Friday, March 28, 2014

10 random NT scholarship issues that make my inner alarm bells ring

1) When scholars take themselves too seriously, and speak continually about their achievements and how important they are to NT scholarship.
2) When NT scholars of any stripe think theology is one thing, historical work another, as if the two make sense as two separate tasks hermeneutically sealed off from one another. Of course, this is not to deny a legitimate "divisions of labour" or "interpretative levels" (to use Childs' speak).
3) When scholars think Rezeptionsgeschichte magics away the major questions relating to the conversation between theology and history.
4) When the word “Bayesians” is used in fumbling hands.
5) When Paul and John are bracketed from historical Jesus scholarship.
6) When Christology is said to develop "higher" only later.
7) When the word "covenantal" is used, in Pauline studies, as a banner deployed in opposition to "apocalyptic".
8) When I read a "summary" of Bultmann followed hastily by a "devastating" critique.
9) When scholars are dismissed because they are popular.
10) When scholars are dismissed because they are unpopular.

BeatBoxing 1 year old!

This is not to be missed. Utterly brilliant!

West’s Commentary Series

Despite our banter online, Jim West is actually a very good friend. His extremely impressive achievement has now been translated into Logos speak, and so his commentaries, which cover 59 books of the Bible and 4 books of the Apocrypha, are now available on a that v useful platform.

The Person the Pew Commentary Series (36 vols.)

Click the picture for more info:

“For centuries, most commentaries have been written by experts, for experts—the massive volumes that line pastors’ and professors’ shelves inaccessible without extensive education. Meanwhile, the person in the pew has been largely forgotten. This series is designed to correct this problem, empowering laypeople to read the Bible with understanding. Keeping the forgotten person in the pew in mind, Baptist pastor and professor Jim West makes the best in biblical scholarship available in a form useful for personal devotion, preaching, Sunday school lessons, and generally growing in knowledge of God’s word”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Douglas Campbell video in the Eerdmans Author Interview Series

In which Douglas speaks in accessible language about the import of his reading of Paul. Great stuff! This is a gospel I find satisfying, challenging, liberating and exciting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bauckham on How God Became Jesus!

imageThis is a helpful collection of essays by first-rate scholars abreast of the latest research. Anyone who wants a reliable historical account of how early Christians came to see Jesus as God should read this book

—Richard Bauckham, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, University of St Andrews, UK

The book is now available on AmazonUK here and USA here, and the Kindle version has a sample to download.

We received Ehrman’s MS end of 2013 to read, and we each responded from a particular area of specialisation. All in all this was a fun project, despite having to write it up over Christmas! I am grateful that Ehrman writes very clearly and smoothly, so reading through his book (How Jesus Became God) didn’t take long and was far from drudgery. I think our book is a fun read, too!

Here is my hot tip to all interested in the topic of the books: If want to dip your toes in this area of discussion and decide to read one of them, try to read the other also. I often find that engaging with people I profoundly disagree with leads me to greater insight and adventure, even when my disagreement remains. (This is one reason why I cannot recommend Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? highly enough).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reading Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Yes, I began reading Wright’s two books a couple of weeks ago, albeit intermittently around other work commitments. I will have much to say in my review, but not yet. Instead, I wanted to use tonight to say how I’ve been read PFG.

I recently discovered Sprint Reader (a Google Chrome app), spreeder.com and spritz, all of which use rapid serial visual presentation (rsvp, which is also very useful for dyslexic readers), and a couple of which use “Optimal Recognition Point”.

I purchased the Logos version of PFG and the paperback. Then, I simply copy and paste the Logos text (with page numbers activated) into a Google Chrome text box and then read it at around 500 words per minute with Sprint Reader or Spreeder. But the paperback is in front of me at the same time, and I go through, underlining my physical copy, adding any other thoughts, questions or annotations there.

