Saturday, December 29, 2007

Third Quest out of steam?

Scot McKnight, in an ETS address last November, and Markus Bockmuehl, in his recent Seeing the Word (c. p44), have both intimated that the ‘Third Quest’ for the historical Jesus is running out of steam (though cf. Bockmuehl’s brilliant work for qualifications).

While I am not half the NT man these guys are, I am not so sure I agree. When I think of the contributions of, for example, Michael Bird or Brant Pitre, and works in progress, such as Michael Barber’s, I believe that restoration eschatology has an awful lot to lend to the discussion. I tend to think it is a lively and open discussion, with many possibilities for significant breakthroughs.

Hobbins on inerrancy

John Hobbins has written a terrific response to my post on 'Fundamentalism, inerrancy and Jim West' here. It appears that he wants to affirm inerrancy because of its rich tradition in church tradition, because superlative descriptions of scripture should not be hindered by certain ‘imperfections’ in the text.

Just a few points before it gets too late here in England. First, let us not forget what Goldingay has called ‘the nineteenth-century elaboration’ of inerrancy. Today’s versions are equivalent, but not the same. I would add, in the same breath, that these modern varieties certainly are a matter of deductive logic (cf. Warfield, Geisler, Grudem etc.).

In an interesting section Hobbins writes:
“There is nothing innovative at all about speaking of scripture in language that overlooks its imperfections (‘let it pass,’ says Luther, rightly) and concentrates, in superlative terms, on its perfections. Those who wish to praise Scripture with triter language – (moderately) useful; (all other things being equal) profitable; teachable (so long as it is transposed into the categories of later tradition or the latest ideology) – have nothing in common with Gregory of Nyssa or Martin Luther”
A terrific point, and one those of us who critique inerrancy would do well to remember. I hope I take it to heart. But six responses: 1) Today, should we be happy with these ‘superlative’ inerrancy terms when they are laden with deductively prescribed and exact statements, as in the Chicago Statement – something that was not clearly on the horizon of Gregory of Nyssa, Luther etc.? 2) The ‘triter language’, as he puts it, would certainly have plenty in common with one of the most famous biblical witnesses to the nature of scripture’s inspiration, namely that in 2 Tim 3:16 (‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful ...’). 3) My own language concerning scripture in the so-called ‘Tilling Statement’, I suggest, is appropriately and deeply superlative, yet is not formulated in such a way that contradicts bare fact. 4) In light of modern formulations, such as the Chicago Statement that further define what one must consider historical (e.g. the flood), this tradition needs reformation (semper reformandum), and for the sake of the churches witness, the nature of truth in relation to scripture needs to be re-formulated. At least, I would argue so! Love always rejoices in the truth, after all. 5) The Chicago Statement, for example, has little to do with doxology, and more to do with precise definitions. I hope that my own statement, proffered on my blog a while ago, recaptures the superlative aspect Hobbins so rightly draws attention to, while avoiding the promotion of belief in a, for want of a more pertinent word, lie. My own understanding of scripture, which rejects inerrancy, does so precisely to provoke doxology (it was penned for confession by the gathered church, in worship), and not to succumb to the restraints of logical propositions. It is the modern formulation of inerrancy that is weighed down by a deductively logical weariness, not the freedom that only comes via truth. 6) Hobbins mentions ‘imperfections’. But let us be honest what they are, though. Errors. Thanks, Lord, for an inerrant text, despite these errors? Unless we today reframe these ‘truth’ matters, as I have suggested elsewhere, we will get some rather bewildered ‘Amens’!

A little later he adds:
‘“Scripture is without error in all that it affirms” (Lausanne Covenant), well, you don’t say? I can’t find “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” in the Bible either’
As noted in the comments by Drew, a fundamental difference between the Lausanne Covenant claim and the ‘God in three persons’ claim, is that the Lausanne statement is factually false. ‘Blessed Trinity’ is to be gladly worshipped as Truth.

