Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harvey responds to Leithart on First Things

It’s a great piece, and you can read it here. One haymaker:

“Of course, we cannot deny that God is omnipresent, but we can question whether that presence is flat, so to speak. Incarnation, Pentecost, and the return of Christ, for instance, as well as the consummated form of his presence at the End, invite an account of rich variety-in-presence. And, of course, Christians have dared to identify intensities of presence elsewhere: God speaks through prophets, anoints kings, and heals miraculously on occasion, with thin spaces, sacred spaces and all manner of sacramental spaces being regularly identified. In such accounts, God’s omnipresence is far from uniform. It is perhaps better—as so often the case with the triune God—to speak of unity and distinction here”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Post: TJ Lang on Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul

It’s a treat to have Dr. T.J. Lang, Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Durham University, write a brief book notice about Douglas Campbell’s exciting new book, Framing Paul. Without further ado, I’ll pass the mic to TJ…IMG_0861 

Conventions and perceived consensus on subjects in New Testament scholarship are important for ongoing research. They can be very good things. But they can also become lures to lazy scholarship—and boring scholarship. Do we not all too often find the conclusions of previous eras repeated without remembrance of the arguments that sustained them? Might those arguments depend on claims we would no longer accept and presumptions we should no longer share?

With respect to Pauline scholarship the usual conventions are well known. If you want to write on Paul, you best stick to the so-called Hauptbriefe. Philippians is great, too. It’s fine to bring in something from 1 Thessalonians if you can, and even Philemon, but they’re mostly harmless. The other canonical letters, whatever you really think about them, are best left alone; it’s just easier this way. This convention certainly has advantages. It’s clearly more convenient to write on Paul when six or seven or nine of his letters have been cleanly amputated from the data set. But what if the so-called disputed letters aren’t fake, and instead our habit of reasoning on these matters is dubious? Furthermore, even if deemed inauthentic in good faith to critical standards, shouldn’t excluded letters merit some consideration, or even some account for why the Pauline legacy has been taken in a particular direction and why or how the differences matter. Take E.P. Sanders’ magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism, arguably the most important book on Paul in the 20th century (it’s surely on the shortlist). No passages from Ephesians and Colossians are ever cited in the main text. Not one. (Although Ephesians does appear in one footnote and Colossians in two.) Texts from the Pastoral Epistles are never referred to at all. (This isn’t a trick, like the famous listing for “Truth, ultimate” in the subject index, which directs the reader to three blank pages.) These “Pauline” letters are denied any role in defining or contributing to the critical analysis of Paul’s thought. It’s no wonder then that people so frequently maintain that the disputed or deuteropauline letters don’t “seem” Pauline to them. Of course they don’t. How could they when they are nearly absent from most major treatments of Paul? Once you stop reading them it’s to be expected that they will seem strange to you. Their marginalization is self-reinforcing.

Alright, enough griping. I come to praise Douglas Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, which provides an injection of intellectual energy into the stale conventions described above. After this book the old habits may still persist, but they cannot do so as easily, and all positions will be made sharper by engaging this work. Campbell’s arguments are historically vigorous, bracingly original, and certain to cause offense to dogmatists on any point of any ideological spectrum. Many hackneyed arguments for or against the integrity or authenticity of various letters are finally slain. And the resulting chronology, which is based on critical data not yet considered by previous proposals and conducted on strict internal grounds, is certain to provoke numerous exegetical, biographical, and theological debates. The result is ten authentic letters addressed to seven churches—ten letters which fortuitously correspond to our earliest known edition of the Pauline corpus (that of Marcion) and seven churches reminiscent of those addressed in Revelation 2-3. Perhaps even more interesting is the claim that Paul’s Laodiceans (“Ephesians”), Colossians, and Philemon belong near the beginning of Paul’s letter-writing career, in mid to late 50 CE, and thus reflect the thought of an incarcerated yet optimistic Apostle in Asia Minor not yet embattled in the Judaizing conflicts represented in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans (composed in that sequence in 51-52 CE). This is just a sample of the original theses in the book.

It is, in short, simply thrilling to read (which may say more about me than the book, but still, it’s thrilling!). This will be true whether you find yourself persuaded or not. It’s good for our minds and our critical instincts to reevaluate foundational questions. Books like Framing Paul are all too rare, but when they appear they make the lives of Pauline scholars more interesting. This particular book makes Paul a whole lot more interesting as well.

