Nick Norelli reviews my book
I’m very grateful that Nick has taken the time to write a thorough, fair and extremely insightful review of my book. Click here to have a read. His theology and biblical studies book reviews are the best in the blogging world, I think.
The discussion in the comments has also been illuminating and in light of them I thought I would clarify some potential misunderstandings.
First, concerning ontology:
- My criticism of Aristotelian ontology is based on the claim that it does not offer the best metaphysical categories for understanding Paul’s theology insofar as Aristotelian notions can involve a suppression of ‘relation’ as ‘accidental’ to a thing (see Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Categories). In other words, my arguments are not a criticism of Aristotelian ontology in general but only insofar as it impinges upon the interpretation of Paul.
- I am also not arguing that Paul’s divine Christology is not concerned with ontology! Far from it! I certainly do not want to be labelled as someone who would represent a functional Christology as over against an ontological one, as has been common in some quarters. Such distinctions are entirely unhelpful for understanding what is going on in Paul’s theological world. Paul’s divine Christology is certainly ontological, but it is ontological in a certain way, one which does not suppress ‘relation’ as ‘accidental’ to a thing. This is why I speak of Paul’s ‘relational ontology’ in the book.
- Nor do I wish to suggest that we must scrap all later ontological developments, as the church developed its creedal and Trinitarian commitments. However, healthy theology, whatever its tradition, has not allowed a suppression of relationality to become dominant. Christian Neo-Platonists, for example, managed to synthesise Plato and Aristotle in such a way as to conserve “the Platonic priority of relation over the Aristotelian category of substance” (to cite Adrian Pabst, in his recent book Metaphysics: the creation of hierarchy)
Second, it is worth perhaps saying that the Christ-relation, as I see it throughout Paul’s undisputed letters, involves not just Christ-shaped goals, aims and motives. Chapter 6 maintains that it is reflected, additionally, “in a variety of direct devotional language and practices, in the passionate nature of this devotion, in what Paul contrasts with this devotion, in the presence and activity of the risen Lord, yet also in the absence of this Lord, in communication between the risen Christ and believers, and in the nature and character of his risen lordship”.
Third, I was particularly impressed that Nick noticed my lack of engagement with Paul Rainbow’s work. That man has a keen eye! Although I had read Rainbow’s unpublished thesis, about two weeks before my Viva I also noticed that I had not sufficiently engaged with it in my soon-to-be examined Ph.D.! Rainbow’s work in no way threatened my own thesis (as Nick notes in his review), and indeed Rainbow’s conclusions supported something I wanted to maintain concerning second Temple monotheism. However, my external examiner was Larry Hurtado, and he had spoken very highly of Rainbow in his various publications, so I panicked and quickly penned an appendix engaging Rainbow’s unpublished Ph.D! This was something I wanted to include in the final published version of my work … but - get this - for reasons that I do not yet understand, I simply forgot to include it!!
Yep. I simply forgot! So, I thought I would upload that panicked paper, which I sent to Larry for the Viva in the next blog post. Just need to fish it out of the woods of my hard drive!