haunted, empty eyes, dammit.

For those of us who live south of the Thames, this is heart-wrenching, and it was all I could do to urge James, my taxi chauffeur, to drive faster. As my shock increased, I just wanted to stop and buy them an avocado latte, offer them stable high-speed fibreoptic broadband, or handout some of my quinoa and pumpkin seed low GI healthy protein salad. But this was beyond my financial means and there is so much need.

So I’ve decided to start a charity fund for the needy up north. Please generously donate and we will see that every one of these people – and that is what they are don’t forget – can to try a taster of the new hemp and chia organic Fregola dish Waitrose are selling at the moment.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

From a "Devotional" I will never publish cos need to keep job etc

Day 4

Character. Not all of us have it. This wouldn’t be a very good devotional if we didn’t think a little about character, ponder how to improve it and look to those who offer us noteworthy examples.

To wit, I turn to a beautiful episode from the life of the greatest theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth. Pope Pius XII allegedly called him “the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas”, whichis quite the admission for a Catholic, to which Barth apparently smiled and responded something about this proving the infallibility of the Pope.

Nice. Man had humour, too.

But Barth, and this is today’s lesson, also knew when to listen to criticism. In this case, his commissioning editors.

To cut a long story short, Barth had a bit of a dispute with a onetime theological friend, some dick called Emil Brunner.

Sadly, Brunner had lost his theological bearings, having begun to sacrifice chickens to Zeus, so Barth wrote a short, sharp response. In one of his less guarded moments he submitted the manuscript to the publishing house, “Theologischer Verlag”, with a bit of a wordy original title. Although admittedly unconfirmed, it ran as follows:

No, an Answer to Brunner, the Privileged Cis White Male with Bad breath and Dandruff Who Can't Get Laid Because His Face Looks Like It Has Been Repeatedly Hit With a Shovel. Sad.

At once, the publishing house advised caution. But despite the fact that Barth’s cause was noble, he was teachable; he listened to critique with humility. He heard the objection and hit the delete button (certainly a skill I have yet to master).

And within days, the book subtitle had been shorted, and it was published simply as No! An Answer to Brunner.

That, my friends, is character.

I think we all know the take-home point today, and it will be worth spelling it out for you to prayerfully ponder:

What book subtitle have you written that needs to be shortened?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Aaaand a carrot

If yesterday's post was a bit of a rhetorical stick, today's is a carrot! Namely, advice to go and have a read of my friend Lucy Peppiatt's Why Study Theology? Reflections for the evangelical charismatic church. She rustles up a bunch of reasons why studying theology is a good thing!

By the way, if you don't yet know her work, go straight to Amazon and do a search, before a can of heavenly smitation gets opened up. Because that's how these things work.

And another by the way, I obvs wasn't trying to say, yesterday, that feelings and emotions are unimportant. My point was precisely to stress the unity of the huperson[1]in their intellectual, emotional, etc. condition.

[1]. This largely defunct blog doesn't really offer the world much (okay, anything), but at least it gives the opportunity to score me a few public woke points in the progressive league tables. Because I’m better than you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

From head to heart? And other anti-intellectual McTheological slop

Popular evangelicalism so often struggles with destructive anti-intellectualism, with knee-jerk suspicion of the life of the mind. It is a plague that comes clothed in piety, which makes it even more sickening, but rear its head it does, like a floater in a hot tub.

Witness sermon after sermon peppered with the claim that the real issue is the heart (read: emotional or subjective reaction or recognition), and not the mind. Preachers will insist that things need to go from your head and then into your heart, or anything you know means very little. You know what I’m talking about – I’m betting you’ve heard this stuff, too.

Evangelicals – and perhaps more so those influenced by holiness or charismatic traditions – risk not taking the task of the life of the mind seriously. It tends to a kind of pragmatism that assumes certain decisions are not already theologically loaded. It then ploughs on as if the discipline of theological meditation and study is suspended by the more pressing task of practical discipleship, or hands-on leadership decisions, and such like.

The problem, of course, is that this is utterly delusional.

For starters, the Greek word, καρδία (heart), doesn’t mean “muh-feels as opposed to suspicious mental work”. Rather, as the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament states, it refers “to the inner person, the seat of understanding, knowledge, and will” (Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider eds., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–, p.250). Knowledge and understanding! That’s what the heart, biblically speaking, is all about.

The Louw-Nida Greek New Testament lexicon presses the issue:
καρδία, ας f: (a figurative extension of meaning of καρδία 'heart,' not occurring in the NT in its literal sense) the causative source of a person's psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts.
This is all related to an important Hebrew term, which presents us with much the same picture. Just go check out the standard Hebrew lexicon, the BDB, on the Hebrew לֵבָב for more on this, and you’ll soon see that it is better not to divide head and heart, or mind and emotions, as if the latter are about something “deeper” and more important.

