Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Human Faces of God

Just started the extremely well be-blurbed book, The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When it Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries To Hide It) by the extremely cooley named Thom Stark, Wipf&Stock, 2010

From the beginning it is clear to me, this book will be dynamite for some, exploding naive faith to smithereens. I hope that it will be as constructive for conservatives, as I read on, as it is brilliant in outlining the difficulties in scripture. There probably won't be too much in these pages that will surprise biblical scholars. The sort of problems he outlines we have had to not only "live with" but also constructively negotiate for many moons, and it is one reason why I struggle with some forms of simplistic apologetics which is ultimately dishonest (or uninformed). But I must admit, I have still learnt a fair bit from his overviews of problems relating to Daniel.

I had the task of lecturing about the Histories recently, about matters that could cause a few problems for those of simplistic faith fed on certain apologetics. How to talk about the conquest and the theological dispute between the Deuteronomist Historian and other canonical texts, in a way that is both challenging AND constructive? I think I just about managed, but we need to equip the church to be able to tackle these issues, without dodging or fear, and I hope I am going to find Thom Stark a useful aid in this process.   

A busy time, beginning of term ...

but with most essays marked, and key lectures prepared / delivered, I have a little time to blog a bit.

Oh yes, I also have a fancy new iPad, on which I am writing this post, while away for a while lecturing on Galatians and John. It has taken up some of my free time, I must admit, especially those intellectually stimulating apps, Angry Birds and Cut the Rope!

My old laptop looks a bit like an old cassette player next to an MP3 player, if you catch my drift.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tilling to interview Stanley Hauerwas
Some great news: your esteemed Chrisendom host has been given the exciting opportunity to interview Stanley Hauerwas as part of his UK visit, for a feature on the UK Christian Bookshops Blog,

What 5 questions would you suggest I ask him?

How to deal with difficult phone calls

Someone recently sent me this below and though I have no idea if it really is true or not, it still made me laugh!

"This is a true story from the Word Perfect Helpline, which was transcribed from a recording monitoring the customer care department. Needless to say the Help Desk employee was fired; however, he/she is currently suing the Word Perfect organization for 'Termination without Cause'.

Actual dialogue of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee ...:

Operator:         'Ridge Hall, computer assistance; may I help you?'

Caller:              'Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect.'

Operator:         'What sort of trouble??'

Caller:              'Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away.'

Operator:         'Went away?'

Caller:              'They disappeared.'

Operator:         'Hmm So what does your screen look like now?'

Caller:              'Nothing.'

Operator:         'Nothing??'

Caller:              'It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type.'

Operator:         'Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out??'

Caller:              'How do I tell?'

Operator:         'Can you see the C: prompt on the screen??'

Caller:              'What's a sea-prompt?'

Operator:         'Never mind, can you move your cursor around the screen?'

Caller:              'There isn't any cursor: I told you, it won't accept anything I type.'

Operator:         'Does your monitor have a power indicator??'

Caller:              'What's a monitor?'

Operator:         'It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it's on??'

Caller:               'I don't know.'

Operator:          'Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that??'

Caller:              'Yes, I think so.'

Operator:         'Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged into the wall.

Caller:              'Yes, it is.'

Operator:         'When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one??'

Caller:               'No.'

Operator:          'Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable.'

Caller:               'Okay, here it is.'

Operator:          'Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer.'

Caller:               'I can't reach.'

Operator:          'Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is??'

Caller:               'No.'

Operator:          'Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over??'

Caller:               'Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle - it's because it's dark.'

Operator:          'Dark??'

Caller:               'Yes - the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window.'

Operator: 'Well, turn on the office light then.'

Caller:               'I can't.'

Operator:          'No? Why not??'

Caller:               'Because there's a power failure.'

Operator:           'A power......... A power failure? Aha, Okay, we've got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in??'

Caller:               'Well, yes, I keep them in the closet.'

Operator:           'Good. Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from.'

Caller:                'Really? Is it that bad?'

Operator:            'Yes, I'm afraid it is.'

Caller:                 'Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them??'

Operator:            'Tell them you're too f---ing stupid to own a computer!!!!!'

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 11

A summary review PART 11
of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

The following chapters will examine various problems with the contractual soteriology of JT i.e. the system of soteriology involved in conventional readings of Romans 1-4 (remember: it is not a description of anybody's soteriology in toto, but an elaboration of the theoretical commitments of the conventional, non-rhetorical, reading of these chapters, one which does indeed have a more extensive grip on popular theologies)

Intrinsic Difficulties

Chapter two carefully and fairly (i.e. he always engages with the best counter arguments) examines the ways in which JT ‘breaks down internally, that is, in strictly theoretical terms’ (37). DC proposes that the following seven points of internal tension or incoherence must be admitted:

1) Epistemology. JT proposes a journey from the First Phase, ‘the rigorous contract’, to the second, ‘the generous contract’. The two phases must thus be integrated. However, two epistemologies are at work, one based on universal and ahistorical truths available to the ‘generic, philosophical individual’ (38), while the Second Phase posits an ‘irreducibly temporal and historical’ knowledge, based on scripture, the man Jesus Christ etc.

