Sunday, 28 December 2008

Tom Wright on Surprised by Hope

Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2007), xiv + 338pp., ISBN 9780281056170, £12.99

[I was asked to write a 50-word note on Tom Wright’s book for the June 2008 edition of London Institute for Contemporary Christianity’s Highlights…]

An exploration of two questions: (1) what is the ultimate Christian hope? (2) what hope is there in the present? The two are connected, for hope is not simply about ‘life after death’ or ‘going to heaven’. It is for ‘God’s new creation’, already begun, which shapes the way we live now.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

John Calvin at 500

2009 will see the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (and the 450th anniversary of the final edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion), and the world – or at least a small portion of it – will, for a while, go Calvin mad.

The Calvin 500 Blog is already up and running, including material by Calvin as well as on him.

The Calvin-friendly gentlemen over at Reformation21 will be ‘Blogging the Institutes’ during 2009, and have invited others to e-mail them (at for a reading schedule.

The Foundation for Reformed Theology also provides a suggested reading schedule based on John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. from the 1559 Latin edition by Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols., in ‘Library of Christian Classics’ (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), cited by book, chapter, and section (including volume and page numbers in parentheses).

A version of the Institutes can be read online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, where a large (614pp., 27.2MB) pdf version can also be downloaded.

I read a lot of the Institutes at college for a module on Calvin, but have never read them all the way through, and may use the anniversary (and the attention that Calvin will receive more generally) as a reason to do so – though, if it comes to it, reading Scripture all the way through will win out over reading the Institutes all the way through… even for me.

Friday, 26 December 2008

D.A. Carson on Reading the Bible in a Year

D.A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word (Leicester: IVP, 1998), 25 + 365pp., ISBN 9780851115894, and For the Love of God Volume Two: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word (Leicester: IVP, 1998), 384pp., ISBN 9780851115894.

[The following post is a lightly revised version of a review of the first volume above, first published on London School of Theology’s website in December 1998.]

In line with his concern to encourage reading of the Bible, both for himself, and the members of his congregation, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-43), a Scottish minister, prepared a scheme to take readers through the Bible in a year: the New Testament and Psalms twice, and the rest of the Old Testament once.

The scheme has been only slightly modified by Don Carson for these reading companions. Here’s how it works: each day lists four readings; all four readings will take you through the scheme in a year; if you want to take longer over it, you can take the first two readings one year, and the second two for the second year.

The readings are drawn from various places in Scripture. 1 January begins with Genesis 1, Matthew 1, Ezra 1, and Acts 1 (all four chapters depicting a new beginning); but on 11 April, for instance, readers will find themselves in Leviticus 15, Psalm 18, Proverbs 29, and 2 Thessalonians 3. The combination of chapters means that more than one part of the Bible is being read at any one time – the mixture of which helps readers get through some of the more ‘obscure’ or ‘difficult’ sections (four chapters of genealogy in 1 Chronicles is not easy for most normal people…).

Carson offers a page of comments for each day – normally on one of the first two readings in the first volume and one of the third and fourth readings in the second volume. Part of the intention of the comments is to show how the individual readings fit into the larger plan of God’s purpose working itself out in salvation history, to set individual themes and texts against the broader biblical ‘story’, and so draw together links between the various parts of Scripture.

As Carson himself says, to read only the comments would be to defeat the purpose of the volume… which is to get people to read the Bible rather than the book! Even so, the reflections are typically apposite and helpfully concise.

Reading the Bible in a Year

In addition to the many books available, lots of websites now provide downloadable plans, e-mail reminders and other resources to support those who want to read the whole Bible through in a specific period of time – mostly in a year, though the Bible in 90 or 100 days appears to be a current favourite.

Thinking of my own hopes for the year ahead, I’ve been looking at these:

The Bible in 90 Days

Bible Reading Plans

ESV Bible RSS Feeds

One Year Bible OnLine

Reading the Bible Without Additives in 100 Days

Read the Bible in a Year

Read the Bible in One Year

Zondervan – Bible Reading Plans

Although it has proved difficult to get hold of in the UK, International Bible Society has published a version of Today’s New International Version (TNIV), called The Books of the Bible, which presents the TNIV with chapter and verse numbers removed from the text (though the chapter and verse range is given at the bottom of each page), with no ‘distracting’ notes, cross references, or section headings in the text, and with the text printed in one column (though a bit too wide a column for ease of reading, in my opinion).

Further information is available here, and a downloadable pdf sample of a page of Genesis 1 is available here.

Testimonies of those who have used it suggest that it helps to see the Bible less as an an encyclopedia to be studied in small doses, and more as a book to be read in generous chunks.

International Bible Society also offer five reading plans related to The Books of the Bible, including:

The Whole Bible Experience

The Blended Bible Experience

Finally, this scheme...

Community of Readers

… promises to send a weekly email of the reading plan for those who sign up, plus provide the opportunity to engage with others doing the scheme, sharing insights, and offering encouragement along the way.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The carol we tend to know and sing is based on an earlier version written by Charles Wesley (1707-88), with some adaptation by others along the way, including George Whitfield (1714-70). The version below has variations on fourth and fifth verses, now hardly ever sung.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!’
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Christ, by highest Heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The DSCF on Families in Britain

The Department for Schools, Children and Families has published a discussion document called Families in Britain: An Evidence Paper.

Here is the executive summary:

Families matter, are unique and changing

• Families are the bedrock of our society, providing a wide range of functions. They nurture children, help to build strength, resilience and moral values in young people, and provide the love and encouragement that helps them lead fulfilling lives. Families are vital in ensuring all children have good life chances and the opportunities to get on in life.

• Families are complex and dynamic. Families provide support throughout life, especially during critical moments and in difficult times, such as when a child is born or a couple is separating.

• As an institution family has evolved, shaped and adapted constantly to social changes, and although families have much in common, there is no such thing as a typical family in 21st Century Britain. Today, people are marrying later, and it is the norm to live with a partner before marrying. Married couples are more likely to divorce, and more children are born outside of marriage than was previously the case. In addition, the population is ageing, with older people increasingly likely to live alone.

What matters for families

• Family composition, circumstances and processes matter for outcomes of families – but not in equal measure.

• Families with strong and healthy relationships have the ability to develop positive outcomes for the whole family.

• Increased pluralism of family structures need not lead to poorer outcomes, since evidence suggests that the quality of relationships and families’ circumstances have a greater effect on outcomes than the legal structure of a family. Strong and healthy relationships are therefore paramount regardless of the structure.

• Poor material circumstances, emotional distress, and ill health reinforce other disadvantages for children and adults. Absent fathers and mothers may contribute to these adverse effects, and make it harder for families to achieve positive outcomes.

Why Government support matters

• The wellbeing of a family depends upon the commitment and behaviours of the individuals within it.

• Government does not bring up children, parents do. Government does not build good relationships, individuals do.

• Families have to fulfil their responsibilities. But there are three main reasons why the Government should have a strong, supportive family policy:
- First, while all families will make decisions that are entirely private to its members, there are areas in which the decisions or circumstances of a family will impact upon society more generally;
- Second, families may not always have the information they need to do the best for themselves and their members;
- Thirdly, the Government has a role to play in addressing inequalities as families have different levels of need and capability.

• But where possible Government should work in partnership with families, and the private and voluntary sectors

Family policy principles

• Any set of policies designed to build the skills and capabilities of families or to reduce the pressures on them must be judged against principles to ensure they give every family the best possible chance of thriving:
- Family policy should be empowering, giving people the information to make choices for themselves, helping them balance rights and responsibilities and fuelling aspiration to achieve their full potential;
- Intervention should be proportionate, recognising that families are their own experts on what is right for them but that they also have responsibilities for members and wider society;
- A modern family policy should not exclude families based on form or structure;
- Universal support should be complemented with targeted support for those in genuine need to help secure equal opportunities.

• These principles are complementary but in practice there are often trade-offs between them.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Britain in 2009

Britain in 2009, published by the Economic & Social Research Council, 116pp., £4.95.

