Still in America
... and having a great time.
What a day. We sadly left our good friends in Durham, NC, but gladly arrived back ‘home’ to Anja’s family in Arlington.
Let’s face it, we are surrounded by some seriously socially inept folk at SBL. For some reason, the world of academia attracts them. Even though they may have planet sized brains, it is painful to watch some of them ‘walk’ past.
What a great time I’m having here in
Yea, just funnier, come to think about it.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting many biblioblog and publishing house friends which has been a true delight. As for the book hall I feel tempted to use metaphors from the Song of Songs to express my feelings of excitement – but as that may get me in trouble with my wife, I won’t.
And Richard Bauckham treated me to a coffee after his panel session on Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. That was a highlight! I hope to organise the publication of the papers of the respondents, and Bauckham’s response to the criticisms, on this blog in due time.
We shall be leaving for America tomorrow, arriving in Washington DC Wednesday evening. After a (hopefully) good night's sleep at Anja's aunt's home, we shall drive down to our friends in Durham, North Carolina. Then, without much of a break, I'll be flying to San Diego for the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Conference.
In other words, I'll probably be a wreck by the time I finally put my bags down in the hotel. There are so many papers and discussions I am very much looking forward to, not to mention the book stalls (woo hoo!), but more than anything I look forward to meeting many of my blogging-related friends. If you recognise me among the crowds (I'll be the one handing out Chick Tracts about how Christ has defeated the kingdom of Bultmann) do come and say a 'hello' – it is always good to put a face to a name.
I hope to manage some blogging during my stay in San Diego, especially as I will be sharing a room with laptop bearing West. I hope to at least set up a live video feed blog once or twice ('West snoring', 'West after he has stubbed his toe', 'West after he realises I have scribbled out all the words in his new books' etc.) and perhaps also detail the amusing side of 'life too close to West'. I plan to have him hungrily reading Wright and speaking in tongues by the time we part company, so do pray for my success.
I also wanted to say a public thank you to Don and Dea Moffitt of Backus Books for their generous and kind donation that has made this trip possible. Danke!
A while ago I started a series on this matter. I was rather perturbed by the heat it generated and decided to do some more thinking before I continued. I have hardly made it a matter of obsessive research, but I am a little more informed now, thanks to input from a Messianic Jewish friend. He pointed me to this book that I commend to readers looking for a different perspective than that offered here: Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-judaism Must Be Challenged (New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology) by Barry E. Horner.
While my basic position still remains unchanged (though I think it has changed with regard to Rom 9-11 – before I was very Wrightian, though probably less so today), I would no longer focus on the hermeneutical practice of the early church as the decisive critique of Christian Zionism – at least as developed in my previous posts. The early church was flexible in its hermeneutical procedure, sometimes christocentric, other times employing slightly different accents. I suspect that some of Sizer's and Motyer's claims need to be re-formulated in light of Horner's critique – though certainly not abandoned. The 'christological hermeneutic' card should still play a part in constructive critique of Christian Zionism, but I would focus more now on the narrative trajectory of scripture, and how the prophetic promises were understood by Christ as fulfilled in his ministry and hence laid the groundwork for NT theology generally, as developed especially by Paul. This wider scope of analysis includes the specific hermeneutical practices of the early church within it, as a moment within this, applied to various concrete situations. But more decisive is the significance of the relation between Christ and the prophetic traditions. Horner claims that Motyer et.al do not take the OT scripture seriously. However, I suspect it is Horner who does not take the scriptural narrative seriously enough in making sense of Christ, his mission and his aims – and how these were understood by the early church.
Of course, all of these comments are mere assertions without justification. I will perhaps return to this subject when I return from SBL and detail my developing thoughts in a podcast. As ever, if you feel strongly critical of my views then do let me know. I will keep an open mind on these matters for a while to come yet!
