Friday, August 22, 2014

Colin Chapman responds to Mark Durie on Iraq 'jihad'

Interesting read, in light of my recent guest book review. See here.

“Another difficulty I have with Durie’s approach is the way he seems to believe that everything that IS does can be explained by appealing to texts. Texts are important – for Muslims as they are for Christians - but we need much more than texts to understand the phenomenon if IS.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mohler on Inerrancy: seventeen criticisms

photoWhy 17 points? In honour of this fascinating webpage, which, among other things, states that the Pythagoreans hate the number 17. And they were complete nutters, so 17 points it is today!

I’m referring, in the following, to R. Albert Mohler’s chapter in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)

1) Mohler's chapter lacks argumentation. It is filled with assertions, but very little reasoning. When it does reason, it is shallow and misleading at best, dangerous and unpastoral at worst. This is all despite Mohler’s good intentions, no doubt.

2) His rhetoric problematically employs

  • fear tactics (those who disagree with him cannot be proper disciples, entirely faithful to God and certainly not consistent. To disagree with Mohler would affect disaster in the church),
  • (false) guilt by association (tying Kent Sparks to Marcion, despite the fact Sparks would reject Marcion!)
  • appeals to “authority” (see point 1 - he did not offer reasons for his position as much as site authorities that agree with him)

3) He writes "The proper interpretation of the Bible comes by grammatical-historical interpretation" (47). But this hermeneutic is hugely problematic. For starters, it clearly lacks biblical support and is hardly grounded in church tradition. Despite many positives that can be associated with grammatical-historical approaches, used alone or as central they ultimately wrench Jesus Christ out of central position and are thus unfaithful to Churchly Scripture interpreting.

4) He consistently speaks of the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture without reflecting on his understanding of truth. And this is truly disastrous, a problem that cuts right to the heart of his argument. His notion of “truth” is not evangelised and so it becomes a claim about the correspondence of propositions with facts. Against this stand a number of serious problems:

  • this understanding of "truth" and "error" is not always and everywhere reflected in the patristic sources, nor is it simply reflected throughout church history. For necessary nuance lacking in Mohler’s account, see, e.g., Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing; Michael Graves’, The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture, John Goldingay’s Models of Scripture, and Vanhoozer’s chapter in this book, and his response to Mohler in the same.
  • So a key question is Where does Mohler’s account of truth come from? It reflects a correspondence theory, but why is this automatically endorsed? There are other theories of truth (coherence, constructivist, pragmatic etc.). Rather, it is crucial to allow a distinctly Christian notion of truth to guide us on this issue (which would therefore be, at the very least, christological “I am the way, the truth …” and eschatological “we know in part”, says Paul, author of much of the NT!). Once again, Mohler is insufficiently scriptural.

5) Operating as he does with an unevangelised notion of truth, Mohler must proceed to what can only be described as a ridiculous conclusion. He states:

"Without the Bible as the supreme and final authority in the church, we are left in what can only be described as the debilitating epistemological crisis. Put bluntly, if the Bible is not the very Word of God, bearing his full authority and trustworthiness, we do not know what Christianity is, nor do we know how to live as followers of Christ" (43).

And it boils down to this: If we say anything in the Bible that contains “historical statements” (despite the fact that fiction, too, contains historical statements, as Enns points out in response) didn’t happen, we do not know what Christianity is. If we believe that, say, the story of Jonah is fictional, given literary conventions and analysis of the text, we cannot know how to live as followers of Christ. I hope the reader realises just how silly this position is!

6) This then feeds an amusing circular rhetorical logic: "a rejection of inerrancy entails the rejection of the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible" (45) … Go figure! Talk about stacking the cards! And why cannot one preach from, say, Joshua, aware that it does not represent undiluted historical truth, as God’s authority Word. It is only Mohler's problematic, monolithic, unnuanced, unevangelised understanding of "truth" that hinders.

7) I appreciate Mohler's concern to be pastoral, but it is wrongheaded. He (a) creates falsifiable expectations about the nature of Scripture’s veracity, and thus leads people to crises of faith when confronted with nothing but the Bible. Sadly, sit one of his followers down with a Gospel Synopsis and you will likely create doubts about their salvation! It will (b) lead to a discipleship that compartmentalises out of necessity, due to cognitive dissonance.

8) His understanding of the dogmatic location of Scripture is anaemic. He states that “sin” does not impinge on the perfection of Scripture, but why not? Surely Scripture must also be understood in terms of the doctrine of creation? And how is Mohler's grasp of the Bible's inspiration understood in terms of "revelation", Christology, God's providence, pneumatology etc.

9) He states that unless we affirm the absolute perfection of Scripture in part and in whole, this will lead to pastoral disaster and the church constantly second-guessing itself. But according to the Chicago Statement, perfection only lies in the original autographs which the church no longer has, so is it left to the textual critics to do all of the second guessing for us? Staying with Mohler and Chicago logic, this will mean that the church does not have confidence to preach from the whole Bible because there are parts that are "less than totally truthful and trustworthy" (31)! In other words, using nothing but Mohler’s own claims, I can turn his own argument back on him.

