Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reviewing NTW’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God

I’m presently writing a review for Anvil of Wright’s PFG. As I expected, there is much here which has wound me up, much with which I disagree. But equally, and as I expected, there is much to admire, and I have learnt again to appreciate the brilliance and breadth of Wright’s vision and skill. Those who simply dismiss Wright’s massive work—for whatever reason—are deluding themselves! Also, there are nuggets on the way such as this:

‘body’, ‘flesh’, ‘mind’, ‘heart’, ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ and ‘will’. These words sometimes appear to designate different ‘parts’ of a human being, but, as many have pointed out, it is better to see them as each encoding a particular way of looking at the human being as a whole but from one particular angle (491)

Useful. I often hear, in evangelical circles of a more charismatic bent, that a precise analysis of biblical anthropological language is a key for discipleship. But I don’t think we should, properly speaking, talk about an anthropology that the bible is “about” at all (what it is “about” for the church is defined in terms of the Word of God). Either way, Wright’s point here is a useful way of teaching on those issues.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Barthian Actualism in 5 steps

Okay theologian friends, here is my summary of the logic involved in affirming actualistic theology. I've used Nimmo (Being in Action plus his article in the Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth) in the main.

A) is this broadly correct? and
B) if you think this is a faulty theological vision, where does it go wrong?

Actualism, in a nutshell, "conceives of God and Jesus Christ, and (derivatively) of human beings, as beings-in-action" (Nimmo). To get there, it argues (while not pinning anything on the numbering which, to an extent, artificially separates united points):

1. God is who he is in revelation
2.a. This revelation involves events, acts
2.b. This divine "eventfulness" specifically has the name "Jesus"
3.a. So God's being is eventful, active, being-in-action
3.b. As the elect one, and electing God, this divine being-in-action names the event in which God elects to be God for us, and in do doing constitutes himself - his own being - in terms of this particular grace and love.

But actualistic ontology is a christological vision for all of theology, so:

4. This further entails that actualistic theology frames and structures anthropology (which for Barth derives from Christology) —we too are beings-in-action— and thus Barth's theological ethics. It also has ramifications for proclamation and Scripture becoming the Word of God, and the being-in-action of the church.
5. This is to say that actualistic theology resists any being-not-in-action, anything "static", whether it be speech about God, humans, or whatever else. It involves a "Nein", in other words, to substantialistic theology "in which God and human beings would be construed as fixed and determinate quantities in a certain abstraction from their histories, acts, and relationships" (Nimmo in The Westminster Handbook)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


I was interviewed about my forthcoming Eerdmans book while at SBLAAR couple of weeks ago. The proper video will be released early next year. This was a section responding to questions via Tweets (read: Twits).

Me on "Paul, Evil, and Justification Debates" at St Mary's

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harvey responds to Leithart on First Things

It’s a great piece, and you can read it here. One haymaker:

“Of course, we cannot deny that God is omnipresent, but we can question whether that presence is flat, so to speak. Incarnation, Pentecost, and the return of Christ, for instance, as well as the consummated form of his presence at the End, invite an account of rich variety-in-presence. And, of course, Christians have dared to identify intensities of presence elsewhere: God speaks through prophets, anoints kings, and heals miraculously on occasion, with thin spaces, sacred spaces and all manner of sacramental spaces being regularly identified. In such accounts, God’s omnipresence is far from uniform. It is perhaps better—as so often the case with the triune God—to speak of unity and distinction here”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Post: TJ Lang on Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul

It’s a treat to have Dr. T.J. Lang, Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Durham University, write a brief book notice about Douglas Campbell’s exciting new book, Framing Paul. Without further ado, I’ll pass the mic to TJ…IMG_0861 

Conventions and perceived consensus on subjects in New Testament scholarship are important for ongoing research. They can be very good things. But they can also become lures to lazy scholarship—and boring scholarship. Do we not all too often find the conclusions of previous eras repeated without remembrance of the arguments that sustained them? Might those arguments depend on claims we would no longer accept and presumptions we should no longer share?

