Friday, September 30, 2011

Looking forward to this one

Yep, you have to click the link to find out what it is!

It is a book, but if I say what it is about, I reckon I will loose most of you.

And not giving the game away, and drawing attention to that fact, may just inspire you to *click*

So go on ...

Clear writing is a foretaste of grace

I believed, and still do, that effective communication is an attempt to overcome the brokenness of language that is the result of fallenness. In this way, clear writing is a foretaste of grace, that wonderful concept that reminds us that something must bridge the gap between us and perfection, the gap that divides us from other persons as well as God.
--Gene Fant (from this First Things article)

Monday, September 26, 2011

When scholars write so that you don't understand nuffin

I have had to read a couple of really obscure papers recently, ones that used specialist terminology in such a way that made them almost impossible to understand. And when I understood the argument being made I realised things could have been put much more simply and in WAY fewer words. And that annoyed me.

So I have a humble suggestion.

Let us heard together some of the main culprits. We all know who some of them: they are usually found in linguistic and/or philosophy departments, or engaged in related studies in other areas. Let's gather, say, 6 of them - probably the older ones who act as role models. Then we place them on a busy golf driving range and strap them to the 150 yard markers. For a day.

Yes, violence is never a good thing, but I think in this situation a case can be made, at least on utilitarian terms, which would justify a few golf balls in the face to act as a sufficient deterrent, making the rest of us so much happier (greatest happiness for the greatest number etc.)

Okay, got that one out of my system. Feeling better already. Rant over.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The New New International Version (will our grandchildren read the NNNNIV, I wonder?)

Thanks to the NIV 2011 team for sending me a copy of a jazzed up, mapped out, Anglicised, cross-referenced and concordanced success.

The NIV was the first bible I read. I found its prose to be very smooth. And I like the 2011 NIV even more, at least in what I see as its improvements on Paul (so well done to Douglas Moo and the team).

No more crummy distinctions between ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ in Romans 3:21ff

The ‘faithfulness of Christ’ translation of the infamous pistis Christou is at least footnoted, which is grand (I tend towards this option by a process of elimination. Sorry Matlock, Dunn and Watson – despite your very helpful arguments for the ‘objective’).

However, the translation team did not go far enough on this, in my view. For example, Paul writes in Galatians 3:5 (new NIV)
“So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”
This is an improvement, I think, on the original:
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
Okay, but ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως as ‘believing what you heard’ - without a footnote telling you of an equally if not more plausible option - slants the reader to an objective genitive reading. 

Such translation agendas are hard to iron out entirely, and too many footnotes becomes clumsy. But why footnote the ‘faithfulness of Christ’ option elsewhere, and not ‘the proclamation of fidelity’ or some such option here? (Cf. Paul’s other uses of the word ἀκοῆς [e.g., Rom 10] for that which is heard, rather than ‘hearing’)

These are minor specifics and goodness, if I were to try and translate the NT it would be a disaster. The 2011 NIV is a very good bible translation.

For an infuriating and rather silly alternative perspective on the NIV2011, see here!

New Blog

A number of doctoral students at Wheaton College have launched a blog (

Their goal is to cover a number of events at Wheaton (lectures, conferences, etc.) along with a variety of other more typical posts.

I will watch that one, for sure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I am very excited to announce a conference on Douglas Campbell’s brilliant and controversial book, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.

It will take place at King’s College, London, on the 16th-17th December, 2011.

Please click for more details.

(This link will be updated, so you may want to bookmark the site – I have also added it to my sidebar)

We are convinced that a conference is exactly what we need for this book. Deliverance has now been reviewed in many journals, but so many – including those penned by the most prominent scholars – have (sometimes drastically) misunderstood Campbell’s central arguments. So, it is time to sit down together, flesh out what Campbell is really saying and respond accordingly, for the benefit of church and academy alike. These are exciting days for students of Paul!


Sayings of the Wise

So long as you don’t mind being unpopular, mocked, shamed or sacked, here is some helpful wisdom for you, gleaned from the internet with small alterations:
“Dance like the photo’s never going to be tagged; Love like you’ve never been defriended; Tweet like no one’s following; Blog like you’ll never be sacked”

Barth intro lecture free online

Great news, found of course by Jim West.

Here (or directly, here)

Konrad Hamman, who is the author of the MAGNIFICENT biography of Bultmann, delivers an introductory speech.

Mine is downloading now - very excited.

Study reveals laughter really is the best medicine

"People feel less pain after a good laugh ... Tittering and giggling did not elicit any physiological effect; only a good guffaw did the job ... This theory creates the scenario of our ancestors sharing laughter around the fire, possibly the emergence of the first clowns, clubbing each other for comic effect"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The angels laugh

"The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume, and each is thicker than the previous ones. As they laugh, they say to one another, ‘Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!’—and they laugh about the persons who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the angels laugh"

- Karl Barth

Stormin Norman on Licona

This has gone viral now - all kinds of posts across blogdom have been published (and our friend Nick in particular makes a good counter-point to balance some of the anti-fundie-evangelical vitriol. We know that they are out there and we know what they believe. And though it can be kinda irritating, it is nothing new).