This is making it much easier to plough through dozens of pages very quickly with excellent comprehension. I find that fatigue doesn't set in half as quickly. And let’s face it, given the size of PFG, we can do with all the help we can get! Certainly the style of Wright’s rhetoric is nicely suited to this kind of approach as well. Reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics using the same methods, I need to slow down to at least 450 words per minute.

If any of you try this, do let me know how it goes!

Unexplained thought of the day

Divine agency in the NT, as a christological fact (Christ is at God’s right hand, God created through Christ etc.), is useful much the same way persona / prosopon function in the early church writings: to say Christ is not God the Father. It therefore resists modalism. (It doesn’t work alone in doing this, of course, and it corresponds with the double object of early Christian faith, in God and in Jesus, as mediated and enabled by the Spirit)

On the other hand, the uniqueness of Christ as divine agent, when coupled with key explanatory conditions (the Christ-relation, “monotheistic” faith in God, epistemology etc.), corresponds to the use of ousia in the fathers. Of course, to say “Christ is an utterly unique divine agent” can be misleading. But when the import of “unique” is grasped correctly, i.e. in terms of the 1st century Jewish-Christian knowing of Christology in terms of the way 1st century Jews expressed the transcendent uniqueness of God, namely through the Christ-relation, it is simply to say that Christ is one being with Father – yet, as agent, also that he is not God the Father (modalism).

In this way, the sweep of NT theology points inexorably towards conceptual translation into orthodox Trinitarian formulations. This is one reason why tepid use of “divine agency”, as a category hermeneutically to distinguish Christ in the NT from correspondence with later orthodox divine Christology, is clumsy at best.

I realise that I should explain myself a little more fully. But see the post title.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The freely acting God Himself and alone is the truth of revelation

“The concept of truths of revelation in the sense of Latin propositions given and sealed once for all with divine authority in both wording and meaning is theologically impossible if it is a fact that revelation is true in the free decision of God which was taken once for all in Jesus Christ, that it is thus strictly future for us, and that it must always become true in the Church in the intractable reality of faith. The freely acting God Himself and alone is the truth of revelation … [O]nly in God and not for us is the true basis of Christian utterance identical with its true content. Hence dogmatics as such does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets”

Barth, CD I.1, p.15

Jesus and Brian: A Conference on the Historical Jesus and His Times

20-22 June, 2014 King's College London, The Strand, London, England

This conference20-22 June, 2014 King's College London, The Strand, London, England uses Monty Python's Life of Brian as a scholarly tool to help us consider our own assumptions as we reflect on the New Testament, Jewish history, interpretation and meaning.

It is quite an impressive line up of speakers, including Martin Goodman, George Brooke, Joan Taylor, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, James Crossley, Philip Davies, Helen Bond, Steve Mason, Adele Reinhartz, James Dunn and Paula Fredriksen.

There will also be celebrity guests, reflecting on the film and its initial reception, and obviously plenty of opportunity for discussion.

A superb conference dinner, with star keynote speaker, will be held at historic Inner Temple, hosted by Rev. Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of Temple Church, on Saturday, June 21st.

Costs: Early registration rate of £180 is available until April 30, 2014, and includes all sessions for three days, with lunches and refreshments provided (A reduced student rate is available). The conference dinner is optional, and is available for the supplementary charge of £65. From May 1st, the full conference fee £220 will be charged, also with reduced student rate available.

For further details and booking see: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/trs/events/jandb/index.aspx

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Starting to learn German for NT studies