A magazine published by the Economic & Social Research Council (which bills itself as ‘the UK’s leading research and training agency addressing economic and social concerns’) looking at eight areas of life in the UK today:

• Environment
• Public Services
• Economy
• Politics, Religion and Society
• Business
• Science
• Lifestyles
• Media

They also publish Society Now three times a year which is freely downloadable from their website.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Mark Allan Powell on the Magi

Over the course of a few years, Mark Allan Powell published several articles on the Magi in Matthew 2:1-12:

Mark Allan Powell, ‘Neither Wise Nor Powerful: Reconsidering Matthew’s Magi in the Light of Reader Expectations’, Trinity Seminary Review 20, 1 (1998), 19-31; ‘The Magi as Wise Men: Re-examining a Basic Supposition’, New Testament Studies 46, 1 (2000), 1-20; ‘The Magi as Kings: An Adventure in Reader-Response Criticism’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62, 3 (2000), 459-80.

The substance of this material was then incorporated into a book-length treatment:

Mark Allan Powell, Chasing the Eastern Star: Adventures in Biblical Reader-Response Criticism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).

Apart from anything else, this still remains the best book to read on ‘reader-response criticism’ from a sympathetic and not-so-radical advocate; it’s engaging and fun (yes, really…), and shows how the theory works out on passages in Matthew’s gospel.

In Part 1, among other things, Powell introduces a distinction between ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ readings of biblical passages (rather than ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ readings). Part Two asks how the ‘implied reader’ of Matthew’s gospel is expected to read, and what he or she is expected to know and believe. Part Three then offers an extended case-study on the visit of the Magi.

Contrary to most current reader expectations, Powell argues that Matthew’s first readers would be ‘expected’ to realise the Magi were servants not kings, and educated in nonsense. In fact, the story shows how God rejects kings (Herod) and the wise (the chief priests and scribes), and reveals himself to foolish Magi. It is their status as fools that qualifies them as candidates for God’s revelation.

[The following few paragraphs represent a mixture of Powell and my own ‘homiletical’ twists on his work.]

By the first century, the term ‘magi’ referred to astronomers, fortune-tellers, or star-gazers. In fact, our words ‘magic’ and ‘magician’ come from this word ‘magi’. So, they were certainly not kings, and not even respectable ‘wise men’, but more like horoscope fanatics – a practice which is condemned in the Bible. It might be more helpful to think of astrologers or magicians. In the Bible, think of the magicians in Egypt at the time of Moses, or the interpreters of dreams in the book of Daniel, or Simon the magician in Acts 8.

So, for an early reader of Matthew’s gospel, the Magi aren’t just gentiles (significant though that is); they represent the height of gentile idolatry and religious hocus-pocus. But it’s these star-gazing, horoscope-writing, would-be magicians who are the heroes in Matthew’s story! They shouldn’t be there. They don’t worship the right God. They don’t belong to the right religion or the right race. And yet they are there.

It’s possible, then, that Matthew intended the Magi to look like bungling astrologers or sorcerers, more like the Three Stooges than the Three Wise Men! They go to the wrong place. They speak to the wrong person. When they give their gifts, they give gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were elements used in their magic. And yet, by a mysterious combination of God’s loving grace and their faithful seeking, they are there – as models of seeking Jesus, believing in Jesus, and worshipping Jesus with what they have and know. God used what they knew – the star – and gave them what they perhaps didn’t know – the Scriptures – to bring them to Jesus.

The story of the Magi shows us that God revealed the truth about Jesus to a bunch of pagan fools while those who were clever enough to work it out for themselves missed it. The story of the Magi reminds us that God shows his strength in our weakness, his glory in our humility, his wisdom in our folly, to make it clear that everything comes from him and not from ourselves.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Craig L. Blomberg on Making Sense of the New Testament

[I wrote the following brief review back in 2004, though I’m not sure whether it was ever published anywhere.]

Craig L. Blomberg, Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 189pp., ISBN 0801027470.

This forms a companion volume to Tremper Longman’s Making Sense of the Old Testament (reviewed here), and is part of Baker’s ‘Three Crucial Questions’ series. The three questions in this case are related to (1) the historical reliability of the New Testament (particularly, though not exclusively, traditions about Jesus), (2) the relationship of Paul to Jesus, and (3) the application of the New Testament to contemporary life.

The chapter on ‘Is the New Testament historically reliable?’ takes in the Jesus Seminar and Third Quest. Blomberg provides an accessible synthesis of contemporary scholarship, including his own fuller works in the same area.

Under ‘Was Paul the true founder of Christianity?’, Blomberg outlines Paul’s knowledge of Jesus’ teaching and elements of the gospel tradition, and considers six theological similarities between Jesus and Paul: justification by faith and the kingdom of God; the role of the law; the Gentile mission and the church; the role of women; christology; eschatology. Paul was not the true founder of Christianity, but built on the tradition received from the apostles and his encounter with the risen Christ. There are differences between Jesus and Paul, but the similarities are greater than often suggested.

With the third question, ‘How is the Christian to apply the New Testament to life?’, Blomberg explores principles for legitimate application of biblical texts. Much of this is devoted to the major genres of the New Testament along with their specific features and issues of interpretation and application raised, but Blomberg also deals with the thorny issue of what is normative and transcends culture and time against what is culturally-specific to the New Testament.

All told, the book carries the inevitable positives and negatives that goes with offering a brief treatment of its disputed areas. While sceptics are not likely to be persuaded by the arguments, those already convinced will enjoy it and will doubtless find it to be a useful resource.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Tremper Longman III on Making Sense of the Old Testament

Tremper Longman III, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 154pp.

[The following is a lightly-edited version of a review first written in June 1999 and published on London School of Theology’s website.]

Tremper Longman’s book is a helpful addition to the expanding ‘Three Crucial questions’ series. The questions considered here are: (1) What are the keys to understanding the Old Testament? (2) Is the God of the Old Testament also the God of the New Testament? (3) How is the Christian to apply the Old Testament to life?

His answer to the first question provides a basic overview of principles for interpreting the Bible, such as discovering the author’s intended meaning, reading texts in context, taking genre into consideration, understanding the historical and cultural background, paying attention to grammar and structure of passages, and so on. Although all the points aren’t specific for understanding the Old Testament, they remain important. Sometimes our problem with the Old Testament is our same problem with any other text – we simply don’t read it properly.

When it comes to the second question, Longman argues that the Bible presents a unified picture of God. The picture isn’t static, however, he says, and we need to allow for progress in God’s revelation of himself, and look to Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament themes. He illustrates this with a consideration of the covenant relationship between God and his people, the metaphor of the Lord as a ‘warrior’, and God’s presence with his people. For each of these themes, we can detect a thread of continuity through Scripture as a whole; while there is a ‘newness’ with Christ, the ‘new’ doesn’t involve a complete break with the ‘old’.

The answer to the third question focuses mainly on the various Old Testament genres (history, poetry, wisdom). He devotes special attention to Old Testament law, where he argues that there is both continuity and discontinuity with the New Testament. Our application of law today must take into consideration cultural differences and redemptive-historical differences between ourselves and Israel. The golden principle here is that all of the Old Testament law applies to Christians today, but none of it applies apart from its ‘fulfilment’ in Christ.

All in all, the book is the sort of helpful discussion we have come to expect of Longman. Nothing particularly new is said, but what is here is usefully gathered together, illustrated with specific examples from biblical texts, and aimed at helping the general reader. The challenge remains for Christian believers to do justice to the Old Testament in its own right (with all that that means), and as part of the Christian Scripture (with all that that means). For relatively new Christians (and slightly older Christians who still wrestle with this topic), Longman’s book will provide a helpful orientation.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Theology and ‘Drama’ Notes

[As a follow-up to an earlier post, the following gathers together some personal notes on this topic.]

‘Drama’ has come to the fore in a number of recent studies as a fertile way of reflecting on Scripture and theology. The following works are pertinent here:

Richard Heyduck, The Recovery of Doctrine in the Contemporary Church: An Essay in Philosophical Ecclesiology (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2002); Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002); Ben Quash, Theology and the Drama of History, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005); Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004).