I could now make a case that Giesler's understanding of inerrancy is neither healthy nor particularly evangelical. But as my previous post was about humourlessness and truth, all I would add is my own personal reaction to Giesler's letter. It struck me as quite simply dreary. Great that he meant well and laudably sought to communicate directly with Licona. Fine. But the letter had my icky-ometer in the gag-zone, and I don't think that this reaction (crikey, the spell-checker tried to make this "erection"; that could have been embarrassing!) says something only about my cockiness and arrogance (vices to which I am sadly prone).

"The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand", writes Giesler, "and Licona has clearly stepped over it. Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Licona has not done this". Faced with this kind of talk, I would certainly be tempted to punch the air, grab my luggage and sprint for the door in tears of joy if I were L., but I am not (he can be glad). So things may get a bit tricky for him now (I can see L. awkwardly sipping coffee at the back of an ETS meeting, with members of an orthodoxy-inquisition hovering around like thunder clouds!).

Let's find more important things to squabble about!

Oh, and for what it is worth, I think Licona is quite right about the incident in Matthew 27. Dale Allison made a similar argument on the same text that convinced me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Karl Barth Reflects on Liz Taylor's Cleavage OR Humour as a Criterion of Truth

Liz Taylor in The  Taming of the Shrew
Karl Barth, after a visit to the cinema with Nelly to watch The Taming of the Shrew, spoke excitedly to his assistant, Eberhard Busch about actress Elizabeth Taylor. With typical analytical insight he described her as a "lady with large cleavage"! (Eberhard Busch, Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth: Tagebuch 1965-1968, p.511 - this volume, by the way, is simply magnificent, and I find his comments on a whole host of famous theologians enormously interesting).

The film scored well on the tottyometer, in other words. And as we can see from the picture, Barth was quite right!

But to bring me to the point of this post, it is important that Barth in these comments not be understood simply as a dirty old man. Rather, I think it reflects the freedom, appreciation of beauty and humour appropriate to this great theologian of joy (incidentally, while on the word "joy", readers might be interested in Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, discussed here). Barth once put it like this:
"God is glorious in such a way that He radiates joy ... And if a different view of His glory is taken and taught, then even with the best will in the world, and even with the greatest seriousness and zeal, the proclamation of His glory will always have in a slight or dangerous degree something joyless, without sparkle or humour, not to say tedious and there finally neither persuasive nor convincing" (CD II/1, 655)
Perhaps it seems little less than astonishing for moderns, but the presence (or lack) of humour and joy were, for Barth, appropriate criterea to discern truth. And I for one think he is right. Again, in CD III/2, 437, Barth engages Bultmann with these words:
"We are again up against the well-known Marburg tradition with its absolute lack of any sense of humour and its rigorous insistence on the honesty which does not allow any liberties in this respect. “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits” (p. 5). Who can read this without a shudder?"
So, if you find yourself too easily offended (perhaps even by Barth above), too solemn and serious, too heavy and unable to smile, your theology (and not just your character) needs a health-check.

See also Daniel Migliore's online article, "Reappraising Barth's Theology", here. "Barth's humor", he writes, "points beyond irony or satire, and certainly far beyond ridicule or gallows humor, to the free laughter of children and friends in God's new creation" ... "If as the Apostle Paul says, where sin abounds, grace super-abounds (Rom. 5:20), is that not cause for joy and a touch of humor?"

Absolutely. And because the limits of humour cannot be analysed or specified - for to do so would kill joy - humour is free.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

When book blurb goes wrong

My copy of Erasing Hell, by Chan and Sprinkle has arrived in the post. Sprinkle is a serious scholar, so I thought I should give it a try - test it out for an essay on one of my courses. However, I was more than a little put off by the following excerpt from the book's back cover:
This is not a book about who is saying what. It's a book about what God says
Seriously?! To be more precise, this is a book about what Chan and Sprinkle think the bible says, but this is not quite the same thing!

It gives me an idea for my book title on Pauline Christology, when it finally gets published: Pauline Christology: What God Thinks, Not Dunn, Hurtado etc., by Chris Tilling!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Schwöbel and the cause of the christological crisis

II – Christologie und die trinitarische Logik christlicher Rede von Gott

In the second part of his essay, Schwöbel argues that these aspects of the christological crisis are really aspects of the one same syndrome. The crisis of modern Christology is caused by the neglected appreciation for the Trinitarian logic of the Christian understanding of God, and the implications of this for our understanding of the human being. Or, in a word, the problem is Trinitätsvergessenheit.

