Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Some Christmas Presents

I had a great time this Christmas, some glorious presents from Anja and my parents. Here are a few of the books that I am presently salivating over (yes, and reading)

  1. Brevard S. Childs, The Church's Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008). I must admit that my reading of Childs is extremely limited. Time I changed that.
  2. Dave Tomlinson, Re-Enchanting Christianity: Faith in an Emerging Culture (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008). I have been enjoying this one and only wish it had been written a few years ago when it would have helped me more, though I am still learning from it. While I find myself unable to follow him on certain points on which for me at least he goes too far, his work will be an inspiration for those Christians with a conservative background who are looking to rethink their faith in a more responsible or self-conscious way. To that end there are some real nuggets of wisdom in this book. Actually, I have been surprised by how much I am enjoying it. Just one point: On page 28 he misrepresents Bultmann's project of demythologisation, reading it as a 19th century liberalism, i.e. a stripping of the outer mythic layers to a 'core' message. That ain't quite Bultmann, people!
  3. Russel D. Moore, et al., Understanding Four Views on the Lord's Supper (Michigan: Zondervan, 2007)
  4. Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. 3rd Edition (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007). Reading 1 Clement at the moment and feeling silly I had not read it sooner!
  5. Markus Bockmuehl and Torrance Alan J., eds, Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008). What an amazing list of scholars and essays! Flippin BRING IT ON!
  6. D.A. Carson, D.J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd Edition (Leicester: APOLLOS, 2005)
  7. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (London: Doubleday, 1997) – I can't find a Doubleday webpage.
  8. On a slightly different note: Smallville Season 7. Pluses: Supergirl. Nuff said. Negatives: the character Lana is still slushy romantic bottom lip quivering alive. Maybe she will get a bit less 'about to cry all the time' and thus more tolerable in this series. She is one seriously good actress to pull such a character off! I love this series as you really feel with the lead characters, plus it throws in a lot of imaginative crazy stuff to stop it decomposing into teenage-feeling-fluff. Tom Welling (as Clark Kent), Kristin Kreuk (as Lana Lang), Allison Mack (as Chloe Sullivan) and Michael Rosenbaum (as Lex Luther) manage to make a totally unbelievable world a bit more likely (I'm convinced). I'm watching this together with Battlestar Galactica to top of my spates of dubious time-wasting self-indulgent DVDing.

While I am not as flush with time for general reading as I was this time last year, I have been really enjoying myself for a few days over Christmas. There is no joy like reading a good book.

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary Pt. 2 of 4

I know this all sounds like a shameless advert but my conscience is clean. So I offer today 5 more reasons to buy the Logos electronic Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary:

  1. As a NT lecturer I cannot tell you how useful a good bible dictionary is for quickly acquainting oneself with a newish subject without having first to read four 300 page monographs. That may sounds lazy but I don't mean it to. Rather, I mean to say that a bible dictionary helps one enter a subject. Plus, dictionary articles are always useful to offer students to prepare for lessons.
  2. One may not like to read an electronic version of a complete monograph. However, when the text is a dictionary entry it makes so much more sense to have it electronic and benefit from the obvious pluses of the latter, such as i) ability to cite without typing something all out, ii) ability to search much more easily across the whole dictionary, iii) pop-up windows for scripture citations, etc. (I'll explain the last in the next post)
  3. It can be downloaded immediately. In just a few minutes, you can add the AYBD to your library.
  4. This dictionary offers scholarship at its best, with the biggest names in the world contributing.
  5. An electronic version saves room on your real bookshelves, and the Anchor Bible Dictionary takes up a fair bit of space!

For a few more benefits of using the electronic version see the Logos blog post, Getting the Most Out of the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book of the Year: Christology and Science by Shults - Part 2 of 2

Once again, my thanks to the kind folk at Ashgate for a review copy of F. LeRon Shults, Christology and Science (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

The above more detailed overview of his first chapter enables a much more concise summary of the following three chapters. In a nutshell, late modern philosophical and scientific discourse, especially in its turn to relationality, seriously undermines the philosophical underpinnings of some traditional doctrinal formulations relating to incarnation, atonement and parousia. This changes both the material formulation of these doctrines as well as their methodological handling. With reference to Jesus' way of knowing, acting and being in the world in relation to God and his neighbours (i.e. what he calls the philosophy of Jesus Christ), it also changes what this all means for human desire for spiritual transformation in relation to God and other people.

