Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book notice

Thanks to the kind folk at Wipf and Stock for a review copy of Paul by W. Wrede originally published in 1904 (Eng. trans. 1908)

Yes, not exactly hot-off-the-press, but in the field of biblical studies 'new' does not necessarily mean 'better'. Of this little book Schweitzer opined:

'It belongs, not to theology, but to the literature of the world'

I'm hoping for similar comments on the back of my first book...

Wright: "Chris' book makes the rest of us look like we didn’t purposefully write our books at all, but merely randomly jabbed at a keyboard for a while"

If you read Schweitzer's classic, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, you will start to get a feel for the importance of Wrede. You can find an able summary of Wrede's Paul in a chapter of S. Westerholm's Perspective Old and New on Paul.

Yes, of course, Wrede's book is seriously dated in many respects and some of his conclusions will seem naive to many modern readers, but if you wish to attempt a history of research on Paul in the 20th century, there is no better place to start than with Wrede's Paul.

By the way, against those scholars who emphasise the importance of social-scientific categories and social developments as if this should stand over against Paul's theology, as if concerns with Paul's theology were merely the preoccupation of a 'history of ideas' separated from the real stuff of scholarship, think on Wrede's words in his author's preface:

'[I]t is in [his] theology, to a very great extent, that the historical importance of Paul is to be found' (vii).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

CTRVHM Music Ministry

You surely know the catchy old techno classic "happiness" *umpf* *umpf* "and lonliness" *umpf* *umpf*? Namely Dj Tomcraft's 'Loneliness'

Simply replace every occasion of the word "happiness" with "holiness" and every "loneliness" with "righteousness", and hey presto we have another CTRVHM Music Ministry classic.

My Jesus and the Eyewitnesses summary

I've finally put it on my server so it can be downloaded as a pdf here.

I wrote this rather extensive summary and short critical reflection on Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses quite some time ago, largely adapted from my earlier blog series. I ended the essay with these words:

'Time will tell whether [Bauckham's] thesis comes to exercise a similar influence on New testament scholarship as the speculations proffered by Bultmann and co. Whether co-opted by conservative Christians in the cause of defensive apologetics-at-any-cost, or whether denounced or dismissed by critics as the work of intellectually dishonest confessionalism, the depth of Bauckham's scholarship is incontrovertible. His arguments are here to stay and, I hope, will profoundly shape the unfolding debate.'

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Friday, February 20, 2009

A stonking game of chess

Well done Topalov (presently the highest rated player in the world) for this impressive game!

I'm no Kasparov but I enjoy chess, and the following blitz game is one of my favourites. I was White (click here to play through my game)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.h3 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6

6.Bc4 0–0 I didn't know this opening but I could see that 7...Nxe4 8. Nxe4, d5! was a threat. So I slid my bishop out of harm's way.

7.Bb3 d5 8.0–0 dxe4 9.Ng5 e6

At this point I realised I had lost a pawn after the exchanges on e4, but it was too late to back out of it.

10.Ngxe4 Nxe4 11.Nxe4 Qxd4 My opponent captures with the Queen no doubt hoping that I would exchange Queens and thus head into a quieter position a pawn down. Of course, being a pawn down I needed to keep things lively, so I kept Queens on the board.

12.Qe2 Na6 13.c3 Qd8 14.Rd1 Qc7

But by this point I realised that the lost pawn, which lured his Queen into the middle of the board, had actually won me quite a bit of time. I could simply develop pieces attacking his Queen and he had to waste moves getting her out of harm's way. Now I was well ahead in development and started to feel very comfortable with my position, despite being a pawn down.

15.Bg5 b6 16.Qe3 Bb7

I enjoyed playing my 16th move, Qe3. Its straightforward logic appeals to my eye. It coordinates my attack on the weak squares around his King. My lead in development has given me the initiative; I get to make concrete threats.

17.Nf6+ Kh8 18.Rd7 Qc8

My Rook enters the heart of his position and things are looking great until ...