10) He writes of the faithful as those who endorse a "biblical worldview" (52). But is Scripture there to provide a “worldview”? And notice how those who speak of a "biblical worldview" often disagree what that worldview includes, which is to say that it is not self-evident, read straight from the pages of Scripture.

11) As already noted in relation to his understanding of "truth", his use of certain categories is unsophisticated at best, grossly fat fingered at worst. So he writes of those who are "committed to higher criticism" with "naturalistic assumptions" etc. This is largely rhetorical bluff. 

12) Mohler claims that the Bible says things about "itself" (37-39). But the fact remains that the Bible says nothing about itself, ever. The Bible, as we have it, as a complete and closed canon of Scripture, did not exist for hundreds of years after the writing of individual Bible texts. For example, when Revelation speaks of those who would take “away from the words of the book of this prophecy” etc (22:19), this refers to Revelation, not Genesis-Revelation (excluding the Apocrypha, of course!). The important process of canonisation has been sidelined from this discussion.

13) Further, when he leans on certain passages to try to say something about the whole Bible, he ignores what these texts imply. For example, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is about the preached Word, the gospel message, not the whole Bible as a whole (or in part). Romans 9:17 refers to whatever Paul understood to be Scripture, thus did not include the New Testament at the very least, and perhaps included some that the church did not later endorse and perhaps excluded other parts. Even if we say these texts say “the whole bible” (which they don’t), his logic only works because of an impoverished notion of truth (see point 4 above)

14) In tackling theological plurality between Deuteronomy 20:16-17 and Matthew 5:43-48, he asserts "If we cannot trust the Bible, in all its parts, to reveal God with perfect truthfulness, how can we know him at all?" (54). Of course, this labours under the same problematic understanding of "truthfulness", which I noted above. But one must ask: what about Old Testament writers, who did not have the New Testament, and no doubt large swathes of the Old Testament. Did they know God "at all"? Sorry, Isaiah, you heathen don’t-know-God-for-toffee muppet! (saying that they simply ran with what they had doesn’t extricate Mohler from this problem. Think about it.)

15) In fact, Mohler’s attempt to deal with the "problem texts" Joshua 6; Acts 9:7 and 22:9; Deuteronomy 20:16-17 and Matthew 5:43-48), relies on rhetorical bluff, and demonstrates again why his understanding of biblical inspiration in terms of Chicago inerrancy is insufficiently biblical. It cannot look at the Bible squarely without being refuted (for more on this point, see my contribution to Enns’ “Aha” series)

16) It goes without saying that Mohler underestimates the problems associated with affirming the Chicago Statement. Of course, this applies to article 12: "we further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and flood", but its hermeneutic, lack of grounding in the phenomenon of the texts of Scripture, and lack of doctrinal placement could be noted as well.

17) Mohler opines: Not to follow his conclusion is to “set ourselves upon project of determining which texts of the Bible share those perfections, if any. We will use a human criteria judgement to decide which texts their divine authority and which texts can be trusted" (30-31)

But this does not follow. I do not affirm biblical inerrancy (I consider it, among other things, unbiblical), yet I am not constantly trying to determine which Bible texts are the Word of God. I am happy to affirm all Scripture as fully inspired by God. It is only by adding Mohler’s unevangelised notion of "truth" into the mix that leads to problems.

Exercise: Go and preach from Jonah one week, assuming it is all historical, and the next week assuming it is all fiction, and see if it makes an ounce of difference to the message that you bring with authority in the church!

Rather, and this is where I finish, it is Mohler who has imported "human criteria" to disastrous effect into his understanding of the truth of the Bible.

I’m sure there are another few points of critique to note, and I should, no doubt, mention points of agreement, but hey, this is a blog post so I can do what I want!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Essential software for postgraduate biblical research

I’ve spoken about all of these on my blog before, but to sum up: there are three I would focus on:

BW1) Bibleworks 9 – simply the best for textual analysis, work with the original languages and such like. This is essential. I have had a few – for me – fairly major insights using the search functions this offers. It has helped that I added on a number of lexicons and the DSS.


Log2) Logos 5 – simply the best for secondary material, dictionaries, commentaries and such like. It can also manage original language analysis. I have Philo, the Word Commentary series, the Anchor Bible Dictionary and much more besides. There is nothing like looking up material in secondary resources with this gem. 


NB3) For word-processing, I have used Notabene, together with a bibliography I inherited from Max Turner, my supervisor, who inherited his, I believe, from Charlie Moule. Tom Wright and Mark Nanos are two scholars who also use this software. I can’t tell you how much time I have saved with the features this software has in place.


* I’ve added links on my sidebar to their respective webpages.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guest review of Durie’s controversial book, The Third Choice

Whatever one thinks of the thesis of the fascinating reviewed book below (does it fearlessly hit the nail on the head? Is it one-sided? Is the picture it paints of Islam unfairly negative?), the questions it raises are of utmost importance and most discussion worthy, especially given recent horrific events in Iraq.

Incidentally, if you want to do something practical to help Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq, please see this very helpful web article, and this page, associated with the Vicar of Baghdad.