In the following I will summarise the argument of chapter two as illustrate of his basic approach, and only note those in the third and fourth chapter. I will thus leave out much even though his argument is immensely rich and not easily abridged.

Turning to chapter 2, and the incarnation, traditional christological formulations have been based, he argues, upon certain philosophical commitments about sameness and difference, body and soul, origin and goal, which are now redundant. For example, '[t]he theory of evolution developed by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) challenged the notion of human nature is a substance that always remained the same' (29), as well as a 'historical paradise in which death did not exist' (31). How, then, should we rethink the intuitions of Christian scriptures and tradition in the late modern period, when philosophical and scientific discourse challenges the assumptions behind traditional Christian formulations? In examining changes in anthropological formulations Shults asks:

'Why should we insist on expressing the doctrine of the incarnation in ways that are tied to ancient Greek or modern anthropological concepts of personhood, which focus on the sameness of hypostasized substances? Why not critically engage the relational and dynamic thought forms of contemporary anthropological discourse as we seek to articulate belief in the Word became flesh?' (34)

Having examined the philosophical challenges, in each chapter Shults details the consequent interdisciplinary opportunities. In relation to the incarnation he examines the work of Arthur Peacock, Dennis Edwards and more briefly a variety of other proposals from Teilhard de Chardin, through Rahner, to George Murphy. Again, each chapter ends with an analysis of the corresponding aspect of Christology the theme analyses (incarnation and the identity of Jesus Christ; atonement and the agency of Jesus Christ; Parousia and the presence of Jesus Christ). Shults' constructive proposals take seriously the relationality of late modern discourse, tying the philosophical and scientific challenges to hand in the service of reforming Christology.

In the third chapter, Shults undertakes an analysis of atonement from the perspective of cultural anthropology, detailing the consequent philosophical challenges and the various interdisciplinary opportunities they offer, opening up conceptual space to explore a reformative Christology. In his final chapter he examines Christ's parousia in light of Physical Cosmology. When traditional formulations are often concerned about where Christ is, exactly when he is coming back and so on, what to do with modern philosophical and scientific discourse which maintains there is no same 'now' for all observers (Einstein), no simple notion of space as the place an object occupies? But rather than simply negating older formulations of the coming of Christ, the parousia and ascension, Shults attempts to remain faithful to the biblical and traditional intuitions while again creatively adopting the language in the cause of reforming Christology.

Having already written too much, yet being painfully aware that there is so much more to Shults' arguments, I will end this short review with the usual points of critique and praise.

First, Shults' analysis of the problems is probably more compelling and more clearly presented than his solutions, which themselves beg so many questions. But it is only a short book! Also, some of his rhetoric probably tips over the boundaries of careful. For example, he writes 'theological inquiry that evades contemporary science produces a sterile faith that is not worth having' (16). Hmm, a bit harsh! One also wonders if, in his chapter on incarnation, he has sufficiently appreicated the relational ontology of the Capadocians, as maintained by Zizioulas, for example. But these, and a few other points that could be mentioned, are minor.

So, and second, I have decided to award this book the coveted and illustrious (!) prize of 'Chrisendom Book of the Year'. Surely something LeRon can put on his CV! It is deeply a thought provoking book, well written, concise, and, quite simply, a work of genius. He has managed to hold so much together, skilfully weaving his argument through all manner of disciplines. As such it also resembles a work of art. I can only stand back and look on with a sense of deep respect for the author. Sorry to make you blush, LeRon, but your book is something special. I also found myself gladdened to find such a close conversation partner, in not just a few ways mirroring what I am attempting to do with Pauline Christology from a biblical studies perspective.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary Pt. 1 of 4

My sincere thanks to the generous folk at Logos Bible Software for a review copy of the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary is simply the best Bible dictionary available, packed with the highest quality scholarship. Many of its articles are required reading in a number of areas. What is more the Logos Bible Software format is ideal for this genre of material. In the next few posts in this series I will offer short extracts from the dictionary, give reasons why I honestly think the electronic version is superior to the hard copy, link to some useful discussion about the product, tell of details for a special 30% discount (yea, baby!) and cheekily suggest that you splash out with your Christmas money and buy yourself a copy (including tips on avoiding getting caught by your spouse in the process). Seriously, this is one mightily useful resource, so I am going to shamelessly promote this one!