With respect to Pauline scholarship the usual conventions are well known. If you want to write on Paul, you best stick to the so-called Hauptbriefe. Philippians is great, too. It’s fine to bring in something from 1 Thessalonians if you can, and even Philemon, but they’re mostly harmless. The other canonical letters, whatever you really think about them, are best left alone; it’s just easier this way. This convention certainly has advantages. It’s clearly more convenient to write on Paul when six or seven or nine of his letters have been cleanly amputated from the data set. But what if the so-called disputed letters aren’t fake, and instead our habit of reasoning on these matters is dubious? Furthermore, even if deemed inauthentic in good faith to critical standards, shouldn’t excluded letters merit some consideration, or even some account for why the Pauline legacy has been taken in a particular direction and why or how the differences matter. Take E.P. Sanders’ magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism, arguably the most important book on Paul in the 20th century (it’s surely on the shortlist). No passages from Ephesians and Colossians are ever cited in the main text. Not one. (Although Ephesians does appear in one footnote and Colossians in two.) Texts from the Pastoral Epistles are never referred to at all. (This isn’t a trick, like the famous listing for “Truth, ultimate” in the subject index, which directs the reader to three blank pages.) These “Pauline” letters are denied any role in defining or contributing to the critical analysis of Paul’s thought. It’s no wonder then that people so frequently maintain that the disputed or deuteropauline letters don’t “seem” Pauline to them. Of course they don’t. How could they when they are nearly absent from most major treatments of Paul? Once you stop reading them it’s to be expected that they will seem strange to you. Their marginalization is self-reinforcing.

Alright, enough griping. I come to praise Douglas Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, which provides an injection of intellectual energy into the stale conventions described above. After this book the old habits may still persist, but they cannot do so as easily, and all positions will be made sharper by engaging this work. Campbell’s arguments are historically vigorous, bracingly original, and certain to cause offense to dogmatists on any point of any ideological spectrum. Many hackneyed arguments for or against the integrity or authenticity of various letters are finally slain. And the resulting chronology, which is based on critical data not yet considered by previous proposals and conducted on strict internal grounds, is certain to provoke numerous exegetical, biographical, and theological debates. The result is ten authentic letters addressed to seven churches—ten letters which fortuitously correspond to our earliest known edition of the Pauline corpus (that of Marcion) and seven churches reminiscent of those addressed in Revelation 2-3. Perhaps even more interesting is the claim that Paul’s Laodiceans (“Ephesians”), Colossians, and Philemon belong near the beginning of Paul’s letter-writing career, in mid to late 50 CE, and thus reflect the thought of an incarcerated yet optimistic Apostle in Asia Minor not yet embattled in the Judaizing conflicts represented in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans (composed in that sequence in 51-52 CE). This is just a sample of the original theses in the book.

It is, in short, simply thrilling to read (which may say more about me than the book, but still, it’s thrilling!). This will be true whether you find yourself persuaded or not. It’s good for our minds and our critical instincts to reevaluate foundational questions. Books like Framing Paul are all too rare, but when they appear they make the lives of Pauline scholars more interesting. This particular book makes Paul a whole lot more interesting as well.

Priesting your collective Daseins

I like to serve the ecclesial community on this blog. Today, for free, I'm offering some potential strap-lines created for your college or church webpages, aimed to encourage people into ordination. I think they will work. Honouring the whole priestly "ontological change" caboodle:
  • "Feeling a bit droopy in the ontologicals? Go to college / seminary: they offer a three or five year ontic-lift. Give your state of being a priestly kick up the ass (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "Come to ordination college and get the crap priested out of you, because it's basically the ToysRus for all for your ontological insufficiency needs (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "You're embarrassed because you've just discovered that you have 'ontic pagans'. At college / seminary, they offer the very best in discrete help. If you've already got a theology degree, come to priesting college for a two year gastrointestinal purge of your complete ontological status (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "You're the ontological drag factor in your church? Go to college and get yo ass ontologically changed at priest factory (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Job Opportunity

Required Skills: Experienced chaperone, suspicious face, crowd manager, an affinity for the Russian Orthodox Church, and a holy hat cross folder-over aptitude.

