Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Unrelenting God: God's Action in Scripture

I'm very grateful to Eerdmans for sending a review copy of a book I have long wanted to obtain. These essays, edited by David Downs and Matthew Skinner in honour of Beverly Gaventa, includes a stellar, even apocalyptic, line up.

This is a very personal choice, but it am particularly looking forward to a specific set of essays. First, Richard Hays' "Lost in Translation" because I always enjoy reading him. Watson's "Is Paul a Covenantal Theologian?" looks delightfully delicious (though his speech-act critique of - something Campbell endorses - and characterising of Campbell's highlighting of "the apocalyptic nature of divine saving agency at the expense of Paul's engagement with Scripture" seems oddly misplaced). The essays by Berg, Jervis, Harink (I've learnt a lot from this guy), Brown, Eastman ("Ashes on the Frontal Lobe", what a great essay title! Susan once, probably without realising it, gave me a profound education in the nature of metaphors which I will never forget. Her essay is at the top of my list), de Boer, Sonderegger and Welker will all be read with hunger.

Monday, November 04, 2013

This one makes me smile every time! "Get out of my face!"

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Response to Andersen’s review of Campbell’s Deliverance

A couple of friends have recently drawn attention to the Fellowship for Biblical Studies, Australian Book Review of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God, penned by Francis I Andersen. You can find it here.

As I wrote in comments on Facebook, I didn't think the review was too helpful, to be honest. Just skimming I read “Campbell’s entire treatment is based on this highly speculative hypothesis”. Really? Perhaps most alarmingly misrepresenting Campbell is:

“There can be no objection to Campbell’s insistence that justification in Paul is christocentric; but that does not mean that the human response can be left out of the equation”

Wowzers, this doesn’t represent Campbell at all. He's not the first to booboo on that point, though. Mark Seifrid's review comes to mind (see the fun response to Seifrid’s here)

The up and coming New Testament whizz, William Glass (here is his Twitter account!), had the following to add on the Facebook discussion and he has given me his permission to put it here in the public domain of blogdom!

I'm afraid I agree with you, Chris. The review could have been cobbled together largely from the misreadings I have found in other scholars' review of the book (Matlock, Moo, et al).

To the misreadings you have identified, one could add the statement that "Paul's authentic gospel is found in his putative responses to what the Teacher (allegedly) says." Such a reading, if true, would be pretty bad as Campbell has Paul affirming in one way or another most of the teacher's tenets and premises. What Campbell makes immensely, almost pedantically, clear about Paul’s response to the teacher is that it is a reductio ad absurdum of the Teacher's own argument, which then sets the stage for Paul's authentic Gospel in Romans 5-8.

Andersen's assertion (also found in Matlock) that "partisans of TJT might find it hard to recognise their beliefs in this account" as it is "too formal, programmatic, rationalistic," etc... again falls flat. Campbell admits, especially in his discussion of the church-historical pedigree, that JT's propositions are not necessarily held in full or in isolation from other beliefs by any proponent of JT. Rather, where JT is present, these are the conclusions it leads to. The Nicene Creed, for example, is a propositional and programmatic statement of Christian orthodoxy; but this is not to suggest that it is a sufficient statement of the beliefs of anyone who holds it. The Scriptural narrative may be faithfully summed up in the Creed; but it is not exhausted by it. Nevertheless, *if* the creed is a faithful summary of Scripture, the statement "I don't believe in the creed but only in Scripture" is as nonsensical a statement as is Andersen's statement that the summary of JT is "too formal, programmatic," etc.... On Andersen's reading, Campbell is speaking against himself by discussing Luther and Calvin. This is not the case at all.