The significant influence of Hans Urs von Balthasar is evident in a number of these works, especially his Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, trans. Graham Harrison, 5 vols. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988-98).

Drama, it is said, allows us to move beyond story to enactment, not simply creating a world and engaging us in it, but in giving us a role to play in the ongoing drama.

‘Drama provides a way of conceiving history that allows for involvement of the characters which are invested in the action, attention to the particular circumstances and events that affect particular lives, social interaction, and anticipation of how events will play out… Human beings in history find themselves in a world that already exists and is moving in a certain direction, but they also shape that world through their imaginative, personal participation. History is in this sense dramatic, and it is theodramatic when the involved human beings are directed by and respond to the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world. It is the task of theology to display this particular perspective on the drama of history.’

[Sarah Heaner Lancaster, ‘Dramatic Enactment of Christian Faith: A Review Essay’, Asbury Theological Journal 62, 1 (2007), 119-26, here 122.]

Quash notes that ‘drama displays human actions and temporal events in specific contexts. Theodramatics concerns itself with human actions (people), temporal events (time) and their specific contexts (place) in relation to God’s purpose’ (Theology, 3-4, his italics).

Concerned that Lindbeck’s model places authority in ecclesial communities rather than the biblical canon, Vanhoozer’s ‘canonical-linguistic’ approach to theology seeks to recognise the central place of Scripture even while acknowledging the role played by the believing community in enacting the dramatic script. (Even so, Vanhoozer is careful to note that his approach ‘has much in common with its cultural-linguistic cousin’ [Drama, 16]).

For Vanhoozer, Scripture provides the authoritative script, and doctrine provides direction for how Christians should discover their place in the larger drama (Drama, 31, 78, 108). Drama is an appropriate modus operandi, since in the history of salvation, God both speaks and acts:

‘The basic insight is that the Bible is not simply a deposit of revelation but one of God’s “mighty acts” – a mighty communicative act, to be exact. Scripture has a role – a speaking, acting part – in the drama of redemption precisely as divine discourse. Scripture not only conveys the content of the gospel but is itself caught up in the economy of the gospel, as the means by which God draws others into his communicative action’ (Drama, 48, his italics).

In fact, Vanhoozer does not see drama as a mere analogy to be exploited in theology, but as intrinsic to the way the church relates to Scripture.

‘I’m not sure it’s only an analogy, for at the heart of Christianity what we find is neither a philosophy nor a system of morality, but a gospel: good news. What is news if not a report of something important that has been said or done? Christianity is essentially about dramatic action, about what God has done in the history of Israel and especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.’

[Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Experience the Drama’, Trinity Magazine (Spring 2006), 18-21, here 19.]

Incidentally, this has been missed by a number of reviewers of Vanhoozer’s work, though not by Everett Berry, ‘Theological Vs. Methodological Postconservatism: Stanley Grenz and Kevin Vanhoozer as Test Cases’, Westminster Theological Journal 69, 1 (2007), 105-26, at 117.

Quash and Vanhoozer present drama as a more fruitful category than narrative for theology (Quash, Theology, 79-81, 207-208; Vanhoozer, Drama, 48, 273-74). Narrative is feared because it is thought to operate in ‘epic’ mode, assumed to provide a detached observation, and closing down alternative takes on reality (Quash, Theology, 41-42, and Vanhoozer, Drama, 84-91; cf. Wells, Improvisation, 45-57).

But it is not clear that narrative necessarily does this. The features of drama that are perceived to be valuable – such as temporality, followability, complexity, interaction, anticipation – are also features of narrative.

Moreover, the drama analogy can be overplayed. While generally positive about Vanhoozer’s study, Anthony C. Thiselton judges that it doesn’t engage sufficiently with ‘the resources of hermeneutical theory and practice’ (The Hermeneutics of Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007], 80, and see 73-80). Lancaster notes that ‘while theologians use drama as a welcome new model to explore enactment, we should be careful not to treat it as another general study into which Christian faith needs to be fit’ (‘Dramatic Enactment’, 125).

Although drama may prove to be an illuminating way of thinking through issues related to the ‘performance’ of the text, what we have in Scripture is not drama, but narrative.

‘Drama’ may be construed as a text type, even as a narrative text type, but is also likely to be understood more fully in its orientation toward performance before an audience. Even so, there is obviously a close kinship between drama and prose narrative, and the theory of one will share common ground with the theory of the other. Hence, it is not necessary, and perhaps even misguided, to pit narrative against drama.

Vanhoozer argues that narrative tells whereas drama shows (Drama, 48). Leaving aside the contention that narrative may exercise the imagination in a way drama does not, however, just this point may be significant. An over-emphasis on drama may lead to downplaying the crucial role of the narrator in narrative discourse, and particularly the ‘omnipresent’ and ‘omniscient’ narrators of the biblical narratives, the gospels included, which provide an orientation for reading.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Some Books on the Bible

[A version of this was first published as ‘Billington’s Bookshelf’ (not my idea…) in the December 2008 edition of London Institute of Contemporary Christianity’s EG. I was asked to write a 700-word piece outlining some of the good stuff published on the Bible over the last year or so.]

From John Stott we have learned the importance of ‘double listening’ – listening to the word and the world. He was careful to point out, however, that we do not listen to both ‘in the same way or with the same degree of deference’ (The Contemporary Christian [Leicester: IVP, 1992], 28). The most fruitful engagement with God’s world flows out of faithful engagement with God’s word. Somewhat ironically, in an age where biblical literacy is on the wane, we have more resources than ever which enable us to get to grips with God’s word in order that it might shape us and our interaction with contemporary culture. Some recent works are highlighted here.

Mention must be made of the publication of two significant study Bibles: the NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), and the ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008). The New Living Translation offers a readable, everyday English translation, while the English Standard Version is a more ‘literal’ translation, seeking to capture the wording of the original text. Both come with articles, maps and charts, as well as thousands of study notes, and both provide online access with purchases of the print edition – useful for those who are more comfortable studying in front of a computer screen. Of course, one of the dangers of study Bibles is when the notes become more important than the biblical text. The purpose of the notes, as with the following titles – fallible as they are – is to encourage study of the Bible itself.

Along these lines, Christopher Ash, Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008) expounds Psalm 119 in 22 daily reading-sized chunks, reminding us that reading and hearing God’s word is a matter of delight rather than duty, inviting us not only to understand Scripture but to feel it and be willing to sing it through our lives.

In different, but complementary ways, Nick Page, The Big Story (Bletchley: Authentic, 2007), John Grayston, Explorer’s Guide to the Bible: A Big Picture Overview (Bletchley: Scripture Union, 2008), and Colin Sinclair, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Bible: Thumbing Through the Old and New Testaments (Oxford: Monarch, 2008) provide panoramic overviews of the Bible, tracing its storyline, introducing its books and outlining its themes in ways that would be useful for those who are relatively new to Scripture.

Less on content issues and more on the nuts and bolts of interpretation is J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Journey into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), an abridgment of a fuller work, and suitable for beginners. More advanced, exploring the act of communication between authors, texts and readers is Jeannine K. Brown, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

Amy Orr-Ewing, Why Trust the Bible? Answers to 10 Tough Questions (Nottingham: IVP, 2008) offers answers to some of the most frequently encountered challenges (are the manuscripts reliable? isn’t the Bible sexist? what about the canon?) in a concise and winsome way, while those wanting to explore the ins and outs of different versions will find a sure-footed guide in Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for all its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

In the area of biblical theology, Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008) and Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008) provide substantial treatments, each taking account of the diversity as well as the unity of Scripture. More briefly, T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to Jerusalem: Exploring God’s Plan for Life on Earth (Nottingham: IVP, 2008) outlines some central themes that run through the Bible as a whole.

Finally, those wanting something different could try A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (London: William Heinemann, 2008). A journalist and self-confessed agnostic, Jacobs writes an amusing but informative, and occasionally moving, diary-type account of his attempts to obey the Bible as literally as possible. It’s full of surprising insights for Christian readers, along with the implicit challenge of what ‘living’ the Bible might actually mean.

