Sunday, 31 May 2009

John R. Franke on the Early Church Fathers

John R. Franke, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament Volume 4 (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), xxxii + 458pp., ISBN 9780830814749.

John Franke edited the volume on Joshua to 2 Samuel in the Ancient Christian Commentary Series. Links to the general introduction, the introduction to the volume on Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1-2 Samuel, as well as selected commentary from 1 Samuel are available on the publisher’s website.

The early church fathers saw links and parallels between Joshua and Jesus, such that Joshua is understood as a type of Christ; likewise with Samuel and David, with Ruth being seen as a type of the church. Running commentaries on Old Testament historical books are rare in writings of the early fathers, so most of the excerpts in the volume are taken from theological and pastoral treatises, sermons and letters.

Franke’s Introduction is helpful in providing an orientation to the interpretive rationale of early Christian readers as well as an introduction to some of the most significant interpreters. The most significant of these was Origen (xviii-xxiii), but Franke offers thumbnail sketches of eight others: Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great (xxiii-xxvii).

Saturday, 30 May 2009

John H. Walton on Genesis 1

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 192pp., ISBN 9780830837045.

IVP (USA) make available the Prologue and Introduction and Chapter 1 as samples of what looks like an interesting and helpful treatment of Genesis 1 in its ancient Near Eastern context.

John H. Walton (formerly at Moody, now at Wheaton), writing as someone committed to the authority of Scripture, emphasises a reading of the text at ‘face value’ (‘read it as the ancient author would have intended and as the ancient audience would have heard it’, 92) rather than making it ‘speak science’ or play to the tune of contemporary scientific agendas.

He argues that Genesis 1 is less concerned with providing information about the creation of the material structures of the world and more concerned with showing that the cosmos functions as God’s temple.

The book is structured around the following eighteen propositions embracing ancient Near Eastern cosmology and perspectives on creation, the main features of the text of Genesis 1, and their significance for Christian engagement with science.

Proposition 1
Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology

Proposition 2:
Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented

Proposition 3:
‘Create’ (Hebrew bara) Concerns Functions

Proposition 4:
The Beginning State in Genesis 1 is Nonfunctional

Proposition 5:
Days One to Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions

Proposition 6:
Days Four to Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries

Proposition 7:
Divine Rest is in a Temple

Proposition 8:
The Cosmos is a Temple

Proposition 9:
The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration

Proposition 10:
The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins

Proposition 11:
‘Functional Cosmic Temple’ Offers Face-Value Exegesis

Proposition 12:
Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough

Proposition 13:
The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature

Proposition 14:
God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer are Less Different Than We Have Thought

Proposition 15:
Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose

Proposition 16:
Scientific Explanations of Origins Can Be Viewed in Light of Purpose, and if so, are Unobjectionable

Proposition 17:
Resulting Theology in This View of Genesis 1 is Stronger, Not Weaker

Proposition 18:
Public Science Education Should Be Neutral Regarding Purpose

Friday, 29 May 2009

Yitzhak Berger on Ruth and the David-Bathsheba Story

Yitzhak Berger, ‘Ruth and the David-Bathsheba Story: Allusions and Contrasts’, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 33.4 (2009), 433-52.

Allusions and links between Ruth and the Judah-Tamar incident of Genesis 38 have been well documented and provoked some discussion. Yitzhak Berger looks here at links between Ruth and the David-Bathsheba story of 2 Samuel 11, particularly arguing that ‘the author of Ruth sought to cast the troubling depiction of David in the Bathsheba affair… as a departure from the authentic, unblemished character of the Judean royal lineage’ (436-37).

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on Theology, Culture and Hermeneutics

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘The World Well Staged? Theology, Culture, and Hermeneutics’, in D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (eds.), God and Culture: Essays in Honor of Carl F.H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 1-30.

We don’t have a God’s-eye view, and so must interpret, playing the role of critic and actor at the same time (1).

And the word as well as the world has to be interpreted (2). Theology is in the business of cultural interpretation.

And, of course, theologians are themselves culturally located.

Vanhoozer explores the role of theology in the interpretation of culture, and our culture of interpretation. He reviews the ways in which culture has been interpreted by some theologians, historians, sociologists, and philosophers. Theology, he argues, needs to be an interpreter and critic of culture, but also needs to champion a counterculture that should be embodied in ‘ecclesial existence’ – the church (2).

‘It is only as we interpret Scripture that we will be able to establish an effective counterculture, which itself will be the most effective critique of the dominant culture. Ultimately, the interpretation that counts most is one’s “performance” of the biblical text. The theologian as interpreter-critic is thus a player on the stage of world history’ (4).

Towards the end of the essay, he returns to this theme. He argues that theology (carried out by the hermeneutical community of the church) must be involved in the reconstruction of culture.

‘Hermeneutics… involves not only the explanation of textual meaning but also its appropriation. It is not enough to explain what a text means; one must decide what it means today. Meaning must be applied – to the church, to the world, to oneself. Hermeneutics, in the broadest sense of the term, pertains not only to “hearing” but also to “doing” the word. The most important interpretation of the Bible is the way we live our lives. We appropriate the meaning of a text when we let its world into ours, when we put its pages into practice. We apply a text’s meaning to our lives when we perform the text. Our response to a text constitutes its “lived meaning” (26).

Echoing George Lindbeck and the postliberal school, Vanhoozer writes:

‘The believing community “reads” the world in the light of the Word of God. In other words, the church interprets the world and the surrounding culture through the lens of the biblical text. But just as importantly, its hermeneutics of faith issues in a community performance of the biblical text. To repeat: it is not enough to hear and understand; one must also appropriate the meaning of a text and “do” the words. To understand the Bible properly is to “follow” it, and this in two senses: first, we follow a text when we understand it, when we grasp its meaning. But “follow” also means going along a particular path or way. To follow the word in this sense is to put it into practice, to perform it. The hermeneutics of faith demands nothing less than discipleship. Faith comes from hearing and reading the Word of God. To have Christian faith means having your thinking, imagining, language, and life shaped by the biblical texts – by biblical law, wisdom, songs, apocalyptic, prophecy, gospel, and doctrine. These literary forms are constitutive of Christian identity and practice alike’ (29).

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Ecclesia Reformanda 1, 1 (2009)

Yesterday I received a copy of the inaugural volume of this journal. The website blurb reads:

Ecclesia Reformanda is a new print journal for pastors, theological students, and scholars, that seeks to serve the Church in its ongoing reformation according to God’s Word. The editorial board believes that historic Reformed theology offers the best expression of the theology of Scripture, and so the journal is confessionally Reformed. However, a genuinely Reformed theology is always looking for God to shed new light on his Church from his Word. It is therefore always reforming. Ecclesia Reformanda is distinctively Reformed, with a contemporary cutting edge. It presents some of the best in British Reformed thinking and writing to serve the Church, her teachers, and her Lord.’

The contents are as follows:

Matthew W. Mason

R. S. Clarke
The Maximalist Hermeneutics of James B. Jordan

James B. Jordan’s maximalist hermeneutic seeks to read the Bible in a way that allows the depth and richness of its meaning to be discerned. The relationship between special and general revelation is important, as the world teaches us how to understand the Bible, and the Bible shows us how to interpret the world. The reader of the Bible should learn to be sensitive to all its literary tropes, in particular its rich symbolism and typology. Controls on this maximalist hermeneutic are not found in externally imposed rules but in theological and ecclesiastical traditions which themselves derive from the Bible.