He writes:
“Should someone object that the verses cited do not in the first instance refer to the inscripturated word of God, but to some unknown subset thereof, or to an ephemeral word of which we now have nothing: know this: you have the entire interpretive tradition of synagogue and church against you. The great tradition applied these verses to the entire sweep of scripture”
This is precisely what I have attempted to do in my own formulation (which I now consider best to concern the trustworthiness of scripture), but certainly not in the service of modern formulations of inerrancy. I think I'll re-post my now re-worked formulation here when I return to Germany.

Finally, he writes: “It’s time to engage in multi-tiered thinking, like this: the Bible affirms that God leads into error (1 Kings 22; Isa 6 [and NT actualizations thereof]; 63:17), and at the same time, that God did not err in so doing”. I applaud John’s spirit here. However, I don’t think he goes far enough. This faint strand is not enough on which to hang the nature of scripture in relation to truth. Rather than let such inerrancy concerns win such a small square of theological rational, why not recover all the masses of scriptures gathered in my own formulation, and reframe them in light of a more biblical understanding of truth?

Do give Hobbins' articulate and helpful response a read.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Quote for the day: Perriman

Happy Christmas to all of you!

Over my Christmas break I took the time read Andrew Perriman’s breathtaking Re:Mission. Biblical Mission for a post-biblical church which I shall review when I return to Germany. It either will be or already is available from Paternoster, in the ‘Faith in an Emerging Culture’ series.

Perriman is certainly one of my favourite authors. His thought is rich, eloquent, provocative, committed to scripture, and very often, and I mean this quite honestly, has the mark of genius. He is, at least for me, a reformer of the evangelical gospel. Perhaps it is for that reason that I feel he hangs too loosely to the canon-forming, interpretive and exegetical streams of church tradition - traditions, I dare to hope, which have been guided, albeit more or less, by the Holy Spirit.

Let me put it like this (without wanting to give the impression I am a closet Catholic!). It is church tradition (A) that has shaped the ‘canon’ of scripture (B), and this ‘canon’ is itself the backbone of our understandings of the scriptural narrative (C). Yet it is this narrative (C) that Perriman employs with such devastating and illuminating effect to (overly?) boldly critique … church traditions (A). This process (A-B-C-[critiques]->A) needs to be handled carefully, and I’m not sure Perriman is at his most nuanced at this point. I thus find myself backing away from some of Perriman’s conclusions, even though I find his method and results so exciting.

Am I just being a boring old stuffy traditionalist conservative, paying lip service to critical scholarship while ‘running to the hills’ when it starts to hurt? I’m not sure I can answer that yet. I admit that there is some he writes that I find myself disagreeing with, and I regularly find him unsettling. But it is precisely for this reason that I so enjoy reading his works!

So here is my quote of the day. I read the text below and had one of those ‘ah ha!’ moments. For a moment, I stopped feeling guilty for making the text of scripture appear so alien and distant in discussions with some friends.

“I would question the assumption that Scripture ought to be immediately accessible, easily intelligible, to the modern reader. The problem is that the Bible is not a modern text: it is an ancient text, written to address ancient circumstances, constructed out of the peculiar thought-forms of an ancient worldview, and it should seem strange and irrelevant to us” (Perriman, Otherways, p. 57)

An afterthought: If you are reading the bible with due consideration of its historical context, it should seem strange, and, in many ways, irrelevant. I hasten to add, it doesn’t work both ways. If the bible is strange and irrelevant to you, that is no proof that you are reading the bible with such due consideration!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Home to Old Blighty

We arrived safely in England last night - to the land that brought you the best sports, real humour, proper manners, personal hygiene, the stiff upper lip, unparalleled learning and literature, to the land that brought you tea (shut up, Indians), glorious food (shut up everyone else in the world), the Opium wars, Margaret Thatcher, and everything else worth anything at all. It’s nice to come home.

On the plane, we were stuck behind two libidonically energised young people who couldn’t stop talking. Loudly. And boy did they have opinions … on everything. Being unfortunately forced to listen to their non-stop opinionating, I couldn’t help note the odd logical non sequiturs, use of the old post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, question begging, not to mention the use anecdotal evidence to prove a point etc.

Of course, my teeth were grinding like two bunnies in a sleeping bag, but there was more. One of them continued falling into numerous horrendous (circumstantial) Ad Hominem arguments, not to mention the old Ad Hominem Tu Quoque fallacy. If this was not enough, the person in question also saw fit to employ the erroneous rhetorically “misleading vividness”, guilt by association and hasty generalisation tactics.