The winner of the Jim West caption competition is ... Ben Myers
“His body was braced for action, his spectacles glistened in the sunlight, his dark eyes gleamed with a steel resolve. When at last he spoke, his voice cut through the air with icy determination: "I won first prize last year, and I'll damn-well do it again this year!" And so, off he went to the local spelling bee.”
As I promised, the prize is a bottle of CTRVHM Holy Phlegm ™ (smear on body to cure all sickness and deliver from all demons). To cut down on post and package, I thought I would simply cough up a load when I meet Ben at SBL - fill up a coffee cup. Alternatively, I could simply try to gob on him as much as I can throughout the congress. Either way, Ben will be glad to hear that he will receive a double portion of my phlegmtastic anointing - quite the gift.
I have been reading The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views today. There are contributions and responses to the position papers from G.A. Boyd (Christus Victor view), Joel Green (kaleidoscopic view), B.R. Reichenbach (healing view), and Thomas Schreiner (penal substitution view). Thus far I have read Schriener's and Boyd's chapters, together with responses. The essay's are very well written, as are most of the responses - especially those by Green. It is a very enjoyable book and I recommend it most highly to those wishing to think through their doctrine of atonement.
To be honest, I am still working out my thoughts on the atonement and so remain open minded, but here is a line of reasoning that I occasionally come across and that really ticks me off. Schreiner writes:
'The wisdom of God displayed in the cross is rejected by the wise of this age. Penal substitution is an object of indignation and regularly pilloried by many of the educated class' (70)
Schreiner qualifies himself a page or two later, but I still cannot stand it when such reasoning is even hinted at. 'You think penal substitution is a problematic doctrine? The message of the cross always was a scandal'.
Nonsense! When Paul writes of the 'offense of the cross' in Gal 5:11, or of the foolishness of the message of the cross in 1 Cor 1:18, he does not say these things because people are disturbed by the proclamation of a penal substitutionary view of atonement. The skandalon of Gal 5:11 was probably simply the notion of a crucified messiah (cf. Dunn, Galatians, 281), not because people were offended that an angry God satisfies his wrath through a sacrifice (an idea known in the pagan world). The 'foolishness' in 1 Cor 1:18 also has nothing to do with a reaction to penal substitution. Rather, the 'Christian proclamation of a crucified malefactor was moronic to persons weaned on a love of learning, virtuousness and aesthetic pleasure … The message of the cross calls for a worldview shift of colossal proportions because it subverts conventional, taken-for-granted ways of thinking and knowing' (Green and Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, 14).
To all writers: if you want to defend a penal substitutionary view of the atonement, please stop relating modern consternation towards the doctrine with Paul's skandalon statements. It is exegetically unsound and an irresponsible use of rhetoric.
John Piper's new work, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), is free online (thanks you Nick for the heads up!). Piper has some good things to say in his many books. Has he hit the nail on the head this time?
I haven't made time to read Piper's work yet, I've just skimmed it, but I wanted to share a few thoughts that occurred to me as I read. I am not sure if the problem I will detail below is symptomatic of Piper's argumentation in this work generally. That waits to be seen. But let me share my thoughts as I read the following passage:
Does Not Mean Covenant Faithfulness
Finally, Wright's assumption that the phrase dikaiosu,nh qeou/ means "the covenant faithfulness of God," instead of the more traditional "the righteousness of God," is not warranted. I have tried to show why this is the case (see chapter 3). The meaning of dikaiosu,nh qeou/ is most fundamentally the "righteousness of God" in reference to his unwavering commitment and follow-through to do what is right—which is to always uphold the worth of his glory. It is the opposite of sin, which is a falling short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23); and it is what God requires that all of us must have (Rom. 1:21), but that none of us does have: "None is righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10)' (Page 179).