I’ve often been asked about German language learning and NT studies, and the superb and detailed posts of Wayne Coppins (e.g., here) will be extremely helpful to read through. Here is my short list of advice:
  1. Get  a basic grasp of German grammar and vocab, if possible as part of a visit to Germany. I benefited greatly from the Sprachinstitut in Tübingen. But other basic level texts are always worth perusing, as is the Michael Thomas audio set. Use mnemonics, anything to boost your confidence and keep you motivated.
  2. When you start to read German with a dictionary to hand, don’t jump into Barth, Balthasar, Hegel or Heidegger. Unless you like the feeling of defeat.
  3. For a dictionary-in-hand start, I always recommend Udo Schnelle’s book, Paulus, which is not only v clearly written, but also profoundly educational and very German in its approach.
  4. Also trying a book in a non-theology related topic that you enjoy is helpful at this stage. I like chess, so I worked through Volkhard Igney’s Erfolgreich Kombinieren: Schachtaktik und Schachkombinationen.
  5. Watch movies you enjoy and have seen before, but with German audio. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Blade Meets Bambi and The Matrix in German!
  6. Don’t expect perfection! I lived in Germany for 6 years. My wife and I speak German every day – even if not as much as we used to, now we live in London, UK. But I can still make silly mistakes; I still need to reread some sentences to get it (especially if Balthahsar wrote them. He is to German what the Letter of Hebrews is to NT Greek!)
  7. This leads me to my final and best piece of advice: Marry a German!
And please see Dr Scott Caulley's advice in the comments for some excellent suggestions. He was the Director of the Institute for the Study of Christian Origins in Tübingen from 2002 to 2010 and knows what he is talking about!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul

Quite a line up of excellent scholars in my forthcoming edited volume. Very excited about this as it is something truly at a cutting edge of Pauline scholarly discussion, and one with ramifications that go far and wide. I will let you all know when it is available to purchase, or at least pre-order. Won’t be long now!

CASCADE_Template“Campbell’s work is undoubtedly one of the most important ‘game-changing’ contributions to New Testament scholarship in recent times. But as these excellent essays show clearly, its significance extends far beyond the biblical guild, for Campbell is provoking us to rethink some of the most profound and far-reaching issues facing the church today. He deserves to be far more widely known, and this collection will doubtless further that end.”

—Jeremy Begbie, Duke University, North Carolina

 

“Douglas Campbell . . . has generated a conversation that crosses all theological disciplines—exegetical, historical, systematic, ethical/political. That conversation, on full and brilliant display here, is contending for nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. The issues matter profoundly. These essays, by Campbell and by those who would support, correct, and criticize his work, also matter. No arcane Paul scholarship here . . . essential reading for every theologian.”

—Douglas Harink, The King’s University College, Canada

 

“Douglas Campbell is a force to be reckoned with in Pauline studies. His work can be delightfully illuminating, horribly confusing, and absolutely frustrating—sometimes all in the same paragraph. These insightful essays by some of Campbell’s supporters and critics, as well as by Campbell himself, will help readers better engage Campbell and, I think, also Paul.”

—Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Maryland

 

“Douglas Campbell’s groundbreaking interpretation of Paul deserves a wide audience and continuing discussion, and this book is an exemplary model of gracious, critical, and appreciative conversation on matters of crucial importance to all who care about the Apostle Paul’s liberating good news.”

—Susan Eastman, Duke Divinity School, North Carolina

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Real Recognition

"Wirkliches Erkennen ist nur nur möglich als liebendes Erkennen. Das gilt primär für die Beziehung zwischen Menschen, aber in analoger Weise auch für die Beziehung zu Tieren und Pflanzen und vielleicht sogar darüber hinaus" (Wilfried Härle, Dogmatik. 265)
But before you start declaring your love for plants and all things "darüber hinaus", just think: maybe trees don't want to be hugged.

Key Journals for New Testament Studies

Some of these journals have a wider concern than just “NT studies”, and not all of them are equally useful. But here are the ones I tend to consult for all NT research.

I took these pictures on my phone while at Tübingen library a few weeks ago! I would also add Anvil, in retrospect, especially as they are publishing a very thoughtful and helpful review of my book in the next edition! Oh, and JSPL, of course, JSPL!

Am I missing anything really essential?
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Friday, January 03, 2014

What you really come to this blog for

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Burridge Day

The King's College London Richard Burridge day was a success. Throughout the day different speakers examined aspects of Richard's work and we together celebrated his reception of the Ratzinger Prize. Most of the papers examined his game changing monograph, What Are the Gospels? To this end Steve Walton did a very good job at showing just what an impact Richard's work has had on scholarship. Of course, it was pointed out that not everyone has been convinced by Richard's work, that they remain a minority. Andrew Lincoln's paper was perhaps the most meaty and well crafted, and raised some fascinating questions relating to the truth of John's Gospel and the synoptic birth narratives.