A brief sketch of the Trinitarian logic of Christian faith is then undertaken, starting with the OT roots. He thinks there are specifically two strands in the OT which influence the picture on the NT. One focuses more on the particularity of God and is united with a more universal  vision, seen in wisdom literature, a movement which also underlies an eschatological dimension .[1] New identifying descriptions of God are found in the NT which speak of God’s identity in terms of Christ, and as such reflect the particularising identity of God in the history of Israel, giving God’s identity in relation to Christ an irreducible narrative form.  The OT universalising vision is likewise reflected in NT christological language (Col. 1:16 etc.). The identification of God in Christ is also formulated in a post-Pentecost era; God and Christ are experienced through the Spirit. This happens not simply as a consequence of the Christ-event; the Spirit is constitutive of the Christ-event. With a little more simplicity than the NT allows, Schwöbel summarises the significance: ‘Der Geist, durch den der Vater sich zum Sohn und der Sohn sich zum Vater in Beziehung setzt, ist der Geist, durch den der Vater sich durch den Sohn zur Kirche in Beziehung setzt und in dem die Kirche durch den Sohn sich zum Vater in Beziehung setzt’ (270).[2] Either way, it remains clear that believers relate to God liturgically, in the economy of salvation and within the eschatological narrative, in terms of this Trinitarian structure. Indeed, Schwöbel is insistent that these Christian practices reflect a proto-Trinitarian deep structure.

This all leads to the important conclusion: ‘Es ist diese trinitarische Logik des christlichen Glaubens, die den Interpretationsrahmen bereitstellte, in dem sich christologische Reflexion über die Identität Jesu Christi entwickelte’ (272). And it is out of the perspective of this Trinitarian structure that the divinity of Christ cannot be understood if the temporal and bodily humanity of Christ is denied, and likewise the humanity of Christ cannot be understood if it is not at the same time grasped as the self-identification of God in this human’s life.

[1] I am not sure he should be so confident that it is ‘von auschlaggebender Bedeutung’ that specifically ‘die Identifikation Gottes in diesen beiden Strängen’ are so key to understanding NT texts (see p. 267), but the basic point is accepted: NT Christology accepts and modifies a canonical OT monotheistic vision (rightly understood!).

[2] Certainly Paul, for example, can speak of such and such ‘through Christ’, but I think that the older Religionsgeschichtliche Schule expressed the matter more precisely when they spoke of the ‘peculiar thoroughgoing duplication’ of the object of religious faith and veneration (so Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 205). Christ is also, and more often, the one to (not simply through) whom Christians relate.


A question about Steiner's Heidegger

I recently picked up a very cheap second hand copy of George Steiner’s Heidegger. Polt, in his highly praised intro to H., suggests that Steiner contribution is not always reliable – any of my distinguished readers know why, beyond it being a bit dated? I'll read the book anyway, but it would be nice to know what I am being mislead about!

Bultmann on history

Bultmann's essay, "Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?" is a very helpful essay for understanding Bultmann's theology. You might imagine that the title question has one obvious response: "Of course not!", but our man Bulty makes things much more interesting than that! I have been thinking on one point he makes at the beginning:
"Historical method includes the presupposition that history is a unity in the sense of a closed continuum in which individual events are connected by the succession of cause and effect". 
What do you think of that? To me there seems to be so many questionable assumptions even in this one sentence that it made me realise that writing a history needs to appreciate the history of the writing of history! My own work on Paul has not really engaged with history in the sense Bultmann expresses (in some ways, my research was more an exercise in exegesis in terms of epistemology and ontology), and yet I want to develop the skills of a historian in potential later work relating Pauline Christology to "the historical Jesus". Collingwood here I come? I might just stick with John Burrow's A History of Histories for now...

Friday, September 02, 2011

Christology in total crisis

Christoph Schwöbel’s „Christologie und trinitarische Theologie“ is a fine essay is found in Schwöbel’s (highly recommended) book, Gott in Beziehung Gott: Studien zur Dogmatik (Mohr Siebeck, 2002). In the first (of five) parts, he describes what he calls Christologie in der Krise.

Schwöbel with Mr Miyagi Prof. Eiichi Katayanaga
Drawing largely on an essay by W. Härle, he makes three points. First, with reference to Lessing, is the antinomy between the “Historischen” and the “Letztgültigen” (or ultimate). This contrast can take many forms, and can label, for example the antinomies between contingent and necessary being, temporal and eternal, historical and metaphysical, functional and ontological etc. This then reflects the divide between biblical exegesis, on the one hand, and dogmatic theology on the others. The former is a historical discipline, while the latter concerns itself with metaphysical and ultimate. In systematic this is described, he adds, as a distinction between christologies “from below” and “from above”.

The second antinomy, again with reference to Lessing, is that between the past and the present. ‘Es scheint in der modernen Christologie nicht länger möglich zu sein, ein integriertes Bild von Jesu Christi Vergangenheit und von seiner Gegenwart für uns und für die Welt zu entwerfen‘ (261). This contrast is then felt in the question as to whether Christology should begin with the historical Jesus, or with the presence of the risen Lord of Christian confession.

Third, Schwöbel outlines the disjunction between ‘Sein’ and ‘Sinn’, ‘being’ and ‘meaning’. Famously, this contrast found expression, he argues, in Melanchthon’s dictum, ‘To know Christ is to know his benefits’ as well as in Bultmann’s kerygma. Here we see the fault lines between the Person and Work of Christ, between soteriology (meaning) and Christology (metaphysical speculation on being). We are often left with non-soteriological ontology or non-ontological soteriology.

These three antinomies confronts us, Schwöbel maintains, with a modern christological crisis which is a picture of disintegration.

What do you think? Fair cop?