The guest review is written by Adam Dodds, senior Pastor of Dunedin Elim Church. He has been a Teaching Fellow at the University of Otago Theology Department, New Zealand, where he completed his PhD on Lesslie Newbigin’s Trinitarian Missiology. Adam has a MTheol from the University of St. Andrews (UK) and an MLitt from work completed at Princeton Theological Seminary (USA) and the University of St. Andrews. Adam has written ‘The Abrahamic Faiths? Continuity and Discontinuity in Christian and Islamic Doctrine’, Evangelical Quarterly Vol. 81 Issue 3 (July 2009: 230-253), and his most recent publications is “The Centrality of the Church's Missionary Nature: Theological Reflections & Practical Implications”, Missiology: An International Review Vol. XL No. 4 (October 2012: 393-407).


Mark Durie, The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom (Deror Books, 2010), reviewed by Dr Adam Dodds

In publishing The Third Choice Mark Durie has provided an important contribution toward the study of Islam and specifically dhimmitude. The Third Choice is bifocal in nature, with chapters Two through to Five introducing Islam for non-Muslim readers, and then chapters Five through to Eight progress to focusing specifically on the subject of Dhimmitude and how Islam relates to non-Muslims.

Readers who have read other introductions to Islam will find new information in chapters Two through to Five. In Durie’s clear and concise introduction, he explains the importance of the Sunna – the example of Muhammad, as well as the Qur’an, to Islam and to Muslims, explaining that Muhammad is to be emulated in every way. He clearly shows that understanding this is the key to comprehending both historic and contemporaneous Muslim behaviour. In chapter Four, Durie explains polemic against other faiths as part of Islam’s message, sharia law, jihad, the challenge of lawful lying and misinformation, and da‘wah, frequently illustrated with contemporary examples.

Chapter Five – ‘Muhammad against the Unbelievers’ – comprises the linking chapter between the two foci of this book and also constitutes the beginning of the book’s original contribution. Here he examines the life of Muhammad according to Ibn Ishaq’s sira, using the experience of rejection as the interpretive key. He suggests, not without controversy, that Muhammad’s repeated experiences of rejection, and the evolution of his responses to rejection, form the historical and theological bedrock of Islam and consequently of Muslim thought and action. This then is the foundation for Muhammad’s, and thus Muslims’, treatment of non-Muslims, providing the context for the dhimma pact.

Building on the work of several scholars, especially Andrew Bostom and Bat Ye’or (who writes the Foreword), Durie offers his own study of dhimmitude and its effects. Drawing on his training as a linguist, Durie’s argument, which is conversant with Islamic primary sources and Qur’anic commentaries, is both unnerving and persuasive. He first describes the Dhimma in Islamic doctrine and history (chapter Six), its lived reality (chapter Seven), before describing the Dhimma’s return (chapter Eight). This is the heart of the book, the aim of which is to offer “a truth encounter with the theology, origins and impact of the dhimma, including the life of Muhammad. This is offered as a resource for understanding the times in which we live.” (229) The dhimma is “the theologically-driven political, social, and legal system, imposed by Islamic law upon non-Muslims as an alternative to Islam (i.e. conversion) or the sword (i.e. death or captivity). The dhimma is the ‘third choice’ offered to non-Muslims under jihad conditions, and those who have accepted it are known as dhimmis. Their condition, dhimmitude,” is described in detail in these chapters. (ix)

Doctrinally, dhimmis are the people of the Book (Jews and Christians), but in practice, dhimmis also include other non-Muslim peoples (such as Hindus and Zoroastrians) who have lived under Islamic rule, often for many centuries. Drawing on historical Islamic and non-Islamic sources, Durie gives a detailed account of the nature of dhimmitude. This dhimma pact acknowledges that the dhimmi’s life is forfeit, and only by paying a special tax called jizya, annually, is the dhimmi’s life protected from becoming the spoils of war. Durie brings to light the humiliating and psychologically-crushing nature of the jizya payment rituals which are designed to reinforce, to all parties, the superior nature of both Islam and Muslims. Consequently a dhimmi place of worship (church or synagogue) must not be taller than a mosque, a dhimmi’s home must not be taller or more impressive than the home of Muslims, and dhimmis are forbidden from criticising Islam. Durie further explains the dhimma regulations in relation to conversion, marriage, restrictions on worship and the practice of faith, opposition to Muslims, vulnerability and legal disability, rendering assistance and loyalty to Muslims, restrictions on the exercise of authority, restrictions on housing, public appearance, status and behaviour. (141-7)

Fully aware of the disturbing and objectionable nature of the dhimma, Durie engages with voices “which seek to conceal the objectionable features of the dhimma system.” (169) He views such attempts at misinformation to serve the purpose of da‘wah (Islamic mission) as well as protecting the honour of Islam. In response, Durie refers to the Qur’an (especially 9:29), the sunna, tafsir, and an impressive array of Islamic scholars to argue his case.