If I remember rightly, the second I played this one I saw it was a mistake. He can now play 19...Nc5 forking my Rook and Bishop, and after I retreat my Rook I lose that beautifully placed Bishop for Knight.

19...Nc5 20.R7d6 h5??

But 20...h5 by my opponent is a real blunder and I have no idea what he was thinking. I get to keep my Bishop and his King's position becomes even more fragile, as the following attack shows.

21.Bc2 Qc7 22.b4 Na6

I loved playing 22. b4 which showed my total control of the whole board.

23.Rd7 Qc8 24.Qe5 c5

By this point I had seen a sacrificial idea with my Bishop. I strengthened the variation by putting the Queen in the middle of the soon-to-be unveiled plan of action, with 24. Qe5. Now everything was set for the attack

25.Bxg6! fxg6? 26.Rxg7! Qc6

His move 26...Qc6 alows a mate in one, but every move ultimately leads to a forced mate now. If 26 ...Kxg7 then 27. Ne8 Kf7 28. Qf6 Kxe8 29. Qe7 mate.

27.Rh7# 1–0

Of course, even my mistakes turned out well so a fair amount of luck was involved in the above. But I like the sort of games where I have a rolling initiative in an uncluttered position, where I get to make threats and develop an attack without worrying about my own King. So this is one of my all time favourites.

Out of the New Testament writers, I would put my money on Paul winning against the rest. Although I sometimes wonder if he would get himself into unnecessary complications...

The Jewish World around the New Testament: Collected Essays I

Mohr Siebeck have published a volume of Richard Bauckham's collected essay with, if I remember rightly, one more volume to follow.

Richard Bauckham, The Jewish World around the New Testament: Collected Essays I (548 pages worth!). Here are some of the articles:

  • The Rise of Apocalyptic
  • The Delay of the Parousia
  • The Son of Man: 'A Man in my Position' or 'Someone'?
  • The Apocalypses in J. H. Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
  • Pseudo-Apostolic Letters
  • The List of the Tribes of Israel in Revelation 7
  • The "Parting of the Ways": What Happened and Why
  • The Messianic Interpretation of Isaiah 10:34
  • The Relevance of Extra-Canonical Jewish Texts to New Testament Study
  • What if Paul had Travelled East rather than West?
  • Covenant, Law and Salvation in the Jewish Apocalypses
  • The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts
  • Paul and Other Jews with Latin Names in the New Testament
  • Tobit as a Parable for the Exiles of Northern Israel
  • The Continuing Quest for the Origins of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

Boy oh boy do I want this book, especially as there are quite a few articles that I have not yet read. Some of them are well known, and I will never forget reading 'The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts' which helped a lot of mental cogs finally click into place.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guest post: Scripture, Ministry and the People of God – Introducing a new blog

A guest post by Mark Stevens

As a celebration of the official launch of "Scripture, Ministry and the People of God" I (Mark) have two copies of Eugene Peterson's "Under the Unpredictable Plant" to give away (A book that changed my life and helped me to hear my vocational call). All you have to do to be in with a chance of receiving one of the copies is, follow the blog (on the right hand side of the page), promise to add me to your RSS feed, and perhaps leave a comment or two! Finally, I would like to thank Chris for his help and support and Jim West has been a great sounding board for the original concepts for the blog. Thank's guys! UPDATE: I will announce the book winners towards the end of February.

Why does "Scripture, Ministry and the People of God" exist? Or, why does a Minister feel the need to blog?

The truth is I do not feel the impulse to blog for blogging sake. What I find of utmost importance is the need for me to continue my biblical and theological reflection and blogging is the avenue for me that encourages this. As a minister I often find the nature of parish ministry drawing me away from the discipline of biblical and theological reflection. I am not referring to ministry with people in our church who at unexpected and even sometimes at unwanted times call on us to be their minister. I refer to the business or busyness of ministry that subtly leads us astray. I wrestle with my schedule longing to have more time to reflect and the reality that there are only so many hours in a day. I try as best I can to prioritise what I deem important and work hard to allow my week to be formed by my values and not needs or distractions. Nevertheless, this is a tension in which I will always dwell as a parish minister.