Titles I would purchase

  1. Marvel Comics: Harry Potter meets Benny Hinn
  2. Godzilla gets high on Catholic Incense Before Eating the Dinosaur Models at the Local Creation Science Museum

I think this shows my talent for book titles. Actually, for those of you involved in publishing houses: so that you know, I am willing to offer my advice on book titles, and I can assure you I will help sell your books.

For example, in 1989 William F. Fisher submitted a thesis entitled The participle in the Greek Pentateuch: a descriptive analysis and comparison to New Testament usage.

No wonder this Southwestern Baptist Theol. Seminary dissertation only made it to Microfilm. Had I been asked for advice it would have sold. Sure, I would have titled it slightly misleadingly as Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Covered in Maple Syrup and Marmite. But it would have sold more.

Plus the author's name could do with jazzing up a bit. William Fisher? Fair enough, but "DJ Higher Criticism" or "MC Evil Death Hammer" have a more marketable ring to them. Come to think of it, isn't it about time that theological merchandise hit the Christian pop scene with a bit more impact? How about pictures of Bishop Tom Wright on duvet covers? Or Bultmann's head shaped erasers made to smell of Qumran Khirbet? (Notice I avoided calling them "rubbers", which may have generated potential misunderstanding in the US...)


Monday, December 15, 2008

HTB’s one year bible challenge

Anja and I are gonna join in – I will do so with especial vigour because I am actually an extremely saintly person when you dig very deep underneath all the layers of sin.

Breaks into song "If you're holy and you know it clap your hands"

(We are using this bible. I tend to prefer to the NRSV, and certainly for Paul, but for OT prose perhaps the NIV reads a bit better- at least for my taste)

Any special recommendations for my Christmas list?

Under strict orders I am trying to gather together a "wish list" of books for people to purchase me over Christmas. If you have any suggestions as to what to add, I'd love to hear your ideas. What books would you hands down urge me to get? Of course, I may already have your suggestions, but it can't hurt to hear them anyway. My present Amazon wish list looks pretty nice already, but I get the feeling it needs improvement!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slander of the day

Nuff said

Call for Papers: Genesis and Christian Theology

Just heard from Luke Ben Tallon, Conference Administrator at St Mary's College, St Andrews University, about the following:

Call for Papers: Genesis and Christian Theology

14-18 July 2009

St Mary's College, University of St Andrews

The University of St Andrews is pleased to announce its third conference on Scripture and Christian Theology. Since the first conference on the Gospel of John in 2003, the St Andrews conferences have been recognized as one of the most important occasions when biblical scholars and systematic theologians are brought together in conversation about a biblical text. The conferences aim to cut through the megaphone diplomacy or the sheer incomprehension that so often marks attempts to communicate across our disciplines. We invite you then to join us and some of the best theological and biblical minds in careful and often lively interaction about one of the most theologically generative of biblical books: the book of Genesis.

We are now calling for papers that integrate close readings of Genesis with Christian theology. While we are particularly interested in explorations of the dynamic relationship between Genesis and Christian doctrine, we also welcome proposals that combine careful reading of the text of Genesis with theological attention to art, creativity, ecology, ethics, the history of interpretation, or Jewish and Christian dialogue.

The call for paper proposals closes on 15 March 2009. Please visit our website for further details or to submit a proposal: www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/rt/conf/genesis09/

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Book notice: Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith

My thanks to the kind folk at T&T Clark for a review copy of Francis Watson's, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (T&T Clark, 2004).

Given my new teaching responsibilities, it has slowly become clear that I don't have the time to write as many proper book reviews as previously. Instead, I wanted to write a few 'book notices'. Besides, you can find coherence summaries of Watson's work in numerous reviews (cf. e.g. here for Mark Gignilliat), so I instead wanted to simply offer a few thoughts on why the book has impressed me.

I have postponed a review of Watson's book simply as it is one of the best books in the Apostle Paul part of my library. It is one of those few books that has challenged me to rethink my stance on fundamental matters, such as the much debated meaning of dikaiosu,nh qeou/ in Romans 1:17, the way Paul uses scripture and how this relates to the 'Christ-event', the plausibility of the so-called apocalyptic paradigm for understanding the Apostle etc (I will never forget his argument which runs that for Paul 'it is more important that scripture should shed a light on Christ than that Christ should shed light on Scripture' [16]! Not sure I would agree, but his point has buried under my theological skin forever). Apart from that, reading Watson is simply a delight. You know that you will learn a lot, and his close reading of the texts is a lesson in and of itself. I turn to the work of Watson when I want to digest serious scholarship, when a want my mind stretched and my flaky 'New Perspective' biases challenged! What is more, if anyone wants to engage with his more recent work, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2007), bear these words in mind (from the preface of the Eerdmans volume): 'this volume conserve to complement the argument of my Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith'.

