Friday, August 10, 2007

Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 5

For the series outline, click here.

Part 2: Fee's Synthesis

The second part of the book attempts a christological synthesis of the matter analysed in the first part, with a view to understanding Paul's Christology also as it relates to his theology. He wants to synthesise the many disparate parts of Paul's Christology detailed in Part 1, and to do this he thematically gathers the relevant material in the following chapters.

Chapter 11: 'Christ, the divine Savior'. Fee is persuaded that 'to keep faith with the apostle himself, the beginning point will have to be Christ as Savior' (481). This chapter includes examination of Christ's role in salvation plus a short look at the place of 'Christ devotion' in Paul. The former is tied to Christ's pre-existence to emphasise christological significance. The latter is interesting enough to detail in more depth - even though it only fills a few pages in Fee's book. He argues: 'This "Christ devotion" in Paul's theology takes two forms: personal devotion to Christ himself and devotion in the sense of the community's offering worship to Christ as Lord – both are full of christological presuppositions' (488).

First, Christ as object of personal devotion. For Paul, having grown up in a devout Diaspora home, Paul would have known by rote the first commandment. Despite the fact that the language of the first commandment is lacking, at least so Fee claims, Paul gives this devotion now to Christ, especially 'whenever he speaks longingly of his and his church's eschatological future' (488). Fee's concrete arguments to support this 'personal devotion' are as follows: i) Paul's letters are thoroughly christocentric. This claim is developed such that Fee claims:

'In Paul's radically changed worldview, everything is done in relation to Christ. The church exists "in Christ", and everything that believers do is "for Christ", "by Christ", "through Christ", and "for Christ's sake"' (489)

These more generalised formulations find explicit expression in the following: in Paul's language concerning the benefit of single life (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-35) and in the boasting in and knowing Christ language (Phil 3). Importantly, Fee notes:

'The christological significance of this can scarcely be gainsaid, since these words are written by one whose religious heritage includes the Psalter, where this kind of devotion is offered exclusively to Yahweh' (489).

It is also finds expression in Paul's longing to be with Christ in God's final eschatological future (489-90). Finally, Fee notes the significance of the christological grace benedictions in this context.

Second, Christ as object of worship. Fee notes three expressions of such 'worship' of Christ in the Pauline corpus. i) the Lord's Table which is 'the Christian version of a meal in honor of a deity' (491). This is then tied to the association of this meal with the Passover meal, and the divine judgments against those who dishonour the deity at this meal. Fee concludes that everything about the Lord's Supper material especially in 1 Cor 11 'assumes and asserts the highest kind of Christology; and all of this in direct relationship with Christ as divine Savior' (492). ii) Singing hymns to and about Christ. Fee supports this claim with reference to material in Eph and Col, concluding that 'Christ often assumes the dual role of being sung to and sung about – precisely as in the Psalter, whose hymns are both addressed to and inform about God' (493). iii) Prayer addressed to Christ. Drawing upon material in 1 and 2 Thess, 1 Cor 16:22 and 2 Cor 12:8-10 Fee notes: 'such devotion to Christ is in many ways more telling theologically than actual "theological statements" themselves' (494 – here he approving notes Hurtado that theology surely arises out devotion to Christ, in n. 29). What has this to do with Christology as Fee defines it? '[T]he worship is both because of what he [Christ] did for us and especially because of who he is as divine Savior.

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5 Comments:

At 8/11/2007 11:01 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I'm surprised at this remark:
The Lord's Table … is 'the Christian version of a meal in honor of a deity'.

It sounds like Fee is appealing to a Greek background here, the meals in honour of pagan deities. Am I right about that? Does Fee frequently use Greek paganism as a background to explain Paul's thought? I know that some scholars do, but evangelicals usually prefer to focus on the Hebrew background, no?

I wouldn't have described the eucharist in quite those terms (a meal in honour of a god). But if we do use such language, it still doesn't automatically mean that Christ is the god being so honoured. Christ is our Pascal lamb. Therefore, the meal may be in honour of God, who delivered us through the agency of Christ's sacrifice.

