Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wright’s badges

I do like Wright's approach to Paul. I especially like how he manages to plausibly explain the (narrative) structure which gives Paul's arguments fresh coherence. In this respect I think his commentary on Romans is an example of Wright at his lucid, most insightful best. That said, I find myself intuitively suspicious of the 'faith as a badge' proposal. And I get the feeling that if I pull that thread loose, quite a bit besides will potentially unravel. In a nutshell, it strikes me as an insufficiently relational understanding of faith (I have wondered if Wright's claim perhaps, in part, depends on an implicit pre-Heideggerian metaphysics of representation – but this is an underdeveloped thought).

Any of you ever had suspicious thoughts about the 'faith as a badge' business? Or do you think it makes sense, especially in light of the Dunn-Wright take on 'works of law'?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Facebook’s What’s on Your Mind?

Had a closer look at Facebook today. I uploaded a few pictures ages ago, but there is so much more to Facebook than that (not breaking news for many of you, I am sure). I actually keyed into 'What's on Your Mind?' today. For those of you who are technical numpties, you simply type in a sentence which follows your name – and your friends can read it and comment. Bit like Twittering, perhaps? A couple of the comments below makes a repeat run worthwhile!

* Chris Tilling is enjoying a new publication on Heilsuniversalismus/Apokatastasis/Universalism, namely Jens Adam's Paulus und die Versöhung aller, and he is flippin loving it - even if some if the German (especially relating to Christine Janovski) is a bit tricky and hence disheartening

* Chris Tilling thinks the USA should be invaded and recaptured for her Majesty, the Queen

Alastair Howard at 19:36 on 19 June

I think we should make more of Independence Day over here, but for different reasons to the yanks...

* Chris Tilling has changed his mind about the aforementioned invasion

* Chris Tilling is wondering whether squirrels squeak if lobbed over a fence with a 9-iron

Rick Brannan at 18:30 on 19 June

I think it would have more to do with the 9 iron than the fence. Presumably if the 9 iron whacked 'em into the fence instead of over it, they'd squeak (9 iron) and then splat (fence)

Alastair Roberts at 20:17 on 19 June

There is only one way to find out. Let us know what you discover.

* Chris Tilling is wondering what it would happen if he was mistaken for a huge leg at Battersea Dog's Home.

(I'm not sure this last one makes any sense beyond my own twisted mind)

Spock-like logic

I've recently been reading up on the history and nature of logic, with attention on Aristotle, Frege, Russell etc . So, my inner genius just came up with the following syllogism:

  1. The effect of violence on a person can be good for that person's soul
  2. Things that are good for one's soul are always good
  3. Therefore, violence is always good.

I thank you.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

An introduction to a short ‘commentary’ on Romans

Here is a first draft – and it is already about 200 words too long! Your thoughts are, as always, appreciated.

In 1545, Martin Luther, the famous initiator of the Protestant Reformation, sat with pen in hand and mused upon his 'conversion' experience. Though 'a monk without reproach', he described his state as 'a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience'. But upon reading a text in Romans 1 he started to understand the righteousness of God not as a threat but as 'the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith'. Thus it was through a text in Romans that he felt he had 'entered paradise itself through open gates'. John Calvin likewise said that 'if we have gained a true understanding of this Epistle, we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of Scripture'.

Open 'doors' and 'gates' ... yet many find that Romans rather slams these doors shut, a matter all the more tangible these days given the contemporary debate in Pauline studies concerning the language of 'justification', 'law', 'righteousness' and 'the faith of Christ'. To help open doors for contemporary travellers into these Himalayas of Pauline theology, it will prove most useful to keep in mind two issues: i) the situation Paul addressed and ii) the place of Christ's life, death and resurrection in the story of Israel. This is important as Paul may well have been attempting to answer a different (even if overlapping) set of problems to those generated by Luther's 'extremely disturbed conscience'.

The situation: for reasons which are not necessary to examine here, Romans was likely written into a context of tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Indeed, it is likely that some Gentile Christians felt superior to Jewish believers, people who had probably only recently returned to the Roman Church after a temporary exile from Rome because of an Edict by Emperor Claudius.

The story: the bumpy narrative of the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures is as follows: it runs from creation, fall, God's redemptive solution for fallen creation in the covenant with Abraham, through Egypt, the exodus, conquest of the land, the judges and the monarchy, the inheritance of the curse of the law and the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, and finally a partial, yet incomplete, restoration. So ends the OT. Yet the OT Prophets had spoken of a time when God's redemptive plans, through Abraham's family, would be fulfilled, a time when God would make a new covenant, pour out his Spirit, raise up a messianic leader, reunite the 12 scattered tribes, establish his people in the land, glorify his own name etc (see, for example, Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11; 43:5-11; 49:5-13; 52:1-10; 56:3-8; 61:1-4; Jeremiah 16:14-16; 29:14; 31:8-11; 32:37-42; Ezekiel 11:17-20; 28:25-26; 34:1-3, 5, 10-24; 36:19-28; 37:12-28; 39:25-29; Zechariah 8). The centuries leading up to the New Testament period did not see the fulfilment of the prophetic promises; Israel rather experienced the (often brutal) rule of one foreign empire after another. So many asked when would God act to fulfil his promises. When would God be faithful to his covenant with Abraham, and what was God to do if his own covenant people continued in the sin which led them into exile in the first place?