But rather than go on about the individual papers, something Chris Keith has nicely done already, I will simply mention a couple of highlights. It was, of course, great fun to sit next to and banter with Chris K, and I also enjoyed time chatting with Francis Watson about his book, Gospel Writing. I was left with a number of questions at the end of reading that book, and I tried as best as I could - with a head full of wine - to give some of my thoughts voice!

I also appreciated how Richard engaged with the critical aspects of the papers in the final session. In response to Watson's point that the Gospels are called euangelion, not bioi, Richard responded by speaking of the genre in terms of intersecting circles, and in the end Watson and Richard were in agreement. In response to Robin's question (the chap who chaired the first session - here was the schedule), Richard once again nuanced what his claim implies with regard to genre identification.

Prof Jan van der Watt gave a moving paper about the impact of Richard’s work in the South African setting, and one phrase stuck with me: “this vision [i.e. of an inclusive community ethic] works!”. I introduced that session by briefly summarising Richard’s book, Imitating Jesus with these words:

“In this section we look at Richard's important work relating to the ethical dimensions involved in his narrative biographical reading of the Gospels, with special reference to Imitating Jesus, short listed for another award, this time the Michael Ramsay Prize.

In this volume, in many ways, the rubber hits the road! Here Richard wrestles away the word "biblical" from exclusive fundamentalism, and negotiates a way forward towards responsible biblical ethics. But instead of capitulating to what he calls liberal Christianity, he encourages an ethic grounded in an inclusive and open community of Christ followers, one informed by his genre studies, and therefore richly christological. He poignantly shows how his approach would have refuted the painful history of apartheid in South Africa, precisely where people were claiming that pro-apartheid doctrine of separate development deserved the honorific label, "biblical". In Imitating Jesus, over against this, we find a deeply christological, and delightfully attractive ethical vision.”

The absolute highlight of my day, however, was to  have a seat at the "Dean’s Dinner" in the evening, where not only did Richard speak well, but I also had a great chat with Steve Walton.

Once again  congratulations to Richard Burridge for his achievements and Eddie Adams, Paul Joyce and the crew for organising a fine day.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ontologically twofold?

“To be a creature is to be constituted, to be made what one is, by and in a network of relationships. For want of better words, and provisionally only, we can say that these relationships are, ontologically, twofold: vertical and horizontal. I am using the terms as a metaphorical way of indicating relations with, respectively, God and the rest of creation”

Colin Gunton, Christ and Creation, p. 36.

Wright’s impressive achievement

Just started skimming the long-awaited Wright book. Given NTW’s impressive clarity and his numerous popular level books, I think many of us have a fairly good idea what to expect in terms of the general contours of his argument. But dipping my toes into Paul and the Faithfulness of God nevertheless left me extremely impressed. Not only can one deeply respect his eloquence, but at so many points Wright has shown himself to be an astute exegetical observer. Upon reading the first few pages of pts 3-4 my eyes alighted on:

Ho monos … ho monos … ho monos. ‘Monotheism’ indeed: neither a philosophical speculation nor an easygoing generalized religious supposition, but the clear, sharp, bright belief that Israel’s God was the creator of all, unique among claimants to divinity in possessing all those specific attributes, in the middle of which we find the politically explosive one, basileus, ‘king’” (from p. 621)

I’m reminded of Baulkham's language of “transcendent uniqueness”. A clear grasp of what Paul’s God-language entails both illuminates and is illuminated by his Christ-language. So he’s on to something crucial, here. Wright often seems to have a “nose” for such things. It remains to be seen if Wright’s work on divine Christology actually accounts for Paul’s own emphasis. We shall see.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Who wrote these lines? It may surprise you!