It seems to me that for many of us, once we leave our colleges and universities, reflection stops and the work of ministry begins. However, it is within this context, if we allow it, that our theological journey takes on a new frontier; that of practical theology! Practical theology is not a theology of method, as Anderson argues, rather it is the, “critical engagement with the interface between the Word of God as revealed through scripture and the work of God taking place in and through the church in the world” (Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology, 2001, p.8). It is precisely within this tension that reflection takes place. A helpful metaphor in understanding my own vocation as a minister is, “theologian in residence". It is important that this metaphor not be used as permission to lock myself away in the Minister’s study and pour over scripture and the church fathers seeking to develop my own theological agenda. Rather it is permission to escape ministry as a business or management. It helps me to see my role as more than the day-to-day needs of the church. It is a vocation explored within the context of the community for the community. The distractions that I mentioned are the very outworking of Christ’s ministry in our midst. The phone call, the visits, the paperwork and even the sermon preparation are the necessary tension to theological reflection. As Eugene Peterson might say, “this is where we see Christ at play” and where we reflect on the nature and work of God revealed to us! It is in ministry that we find a playground for the unpacking of our theology.

In my role as “[theologian] in residence” I seek, as Anderson explains, “to interpret scripture, tradition and praxis, in order that the contemporary praxis of both church and world can be transformed” (Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology, 2001, p.33). As a minister who is helping a community understand who they are as the people of God and what that means with our particular context theological reflection is the method in which I am seeking to adjust or recalibrate the two horizons of gospel and mission so that they are horizontal. The task of theological reflection for the minister must not become a purely academic exercise. It takes place as an act of prayer and submission to God. It is explored within the context of relationship, Father, Son and Spirit and the community of God’s people. As we worship and pray, as we seek to listen to God and discern the movements of his grace in our midst we are indeed reflecting on the God revealed in Jesus Christ. As theologian in residence I am a “Practical Theologian” in service to God and his people, calling the church to its task of a missionary community established in Christ and thrust out by the Spirit.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The 'guess the academic' competition

Rumours are abound that some are hiring special agents to take pictures, in the public toilets, of the bottoms of random academics at this year's up-coming Society of Biblical Literature convention. Once published on the blogs for thousands to see the competition will be to match butt with academic celebrity. Occasionally they may also provide the noise of academic straining on the said loo, making it a 'match strain to name' series.

Scandalously, rumours are linking yours truly and West with this (admittedly interesting) plan, but I would like to point out that we both have alibis and such dirty humour at the expense of others is beneath us both. As for me, let me make clear that I wasn't even there when it was discussed just now on MSN messenger.


Biblical theology in a Skype conversation with a friend

My friend says (yes, I have friends! I pay well if people pretend to like me): Hi Chris!

Chris Tilling says: Hey mate!

Chris Tilling says: Got your e-mail, fantastic!! Was going to e-mail back shortly

My friend says: super

My friend says: oh no problem

My friend says: are you gonna be around?

Chris Tilling says: well, I will be in London but working. Would be great to see you though

My friend says: cool

My friend says: Well I have a question about the bible: For the first time yesterday I started to think that maybe not all of the NT texts say the same thing. Because of a lecture on Romans [at Tübingen University], I have been confronted with Paul's soteriology and teachings about justification. But then, and this is the point, I read James and I think Paul and James really don't say the same thing. On top of that, I read some more and it also seems that Matthew, Hebrews and Revelation don't really say the same thing about 'justification by faith alone'. So now my question is: Who should I trust? Is Paul the only one who is right? Does that mean that Matthew faked some of Jesus sayings, because they seem to contradict justification by faith alone?