By this point I was getting ready to use the edge of my Church of England prayer book as a lethal weapon, and forever finish their argumentation methods. I wanted, oh so wanted to see how far I could shove my travel ESV bible down their throats.

But I didn’t. I just sat there angrily wearing down the enamel of my teeth, totally under control.

Behold my Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas spirit

The Father Christmas Competition is open again. Log your results in the comments box.

Addendum: A special 2007 bonus point, suggested by Josh McManaway, is offered this year. Add one extra point (even if you get no visible reaction), if you say to the kids: ‘Santa isn’t real and if he were, he would hate you’. Two bonus points if you flash that one while their mum is standing next to you.

Addendum two: Take a hunk of chicken-on-the-bone with you, and if you convince any dew eyed kids that the half eaten carcass was a present wrapping elf called ‘Fluffy’, add two points (advice: show a picture of cute 'Fluffy' for maximum effect).

UPDATE: Thus far, Chris Tilling has accumulated 15 points. I luckily had a bus full of toddlers to work on today (sadly no tears, but plenty of wet-eyed nods of concession). Yea baby!

UPDATE II: Chris Tilling whips out the ‘Santa isn’t real and if he were, he would hate you’ line ten times while buying presents for his family, this afternoon. The eyecontact with one little girl lasted long enough for a little blubber time, doubling my score! Awesome! This brings me to my all time best of 50 points. *Shouts a Benny Hinn sized AMEN!*

UPDATE III: Nick (the incarnate evil) Norelli has been slaying and ninjaing his way to 75 points! Well done, Nick! Respect for the tears. They are rare, precious moments.

Christian Zionism and the narrative of exile, restoration and the Gentiles. Pt 2

My previous post summarised the sort of narrative one confronts in much prophetic literature. It was, of course, a crude over simplification and missed out much, such as the significance of the tribulation which I ought to have mentioned.

When I first encountered these prophetic traditions and the narrative contained therein, I was tempted to make aspects of Jesus and his ministry, death and resurrection, and claims in the letters, cohere with specific points within this narrative. However, things are not so simple. While Jesus' death, in some respects, reflects the tribulation, he also prophesied the coming 'Great Tribulation' which was to overtake Jerusalem within one generation (Cf. Wright, Pitre etc.). Paul, likewise, could speak in tribulation-related language of a coming catastrophe across the entire Mediterranean world (Perriman), yet the Gentile mission had already begun – based precisely upon the prophetic narrative outlined in the previous post on this series.

Instead of a direct equation between aspects of this narrative and moments in the 'Christ event', what we have is the eschatological inauguration of this prophetic narrative in the life death and resurrection of Jesus (and in the life and ministry of his Apostles), with some aspects of the narrative starting when others have not ended. This prophetic narrative was nevertheless inaugurated. It had begun, and the entire structure of NT theology presupposes this fact.

Let me press the point. Whenever we celebrate communion and the new covenant in Christ's blood, we are saying that this prophetic tradition begun in Christ. Whenever we read in the New Testament of the 'new creation in Christ', or the giving of the spirit, or of the 'new heart' or about Paul's Gentile mission, or Christ's preaching of the arrival of the kingdom of God, and his 'gathering' of the Twelve, or even when we simply read the New Testament, we do so because this prophetic narrative has been inaugurated.

All of this has clear implications in the Christian Zionism debate. At the beginning of this series I defined Christian Zionism along the following lines: that it is the belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.

What I have argued is that these prophesies were inaugurated not in 1948, but in the Christ-event. The crucial time for biblical prophecy is not 1948, but the first century. It is entirely irresponsible to ransack Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah or whoever, with the understanding that verses harvested from the chapters of these prophetic writings somehow confirm modern political events in a direct sense. To make such claims is to short circuit one of the fundamental narratives within Scripture and the justification for the very existence of the New Testament.