I need to back up and try to explain something before I comment on this. We all read scripture in terms of a certain story (or stories) that makes sense of our world. When we read scripture, many of us will effectively decorate with biblical quotes a story of what we think Christianity is and what Jesus means, but even though that story uses biblical language to describe itself, it is one that is not faithful to the general scriptural narrative. It is like reading astrophysics as if it were all about chemistry alone. To simply transport one discourse into the other is to misrepresent. When this happens, scholars say people are proof-texting (proof-texting is NOT simply drawing from scripture to justify arguments, by the way). I.e. they are decorating a story or metaphysical structure with bible verses as if it was simply the construction of a biblical teaching or worldview, as if it were careful exegesis. This happens so much it can be depressing.
As an example, let me be provocative: many approach the scriptures with a pre-understanding that the essence of Christian faith is all about individuals being sinful before God, and that in order to get to heaven when you die one must have a personal relationship with Christ. Some passages of scripture, of course, can be cited in strong support of aspects of this picture, and it becomes the basic story to which all passages of scripture then become attached. This pre-understanding of the meaning of Christian faith may sound scriptural (and contain a good deal of truth), even if it is off track. Hence,
The examples cited above are mixed. However, I suggest we would not understand what the scriptures in each case actually mean if accept the above readings as 'what the text really says'. If you read those examples thinking, 'yes, that's what I think', I suspect that your understanding of scripture is being channelled through an interpretive lens that distorts what is in front of your eyes. The little interpretative story I prefixed these examples with, about going to heaven, sinful before God etc. contains truth, but is also inadequate and can lead to scriptural misunderstanding.
It is not that the above meanings and interpretations are inherently or totally wrong. Of course not. However, to return to the examples:
Scriptures are so often transported into a different economy of discourse, into a different story of the meaning of Christian faith, and they are thereby obscured. Read from the perspective of the less scriptural lenses, these errors will not even be seen, and wrong claims will be fervently and confidently made as if they were doing simple exegesis, as if one were attending to the historic meaning of the texts. But the truth is different.
I'm not sure I've done a good job trying to explain my thoughts there, but now back to Piper. He writes:
'The meaning of dikaiosu,nh qeou/ is most fundamentally the "righteousness of God" in reference to his unwavering commitment and follow-through to do what is right—which is to always uphold the worth of his glory. It is the opposite of sin, which is a falling short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23); and it is what God requires that all of us must have (Rom. 1:21), but that none of us does have: "None is righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10)'
OK, but it all depends according to which story one understands these words. God's 'unwavering commitment and follow-through to do what is right' is, according to the scriptural narrative, in my view God's faithfulness to his covenant promises which themselves find their meaning in the wider scriptural narrative of God's good creation, spoiled by sin, and God's mission to set things right once again. And the worth of God's glory is tied up with this story, this mission, this salvific plan. Is the dikaiosu,nh qeou/ the opposite of sin? Yes, I think it is – more or less! But it depends on how this is understood! If this is understood according to the wider scriptural narrative and the echoes of this story in Paul's argument in Rom 3:23, for example (which Piper refers to), then it will mean something different to how one would understand it according to system of cherishing glory and personal sin (Piper, in an earlier article on this issue fails to grasp the scriptural picture, and instead thrusts everything into his own understanding of 'desire' and cherishing glory and such like). Important as such matters are (and other interpreters forget them, so keep on preaching Piper!), they must not become the interpretative lens at the expense of an appreciation of the wider scriptural dynamic.
I read the passage in Piper's book cited above and smelt the wrong interpretive lens all over it. I hope this is not actually the case, and I need to read the book, but if Piper's work generally simply decorates a pre-given understanding of faith with bible verses, he will be doing none of us a favour. The trick is, these erroneous lenses many read scripture with sound so scriptural. But they are only so in a superficial way. In my opinion, one of Wright's major strengths is that he takes the scriptural story seriously. And though his proposals look different when he is done, it is our eyes that need to adjust, not his.
Blogger is really playing up today – deleting posts and doubling them, so I'll keep this short.
