Monday, August 30, 2010

Link of the day

Here, Roger Olson speaks some real sense regarding the inerrancy shibboleth.

Happy Birthday Dr Jim West!

Yes, Happy Birthday Jim, 50 today. Jim is not only the most important thing to ever happen to biblioblogging, and a keen scholar with a wit as sharp as his mind, but also a dear friend. I honestly feel privileged to know him as I do, and our laughs together at SBL are unforgettable. Now, at the ripe age of fifty, not only can he expect to have to pee three times a night (instead of twice), but his best two decades lay ahead of him. I thank God for you, Jim (and yea, I know you are southern Baptist, but can you not have just a little tipple of Whiskey today? Tell you what – I'll vicariously enjoy a shot of Jägermeister tonight for you. What are friends for, after all? - Oh, and for everyone else: feel free to redistribute my artwork as you see fit)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 3

A summary review PART 3

of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

Beginning with the Problem (Frank Thielman will at least like this heading)

Imagine going to a doctor with a complaint. You sit down and she asks you about your symptoms - which, it turns out, appear thoroughly varied. Sometimes you have a cold, yet other times it is a tummy upset. Then again, you may suffer with dizziness, or another time from tiredness. In light of all of these symptoms a good doctor will seek to diagnose the underlying causes, or even better the single cause, so that the treatment is better targeted and most effective. In this case, perhaps she will diagnose stress, or something similar, and prescribe time off of work, relaxation techniques, or tablets (please forgive this prospective analogy and subheading for introducing a completely retrospective account of Paul's theology - but imperfect didactic tools are often the most memorable!)

A look at contemporary Pauline scholarship will reveal many problems for the theologian and NT exegete, especially as they relate to soteriology. DC begins his thesis by noting three of these. 
Artwork from
  • First is the tension (I'll wait awhile until we call this a 'contradiction') between forensic justification-related discourse in Paul on the one hand (think of justification in terms of exchanges, creditations [of righteousness or sin], contracts etc.) and the Apostle's mystical (or participatory, or relational) language on the other. One need only recall names such as Wrede and Sanders to recognise this fission in Paul's thought, and much scholarship is concerned with either declaring the fission to be an illusory vision (I'm a poet and you didn't know it), or a divide so great that it cannot be crossed (cf. Räisänen's Paul and the Law [Tübingen: Mohr, 1986]). 
  • The second Pauline 'conundrum' (as DC calls them) concerns the 'Lutheran' (he will soon reject this descriptive title) account of Judaism against which justification by faith makes sense, an account which paints the religion as the negative example of legalism. Sanders, covenantal nomism and the rise of the so-called 'new perspective' is, in many ways, an attempt to rethink Paul, if this account of 'the problem' to which Pauline soteriology is the answer, is faulty. And as yet, this is much debate and little agreement as to the way forward. A conundrum indeed.  
  • Finally, while scholars agree that Paul's letters were responses to contingent circumstances, and not simple deposits of theological maxims detached from their first century context, why is it that the contingent circumstances of Paul's letter to the Romans has not been clarified? More to the point, why, as is so often the case, is Romans effectively treated as if it were a 'theological tractate', merely 'bracketed' by an epistolary opening and conclusion (Cf. e.g., Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 32, 39.). Is this not to recapitulate to pre-critical accounts of the nature of ancient epistles? Why the ambiguity about the contingent situation of Romans?
With these symptoms in mind, a good doctor would search for a common cause (and this one may certainly be causing stress as well!), so that an effective treatment can be prescribed. Likewise, and key to the argument of the whole book, DC claims: 
'A single culprit seems to generate our difficulties, namely, a particular individualist - and so possible also rather modern - reading of Paul's justification terminology and argumentation that devolves into a conditional understanding of salvation' (3).
If this diagnosis is correct (and DoG sketches preliminary reasons for this judgment in pp. 3-7), not only will major problems in Pauline scholarship potentially all be resolved at once, but more importantly, the Pauline gospel will be heard again with fresh power, to break the idolatry of a false theology trapped by the spirit of the age, and thus empower it to address our lives again. But because the diagnosis of these problems immediately confronts one with the complexly intertwined matters that orbit the vicious circle of hermeneutical, ideological, theological, argumentative, exegetical etc. concerns that relate to reading a text, we must return to DC's two insights noted in Part 2 of this review summary (think James Torrance and 'a set of preliminary characterizations' and you've got it): Part One of DoG will systematically set out the problems relating to the contractual reading of Paul. The problem thus diagnosed will facilitate the prescription of the treatment: a rhetorical and apocalyptic reading of Paul which is, at bottom, all about Jesus and God's un-contractual, or put slightly more elegantly, God's unconditional love.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

A hit or a miss?