Durie shows that this doctrinal teaching is very much a lived reality by citing historical descriptions of dhimmitude from the inception of Islam through to the twentieth century, in countries in north Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Focussing on the persecution of Jews and Christians, Durie contends that dhimmitude and the subsequent conditions it generates accounts for the total disappearance of Christian communities from north-west Africa, southern Arabia and Afganistan, and is directly related to important twentieth century events such as the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the Serbian war against Bosnians, and the creation of the state of Israel. Although the formal dhimma system was forcibly brought to an end by European powers in the past two centuries, Durie notes in chapter Eight that dhimmitude is still an on-going reality in at least two ways. First, Western political leaders, and some church leaders, continue to act in accordance with the dhimma pact without realising it. Second, the dhimma continues to shape Muslim thinking of non-Muslims and is directly related to persecution of non-Muslims, especially Christians. He writes: “Christians are persecuted in the name of diverse faiths and ideologies… However, it is Islam which is the largest ideological contributor to anti-Christian persecution around the world today.” (187)

In The Third Choice Durie makes no attempt to remain neutral, and in the final chapter his agenda becomes explicit: “The dhimma must be opposed for everyone’s sake, because this ancient code degrades and dehumanises Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” (225) Durie’s overall aim appears to be genuine reconciliation so that Muslims and non-Muslims can coexist peaceably and with mutual respect. This is the aim of much inter-faith dialogue, but he demonstrates that when the Islamic theology of dhimmitude is not understood interfaith activities can become counter-productive. Durie contends that this noble aim can only be achieved by way of a truth encounter with the hard reality of the dhimma, “for with no truth encounter, genuine reconciliation cannot be achieved.” (226)

In a world where conflicting accounts of Islam abound, Mark Durie’s The Third Choice is refreshing in several ways. The Third Choice is scholarly, lucid, succinct, and seeks to be not only analytical but also constructive. Explaining that dhimmitude is the subject of his book, Durie says that he “describes the challenge posed by Islam’s treatment of non-Muslims, exposes the spiritual roots of this challenge, and offers a solution...” (ix) Durie carries out his first two objectives well, but his third remains underdeveloped. The Third Choice is detailed in its scholarship, thoroughly engages with primary sources as well as with an assortment of Islamic and non-Islamic secondary sources. Critics of this work will argue that it is one-sided and overly critical of Islam, and yet Durie’s argument is compelling. What is certain is The Third Choice is an important contribution to the growing body of literature on dhimmitude.

The Third Choice is recommended reading to all who are interested in the study of Islam, both as a general introduction and as a study on dhimmitude. It is recommended reading for Jews and Christians and is a must-read for Jewish and Christian leaders who must reckon with Islam, because Islam’s “self-definition includes a deep rejection of Christianity and Judaism.” (44) This book is also essential reading for those engaged in interfaith dialogue with Muslims, for those concerned with religious persecution and human rights, and for those interested in law, politics and international relations. Finally, with the recent actions of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Iraq and Syria toward Christian and other religious minorities, informed discussion of dhimmitude has become both topical and urgent.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Tom Wright awarded prestigious British Academy medal

Just heard via Mike Bird that Tom Wright (see the picture above on my blog header!) has been ‘awarded the Burkitt Medal for his work in biblical studies. Professor Wright described himself as “thrilled and astonished”, saying that it was “a great honour” to have been chosen by the British Academy’.

For the full story, see The Saint article. Many congrats to you, Tom!

Am I the only one to think, whenever I read PFG, of Roald Dahl’s BFG?!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Wise words

Saw this one on Facebook today
“I often think that students take the view that one of my jobs as a professor is to reassure them that the Bible does not say anything that they do not already think, and to show how when it says something outrageous it does not mean it” - John Goldingay
(This is from a forthcoming IVP Academic book, Do We Need the New Testament?)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to shake your faith

Unfortunately, one of the most effective ways to shake the faith of some "bible believing" Christians is not to make them read the works of "theological liberals", or digest critical scholars such as Ehrman or Lüdemann. Just give them a simple Synopsis of the Gospels, with nothing but bible texts in parallel, and the building can come tumbling down.

It's tragic.

A gospel-shaped imagining of Scripture that is i) rooted in tradition, ii) dogmatically located with care and wisdom, and iii) responsible to the phenomenon of the Bible itself, is a crying need for many Christian communities.

We need folk like Pete Enns, John Goldingay, Kenton Sparks, David Crump, Chris Hays, Craig Allert and the many others who have courageously risked not just the approval of their peers, but also in some cases jobs and financial security, for the good of the wider church and its mission.

Keep it up, Christian colleagues, this is important work!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Blog birthday celebration: nine years old! And some blogging advice.