Of course, if anybody is seeking to understand 'Paul's doctrine of righteousness by faith', one will need to engage with Watson's argument that claims it 'is an exercise in scriptural interpretation and hermeneutics' (76). And more broadly, if anybody wants to understand Paul's use of the Old Testament, this book is going to be essential. But because of the scope of Watson's argument, and the number of texts with which he engages, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith is a book worth having in your library for all matter of issues. As I said, it is one of the best books in my Apostle Paul library. This tome will take a while to work through properly, but he is a scholar with whom time is well, and enjoyably, spent.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Not NT Wrong and a poem to show I’m connected with my feminine side

James McGrath's hilarious series trying to guess the identity of NT Wrong took a particularly sick turn today with the suggestion that yours truly is the culprit. Just to make it clear: I wasn't a screaming, terrorising, rabid, foaming mouthed heretic filled to the nostrils with the spirit of anti-Wright last time I looked. So no, I am not NT Wrong. Besides, NT Wrong is clearly a man – the style of his rhetoric, turns of phrases, all manner of clues give him away. More to the point, his blog reveals that he is male orientated to the extent of having lost touch with his inner woman (the recent 'poem' about Zwingli only shows his hardened maleness). So to prove my case all the more convincingly, that I am not NT Wrong, I have penned a short poem to demonstrate how in touch with my feminine side I am, to further distance myself from the anti-Wright and to silence once and for all these unsavoury slurs against Chrisendom.

*Clears throat*

A Letter of Christ

It is not clear how πιστολ Χριστο
should ever be read as precisely
a subjective genitive
as the subjective/objective genitive debate
should revolve around
the relation
of the given genitive to a verbal noun,

- Not to be confused with an infinitive,
which is syntactically a verbal noun -

such that the head noun
has a verbal idea
and is thus transformed into a verb.
While the noun πιστολή does have
a verbal cognate (πιστέλλω),
it appears rarely in the NT
(only in Acts 15:20; 21:25 and Heb. 13:22)
and is never
used by Paul
who instead
always prefers to use the verb γράφω
Cf. Rom. 15:15; 1 Cor. 4:14; 5:9, 11; 7:1; 9:15; 14:37;
2 Cor. 1:13; 2:3f, 9; 7:12; 9:1; 13:10; Gal. 1:20; 6:11;
Phil. 3:1; 1 Thess. 4:9; 5:1; Philem. 19, 21.
Cf. also 2 Thess. 3:17 and 1 Tim. 3:14

(Chris Tilling, © 2008)

I thank you.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Book of the Year: Christology and Science by Shults - Part 1 of 2

My thanks to the kind folk at Ashgate for a review copy of F. LeRon Shults, Christology and Science (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

Every generation of theologians, Shults reminds his readers in chapter one ('Reforming Christology'), must articulate 'the institutions of the biblical tradition about the significance of Jesus Christ in a way that engages its own cultural context' (1). This task is made all the more important because '[m]any traditional depictions of the person, work and coming of Christ are shaped by assumptions about humanity and the world that no longer makes sense in light of contemporary science' (1). Shults' short book attempts to open up fresh avenues in this venture. Yet far from merely offering cerebral re-mapping of Christian vocabulary against modern science, he presents a reforming Christology which seeks to effect contemporary life, to 'facilitate the reformation of ways of living in the world' (1).

The dialogue between Christology and science is, of course, an interdisciplinary engagement. And the potted history of the relation between religion and science will leave some suspicious from the start that such a dialogue is possible. So Shults suggests an interpersonal metaphor for thinking about the interaction of theology and science, namely to think of them as lovers: 'fascinated by the differences, as well as their shared interests', working at their love, 'willing to confront one another for the sake of illumination' (3), and seeking not to annoy each other on the way! As part of the project, philosophy will play a mediating role in this dialogue.