I noted in my previous post on monotheism that Paula Fredriksen argues that: "In antiquity, all monotheists were polytheists". I think such a conclusion is simply the result of a sickly intellectualised version of monotheism anachronistically thrust back on the ancient texts, and, not finding its modernist counterpart, cries 'polytheism'. MacDonald (in Deuteronomy and the Meaning of 'Monotheism')
shows clearly why modernist intellectualised notions of monotheism fail to deal with the 'monotheism' of Deuteronomy – and implicitly also the rest of the OT. Modern notions of 'monotheism' banded about among much OT scholarship represent a call 'to recognize the objective state of metaphysical affairs'. Deuteronomic 'monotheism', on the other hand, emphasises '"love" as the appropriate human response to the oneness of Yahweh' (210).
'The essential element in what I have called Jewish monotheism, the element that makes it a kind of monotheism, is not the denial of the existence of other "gods", but an understanding of the uniqueness of YHWH that puts him in a class of his own, a wholly different class from any other heavenly or supernatural beings, even if these are called "gods". I call this YHWH's transcendent uniqueness ' ("Biblical theology and the problems of monotheism," in Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, eds Craig Bartholomew, et al., [Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2004], 210)
I would prefer to define biblical 'monotheism', and certainly that of the Pauline variety, along these lines – as transcendent uniqueness, albeit with a strong relational spin (which has ontological implications when such questions are raised). To say that second Temple Judaism is monotheistic is to say something about the uniqueness of the one God in terms of his relationship to his people and all creation. Jewish monotheism, and Paul's too, states that 'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart ...', that this one true God is to be related to in an utterly unique way. It is a claim upon life and devotion, not merely an intellectual insight. It is to say that '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' (1 Cor 8:6).
If I write another post in this little series, I may try to show how insights in both Bultmann and Barth strongly collaborate these arguments.
Jim West was clever enough to post a picture of himself on his blog yesterday, as a young 23 year old. Given his recent malicious rejoicing about the results of some stupid internet linguistic analysis programme (which apparently rated my blog as Junior High level reading), I thought it fitting to dedicate this caption competition to his picture.
“Cher, just minutes after her operation, looks in the mirror and has second thoughts”
The winner will be selected in the next few days and will win a bottle of CTRVHM Holy Phlegm (smear on body to cure all sickness and deliver from all demons).*
* Post and package not included
Dan recently posted on John Piper's comment:
'My experience [with the New Perspective on Paul] is that people who talk this way do not generally see the meaning of the New Testament as clearly as those who focus their attention not in the extra-biblical literature but in the New Testament texts themselves. For the ordinary layman who wonders what to do when scholars seem to see what you cannot see, I suggest that you stay with what you can see for yourself'
In his usual style, Dan scorched his keyboard with blistering and amusing rhetoric. His whole post is well worth reading and I found myself agreeing that Dan has spotted something vital in going for the 'plain reading' jugular. Piper's comment, while understandable, is actually inexcusable. I am quite sure that there are many passages of the bible that say something quite different from the many potential 'plain readings', as scholarship demonstrates time and time again. This is a question of loving truth, of loving God with our minds, of an integrated spirituality, of an understanding of the actual nature of scripture and of the canon and its development, of the reformation of the church in light of scripture. The paper pope of the misunderstood clarity of scripture will keep many sure of their structurally problematic dogmatic castles, even when truth-seeking has shown them to be built on sand.
However, while I tend to many readings of Paul and the Gospels that are quite seriously subversive of pop-evangelical readings, especially in terms of justification and eschatology, I do wonder if the semper reforandum that has encouraged many of these readings has taken the bible from the average church-goer.
One of the commentators to Dan's post asked: 'How does a layman/laywoman read the bible if they do not possess the time or inclination to read what the scholarly body of work on a subject? And, when faced with two opposing "scholarly" viewpoints, what is the best way in which to judge those positions?'
Good questions, I think. Surely the clarity or perspicuity of scripture can be a much abused doctrine, but is not something lost when we push the 'true reading' into the realms of scholarship alone? Are we becoming another academic elite that fails to communicate with the life of the church, much like the protestant liberalism that Barth so vigorously shook off. Barth opened up to the person in the pew 'the strange new world of the bible'. Have we made it too difficult to reach?