Sarah-Jane Austin
The Poetry of Wisdom: A Note on James 3:6

James 3:6 presents complex exegetical difficulties and is often declared textually corrupt. However, since James was probably influenced by Hebrew wisdom literature, and since this is typically poetic, a consideration of Hebrew poetic parallelism may help to make sense of the text as it stands. Viewed in the light of Berlin’s analysis of parallelism, James 3:1-12 is particularly rich in poetic devices, and this suggests that in 3:6 poetic function overrides the requirements of normal syntax. A reading is proposed which arranges the verse in three balanced couplets and situates it in the overlap of two major groups of metaphors.

Matthew W. Mason
John Owen’s Doctrine of Union with Christ in Relation to His Contributions to Seventeenth Century Debates Concerning Eternal Justification

In 1649, Richard Baxter accused John Owen of teaching eternal justification, whereby the elect are justified from eternity, rather than when they believe in Christ. More recently, Hans Boersma has also argued that Owen taught justification prior to faith. Through an historical examination of Owen’s doctrines of justification and union with Christ, I demonstrate that he distinguishes various types of union with Christ: decretal, forensic, and mystical. He is thus able to maintain a mainstream Reformed Orthodox doctrine of justification by faith, whilst also maintaining that faith is a gift of God, purchased by Christ, and applied through Christ.

Matthew Roberts
Thinking Like a Christian: The Prolegomena of Herman Bavinck

This article outlines the main contours of Herman Bavinck’s Prolegomena. Bavinck’s insight was that theological method must be grounded in the substance of theology itself, specifically in its Trinitarian and covenantal aspects. Theology is to be understood as a critical part of the image of God, as he is reflected in the believing consciousness of men in the Church, in response to God’s revelation in Christ. This concept is tightly integrated with Bavinck’s central understanding of the gospel as God fulfilling his creation design in Christ. In this way Bavinck derives a robustly Christian account of knowledge and certainty.

Book Reviews

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (8/50) – The Way We Are

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the eighth of the fifty emails.

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
Lamech said to his wives,
‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.’
Genesis 4:19-24

Lamech typifies the contradiction of human existence. He enjoys God’s blessing of marriage… but with two women. And he uses his God-given creativity to compose lines of poetry… which boast of excessive revenge and murder. Yet he fathers three sons, one of whom grazes cattle, one of whom makes music, and one of whom works with metal. Even this family advances agriculture, arts and technology in fulfilment of the creation mandate.

The tension is no surprise to those who take seriously the goodness of God’s original design, but who also recognise that we no longer live in Eden. We still bear God’s image, though it is damaged; and the tasks of subduing and ruling remain, though they are distorted. All of which means we can be neither naively optimistic nor overly pessimistic about ourselves, others, or the things we turn our hands to – like agriculture and arts and technology – where we simultaneously demonstrate we are made in the image of God and yet act out our rebellion against him, our alienation from each other, and our exploitation of the created world.

In such a context – ‘east of Eden’ – sin does not destroy economics, but distorts it through selfishness and greed. Sin does not destroy sexuality, but diverts it down harmful paths. Sin does not destroy politics, but directs it to serve the interests of the powerful few. Small wonder that the two largest areas of our lives – work and family – can be a source of frustration as well as fulfilment, places of hurt as well as healing.

The disobedience of Eden bears fruit in disordered lives, and Genesis 4-11 describe how it spreads like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, moving through individuals to families to society to the whole of creation. And laced through these chapters, as God said it would be, is death.

It will take the next installment of the story to show us that human rebellion and failure is met by God’s grace, that God’s commitment to his world and to humanity stands firm, that the way we are is not necessarily the way we will always be.

For further reflection and action:

1. Where do you fall on the spectrum between ‘naively optimistic’ and ‘overly pessimistic’? How does it affect your daily life and relationships?

2. Think about something from the last few days where the tension of human existence in today’s world was evident – a film you watched, a task you did, a conversation you had. How might we distinguish between a ‘creational design’ from how something has been distorted by the parasitic nature of sin?

3. What does the Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9) tell us about ‘the way we are’?

4. Reflect on the significance of Matthew 18:22 where, echoing Lamech, Jesus commands extravagant forgiveness – ‘not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.

Immortal Honours Rest on Jesus’ Head

I had my formative Christian years in a tradition which sung hymns by William Gadsby (1773-1844), a hymn writer and pastor of a Strict Baptist Church in Manchester for 38 years. ‘Immortal honours’ is probably his most well-known hymn, and I never fail to be moved by its mixture of strong theology and deep personal piety.

Immortal honours rest on Jesus’ head,
My God, my portion, and my living bread.
In him I live, upon him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction and despair.

He is my refuge in each deep distress,
The Lord my strength and glorious righteousness.
Through floods and flames he leads me safely on,
And daily makes his sovereign goodness known.

My every need he richly will supply,
Nor will his mercy ever let me die.
In him there dwells a treasure all divine,
And matchless grace has made that treasure mine.

O that my soul could love and praise him more,
His beauties trace, his majesty adore;
Live near his heart, upon his bosom lean,
Obey his voice and all his will esteem.

William Gadsby (1773-1844)

Monday, 25 May 2009

Lauren F. Winner on Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Lauren F. Winner, ‘Terms of Engagement: Where Things Stand in Jewish-Christian Dialogue’, Books & Culture (May/June 2009).

Lauren Winner offers some reflections on the following three books:

Gustav Niebuhr, Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America (New York: Viking, 2008).

David Novak, Talking with Christians: Musings of a Jewish Theologian (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

Randi Rashkover and C.C. Pecknold (eds.), Liturgy, Time and the Politics of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

The books are the most recent of a substantial wave of interest over the last fifteen years or so among theologians (not to mention biblical scholars) on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, with a number of theologians being committed to dialogue to explore what an anti-supersessionist Christian theology might look like, and to see what Christianity and Judaism can learn from one another on how to speak about the God of Israel. This turn in theology is associated with Tikvah Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, Scott Bader-Saye, and Kendall Soulen, among others.

Winner notes that on Gustav Niebuhr’s account, interfaith encounters remain largely social – getting together to know one another better, and pursuing some common civic goal. One of the central questions, according to Niebhur, is ‘what does it mean to be different together?’ – thus raising explicit, though risky, theological conversation.

David Novak’s work gathers some fruits of his thirty-year engagement with Christians, with his central vision that when Jews talk about Christians and Christians talk about Jews, we do so by avoiding saying things that the other religion and its adherents and practitioners wouldn’t recognise. Though this appears somewhat obvious, Winner avers that it would have deep implications for how we speak about Judaism in the academy and the church, even down to avoiding talking about ‘the Jewish faith’ (which is tacitly Christianising)… Jewish people, sure… Jewish practice, great. But not Jewish faith. Novak’s guidelines, however, have tended to bracket points of disagreement that are specific to Judaism and Christianity, focusing on commonalities rather than discussing salvation, the identity of Christ, etc.

The collection of essays edited by Randi Rashkover and C.C. Pecknold ‘suggests that risky, theological engaged Jewish-Christian conversations may be possible when they emerge from our shared (though also different) practices’.

Winner concludes that Christians need to participate in these conversations ‘not out of some generalized pluralistic sense that diversity always enriches conversation (which may or may not be true), but out of a theologically particular sense that without Jewish conversation partners, Christians’ theological speech – that is, Christians’ claims about the God of Israel – risks hubris and possibly serious error’. Putting it more positively, ‘we need Jewish conversation partners to help us understand what we mean when we say that the Christological event is informed by the God who elected Israel’.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Bruce Hindmarsh on Charles Wesley (1707-88)

Bruce Hindmarsh, ‘And Can It Be? Charles Wesley Gets his Turn’, Books & Culture (May/June 2009).