Chris Tilling says: Great question! Now this leads to the heart of what is called 'biblical theology'. JB Caird used the metaphor of a discussion round a table, with all of the NT authors (and ours) being brought to the table in conversation. Another model would be to say one is right, another is wrong (canon within a canon - Luther); or again, some may try to harmonise the various voices, to make them all sound the same (to a certain extent represented by conservatives like John Piper - though this is not exclusively the realm of the conservative); others would suggest an organising principle around which various voices can be heard as distinct voices, yet not harmonised or allowed to fall apart into confusion (I generally like this approach). Is there another way? I could suggest a number of books on this subject (like James Mead, Biblical Theology; the Hafemann edited, Biblical Theology; Pate edited, The Story of Israel)

Chris Tilling says: ... but it really is more than just reading books, it is a journey we need to take with the text as part of our mission in the world

My friend says: Definitely! I feel like I'm just beginning to break out of an understanding of the bible that maybe doesn't fit what it was intended to be. But it seems scary and has soooo many implications. E.g. someone preaches about a certain text like James and makes a theology out of it, it can become very dangerous. But the breaking out is also very freeing because I always tried to harmonise all of it in some way, only to struggle hard every time I read some texts in Matthew which speak of a judgment according to works. On the other hand I don't know if I'm 'allowed' to question scripture like that. Thank you for the picture- that helps.

My friend says: What do you think: Does e.g. James say something different from Paul about justification?

Chris Tilling says: Well, there are ways of harmonising, but I tend to think they probably say different things, at least emphasise different things! But I still think James needs to be heard as part of canon. Oh yes, forgot to mention, we must not forget the dependency of the canon on the church and its rule of faith - a matter I think should inform our interpretation (cf. a couple of chapters in Max Turner ed. Between Two Horizons, I think by Wall [I later checked and the essays were indeed written by Robert Wall, "Reading the Bible from within Our Traditions: The 'Rule of Faith' in Theological Hermeneutics" and "Canonical Context and Canonical Conversations")

My friend says: but would you say that Paul stands a little bit above everyone else with his theology, at least that is what they perhaps seem to imply here in Tübingen

Chris Tilling says: I think that needs to be determined by the nature of the 'rule of faith' (cf. the Wall essays). I suppose I tend to see Paul as the primary witness to the Gospel in this respect, and James functions, together with John's letters and Jude, as a balance, a canonical counterbalance. What do you think? (I had in mind here a book by David R. Nienhuis's Not by Paul Alone, which I mentioned previously here)

My friend says: Well, for me James was veeery helpful and I'm glad he's in the canon, because only through reading him can I understood a little bit about what is so special about Paul. Also I think he is probably one out of many Jewish Christians at that time who were trying to find a way of how to bring their Jewish faith together with the faith in Jesus. For James it seems to me that he maybe didn't yet realise how lost we really are?!

Chris Tilling says: I like your honest historical approach, interesting thoughts

My friend says: What is difficult for me: If e.g. Matthew and Paul have a different view about how we get justified than one of them must be right, right? But by saying 'Matthew' we are actually talking about texts where is says: 'Jesus said: ....' So if I wouldn't believe in Matthew's way of justification, then what I'm really saying is that either Jesus didn't understand it aright or that he never said those words, which would mean that Matthew 'faked' them. Of course there are probably many other ways of interpreting Matthew that wouldn't necessarily contradict Paul, but here in Tübingen that is what's being taught. But why do they never talk about the implication of their claims?

My friend says: What do you think?

.... I will stop our conversation at this point – which I sadly had to leave anyway shortly after – and let his question address you: what do you think?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bauckham’s visit

Yes, we took the obligatory picture! Quite the honour to stand next to the man I consider to be the greatest scholar of early Christianity in the whole world (Richard Bauckham is to his right!)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Richard Bauckham to visit St Paul’s Theological Centre

Tomorrow morning actually, to lecture on the book of Revelation at our School of Theology Bible Track. I'm hoping that his lecture will finally clear up the obviously pressing question as to whether the 666 of Rev. 13:8 is really related to Obama or not. Numerologists often link the number 6 to the letter 'O', and bama is Hebrew for 'high places' – associated with all kinds of sin in the OT. So perhaps we have here already sufficient ground for concern ... (that is my careful exegetical observation for the day) Probably the most learned scholar of early Christianity in the whole world, I have the honour of introducing Bauckham and taking him out to lunch. So I'll see if I can get someone to take the compulsory picture of me grinning next to him!