So I thought I'd post a couple of icons to aid your mediations (now stop saying I don't take religion seriously)

photo 1

photo 2

In other news, some advice on blogging, in light of my nine years experience:

1. Stop taking yourself so seriously and have fun! Normal people (i.e. non-sycophants) don't like a scholar's blog, however famous a scholar he or she is, when all they do is trumpet their own scholarship and sound aloof. Instead of R rating, or 18, there should be an Arrogance-o-meter warning for some blogs, to alert the unsuspecting.
2. Blogs are not usually the place for long essays. Keep in punchy.
3. Can't do scholarship on blogs? Depends on what you mean by scholarship, but you can certainly do some real thinking and engage in extremely helpful peer feedback. Blog your thoughts and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
4. Don't be afraid of offending people who get offended on behalf of others. They would have us all locked up in a politically correct prison.
5. Expect lunatics, hobby horse merchants and "I know-I'm-right-so-I'm-parachuting-in-here-to-clear-up-your-ideological-nonsense" type people to comment and try not to get too pissed off by their arrogance. Count to 10 and kick a squirrel, you'll feel better, I promise.
6. Add funny pictures of cats cos that's why many of us surf the internet at all.
7. If you're going to review a book, and here I must speak to myself, make sure it is fair and not shit. More people tend to read blog reviews than they do journal reviews (not that they are much better), so make sure it respects a scholar’s efforts. I think of one review, recently, on First Things which needed a kick up the arse.

I’m sure there is more to say, but I’m already running low on sleep-deprived energy (with thanks to my new adorable son of mine!)

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Tippex-thinner (noun phrase)

Pronunciation: tipɛks-θɪnər

1. (minor, colloquial) A solvent used to make old or dried out Tippex easier to spread on paper.
2. (major, universal) A legal hallucinogenic abused by naughty 80s-90s school children, inhaled by drenching school tie with said substance.


"I love long walks on the beach with my girlfriend, until the Tippex-thinner wears off and I realise that I'm just dragging a stolen mannequin around a Lidl parking-lot"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In other news

The main man himself, Jon Bennett, has been writing a fun multiple part review of Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul. You really do need to check those out and observe, among other things, his gifting for illustrations! The kind of discussion his posts could generate is what makes the internet so rewarding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Two new reviews of Paul’s Divine Christology

I need to apologise for this horrendously self-promoting post. I’ll go and stub my toes a few times as punishment. But before that:

a) Johnny Walker has written a very kind review here. He concludes:

Tilling's defense of a divine Christology in Paul is the sharpest to date. He builds off the work of Hurtado, Bauckham, and Fee, while strengthening their individual arguments by filling crucial lacunae in their work. Similarly, he confronts the strongest opponents in such a way that avoids endless debates over exegetical minutia. The sheer range of data discussed and included will make any formidable critique a colossally demanding effort. Any future work on Paul's Christology will ignore Tilling's argument to its own peril.

I like the word “peril” and I plan to use it more! I was particularly glad to see that he understood something my critics have missed: "Paul's Christ-relation need not be identical to God-relation ... rather, it must only show a deep compatibility". Quite right! This is something I discuss in chapter 10.

b) Also now available is my friend, Dr Carl Sweatman’s Stone-Campbell extremely lucid and kind review, here. Carl’s own PhD, “The Spirit and the Cross, Divine Wisdom and  Communal  Discernment: A Critical Exploration of 1 Corinthians 2:1–3:4” is one to read and Carl a scholar to keep on your radar!

He concludes:

Tilling is to be commended not only for his ability to engage fairly and thoroughly with scholars on both sides of the debate but also for his patient exegesis and rereading of the primary and secondary sources, and allowing the data to direct the outcome of the argument. Tilling’s monograph serves as an example of how to do scholarly research in NT studies. In terms of weaknesses, one will be hard-pressed to find any, unless of course one wishes that Tilling brought in the disputed Pauline letters as a way for either comparison or contrast with the undisputed ones. Fortunately, at least for one disputed letter (Ephesians), Tilling has already addressed this concern in the 2012 Festschrift for Max Turner

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Enns’ “aha” series

Is well worth a look. I wrote no.10 in the series, here.

Adam Neder’s stellar Participation in Christ

I’ve been so enjoying Neder’s little book which can be purchased here. I highly recommend it!

Some nuggets from chapter 1:

“[R]evelation is not merely the offering and acquisition of information. It is rational, to be sure … [b]ut since it is Dei loquentis persona, it is an event in which God establishes an orderly fellowship between himself and human beings … Thus revelation is inseparable from reconciliation”

“Jesus Christ creates disciples as he becomes Lord of their existence, not as he becomes part of their existence”

“Faith looks to Jesus Christ, not to itself, and should it decide to contemplate itself, it would find only darkness”

What I found most helpful in chap 1 was the explanation of Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis, a position that Barth derived from the nature of God’s grace as evident in the event of revelation.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Spiritual Gifs

Being a NT lecturer can sometimes be like …



Romans 7:8

hose mask dont touch


Call the exorcist, honey

Cat walks on counter, kind of


How theological debates spiral out of control

guy lights balloon on fire


When Christian apologetics goes south

cat smacks at hands

Bultmann, “the powers” and human culpability

In my paper for the “Evil Conference” recently, I spoke about three key issues, one of which I mention now. 1) I argued that Sin, Death and such like are not seen, by Paul, to be in a hermeneutically separate compartment from “the powers”, satan, angels, demons, ta stoicheia etc. They are all interrelated, so one set (usually Sin & Death) cannot be used (as some like Dunn, do) to suggest a Pauline “demythologisation” of the other set, “the powers” etc.

