Thursday, June 17, 2010

Steve Motyer reviews Bennema's Encountering Jesus

The original pdf of this review, for LST InSight, can be read here. I simply add that Cor REALLY knows what he is talking about when it comes to the Gospel of John!

Paternoster 2009, £14.99, pp213, ISBN 978-1-84227-666-2

It is great to see our former students producing books that will really make a difference in biblical scholarship! Cor Bennema, who – after completing both his undergraduate training and his PhD at LST – now teaches New Testament at the South East Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies in Bangalore, has produced a book which will advance johannine studies in significant ways. And it's also a great read for anyone who wants to understand the 'characters' in John's Gospel better.

How should we study 'characters' in the Bible – or indeed in any ancient text? One of the real advances in Cor Bennema's study is his attention to this methodological question, and his careful construction of an answer to it. The full technical details are in a long article published simultaneously in the journal Biblical Interpretation, but he summarises the discussion and his approach here in an introductory chapter, and then has 23 short chapters applying his approach to characters in the Gospel – usually individuals, but some composite characters like 'the world', 'the Jews', 'the crowd' and 'the twelve'. Then, in a concluding chapter he summarises his results and draws conclusions about what the characters might represent for modern readers.

Cor shows that all the johannine characters are there to illustrate various responses to Jesus – and he shows well how varied and subtle the range of responses is, even though they can all be called either 'adequate' or 'inadequate', from John's perspective. Cor classifies the characters on a spectrum from 'types' (simple, flat characters just representing one response), to 'personalities' (characters with some real personal depth), to 'individuals' (real people we can imagine meeting and understanding). One of the real gains of his study is that, whereas previously scholars have tended to view John's characters as cardboard cut-outs with little depth, Cor's analysis leads us to see new depths in them: of the 23, only eight are just 'types'. All the rest have aspects of 'personality', and three characters (Pilate, Judas and Peter) qualify as 'individuals', with considerable complexity in their portrayal.

This is a great book, written with great attention to detail but with a light and readable touch, a compelling style and solid skills in argumentation, as well as with a winsome eye to contemporary application. I think that Cor could have reflected a little more on what he brings, as a personal reader, to the analysis of these persons: alongside the textual and historical analysis, in what ways does he see them clearly also because he relates to them, person-to-person, as he reads? And if this is the case, is his reading devalued, or not? I missed this hermeneutical reflection. But the wonderful value of this book is not in the least undermined because he avoids pushing my hermeneutical buttons in this respect!

Reviewed by: Steve Motyer, Theology & Counselling Course Leader and Lecturer in New Testament and Hermeneutics, LST Cornelis Bennema, Associate Professor of New Testament at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore, India (LST 1992-1995 and 2001)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Barth and revelation

'Not God alone, but God and man together constitute the content of the Word of God'

  • Church Dogmatics I/2 207

What a great quote, and one which staves off potential misunderstandings about Barth's theology, I think. In my own work on Paul, I maintain that Paul's divine Christology is the relationship between risen Lord and believers, so you can perhaps see why I like this!

A glorious German Rhubarb cake recipe


~1 kg Rhabarber        putzen und in fingergroße Stücke schneiden.

125g Margarine        mit

125g Zucker            schaumig rühren.

1 P Vanillezucker,

3Eier                zugeben, und

200g Mehl            mit

2 TL Backpulver            vermischt kurz unterrühren. Mit

3 EL Sahne/Milch        geschmeidig machen.

Den Teig in eine Kuchenform geben und den Rhabarber gleichmäßig darauf verteilen. Dann 35-40min bei 160-170°C backen (Heißluft). In der Zwischenzeit

3 Eiweiß            steif schlagen, und

150g Zucker            unterheben. Nach Wunsch kann man

(30g Kokosraspel/

gemahlene Nüsse)        mit unterheben.

Die Eiweißmasse auf den vorgebackenen Kuchen streichen/mit Spritztülle aufspritzen und nochmals 15min backen.