I don't think the above reasoning entirely excludes the notion that 1948 may in some sense be a faint reflection of the eschatological promises already inaugurated in Christ (but see below). Nor does it exclude the notion that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was an act of God's grace. What is excluded is the Christian use of these OT prophetic writings as proof for these events as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

Especially when this 'return' led to the persecution of Christians, i.e. those who claim to be the result of the real messianic inauguration of these prophesies. Especially when the return was no return in a literal biblical sense, either (the twelve tribes - including the lost ten northern tribes, to their alotted land), which they claim it is (but cf. Jesus and the Twelve disciples). I.e. the Christian Zionist reading is not a literal reading over and against the 'christological' one. And one also wonders whether the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 itself really coheres with the prophetic narrative, such as the ingathering of the Gentiles, the pouring out of the Spirit etc. Does the narrative trajectory understanding, of at least the Apostle Paul, support the CZ case at all? In light of Romans 4:13 ('For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith') one would be hard pressed to add the CZ addendum here without writing a most unusual closing chapter to the narrative as it has developed through Christ.

One of the realisations I have come to is that the NT hermeneutic is variegated. Many are as christological as I maintained in the previous posts in this series. To that one must now add the scope and significance of the prophetic narratives for the structure and direction of NT theology. My argument leads me to no other conclusion other than that the straightforward CZ case must be rejected.

I may write one more post in this series reflecting upon Romans 9-11.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fundamentalism, inerrancy and Jim West

Once again the subject of inerrancy is causing lively debate in biblioblogdom. This time, troublemaker Jim West throws down the gauntlet with a post attempting to define Fundamentalism simply as 'a person who believes that the Bible is inerrant or infallible'.

The gauntlet has been picked up by John Hobbins, who writes: 'He [Jim] also contends that none of the Reformers were fundamentalists according to his definition, because "NONE of the Reformers would attribute to a book what can only be attributed to God". There is only one problem with Jim's assertion. It's not true'.

  1. I must admit that while I don't think Jim's definition of Fundamentalism is sufficient, his critique of inerrancy as a non scriptural doctrine is essentially spot-on. It is only by applying a deductively logical wringer to scriptural statements (i.e. by jamming texts that state inspiration or the truth of God's word together with the theological propositions that 'God cannot lie') that the potent 'inerrancy' cocktail is made – which is then poured quickly over the whole Christian canon. However, scripture itself demands that a more inductive approach be adopted. By only using scripture, and nothing else, it can be demonstrated that the bible contains errors of many kinds. This is a simply fact of our scriptures, and must be acknowledged in the process of developing a specifically scriptural understanding of scripture. It necessarily short fuses the 'inerrancy' deductive logic.
  2. Some will respond, as does the Chicago Statement, Article XIV, that unexplained alleged errors do not violate the doctrine of inerrancy. However, the doctrine of inerrancy is making a claim that the investigation of smaller details can either falsify or verify. Scripture itself thoroughly falsifies it.
  3. This doesn't mean that we, who call ourselves evangelicals, should throw our hands up in despair and all become liberals! God forbid! I affirm a very high view of scripture, indeed one that can be understood as higher than 'inerrancy' – one that focuses on our practices and posture to scriptures.
  4. Church tradition is, I believe, more ambiguous that West implies in terms of inerrancy. Yes the Reformers, or anyone else before, didn't operate under the same kind of assumptions which were to later influence modern formulations of inerrancy (namely the Scottish philosophy of 'common sense'). But it must be admitted that many of them could speak in extremely exalted language about the Bible. Luther, for example, could describe scripture as 'God incarnate'! Nevertheless, and here is why West's point can be essentially affirmed, Luther was also untroubled by historical discrepancies in scripture: 'Let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith' (cf. Goldingay, Models for Scripture, 262-63)
  5. While 'fun' certainly is included in 'Fundamentalism', so is 'mental'.
  6. Let's speak positively of the trustworthiness of scripture, not negatively of inerrancy. After all, the author 2 Timothy didn't write: 'no scripture is rather lamely uninspired', nor did the author of Hebrews write: 'the word of God is not dead and not passive, not as blunt as any two-edged blunt sword', and the Psalmist didn't confess: 'the words of the LORD are not flawed'!
  7. As academics, we also need to exercise grace with those who have been raised to affirm inerrancy, and whose theological world falls from beneath them if it is put into question.
  8. Furthermore, and this is something those of us who think of ourselves as academics would do well to remember, many who would affirm inerrancy are far more open, humble and loving people than many of us will ever be.
  9. I tend to think of Fundamentalism as more of a character trait, a strong disposition toward arrogance, an inability to dialogue, the need to pigeonhole people as 'opponents', a self assured position that cannot be challenged by these 'opponents', a set of 'undisputable' yet dubious expectations about scripture, and an inability to see greys instead of only black and white. Couple this with inerrancy, or anything else (e.g. atheism, theological liberalism), and you have a total bastard on the loose.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Emergent Conversation ...