But put like this, real difficulties remain. Although a straightforward “demythologisation” project (as practiced by Dunn in this respect) runs in to problems, what does one do with “demons” and such like? Bultmann had a (flawed) answer. Let me back up to explain.

David Congdon, in his essay (“Eschatologizing Apocalyptic”) in Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology, details the debate between Käsemann and Bultmann. B agrees with K that Paul speaks of “the powers” and such like, but it would be a mistake to conceive of this as something happening independently of humans “over our heads”. As David summarises: “Without this intrinsic relation to the particularity of life in the world, apocalypticism becomes little more than mythological or metaphysical abstraction” (123).

For what it is worth, in many ways I tend to side with Bultmann in this debate – he gave K a bit of a whooping - and I likewise remain unconvinced that K was right to accuse B of being systematically “overly individualistic”. This was K’s famous critique of B’s understanding of σῶμα. But §17 of Theology of the NT, as well as his “relational” ontology in §21 is arguably enough to correct this caricature (see also Christof Landmesser, “Existentiale Interpretation und Historische Kritik. Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft Im Gespräch Zwischen Rudolf Bultmann und Ernst Käsemann,” in Theologie und Wirklichkeit: Diskussionen der Bultmann-Schule, eds Martin Bauspieß, Christof Landmesser, and Friederike Portenhauser).

My problem with B is different. His brilliant section, “Flesh, Sin, and World” (pp. 227-269 of his TNT), is the best summary of the Pauline data I have ever read. Seriously. Yet in avoiding the danger of abstraction it ends, especially im §25,  with a strong emphasis on particularly human culpability and guilt. This is how Paul’s Sin language is ultimately parsed, a result of B’s apologetic concerns, dovetailing as they do with a beautiful account of the truth of theology being bound up with the relation between the human and God (as in §21). But this is the problem: that account of the human involves an emphasis largely foreign to Paul, and one which then distorts B’s understanding of Paul’s “justification” language (which as a result becomes about the solution to legal culpability and guilt).

So what went wrong? The claim that theology must also be a movement of human faith is one I affirm. Abstraction is a danger. Check. But it has been undertaken by B, in this instance, with an account or concept of “the human” that required further “evangelising”. In Paul, the human is not primarily the locus of a scheme of culpability-guilt, but is rather grasped in terms of relationships, with others, with God, with “powers” and forces of evil and much besides. B loses sight of this in his otherwise superb section, “Flesh, Sin and World”.

I suggest this, then, as a solution, one that keep B’s precious insights, particularly the goal to avoid abstraction, without allowing his “unevangelised” account of “the human” to wreck mischief in the loosing of a form of retributive justice into Paul. The apocalyptic realm is certainly not “over our heads”, but it is reflected in communal practices, relational networks and such like. In this way, valuable insights from the “Paul and empire” crowd can also be engaged fruitfully, and abstraction is avoided. What is more, it i) seems to trace the dimensions of Paul’s own arguments more precisely. And ii) one does not need to naively deny the “ontological reality”, if that is the right language (bearing in mind Augustine and others!), of the “realm” of “the powers” in the name of a “modern worldview”. In holding on to B’s concerns in this way, with a more profoundly evangelised notion of the human, one need not feel that the interpreter is engaging in anachronistic apologetics, but rather exploring the network of Pauline themes themselves.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lessing’s ugly great ditch

dog jump fail

Responding to Andrew Perriman’s critique (long post warning!)

As much as I would like to, I don’t have the time to respond to all reviews of my arguments as they are reflected in How God Became Jesus and Paul’s Divine Christology. But I thought, as a one of, I’d spend time reflecting on Andrew Perriman’s critiques in his blog post “Chris Tilling aims a relational christology at Bart Ehrman”. I do this because Andrew is a friend from whom I have learnt much, I enjoy his books, and I resonate with many of his claims. Plus, he’s annoyingly handsome. So I thought it worthwhile to scrape together the following points in response to that blog. As it takes more time, often, to write shorter pieces, I’ll simply hammer out my arguments without regard for word-limit!

A pdf of the following can be downloaded here.

A) At the heart of Andrew’s complaint is that my approach pays insufficient attention to what he dubs the “lordship narrative”, that I make claims that run counter to this “narrative”. As he sums up at the end: “[Tilling] gives insufficient attention to narrative dynamics—to the apocalyptic narrative by which the lordship of Jesus is determined ...The lordship narrative identifies Jesus with faithful ‘Israel’, not with YHWH”

B) He then makes a number of comments about material in 1 Corinthians 8-10. I list what I consider to be the most discussion worthy:

1. “[T]he affirmation that for Paul and his readers Jesus is kyrios does not explain how or why he has that status. Notwithstanding the confessional character of the verse, it’s a mistake to read it in isolation, apart from the apocalyptic narrative which everywhere in the New Testament accounts for Jesus’ lordship”

2. “I disagree with Tilling that in the argument against idolatry in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Paul makes the relation between believers and Christ directly analogous to the relation between Israel and YHWH”.