Please submit your CV together with an essay describing your vision for cross folding at: bossbishop@obviouslyIcantfoldmyowncross.com


Sunday, November 02, 2014

Athanasius the Universalist

Robin Parry notes a fascinating line of argument in Ramelli's inordinately expensive but astonishingly well researched volume. I'd love to know what experts of Athanasius make if this.

Reforming the “peer review” system. A proposal.

This blog post comes on the heals of the last. I read with interest Leithart’s interaction with Campbell’s Justification Theory, but my thoughts ended up in a rather different place. I began reflecting on the need to keep the reviewers reviewed, to keep them on their toes, responsible and accountable.

Certainly Leithart’s post energised my thoughts, as this is not the first time his interaction with scholars on First Things could have been more vigorous and responsible. But I do not mean to point fingers just at him – and for the record, I have greatly enjoyed his own work and scholarship for years! To be honest, I have posted a couple of book reviews here I wish were kinder or at least fairer. Rather, my concern is about the peer review system generally.

For the following reasons, I think the review system at present, especially as represented in journals, is in need of reform. Too many poor reviews are penned which do not do justice to the works with which they interact.

I think there are obvious reasons for this. People want to add to their “publications” list for their CV, and a review, however poor, can simply be added. Editors cannot possibly keep up-to-date with all areas of not just NT studies, but even specific areas such as the Synoptics and Paul. This means that individuals are not well positioned to evaluate all submissions. So almost anything could pass as a review, and because reviewers are not held duly accountable, suitable checks and balances are missing. To take a silly and less important example, one reviewer once chided something I had published for its lack of engagement with German scholarship, a claim so profoundly factually false I wondered whether he had read more than my book title.

Many have experienced something similar. It is indeed easy to forget how much work authors put into their works, and how much thought they usually require (at least the best of them). Then along comes a review and people are led astray by someone who has put in a few minutes (usually mistaken) thought.

The result of all of this for those of us who are cognisant of the problem is a profound distrust in the so-called peer review system. Though not quite as bad as Amazon reviews, or some comments on news item blogs, the academic review system is a community lacking accountability. Nor can one always rely on established voices, respected scholars and such like, as they are often defending their treasured views developed decades ago, and so they can sometimes automatically resist development, even if it be thoroughly legitimate (I think I speak from experience, here!)

So, how can things be improved? Can confidence in the peer review system be restored? I think so. My proposal is simple:

For journal reviews, the author of the reviewed book should be asked to write a couple of paragraphs in response to any given review. Nothing too long, or it would never happen, just a 300-500 words reaction, giving the author the final word. The book author would be given a relatively short period, say 3-5 weeks, to:

a) Note what issues the review has hit upon that will give the reviewed-book author pause for thought. What has the reviewer said that is helpful, whether positive or negative?

b) Offer a brief response to critical points.

That’s it, in a nutshell, hardly rocket science. And I think this would be enough to encourage more accountability and thus reform the entire peer review system, restoring confidence. Why would this work? Simple: if a reviewer writes knowing that his review will be judged by the book author immediately following his or her review, this will surely encourage more care and attention.

Indeed, I call on all journals to adopt such an author-response system. Academia deserves it. 

So “who reviews the reviewers?” is indeed a key question. Over at Syndicate, I think Christian and the team have provided an excellent model for future consideration, and I’m honoured to be involved with a project that provides a pathway into the future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Campbell’s brief response to Leithart on Justification Theory

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart recently penned a piece on Douglas Campbell’s “Justification Theory”. I asked Douglas to compose a response, and in my next post I will explain why. I will now simply hand the microphone over to Douglas (and add that, for what it’s worth, Douglas didn’t have anything to do with the immature image below. I’ll be having strong words with my CTRVHM media team later about this visual effrontery and misconstrual of the nature of responsible academic interaction).