... is not merely about a misunderstood application of 'becoming all things to all men', as if it were just a matter of accommodation to present cultural trends (though all accommodate to one or another). It is, in its best moments, about the urgently necessary and continued reformation of the church in its ministry, method and message.

My previous ‘erection post’

While on the subject of posts and erection, I would like to apologise for my last erected post. I was most immature to keep on about an erection, especially in a post – for the last thing needed in biblioblogdom is anything about erectile posts. I will try to keep my post erection free from now on ...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quote of the day: First century sleaze

"Now the most excellent five were of this character, they related to the monarchial principle on which the world is governed; to images and statues, and in short to all erections of any kind made by hand"

(Philo, Decalogue 51 - transl. de Yonge, C., The works of Philo : Complete and unabridged Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995, p. 522)

Too much information, Philo. Too much information.

A Tilling Wildlife Documentary on “The West”

During our stay in San Diego for the SBL congress, I shared a room with one of nature's rarest and most undomesticated creatures, The West. Of course, this was a chance to learn something about this most elusive, territorial and mindlessly aggressive of animals. It was still a pity things got so ugly at the end.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Two great online videos

The first is a debate called "Eine Frage des Glaubens: Das neue Interesse am Atheismus". Richard Dawkins is joined by a number of folk, including the articulate Bishop Wolfgang Huber. To be honest, I don't know why this Dawkins chap is getting so much airtime – it is certainly not for the quality of his argumentation which is uninformed fundie tripe – but the discussion is stimulating, none the less.

The second is really terrific (thanks Susi!). The discussion theme of 'Menschen bei Maischberger' was 'Angriff der Gottlosen: Vergiftet Religion die Welt?'. It includes a really superb interview with Hans Küng who speaks very honestly about all manner of subjects. A truly revealing and inspiring video to watch (Küng appears about 2/3 of the way through)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christology and Science

Over the weekend I spent quite a few hours with theologian, LeRon Shults, for his Tübingen lectures on his forthcoming book, Christology and Science. Not only is LeRon a real nice chap (and a blogger!), his work has deeply impressed me for quite a while now. I feel that my work, and what I am attempting at an exegetical level in terms of Paul, in a small way mirrors his massive project in the world of systematic theology. His forthcoming is, as far as I am concerned, his most interesting to date. Not only is his breadth of vision remarkable, but his solutions are deeply spiritual, faithful to historic Christian faith, dynamically contemporary and intellectually satisfying – not to say excitingly stimulating and encouraging! If you have not read anything by LeRon Shults yet, do yourself a favour and grab one of his works:

  1. Christology and Science. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Series in Religion and Science, and Eerdmans Pub. Co, in press.
  2. The Holy Spirit (with Andrea Hollingsworth). Eerdmans "Guides to Theology" series. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, in press.
  3. Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology (with Steve Sandage). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
  4. The Evolution of Rationality: Interdisciplinary Essays in Honor of J. Wentzel van Huyssteen (editor). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
  5. Reforming the Doctrine of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.
  6. Reforming Theological Anthropology: After the Philosophical Turn to Relationality. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. (This was my stimulating introduction to his work)
  7. The Faces of Forgiveness: Searching for Wholeness and Salvation (with Steve Sandage). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.
  8. The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.

See here for a complete list of his publications.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christian Zionism and the narrative of exile, restoration and the Gentiles. Pt 1

Time to complete my Christian Zionism series!

This will come in (at least) two parts. In this one I examine the prophetic narrative of exile, restoration, the salvation of the Gentiles, plus certain associated themes that the NT picks up, and I look at how this narrative is retold in and informs NT texts.