3. So the analogy is “between participation in the saving experience of the exodus and participation in the saving experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection”.

4. On 1 Cor 8:12: “The relational argument here identifies Christ not with YHWH but with those weak believers against whom the strong sin”



On the issues tied up in A) I offer the following points.

i) Andrew’s “lordship narrative” is insufficiently informed by the phenomenon of Paul’s own letters. The evidence in almost every chapter of every Pauline letter is that a pattern of data is apparent in which Paul speaks of the relation to the risen Lord in ways analogous only to the relationship between Israel and YHWH. By separating this “lordship narrative” away from that evidence is to not allow the Pauline data to detail what the “lordship narrative” consists of. Andrew divides what Paul can keep together (accepting for a moment Andrew is correct about his particular account of the “lordship narrative”, which I would indeed challenge, but that is another post).

ii) This is why Andrew is, I think, wrong to claim that my argument tries to answer questions the “lordship narrative” does not answer. This is the case, I suggest, only if this “lordship narrative” loses connection to the Pauline data and becomes an artificial construct.

iii) I thus insist that the data I have discussed in terms of the Christ-relation and the God-relation is not an anachronistic projection back into these texts. I am, on the contrary, attempting to key into the nature of Paul’s “way of knowing” – this is why “epistemology” and “relational monotheism” are also historical explanatory conditions. My concern is that a “lordship narrative”, as Andrew appears to portray it, does not account for these issues well (see his point 3 above, which imports a curious distinction discordant with these explanatory conditions). Indeed, Andrew’s account seems to imply that dogmatic christological concerns are anachronistic to Paul. But this is true only if one assumes an anachronistic account of what Christology is, which seems to be implicit in his construal of the “lordship narrative”. In other words, Andrew is the one guilty of anachronism.

iv) He argues that the “lordship narrative identifies Jesus with faithful ‘Israel’, not with YHWH”. But where does this account of Paul’s data come from? I suggest it problematically involves the heavy-handed imposition of a “wider narrative”, the appropriateness and explanatory power of which are heavily debated in scholarly circles and are by no means assured. Andrew is reading Paul, as Tom Wright does, in light of the story of Israel. Fine. But the problem with this type of reading is that one can end up saying “Paul said this, but he really meant this” too frequently (I critique Andrew for doing just this in my Paul’s Divine Christology). It treats Paul’s language as synecdochic and in so doing these “narrative readings” often end up making themes within Paul’s own letters peripheral, slaves to that supposed “wider narrative” which, let us not forget, Paul never articulates (on this, see the wonderful collection of essays in Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment, edited by B.W. Longenecker, Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox, 2002).

v) Now before I am misunderstood, I tend to agree that the “wider narrative” has a role to play, but the only way to adjudicate the plausibility of these various schemes is the extent to which they explain the Pauline data. To understand Paul, Paul’s own words and the themes in Paul’s letters must stay at the centre. I claim I have done this. Has Andrew? I let the reader adjudicate.

vi) This is to say that I would tend to agree with Andrew that Christ is sometimes portrayed in terms of “faithful Israel” by Paul, but certainly not so as to effectively delete the import of the reams of Pauline data which must not be ignored, data I partly summarise in HGBJ and detail in PDC. Given the relational nature of knowing and the import of this kind of monotheism, this Pauline language is of great theological import that cannot be swept away in the name of an insufficiently inductive “narrative”.



Turning to his various points under B), it seems to me I need to clarify what I am claiming and how. This is natural enough, and is the best part of such interaction: being forced to articulate oneself more clearly, or at least so that I am better understood.

1. Of course, the “how” and “why” questions are crucial, and I’m interested in them myself. I did not deal with both questions in PDC, only the “how”, but the “why” question will be dealt with in a forthcoming volume I am tentatively entitling Causing Christology. A key point I will insist on: both can only be rightly answered when the Pauline pattern of data is kept firmly in mind. And I am not persuaded Andrew does this. He then adds that “it’s a mistake to read [1 Cor 8:6] in isolation, apart from the apocalyptic narrative which everywhere in the New Testament accounts for Jesus’ lordship”. I would add that it is an even greater mistake to read 1 Cor 8:6 in isolation from 1 Cor 8-10, and ultimately Andrew ends up doing just that. I should note, my reading is not dependent on a Shema reading of just 8:6, which, by the way, I see no reason to doubt. But if the majority of scholars change their mind on this, the rest of my thesis stands. My approach is most importantly based on 8:1-3 and how this is then run through the entire argument to at least 10:22.