A lot of folk unhappy with the direction of my Deliverance of God's 'apocalyptic rereading of justification in Paul' have used the line Leithart reproduces recently to try to negate it. I haven't responded much to it in the past because it seems to me to be so obviously weak. I always thought that those using it would end up being embarrassed by it. But readers are not apparently picking up on this so maybe a very quick indication of the problems with this critique is in order here.

The basic line is: 'Campbell's account of "justification" in terms of "justification theory" is not found anywhere. He cites no theologians of justification, like Luther, or examples of JT in relation to Paul. So it's a straw man, and his arguments and conclusions can safely be ignored.'

A lot of people have run this defense, and not just from the conservative end of the Christian spectrum. Matlock develops it at some length in a JSNT response. Here's why - at least IMHO - it is a total dud. There are two major problems, just one of which I will detail here: 1. it is false, and grossly so; and 2. it is an incoherent response argumentatively that gets its user into trouble rather than me. (Yes, strange but true.)

1. It is false.

In ch. 10 on pp. 333-37, supported by notes on pp. 1013-1020 (nn. 38-100), the presence of JT is documented in commentary on Romans, technical and more popular, introductions to Paul, NT theologies, and even in study Bibles. (Check the titles of those and then what they say: it's very interesting.)

In ch. 8 on pp. 250-64 supported by notes on pp. 996-99 (nn. 8-49), the presence of JT in Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, is documented; with a nod toward Augustine on pp. 277-82 supported by notes on pp. 1002-03 (nn. 77-90). (I can now do a lot better with Augustine having worked more closely in the interim with my good friend and highly learned Patristic colleague at Duke Warren Smith.) Note, this discussion of JT in the Reformers is only about one half of the engagement with the Reformers in Deliverance.

In ch. 9 (pp. 284-309), the affinity between JT and the fundamentally liberal discourse of modernity is documented. On pp. 289-99, supported by notes on pp. 1004-08 (nn. 5-34), the presence of JT is documented in various conservative traditions like Campus Crusade and Billy Graham's presentation of the gospel. It is also documented in liberal traditions with particular reference to Bultmann.

That's quite a lot of documentation - 33 pages of analysis, much in small print, and 16 pages of annotation, with 145 footnotes (or thereabouts), in other words a small book, or at least a fairly lengthy article. So when my critics charge that I have not documented JT they are, quite simply, making a false charge.

Furthermore, I am forced to conclude that scholars who make this charge repeatedly are doing one of the following: deliberately misrepresenting my work; unintentionally misrepresenting material that they don't know (i.e., they haven't read all the book), or failing to detect basic metaphors and arguments in source material.

2. It is a bad argument.

I hope enough has been said by this point, so I won't bore readers with any development of problem 2 other than to say that "Justification Theory/JT" is an account of the argument and implicit theory of salvation IN PAUL. And this is not a hard claim for my critics to grasp. It is present in the title of my book - in the final two words to be precise: "An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul."

Moreover, I point out that this really must be drawn from Romans 1-4. Hence no one has directly engaged my derivation of this construct from the text of Romans (and Moo has endorsed it), or has falsified it. So it still stands. JT as I define it is an account of salvation as that is presented by the usual reading (see commentaries above under problem 1) of Romans 1-4.

So… "justification as Campbell defines it cannot be found in later theologians like Luther, Calvin" and so on. (Again, this is false: see Deliverance, ch. 9, § 2.) But I ask you: is this a problem for me, or for my critics, most of whom are conservative Protestants? What my critics are really saying is "justification as Paul in Romans 1-4 presents it cannot be found in later theologians like Luther…" (?!).

It has been a little bizarre watching bloggers like Leithart shoot themselves in the foot and then hop about claiming that I can't walk. And it has been even more bizarre watching scholars who should know better signing off on this ridiculous argument.