Horrible Histories - Witchfinders Direct

(HL: Herr Robin Parry at

A thought on the Mohler – Spong video

Some very interesting comments on the video below – and they prompted me to ponder the sort of claims thrown around by both Spong and Mohler once again. What struck me was the either-or thinking of both of them. For example, Spong claims you are either an 'adult' or you speak about being 'born again'; 'authority' or 'uncertainty'. Mohler agreed with the last and added that one has either total inerrancy of the bible or no ability to trust the Bible and no basis for any faith etc.

I would suggest, at the very least, that if we were to take the shape of the canon of scripture seriously, we will resist these either-ors. It should not surprise us that those who write theologies of the New Testament always struggle to articulate the unity of scripture's message, in light of the diversity of theological claims in the text. And this is not even to consider some of the subversive theological implications of OT texts.

What is more, think of the plurality of witnesses in both testaments: the histories in the OT diverge at various points, providing effectively at least two view points on the rise and decline of the monarchy. Take King David’s census, for example – according to 2 Sam., the business was God’s idea (‘And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah’ 24:1), yet 1 Chron. says that it wasn’t God’s idea, but rather ... satan’s! (‘And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel’ 21:1).Turn to the NT and we have four Gospels. Here, think simply of the different perspectives evident in relation to Jerusalem, geography, the timing of the crucifixion and resurrection and the events surrounding them, and, more importantly, the portrayal of Jesus (have a look at Richard Burridge's helpful Four Gospels, One Jesus?: A Symbolic Reading. London: SPCK, 1994).

Either-or theology certainly has a place; it needs to be deployed in terms of the truth of the gospel (I think here of Paul's curses in his letter to the Galatians! - Barth put it like this: "The gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question mark against all truths"). But once this way of thinking resists room for acceptance of 'the plurality of truth' (I take this from the subtitle of John Franke's bok, Manifold Witness), we end up in the over-realised theological trouble of both Spong and Mohler.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 2

A summary review PART 2

of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

Image from
In the beginning...

... there was a flash of insight, an intuition that could impact NT studies in a powerful way. Upon reading articles by James B. Torrance, DC sensed that theological foundationalism, particularly in the form of contractualism (we will explore what these terms mean in more depth later - they are key to the entire book), was of the utmost relevance for key contemporary debates in Pauline scholarship. This was back in the early 1990s, and as DC sought to explore this intuition in various exegetical papers, he found that his proposals were rejected for what seemed like the wrong reasons - they were critiqued not because they represented poor exegesis, but rather because they rubbed against truths that were simply ‘taken for granted’.

Indeed, it would be difficult to contest that exegesis is a complex beast, and as his experience confirms, when it involves subjects as loaded as justification by faith, it is far more involved than a simple analysis of the lexemes and semantic forms of certain words in verses in isolation. No, the task of understanding an ancient text such as Paul’s letters involves theological and argumentative claims related to the text, as well as church-historical, sociological, ideological, hermeneutical and ethical dimensions.

So, faithful to his initial intuition (regarding the key issue of contractualism and Paul), DC sought a way to enter into the complexity of issues relating to key problems relating to Pauline exegesis. In a nutshell, How to speak, as a NT scholar, about Pauline soteriology and contractualism when exegesis itself presupposes ideological, theological etc. presuppositions, that are themselves tied up with key Pauline texts? DC’s answer, and second key insight, came when he recognised that he could enter this vicious circle by first analysing ‘a set of preliminary characterizations that were largely incontestable and could serve to establish and initiate the principal issues’ (xxvii).

This method, together with the scope of DC’s comprehensive new vision and the nature of exegesis, explains not only the existence of Part One of DoG, which is largely devoted to the explication and critique of these ‘preliminary characterizations’, but also the nature of DC’s exegetical approach. Instead of an atomistic preoccupation with Pauline pericopae, analysed one after another, DC’s task calls for what he calls a ‘horizontal’ approach: one which keeps overarching themes close to mind, which appreciates how individual texts work as ‘semantic and rhetorical events’ within that broader sweep of concerns. Of course, this does not mean that detailed exegesis is sidelined (DoG could function as a primer on advanced exegetical skill for many aspiring PhD students - a depth often only found in German language WUNT or de Gruyter monographs!); it is placed within a larger frame. What this looks like in practice, we shall see later.