One of the most exciting elements of the prophetic writings is the theme of the restoration of the tribes of Israel followed by salvation coming to the Gentiles (please, please read Brant Pitre's Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, if you haven't yet – and Bird's Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission). You will find this narrative all over the place, not least in Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). For example, Zechariah 8:13: 'Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing'.

After the two major exiles, the ten northern tribes of Israel had been lost. Though some remained in the land, most of the tribes, at the time of Jesus and his Apostles, were scattered throughout the nations. In exile, the Israelite world of Jesus holds its breath for redemption...

Here are some NT snapshots with this crucial narrative in mind:

Acts 15:14-18 runs as follows:

'14 Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord-- even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called."'

Because the dwelling of David is rebuilt, because Israel is restored, there is hope at last for the Gentiles (v. 14, 17).

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 Paul writes:

'As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you". See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!'

Here Paul cites the text of Isaiah 49:8, almost exactly the same as that found in Rahlf's LXX. I submit that this is a classic case of what Hays calls metalepsis. The surrounding verses in Isaiah 49 inform our understanding of Paul's text. Within Isaiah 49 is the above narrative: Israel restored and regathered, Israel then given 'as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth' (cf. vv 5 and 6). The confidence of Paul as missionary to the Gentiles is because now is the time of salvation (also for the Gentiles). As Paul puts it at the start of 2 Corinthians: ' For in [Christ] every one of God's promises is a "Yes"' (1:20). Paul and his team become the righteousness of God (5:21) in the sense that God's saving righteousness is now available to the whole world (5:19), embodied in their ministry of reconciliation (5:18). Now there is 'new creation' in Christ (5:17).

The last paragraph shows that various other prophetic themes are associated with the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. Here we see the matter of new creation noted, something associated with the above narrative in Isaiah (cf. 66:18-22 – though read the whole 66th chapter). Connected with this narrative are such matters as the New Covenant (Isaiah 61:4-8; Jer 31), the pouring out of the Spirit (e.g. Ezekiel 39:29), and the new heart (e.g. Ezekiel 36:24-26) that find regular expression in the NT. The Lord's Supper tradition in Luke tells of Jesus speaking of the New Covenant in his blood, a matter picked up in Paul (1 Cor 11:25). The 'new heart' theme may well lie behind the Sermon on the Mount material, as Wright argues, and is explicitly adopted in Paul's argumentation in 2 Corinthians 3 (which also involves mention of the new covenant, mission to the Gentiles, and the ministry of the Spirit). The gift of the Spirit is related all over the place, for example in John (20:22), Luke-Acts (primarily Pentecost, of course!), Paul (e.g. Gal 3 – where it is appropriately linked to the blessing of Abraham).

In the next post in this series, I look at why all of this is important to the Christian Zionism debate.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Anna of the scattered tribe, Asher

"36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38 )

This theme of the redemption of Israel is naturally related to Simeon's desire expressed a few verses earlier, for the 'consolation of Israel' (2:25). The word used here is the same as that in the Septuagint for 'Comfort, comfort my people' starting Second Isaiah. Of course, Second Isaiah goes on to expresses the prophetic hope for the restoration of the tribes of Israel, the gathering of those scattered among the nations.

The point of this post? The tribe of Asher was one of the 'lost' northern tribes. I wonder if there is any significance in Luke's narrative in the fact that it was Anna of the tribe of Asher who spoke 'about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem'?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Thoughts to ponder

From the brilliant Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, by Joel Green and Mark Baker

  • 'The early tradition is evidently more interested in the affirmation that Jesus' death, far from taking God by surprise, was actually the means by which Jesus' mesiaship was most transparent, and is less concerned to tie down with precision how Jesus' death was effective in bringing about the salvation of the world' (17)
  • 'Forgivingness and reconciliation are fundamentally social realities' (73)
  • 'Paul S. Fiddes notes that Paul has a "penal view" of Christ's suffering and that he conceives of Christ as a substitute and representative of humankind, but he denies that these two concepts can be joined in Paul into a theory of "penal substitution", in which atonement is achieved via a transfer of penalty ... The phrase "penal substitution" is thus a mixing of Pauline metaphors' (95 n. 14)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Paul, ‘Apocalyptic’ and ‘Salvation-History’ approaches, and Barth

To oversimplify to the extreme: the modern apocalyptic approach to Paul, broadly speaking, denies a continuity between Paul's thought and the old creation and covenant. A salvation-history approach seeks to understand Paul's thinking as part of the trajectory, even if it is doing something new and radical, of the old covenant and creation. In the apocalyptic approach, God breaks into history independent of God's age-old promises tied to Israel's, and the world's, history – matters important to the salvation-history approach.