Having said this, this behavior is at least a confirmation of one of the major claims of the book, namely, that debate of these issues is next to impossible if the underlying paradigmatic commitments of readers are not clearly identified and faced. And that is why JT is so important and is fronted at such length. People need to be honest enough to admit that they endorse it and that they get it from Paul in Romans 1-4. Without these confessions, I suggested in Deliverance that constructive discussion of textual and interpretative alternatives will be impossible. And the subsequent behavior of many of my critics has proved the truth of this claim.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Power Baptism™

We’ve all heard of John Wimber’s Power Evangelism, “words” on planes, one-by-one discipleship, etc., all well and good.

But that was the 90s and, well, it couldn’t always deliver on the efficient front, which is to say that it was a little bit too slow. So Chris Tilling Really Very Holy Ministries (CTRVHM) is pleased to provide – for free - a new indispensible missional tool for the 21st century. It offers a way to save an entire train of people in a mere few seconds. Read that last sentence again.

How is this possible? CTRVHM is proud to unveil Power Baptism™.

No need for:

  • risky “words” (gulp)
  • follow-up (double gulp)
  • discipleship programmes (which, by the way, should always boil down to the following: read your bible more, pray more, repent more, go to church more. Simples)
  • giving away free dinners to strangers
  • “relationship” evangelism (yawn)

What is more, the secret of Power Baptism™ can be learnt in approx 25 seconds:


And ta dah, an entire train full of brand new Christians.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Clearly I still 'as it

I had an interesting journey back home the other evening. A girl flashed me her knickers on the bus (clearly I still 'as it), and that wasn't even the strangest thing to happen.

A (Hindu?) "holy man" (as he called himself) proceeded to prophesy over me at a bus stop, verifying his words with a (highly suspect) "miraculous" demonstration of his prophetic powers (it was kind of like a dodgy magic trick that had a few glaring holes in the performance). He then prophetically told me that I "think too much" but am "very lucky" (how does he know these things?!), and proceeded to tell me he would pray for me ...

Now I was rather enjoying all of this until he asked for money for those prayers! After I disappointed him on the financial front, which cut his "holy man" ministry rapidly short, I noticed that he also didn't seem to care too much when I promise to pray for him (for free).

Why did he approach me, I wonder? Presumably this guy was an honest, hard working scammer, rather than a genuine loon, so I began to wonder: do I have "gullible" written over my face? I realise that sometimes I come across as a grumpy biznatch, but in truth I'm a rather cheery fellow and I like smiling at people! I suspect he mistook my smile for "grinning-idiot scam-bullseye".

I love London!

Admittedly, my rendition of this (true) story left me open to one particularly apropos observation, by a friend on Facebook: “You wonder why the holy man approaches you, but you're confident you know about Knicker Girl”

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An admission of guilt

As I'm sure some of you have already guessed, the whole “ice bucket” challenge was indeed my idea, a Chrisendom plot to get everybody baptised. It was becoming clear to me that my drive-by baptisms were failing to reach those types who don’t walk by street puddles in the rain, so I applied some missional hermeneutics and, well, hey presto. Basically this is revival.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Two Views on The Doctrine of the Trinity

"The doctrine of the Trinity stands front and centre of the Christian faith and its articulation", so says Jason Sexton, editor of the book.

Of course, the majority of the Christian tradition stands behind this claim. Three thoughts:

1) With the Trinity we have to do with reality - as far as the Christian is concerned -, with ontology. So one's decisions regarding the Trinity have unparalleled ramifications. (If I’m wrong about this, do let me know. I get the unnerving feeling that I’m missing something!)

2) The Trinity isn't simply something strange to believe, but the very grammar of all Christian articulations, and indeed their substance. It is the scopus of Scripture, and its ultimate “object”. Of course this is a dogmatic claim, but it is not antithetical to other concerns, whether they be narrative, hermeneutical or exegetical.

3) Neither is the Trinity simply grammatical speculation about ontology. My own times of meditation on God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have led to the most delighted and astonished worship. Despite the mystery that God is and remains, this is my one anchor, the place to which I keep coming back in prayer and song, the doctrine that deeply stirs my heart.