[I, for one, can only cheer at this constructive protest at atomistic approaches to the NT. My own thesis has, in a far more humble way, similarly protested by deliberately resisting the exclusive in-depth analysis of a few key passages designated significant to the Pauline divine-Christology debate (e.g., Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 8:6 etc.). Instead I sought to broaden the sweep of Pauline texts actually engaged, at the same time as allowing this broader sweep to better determine the appropriate hermeneutic and argumentative strategy - and all, if I may say, to surprising effect (e.g., passages otherwise largely forgotten in the Pauline divine-Christology debate begin to be recognised as more important than the so-called ‘key texts’). But this is really all besides the point: I should write about DC’s work. I apologise for my detour; I blame the stream-of-consciousness nature of blogging ...

By the way, a final quick note: I may start this review slowly, i.e. detail DC's arguments in more depth to start with, but then later speed up. I'll see how it goes, and whether this encourages debate and remains reader-friendly]


Friday, August 20, 2010

Must Christianity Change Or Die? The Mohler - Spong Smackdown

I am no particular Spong fan, but I think he was on top in this argument. Mohler (and later Strobel, via a foundationalist natural theology) was arguing himself into a difficult place, and Spong knew how to lead him there! But ... you decide (did the video squeak like mad at the end through your speakers, too?)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Steven Harris Art 1/6

A moving, sensitive portrayal of N.T. Wright's historical Jesus scholarship, and its relation to the theses of Borg and Crossan:



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Want to join my new band?

Yesterday, while in Germany, I came across a Christian music band called Demon Hunter. Apparently their musical prowess is favourably judged by those "in the know" (I do not pretend to be able to adjudicate on the musical merits of a Heavy Metal Band). However, inspired as I now am, I am thinking of starting my own band. No, I can't play a guitar. Or a piano. Or the drums. Or anything come to think of it (apart from the joker), but I do know some fairly famous worship leaders (ability by association), so I'll simply slap on the sound of a computer modem in action and call it Heavy Techno, or something, interspersing the cacophony with sentences like 'hurray for Jesus'. A Christian Heavy Techno Band is born.

Apart from needing other people in the group to jump around in leotards / Bikinis and stuff like that, all I need now is a name likewise as cool as the aforementioned Heavy Metalers.

Beelzebub Dead Arm Givers, or perhaps Hasatan Chinese Burners, or even Belial Wedgie-ers. Perhaps I'll settle for Unclean Spirit Wet Willy-ers, I am still undecided.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I miss Germany (how many Google searches looking for Miss Germany will sniff their way to this page, I wonder), so it is great to breath Tübingen air once again. Thank God for this beautiful place. And boy, do I need a break. In fact, at the airport I even purchased an Incredible Hulk cartoon novel to read – which, I am hoping, will help distance from anything job related, however enjoyable my jobbing can be.

Many of you will remember the extremely sharply witted Steven Harris, and his now sadly deleted blog, World of Sven. As a student during lectures he had an extraordinary gift for theologically related doodling, and some of them were hilarious. He has given me permission to repost some of his pics here. I'll start uploading them tomorrowish.

Until then, if you think back to the strange contradictions that once plagued humans (the liar paradox, the Bertrand, Zeno and Russell paradoxes etc.) here is a modern day conundrum for you to ponder:

'If Harry Potter is so magical, why can't he cure his own eyesight and get laid?' (Frankie Boyle)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Uploaded: my talk on 1 Corinthians and Unity at Focus

The address was delivered in a huge tent that could cater for thousands ... but only about 200 privileged people arrived to drink deep from the vast wells of my Solomaic wisdom (of course, I had to use a cattle prod to get them in, and drug the tea to keep them from leaving).

The talk was not a sermon, nor was it an academic dissertation, but perhaps something in-between.

If you fancy hearing about 1 Corinthians, social-scientific approaches to the NT and Paul's delightful strategy to counter disunity, click here to download the audio, and here to download a pdf of the handout.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Calvin Harris or J. Louis Martyn?

Sitting in my office today, I tried to prepare for some upcoming lectures on Galatians. Yet on listening to this track, all I wanted to do was get up and wriggle my butt around (sorry if that image makes you cough up your dinner/sugar puffs)

Link of the day

Odd what you stumble on when YouTube surfing. I recently came across a video that reminded me of a rather curious blog-altercation with a film producer whose thesis I subtly challenged in an earlier series of posts. He demanded I take down pictures I copied from his webpage, and got huffy at my jibes. I obliged about the pictures but stated his theology was abunchofcrap-ology – you know how such exchanges go.

