Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book review: Reading Acts Today

Steve Walton, Thomas E. Phillips, Lloyd Keith Pietersen, and F. Scott Spencer, eds, Reading Acts Today: Essays in Honour of Loveday C. A. Alexander, Library of New Testament Studies (London: T & T Clark, 2011)

Thanks to the kind folk at T & T Clark for a review copy of this tremendous collection of essays in the impressive Library of New Testament Studies series (formerly JSNTS).

clip_image001This classy collection of essays is dedicated to the Rev Canon Prof Loveday Alexander, Prof Emerita in Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, and another one of those scholars who supports my hunch that the best New Testament academics have a background in classics! (To this list you could add names such as Tom Wright and Richard Burridge, so say no more). Her book Acts in Its Ancient Literary Context has been described as “magisterial”.

This book offers a helpful view into the state of modern research on Acts, and it does so, after an introduction concerning the honouree, Loveday Alexander, by dividing its essays into two parts: “Reading Acts in Its Ancient Context”, and “Reading Themes in Acts”.

Part 1: Reading Acts in Its Ancient Context

Rather than go through all of the essays, I will pick out a few personal highlights.

The first essay, penned by none other than the aforementioned Richard Burridge, explores the genre of Acts. After noting that the genre of Acts is in much dispute Burridge’s sophisticated and detailed analysis leads him to the conclusions that build on his well-known and massively influential thesis that the Gospels “share a similar profile of generic features and indicators with a wide range of ancient biographies”, and in particular that “the borders between the genres of historiography, monographs and biography are blurred and flexible”. Given that Acts is not a biography of one person, yet remains focused on certain early church leaders, he maintains that Acts is best described as a “biographical monograph”.

Dennis MacDonald’s essay maintains that Luke used Papias of Hierapolis as a source for narrating the death of Judas in such a way as to correct Matthew’s account. F. Scott Spencer analyses the tricky passage in Acts 5 concerning Ananias and Sapphira, which takes its cue from the double emphasis on “a great fear” (5:5, 11). He concludes: “Living in the fear of the Lord” is not, in the narrative of Acts, to be reduced to “some bland obligation of religious respect or reverence. There remains a genuinely fearful uncertainty about what the potent Lord God, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit might do — or not do — next” (80).

Barry Matlock entitled his essay: “Does the road to Damascus run through the letters of Paul?” This multifaceted essay demonstrates, among other things, that Pauline biography and theology cannot be neatly divided but rather integrated.

Part 2: Reading Themes in Acts

Joel Green’s essay, “Luke-Acts, or Luke and Acts? A reaffirmation of narrative unity” promotes greater appreciation for a canonical approach which, while admitting that certain historical analyses might lead one to question the unity of Luke-Acts, ultimately affirms a unified narrative representation of history through both the Luke and Acts.

James Dunn resurrects a 60-year-old thesis, penned by Olof Linton, which argued that “Luke deliberately painted a more conciliatory picture of Paul: he ‘wanted to correct Paul slightly in order to make him better’” (120). “This thesis”, Dunn argues, helps “explain the tensions between Acts and Paul’s letters, and provides a more sympathetic interpretation of Luke’s intention and methods” (121). He concludes that Luke deliberately presents Paul “in terms which more traditionalist Jewish believers who nevertheless sympathized with outreach to Gentiles would probably have preferred” (136).

Ian Howard Marshall’s helpful essay examines the place of Acts 20:28 in Luke’s theology of the cross. Having maintained that 20:28 is the Lukan equivalent of Mark 10:45b, Marshall rejects the proposal that Luke downplays the theology of the cross. Marshall’s understanding of what is entailed by “the theology of the cross” could, however, be challenged.

Steve Walton finishes off this volume with his wonderful essay “A Spirituality of Acts?” It ought to be pointed out that we are all eagerly awaiting Steve’s Acts commentary in the Word series! This essay will, I hope, whet the appetite of not just a few. He begins:

“‘Spirituality’: now there’s a vague, catch-all category! And yet, to engage with the New Testament writings, and more widely those of early Christianity, without considering how the early believers understood their engagement with God is to neglect a major dimension of the life of the earliest Christians. They understood themselves to be in communication with God and to be experiencing the life of God through the Spirit” (186).

Amen, indeed! Walton’s analysis, aware of the danger of using a word like “spirituality”, engages the material in terms of the divine initiative and human response. He concludes:

“The Christian life, according to Acts, is a life of walking with God in company with others in response to God’s initiative, but without always having a crystal-clear vision of God’s purpose in a specific place or time beyond God’s broad purpose to draw people to know him in Christ and by the Spirit” (201).

This is a lovely place to end a fine collection of essays in honour of our remarkable scholar. My one gripe is the price tag.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Birthday Jim West!

