Thursday, November 27, 2008

Over-realised eschatology thinking

A good reason to write a post like the previous is interestingly found in the claims on the back of a book noted by Nick Norelli recently, Beale's The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. What Beale actually claims remains to be seen when I purchase a copy, but the blurb reads:

'When postmodernism preys upon propositional truth, Christians—and Christian scholars—can be tempted to redefine words like "error," "truth," and "inspiration." But if propositions are no longer secure, what exactly does it mean to say that the Bible is true?'

It goes on to speak of 'leading postmodernist, Peter Enns'! All of this sounds quite silly, and it reminds me how important it is to actually read the bible before being taken hook, line and sinker by such notions as 'secure propositions'. In fact, this strikes me as the symptom of an (albeit understandable) yearning for the eschaton, but framed like this ultimately leads to over-realised eschatological grasp of reality. I suggest a meditative think on the proposition found in Psalm 66:4!

(For some earlier Chrisendom reflections on scripture and propositional revelation – you know you want to read them! – see here and here)

The nature of biblical propositions

In a prayer time recently I meditated upon a verse in Psalm 66 (using the helpful method of repeating the text aloud stressing one word in the sentence only, then repeating the sentence and stressing the next word until the sentence is complete), namely:

'All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name' (Ps 66:4)

What struck me about the sentence is the nature of its claim on reality. Ask yourself: Does the whole earth worship God? Does it all 'sing praises' to Yahweh? What about idolatry, sin, corruption, the destructive eruptions of chaos, etc.?

Perhaps one should read 'all the earth' as 'all the (promised) land', though M.E. Tate speaks here, in his Word Biblical Commentary on Psalms 51-100, of praise 'by all who live on the earth' (p. 149). Either way, though especially if Tate is right in his assumption, what an astonishing claim! Are we to really believe that 'all in the earth', whether the whole world or even just the whole land, worships God, sings praises to God?

My suggestion: this sentence of praise is best taken, in terms of its propositional claim on reality, as an eschatological statement. It points to a hoped for reality. But as I pondered this, it struck me that this is true of so much biblical material to a great or lesser extent. While there is nothing in the context of the Psalm itself to read such an eschatological accent into it, does not its truth claim push it into a future? Indeed, there may be nothing in the context of other biblical proposition, but many of them, especially positive statements about God, all claim a stake in a reality that is yet to come, one that is in the hidden future and coming of God.

I think if we could grasp this more profoundly, perhaps we would be unleashed to develop our doctrinal thinking with more boldness, freshness and truthfulness, in a way that is more accustomed to walking on the water, less disturbed by the waves and wind of a world still yearning for its eschatological reality to materialise. And recognising this, maybe we would also judge our own theological statements (whether Calvinistic, Arminian, Reformed, Open Theistic or whatever) with more humility, as always penultimate to God's glorious advent.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

'"Dogmatic" theology is rational, but its axioms must be fluid rather than fixed'

(LeRon Shults, Christology and Science, 134a terrific book, one that I will review soon)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Creation or Evolution

The Dean of St Mellitus brought a new book in for our growing library the other day. I, um, promptly bagged it and took it home. Suppose I shouldn't say that here, but hey ho - 'sin boldly' as Luther wrote to Melanchthon. The item in question is Denis Alexander's new book, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose? His book Rebuilding the Matrix is an absolute gem. A part of me is a bit bored with the whole creationism-evolution hubbub, but this book will no doubt be worth your investment.

The St Mellitus College Collect

I'm sad, of course, to have missed SBL this year, but I've been away for the past few days at a St Mellitus residential weekend, delivering a couple of lectures on Luke. Phil Ritchie (Director of Lay Ministry Studies) posted the St Mellitus college collect a while ago

God of grace and wisdom,
who called your servant Mellitus
to leave his home and proclaim your Word:
grant to all who belong to the college that bears his name
diligence for study, fervour for mission,
and perseverance for ministry,
that they might shine with your love and truth
in these dioceses and beyond,
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

(To the tune of MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This)

For many years as an evangelical I never heard about 'collects'. Can't get enough of them these days. Though recent escapades into traditional liturgical forms of worship have made me also appreciate more 'charismatic' or 'free' forms of worship, I would advise all in the evangelical tradition to pick up the Anglican prayer book. My personal favourite is Celebrating Common Prayer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gentiles as the return from exile people

Michael Barber once wrote a tremendously through provoking post on the salvation of 'all Israel'. Among other things he suggested that Paul saw the restoration of the lost northern tribes as directly associated with Paul's mission to Gentiles, suggesting a closer link between the lost tribes and the Gentiles.