Themelios 33, 3 (2008)

For many years, Themelios was a print journal published by RTSF/UCCF in the UK. Although aimed primarily at students of theology, it always enjoyed a wider readership, not least because of its lengthy book reviews section. A year or so back, it became a digital publication, under the editorship of D.A. Carson, operated by The Gospel Coalition.

The latest volume is now online in several formats, with the contents as follows:

D.A. Carson

Carl Trueman
Minority Report: The Way of the Christian Academic

Tim Keller
The Gospel and the Poor

Jared M. Compton
Shared Intentions? Reflections on Inspiration and Interpretation in Light of Scripture’s Dual Authorship

James M. Hamilton, Jr.
The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine

Adam Sparks
Salvation History, Chronology, and Crisis: A Problem with Inclusivist Theology of Religions, Part 2 of 2

Philip Graham Ryken
Pastoral Pensées: Ezra, According to the Gospel: Ezra 7:10

Book Reviews

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Myk Habets on ‘The Dogma is the Drama’

Myk Habets, ‘“The Dogma is the Drama”: Dramatic Developments in Biblical Theology’, Stimulus 16, 4 (2008), 1-4.

This sample article from Stimulus provides a handy and brief overview of the current interest in seeing Scripture not merely as a story to be told but as a drama to be lived.

Habets begins by profiling the so-called Yale school narrative theologians (Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, David Kelsey) and their reading of Scripture as ‘a realistic narrative centred on the story of Jesus Christ’ (1). But he quickly notes that drama has become a dominant metaphor in more recent studies.

The Yale school effectively placed authority in the ‘cultural-linguistic’ community of the church, and Habets prefers Kevin Vanhoozer’s ‘canonical-linguistic’ approach to doctrine, which is ‘more firmly rooted in Scripture’, which is able to see that ‘the didactic and propositional portions of Scripture are… important in the biblical drama’, and which ‘understands that doctrine involves a particular way of life’ (1).

This last aspect is particularly important: ‘the performance of the drama in terms of ministry and mission’ (2). In a context where people lack a plot and a script, ‘dramatic theology offers each of us a way to re-script our lives in order that we may live purposefully’ (3, his italics).

In addition to Vanhoozer, Habets refers to Hans Urs von Balthasar, Michael Scott Horton, and Dorothy Sayers as significant contributors to this area of thought. He also draws on the notion of improvisation as explored by Samuel Wells, noting that ‘in light of the past and in anticipation of the future the church is presently called to act, play, improvise under the leading of the Holy Spirit until Christ’s return’ (4, his italics).

The goal of a dramatic theology is ‘to be thoroughly formed by God’s gracious interactions with humanity throughout time, as recorded in Scripture, that we are equipped, as a community of Spirit-filled believers, to be Christ to our neighbour’ (4).

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on First Theology

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Leicester: Apollos, 2002), 384pp., ISBN 0851112676.

[An earlier version of this review was first published in Evangel in 2003 or thereabouts.]

With the exception of the first chapter, from which the book takes its title – ‘First Theology’ – all the chapters have been previously published as essays elsewhere. But we can be grateful to IVP for gathering them together between two covers rather than leaving them scattered to the four winds. That a number of the pieces have been revised for publication in this format, and indexes have been added, makes this an extremely useful collection.

First Theology provides much of the backdrop of the discussion against which Vanhoozer’s earlier-published work (Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader and the Morality of Literary Knowledge [Leicester: Apollos, 1998]) can be understood. Both works rightly call us to be ‘hermeneutical about theology’ and ‘theological about hermeneutics’ (9). And it will come as no surprise to readers of the previous volume that the same sorts of themes and concerns crop up in these essays: the close and respectful, but still critical, engagement with postmodernity; the insights provided by speech act theory; the emphasis on the Trinity; God as a personal and transcendent communicative agent; Scripture as his communicative action; the careful deployment of philosophical concepts and arguments, which remain nonetheless governed by theological concerns. Unlike the earlier volume, this one also seeks to do some constructive theological work too, and includes occasional treatments of biblical passages. In that respect, the essays helpfully build on Is There a Meaning in This Text?, and some of them engage with early responses to it.

In the Preface Vanhoozer underscores the three areas of the subtitle: ‘We must not think about God – at least not for very long – apart from the authorized witness of Scripture. Similarly, we must not think about Scripture – again, at least not for very long – apart from its divine author and central subject matter. Nor must we think about hermeneutics – about interpreting Scripture – apart from Christian doctrine or biblical exegesis’ (10). Theology involves all three thoughts – ‘God’, ‘Scripture’, and ‘Hermeneutics’ – and these make up the three parts of the volume.

The first part on God contains essays on the Trinity and dialogue, the love of God, and the sovereign, effectual call of God to human beings. Among other things, the notion of God as a communicative agent provides a connecting thread. Much of what God does he does by speaking – promising, forgiving, calling, warning, commanding – which challenges easy distinctions between ‘God saying’ and ‘God doing’.

The second part, with two essays on Scripture, moves from God as a communicative agent to Scripture as his communicative action. Vanhoozer notes that one’s theology of Scripture is related to one’s view of God, theology proper. Scripture is the source of our knowledge of God, the place in which the Son is testified to, and the means of God’s gift of the Spirit. Scripture is the book of the covenant, the covenant of discourse, which establishes God’s relationship with his people, and through which we enjoy communion with him.

The third and longest section on hermeneutics includes discussions of specific biblical texts, particularly from John’s gospel, and some pieces on the areas of thinking theologically about culture and apologetics.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken, and, although it’s fairly clear that the essays were originally produced as separate pieces and can be read individually and profitably as such, yet there is remarkable unity of thought and purpose among them. Even the inevitable repetition provides useful reinforcement. Vanhoozer is an evangelical scholar at the forefront of contemporary theological engagement with God, Scripture, and Hermeneutics; all those concerned with these areas will profit greatly from this volume.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on Is There a Meaning in This Text?

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Leicester: Apollos, 1998), 496pp., ISBN 0851114636.

[Several versions of a review of this book appeared in Third Way, Anvil, and on the London School of Theology website in late 1998.]

Those who read references in articles by Vanhoozer published throughout the 1990s to his ‘forthcoming book’, and had their appetites well and truly whetted, will have been delighted when the meal was finally served. Here’s a work of major significance, a text which deserves readers’ ‘ethical’ duty of engagement which the author calls for interpretation of texts in general.

The bulk of the volume is divided into two main parts, each with three chapters, with headings almost sermonically delivered (a characteristic feature of his writing through the book as a whole, and which only occasionally feels forced). Part One – Undoing Interpretation: Authority, Allegory, Anarchy – sets up the discussion in its three chapters (1) Undoing the Author: Authority and Intentionality; (2) Undoing the Book: Textuality and Indeterminacy; (3) Undoing the Reader: Contextuality and Ideology. Part Two – Redoing Interpretation: Agency, Action, Affect – answers to Part One in its three chapters: (1) Resurrecting the Author: Meaning As Communicative Action; (2) Redeeming the Text: the Rationality of Literary Acts; (3) Reforming the Reader: Interpretive Virtue, Spirituality, and Communicative Efficacy. The whole is topped and tailed with an Introduction (Theology and Literary Theory) and a Conclusion (A Hermeneutics of the Cross).

The literary relationship between author, text, and reader thus dominates Vanhoozer’s discussion, and he challenges the largely current consensus that meaning is relative to the encounter of text and reader, taking up a position against the ‘Undoers’ (postmodern deconstructors) and ‘Users’ (postmodern pragmatists).

What of ‘meaning’, then? With regard to the author, Vanhoozer argues for ‘hermeneutic realism’. Authorial intention is based on the notion of the author as a communicative agent. To describe meaning is to describe the author’s intended action – not the plan with which the author set out, nor the consequences an author hoped to achieve. (Author’s intentions are not to be confused with what an author planned to write or unintentionally brings about.)