That philosophy must act in such a role is necessary given the need to make explicit the assumptions about the way things are, assumptions that colour our doctrinal conceptions in key respects. For example, try asking these questions, all addressed in one way by Shults in the book: Is a thing's relations a part of that thing, or are they accidental to it? Can we speak of an isolated thing with attributes? Does a thing live in space, or is the relation between a thing and the space that it occupies more complex? Does the genus 'human' exist apart from particular humans? What does it mean to be present? How is causality understood? Is there any meaning in speaking of the time of an event? Etc. Our answers to these questions may share little in common with modern science but rather reflect premodern, Newtonian or some other outdated concepts. Yet much of our Christology is based upon, at fundamental levels, outmoded scientific aassumptions about the way the world really is.

But if theology and science are lovers, more listening needs to happen, just as any marriage/relationship counsellor will say to a troubled couple. And this communication takes place in a reciprocal triangular mediation of Christology, science and philosophy.

Anybody who has read Shults' works before will know his burden to use developments in late modern thinking. These developments change the way we answer (and sometimes even ask) those basic questions, among others, and thus presents theology with a challenge and an opportunity in reforming Christology. In a section titled 'Jesus Christ in the Philosophy of Science' Shults, with special emphasis on developments in the philosophy of science that are relevant to reforming Christology, notes three important themes.

First is the 'growing appeal of relationality as heuristic category in the philosophy of science' (5). No longer can the category of relation be suppressed to that of substance, as in the history of thought stretching back to Aristotle. Through names such as Locke, Hume, Kant and Hegel, the concept of relation came to the forefront, a development reflected in the philosophy of logic, mathematics and physics. For example:

'Einstein's field equations for general special relativity ... are based on the use of functional relations. Quantum physics pressed philosophers of science even further, leading them to challenge the adequacy of substance/attribute predication theory to make sense of the entanglement phenomena discovered at the subatomic level. Here reality itself resists the abstraction associated with the category of "thing" (substance), and physicists increasingly appealed to inherently relational and dynamic modes of talking about what " happens between" and within the unpredictable flow of "interphenomena"' (7).

Second is the emphasis on the contextuality of all scientific enquiry. Importantly, this overcomes the dichotomy between faith and reason, (one made prominent again at the popular – though only at the popular level – by writers such as Dawkins), making them both part of a more relational whole. Third is interdisciplinarity, the 'transgressing of boundaries between disciplines' (10). Besides, Shults adds that 'Christology is interdisciplinary whether we like it or not'. Once again, relational categories 'play an important illuminative and generative role in this interdisciplinary context' (11).

Turning to examine further the relations in his triangular mediation (I will not summarise all of these sections), Shults speaks of philosophy's role in the material shaping and methodological role of Christology. While traditional theological treatments of Jesus Christ have neatly divided Christology from soteriology, pneumatology and eschatology, the philosophical turn to relationality blurs the boundaries around these distinctions. In examining science and the philosophy of Jesus Christ, he argues that the philosophy of Jesus Christ refers to his way of 'knowing, acting and being in the world in relation to God and his neighbours' (16). Hence Shults examines in the following chapters, under the rubric of reforming Christology, the following three areas which correspond to chapters 2,3 and 4:

  1. Incarnation and evolutionary biology
  2. Atonement and cultural anthropology
  3. Parousia and physical cosmology


Quote of the day

"The earliest list of a twenty-seven book New Testament appears in 367, and there was still rather striking variations into the Middle Ages. In light of that, what is the force of some conservative Protestant arguments that whatever is not in the Bible should not be part of the church? By the later fourth century when Athanasius made his list of New Testament books, many features of the church that evangelical, particularly free church, Protestants find questionable are already functioning. Does it make sense to say that the fourth-century church was making very good decisions about the Bible but mostly poor ones about everything else?"

From F. W. Norris' article, "The Canon of Scripture in the Church" cited in Craig D. Allert, A High View of Scripture, Baker Academic, 2007, p.77

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

PopeTarts™ and Popesicles™: NEW ecumenical booster merchandise!

You may purchase these tasteful PopeTarts™ and Popesicles™ by contacting the merchandise department in the comment box. A nice feature of the PopeTarts™ ($50 for pack of ten – plus free cardboard packaging): if you squeeze them in the middle, it repeats a variety of liturgical exclamations in Latin (remove electronic device before consuming). There are a variety of tastes to suit your ecumenical desire, from plain old chocolate to honey glazed barbequed cherub.

The Popesicles™, at just $15 a pack*, are made to taste of incense smoke. Other flavours will be made available in the new year.

We are presently working on Prayer Beads that double up as an Mp3 player, and statues of the Virgin Mary with moving eyes.

* Contains 1 Popesicle. May contains nuts, snot, hair, ice, dairy products or meat.