Bruce Hindmarsh looks at a number of books which appeared during and in the wake of the tercentenary of Charles Wesley’s birth, which have helped to increase his profile, and in his own right, vis-à-vis his brother John.

Some of the volumes flow out of ongoing work on manuscripts which have never been prepared for publication, which has involved deciphering and translating Charles’ idiosyncratic shorthand. Hindmarsh wonders whether the flurry of material that has followed the recent anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and the critical editions of his work that have appeared may now stimulate a similar wave of scholarship on Charles Wesley.

In the picture that emerges from recent biographies, Hindmarsh identifies four turning points in Charles Wesley’s life:

• 1729 – when Charles was at Oxford, during which time he renewed his dedication to ideals of devotion of a high Anglican sort.

• 1736-1739 – when he passed through a period of crisis, experienced a conversion, and found his voice as an evangelist and poet and hymn writer. (By the time of his death, he had produced some 9,000 hymns or poems, roughly 27,000 stanzas or 180,000 lines – three times the output of Wordsworth.)

• 1747-49 – when he met, courted, and married Sarah Gwynne and began a happy period as a husband, father, and well-to-do householder (in contrast with his brother, John, with his itinerant ministry and unsuccessful marriage).

• 1756 – when he settled down as a local Methodist minister in Bristol and later (1771) in London.

In the works he reviews, Hindmarsh draws particular attention to some which show how Charles reflected the period in which he lived, how his hymns and poetry ‘dialogued’ with Scripture and the world of his time, and explore his contribution to trinitarian theology via his hymns…

Beyond our utmost thought,
And reason’s proudest flight,
We comprehend him not,
Nor grasp the infinite,
But worship in the Mystic Three
One God to all eternity.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Tony W. Cartledge on 1 and 2 Samuel in Literature

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 and 2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary 7 (Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2001).

The publishers make available online the Introduction to this volume as well as the comments on 1 Samuel 1.

In addition to covering the expected ground (the place of the book in the canon, its authorship and date of composition, its historical setting, interpretation and theological significance), Cartledge also devotes a section to ‘the Samuel Narratives in literature’ (19-21), noting that retellings are also remakings of the story as readers filter the biblical material through their own presuppositions and concerns.

David has appeared in literature as a ‘type’ – of Christ (e.g., in the early church fathers), of a penitent sinner (common in the Middle Ages), and of a model king (again, a feature of interpretation in the Middle Ages).

In 17th-century England, David was appealed to as the archetypal king by both sides in the Puritan-Royalist conflict.

The Renaissance and post-Renaissance periods saw an explosion of literature based on the books of Samuel, along with the sculptures of David by Donatello, Verocchio, and Michaelangelo, which celebrated his beauty and physical prowess.

The twentieth century saw a number of significant ‘rewritings’ of the Samuel narratives, including D.H. Lawrence’s play David (1926), William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), and Stefan Heym’s The King David Report (1973).

Cartledge notes that the materials are ‘uncommonly rich in suggestive themes, and readers continually “remake” the biblical stories to address modern-day concerns’ (21).

Friday, 22 May 2009

Christopher Ash on Consecutive Expository Preaching

Christopher Ash, Director of the Cornhill Training Scheme, has a nice piece in the June 2009 edition of Evangelicals Now, in which he outlines seven blessings of consecutive expository preaching.

1. Consecutive expository preaching safeguards God’s agenda against being hijacked by ours.

2. Consecutive expository preaching makes it harder for us to abuse the Bible by reading it out of context.

3. Consecutive expository preaching dilutes the selectivity of the preacher.

4. Consecutive expository preaching keeps the content of the sermon fresh and surprising.

5. Consecutive expository preaching makes for variety in style.

6. Consecutive expository preaching models good nourishing Bible reading for the ordinary Christian.

7. Consecutive expository preaching helps us preach the whole Christ from the whole of Scripture.

Francis of Assisi on Using Words When Necessary… Or Not

Mark Galli, ‘Speak the Gospel: Use Deeds When Necessary’ (Christianity Today, 21 May 2009).

‘Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.’

Allegedly an exhortation of Francis of Assisi, this is perhaps one of the most overused quotations currently doing the rounds.

Mark Galli offers a short piece arguing – what many have thought for a long time – that Francis didn’t say it or live it, and that its popularity says much more about the sensibilities of the present culture and age than about much else. He writes:

‘Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.’

‘How are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?’ (Romans 10:14)

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Michael Scott Horton on Jesus’ Ascension

Michael Scott Horton, ‘Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex’ (9Marks, November/December, 2007).

Today – 21 May 2009 – is Ascension Day…

Michael Scott Horton has written in several places about the significance of the ascension, including in the above essay from which I freely draw here.

The ascension, recorded by Luke (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11) often gets bound up with the resurrection rather than treated as an event in its own right. In fact, Jesus’ ascension opens up a stage within history that keeps us looking forward to his return.

In ascending, Jesus does not abandon history. On the contrary, arguably he redefines all that has gone before. The time that the church now occupies because of the ascension is defined neither by full presence nor full absence, but by a tension between ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’.

In such a situation, the church, as the body of Christ, can come to see itself as his visible and earthly replacement – his ‘incarnation’ on earth. In fact, however, Horton discourages such talk of the church being the continuing incarnation of Christ, the active agent of redemption, which completes the work that Christ came to accomplish.

The problem with the language of the church being ‘incarnational’, he holds, is that it risks depriving Christ of his specificity and uniqueness. His person and work becomes a ‘model’ or ‘vision’ for ecclesial action rather than a completed event to which the church bears witness.

Moreover, the substitution of the church for Christ’s incarnation and reconciling work risks distracting our attention from Christ’s parousia. The church needs to acknowledge Christ’s ‘absence’ as well as his presence. And this shapes the way we minister and engage in culture meanwhile, and what we might rightly expect as we do so, looking forward to the time when he returns in glory and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.

Meanwhile, we are called to increase in godliness through the ordinary means of grace in the church. And in our secular vocations we are called to ‘aspire to lead a quite life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside and that you may lack nothing’ (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Mary Evans on 1 and 2 Samuel

Mary Evans – teacher, friend and former colleague of mine at London School of Theology – has blessed us not with one commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel, but with two commentaries on 1 and 2 Samuel…

Mary J. Evans, 1 and 2 Samuel, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2000).

Hendrickson make available the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and the comments on chapters 1-2.

Mary J. Evans, The Message of Samuel: Personalities, Potential, Politics and Power, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: IVP, 2004).

IVP USA make available the Preface, the Introduction, and comments on chapters 1-4.

Mary sees ‘power’ as a concept that links the various stories in the books of Samuel. She writes:

‘Even though on the surface the narrative seems to be interested in those who are powerful, I would suggest that the writers imply that true power, which belongs only to God, lies outside of that human obsession. Human power is presented, in general, as a corrupting influence. We see this with Saul, with Joab, and even with David, all of whom are presented as men of great potential who are entrusted with great responsibilities but who, in different ways, are unable to cope with the trust laid upon them’ (1 and 2 Samuel, 9).

Mary has explored this theme across Scripture more generally in the following essay:

‘The Powerless Leader: A Biblical Ideal or a Contradiction in Terms?’, in Michael Parsons and David J. Cohen (eds.), On Eagles’ Wings: An Exploration of Strength in the Midst of Weakness (Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2008), 78-92.