These are rhetorical questions. I for one cannot and must not turn my back on scholarship and will seek to make its findings understandable to the church – rather than hiding behind nonsense dogmatic declarations clothed in a misunderstood doctrine of perspicuity. A part of me wants to say that dilettantes are better to steer clear of teaching, and read the bible only with the help of a theologically trained Christian teacher. Another part of me knows that is a stupid thing to say.
Benny Hinn accent: And the people said AMEN!
To confirm the rumours, by the way, it is true that Jim West and I will be sharing a room at the SBL conference – in the Marriot Hotel. I've been practicing deep level hypnosis techniques recently – for those who are asleep. After the first night, every time Jim hears the words 'Tom Wright', he will jump up and down and cheer as if his soccer team has just scored. Every time he hears the name 'Bultmann', he will scream out '... was a lunatic. And I love Albright'.
This is one of those pointless 'favourite books' posts. Pointless, as if I were to sit down tomorrow and try the list again, I would change my mind on not a few. And my categories are completely arbitrary – literally made up on the spot. I.e. I could have covered many more. What is more, such lists say more about me than the books in question. These points aside, here are my favourites from a number of subjects relating to the NT and theology; my favourites, at least, as I think off of the top of my head the first Sunday evening of November 2007.
I'll stop now before I go back over what I've written and change my mind.
My roving reporter in Australia, Shane Clifton, has kindly sent me the links of two notable webpages. The first, http://www.flirttoconvert.com/, is set up by a certain lady called Tamara. I'll let her introduce herself:
"Hello, my name is Tamara! As you can probably tell, I'm a Christian woman who loves Jesus Christ and cares for all humans, even the wicked. What you probably don't know is that I'm hot. My picture below isn't really that good. I want to use my beauty for GOD, and want to encourage Christian women (my sisters in Christ) to do the same, according to the Great Commission"
Not only can you sign up as the one planning to do the converting, if you yourself seek conversion – put your name down. For example, a certain Arad27 posts the following about himself:
"I need to be changed from my evil wicked ways. I was born a Jew and realized my faults, I just hope a girl out there is willing to convert me to the path of righteousness. But she must be good looking"
The page links to another, namely http://datetosave.com/. Tamara seems to have her hand in this pot too, and it provides 'Christian dating tips', and a question and answer section which answers such toughies as 'Doesn't God look down on missionary dating and tells us to not be "yoked with unbelievers"?' Her answer should dissolve all doubts:
'I looked up yoked, and the dictionary says it's a "A crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen or other draft animals working together." I would never encourage anybody to do this on a date...'
'Now to what works: Do you really want to share Christ without turning people off? Act like Jesus at all times'
I suppose that doesn't mean giving a Sermon on a Mount, going to Jerusalem, cursing a Fig Tree, etc – ok, I'm just being awkward. We know what they mean.
I had a few more ideas on making evangelism practical:
Jim West reminds us today that 'it was the 31st of October, 1971 that Gerhard von Rad died'.
In memory of this great scholar, my quote of the day comes from volume 1 of
his Old Testament Theology:
'When [God's] saving acts had happened to her, Israel did not keep silent: not only did she repeatedly take up her pen to recall these acts of Jahweh to her mind in historical documents, but she also addressed Jahweh in a wholly personal way. She offered praise to him, and asked him questions, and complained to him about all her sufferings, for Jahweh has not chosen his people as a mere dumb object of his will in history, but for converse with him' (355).
Sean Winter reminds us that 'four hundred and ninety years ago, Martin Luther, so Melanchthon later claimed, nailed his '95 Theses on the Power of Indulgences' to the door of the Wittenburg [sic – he means Wittenberg] Church, and so struck the spark that lit the fire of the Reformation'. In memory, I insensitively point people to my New International 95 theses Version.