Indeed, where anti-intellectuals tend to drive wedges, the scriptural witness brings heart and mind together. So Deuteronomy 6:5 states that “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” to emphasise the unity of the human being in relationship with God (See also Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

Those entering theological education, then, don’t need to apologise for training the life of the mind, or feel bashful for thinking hard and deeply about theological matters, even when the so-called direct “practical application” seems less obvious. For all of these activities are about what it is to be human, what it is to love God with all of what we are, and, crucially, to begin the task of uncovering the ways (sometimes unhealthy) theological thinking is present every step of the way, whether we like it or not.

Theological thinking manifests in all kinds of often hidden ways, you see. Perhaps it is more implicit, such as theologies that shape the way we pray, how we stress our prayers, what we say, and so on. We might not even be able to explain this kind of theology, but it shapes how we behave in multiple ways.

And then there are those “theological scripts” hidden under the guise of “common sense”. For example, some might think of Christian sanctification as an ongoing process whereby the Christian progresses slowly towards greater levels of “holiness” or deeper levels of “Christ-likeness”. That perhaps seems like common sense to some, and so it becomes a massively loaded theological set of beliefs that control much of our thinking, praying, preaching etc.

But where do these ideas about sanctification come from? After all, doesn’t Paul say we are dead and already seated in the heavenly places in Christ? Where are we meant to progress from there? And how does this assume we measure progress? By means of our own subjective sense of advancement? Someone else’s? And where does Jesus fit into this, except perhaps as the originating power who, by his Spirit, “helps” us make more progress?

You see, this “common sense” theology is already committed to a whole set of theological beliefs that need a good deal more thought. Indeed, such beliefs need repentance, as they often rush head first into the dead end of synergism and moralism, which are tied most often either to despair and guilt, on the one hand, or pride and self-delusion, on the other.

Source: https://darlenenbocek.com/facts/monophysitecontroversy
What is more, the discipline of theology, that activity of concentrated study and thought, is part and parcel of what the church has seen as its task. Just go and search online for the “Chalcedonian Definition”, something central to Christian orthodoxy, and you’ll soon stumble into careful, precise thinking and study that makes most modern academic theology seem like reading Mr Men books.

The point is this: if we shy away from the discipline of hard thought and study, as if it were something less important, or tangential to a life of discipleship, we are in danger of becoming unhealthy Christians committed to all kinds of theological slop, blown around by the latest jargonized McTheology that has more in common with candy floss than healthy food.

And finally, it is important not to be tempted to wave these concerns away with accusations of “ivory tower” theologians trying to justify their existence. Why? Because the evangelical church is a long, long way away from that danger. It would be as silly as suggesting famous politicians don’t spend enough money in their campaigns.

“About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:11-12)

Friday, June 15, 2018

My Tübingen haul

Nice book haul in Tübingen, today, though I'm not sure when I'll find the time to read them as these days my other responsibilities have a way of consuming my time… But first up is Hans-Joachim Höhn's Essays über Identität und Heimat, which touches upon a very important subject that receives far too little by way of theological reflection.



Next is Seewald's Dogma im Wandel, which might be of interest to those thinking theologically about "a generous orthodoxy" with Graham Tomlin. The author is the astonishingly freshfaced but clearly talented Seewald, who is also the youngest theology professor in Germany. Very impressive!



Gisbert Greshake, who wrote a massive volume on the Trinity, turns to Christian hope. He seems to end up advocating a universal  hope.


Finally, Körtner's Dogmatik, which is part of the Lehrwerk Evangelische Theologie, is not one I set out to purchase, but so many sentences grabbed my attention I just had to bag it. I felt enriched just skimming it!

Here are the planned volumes with the those in charge in brackets:


Saturday, December 09, 2017

$1000 to prove Garrow wrong!

Readers of my blog will know that I have pointed to Alan Garrow's solution to the Synoptic Problem before, and now this ...!

Despite the fact that I'm sitting here with a fever, I need to take the time to put this link up here; you really do need to give this a read.

https://www.alangarrow.com/blog/barts-1000-gamble

(Feel free to drop round here, Evan, and offer me $1000 for random opinion pieces!*)

*Seriously. We need to start saving for a new kitchen. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Christology in Review - Norelli

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Potentially justified? Paul, Wolter, universalism and Romans 5:18

Romans 5:18 Ἄρα οὖν ὡς δι᾽ ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατάκριμα, οὕτως καὶ δι᾽ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς·
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (NRSV)
Michael Wolter, in commenting on this verse in Der Brief an die Römer (Teilband 1), 356, notes the universal perspective of Paul’s language, and speaks of how it characterises God’s justifying activity. What precisely is that characterisation?

„Sie enthält das Potential zur Rechtfertigung aller Menschen“ (356)

Potential?

The logic clearly wants to take seriously i) the need for human faith (see Wolter, 357-58). But presumably lurking behind is also a concern to honour ii) other Pauline texts such as Galatians 5:21 (certain actors “will not inherit the kingdom of God”), and iii) the “receiving” spoken of in 5:17 (λαμβάνοντες).