The charge that Campbell is "too programmatic" can thus be related to Andersen's question about why, if JT is so bad, so many Christians have been satisfied by it for so long. Is it true, he asks, that all of those people "have been deluded in their reading of Romans?" Campbell's answer would be simply "yes and no." The tradition is complicated; the JT reading sits uneasily right next to participatory readings of Romans like that of Augustine in DT XIII and Athanasius' Contra Arianos, not to mention Luther's theologia crucis and Calvin's emphasis on faith as healing gift to human depravity. Christians, like their tradition, articulate both sets of beliefs alongside one another. This is why almost none of JT's holders would see Campbell's propositions and agree to them in toto. By God's grace, another tradition has been preserved that sits uneasily next to justification theory. But Campbell's ruthlessly systematic statement of its premises and conclusions is meant to show that these traditions do not accommodate one another; they simply disagree and one must be dispensed with, not because faithful Christians can't hold it and still be faithful Christians but because it is false. Christians aren't unfaithful when they live holy lives and derive comfort from what truths are there to be found in JT (e.g. that God makes us right with him outside of any ability on our part to do so); they are just incoherent. Campbell wants to see those truths articulated more fully, more truthfully, without any of the contradictions that accompany them in JT.

My last soap box has to do with the statement, oft-repeated, that there is "not the slightest hint, in the text of Romans, that it is structured as a debate between two opposing persons." Andersen notes that 1 Corinthians preserves evidence that Paul often used rhetorical devices to portray an opponent. But "you can see," Andersen claims, "what the questions and expostulations are doing in 1 Corinthians: 'But someone will say....'" Andersen implies that Paul is always so explicit, which of course is not the case, as the debates around the phrase "all things are permissible" will readily attest. Moreover, a number of scholars have seen in the immediate context of Campbell's target (i.e. Romans 2-4 or just 3 or just 4, depending on who it is) a dialogue or argument occurring. Thus, the confident assertion of "not the slightest hint" is simply false. But even if one were to grant that what Andersen means is "there is not the slightest hint in Romans 1:18-32," he is off the mark even so. Campbell lists a number of textual features (e.g. elevated language, wordplay, exaggeration, unusual words, etc...) that at *least* suggest Paul is not up to his usual game there. The suggestion of an interlocutor, once made, produces what to my mind is far and AWAY the best line-by-line reading of Romans 2 that Romans scholarship has produced. I would say that is quite a hint, and more than a slight one.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The formation of the canon and foundationalism

“If the early church was a theological quagmire, if apocryphal books are as valid as so-called canonical books, and if scholars are convinced the New Testament is filled with forgeries, then on what possible basis can Christians have confidence that they have the right twenty-seven books? How can Christians ever know such a thing? It is here that we come to the precise question this book is designed to answer. This volume is concerned with the narrow question of whether Christians have a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon. Or, put differently, is the Christian belief in the canon justified (or warranted)? Of course, critics of biblical Christianity have roundly argued that Christians have no rational basis for holding such a belief about the canon ... the problem with the Christian belief in canon is something other than its truth or falsehood, but has to do with whether Christians have adequate grounds for holding such a belief” (Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited)
Adequate grounds? A rational basis which justifies belief in the canon? Critics of “biblical Christianity”? Watson, seems to see things differently.
“One may indeed wish to affirm that the catholic church was right in its selection, and that these four gospels are individually and collectively adequate to the reality of divine self-disclosure in Jesus in ways that noncanonical gospels are not. Yet there is no standpoint from which such an affirmation could be made other than the one already shaped by the canonical decision” (Francis Watson, Gospel Writing)
I side more with Watson, even if it seems circular. Trust in the canon is first and foremost trust in the Triune God, particularly in his successful self-communication by Jesus and in the Spirit to the community of faith as it “recognised” canonical texts.

An enjoyable attack

imageNo, in theology pacifism is not synonymous with being a pansy (yes, a famous American preacher said that. The mind boggles). But it does have the ring of some truth in chess!

Last night I played a game in the Club Championship with the Black pieces against a good player. Having lost a game on Tuesday evening by playing some really silly moves, I wasn’t overly confident. But last night my opponent wasn’t on best form and allowed me to execute a nice attack. I really got a kick out of playing caveman chess (cos I’m a real man, obviously), especially 23…Rxf3! The variations were forcing enough to be manageable. A cleanly calculated attack truly has aesthetic appeal.

The game can be played through on a board, with my late night Houdini-aided annotations, here.