With regard to the text, Vanhoozer argues for ‘hermeneutic rationality’. Texts are communicative acts, not dumb objects, or mirrors in which I see only myself. A text is a complex literary act, which embodies intention, and needs to be understood ‘thickly’ (rather than ‘thinly’) in its various dimensions, including linguistics, genre, and canon.

With regard to the reader, Vanhoozer argues for ‘hermeneutic responsibility’. In reading, we are called not to play or create, but to encounter an ‘other’ that calls us to respond, to ‘follow’ the text.

Vanhoozer contends that the current crisis in hermeneutics is theological. He thus seeks to expose the philosophical and theological presuppositions which underlie debates about biblical interpretation (indeed, interpretation more generally), and appeals to the Trinity as underwriting the notion of meaningful communication. God is a communicative agent, whose speaking enacts a ‘covenant of discourse’: speaker (Father), Word (Son), and reception (Spirit). God’s own communicative action is thus the model of all sending and receiving of messages. Human beings, created in his image, are likewise communicative agents. In fact, interpretation of texts in general, Vanhoozer claims, rests on ‘theological’ beliefs about God, the world and ourselves. These refreshing theological assumptions are implicit and helpfully teased out throughout the work.

Not that he doesn’t engage with literary issues more strictly conceived. Throughout, Vanhoozer dialogues with philosophers and critical theorists (Derrida, Fish, Habermas, Hirsch, Nietzsche, Ricoeur, Rorty, Searle, and Steiner prominent among them). And he takes in standard topics of discussion in biblical interpretation (authorial intention, genre, speech-act theory, reader-response criticism, deconstruction, epistemology) along the way – always stimulating, and often providing a fresh perspective.

In all this, Vanhoozer consistently refuses to be drawn on the all-or-nothing choice between anarchic and absolute knowledge. He grants a place and role to authentic subjectivity; but postmodern theorists, he holds, have not satisfactorily shown that interpretation is impossible. Interpretation of texts may not be absolute, but it may still be adequate – for the purposes of understanding and appropriating. We may not know everything, but we may know enough. Knowledge must be tempered with humility (we acknowledge our limits) and conviction (although knowledge is provisional, we may still be confident). Humility and conviction enable us to avoid the equal and opposite errors of dogmatism and skepticism.

And for Christians, biblical interpretation is as much a way of life as a way of reading. Following the word entails embodying the word. The fundamental form of practical interpretation is the way we live our lives as believing individuals and as believing communities. A proper response to God’s ‘speech-acts’ demands more than assent; it demands living a certain way, fostering a certain kind of culture, belonging to a community of people shaped by the Spirit of God, constantly conforming to his word.

Doubtless there will be quibbles here and there. Biblical studies scholars may mourn the relative lack of application of theory to specific Old and New Testament texts; theologians may wish for more constructive theology; philosophers and literary theorists may debate his description and application of aspects of critical theory. The small amount of truth in those sentiments, however, is more than outweighed by the contribution of this lengthy and programmatic prolegomena, and encourages us to look forward to what else might be ‘forthcoming’ from Vanhoozer in the future (may the wait not be as long). The book is by no means easy. Those already familiar with aspects of current hermeneutical and philosophical thought will have a more pleasant reading experience. But all will have a rewarding experience; anyone interested in current theology, philosophy, and hermeneutics ought to feel obliged to read, and will profit greatly from engaging with, Vanhoozer and his text.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Christianity and Politics Resources

[The following is a lightly revised version of a resource list produced for an event hosted by London Institute for Contemporary Christianity on 29 May 2008 at which Jim Wallis spoke on issues related to his book, Seven Ways to Change the World. It offers a small selection of resources and material available on issues related to the Christian faith and politics, for those who would like to read and reflect further.]

By Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis, Seven Ways to Change the World: Reviving Faith and Politics (Oxford: Lion, 2008).
Published in America as The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. Download a free study guide to the book from the Sojourners website.

Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (Oxford: Lion, 2005).

God’s Politics.
A blog by Jim Wallis and friends.

On the USA context

Tony Campolo, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith & Politics (Ventura: Regal, 2008).
A call to take our cue from the ‘red letter’ teachings of Jesus to address the issues of our time.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2006).
A challenge to the notion that America is a ‘Christian’ nation, and a call to the church not to be co-opted to political or national ideology, but to discover its call to proclaim and live the kingdom of God.

David P. Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008).
An argument that the evangelical political landscape is now fragmented along right/centre/left lines, with a sizeable and growing number of evangelical Christians who identify neither with the right or the left. For further information, check out David Gushee’s website.

Steve Monsma, Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).
Seeks to lay out a Christian framework based on Scripture before applying it to areas such as poverty, human rights, disease, war and terrorism. The contents of the book may be freely browsed online at the publisher’s website, where a pdf excerpt can also be downloaded.

Jeffrey W. Robbins and Neal Magee (eds.), The Sleeping Giant Has Awoken: The New Politics of Religion in the United States (London: Continuum, 2008).
A collection of essays exploring the relationship between political conservatism and evangelical Christianity.

On the UK context

Jonathan Bartley, Faith and Politics After Christendom: The Church as a Movement for Anarchy (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006).
Part of the publisher’s ‘After Christendom’ series, this book explores what it means that the church no longer occupies the centre of society, providing an opportunity for the church to exercise a prophetic role in challenging injustice and undermining some of the central values on which society is built.

The Christian Institute.

The Christian Socialist Movement.

Christians in Politics.

Stephen Clark (ed.), Tales of Two Cities: Christianity and Politics (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
A collection of academic essays, offering biblical, theological, and historical reflection on political issues.

Conservative Christian Fellowship.

Evangelical Alliance, Faith and Nation: Report of a Commission of Inquiry to the UK Evangelical Alliance.


Liberal Democrat Christian Forum.

London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Capitalism Project.
Lots of downloadable articles and resources from LICC’s Capitalism Project, which ran between September 2000 and August 2004.

Michael Schluter and John Ashcoft (eds.), Jubilee Manifesto: A Framework, Agenda and Strategy for Christian Social Reform (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
An excellent collection of essays flowing out of the work of the Jubilee Centre (see their website for some very useful resources). It is biblically and theologically based, concerned especially with relationships in families, communities, and society, and explores how a ‘relational’ perspective provides insights on how to approach topics of concern such as the family, welfare, economics, justice, etc.

Nick Spencer, Votewise: Helping Christians Engage with the Issues (London: SPCK, 2004).
A former LICC staff member helps Christians evaluate party policies and promises wisely. A series of helpful Bible studies relating to the book are freely available online.

Theos: The Public Theology Think Tank.
See particularly the recent report by Nick Spencer, Neither Private Nor Privileged: The Role of Christianity in Britain Today.

Something more practical

Tony Campolo and Gordon Aeschliman, Everybody Wants to Change the World: Practical Ideas for Social Justice (Ventura: Regal, 2006).

Steve Chalke, Change Agents: 25 Hard-Learned Lessons in the Art of Getting Things Done (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

Produced by Antony Billington for the ‘Seven Ways to Change the World’ event (29 May 2008), with Jim Wallis, hosted by LICC:

London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
St Peter’s, Vere Street, London W1G 0DQ
020 7399 9555

David Ford on Christian Wisdom

David F. Ford, Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007),  xiv + 412pp., ISBN 9780521698382, £15.99.

An accessible and highly suggestive work, thinking about theology in terms of ‘wisdom’ – taking its cue from Scripture and Jesus, drawing on tradition, in the context of worship, in order to shape wisdom for daily living and loving God for God’s own sake. This is a significant showcase of Christian theology being carried out in concert with Scripture and in conversation with the church, the university, the public square, and other faith communities.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture

The Scripture Project, ‘Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture’, in Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays (eds.), The Art of Reading Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 1-5.

This symposium, edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, represents the fruit of a four-year conversation called ‘The Scripture Project’, and is an excellent showcase for theological hermeneutics. It begins with ‘Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture’ which distil what the subsequent chapters in the volume explore at greater length.

(1) Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging, and saving the world.

(2) Scripture is rightly understood in the light of the church’s rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.

(3) Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New.

(4) Texts of Scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that Scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.