A few suggestions for your consideration:

These two approaches to Paul are, fundamentally, not about the nature of revelation such that one can be used to affirm a Barthian approach and the other not, but a largely exegetical judgment about the significance of the covenant as it relates to Paul's theology. The similarities between the 'apocalyptic' and Barth may well be superficial and less significant than at first appearance.


  1. First, the hard distinction between 'apocalyptic' and 'salvation-history' approaches to Paul is often over pressed. Dunn once insightfully wrote that it was the "apocalyptic climax of the salvation-history which constituted the heart of his gospel". The two belong together for the apocalyptic reveals the ways in which God fulfils his covenant promises (Daniel). Were the new creation so utterly discontinuous, one would struggle to explain much of Paul's reasoning (famously in Rom 9-11, for example). And to state the obvious, Christ's significance was not written, by Paul, in binary code but in the language and milieu of Jewish Christianity as it sought to understand how Christ was the telos of the law. Yes Christ was new, surprising, discontinuous in so many ways with the old covenant, but Christ was not without context, not entirely 'out of the blue' and entirely impossible to understand as just 'out of the blue'. For an extended critique of dividing 'apocalyptic' from 'salvation-history', cf. Wright's Paul: Fresh Perspectives, chapter 3. What is more, criticisms of the salvation-history approach tend to unhelpful caricatures (cf. Doug Campbell in his otherwise excellent work, The Quest for Paul's Gospel, 37-38). Watson has a helpful section in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith on the dialogue and conversation between Christ and scriptures in the understanding of the early church. Christ was not ever an entity separate from the scriptures given to the covenant people. It may be objected that some of these arguments caricature the 'apocalyptic' approach. But the point here is that 'apocalyptic' and 'salvation-history' approaches are a difference of emphasis, not kind – and were one to maintain the latter, one enters the land of the caricature I critiqued.
  2. Barth, at the start of his 'Lehre von der Versöhnung' (CD IV), begins with 'The Covenant as the Presupposition (Voraussetzung) of Reconciliation' (IV §57.2). Wright, in his location of Paul's theology on the horizon of covenantal salvation history themes, continually speaks of 'rethought', 'reworked' and 'reimagined' in light of Christ. Both seek to locate Christ in a suitable context, yet re-read that context in the light of Christ.
  3. Barth speaks of the history of Christ as the history of humanity. All is focused upon Christ and his story (hence Barth's revamp of traditional understandings of election). Wright maintains that Christ's life, death and resurrection expresses the history of Israel (election, exile and return) which itself was a retelling of Adam's, and the world's, story. See, for example, how Gregory MacDonald, in terms of the Apostle Paul, uses Wright's insights to argue that Christ's story is world history in a nutshell (The Evangelical Universalist)
  4. It is the 'blessing of Abraham' (that sounds worryingly like salvation history!) that comes to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:14), and this because Christ became a 'curse' (covenantal Deuteronomic language) for us (3:13). In my view, Dunn's commentary on Galatians is the best Galatians commentary, and sheds more light on the text at such points than Louis Martyn's 'apocalyptically' slanted commentary.
  5. I therefore suggest that Barthians would do well to avoid seeing a natural ally in the 'apocalyptic' approach to Paul. There may well be room for more fruitful dialogue with those in the salvation-history school – caricatures aside, given Barth's procedure in CD IV, the way in which everything is reimagined, rethought etc. in light of Christ, and the significance of the history of Christ in Wright's thought.