This new video-maker claims that his pro-cannabis bible essay does not presume his religiosity. Indeed, he writes with eminent clarity: 'Make it known that I am in NO way religious, Christianity or Rastafarianism'. Fair enough.

It was the next sentence that amused me. For the question everyone really wants to have answered is probably not whether he is religious but whether he is personally a 'user'? (or is that just me?) You see, I want to know whether there is an agenda here: Does he himself skinny dip in enough Cannabis to make even Welsh town names pronounceable?

And just at this point, not entirely surprisingly, a little ambiguity creeps in to his language:

'[N]or do I particularly partake in the consumption of cannabis'.

I suppose the added 'particularly' functions as 'necessarily', i.e. 'it is not the necessary corollary of this video that I am a user'.

In other words, the 'particularly' would probably be best understood to be of the 'give me another drag before I punch your sister' variety.

But this is all an aside as the director adds: 'This is an educational video'.

So go and be educated by a bizarre barrage of no-doubt well meant but nevertheless largely sloppy, anachronistic and out of context proof-texting:

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 1

A summary review PART 1

of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009 (and thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy!)

Preliminary comments

It is not often that one picks up a book that truly grabs the imagination and begins to bring into focus thoughts otherwise scattered across the four winds of theological study. Nor is it common to read a volume that has a thesis so majestic that it has the power to literally change lives. In my view, Doug Campbell has succeeded in producing just such a book. It literally raises the bar of New Testament scholarship higher than ever before. It will become obvious that I am generally persuaded by large swaths of Doug's thesis, but I do believe that whether you agree with the main thrusts of his thesis or not, there is brilliance in this book for everybody to appreciate.

Given the number of large ongoing reviews of the book already online, a word is in order justifying yet another. I recently began an introduction to Hegel's thought in which the author noted that his portrayal of Hegel may indeed come across a little too sympathetic. Yet the author preferred it remain so as 'a clear understanding of Hegel's philosophy on its own terms' is 'anyway a prerequisite for serious criticism' (Craig B. Matarrese, Starting with Hegel [London: Continuum, 2010], 25). Given the scope, brilliance and nature of Doug's claims, it is all the more necessary that we carefully listen to what he actually argues. I labour this point a little as I would suggest that some reviews have been penned on the book that arguably have not listened to what Doug is actually saying. Of course, I cannot promise that I will correctly understand, represent or fairly critique Doug's thesis at every point, but I hope to avoid fundamental misunderstandings of his project as is arguably evident in some particularly prominent reviews, whether those published on blogs or in peer review journals. I thus believe there is continued need for an extensive and careful representation of Doug's actual claims.

I do have a second reason for writing this summary review, which in terms of size will approximate to my earlier overview of Richard Bauckham's book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. If Doug is right, then this is an important thesis for more than the academically interested. I hope, and here I want to be a little careful, to make the general contours of his argument available to those who lack the time, energy, will or expertise to work through the thousand or so pages of The Deliverance of God. I hasten to add that I sincerely hope that my words will provoke just those people into picking up Doug's book for themselves. After all, he says it all far better than I could.
OK, that is enough by way of preliminary comments. By the way, from now on I will refer to the author as DC, though I may lapse every now and then into Doug (sorry for the irreverence, DC) and the book will be abbreviated as DoG, while his earlier book, The Quest for Paul's Gospel: A Suggested Strategy (London: T&T Clark, 2005), I will abbreviate as Quest.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Chrisendom reopens for business

Yes, you read right. Your favourite blog is about to reopen* – back to correct the torrent of lunatic slop that smears your computer screens like the remnants of an old sneeze, back, bringing forth holy stuff and theological precision, speaking the truth in ... ways the make me look cleverer than others.

First off ...

*Drum roll*

I will begin my summary review of Douglas Campbell's magisterial volume The Deliverance of God.

'What, another review of that flippin book?'

Yes. The best yet. And I'll use longer words than others.

Second off

*drum roll*

per usual, and fairly constantly, any other nefarious bilge I can think of, you know, the expected dysenterous gushings of a trivial mind, frothing up wad loads of crossing-the-line bull.

* This is all proclaimed with the small disclaimer that my reopening is conditional upon me not getting bored with the whole shebang again.