2. Andrew disagrees “that in the argument against idolatry in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Paul makes the relation between believers and Christ directly analogous to the relation between Israel and YHWH”. Clarification is needed here. I state in my thesis that the nature of the comparison is one of analogy and that they are not exactly the same. But, given the massive overlap of themes by which 2nd Temple Judaism relationally distinguished the transcendent uniqueness of God, Paul’s (relational) epistemology in 8:1-3, the deliberate emplotment of the Christ—Christ-follower-relation in terms of the YHWH—Israel-relation via intertexts etc., I see no reason to back away from my conclusion on the basis of these chapters in 1 Cor. Furthermore, there are dozens of other passages, noted in HGBJ and discussed at length in PDC which add support to my construal. My analysis of 1 Cor 8-10, in PDC, was the springboard to the sea of relevant texts in the following (largest) chapter of the book, where I analyse language across the letters, and the amount of supporting texts is large, to say the least. Until someone can show me a different way of reading all of these, I see no reason to doubt my conclusions. A wave of the narrative wand does not make them go away, especially when that narrative is insufficiently informed by those texts.

3. The claim that “the analogy is between participation in the saving experience of the exodus and participation in the saving experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection” needs to be exegetically justified, and for Andrew’s case also over against my construal. I would be happy to admit that there is sometimes an analogy of “saving experience”, but certainly not to the exclusion of the abundance of material I analyse in my own work.

4. On 1 Cor 8:12 he claims that “[t]he relational argument here identifies Christ not with YHWH but with those weak believers against whom the strong sin”. I have already analysed various interpretative options in PDC, but here I simply note: a) Contra Andrew’s implication, Christ and the “brothers” are not here strictly “identified”, i.e., it does not say that the brothers are Christ in terms of a simple equation. Rather, the text states that sin against the “brothers” means sinning against Christ. b) The point, then, is to explain how Paul can so closely associate Christ with the “brothers” that sin against one is sin against the other. This is the point of my argument, and to this end I, among other things, recall that “from an early time in Israel sins against persons were believed to be sins against God... see 2 Sam 12:9, 10, 13; Gen 39:9; Prov 14:31; 17:5”, as noted by Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51–100 (Waco: Word, 1990), 17. Likewise, YHWH is the one against whom David sins, and YHWH “alone” (“σοὶ μόνῳ ἥμαρτον” Ps 50:6 LXX). Yet this no more identifies YHWH as Bathsheba or Uriah in Psalm 51, but the logic helps us to understand Paul’s link in 1 Cor 8:12. c) Therefore, my thesis certainly does not require that Christ not be associated with the brothers! Indeed, it requires it! d) I then remember the wider structure of 1 Cor 8-10, the programmatic first three verses of 1 Cor 8, and the various other explicit links between the Christ-relation and the YHWH-relation, and this potential dynamic of 8:12 becomes relevant.


It remains for me to note three things. i) my arguments relating to divine Christology do not attempt to explain everything about Paul. My focus has remained restricted to matters directly related to the Pauline divine Christology debate. In light of the above, I do not yet see how the matters Andrew raises impinge on my wider argumentation at all.

I am delighted that he has taken the time to comment on my work, but ii) I am concerned that his own particular theological passions, legitimate as some of them are, are too often artificially pushed through the texts. In so doing, Paul’s own language is side-lined and thereby disjointed. It seems everything needs to be about Andrew’s narrative and his particular vision of eschatology which, it should be noted, the vast majority of scholars have not accepted.

So I must ask, iii) are there deeper reasons for his pushback? What motivates his concerns? This could be part of the explanation: I remember a parable he used in his nice little book, Otherways, also online here. He stated that:

“Scripture is like a forest. As people explore the forest, they tend after a while to follow the paths that others have taken, simply because it’s easier … An emerging theology is learning to ask whether these paths are really the best way of getting to know the forest. We recognize that the paths are not original to the forest, they are man-made … It would be nice, in a way, if we could leave the forest alone for a while, let the undergrowth regrow, let the old paths disappear, and then start again, so that we come to know the forest for the first time”

Does Andrew consider a “divine Christology” the kind of “old path” that needs to disappear so that we can start again? Is Andrew’s pushback based on the suspicion that a divine Christology is the kind of dogmatic theology his narrative approach allegedly steps behind? There is something precious in the spirit of the parable, but it also smacks of the kind of naïve hyper-protestant idealism, with its rejection of “tradition” as the problem, that I encounter most often among conservative evangelicals. This is to say that there are serious problems, here, not least as it pertains to the development of the biblical canon within the emerging creedal orthodoxy of the church.

PDF excerpt of Beyond Old and New Perspectives

Used with Permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers, I’m glad to post here the TOC, Introduction and first chapter, with Campbell’s response to Alan Torrance.

Info on the Wipf and Stock page

It is downloadable here.

Bring on the haters caption contest!

“Salvation-history readings getting through Romans 5-8 before they get to chapters 9-11”

“Apocalyptic readings of Romans 1-4 before getting to 5-8”

“Lou Martyn getting through Galatians 3 before hitting chapter 4”

-- Joke! It’s a joke!

“Inerrantists reading a synopsis of the gospels”

“Pauline divine Christology deniers getting through pretty much any chapter of Paul’s letters”


Thursday, May 29, 2014

An attempted Yugoslav Attack against the Accelerated Dragon

Played a fun game of chess last night. You can play through the game (together with my annotations) HERE (I was Black).

This was the position after White’s 22nd move, and White has just fallen into a trap. Can you find Black’s next move? (See the game continuation for the solution)

Black to move and win
Black to Move