So I’m looking forward to this Two Views book. To be honest, I've felt for a while, as an interested observer of these debates, that the Ayers / Holmes concerns are themselves problematic. But we shall see!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

“Unevangelised” notions of Truth

I wrote the following in response to a comment in my recent critique of Mohler’s chapter in the terrific Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. I thought it might be worth slamming it up on the main webpage.

Although I come from a very conservative Christian background, reading this book has given me fresh appreciation for the integrity of the views of those with whom I disagree. In other words, this Five Views book, and many others like it, have ecumenical power, they, I think, facilitate generous orthodoxy, even if not all of the contributors do.

So, to get to the issue: by "unevagelised" I mean that Mohler’s grasp of Truth, so it seems to me, has not allowed itself to be sufficiently informed and shaped by the gospel. He assumes that the major concern of Truth, in terms of Scripture, is the correspondence of facts with propositions. So to say that Jonah is fiction, not factual, is to bring into question its very truth. But this is not, I argue, a proper evangelical way of thinking of Truth. What is? Well, consider these examples:

(a) John’s Christ says "I am the Way, the Truth ..." which means that Truth is finally a Person. One could suggest that Truth is, therefore, personal or relational (see also 1 Cor 8:1-3). (On a related note, John Stackhouse has recently made an eloquent case that Truth is bound up with our vocation as disciples of Christ. See Need to Know: Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology)

(b) Capital “T” Truth, before Christ returns, is penultimate, never final and simple, not something to grind through a simple syllogism unfettered by the eschatological “not yet”. So Paul (who wrote much of the NT) can include himself in the following: "we know in part" (1 Cor 13). Capital “T” Truth, then, involves that vulnerable place of faith, which places its trust in God, not looking at itself. For faith that looks at itself, not God, ceases to be faith and finds only darkness.

(c) Truth is likewise, in the Christian gospel, contrasted not necessarily or naturally with falsehood, but with "evil" (see 1 Cor 13:6). I would think that the pairings in 1 Cor 13 ought to alert us to potential conceptual anachronisms in Mohler’s account.

It is important to recognise that conceptions of truth and rationality are bound up with particular forms of culture, and so have changed over time (on this, see MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Hauerwas’ “The Politics of Justice”), hence also the modern plethora of theories of truth (correspondence, coherence, constructivist, pragmatic, etc.).

It follows, then, that a Christian understanding of Truth needs to allow any notion of "truth" to be shaped by the contours of the gospel, or it runs the risk of simply parroting any old Zeitgeist, whether it be gospel shaped or not. And when one speaks of foundational concerns, such as the Truth of Scripture, one needs to be all the more careful. I argue that Mohler – though he is not alone in this – has not been careful!

As Ben Fulford writes in his recent book, Divine Eloquence and Human Transformation: Rethinking Scripture and History through Gregory of Nazianzus and Hans Frei:

“[W]hat the truth of the scriptural witness (and Christian language-use more generally) involves here is more complex than a question of correspondence to the ‘facts’. It entails talking about the truth conditions of that witness in terms that begin to look Trinitarian”

Hence, a Christian grasp of the Truth of scripture will recognise and express, at the very least, the relational nature of Truth, that discipleship and obedience to the gospel is a factor inherent to Christian Truth, that it remains penultimate, and patient, trusting in God in Christ, waiting for the eschatological presence of the Triune God.

That truth can correspond to facts, present itself as coherent, etc., can be readily admitted. I do not wish to isolate a Christian notion of “Truth” from others, but to settle on a (albeit uncomfortable) foundation, namely Christ himself, crucified and risen. That truth can also be expressed in propositions, I would likewise endorse. The NT is full of them, with “claims that things are such and such and so not their contradictories” (Colin E. Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation, 13). However, the master in our grasp of Truth, is the Lord of the gospel. The factor that gives our Christian conception of “Truth” form, context and meaning, is none other than the gracious, saving, relational, discipleship making activity of the loving Triune God.

To speak of the “Truth” of Scripture without allowing these – and other - issues interpretative force, will lead to problems.

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 effect 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 cite 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 in the terms of the Chicago Statement (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.