Andrew Ryland on Driscoll and Keller on Missional Churches 2

Andrew Ryland, ‘Gospel, Church and Culture: The Vision for Missional Churches being Modelled by Driscoll and Keller and Their Networks’ (2007).

See here for an introduction to this paper outlining the relationship between…

• Gospel
• Culture, and
• Church

Ryland goes first to Mark Driscoll:

‘Reformission begins with a simple return to Jesus, who by grace saves us and sends us into mission. Jesus has called us to (1) the gospel (loving our Lord), (2) the culture (loving our neighbor), and (3) the church (loving our brother). But… various Christian traditions are faithful on only one or two of these counts. When we fail to love our Lord, neighbor, and brother simultaneously, we bury our mission in one of three holes’ (Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004], 20).

In terms of the relationship between the three elements, Driscoll comes up with the following equations:

Gospel + Culture – Church = Parachurch

Culture + Church – Gospel = Liberalism

Church + Gospel – Culture = Fundamentalism

• Parachurch – where Christians bypass the church and try to take the gospel directly to culture.

• Liberalism – where the desire to enculturate the gospel (using the language of therapy or success or felt needs) leads to compromise or abandonment of the gospel.

• Fundamentalism – where the church withdraws from culture, privatises faith, and reduces salvation to a personal transaction with God.

The ‘liberalism’ and ‘fundamentalism’ option can also be understood in terms of syncretism and sectarianism…

• Avoiding syncretism – the blending together of different philosophies, and the need to avoid being shaped by the culture.

• Avoiding sectarianism – seeing ourselves as an exclusive and superior group.

According to Ryland, both Keller and Driscoll adopt the label ‘missional’ to differentiate themselves from others who ‘do evangelism’ as one of their activities. A missional church is one where worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service is carried out in the light of the post-Christendom context.

In summary:

‘God’s church should embody his mission fully.

That means churches should aim to be more missional than parachurch agencies, more culturally engaged than liberal churches, and more gospel-shaped… than fundamentalist churches.

Such churches will be distinctively God’s people without being fundamentalist; they will be lovingly engaged in wider society without being liberal in theology. Such churches will be counter-cultural without being sectarian; they will be credible without being syncretistic.’

David G. Firth on Repetition in 1 Samuel 1–7

David G. Firth, ‘“Play It Again, Sam”: The Poetics of Narrative Repetition in 1 Samuel 1–7’, Tyndale Bulletin 56.1 (2005), 1-17.


‘A final form reading of 1 Samuel 1–7 is offered here, examining the narrative poetics of repetition and its relationship to complete and incomplete elements of plot. Five key repetitions are examined – monarchy, the authentic prophetic word, the fall of the house of Eli, YHWH’s independent reign and prefiguring allusions to Saul. Although the text undoubtedly makes use of sources, it is argued that it is considerably more than their sum as these elements are woven together into a coherent whole in a manner that prepares the reader for the issues that are to be addressed in subsequent narratives. In particular, the conflicts that surface in chapters 8–12 are seen to be within the frame of YHWH’s intentions since they are anticipated in these chapters. As with any good introduction, the reader is left waiting to see how it will develop.’

John Stott on Authority and Humility in Preaching

‘We shall be wise, in our preaching, neither to say “Thus says the Lord” (since we do not have the authority of an inspired Old Testament prophet) nor to declare “I say to you” (since we do not have the authority of Jesus Christ and his apostles), but rather, at least most of the time, to use the “we” form of address. For then it will be clear that we preach nothing to others which we do not also and first preach to ourselves, and that authority and humility are not mutually exclusive.

John R.W. Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982), 58.

Today’s daily thought from John Stott, a service provided by Langham Partnership International and John Stott Ministries.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Andrew Ryland on Driscoll and Keller on Missional Churches 1

Andrew Ryland, ‘Gospel, Church and Culture: The Vision for Missional Churches being Modelled by Driscoll and Keller and Their Networks’ (2007).

This is a helpful paper summarising the thinking and practice of Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller on issues surrounding the contextualisation of the gospel in today’s world.

According to Ryland, both Driscoll and Keller assume that Christendom has passed; gone is the time when it could be assumed that everyone’s mindset was shaped in some measure by the Christian worldview… and in the post-Christendom context, evangelism and discipleship need to change… but in the right way, in line with faithfulness to Scripture and the gospel.

With a nod to Calvin’s two types of knowledge (of God and ourselves) and John Stott’s ‘double listening’ (to the Word and the world), Ryland comes at Driscoll and Keller via a brief discussion of John Frame on three dimensions of knowledge – of God, ourselves, and the world:

‘Human knowledge can be understood in three ways: as knowledge of God’s norm, as knowledge of the situation, and as knowledge of ourselves. None can be achieved adequately without the others. Each, therefore, is a perspective on the whole of human knowledge’ (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1987], 75).

These three perspectives translate into three arenas:

1. How we relate to and know God (revealed in the gospel)
2. How we relate to and know our world (experienced as culture)
3. How we relate to and know ourselves as people called into God’s family (embodied as church)

In short – gospel, culture, and church.

More on this in a second post…

R.J. Berry on Creation and Evolution

R.J. Berry, ‘Creation and Evolution Not Creation or Evolution’, Faraday Paper No. 12 (2007).

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion makes available a number of helpful papers, including this one by R.J. (Sam) Berry. It prints out to four A4 pages, and is a model in concise expression of huge areas of thought.

Here’s the summary:

‘This paper argues that it is a misconception to oppose the concepts of creation and evolution. “Creation” is a theological term acknowledging the dependence of all that exists upon the authorship of the Creator. “Evolution” refers to our current understanding as to how God has brought biological diversity into being. Both accounts are required to do justice to what we as scientists observe.’

Monday, 18 May 2009

Calvin D. Redmond on Jesus as God’s Agent of Creation

Calvin D. Redmond, ‘Jesus: God’s Agent of Creation’, Andrews University Seminary Studies 42, 2 (2004), 287-303.

Redmond discusses the four main passages in the New Testament which speak of Jesus’ role in creation:

• 1 Corinthians 8:6
• Colossians 1:16
• Hebrews 1:2, 10
• John 1:3, 10

1 Corinthians 8:6
In the context of Paul’s discussion of meat offered to idols, ‘the supremacy of both God the Father and the Lord Jesus is demonstrated by the act of creation, in which God the Father was the source of all creation and Jesus was the agent by which God’s creative purpose was accomplished in creation’ (290).

Colossians 1:15-20
A hymnic passage which has two stanzas containing a number of parallels, where the first stanza speaks of Christ’s work in creation while the second describes his work in redemption. Jesus’ role in creation is found in 1:16, where ta panta is used (as it is in 1 Corinthians 8:6) to describe the things created. Jesus is, as Larry J. Helyer says, ‘the regent of creation, and the reconciler of creation’ (294).

Hebrews 1:2, 10
The first reference to the Son as agent of creation appears in a comparison between Jesus and the prophets, and is reinforced later in 1:10. Ta panta appears in 1:3 (already encountered in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Colossians 1:16), and ‘earth’ and ‘heavens’ appear in 1:10 (as they do in Colossians 1:16), showing ‘a conceptual and partial verbal parallel’ (297).

John 1:1-3
Once again, we see the use of panta (1:3). With the exception of John 1, all the other passages make a comparison between Jesus as agent of creation and other objects of veneration – unless John the Baptist is in mind here, when he is set in contrast to Jesus (299).