Michael summarises part of a Scott Hahn essay with these words: 'God allowed Israel to be exiled so that he could use them to eventually bring the nations home as well--as their relatives'. Among other passages very ably discussed, Michael notes especially the way Paul applies a passage in Hosea 1, which originally spoke of the northern tribes, to Gentiles (Hosea 1:10 'where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God". Cf. Romans 9:26). One could add material in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 to this too, where the return from exile people ('come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord' – i.e. come out from the nations!) are equated with the Corinthian Christians! Amazing! (cf. here for a few references on this)

Does this mean the Gentiles are the lost northern tribes? Or as Hahn implies, their relatives? Or perhaps the Gentiles are simply symbolically represent the lost northern tribes? Or are the Gentiles made holy, included in to the line of Abraham, because of intermingling with the northern tribes (cf. Rom. 11:16)? Or are they related in some other way? Love to read your thoughts…

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gordon Wenham

Today I had the pleasure of introducing Prof. Gordon Wenham for a guest lecture to our second year OT class. At the start of the year I specifically decided to decline giving lectures on two OT themes, namely 'holiness' and 'righteousness and justification'. For obvious reasons. So it was a real honour to have him speak to us on the matter of 'holiness'. Besides, Gordon is a world-class internationally renowned OT scholar, and I'm, well, still wondering if Adam had a bellybutton or not. A true gentleman if ever there was one, here is a picture we took of Gordon and myself today.

Spot the difference competition

The two pictures of Zwingli below have been slightly altered, in 5 ways, to differ from one another. Can you spot all 5 changes?

UPDATE: People are finding this one difficult, so I offer here just one of the changes pointed out by Brandon to help you:

1) The turd on the left is wearing a hat

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What happens to the Land in the NT?

First, the matter of land is surely not absent in the NT (cf. the geographical land divisions in the first chapters of Luke, Acts and the language of the restoration of the tribes etc.). Barry E. Horner in Future Israel (while I haven't read it all- far from it – this is a book that has actually wound me up rotten!) argues:

'Romans 11:29. "God's gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable." The plurality of the "gracious gifts," ta charismata, surely follows on, by way of explication, from that which is declared secure according to the Abrahamic Covenant originating from "their [Israel's] forefathers," v. 28. Of course from a Hebrew perspective, the "gifts" include saving grace for Israel, yet surely more is included such as the encompassing covenant blessings of 9:4-5 that would unquestionably include the land' (276)

So it remains, but is surely treated differently, with different emphasis (is thus transformed). Is it:

  • Spiritualised? Inheritance in Paul becomes the Spirit, not a strip of land in Canaan. Cf. eternal life language in John
  • Displaced in person of Christ?: On the basis of Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6; Heb. 4:1-11; John 4:20-26, Chris Wright argues that 'Christ himself, therefore, incorporates and fulfils the significance of the land, as he did also for the law, the covenant, the temple, the king, the priest hood, the prophetic word, Wisdom etc... The effect of this, however, was far from being merely a spiritualizing evaporation of all the great social and economic themes associated with the land in the OT. The reality of Christian koininia in Christ included such practical aspects of inclusio, authority, lifestyle, and socioeconomic responsibility in ways that clearly reflect these same dimensions of Israel's life in the land' (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 1.524). Cf. also WD Davies.
  • Transformed as the eschatological promise of resurrection?: 'The language of the promised land was understood by many Jews at the time as an eschatological promise of resurrection life beyond the grave (Dan 12:13; Wis 5:5; Shemoneh 'Esreh 13; Dead Sea Scrolls: 1QS 11:7-8; 1QH 11:10-12). This "promised land" of Israel's was being inherited by the Christians, says Paul.' (Cited in Gregory MacDonald's The Evangelical Universalist)
  • Brueggemann: 'it is here urged that the land theme is more central than Davies believes and that it has not been so fully spiritualized as he concludes. It is more likely that the land theme can be understood in a dialectical way: in contexts of gnosticism the land theme must be taken in a more physical, historical ways; in contexts of politicizing the land theme must be taken in a more symbolic way' (The Land, 170).
  • Universalised?: Paul recognised that the Abrahamic covenant had universal implications (cf. its narrative context following Gen. 1-11), and so Paul, especially under the influence of his broadly christologically shaped hermeneutic universalised the land as God's intention for the world. So, for example, Romans 4:13: 'For the promise that he [Abraham] would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith'. Compare Eph. 6:2-3 and Deut. 5:16.

Any other suggestions?

Separated at Birth?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Your collective Wisdom

What modern commentaries (and perhaps collection of essays) would you recommend on the Gospels of John? Any comments on Andreas J. Köstenberger's Baker exegetical commentary on John? Or Craig Keener's?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Apologetic strategy of the day

Someone gently asks: 'How do you explain all of the contradictions in the bible?'

