Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A talk on Bultmann

bultmannI've just started preparing for a shortish (1hr) talk on Rudolf Bultmann, for a series entitled "theologians you should know about" at the HTB church week away. So, things of course have to remain pretty basic, but here is the basic outline and the intro I've just dictated. Let me know if you think I'm missing anything important, as I don't have all of my Bultmann books around me at the moment.


In many ways, Bultmann has become a figure that many modern theologians love to hate. His understanding of Paul's language of "works of law" seems erroneously to suggest that Judaism is a religion of legalism. His close association with existentialist philosophy has been criticised not only for co-opting the task of theology into a modern, and now dated, philosophical discourse, but also because of the resultant and unhealthy individualism. As we shall see shortly, he was one of the founders of what became known as "form criticism", an approach to reading the Gospels that has fallen out of favour in many circles. What is more, his views about the nature of miracles, and particularly the resurrection of Jesus, have labelled him a heretic. So why on earth is Rudolf Bultmann included in a list of "theologians you should know about"? To answer this question, and to clear up some misunderstandings regarding his theology, I will first summarise the theological, intellectual and political context out of which he grew. This will help us to better grasp his most important contributions, and particularly those that arguably remain of abiding significance.


  • Liberal theology
  • The philosophy of Heidegger
  • Dialectical theology

Key aspects of Bultmann's theology

  • The nature of faith
  • Demythologising
  • The historical Jesus
  • The apostle Paul
  • John's gospel

Remaining problems with Bultmann's theology

What have we got to learn from Bultmann?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This about sums up the sort of thing I find funny!

Friday, June 22, 2012

A new book that caught my attention

'Hand this man over to Satan'Curse, Exclusion and Salvation in 1 Corinthians 5 by David Raymond Smith. If it weren’t £70 … but the TOC and preview texts are quite gripping.
Smith concludes: "Ultimately, we will suggest that Paul commands the Corinthians to exclude the errant man from the church in Corinth. Following his expulsion, Paul anticipates that physical suffering and death will ensue. Despite experiencin death as the result of this 'curse', the man will yet be saved at the End" (2)
If I remember rightly,Thiselton’s brilliant commentary argues that i[na to. pneu/ma swqh/| refers simply to the spirit, not that of the man, and so the spirit of the church is " saved on the day of the Lord" - but I may have misremembered this. Either way, 1 Corinthians 5:5 is a fascinating passage.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The second edition of Robin's book has been published!

Whatever side you take (or not) in this fascinating debate, "Gregory MacDonald's" The Evangelical Universalist is a terrific and truly unique read. See below for details

It includes a new preface, a set of appendices (one which responds to critics) and more besides

Friday, June 15, 2012

Inspirational Word of the Day (care of CTRVHM)

Critical realism is something many of us have heard about (in theological circles perhaps through Wright or even direct from Michael Polanyi). But if to be critical of critical realism makes you a critical critical realists, then if one is critical of critical realism on realist grounds, that surely makes you a critical critical realist realist.

I thank you.

Kugler and Hartin: the best one-volume introduction to the Bible?

My thanks to the kind folks at Eerdmans for a while ago I received a review copy of Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin, An Introduction to the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009).

Having read through quite a lot of it now, I have become more and more impressed, and so have recommended it as the best one-volume introduction on the market for first year students. Indeed, I have learnt a lot from it myself. Why do I like it so much?

  • It of course includes everything you would expect from a book of this sort, including a general introduction, and introductions to the various different genres of biblical writings, glossary etc.
  • The book also does a good job of summarising the content of the biblical texts without overwhelming annotation. There is generally less hobbyhorseing than I have seen in other comparable works.
  • It offers particularly useful short structural overviews / reading guides to each canonical text.
  • There are a number of useful questions and more detailed asides in boxes, many of which I have found useful as a teacher
  • After the usual preliminary comments, and a detailed walk-through a given text, there are often fairly extensive sections dealing with critical issues in reading the text. In these sections, difficult questions are not dodged and generally solid scholarship is cited.
  • On top of this, the theological themes of a given text are also elucidated in a separate section