This story awaiting an ending was summed up, in some OT texts (see Psalm 33:4; Isaiah 40-55; Jeremiah 32:41; Lamentations 3:23 etc.), with the phrase 'God's righteousness', which thus brings us to the heart of Romans. God's righteousness was the hope of Israel as it awaited the fulfilment of God's promises. Yet, as we shall see, God's righteousness judgment, in the sense of impartial justice (e.g. 2 Chronicles 19:7; Proverbs 24:23; Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6), was also the reason they went into exile in the first place (cf. Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 15:13-14; Daniel 9:15-16). This tension in God's righteousness generated difficult questions, exactly the sort Paul sought to address in Romans – albeit with a special Christian twist: the righteousness of God is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Let us then begin the journey into the letter itself and, as Karl Barth once described his experience of reading Romans, proceed with 'a joyful sense of discovery'.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I don’t usually get involved with this sort of thing, but ...

Prominent Young Earth Creationist, Ken Ham, writes on June 9th on his well-known webpage:

"In this newsletter and in my lectures over the years, I have insisted that Christians who compromise by accepting the idea of an earth supposedly millions of years old (or who are indifferent to whether or not that is even a problem) have greatly contributed to the decline of the church and its influence"

Creationists like this usually mean well and I actually became a Christian listening to a Ken Ham tape! Yes, I've now become an unapologetic Christian evolutionist, but that is another story. But this kind of argument does need a short, sharp 'no'. It is the brand of creationism represented here that is a danger to Christian witness, because it moves the historic Christian faith into the realm of completely implausible quasi-'scientific' subculture, in to a place mocked by a completely (and justifiably) unimpressed scientific community. And Ham's reading of Genesis is not 'the truth', with others 'compromising'. He not only fails to understand Genesis at a literal level (especially Genesis 1:1), he does not know how to read this biblical text i.e. not as scientific statement but as theological imagination meant to evoke worship. Genre is very important, folks.

No, I think true prophetic insight will suggest that, among other things, it is the church's lack of unity and our lack of love for our neighbours that has led to its decline in influence. Ham's proposal is to live in a strange dream world, and if ever Christians need to smell the coffee and live in the real world, now is the time.

Oh, yea, and despite what he says: dinosaurs didn't live at the same time as humans. Besides, once we make that kind of thing central to the Gospel, we have lost the plot.

Finally Wright gets to meet Tilling

He must have been honoured to stand next to me.

On being persecuted

First, Ben points out my recent drive-by-baptism fiasco where I was unfortunately caught by a camera. Second, Jim West continues to post lies on my good name, all under the rubric 'Where in the world in Chris Tilling now?'. And third, Scott Bailey, who really should know better, has posted a slur about me in a swimsuit – really a though worthy of a nosebleed if ever there was one.

I, of course, officially deny everything. That I am writing this from prison, with a very angry (and wet) freshly baptised 'believer' being restrained by four policemen from beating me, and that my swimsuit is starting to feel uncomfortable, is besides the point.

'Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you' (Matthew 5:12). Amen. Scott, Ben, Jim, your persecutory actions only prove I am righteous.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Hermeneutics of Doctrine

My sincere thanks to Eerdmans for a review copy of Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2007). What a delight it was to receive that in the post, I can tell you!

I consider Anthony C. Thiselton an academic role model. His commentary on 1 Corinthians is the best of its kind, his work on hermeneutics is jaw droppingly well researched, and he now shows how well read he is on theological questions. Essentially, Thiselton asks whether 'a more significant interaction between hermeneutics and doctrine [may] play some part in rescuing doctrine from its marginalised function and abstraction from life, and deliver it from its supposed status as mere theory' (xvi).

His new book, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, provides all manner of important and original insights seeking to answer this question. The first section explores reasons to pursue the hermeneutics of doctrine, while part two answers possible objections to the project. Part three (the main part of the book) then examines a variety of major doctrinal themes, including anthropology, sin, the atonement, Christology, the Trinity and much more besides.

The book is simply superb, a real delight to read. And you know, when reading Thiselton, you will learn plenty for the time spent studying! So many points could be noted as demonstration of this, but for reasons of time I will limit myself to one: It seems to me that his hermeneutical critique of Bultmann in chapter 17 blows apart the justly famous German's claim that Easter is 'nothing other than the rise of faith in the risen one'. Yet he manages this critique at the same time as positively drawing from Bultmann's legitimate insight that to claim 'Jesus is Lord', for example, is a self-involving assertion involving existential language. The whole argument is penetrating, balanced, lucid and learned.

Here is Craig G. Bartholomew's essay, "Three Horizons: Hermeneutics from the Other End―An Evaluation of Anthony Thiselton's Hermeneutic Proposals," European Journal of Theology 5.2 (1996): 121-135. And here is Scot McKnight's glowing review. That's three witnesses, so: Buy it, study it, re-read it and enjoy it!

Tom Wright’s visit tomorrow

It is International Week at Holy Trinity Brompton, with over 1500 delegates from literally all over the world – plus almost (or is it now over) 100 bishops (or equivalent) from a huge number of denominations, including Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Anglican, Salvation Army, Evangelical Free and many many more besides. It was moving to stand and worship together with so many Christians from such a wide variety of traditions today.

As part of International Week Tom Wright will speak tomorrow night at HTB. The title of his talk: 'Jesus and Tomorrow's World'.

Rather looking forward to that!

Friday, June 05, 2009

A dubbed Jesus movie scene

Does that sound like your Jesus?!

Snuggie Parody

Thanks to our friend Stephie for pointing this one out:

Well, I thought it was funny! I especially liked the reaction to the "free flashlight"!