Priesting your collective Daseins

I like to serve the ecclesial community on this blog. Today, for free, I'm offering some potential strap-lines created for your college or church webpages, aimed to encourage people into ordination. I think they will work. Honouring the whole priestly "ontological change" caboodle:
  • "Feeling a bit droopy in the ontologicals? Go to college / seminary: they offer a three or five year ontic-lift. Give your state of being a priestly kick up the ass (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "Come to ordination college and get the crap priested out of you, because it's basically the ToysRus for all for your ontological insufficiency needs (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "You're embarrassed because you've just discovered that you have 'ontic pagans'. At college / seminary, they offer the very best in discrete help. If you've already got a theology degree, come to priesting college for a two year gastrointestinal purge of your complete ontological status (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "You're the ontological drag factor in your church? Go to college and get yo ass ontologically changed at priest factory (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Job Opportunity

Required Skills: Experienced chaperone, suspicious face, crowd manager, an affinity for the Russian Orthodox Church, and a holy hat cross folder-over aptitude.

Please submit your CV together with an essay describing your vision for cross folding at: bossbishop@obviouslyIcantfoldmyowncross.com


Sunday, November 02, 2014

Athanasius the Universalist

Robin Parry notes a fascinating line of argument in Ramelli's inordinately expensive but astonishingly well researched volume. I'd love to know what experts of Athanasius make if this.

Reforming the “peer review” system. A proposal.

This blog post comes on the heals of the last. I read with interest Leithart’s interaction with Campbell’s Justification Theory, but my thoughts ended up in a rather different place. I began reflecting on the need to keep the reviewers reviewed, to keep them on their toes, responsible and accountable.

Certainly Leithart’s post energised my thoughts, as this is not the first time his interaction with scholars on First Things could have been more vigorous and responsible. But I do not mean to point fingers just at him – and for the record, I have greatly enjoyed his own work and scholarship for years! To be honest, I have posted a couple of book reviews here I wish were kinder or at least fairer. Rather, my concern is about the peer review system generally.

For the following reasons, I think the review system at present, especially as represented in journals, is in need of reform. Too many poor reviews are penned which do not do justice to the works with which they interact.

I think there are obvious reasons for this. People want to add to their “publications” list for their CV, and a review, however poor, can simply be added. Editors cannot possibly keep up-to-date with all areas of not just NT studies, but even specific areas such as the Synoptics and Paul. This means that individuals are not well positioned to evaluate all submissions. So almost anything could pass as a review, and because reviewers are not held duly accountable, suitable checks and balances are missing. To take a silly and less important example, one reviewer once chided something I had published for its lack of engagement with German scholarship, a claim so profoundly factually false I wondered whether he had read more than my book title.

Many have experienced something similar. It is indeed easy to forget how much work authors put into their works, and how much thought they usually require (at least the best of them). Then along comes a review and people are led astray by someone who has put in a few minutes (usually mistaken) thought.

The result of all of this for those of us who are cognisant of the problem is a profound distrust in the so-called peer review system. Though not quite as bad as Amazon reviews, or some comments on news item blogs, the academic review system is a community lacking accountability. Nor can one always rely on established voices, respected scholars and such like, as they are often defending their treasured views developed decades ago, and so they can sometimes automatically resist development, even if it be thoroughly legitimate (I think I speak from experience, here!)

So, how can things be improved? Can confidence in the peer review system be restored? I think so. My proposal is simple:

For journal reviews, the author of the reviewed book should be asked to write a couple of paragraphs in response to any given review. Nothing too long, or it would never happen, just a 300-500 words reaction, giving the author the final word. The book author would be given a relatively short period, say 3-5 weeks, to:

a) Note what issues the review has hit upon that will give the reviewed-book author pause for thought. What has the reviewer said that is helpful, whether positive or negative?

b) Offer a brief response to critical points.

That’s it, in a nutshell, hardly rocket science. And I think this would be enough to encourage more accountability and thus reform the entire peer review system, restoring confidence. Why would this work? Simple: if a reviewer writes knowing that his review will be judged by the book author immediately following his or her review, this will surely encourage more care and attention.

Indeed, I call on all journals to adopt such an author-response system. Academia deserves it. 

So “who reviews the reviewers?” is indeed a key question. Over at Syndicate, I think Christian and the team have provided an excellent model for future consideration, and I’m honoured to be involved with a project that provides a pathway into the future.