Why I think Wright is correct and Piper misses the point

Started Wright's new book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision late last night and kept myself awake way too long reading it!

While the opening chapters could have been more economical with words (Steph, you can stop that knowing nod), the many anecdotes made for fun reading. The description of his bumpy but now good relationship with Dunn was especially interesting. I thought his opening shot, which essentially compares Piper and his ilk with the flat earth society, was risky, and indeed already one or two reviews of the irritating and condescendingly judgmental tone are appearing, i.e. those written by people who wouldn't know a hermeneutic of love if it barked at them and shagged their leg.

I actually have a lot of time for Piper, not necessarily some of his doctrinal decisions, but his integrity and love for Christ is admirable. Of course, I always enjoy reading Wright so I'm so glad that a decent and respectful tone is being maintained.

The essential point Wright appears to be making at the start of his book is, I think, spot on. This is how I would describe it: Alasdair MacIntyre wrote the following amusing illustration in After Virtue.

I am standing waiting for a bus and the young man standing to me suddenly says: 'The name of the common wild duck is Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus.' There is no problem as to the meaning of the sentence he uttered: the problem is, how to answer the question, what was he doing in uttering it? Suppose he just uttered such sentences at random intervals; this would be one possible form of madness. We would render his action of utterance intelligible if one of the following turned out to be true. He has mistaken me for someone who yesterday had approached him in the library and asked: 'Do you by any chance know the Latin name of the common wild duck?' Or he has just come from a session with his psychotherapist who has urged him to break down his shyness by talking to strangers. Or he is a Soviet spy waiting at a prearranged rendez-vous and uttering the ill-chosen code sentence which will identify him to his contact...(p. 210)

Paul's Gospel is much like the single scene of a man saying to another what is the name of the common duck. The important matter, the crucial step in our interpretations is what scenes we put around it, into which story we fit it. In the same way that 'Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus' will mean one thing if the scene before shows the man as a Russian spy, or another if the man is coming straight from shyness classes where he was told to just speak to people, so with Paul's Gospel. If words like 'righteousness', 'Law', 'justification', 'promise', 'righteousness of God' etc. are put in the context of Luther's question about how to find a gracious God, they will tend to mean one thing. But if these words are placed within a story which is about God's covenant promises to Israel, her purpose through God's promise to Abraham to bring blessing to the clans of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3), her exile, the Prophetic promises in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel of return from exile, the vindication of God's faithfulness and his covenant people, the gift of the Spirit, the universal acknowledgement of YHWH and the renewal of the covenant etc., those words will potentially mean something different, something bigger which includes that beat of God's gracious and redeeming love, which Luther so poignantly grasped. It is this latter approach which can better explain the flow of thought in, content and shape of Paul's letters, it better resists anachronism, solves exegetical conundrums, and leads, ultimately, to a healthier and more robustly Pauline Gospel.

This is, in a nutshell, why I think Wright is on the money, and why Piper has missed the point.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When a bible commentary tells you to go to bed

Plodding through Charles Wanamaker's superb NIGTC commentary on the Epistles to the Thessalonians I saw my own name in the middle of the page – in a book published well before I had even begun my undergraduate degree!:

"... for the coming of Christ. Trilling (330f.) claims that it means ..." (p. 279)

Well, I thought I had seen my name.

But why had I seen it? Tiredness? Shameless ego-tripping married to pattern recognition? Prophetic insight? A messianic complex? I leave you to decide.

Tübingen Symposium announcement - The Septuagint and Christian Origins

Exciting stuff! (click to enlarge)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Your collective wisdom

A question: what do you consider are the best books/articles on the subject of New Testament ecclesiology? I would love to hear your thoughts. I will be exploring this subject in more depth in the coming weeks.

I note here the relatively new Hendrickson monograph, Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church, by Ritva H. Williams.