Yes, we all read his blog, love him or hate him, don’t deny it. Though we joke about, Jim is a dear friend, and I wish him today a very happy birthday. Keep it commin, bro.

Kris of Krisendom

No Krap!

I wandering around a music store recently and did something I haven't in a long time. I went up the "heavy metal" isle.

It struck me how many of these bands began their name with the letter "K". Apparently this is a very heavy metal letter: Korn, Korovakill, Krallice, Kryoburn, Kreator etc. (I'm not making any of these band names up).

The letter "K" on the CD racks was filled with such names. Why?

My theory: "K" is alphabetically further than "C" from "A" for "awful" and "atrocious". Plus, it makes it harder to visually alliterate with "cavorting craptards on cocaine"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A new book idea!

I have a new book idea and I'm really quite excited. No, not theologically related this time, nor at all about NT studies. But as Richard Bauckham wrote his MacBears of Bearloch novels - well, I've got an idea myself, which could be about the funniest thing I've ever come up with. What is more, it will involve some seriously twisted field research. Not yet sure if I have the guts to actually do it, so will say no more till this beauty of an idea ripens.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wandering away from “Biblical Christianity”

I recently read a comment on an ancient post on a blog I have never visited before, which critiqued the late Clark Pinnock for his Open Theism, suggesting that in this “he wandered away from Biblical Christianity”.

Thing is, though I am not an “open theist”, a pretty good biblical case can be made for a version of this doctrine – it relies on close exegesis, as many have now shown. I think, for example, of various comments in John Goldingay’s stellar theology of the OT volumes. In other words, I suspect that it is a version of biblicism which can lead to Open Theism.

Open Theism falters, I think, in not thinking theologically enough, in failing to consider its various proposals in terms of other doctrinal themes as these have been hammered out in both the scriptures, and in the reception of these scriptures. In other words, I suspect that in part Open Theism is a child of a myopic biblicist agenda, founded upon a certain (mis)construal of the notion of the perspicuity of scripture.

Of course, perhaps I am assuming too much, namely that the above critique of Pinnock understands the phrase “biblical Christianity” to be practically synonymous with “straightforward exegesis of what the bible says so that we know what to believe” – an approach to systematic theology propounded in many evangelical circles, for example by Wayne Grudem.[1]

But certainly “biblical Christianity” does not have to mean this, and it could indicate at least

  • a method of theology without excluding consideration of hermeneutics and tradition, to name two important factors
  • a theoretical commitment to sola scriptura or even just prima scriptura
  • that one’s theology is in accordance with the biblical witness and not simply the content of the theology of the Bible (I echo here Gerhard Ebeling’s point about the ambiguity of the phrase “biblical theology”)

Problem is, the simple phrase “biblical Christianity” does not clarify such matters, and indeed in popular parlance more often than not coheres with Grudem’s naive and misleading approach.

Which is why I will not use it.

For example, what does Michael Kruger mean, in his Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, when he writes of certain “Critics of biblical Christianity”? This naturally implies the set “unbiblical Christianity”, but I am not sure what is won by this, especially when the meaning is not specified.

Hence, I suggest we take leave of unqualified uses of the phrase “biblical Christianity”. It only plays into the hand of naive and unreconstructed biblicism, which is the bane of so much popular Christian literature, ignoring as it does the role of doctrinal coherence, the development of the canon, trinitarian ontological reflection, and many more matters beside.

[1] he claims: “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us today?' about any given topic. This definition indicates that systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarising their teaching clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic”. Ken Schenk is helpfully taking Grudem’s approach to task for this kind of nonsense, here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A theological quiz – of sorts

Your task is to guess the source(s) of the following citations from the two options which I will give you below:

a) "The experience of God and the doctrine of God that results from it are the almost self-evident outcomes for those who understand the divine gift of being recognized as the manner in which God 'is' for them and who wants to make it is comprehensible to others in the mode of theological reflection" (who said this? Schleiermacher?!)

b) "Consequently, the doctrine of God in the mode of theological argumentation must communicate knowledge of God with its objective being the insight that human beings can appreciate their lives only when they recognise God as the source and saviour of their lives … The biblical doctrine of God intersects with presentations of biblical anthropology and ethics because the doctrine of God is not an undertaking that disregards human beings and their existential and behavioural orientation, but that, in fact, integrates the two" (surely Bultmann penned this, didn't he?)

c) "In accordance with the irreversible path of perception from being recognized by God to knowledge of God, the doctrine of God is foremost instruction by God himself, and only then, instruction about God, mediated by biblical witnesses and teachers of theology standing in their tradition" (I can recognise Barthian theological epistemology, right?)

Okay, your choice:

a) Schleiermacher, b) Bultmann, c) Barth


The above citations are ALL from the same pen, that of Reinhard Feldmeier and Hermann Spieckermann in God of the Living: A Biblical Theology?!