Redmond briefly discusses the implications of these references for…

• Apologetics – providing ‘a contrast between Jesus and other beings that might be revered or worshiped… by pointing to the superiority of Christ as demonstrated by his work in creation’ (301).

• Wisdom christology – with the language of creation drawing on wisdom traditions and applied to Jesus.

• Indication of early christology? – seen possibly in the similarities in form in the passages.

• Contemporary application – perhaps especially pertinent in places where ‘an animistic worldview honors departed ancestors, as well as spirits of rivers, fields, trees, and so on’ (302) and thus where an understanding of the cosmic Christ might be significant.

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (7/50) – The Fruit of Fruit-Eating

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the seventh of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:8

Milton, in the opening lines of his magnificent epic poem Paradise Lost, announces his intention to proclaim:

‘…man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe.’

Paradise lost, indeed. Inexorably, the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin unfold. First, the new sensations of shame and fear. Next, self-justification and mutual recrimination. Shame and fear towards God; recrimination towards each other. And thus, in a few masterful verses, the writer of Genesis records the breakdown of these two key relationships.

The banishment of Adam and Eve from the garden now seems inevitable. Gone is the intimacy in which they could relate to the Creator. Worse still, perhaps, the prospect of their eating from the tree of life and thus living for ever is now unthinkable. The expulsion symbolises the gulf that from that moment onwards stood between humans and God – God who is the source of life. ‘The wages of sin is death.’

But the tragedy doesn’t stop with the humans. The whole created order was in some way implicated.

The pain of childbirth, male domination, inhospitable land and toilsome work – things that still dominate human experience here on earth – all of these, and many other ways in which the world has fallen from the perfection of its creation – all are presented here as the result of the humans’ initial rebellion. ‘All our woe’, wrote Milton, blind, twice widowed and politically disillusioned.

Thus we see in the Old Testament recurring cycles of disobedience and idolatry, hatred, pride and corruption; and in the wider world, to this very day, human history has been bedevilled by greed, ambition, cruelty, injustice, oppression, the misdirection of sexuality, the corruption of creativity and the destruction of the environment.

Easy as it is to bewail the state of the world, we must all acknowledge, too, that these destructive things run through every human heart – through yours and mine.

Our first legacy is the image of God. Superimposed upon it – but not obliterating it – is the legacy of sin. But, as Milton goes on to remind us, the victory of sin could continue only:

‘till one greater Man
Restore us and regain the blissful seat’.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. ‘Inhospitable land and toilsome work’: do we often feel that this describes our daily experience? Can we try this week to replace such negative feelings with gratitude?

2. It’s easy to see the faults of others, or of our culture. How far do we allow the world to ‘squeeze us into its mould’? (Romans 12:2, J.B.Phillips’ paraphrase)

3. Try to encourage someone this week, who is struggling with a difficult situation at work, or a broken relationship.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 4

[This is the fourth of twelve posts outlining a number of streams in the current interest in theological interpretation, paying particular attention to recent treatments. For earlier introductions to theological interpretation, see here, here, and here.]

#1 – Its uneasy relationship with historical criticism

#2 – Its disputed overlap with biblical theology

#3 – Its natural affinity with precritical interpretation

#4 – Its noteworthy exemplar in Karl Barth

If precritical interpretation has provided a fertile field in which to engage, nearer in time to contemporary scholars, Karl Barth (1886-1968) has proved to be significant as a ‘pioneer of theological criticism’ (Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice [Nottingham: Apollos, 2008], 14-20. See also Angus Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics and 1 Thessalonians, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 133 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 10). As part of the massive renaissance of interest in Barth more generally has gone an interest in Barth’s hermeneutics.

[Select significant treatments include: Richard E. Burnett, Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis: The Hermeneutical Principles of the Römerbrief Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004); M.K. Cunningham, What is Theological Exegesis? Interpretation and Use of Scripture in Barth’s Doctrine of Election (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1995), and ‘Karl Barth’, in Justin S. Holcomb (ed.), Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 183-201; David F. Ford, ‘Barth’s Interpretation of the Bible’, in S.W. Sykes (ed.), Karl Barth: Studies of his Theological Method (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 55-87; David Paul Henry, The Early Development of the Hermeneutic of Karl Barth as Evidenced By His Appropriation of Romans 5:12-21, NABPR Dissertation Series 5 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1985); Werner G. Jeanrond, ‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutics’, in Nigel Biggar (ed.), Reckoning With Barth: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of Karl Barth’s Birth (London: Mowbray, 1988), 80-97; Eberhard Jüngel, Karl Barth, A Theological Legacy, trans. Garrett E. Paul (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986), 70-82; Paul McGlasson, Jesus and Judas: Biblical Exegesis in Barth, American Academy of Religion Academy Series 72 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1991); Charles J. Scalise, ‘Canonical Hermeneutics: Childs and Barth’, Scottish Journal of Theology 47, 1 (1994), 61-88; Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘A Person of the Book? Barth on Biblical Authority and Interpretation’, in Sung Wook Chung (ed.), Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2006), 26-59; Mark I. Wallace, ‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic: A Way Beyond the Impasse’, Journal of Religion 68, 3 (1988), 396-410; ‘The World of the Text: Theological Hermeneutics in the Thought of Karl Barth and Paul Ricoeur’, Union Seminary Quarterly Review 41, 1 (1986), 1-15, and more fully in The Second Naiveté: Barth, Ricoeur, and the New Yale Theology, Studies in American Biblical Hermeneutics 6 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1990); Donald Wood, ‘“Ich sah mit Staunen”: Reflections on the Theological Substance of Barth’s Early Hermeneutics’, Scottish Journal of Theology 58, 2 (2005), 184-98, and Barth’s Theology of Interpretation, Barth Studies (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007). See also Bruce L. McCormack, ‘The Significance of Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis of Philippians’, and Francis B. Watson, ‘Barth’s Philippians as Theological Exegesis’, in Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians: 40th Anniversary Edition, trans. James W. Leitch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), v-xxv and xxvi-li.]

Much of the attention focuses on Barth’s early work, particularly his 1917 lecture ‘Die neue Welt in der Bibel’ and the preface to the first two editions of Der Römerbrief (1919 and 1922). In the former, he says:

‘The Bible tells us not how we should talk with God but what he says to us; not how we find the way to him, but how he has sought and found the way to us; not the right relation in which we must place ourselves to him, but the covenant which he has made with all who are Abraham’s spiritual children and which he has sealed once and for all in Jesus Christ. It is this which is within the Bible. The word of God is within the Bible.’

[Karl Barth, ‘The Strange New World Within the Bible’, in The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935), 28-50, here 43.]

With reference to Barth’s commentary on Romans, Wood notes that ‘describing the engagement of the contemporary reader with scripture in terms drawn from the text itself, Barth makes a distinctive and still relevant contribution to [the] church’s attempt to account for its reading practices’ (Wood, ‘Reflections’, 184).

That so much of Barth’s exegesis takes place in the context of the Church Dogmatics demonstrates the interdependency between exegesis and doctrine in his theology (cf. McGlasson, Jesus and Judas, 79). Cunningham (What is Theological Exegesis?) notes that Karl Barth ‘practices a kind of theological exegesis that exemplifies this impasse between technical exegetes and constructive theologians’ (11), where his handling of texts is driven by theological commitments (78). It also makes it difficult to provide an easy systematisation of his hermeneutics.