Of course, in a book of this size one can always find something to quibble with. I will mention one. Although they do not attempt to detail an extensive hermeneutical framework, they do adopt an "implied author" / "implied reader" approach. Corresponding with this, they claim that "biblical scholarship has been concerned to determine what authors intended in writing the texts that have come down to us, as well as to establish the meaning that their audiences derived from receiving those texts" (2). Yet one should notice the tenses of their verbs, "intended", "derived". In other words, their theoretical structure implies a modern mutation on the well-worn yet questionable Gablerian distinction between dogmatic and biblical theology, and the associated wedge between descriptive and normative, what it meant and what it means. (For a rather robust criticism of all of this kind of interpretative commitment, I refer to Joel Green article’s "Scripture and Theology: Uniting the Two So Long Divided" in Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds, Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000]*). This means, I suspect, that although they finish an analysis of each biblical text with a section outlining various theological themes in that text, they are not always positioned to offer the most constructive or helpful analysis. For example, their examination of the historical books, although very helpful in outlining interpretive questions and difficulties, does not quite hit the mark in examining what they call “theological themes”. They would probably more accurately have called it "ideological peculiarities", or some such title.

This is not to detract from a truly magnificent contribution, one I will continue to recommend to my students. In terms of the critical point I have mentioned, a good dose of Stephen Fowl, John Webster and such like should readdress this matter, and if these “theological” sections are read in terms of ideological peculiarities, even they still have plenty to offer.

The book has its own web page here:, with a few downloadable chapters to you to get a taste of the whole.

*Indeed, there is so much useful literature on these issues now, but JG’s article is perhaps as close as it gets on this to “in a nutshell”


Thursday, June 14, 2012

From the Dust: new science, faith, evolution DVD

A few of us from St Mellitus, together with a host of other pretty big names, were filmed for a documentary of science and faith, and it has now been released. I think it will be a very useful resource and Director Ryan Pettey has done a terrific job putting it all together

Here is the trailer:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A conference I wish I could make

But I doubt I will be able to.

What a line up on such a great topic.

Paul’s Christology really is Divine, you know!

Paul's Divine ChristologyMy good friend, Volker Rabens, pointed out to me yesterday that details of my first book have been put up online on the Mohr Siebeck webpage here. It is a strange and rather nice feeling seeing it there, no longer merely in the electronic world of my NotaBene word-processer! And it is of course an honour for me to find a place for my work in the terrific WUNT II series (323, to be precise!)
I will say more about the whole thing at a later date, but I am already very grateful for some generous comments from a couple who have read earlier drafts, here and here and especially here.
But of course, the thing hasn't been published quite yet, and something Mark Goodacre wrote a while back has been haunting me. Responding to the recent RBL innovation, namely immediate scholarly rejoinders to reviews, he writes:
“I must admit to mixed feelings about this.  On one level, it could help to hold reviewers to account.  But on the other hand, it is part of the academic experience to learn to cope with reviews of your work with which you may disagree.  I wonder if the ease of a blog-comment response will encourage too many authors to respond too quickly and too negatively to critiques of their work that may -- on reflection -- help them”
(see Goodacre’s entire post here)
Truly wise words, these.
So in anticipation I have generated a selection of responses to the critical reviews I sincerely hope my argument generates:
  • “You sayin that cos yo momma's so fat her cerial bowl comes with a lifeguard”
  • “After that review, you should do some serious soul-searching. Maybe you'll find one.”
  • “I would agree with you, but that would make us both wrong”
  • “Random jabs at a keyboard could have produced a more coherent criticism”
  • “Had I eaten a bowl of alphabet soup, my bowel movement could have produced a better argument than that”

    and my personal favourite, that wonderful onamatopoetic word:
  • “Pff”
But seriously, teachability involves humility, and humility being at peace with ourselves, which for me means an acceptance of both my limitations and God’s unconditioned love. Another reason why Romans 5:8 is my favourite verse in the bible.