Monday, December 03, 2007


A common insult hurled around by many Christians, especially those of the emergent variety, is that conservative evangelicals tend to 'proof-text' in their rhetoric. Mr Conservative beef-boy laces his argument with numerous references, and draws rather direct lines between his position and 2 Opinion X:X, and the tattooed emergent replies with the exclamation: 'You are just proof-texting!'. I'm sure many of us have seen something like this at some stage.

Not unsurprisingly, conservatives throw their arms up in frustration. 'What do you mean, "proof-texting"? We are simply showing our position is scriptural!'

To be honest, I sometimes suspect not just a few in the emergent community don't really know what they mean either with their accusation, and fall back on this nugget when scriptures seem to oppose their view or support their debate partner. Or am I being too cynical?

One blogger has defined proof texting as follows (do also have a look at his helpful statement of faith):

"By proof-texting I mean the use of individual scripture texts to produce apparent support for a doctrinal position without adequate regard for the contexts of the individual texts which may indicate differences and nuances"

This is fair enough, but I want to suggest a definition that doesn't just emphasise the context of the text but also that of the reader. I propose that proof-texting is:

"the appropriation of scripture in the service of an argument that reads the text in terms of an inappropriate (even if scripturally laced) narrative or social discourse, in such a way that loses sight of this fact and thinks the scripture merely 'interprets itself'"

Of course, this implies that a text is thereby read in such a manner that loses sight also of its original context. But what makes proof-texting so difficult for many to see is that it is also about their assumed narrative or social discourse through which they read scripture. Many conservatives have a very scripturally sounding social discourse or narrative, with bible language abounding. So, when they read scripture, it is used to decorate this pre-given, this assumed narrative concerning the meaning of faith, Christ, and the church. This is done even though assumed their social discourse is profoundly unbiblical in its wider concerns and shape. The failure of much conservative evangelical rhetoric is not that they use scripture in their arguments, but that their assumed 'Christmas tree' upon which they often decoratively hang scripture, is in desperate need of reformation.

One conservative (whose sometimes ugly rhetoric is horribly and transparently guilty of proof-texting as I define it), frustrated by some emergent rhetoric, goes as far to claim that Jesus used the proof-texting method in his teaching! Of course, this misunderstands the point being made by intelligent emergent chaps, and the nature of Jesus handling of scripture.

This definition in mind, I would even claim that proof-texting is the most burdensome problem in conservative evangelical rhetoric.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


My camera is playing up and won't allow me to transfer the pictures I took onto my computer. Hopefully all problems will be solved tomorrow. So for those of you waiting for Jim West pictures, fear not.

Jim, I can still be bought off (paypal will do me fine). You recent empty rhetoric on your blog won't help your cause - I still have the Zwingli thong picture that caused me to puke.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Lordy, what a time. Right now I am jetlagged, exhausted, a bit ill, confused by the German keyboard ('y' is where 'z' is on English kezboard), surrounded by luggage, unsure where I will put my new books, but ... safely
home! And that despite the demonically inspired American road system in and around Washington DC which seemed to conspire to kill me at every opportunity. I had some 'choice words' to describe our journey from Durham, NC, when I finally pulled into the road of our friends and family in Arlington, believe me. The Pope wouldn't have been proud.

Which reminds me, one of the things we did in Durham, NC, was to meet the recently converted to Catholicism phenomenon known as Josh McManaway. There is a clever cookie. Of course, as you would expect, I couldn't resist using the word 'pope' as much as possible in our conversations, which I'm sure he appreciated. I think the Pope Tarts line was a little too blunt, however. But enough of this nonsense – it won't make me popeular with any of my Catholic friends, and typing that I'm going to pope over to the next paragraph isn't exactly funny.

And a special thanks to Jim West for the fun we had in sharing a room in San Diego. Thanks to all of you who treated me to a meal or a drink, or who made time to chat with me. Thanks also to our friends in North Carolina for putting us up – and putting up with us - for quite a few days. We had a great time with you all. And last but not least, thanks to our family (and friends) in Arlington. You are a terrific bunch, and we hope to see you soon.

But it is great to be home. With a camera full of pictures (e.g. Jim West in Zwingli underpants running away from camera endowed Chris). With a stack of new books and with more memories than I can remember.