2) Natural revelation. ‘The first phase of Justification theory depends on individuals’ detection within the cosmos of a series of propositions’ (39) involving certain truths about God such as monotheism,  and God’s retributive justice (cf. Rom. 1:18-23), as well as a full ethical system, with special reference to monogamy and heterosexuality (cf. Rom. 1:29-31). However, ‘the rational derivation of this set of propositions seems to be impossible’ (40). Even if a vague notion of the existence of God could be proved, which is highly debatable, can one really philosophise their way to this god’s concern about sexual relations? ‘This model creates, in short, the very situation is seeks to deny: a self-confident atheism’ (943 n.10)! Can it be denied that modes of Christian faith, which most strongly emphasise JT, also assert aggressive apologetic schemes which seek to ‘prove God’?

3) Law. ‘Justification theory asserts two sets of law within one soteriology committed to a just God and perfect obedience – a dual system that is incoherent in terms of both content and desert’ (41). Ask yourself, can the details of Jewish law be discerned from the cosmos, such as the prohibition on cutting forelocks (Deut. 14:1)? Hardly. So, one must thus argue that Mosaic law is distinguishable, at some level, from natural law. Pagans must only abide by natural law for JT to function coherently. However, this would mean, if the Jewish law does truly represent God’s ethical concerns, that natural law is inadequate, that God considers some things important for Jews but not for pagans – which ultimately leads to a law which is, in terms of content, incoherent. And if two people groups have different divine demands to uphold for salvation (the Jews get the harder, longer set!), then this seems unfair in terms of desert. Interestingly, this ties into tactics which problematically distinguish, in a priori fashion, between ‘ceremonial’ and ‘moral’ law (DC demonstrates why this hermeneutical sleight of hand fails, with due recognition of Klaus Berger’s defence, and Heikki Räisänen’s pointed critique in his Paul and the Law).

The next two posts complete DC's overview of Justification Theory's internal difficulties


Monday, October 11, 2010


Here I am, off to teach an early morning class on NT Greek, and I find myself taking:
  • A laptop
  • an iPad
  • a mobile phone
  • Two clever electronic key cards
  • an mp3 player and 
  • a memory stick
If there is an economic meltdown and the electromagnetic poles of the earth flip wiping all electronic data clean, I suspect that I am going to find it difficult to deliver lectures!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This is certainly not a dig at the Tories

... but rhetorically, Michael Gove's keynote speech at the recent Conservative Party Conference did remind me a little of this! For what it is worth, I quite liked what he said.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 10

A summary review PART 10
of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

Today we complete our overview of DC's summary of Justification Theory.

Justification Theory and its Root Metaphors

George Lakoff's notion of root metaphor's position is important here. The activation of a single key metaphor or part of the narrative launches the whole thing.

George Lackoff
DC has painted JT according to its ‘rational argumentative progressions’, but it is illuminating to show the key ‘images and metaphors’ (DC draws on the work of George Lakoff, especially Moral Politics. Cf. n.27 on p. 941, which is one example of many superb notes that I WISH were printed as footnotes, not endnotes) deployed by this soteriology, for the purpose of further clarification, to grasp what is at stake in understanding Paul’s theology, with special focus on Romans 1-4. As DC explains:
‘Arguments tend to draw out more precisely the relationships and inferences inherent in a juxtaposition of premises ... and premises often have a strong image-based or metaphorical dimension. The Justification model is no exception’ (30)
This is key because the activation of a single key metaphor or part of the narrative launches the whole soteriology. One could argue that this is demonstrated in, for example, Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007), where references to the 'death of Jesus' in 'our place' in the early church Fathers, launches, for these authors, the entire model of penal substitution. A quick plug, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors we Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), is a most stimulating read: illuminating at all kinds of levels.

Justification Theory, DC argues, is driven by two root metaphors, one concerning humans, and one concerning God.
Anthropology: For JT to work, humans are understood in highly rational, individualistic and self-interested terms, who ‘acquire knowledge by reflecting on the world’, which means knowledge becomes information. Anthropology thus determines an epistemology which works prospectively – it moves forward in  a linear fashion. Knowledge of God, which is largely informational, is deduced from creation (natural theology) by this rational individual who is individually and ethically culpable before a holy God, and who acts to fulfil such ethical demands, in accordance with self-interest (can you think of popular approaches to ethics which tag in a line such as ‘it is in your own best interest not to  [fill in the gap: sleep around, get drunk etc]’?) 