(5) The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.

(6) Faithful interpretation of Scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God’s redemptive action – the church.

(7) The saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret and perform Scripture.

(8) Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.

(9) We live in tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom of God; consequently, Scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh rereadings of the text in the light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Introducing Theological Interpretation 3

[The third of three posts, the first here, and the second here, introducing theological interpretation, a subject that has occupied much of my attention for the last ten years or so.]

Contemporary interest in theological hermeneutics arguably has two distinct, though related, foci.

1. In the first place is the development of an account of hermeneutics itself in conjunction with Christian theology.

[Related to this focus is the treatment by some of the hermeneutical nature of all theology, the theological implications of the notion that all understanding takes place within horizons constituted by language and history – on which, see now Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).]

Among those concerned to offer a theological account of interpretation is Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Leicester: Apollos, 1998), who characterises his work as ‘a theology of interpretation’ (9).

[Others here include: Alexander S. Jensen, Theological Hermeneutics, SCM Core Text (London: SCM, 2007); Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology & Biblical Studies (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).]

Contending that the current crisis in hermeneutics is theological, Vanhoozer seeks to expose the philosophical and theological presuppositions which underlie debates about interpretation, and appeals to the Trinity as underwriting the notion of meaningful communication.

‘It is because I start somewhere else, with a different set of concerns, that I must dialogue rather than debate with Derrida. Even a point by point rebuttal of deconstruction would still let deconstruction set the agenda… I wish instead to make a fresh start on the question of textual meaning, inspired by a Christian understanding of God, language, and transcendence… I propose that we take God’s trinitarian self-communication as the paradigm of what is involved in all true communication’ (Vanhoozer, Meaning, 199).

God is a communicative agent, whose speaking enacts a ‘covenant of discourse’: speaker (Father), Word (Son), and reception (Spirit).

[See also Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Leicester: Apollos, 2002), 159-203 (‘From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts: The Covenant of Discourse and the Discourse of the Covenant’).]

Vanhoozer’s exploration of ‘meaning’ takes in the communicative action of the triune God, the creation of human beings in his image, and language as God’s gift for communion in covenant relationship.

2. In the second is a discussion of how biblical interpretation shapes, and is shaped by, Christian theology.

In this case, where theological hermeneutics reflects on how theology shapes the way a biblical text is read, it is, in the words of Francis Watson, concerned with developing ‘a hermeneutic and a corresponding exegetical practice oriented towards theological questions’ (Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994], 221). It is the kind of interdisciplinary work where ‘the concerns of… systematic theology actually shape the ways in which biblical studies is conducted’ (Joel B. Green, ‘Modernity, History, and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, Scottish Journal of Theology 54, 3 [2001], 308-29, here 309).

It should be clear, then, that theological interpretation is interdisciplinary in its concern and focus. Along such lines, Christopher R. Seitz, Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) calls for ‘biblical studies to be more theological and theological studies to be more biblical’ (25). This interest is clear in Watson’s work, and Stephen Fowl too is concerned about disciplinary fragmentation in the academy.

[See Stephen E. Fowl, Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 13-21, and ‘The Conceptual Structure of New Testament Theology’, in Scott J. Hafemann (ed.), Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect (Leicester: Apollos, 2002), 225-36, esp. 226-30. See also David F. Ford and Graham Stanton (eds.), Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom: Scripture and Theology (London: SCM, 2003) for a collection of essays from biblical scholars and theologians engaging with issues related to Scripture and theology.]

As Vanhoozer says:

The theological interpretation of the Bible is not the exclusive property of biblical studies but the joint responsibility of all the theological disciplines and of the whole people of God.’

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Introduction: What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?’, in Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.), Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London: SPCK, 2005), 19-25, here 21 (italics original).

Books on Christian Worldview Formation

The items listed here discuss the significance of developing a Christian worldview based on Scripture. I think Hardyman and Ryken are best for those who are new to the area; any of the others will do for those who are already off the starting blocks and want to think further.

J. Mark Bertrand, (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).
As the title suggests, this is a call for readers to rethink their own perspective on the nature of reality, as well as to think about the idea of ‘worldview’ itself. Its three main parts address worldview, wisdom, and witness. The full text of the book can be freely browsed online at the publisher’s website, where a pdf excerpt can also be downloaded.

Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (London: Marshall Pickering, 1999).
A big book, but not a difficult read. A full exploration of the importance for Christians to adopt a biblical worldview perspective with which to engage alternative worldviews.

Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Grand Rapids/London: Baker Academic/SPCK, 2008).
A follow-up volume to their widely-acclaimed The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids/London: Baker Academic/SPCK, 2004/2006), this promises to provide a general introduction to Christian worldview thinking, how it interfaces with the western story of modernity/postmodernity, and how it applies to key areas of life such as education, economics, and politics. Baker provide an excerpt on their website.

Julian Hardyman, Glory Days: Living the Whole of Your Life for Jesus (Leicester: IVP, 2006).
Not a theoretical exploration of ‘worldview’ as such, but an excellent semi-popular and shortish exploration of the ‘worldviewish’ notion that God is as concerned with our family, hobbies, and politics as much as he is concerned with our prayer life, Bible reading, and church attendance.

Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).
Less on a ‘biblical’ worldview as such, but a thorough and excellent exploration of the topic from a missiological perspective, with implications beyond reflection in the area of mission. Baker kindly provide an excerpt.

J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Truth is Stranger Than it used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (London: SPCK, 1995).
An important follow-up to their 1984 book, The Transforming Vision (see below under Walsh).

David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
A fairly technical treatment of the concept of ‘worldview’. Chapter 9 can be downloaded as a pdf file from the Eerdmans website. Perhaps more useful, David Naugle has kindly made many of his papers on this topic freely available via his website, and these are well worth checking out.

Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004).
A full discussion of Christianity as a ‘worldview’, based on Scripture, and applied to various issues of contemporary concern, particularly from a USA perspective. An excerpt can be downloaded here from the publisher’s website. The book was republished in 2005 with a 31-page study guide, which is also available as a separate downloadable document.

Philip Graham Ryken, What is the Christian Worldview?, Basics of the Reformed Faith Series (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2006).
A short booklet, and a very useful way into the topic for those new to the area.

James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue, 4th edn. (Leicester: IVP, 2004).
Now in its fourth edition, this has proved to be a significant book for several decades. You can browse samples of the book via the IVP USA website.

James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004).
A slim, helpful book taking a largely theoretical look at the notion of ‘worldview’. Excerpts are available here. See Naugle (above) for a fuller treatment of the same sort of area.

Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: IVP, 1984).
An influential book, approaching its quarter century, arguing for a Christian vision to transform the world. See also their more recent work above, under Middleton.

Al Wolters, Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview, 2nd edn. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
This was first published in 1985, and has been a very influential work outlining the creation-fall-redemption schema as the basis for a biblical worldview. The revised edition comes with a final chapter co-written with Michael Goheen which links Wolters’ approach to similar emphases in works by Lesslie Newbigin and N.T. Wright. Eerdmans offer the first chapter as a pdf excerpt.

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God Vol. 1 (London: SPCK, 1992), esp. 38-44, 47-80, 122-39.
This is the place where Wright’s influential understanding of ‘worldview’ is most clearly laid out.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Philip Greenslade on Four Things Worth Knowing about 1 Peter

Philip Greenslade, 1 Peter: Living Hope, Cover to Cover Bible Discovery (Farnham: CWR, 2004).

(1) 1 Peter was written by one of the original followers of Jesus (9).

(2) 1 Peter was written from the capital city of the Roman empire – probably sent around AD 65 from Rome (the ‘Babylon’ of 5:13), to Christians living in ‘the backwoods of the empire’ (10).

(3) 1 Peter highlights the centrality of Jesus and his achievement – with ‘each section of practical instruction’ being ‘linked to a powerful dogmatic statement about the Person and work of Jesus’ (10-11).