"A free theologian does not deny, nor is he ashamed of, his indebtedness to a particular philosophy or ontology, to ways of thought and speech. These may be traditional or a bit original, old or new, coherent or incoherent. No one speaks exclusively in Biblical terms”

Yes, these words come from the pen of Karl Barth, and his essay "The Gift of Freedom". Barth was not opposed to indebtedness to philosophy! But, he goes on to add, their philosophy etc. "will be subject to criticism and controlled by his theology, and not conversely". This latter claim is not entirely unproblematic, but that is an issue for another day.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

If biblical studies scholars received a Nobel Prize …

… then the Ratzinger Prize may well be it! And it was a huge delight in October to learn that the Revd. Prof. Richard Burridge, Dean of King’s College London, had been awarded this illustrious recognition for his work!

Benedict XVI instituted the Foundation on 1 March, 2010, and the committee was to recognise and award scholars who have distinguished themselves in the areas of publication and/or academic research. On the 26th October, the Pope himself awarded Richard the Prize:

PopeDean

You can watch the Ratzinger Prize ceremony here.

This was, as Richard tells us in my video interview below, a huge honour and we are all immensely proud of Richard for this achievement. King’s College are also running a day conference on 13th December which will explore and celebrate Richard’s work. Find out more about the event, ‘The Gospels connection to Jesus of Nazareth’, here. And I hope to see some of you there!

I video interviewed Richard during SBL about the prize. Here is the result:

 

image

Proof I was the one making the video!

Justification with an injection of dogmatic reasoning? (and why Allen completely misunderstands Campbell)

In this way R. Michael Allen hopes to make a contribution in his new book, Justification and the Gospel. And I couldn’t agree more with his general claim: dogmatic reasoning is surely going to prove vitally helpful in disentangling some of these important issues. I have been looking forward to this book for a while, not just because of glowing endorsements from some brilliant theologians (Kelly Kapic, John Webster, J Todd Billings etc.), but also because I have benefited from Allen’s previous works.

Why will dogmatic reasoning help? Because justification language involves claims about the activity and identity of God! Simples! Self-critical employment of certain systematic distinctions together with awareness of the theological commitments involved in our exegetical endeavours will surely lend clarity to NT debates, especially when they concern “paradigmatic” and theologically pregnant propositions. Much exegetical mischief has been perpetrated by those unskilled in systematics, whether motivated by naive biblicism, historical-critical commitments (at least those ones living under the illusion that “theology” and “historical” work exist in hermeneutically sealed and separate compartments), or a flat and reductionist grasp of “narrative readings”. I can therefore only welcome Allen’s voice into this lively debate.

But now to get a bit grumpy.

When skimming a book for the first time I tend to see how the author interacts with those I consider to be key dialogue partners, as well as with those whom I think I understand best (Wright, Barth, Bultmann, Campbell, Webster, Dunn etc.). So, turning to the index I find very little interaction with Wright. Fair enough, I suppose. “Perhaps he is making a barbed point?”, I wonder. But what about Dunn? Again, only one reference. Fine, Allen’s work is operating out of a dogmatic perspective so let’s see what he makes of Campbell given that he is the most important dialogue partner in this discussion when it comes to the link between dogmatics and exegesis

And sadly I found that Allen completely misses the mark with Campbell, despite his importance for Allen’s theme, which in turn makes me wonder what else his book will bungle. I’ll get over this and read the rest of the book, but let me explain why Allen has royally botched this one.

All of this is in one footnote on pp. 42-43, in which he thinks that Campbell’s “justification theory” (JT) is a “historical bogeyman that does not exist as such”. It finds backing only in the work, Allen tells us, of James and Allan Torrance and therefore is not “an example of interdisciplinary cross-pollination” but “manifests the effects of sloppy engagement of a related field”. Some rather robust claims! How does Allen back them up?