This comes straight from Anja's vault. Praise God for Rhubarb cake!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Moltmann and co on the Spirit

Check out and download some of the talks from our recent conference, The Holy Spirit in the World Today. You'll find talks by Moltmann, Rowan Williams, David Ford, Miroslav Volf and others. Molty, by the way, was the undisputed king of one-liners!

Some reflections on reading The Deliverance of God

In the next couple of weeks, I plan to start my (probably rather long) review-summary of Doug Campbell's amazing book, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009).

Reading this book has proven to be one of the most important experiences of my theological life. In particular, I have felt much joy as a gospel has come into view which is not only understandable and explainable to others, but is one which excites me - a gospel which is truly good news. Since my fascination with things Wright-shaped has started to wane, the complex gospel of counter-imperial, grand-narrative exegesis has likewise been replaced by delight in the gospel of God's unconditional love, a love entirely undeserved, a love which invades my sinful world out of shear graciousness. Apocalyptetai!

Yet doubts lingered in my wrestling with these seismic shifts in my theology of Paul. Campbell's characterisation of Justification Theory (JT) seemed in places unfair. An important example: for Campbell, JT requires a conversion based upon rational cognition. But, I thought, surely JT as I have read it would posit an important role for the Holy Spirit in drawing people to the gospel? As I pondered this, suddenly JT started to parallel more closely my own developing understanding of Pauline theology that is, at root, relational (for more on this, cf. my thesis!). I started to see how elements allocated different soteriological theories in Campbell's schemes, could rather be understood as part of a framework of tensions that one would expect in a relational model. In other words, some of the 'bad news' Campbell had deleted from his gospel start to creep back in - and this, frankly, has disturbed me.

While reading a fine John Webster book (Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003]), however, I started to grasp something Campbell had mentioned to me over a coffee recently: 'the relationship is the revelation'. Webster made the point that a doctrine of scripture needs to be understood in light of, and not independently from, God as Father, Son and Spirit, in the economy of God's saving mercy as it builds communities and brings people into saving relationship with himself. Revelation is not abstract information about God apart from this saving and relational activity. The content of revelation cannot truly be neatly divided from its mode, and our doctrine of scripture must reflect this matter. In other words: 'the relationship is the revelation'. These were points my own relational approach had already affirmed.

This further meant, to come to an important point, that my attempt to reconcile JT and participatory approaches via a relational approach had simply aligned with the apocalyptic model. Campbell was simply being more honest about where a relational approach must draw a line against JT. The point that drove this home most forcefully for me was in recognising how JT tends to endorse some sort of theological foundationalism. Indeed, it must do so to function as a consistent theory of salvation. My relational approach could in no way reconcile a foundationalist theology with the revelation of God in the economy of salvation in the crucified Messiah. At least in this respect, my relational approach is found to be simply a partner of Campbell's apocalyptic gospel.

To what extent JT, as detailed by Campbell, is a fair description of 'a theory of salvation' is not in dispute in my mind. Yet, of course, to what extent it reflects main line academic work which would in some way affirm central tenants of JT - this remains an open question. My guess is that Campbell will respond by suggesting that Justification Theorists who wish to use aspects of the apocalyptic gospel, do so only by developing a self-contradictory soteriology. Campbell would claim to have simply removed the contradictoriness and complexity. I thought my relational approach offered a way to affirm tensions and are not tensions the basic bread of responsible theology that doesn't tip into error? In reality, my relational approach seems to stand firmly on the side of the apocalyptic gospel, on the rock of God's unconditional love, in revelation as relationship. Anything else is to try to mix water and oil. And, frankly, even if Campbell is ultimately wrong about the details of JT's description, his exegesis is generally highly compelling.

This is all an ongoing debate in my mind, as you can perhaps detect. I have many other questions. One particularly interesting one concerns the relationship between Campbell's Paul and the rest of scripture, and particularly aspects of the NT that seems to embody the kind of gospel which Paul, according to Campbell, so vigorously attacks in Romans and Galatians.

Fascinating times. Oh, and by the way, the way Campbell's arguments are being dismissed by some main line scholars is rather questionable. There is nothing 'arbitrary', for example, about his reading of Romans 1-3!