David Ford offers an approach to Barth which sees as key his handling of the biblical narrative, with the story of Jesus as the centre of Scripture through which other passages gain their meaning.

[Ford, ‘Barth’s Interpretation of the Bible’, and more fully in his Barth and God’s Story: Biblical Narrative and the Theological Method of Karl Barth in The ‘Church Dogmatics’, Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity 27 (Frankfurt: Verlag Peter Lang, 1985). David Bosworth, ‘Revisiting Karl Barth’s Exegesis of 1 Kings 13’, Biblical Interpretation 10, 4 (2002), 360-83 notes that Barth offered a ‘naive’ holistic reading of the text at a time dominated by studies more interested in separating the text into alleged sources.]

Whilst not denying the significance of narrative, McGlasson refers to the ‘enormous variety that one notices immediately upon reading the biblical exegesis in any one volume of the Church Dogmatics’ (Jesus and Judas, 8). McGlasson himself maintains that ‘witness’ is as close a description of Barth’s biblical exegesis that one can get (Jesus and Judas, 11-46), and that ‘if one is to isolate for consideration a single tendency more prominent than others it would be the tendency toward Christocentric exegesis’ (Jesus and Judas, 47, and see 47-78). Historical critics offer preliminary investigation of the text, but (for Barth) exegesis involves reading the Bible on its own terms and comprehending the subject matter of the text, that to which it bears witness – God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Small wonder, then, that he has become an important exemplar of theological interpretation; as Wallace notes:

‘Barth’s theological hermeneutic points us beyond the cul-de-sac that results from regarding historical criticism and literary analysis in isolation from a thoroughgoing theological use of Scripture’ (Wallace, ‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic’, 397).

Barth’s exegesis has been described as postcritical, belonging to ‘a postcritical period, in which Scripture can be read naively again’.

[Wallace, ‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic’, 401, referring to Rudolf Smend, ‘Nachkritische Schriftauslegung’, in Eberhard Busch (ed.), Parrhesia: Karl Barth zum achtzigsten Geburtstag (Zürich: EVZ Verlag, 1966), 215-37, at 218. See also Ford, Barth and God’s Story, 51.]

In fact, although Barth showed the limits of historical-critical study for a more theological exegesis, historical criticism was not completely set aside.

[See, e.g., Bruce McCormack, ‘Historical Criticism and Dogmatic Interest in Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis of the New Testament’, in Mark S. Burrows and Paul Rorem (eds.), Biblical Hermeneutics in Historical Perspective: Studies in Honor of Karlfried Froehlich on His Sixtieth Birthday (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 322-38; Wallace, ‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic’, 397-402.]

The issue is whether ‘some dogmatic interests might not be more suitable and appropriate for New Testament exegesis than others’ (McCormack, ‘Historical Criticism and Dogmatic Interest’, 324). Historical study remains an initial stage of exegesis; but it takes place under some controlling interest, and it is important to be self-conscious about those interests, and to place oneself under the teaching of the church and its creeds and confessions which have come about as a result of tested reading (McCormack, ‘Historical Criticism and Dogmatic Interest’, 337).

Interestingly, Wallace detects an affinity between Barth’s antihistoricist hermeneutic and literary approaches to biblical texts (‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic’, 402-408).

‘For Barth, the storied world of the Bible is not simply one world amidst a plurality of other literary worlds; as the Word of God written, it is the divinely chosen textual environment within which God in Christ through the Spirit is actively present to the reader today’ (‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic’, 405).

Even this, however, remains in the service of theological hermeneutics; just as he questioned historicist assumptions, so he would question the textualist assumptions of contemporary critics (‘Karl Barth’s Hermeneutic’, 405-407).

Studies on Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) show him emerging as another significant exemplar of theological exegesis.

[See, e.g., Jason Bourgeois, ‘Balthasar’s Theodramatic Hermeneutics: Trinitarian and Ecclesial Dimensions of Scriptural Interpretation’, in Carol J. Dempsey and William P. Loewe (eds.), Theology and Sacred Scripture, College Theology Society Annual Volume 47 (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), 125-34; W.T. Dickens, Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics: A Model for Post-Critical Biblical Interpretation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), and more briefly ‘Hans Urs von Balthasar’, in Holcomb (ed.), Christian Theologies of Scripture, 202-19, and ‘Balthasar’s Biblical Hermeneutics’, in Edward T. Oakes and David Moss (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 175-86. See also Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 307-22.]

Like Barth, his work is particularly significant in demonstrating a connection with the concerns of Hans Frei. Both Balthasar’s and Frei’s retrieval of precritical interpretation was not hopelessly naive, but part of a larger post-critical project where biblical interpretation functions ‘to nurture and sustain the capacity of Christians to understand themselves and their world in terms of the stories, concepts, and images of the Bible’ (Dickens, Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics, 235-36, and see 4-11). Drawn to the Scriptures and patristics as his main sources of theological reflection, Balthasar was also influenced by the work of his teacher, Henri de Lubac, and was committed to the revival of a sensus fidelium (Dickens, Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics, 10-17, 20-22).

‘For Balthasar, exegesis is a theological activity, and theology can be done only within the Church of believers… [T]he exegete cannot adopt a neutral position that brackets off the questions of faith and theology: his researches must be “committed”.’

[Brian McNeil, ‘The Exegete as Iconographer: Balthasar and the Gospels’, in John Riches (ed.), The Analogy of Beauty: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), 134-46, here 139. See further John Riches, ‘Von Balthasar as Biblical Theologian and Exegete’, New Blackfriars 79, 923 (1998), 38-45.]

Scripture is most appropriately read from a perspective of faith, in the context of the church, in dependence on the Spirit. Scripture is self-interpreting in that its various parts are interrelated and illumine each other, and with an expectation, without succumbing to hermeneutical relativism, of the Bible as having multiple meanings, all of which, however, are focused on Christ (see Bourgeois, ‘Balthasar’s Theodramatic Hermeneutics’, 125-33; Dickens, ‘Balthasar’s Biblical Hermeneutics’, 179-83). Beyond this, obedience to God is the goal and purpose of biblical interpretation.

Increased attention in this respect might also be usefully paid to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).

[See, e.g., Brian Brock, Singing the Ethos of God: On the Place of Christian Ethics in Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 71-95; Stephen E. Fowl and L. Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life, Biblical Foundations in Theology (London: SPCK, 1991), 135-64; Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theological Interpretation of Scripture for the Church’, Ex Auditu 17 (2001), 1-30; John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Christian Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), 87-110 (‘Reading the Bible: The Example of Barth and Bonhoeffer’), and Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Current Issues in Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 78-85; Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics, 274-322.]

Like Barth, Bonhoeffer refuses to identify ‘objectivity’ with method: ‘the Wissenschaftlichkeit of exegesis is its orientation to Scripture as the church’s book, that is, a text which has its place in that sphere of human life and history which is generated by God’s revelation’ (Webster, Word and Church, 100). Moreover, ‘theological exegesis construes Scripture as a unified whole, and defines that coherence Christologically’ (Webster, Word and Church, 100). With Calvin, both Barth and Bonhoeffer emphasise the need to be subordinate to Scripture. Holy Scripture is the voice of the living God, and demands submission and obedience. Webster summarises Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutics thus:

‘First, hermeneutical and methodological questions are at best of secondary importance in the interpretation of Scripture. The real business is elsewhere, and it is spiritual, and therefore dogmatic… Second, it is therefore true that a fittingly Christian hermeneutics “requires the formation and transformation of the character appropriate to Christian disciples”… Third, the chief task of Christian theology is exegesis The reason for that is devastatingly simple: “Jesus Christ as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture is the one Word of God”’ (Webster, Word and Church, 109-10, citing Fowl and Jones, Reading in Communion, 1).