I nevertheless see some problems with this reading.

(A)

It follows from his claim that there are two groups which are necessarily ordered according to size, or rather population: All are under condemnation (Group A), but God graciously justifies those who actualise the potential, by having faith in Jesus Christ (Group B). In other words, Group A is larger than Group B.

To rehearse a well-known point, however, from 5:15 onwards, the good stuff (gift, Christ, grace etc.) is contrasted with the bad stuff (Adam, condemnation, trespass etc.). And as Karl Barth noted: this contrast involves “no equilibrium … one may not say: as the trespass, so also is the free gift”. To use contemporary idiom, the gift is way more awesome than the trespass! (Or, to use German contemporary idiom: “Der gute Stoff ist sowas von übelst viel geiler als das abgewrackte Zeug”. If Barth were alive today, friends, just maybe that’s what he would say.)

But if the condemnation is certain, not potential, how can one speak of that which is only potential in terms of “grace abounding all the more” (Rom 5:20)? If it isn’t about the size of the groups, then one will be forced to emphasise another distinguishing aspect of Group B, in order to make it clear that grace super abounds.

Is that distinguishing aspect--necessary in order to make the contrast Paul generates in 5:15ff sensible--forthcoming? Of course, one may offer philosophical justifications (so Anselm, for example), but is it exegetically obvious? Perhaps one could focus on the nature of the act, or the identity of the actor? But does Paul’s argument do this?

(B)

And of course, as it often pointed out, the Wolter-style treatment of this verse at the very least disrupts (even if, given contextual matters, does not negate) the parallels in 5:18. After all, Paul doesn’t say that one man’s trespass “potentially” lead to condemnation for all, which would better maintain the balance. And of course, the πάντας … πάντας (“all … all”) parallel really becomes, in this reading, “all … somewhat less than all”. Bearing in mind (A), this is surely not a reading without problems.

(C)

What is more, should human faith be understood in the terms Wolter imagines, in this Pauline argument, especially given its absence from the discussion. This, indeed, leads to another are of hot debate in Pauline studies, but some will argue that it places faith into a theological argument that effectively displaces the revelation of God in Christ and by the Spirit, subordinating such Christian rhetoric under another (idolatrous) theological system.

(D)

Let us not forget that a straightforward reading of this verse is not to isolate it from the rest of a clearly eschatologically dualist Paul. After all, Paul writes in this letter:

  • “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; the are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:22-24 NRSV – see Jens Adam on this verse, and how “all” functions); 
  • “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32 NRSV).
And there are plenty of other passages besides which point in a similar direction.

Whether this means that a) Paul was a universalist, b) Paul’s theology is compatible with (Christian) universalism or c) what Paul writes here is compatible with universalism are key questions, and they need to be brought into discussion with exegesis of 2 Thess 1 and so on.

The only point I want to make here is that Paul does not write here that “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness potentially leads to justification and life for all”

Michael Wolter and ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ

ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ (Rom 5:5)

Subjective or objective genitive? is a common question. Is, say, Augustine right (human love to God)? Or, say, Cranfield, who argues that a “statement of the fact of God’s love for us is a more cogent proof of the security of our hope than a statement of the fact of our love for Him would be”.

Michael Wolter, when commenting on this verse in Der Brief an die Römer (Teilband 1), 328, makes the following point:
Die Liebe Gottes ist nicht bei Gott geblieben, sondern sie ist zu einem Teil der von ihm Geliebten geworden
In other words, Paul is speaking about God's love, but precisely because it is God's love, it also becomes our love.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

REPENT!!



I am of the opinion that the theme "repentance" is not given enough space in works on systematic theology.

Just look in the index for a paucity of references in a random modern systematics on your shelf, I challenge you.

Perhaps because it is associated with "pastoral theology", not systematics proper? Perhaps because it is seen as rather old-fashioned religious language? Perhaps because it has negative connotations associated with conditionality and contractual theological schemes? Perhaps because it seems too moralising?

All involve misunderstandings.

And it remains true that it was a central theme in the ministry of Jesus. A thesis: it is the misappropriation of the language of "repentance" that has lead to its neglect.

In the above picture, Thomas Söding (in Die Verkündigung Jesu) writes about the nature of repentance in Jesus' proclamation. The coming of the kingdom doesn't depend on repentance. It's the other way around: The necessity and possibility of the repentance and faith depends on the nearness of the kingdom.

This resonates somewhat with Calvin's distinction (in the Institutes) between "evangelical" and "legal" repentance.
"Others seeing that the term is used in Scripture in different senses, have set down two forms of repentance, and, in order to distinguish them, have called the one Legal repentance; or that by which the sinner, stung with a sense of his sin, and overwhelmed with fear of the divine anger, remains in that state of perturbation, unable to escape from it. The other they term Evangelical repentance; or that by which the sinner, though grievously downcast in himself, yet looks up and sees in Christ the cure of his wound, the solace of his terror; the haven of rest from his misery"