Theology: God is both one and invisible, and importantly, God is retributively just – he is, in Lakoff’s terminology, a ‘strict’ authoritarian (the dominant image of God in the Southern states of America [!], according to The Baylor Survey of Religion - cf. 941 n. 27).
An aside: I have found DoG useful in prompting my mind to reflect on the ‘root metaphors’ that make sense not simply of my theology (which I kid myself is way more sophisticated than it actually is) but of my Christian practices. I wonder why I seem to default to a God dominated by justice (and love on good days)?
DC finishes as he started: ‘it should be emphasized that the preceding description is primarily theoretical’. It is about ‘the Justification model’s approach to salvation in terms of the most coherent conceptual route to that end’, which particularly examines ‘the internal theoretical integrity of the model’ (35). This point has, as we mentioned, nevertheless sadly been missed, leading to many unfair dismissals.


Quote of the day

My colleague, Dr Lincoln Harvey, dug out the following brilliancy from the Chruch Dogmatics recently:

"It is said that HF Kohlbruegge once answered the question: When was he converted? by the laconic reply: On Golgotha. This answer....[is] the only possible and straightforward answer of the truly converted Christian" (Karl Barth, CD 1.2, p.709).

Them is fighting words against individualistic contractualism, if ever I read 'em

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 9

A summary review PART 9
of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

The Second Phase of Justification Theory: The Generous Contract

If the First Phase is faulty, then the solution offered by this Second Phase will likely also be faulty. It also will determine, given its dynamic, the nature of this Second Phase, which will now be understood in contractual and individualistic terms, even if that contract be generous.

This Phase involves two components. First, in response to the central axiom of God’s justice, there will be a central place for the satisfaction of that justice in the death of Christ (and often positively an imputation of Christ’s righteousness). This is crucial, as the demands of justice are central - this cannot be compromised. So ‘the model’s opening calculus ... remains essential’ (25). The demands of a certain understanding of justice (which he will later explain is forensic retributive) frame the nature of this model’s solution. 

Second, given that this model’s premises are contractual, a criterion will need to be fulfilled to appropriate the benefits of this satisfaction of justice. Given the claims of Phase One, this new criterion will need to be manageable, and at this point ‘faith’ makes sense (and ‘the claim that faith alone saves is cradled by the logic of the first phase’ [26]). Also to note is that this faith is understood in a voluntarist framework, as ‘if the saving criterion were coerced, then the preceding progress of the rational individual would be pointless ... If it were lacking, then we would not really be dealing with this model at all’ (26). 

Above I stated that this contract is 'generous'; I deliberately avoided calling it gracious. The reason for this is that while God’s saving activity in the death of Christ, in this Second Phase, is certainly generous, it is not unconditional (so DC must ask whether even the good news of JT is really gracious).

The next instalment finishes of our overview of DC's Justification Theory, before we turn to see how he reviews it.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 8

A summary review PART 8
of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

In this post we complete our analysis of DC’s portrayal of the First Phase of JT. In the next post we will detail the nature of the Second Phase before turning to look at the important matter of the ‘root metaphors’ of JT.

The introspective twist

So far, this First Phase is nothing unusual. However, the point of all of it is to drive the sinner into a second, Christian phase. ‘How it achieves this pressure is quite ingenious, involving, first the rigor with which the law is upheld and, second, a principal of introversion’ (19).

The rigor may either be interpreted as the demand for total obedience, or obedience which outweighs disobedience – though the former tends to trump the latter (cf. the Westminster Confession of Faith: 'The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience'). But either way, the point is that obedience is impossible – it leads to condemnation. Hence the second point: ‘People are supposed to reflect on their own condition in the light of the demands of the law and to realize that they fall short if the requisite obedience’ (20). We all sin and everyone who look at themselves honestly, who examine themselves enough, will realise this (cf. aspects of the autobiographies of Luther and Augustine at this point!)
The loop of despair

Hence, some poor folk may simply ‘try harder’, ‘pull up their moral bootstraps’ as Tom Wright may phrase it. But this will fail, generating a loop of despair (hence, I am tempted to add, Luther, his probable OCD and his anguished conscience – cf. Osborn, Ian. Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?: A Psychiatrist Explores the Role of Faith in Treatment. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2008).

The loop of foolishness

Of course there will be some fools who, having confronted the reality of themselves (introspected), fail to realise the gravity of the situation and boast in their own righteousness. These hypocritical folk, though truly destined to doom, are terribly deceived, and this explains why the pious are often the wost kind of people, and liable to the most guilt.

The next post completes our overview of JT according its logical progression.


People I wish I knew at school so I could have enjoyed picking on them like any self-respecting normal person would of course have done - 02

Today's personage is not "Bond, James Bond".

Nope. Its Herbert. Herbert Scheit.

Prof. Scheit has authored, among other things Wahrheit, Diskurs, Demokratie: Studien zur "Konsensustheorie der Wahrheit"  and Geist und Gemeinde: zum Verhältnis von Religion und Politik bei Hegel

Oh Herby, why oh why weren't you a fellow student in my high school?