If you choose the second option (and you would be right to!), are we to conclude that the authors are confused and muddled in their theological commitments, or rather that they have taken the best from their wonderfully rich German-language theological tradition, combining it all together into a greater whole?

Herbert McCabe on God's love

"The whole of our faith is the belief that God loves us; I mean there isn't anything else. Anything else we say we believe is just a way of saying that God loves us. Any proposition, any article of faith, is only an expression of faith if it is a way of saying that God loves us...The Christian notion of God is based on a belief in a love which simply can never fail."

HT: Robin Parry

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Prof. Dr. Hermann Lichtenberger on my book

Okay, apologies for this shamelessly self-promoting post! But my sincere thanks to Prof. Dr. Hermann Lichtenberger for the following very kind words about my book, Paul’s Divine Christology. Many, if not most, of my chapters were hammered out in discussion at the German-English Colloquium in Tübingen, and I benefited greatly from Professor Lichtenberger’s comments and encouragement.

‘It is a remarkable fact that divine Christology is not an “end product” of a development lasting some decades but that high Christology is present and fully developed already in the earliest testimonies of Christianity, in the (undisputed) letters of Paul. Dr. Tilling has presented an investigation on divine Christology of the highest standard both concerning the exegesis of Paul (esp. 1Cor 8-10) and the awareness of the theological implications. The thesis “that Paul’s Christ-relation is a divine-Christology expressed as relationship” is well founded and marks a progress in our understanding of Paul’s Christology and theology. It leads out from a dead end in discussions whether Paul’s Christology is divine or not. This book is an outstanding testimony of critical scholarship by a mature exegete and theologian’

- Prof. Dr. Hermann Lichtenberger (Since 1993, Professor for New Testament and Antique Judaism at the University of Tübingen, and Head of the Institute for Antique Judaism and Hellenistic History of Religions)

My thanks to Jim for bringing me back down to earth when, having read this, he called me a “hairy backed balding middle aged lunatic”! All true.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Olympic surprise

Quite surprised how much I am enjoying the Olympics – London has looked good, and the GB and NI team have done so well. Races on Sunday stopped me getting to church as easily, but apart from that, all has gone smoothly for us.

But did I just hear an Olympic commentator correctly? Apparently a star female track runner has a history of some controversy.

Having run a great race, serious questions were asked and she was, get this, submitted to a gender test!!

Seriously?! I mean, how do you break the news?! “Nice race! But we have to perform just one small test…”.

“A drugs test?”

“Not quite. How can I put this? Do you have a willy tucked away in there?”

She was cleared, I guess, as she wouldn’t be running here now. But that process might have left some deeper scars. Poor woman!

This website is not infected!

For those who may have been deflected from my blog with a virus warning, may I please reassure you that this page is clean! (albeit some of my arguments may not be sound, and I’m pretty sure my language wouldn’t pass every moral scanner) Apparently there was a link to a page that may have been a little bit questionable, but that has been fixed. It seems some virus scanning is a little behind.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

My Summer Holiday Reading

Three books I’ll be taking with me on holiday. We all need a break, so I’m trying my best to avoid straight biblical-studies!

1) Gerhard Ebeling's Dogmatik des Christlichen Glaubens vol I

2) Augustine and the Trinity by Lewis Ayers

and 3) Infinity Dwindled to Infancy: A Catholic and Evangelical Christology by Edward Oakes

Romans 5:15

For those who enjoy NT Greek, a question.

The text of the beautiful verse 5:15 runs:

VAllV ouvc w`j to. para,ptwma( ou[twj kai. to. ca,risma\ eiv ga.r tw/| tou/ e`no.j paraptw,mati oi` polloi. avpe,qanon( pollw/| ma/llon h` ca,rij tou/ qeou/ kai. h` dwrea. evn ca,riti th/| tou/ e`no.j avnqrw,pou VIhsou/ Cristou/ eivj tou.j pollou.j evperi,sseusenÅ

The part I want to quiz you on: h` dwrea. evn ca,riti th/| tou/ e`no.j k)t)l)

Now why is it so structured, I wonder? What did Paul gain by placing the article after the evn ca,riti? Perhaps evn ca,riti is semitic style (where dwrea th/j ca,ritoj would have been tidier?), and Paul then had to put the definite article somewhere, so bunged it after this clause?

Perhaps I am missing something really obvious, so any thoughts are appreciated.

Download Greek fonts used on this page here

Friday, August 03, 2012

It has arrived!

It is a nice feeling to hold it in my hand. Of course, the first thing I noticed when I opened a copy up: two typos!

Video Book Notice: Four View on the Apostle Paul

Some rather random reflections with a video which needed to be flipped, as at present you can’t read the text I thrust into the camera! Oh well. Will know better next time. I created this video by the way, on my delightful and brand new HP Spectre XT Ultrabook.