(4) 1 Peter was written to Christians under pressure to conform to society – predominantly Gentiles (1:14; 2:10-11; 4:3), they are undergoing trials (1:6; 2:12, 19; 3:16; 4:12-19) which, however, fall short of full-scale persecution. Rather, ‘the pressure is that of resisting conformity to a godless culture, the pain of social ostracism, the frustrating awkwardness of being different’ (11) – which should not be underestimated, and which also raises the issue of ‘the Christian’s relation to the surrounding culture’ (12).

Introducing Theological Interpretation 2

[The second of three posts, the first here, introducing theological interpretation, a subject that has occupied much of my attention for the last ten years or so.]

Far from setting aside presuppositions and reading the Bible ‘like any other book’, recent years have seen an increasing number of scholars calling for a special, theological hermeneutics, where reflection on biblical interpretation is informed by theological considerations, and asks what the aims of a specific Christian use of the Bible might be.

Stephen E. Fowl, for instance:

‘In brief, I take the theological interpretation of Scripture to be that practice whereby theological concerns and interests inform and are informed by a reading of Scripture.’

Stephen E. Fowl, ‘Introduction’, in Stephen E. Fowl (ed.), The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), xii-xxx, here xii.

One of the more prominent voices, Francis Watson, writes:

‘The text in question is the biblical text; for the goal is a theological hermeneutic… within which an exegesis oriented primarily towards theological issues can come into being.’

Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 1.

Others (in addition to Bockmuehl and Watson) who have advocated the legitimacy of a self-conscious theological hermeneutic of Scripture include: A.K.M. Adam, Brevard S. Childs, Karl P. Donfried, David F. Ford, Stephen E. Fowl, Joel B. Green, Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Richard B. Hays, Werner G. Jeanrond, Robert W. Jenson, Luke Timothy Johnson, Matthew Levering, Walter Moberly, R.R. Reno, Christopher R. Seitz, Daniel J. Treier, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, John Webster, David S. Yeago, and Frances Young.

Four of these – Adam, Fowl, Vanhoozer, and Watson – have interacted with one another recently in a helpful volume which, as Adam points out, suggests ‘both an increase in the degree to which [their] positions converge and an increase in the nuance of [their] disagreements’.

A.K.M. Adam, ‘Toward a Resolution Yet to Be Revealed’, in A.K.M. Adam, Stephen E. Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Francis Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 143-48, here 143.

The list embraces biblical studies scholars and systematic theologians, and is by no means exhaustive. In fact, an increasing number of biblical scholars have begun to think through how their work might be appropriated in theology, while some theologians have ventured into offering readings of passages in Scripture as part of their work in theology.

Two representatives may be noted briefly. Although working primarily in the discipline of Old Testament studies, much of Moberly’s output seeks to overcome standard divisions in the theological curriculum. Two of his books, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus and Prophecy and Discernment, have been published in the ‘Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine’ series as if to make the point. Both works seek to show how the Bible might be appropriated in contemporary theology and church life.

R.W.L. Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Prophecy and Discernment, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

In turn, two publications by the theologian David Ford in the same series offer readings of biblical texts.

David F. Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 107-65; Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), esp. 14-120.

A number of the volumes in the ‘Scripture and Hermeneutics Series’ are pertinent to this area, especially the following:

Craig Bartholomew, Mary Healy, Karl Möller, Robin Parry (eds.), Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture & Hermeneutics Series Vol. 5 (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2004), and Craig Bartholomew, Scott Hahn, Robin Parry, Christopher Seitz, Al Wolters (eds.), Canon and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture & Hermeneutics Series Vol. 7 (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2006).

In addition, a new monograph series…

‘Studies in Theological Interpretation’, published by Baker Academic, edited by Craig G. Bartholomew, Joel B. Green, and Christopher R. Seitz.

a new journal…

Journal of Theological Interpretation, edited by Joel B. Green, launch issue Spring 2007.

two new commentary series…

‘Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible’, published by Brazos, with R.R. Reno as the general editor, and ‘The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary’, published by Eerdmans, with Joel B. Green and Max Turner as the general editors.

and a dictionary…

Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.), Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London: SPCK, 2005).

… make it clear that what used to be a fairly minority interest within the scholarly guild has now taken off and is developing into what could be a significant movement.

Theological hermeneutics enables a commitment to a careful reading of the Bible without that commitment being tied too tightly to the agenda of Enlightenment reasoning; it is able to understand Scripture as God’s own self-disclosure or the decisive witness to his revelation, place it in the church as the primary context for interpretation and community formation, seeking to do justice to the role of worship, tradition, and the Holy Spirit. It also allows biblical texts to be interpreted in the light of their subject-matter, Jesus Christ, which in turn leads to suggestive proposals about breaking down the traditional boundaries (also largely established during the Enlightenment) between Old Testament and New Testament studies, and between biblical studies and systematic theology, as the following works go some way to demonstrate:

Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); Ben C. Ollenburger (ed.), So Wide a Sea: Essays on Biblical and Systematic Theology, Text-Reader Series 4 (Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1991); Francis Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997).

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Introducing Theological Interpretation 1

[The first of three posts introducing theological interpretation, a subject that has occupied much of my attention for the last ten years or so.]

The story of biblical theology as told from Gabler through Wrede to Stendahl maintains that the discipline is inevitably sidetracked by the influence of confessional traditions, and that scholarly biblical interpretation should be set free from the constraints of dogma. Discussion of ‘faith-based scholarship’ by members of the Society of Biblical Literature in Spring 2006 shows that this issue has not gone away. Michael Fox sparked the debate:

‘In my view, faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship, whether the object of study is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Homer.’

Michael V. Fox, ‘Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View’, in SBL Forum (March 2006).

It is not that persons of faith are unable to contribute to study of the Bible, but faith-based study should play no methodological role in scholarship.

Fox shares Jacques Berlinerblau’s affirmation of a secular, religiously-neutral hermeneutic. Berlinerblau (The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005]) is concerned that theological convictions render study of the Old Testament anomalous in the secular academy. Biblical literacy, however, remains necessary for secular intellectual culture: due to the political challenge of the growth and vibrancy of religion, scholars need to know the Bible well enough to point out its contradictions and incoherence.

In this respect, note also the critique by Hector Avalos (The End of Biblical Studies [Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2007]), for whom the worldview of the Bible is so fundamentally opposed to that of contemporary society and inapplicable to human concerns, that the discipline of biblical studies as currently practised should be abandoned. In an earlier volley (‘The Ideology of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Demise of an Academic Profession’, SBL Forum (May 2006), Avalos wrote of the ‘ever-growing irrelevance of biblical studies in academia’.

Similarly, Wayne Meeks, in his 2004 SNTS presidential address, asked ‘Why study the New Testament?’ Why indeed? He notes the current trends of multiculturalism, pluralism, and postmodernism, along with the demise of the Christian majority, and proposes that ‘we should start by erasing from our vocabulary the terms “biblical theology” and, even more urgently, “New Testament theology”’.

Wayne A. Meeks, ‘Why Study the New Testament?’, New Testament Studies 51, 2 (2005), 155-70, here 167.

Notably, of course, in recent years, Heikki Räisänen (Beyond New Testament Theology: A Story and a Programme, 2nd edn. [London: SCM, 2000]) has argued that New Testament study should be a historical programme of the ‘history of early Christian thought’.

Old Testament theology too has run its course, it is said; confessional readings should be abolished in the academy. So, recently, Gershom M.H. Ratheiser (Mitzvoth Ethics and the Jewish Bible: The End of Old Testament Theology, Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 460 [London: T&T Clark International, 2007]). As the title indicates, Ratheiser suggests replacing confessional readings informed by Old Testament theology with a descriptive study of the commandments – ‘a non-confessional and historical-philological mitzvoth ethics of the Jewish bible’ (160).

Not all are convinced, however, and not merely because of the obvious begging question as to whether there might be such a thing as neutral, value-free scholarship. Markus Bockmuehl, for instance, has been prompted to comment:

‘Here I claim no crystal ball with which to prognosticate. It merely seems worth considering from the outset that an interpretation of Scripture determined to operate wholly without reference to the historic Christian ecclesial context is particularly prone to misapprehend the nature and purpose of its very object of study.’

Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 76.