"Steward, prophet, keeper of the word—these three roles reflect the hierarchical social structures, religious experience, and faithfulness to tradition found in ancient Mediterranean cultures, and, as Ritva Williams argues, influenced the development of early Christianity. The linear progression of leadership (apostles to bishops or apostles to presbyters or charismatics to office holders, etc.) commonly held to have emerged in the early church does not appear in early Christian texts from the mid-first to early second centuries. Instead, what these texts reveal is a variety, diversity, and plurality of ways that Christ-followers adopted and adapted these dynamic roles from antiquity as they struggled to organize and live in their local situations"

Here is the table of contents, a sample chapter and the entire introduction.

For those who live/work in the London area

Friday Forum is an interesting lunchtime lecture series in the City, run by someone who, like me, is mad but has a beautiful wife! The lectures attempt to argue for the Christian faith in a thoughtful, gentle, non-pat, non-out-to-get-you manner, from a wide variety of angles. A light lunch is on offer from 1 p.m., the lecture begins at 1.10, and the whole event is over by 1.35, to enable you to be seen back at your desk! Do give it a try.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Link of the day

I may be a bit behind the news on this one, but I stumbled across it for the first time today

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Zwingli quotes

"A sneeze a day keeps Beelzebub away"

"If it feels good, do it"

"Kick that Luther in the happy sacks and see him fall like a pile of bricks"

"Hey folks, listen to the Lord's prayer when I breath in this helium!"

"The Gospels? Never heard of them. Are they a choir band?"

(Sources for these quotations unknown and their authenticity may be questionable)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible

Speaking of Wright, he also has an article in the new Baker Academic book, Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible, ed. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance.

I've got to tell you, this has an unusually high number of fascinating want to read instantly essays, and by big name contributors. J. Ross Wagner (The Septuagint and the "Search for the Christian Bible"); Markus Bockmuehl (Is There a New Testament Doctrine of the Church?); R.W.L. Moberly (Johannine Christology and Jewish-Christian Dialogue); N.T. Wright (Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture); John Webster (Rowan Williams on Scripture); Alan J. Torrance (Can the Truth Be Learned? Readressing the "Theologistic Fallacy" in Modern Biblical Scholarship); Oliver O'Donovan (The Moral Authority of Scripture); Kevin J. Vanhoozer (The Apostolic Discourse and Its Developments) ... and I can go on. What an incredibly inviting line-up!

More first century sleaze

Two posts in December of 2007 did not show me at my most mature. I admit it and I remain in my general posture of contrition. The first was an innocent citation from Philo ("… all erections of any kind made by hand" Philo, Decalogue 51), followed by an apology for my juvenile behavior.

But reading Josephus Antiquities today I stumbled across this one (I almost had to purge my house of Josephus related items as a result). "And when all the people did as the king commanded them, Saul erected …" (6.121).


First, how did Josephus know Saul erected? Second, why did he care? Josephus the Pharisee (Vita 1:12)? I think not - though perhaps of the Blue Oyster bar variety.

Bishop Wright – Paul for Everyone

Click here to have a listen to Wright's recent talk as part of Celebrating the Year of St Paul.

Rethinking scripture

Our extremely well read friend, Dan, has written a thought-provoking post on how he understands scripture here.

Here are four more random thoughts, unrelated to Dan's post, on rethinking the doctrine of scripture:

  1. It should recognise the significance of the ecclesial womb in which the canon grew – thus also the correct principles of interpretation (the rule of faith)
  2. It needs to recognise that modern forms of academic discourse may not be the most appropriate contexts in which to banter, with intellectual integrity, the term 'inerrancy'; the phenomena of the text must shape such debate rather than external deductive wringers (i.e. 'inspired by God' + 'God never lies' = inerrancy) .
  3. That said, speech about the biblical texts in ecclesial and doxological contexts should not have to be as restrained, detached and coy in its dogmatic formulations (perhaps talk of inerrancy is more appropriate here, so long as it does not consistently breach the eschatological limitations on any claims about truth – cf. 1 Cor. 13:12)
  4. The task of bridging the academic and ecclesial contexts can perhaps best proceed by negotiating a relational ontology in defining the inspiration of scripture, one which reframes the truthfulness of scripture in terms of our communal and personal stance towards the texts and our daily practices.