The real difficulty in reading Scripture is frequently spiritual and moral: ‘it is our refusal as sinners to be spoken to, our wicked repudiation of the divine address, our desire to speak the final word to ourselves. From these sicknesses of the soul, no amount of sophistication can heal us’ (Webster, Word and Church, 109).

Joyce Baldwin on 1 and 2 Samuel

Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: IVP, 2008).

IVP have been slowly reissuing the Tyndale commentaries (Old and New Testament) in a new format. IVP USA make available the Introduction to the volume on 1 and 2 Samuel, written by Joyce Baldwin (first published in 1988).

The blurb on the UK website reads:

‘The stories of Samuel, Saul and David are among the most memorable in the Old Testament. Yet the lives of these individuals are bound up in the larger story of God’s purpose for his people. Looking beyond the well-known surface of these stories, Joyce Baldwin explores the meaning of the biblical history of Israel’s vital transition from a confederation of tribes to nationhood under a king. This commentary provides an excellent introduction to the critical issues of authorship, date, composition and structure of Samuel, as well as an able discussion of its theological themes.’

When it comes to the theology of the books, Baldwin notes three chapters which stand out as ‘markers’, characterised by their interpretation of historical changes taking place in the structure of Israel’s leadership structure – 1 Samuel 7, 1 Samuel 12, and 2 Samuel 7 – chapters in which a prophet expounds the divine word for each stage of the crisis through which the people of God are passing.

1 Samuel 7
‘The day came when Samuel, in his capacity as the Lord’s spokesman, intervened by calling for an acknowledgment of apostasy. Samuel’s order of priorities was first that the Israelites should put matters right between themselves and the Lord by serving only the one covenant God’ (37).

1 Samuel 12
‘In view of the repeated demand for a monarchy in Israel, a king had been appointed and proclaimed (1 Sam. 9–11). Samuel’s role must therefore change, and in a public declaration he clarifies the situation’ (38).

2 Samuel 7
‘This important chapter lays the foundation for the Davidic dynasty’ (39).

Friday, 15 May 2009

Walter Brueggemann on 1 and 2 Samuel (2)

Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990).

The books of Samuel present the transformation of Israel from a ‘marginal company of tribes’ to a ‘centralized state’. Judges witnesses to ‘an amorphous and unstable tribal mode of life, easily open to religious idolatry, syncretism, and political and military barbarism’, whereas 1 Kings attests to ‘a centralized political power that pursued an economic monopoly and claimed theological legitimacy for the new institution of monarchy’, and the books of Samuel ‘occupy the transition point between these two social and political systems’ (1).

Brueggemann suggests that three factors are at work in this transition: (1) the influence of political power, social pressure, and technological possibility; (2) the transition wrought through the extraordinary personality of David; (3) Yahweh, the God of Israel (1-2).

The books of Samuel speak about ‘the tension, overlap, juxtaposition, and convergence of these three forces’ – the sociological, personal, and theological (2).

‘I submit that the main challenge is to interpret this narrative with attention to all three elements of political and social realism, the peculiar power of David, and the inscrutable presence of Yahweh’ (3).

Against an excessively ‘historical’ reading of the books and an excessively ‘theological’ reading of the books, Brueggemann suggests that ‘an artistic reading that follows the contours of the narrative is not only faithful to the intended convergences of the text concerning realism, David, and Yahweh but is peculiarly required in our cultural situation of brute power and monopolistic certitude’ (5).

He points particularly to the power of speech in the narratives, and hopes that a return to the text will ‘evoke a fresh discernment of life as a place where the power of speaking and listening matters to God and to us’ (6).

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Paul Mills on the Bible and Money

Paul Mills, The Bible and Money: Managing One’s Money in the End Times (Jubilee Centre, May 2009).

The Jubilee Centre has made available a 25-page eight-week Bible study course designed to help develop a biblical understanding of money and how we should use it. It covers the following topics.

1. Possessions and money – who does the possessing?

• God’s ownership – whose money is it anyway?
• Materialism, asceticism, Prosperity Gospel – how not to view money.
• Eternal priorities: what to use money for – the Kingdom, relationships, contentment.

Practical applications: living out God’s ownership; establishing financial goals.

2. Stewardship – for whom, for what, and when?

• The meaning and implications of stewardship. Responsibilities within marriage and family.
• Time – what assumptions about the future do we live by?

Practical applications: budgeting basics; living within a budget; money in marriage and family.

3. Giving – the real investment

• Principles for giving – attitude; the spiritual battle of giving.
• The status of ‘tithing’ in the New Testament? How much to give?

Practical applications: how to prioritise giving; giving and tax; deciding whom to give to.

4. Borrowing, lending, and debt – true ‘freedom’?

• Debt as a serious obligation and financial ‘slavery’. Relational lending.
• Charging and paying interest – what does the Bible really say?

Practical applications: practical decisions over borrowing (e.g., mortgage vs. renting); coping with debt problems; how to become debt-free.

5. Saving and insurance – what does the future hold?

• Should Christians save? If so, for what purposes?
• Providing for dependents – savings or life insurance?

Practical applications: how to save prudently; lifecycle saving; how much is ‘enough’?

6. Investments and gambling – where should God’s money go?

• What to invest in and how? When does saving become hoarding? Ethical investment.
• Attitudes to risk and work – gambling; investment.

Practical applications: the basics of stock investment; how to invest ethically; coping with gambling addiction.

7. Tax, pensions, and estate planning – when the end is nigh?

• The legitimacy of tax? What form should it take?
• Motives for pension saving and leaving a legacy.

Practical applications: making a will; filling in the tax form.

8. Church finances – nine marks of a healthy church budget

• The financial goals of the church; selection and accountability of officeholders.
• Stewardship of resources; adequate pay of staff.

Practical applications: setting a church budget; church borrowing?; financial member care.

Commentaries on 1 and 2 Samuel

As part of a larger project, reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible, Jeremy Pierce (who blogs at Parableman), offers some helpful summary observations and reflections on commentaries on 1 and 2 Samuel here.

Jerram Barrs on Christianity and Culture

Courtesy of Christian Heritage, below are the headline points from some notes of lectures on Christianity and culture, given by Jerram Barrs in 2003.

Lecture 1: General Principles

Introduction: A Definition of Culture
‘The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population’ (Readers’ Digest).

‘The concepts, habits, skills, art, instruments, institutions, etc. of a given people in a given period’ (Webster Unabridged).

1. Affirmation
All cultures reveal the image of God, for culture is the expression of dominion.

2. Sober Realism
All cultures reflect the reality of the fall.

3. Warning
All cultures express the religious commitments of the human heart.

4. Challenge
All need to let Scripture sit in judgment, not only over our personal sins, but also over our cultures.

5. Transformation
Cultures are to be transformed by the faith and obedience of believers.

Lecture 2: Principles of Operation

1. Non-Identification
Never identify a particular culture as truly Christian.

2. Humility
The importance of personal humility.

3. Identity
Find your identity primarily in your relationship with Christ, and in your membership in the kingdom of God, rather than in your own culture.