First, “‘Justification theory’ renders the Trinity and the life of Christ unimportant … Yet these Protestant theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries began their confessions and dogmatics with statements about the Trinity” etc. Second, Campbell’s account of JT’s anthropology (grounded in Rom 1-3) “fails to see that Protestant theology classically construed has understood the teaching of Romans here to be about divine revelation”. Furthermore, these Protestants don’t subscribe to “belief voluntarism”. With a bit of bite, he continues: “One wonders if Campbell has heard of books like Luther’s Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s The Bondage and Liberation of the Will …”. A few more poorly chosen accusations follow, but this summary seems to get to the heart of the matter.

What has happened? The first major error is to think that Campbell’s JT is a description of the theology of the Reformers in toto. Of course Campbell is aware that these theologians held profoundly Trinitarian views! I am amazed he believes Campbell would think otherwise! Rather, JT explains the theo-logic employed in construing Romans 1-3 which, in turn, contradicts precisely those wonderful (yet incompatible) Trinitarian views. I really don’t know why this is so difficult to understand! Surely Campbell’s lengthy sections on Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon and Augustine would have clarified the matter? Apparently not! This also means that to suggest JT is supported only by James and Allan Torrance is – at least if I understand Allen correctly – simply bizarre. Has Allen ever read a commentary on Romans 1-3 and asked what sort of theology is manifesting itself? (try Moo, for starters). One in turn must then ask whether Trinitarian theology has actually shaped one’s understanding of “justification” language, or whether it inhabits a different theological universe (the point behind Campbell’s contrast between JT and the “alternative theory” drawn from Romans 5-8). And if we must name some key supporting theologians for Campbell’s project, need I remind Allen - of all people - of Barth?! I actually think Campbell’s work is probably best called Barthian, especially as the label “apocalyptic” has created such confusion. (Allen’s claim that Protestants don’t subscribe to “belief voluntarism” involves the same misunderstanding of the role and import of JT as well, of course.) Allen’s comments simply show that he has not understood what he is criticising and yet he then happily dismisses Campbell as a result. Bad move.

On the second point, Campbell is well aware of the ways some scholars have sought to deal with the difficulty of reading Romans 1-3 in terms of JT, he doesn’t “fail” at this at all, hence his lengthy discussions relating to “reframing” etc. And when it comes to the actual exegesis of Romans, are the proposals of the Reformers so smooth and theologically consistent (see the examples Campbell lists in chapter 10, but also in chapters 8-9 etc)? Allen can’t just clam what he does here without explaining away the many examples Campbell provides. This misreading, too, stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning of JT for Campbell. But perhaps another problem is involved here. Reading Romans requires close exegetical work – difficulties are not so easily dismissed with an “it’s about divine revelation” wand. This needs to be demonstrated in the text. Perhaps here we encounter one weakness with Allen’s particular theological approach to the issues, which can, it seems from these comments, sit lightly to the text.

This then leads to questions as to whether Campbell has read Luther’s Bondage of the Will etc., and at this point I start to wonder whether Allen has read Deliverance, or just a few pages and a (poor) review. But why would he do this? Chapter 7 of Deliverance should be enough to highlight that Campbell’s project is the key dialogue partner for Allen’s approach. I have no reason to suspect that Campbell’s work “manifests the effects of sloppy engagement of a related field”, but I now have reason to think that Allen’s project slops. And one doesn’t even need to agree with Campbell’s proposals; it is a duty, however, to represent his arguments fairly and not engage with “a bogeyman” (I’m sorry, but he has made turning his own criticisms back on himself too easy). I hope that Allen’s engagement with Campbell is not representative of his work generally, but botching it on Campbell is a big disappointment.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Allen. Even NT scholars have missed Campbell’s point on numerous occasions. But what wound me up was the dismissive and slightly rancorous nature of Allen’s comments. Either way, whether we agree with Campbell or not, I do want to recommend Allen’s work generally and please do pick up a copy of Justification and the Gospel. I am confident that there will be gems in these pages that exegetes will benefit greatly from pondering.

(I also hope that my forthcoming ed. volume Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul will help clarify some matters!)