Such a procedure, he notes, is akin to ‘restricting the study of a Stradivari to the alpine softwood industry of Trentino’, which ‘can be intellectually respectable and may even have a certain complementary scientific or sociological interest. But it has by definition little light to shed on the instruments actually played by a violinist like Itzhak Perlman or a cellist like Yo-Yo Ma’ (77).

Bockmuehl is one of an increasing number of specialists in biblical studies to challenge fellow scholars to focus their discipline in a more theological direction.

His assessment of the current state of New Testament studies is largely negative (see 27-74, ‘The Troubled Fortunes of New Testament Scholarship’). Even so, he claims, despite ‘unresolved weaknesses’, reading the New Testament as the Scripture of the church ‘really does have a future, both in terms of its working relationship with other theological disciplines and in terms of its potential to integrate and offer an intellectual home to a variety of different methods’ (64).

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Alister McGrath on Christianity’s Dangerous Idea

Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London: SPCK, 2007), viii + 552pp., ISBN 9780281059683, £14.99.

A long but readable account of the history of Protestantism, moving from ‘origination’ (the emergence of Protestantism up to the early twentieth century), through ‘manifestation’ (what Protestantism looks like in its key ideas and attitude to culture, science, economics and politics) to ‘transformation’ (Protestantism since 1900, with globalisation and the rise of Pentecostalism). More than a historical account, however, the driving thesis of the story – the ‘dangerous idea’ of the title – is the principle that every believer has the right to interpret the Bible for themselves, thus allowing Protestantism to adapt to new situations.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Paul R. House on Old Testament Theology

Paul R. House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), 655pp., ISBN 9780830815234.

[The following review was written in November 1999, and was first published on London School of Theology’s website.]

If the publication of a large volume on Old Testament theology is a cause for celebration, then the world of Old Testament scholarship must have had its fair share of partying recently. The last few years alone have seen important works from three major scholars: Walter Brueggemann (Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997], James Barr (The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective [London: SCM, 1999]), and Bernhard W. Anderson (Contours of Old Testament Theology [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999]), totalling almost 1,900 pages between them!

In amongst them, and with the potential to be missed, is this equally large volume from Paul R. House, who teaches Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He adds a further distinctive voice to the task of Old Testament theology today, one worth listening to in the wider debate.

One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the long opening chapter in which he outlines the history of Old Testament theology from 1787 (the date of a lecture given by J.P. Gabler, which many look back to as the beginning of ‘modern’ biblical theology) to 1993. An appendix discusses scholarship from then until the date of publication, making it one of the most up-to-date surveys available at the moment.

Having summarised the history of Old Testament theology, House offers his own working methodology. In line with much recent study, he states that Old Testament theology: (1) ‘must have a historical base’; (2) ‘must explain what the Old Testament itself claims’; (3) ‘must in some way address its relationship to the New Testament’; (4) must join ‘with the New Testament to form biblical theology’, and offer ‘material that systematic theologians can divide into categories and topics for discussion’; and (5) must move ‘beyond description of truth into prescription of action’. Although Old Testament theology is undergirded by historical analysis, its role is not to write a history of Israelite religious beliefs. And although Old Testament theology has a close relationship with the New Testament, the two have ‘discrete witnesses of their own’.

House recognises the difficulty of formulating a theology of the entire Old Testament, and so he follows a suggestion made by the late Gerhard F. Hasel to take the intermediate step of working on individual Old Testament books. This is probably the most distinctive feature of the volume, seen clearly in its chapter headings: House works through the Old Testament not with a topical outline (God, revelation, humanity, sin, etc.), but by examining each book of the canon in an attempt to show its theological contribution to the Old Testament.

So, to take a sampling, we have ‘The God who renews the covenant’ (Deuteronomy), ‘The God who disciplines and delivers’ (Judges), ‘The God who extends mercy to the faithful’ (Ruth)… Sometimes the chapter headings simply describe in a phrase the content of the biblical book (and House risks the criticism that he has written more of an Old Testament ‘overview’ than a ‘theology’ strictly conceived), and can be almost too broad in their scope to be helpful (e.g., ‘The God who saves’, on Isaiah). Other times, the chapter headings cast a clear interpretation on the biblical material (e.g. ‘The God who oversees male-female sexuality’, on Song of Songs). And House punctuates his overview with occasional sections on ‘canonical synthesis’, where he discusses the wider relevance of a particular theological theme.

He does not argue for an exclusive unifying theme, but takes the Old Testament’s ‘insistence on the existence and worship of one God’ as a major theological emphasis, which provides a focus to the text’s many emphases.

House writes clearly and self-consciously as an evangelical scholar, although he is not unaware of contributions from other quarters. The book can be commended as a very useful addition to the other recent volumes, one which treats the canon as authoritative Christian Scripture, and which seeks to work from the texts outwards to the truth of the God we love and serve.

Friday, 5 December 2008

M. Eugene Boring on 1 Peter

M. Eugene Boring, ‘First Peter in Recent Study’, Word & World 24, 4 (2004), 358-67.

Boring notes a ‘convergence’ (though not a uniformity) in mainstream scholarship on 1 Peter with respect to the following points.

1. 1 Peter was not written by Simon Peter, directly or indirectly
Out of the 10 technical or semi-technical commentaries (published in English since 1988) surveyed by Boring, only Wayne Grudem insists the letter was written by Simon Peter, while J. Ramsey Michaels thinks Peter is in some sense responsible for its content even though he did not necessarily compose it personally. Silvanus (5:12) is generally understood to be the deliverer of the letter rather than as having a hand in the composition.

2. 1 Peter is a positive example of early Christian pseudonymity
‘First Peter is now generally accepted as pseudonymous, but not grudgingly so’, and can still be seen as ‘canonical Scripture whose message is to be respected’ (360).

3. 1 Peter is an expression of the church’s growing ecumenicity
‘First Peter is now widely understood as a letter representing the (or some of) leadership of the Roman church in the latter part of the first century, addressed to harassed fellow Christians encouraging them to hold fast to their faith’ (361). Both Peter and Paul are associated with the church at Rome, although 1 Peter is not dependent on Paul since common elements and vocabulary can be explained by ‘both authors having drawn from a common stream of early Christian tradition’ (362). As such, the author of 1 Peter should be thought of ‘as a spokesperson for the Roman church, a church that is aware that it is steward of the legacy of both Paul and Peter’ (363).

4. 1 Peter is a real letter
Against older views that 1 Peter is a theological tract (such as a baptismal homily) dressed up as a letter, recent scholarship regards 1 Peter ‘as a real letter addressed to a particular situation’ (364).

5. The message of 1 Peter has been illuminated by recent methods and perspectives
Boring mentions four in particular:

• Sociological exegesis – especially in the work of John H. Elliott, with a consensus building around the view that the addresses in 1 Peter 1:1 are those who have been marginalised socially, not those who consider this world to be foreign territory and heaven their true home. They are those ‘on the edge of society, harassed by their neighbors and former associates, without political rights and subject to sporadic abuse, and tempted to abandon their faith’ (365-66). The readers are not being subjected to official government persecution so much as ‘verbal abuse and socioeconomic discrimination’ (366). The categories of ‘shame’ and ‘honour’ play a crucial role here, with 1 Peter assuring its readers that though they are ‘dishonored by this-worldly culture (like Jesus himself) they are ultimately honored by inclusion in the eschatological community of the household of God’ (366).

• Rhetorical criticism – exploring the role of rhetoric in texts, how they communicate and persuade.

• Feminist hermeneutics – with exegetes being more sensitive to the patriarchy of the first-century context as reflected in the New Testament, but with ongoing disagreement as to how this ‘translates’ into the contemporary context, as well as disagreement as to whether the author of 1 Peter was calling for conformity or resistance to social patterns.

• Narrative criticism – recognising that letters, no less than narratives, ‘presuppose a narrative and project a narrative world’ (367), into which readers are invited to live, to accept as the ‘real’ world, ‘and to live the alternative life to which it calls’ (367).

Of course, that there is an alleged convergence on these views does not necessarily make them correct…