Elsewhere, Paul speaks of Jesus as the agent through whom God wrought our deliverence. Fee would have to make a case that agency = deity, he can't merely assume an equivalence.

Maybe he's making a case and I'm not getting it from your summary. But to me, it sounds like Fee is making unwarranted leaps, skipping required steps in his argument.

 
At 8/12/2007 11:36 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Stephen,
I must admit that my own summary is mostly the problem here. His own section covers some of the leaps a little more convincingly, and he ties in the judgment of Christ themes in 1 Cor 10 - 'are we stringer than he?' etc. But you note an issue about agency that I think Fee is inconsistent about. At one point he argued that such and such a verse means Christ is not only a divine agent. Then in other places he can speak of the agency of Christ without mentioning his earlier conclusion.

One point about the SUpper - it was in remembrence of Christ, and was undertaken in conscious accountability of Christ and his judgments - at least that is what Paulw anted in 1 Cor 11 (cf. 32ff). These themes start to evidence a pattern in Paul, that my thesis is concerned about. Hang on, I need to e-mail you!

 
At 8/13/2007 4:14 AM, Anonymous El Bryan Libre said...

Stephen,

You said, "It sounds like Fee is appealing to a Greek background here, the meals in honour of pagan deities. Am I right about that?"

I don't know that Fee’s looking for a Greek background as the origin to this since he says over and over in that section that the meal is parallel to and replaces the Passover meal and then after stressing that, he says because of the Corinthians insistence on attending temple meals, he sees Paul presenting it as an alternative.

I imagine Paul's Greek audience probably would have seen the Passover meal and the Lord’s meal as similar to the temple meals. I don’t think it was that different conceptually for them to make that jump from one to the other in their conversion from Paganism to following Christ.

Also, isn’t the whole concept of eating a meal in honor of and in the presence of a deity throughout the whole Ancient Near East, including among the Jews? I thought this concept was present in the OT sacrificial system, where they ate the meal in the temple in the presence of YHWH. I could be wrong (if so, someone please inform me).

Deut 12:5-7 “5 But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there. You shall go there, 6 bringing there your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, your votive gifts, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks. 7 And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your households together, rejoicing in all the undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.”

Either way I wonder if there is a strict distinction between a Jewish and Greek background of the Lord's Table (at least among Paul’s audience). And I wonder if Fee would argue for such a strict distinction.

Blessings,
Bryan L

 
At 8/13/2007 4:21 AM, Anonymous El Bryan Libre said...

BTW, can you elaborate on what you were saying when you said, "Elsewhere, Paul speaks of Jesus as the agent through whom God wrought our deliverence. Fee would have to make a case that agency = deity, he can't merely assume an equivalence."

Chris seems to understand easily since he responds to it, but I'm having trouble understanding what y'all are talking about and what the implications are.

Thanks,
Bryan L

 
At 8/13/2007 8:28 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Bryan:
Paul uses the phrase "through whom" in various places, but I was thinking in particular of 1Co. 8:5-6 —

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Some folks see a clear reference to Jesus' deity in those verses, but I don't find the passage so straightforward. (1) Paul starts with the clear affirmation, "for us there is one God, the Father". (2) He makes a distinction between the one God and the one Lord, even though his language gives the Lord Jesus a role that would typically be predicated of a deity ("through whom are all things"). (3) It is clear that God the Father takes the lead, while Jesus occupies the supporting, responsive role.

So does the verse make Jesus equal to God, as evangelicals would have it? Maybe, but its precise christological significance is not self-evident to me. Particularly so in light of 1Cor. 15:28,

When all things are subjected to [God], then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

I don't believe Chris has discussed 1Co. 15:28 in his review of Fee yet. But in my view it clearly subordinates the Son to the Father in eternity.

I concede that God has acted through Jesus to effect our salvation; and I concede that Jesus is worthy of our veneration as the agent of our salvation. Fee assumes that a further conclusion automatically follows — namely, that "Jesus is God" — but I think Fee's final step is open to question, and must be argued rather than assumed.

 

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