  1. Say incredulously 'What contradictions?' and hope they fall for your bluff. If they actually list any contradictions go to step 2.
  2. Waffle about how 'contradiction' is a difficult word to define. However, if they offer a reasonable definition and apply it to a certain set of biblical texts, go to step 3
  3. Mention their thoughts are wicked and that they must really hate all things righteous (roll your 'r'). If their face starts to harden, go to step 4.
  4. Suddenly and forcefully grab a hold of their head with both hands, and rebuke demons of stupidity (and add generational rebellion, lust, greed and paedophilia for good measure). Then take of your anointed 'mantle' (i.e. your jacket), and thwack them round the abdomen as hard as is righteous.
  5. Walk away from yet another ministry success.

Or, say something like 'Real life is full of contradictions and paradoxes. If the Bible is not merely a collection of abstract philosophical propositions but a collection of books written from the context of and about real life in all its grit and joys, grim and rapture, why, then, should there be no contradictions? Perhaps we should start judging the Bible according to what it is, not what it never was or never claimed to be'


Separated at Birth?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barker's visit

As I mentioned yesterday, Margaret Barker discussed her fascinating theses concerning Temple theology today, and I took the opportunity to get the following picture taken of us both. I also purchased a discounted copy of her brand new book, Christmas: The Original Story, which I am really looking forward to reading (when I get the chance!). Her presentation was not only highly stimulating, but she was very personable and friendly.

I’d be interested to learn what people think about her arguments, where there is room for improvement or even complete overhaul, what has shed fresh light on the evidence or utterly convinced you. While I am actually not too convinced that there was a specific 'temple theology' that was so completely essential for early Christians as she maintains - and I am even less convinced by the 'YHWH as Son of the Most High' proposal -, I will re-read some of her arguments in the near future with a renewed hermeneutical openness.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Margaret Barker to visit St Paul’s Theological Centre

Tomorrow we at St Paul's (and St Mellitus) have the privilege of enjoying Margaret Barker as a guest lecturer on our second year Bible and Theology course. She will speak about Temple theology. Here are some of the facts that I will mention by way of introduction, much of which is adapted from her own webpage:

  • She read theology at the University of Cambridge, and now has approximately 13 books to her name. And there is a new book either to be or just freshly published, namely Christmas. The Original Story.
  • In July 2008 Margaret Barker was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury 'in recognition of her work on the Jerusalem Temple and the origins of Christian Liturgy, which has made a significantly new contribution to our understanding of the New Testament and opened up important fields for research.'

Something about the things she has been involved with.

  • In 1998 she was greatly honoured and elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study.
  • She is currently the Editor of the Society's Monograph Series.
  • 1997, she has been part of the symposium Religion, Science and the Environment, convened by the Orthodox Church's Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Pretty impressive, really. While I personally disagree with quite a few of her proposals, there is no doubting that she is a uniquely creative author, spotting all kinds of interesting conceptual connections that all the rest have not even noticed. And the breadth of her grasp of the primary literature is simply stunning. I’ll try to remember to take some snaps!

Link of the day

Perriman responds to a critical review of his uniquely stimulating and provocative book, The Coming of the Son of Man. Give it a read, here.

Separated at Birth?

Zwingli and the blue hairy Yeti of Monsters Inc.

The eyes and mouth do it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Once again: Bultmann’s incarnation problem

Bultmann wrote: 'The only way of presenting revelation is as the annihilation of everything human, the refusal of all human questions, the rejection of all human answers – in short, as the putting of man into question' (cited in John Ashton's brilliant work: Understanding the Fourth Gospel, p.58)

Ashton comments:

'There is no getting round the Incarnation, and Bultmann set his face resolutely against any attempt to water it down: 'The Revealer appears not as man-in-general, i.e. not simply as a bearer of human nature, but as a definite human being in history: Jesus of Nazareth. His humanity is genuine humanity: "the word became flesh".' But for all his vaunted anti-docetism, Bultmann presents a Christ in whom all salient individual characteristics have been flattened out: the splendid 'I am' sayings in which so much of his revelation is contained have but a single message: 'All that I say is I.' The incarnate Christ is no more than a voice, his particular and contingent human qualities all drawn off, volatilized, until there is nothing left but a smear on a slide--the ultimate essence of a Word' (Understanding the Fourth Gospel, p.65, italics mine)

Ashton's book, by the way, is one of those special volumes that is simultaneously academically heavyweight at the same time as being a delight to read, difficult to put down.

But less you think Ashton's criticisms imply disrespect for Bultmann (or mine in citing them), he still speaks of him as 'unmatched in learning, breadth, and understanding [... towering] like a colossus' (45).