4. Appreciation
Be committed to enter into another culture and to express appreciation for and enjoyment of its glories

5. Incarnation
Work at personally adopting cultural practices wherever possible.

6. Bridges
Search and pray for the wisdom to discern what in the culture may be used as bridges for the gospel.

7. Counting the Cost
What must you clearly not do, even if is an important part of a culture's way of life, and even though your refusal to participate may bring discredit on you and, perhaps, on the gospel?

8. A Sharp Sword
Never sheathe the cutting edge of the gospel which condemns certain cultural ideas and practices.

9. Hardness of Heart
Recognition of the hardness of the human heart will shape the way we challenge the problem areas of a culture.

10. Cultural Embodiment
Encourage new believers to express their Christian faith in the forms of their own culture.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on ‘Aesthetic’ Theology

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘A Lamp in the Labyrinth: The Hermeneutics of “Aesthetic” Theology’, Trinity Journal 8 (1987), 25-56.

[Another early essay from Vanhoozer, showing many of the seeds that would bear fruit in his later work. Some lengthy summary notes follow...]


‘What I am calling “aesthetic theology” may be roughly defined as that theology which focuses on the Bible’s literary form or shape to the exclusion of the author and historical context’ (25).

Imagination, metaphor, and art have been increasingly prominent in titles of books on theology. The tide has been turning from historical criticism to literary criticism, and the turn to the aesthetic has been joined by a turn to language, such that language itself has become an ‘object of contemplation’ (25).

‘Rather than a lamp which makes one’s way in the world easier, language is viewed by many today as a labyrinth in which one loses one’s way, or worse yet, leads to nowhere’ (26).

The aesthetic object is ‘judged by virtue of its beauty, form, or shape’, and ‘is to be contemplated in its organic wholeness, cut off from questions about its original situation and the circumstances of its production’ (26). This means that ‘the text is cut off from its author, and from its author’s “author-ity”’ (27).

Moreover, ‘whole theologies are viewed as self-contained works of art, each displaying its own order and demanding to be evaluated on its own merits’ (27). And there are few criteria for judging such ‘works of art’.

‘My plan… is straightforward. In the first section I consider the fate of the author in contemporary hermeneutics… I survey in subsequent sections the aesthetic turn as it has affected philosophy, history, literary criticism, and finally, theology… I then consider a Christian view of language and literature under the heading aesthetics or ethics, and offer a theory of language and literature that preserves the strengths of aesthetic hermeneutics while restoring the author to his rightful place’ (27).

1. Reformation hermeneutics and the fate of the author
Vanhoozer discusses Hirsch’s view on authorial intention and some of his critics (Lentricchia, Palmer, Eagleton).

2. The aesthetic turn in philosophy: from Kant to Derrida
Why has the author fallen on hard times?

• The Kantian heritage – the aesthetic turn can be located in Kant’s copernican revolution which claimed that ‘knowledge does not conform to objects but objects conform to our knowledge’ (31, n. 26). His Critique of Pure Reason limits our ability to know the world as it is in itself; the mind is programmed to see in a certain way. This means that ‘language can no longer be regarded as a window to the world, a lamp which lights up the real’. ‘The mind, and language, do not mirror the world, but partly construct it’ (32). In his Critique of Judgment, Kant ‘paves the way for a distinction between descriptive and poetic language’ (32). In his third Critique, Kant sets aesthetics ‘in an autonomous realm of its own’, establishing ‘an autonomous aesthetic realm in order to distinguish aesthetic judgments from other types of judgments, and in order to have a means to speak about that which is beyond knowledge and experience’ (32).

• German idealism and romanticism – for Schiller, humans are unique because only they can experience beauty (34). Aesthetic attitudes lead to freedom and play. In England, Coleridge took up Kant’s ideas on the imagination. ‘Characteristic of Romantic thought is a dualism between poetic and ordinary or scientific language’ (33, n. 33).

• Nietzsche – ‘Given the absence of God, it is up to man to give form to the world – to “aestheticize” it’ (34).

• Heidegger – ‘In his later work, Heidegger explored the ways in which poetry “shows” what cannot be conveyed by propositions. With Neitzsche, Heidegger criticizes the attempt to “objectivize” Being by capturing it in propositional language and manipulating it with conceptual categories. Form must not be imposed upon Being; rather, Being must disclose itself. And it is in Art, particularly poetry, that Heidegger believes Being comes to light’ (36).

• Derrida – with Derrida comes ‘the end of Western metaphysics’, and ‘a sustained attack on the author-ity of the author’ (37). Language refers only to itself; there is no fixed point. ‘The death of the author liberates human creativity… makes the creature the Creator’, and ‘we are free to interpret texts and the world playfully’ (39). There are no facts, only interpretations.

3. The aesthetic turn in history: from Nietzsche to Hayden White
The rhetorical nature of historiography is being noticed.

• Nietzsche on the use and abuse of history – historiography is an expression of the will to power. We should cast off the shackles of the past.

• Roland Barthes: the ‘discourse’ of history – histories are forms of literature, a discourse, with a rhetorical character.

• Hayden White: the ‘poetics’ of history – ‘White’s working hypothesis is that historical narratives are verbal fictions which make sense of experience in the same way as do novels and other fictional works’ (41-42).

‘In choosing to tell a history in one way rather than another, the historian performs an essentially “poetic” act. White makes an important distinction between the events of the story, the story itself, and the plot. The same event – say, the death of a king – may be a beginning, a middle, or an end in three different stories. But White makes the further distinction and says that the same story may have different plots. By “plot” White means the kind of story the historian tells… White borrows the kinds of stories the historian can tell, significantly enough, from the field of literary criticism. A story may be made into four different types of plot: Romance, Tragedy, Comedy, and Satire. The death of a king, for example, may be a Tragedy or a great Romance – it all depends on the meaning the historians sees in the story’ (42).

The historian thus chooses how to ‘emplot’ his story: ‘Providing the “meaning” of a story by identifying the kind of story that has been told is called explanation by emplotment.’ [Hayden White, Metahistory: Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 7.]

‘How a given historical situation is to be configured depends on the historian’s subtlety in matching up a specific plot-structure with the set of historical events that he wishes to endow with a meaning of a particular kind. This is essentially a literary, that is to say, fiction-making, operation.’ [Hayden White, ‘The Historical Text as Literary Artifact’ in Robert H. Canary and Henry Kozicki (eds.), The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding (University of Wisconsin 1978), 48.]

A chronicle is a series of events but when it is made into a story with a plot, historiography comes under the domain of poiesis, and can be seen as an allegory. ‘The meaning of a set of events bestowed by the plot could never be produced by a literal representation of these events. Historical narrative is the projection onto the facts of the plot-structure of a literary form’ (42).

4. The aesthetic turn in literary criticism

• New criticism – the poem is a ‘verbal icon’. The unity of literature is emphasised.

• Structuralist criticism – like New Criticism, focuses on the text as it stands rather than the author’s intention or the historical context. The goal is to make explicit the underlying ‘grammar’ of literature. The author is overshadowed by the literary codes which are ‘the real determiners of meaning’ (44).

• Post-structuralism – a response (a group of responses) to structuralism, ‘structuralism without an ordering center’ (45). For Iser, readers fill the gaps of indeterminacy in their own way. Jauss rejects the idea of a text having a single objective meaning, even though the text contains objective features. Literary history is a history of the reactions of readers to texts. The response of the reader is a fusion of the reader’s horizons and the objective features of the text. For Fish, the reader is a member of an interpretive community which shapes what and how he or she reads. In some cases, interpretations are constructed only to be knocked down again. ‘The text is an aesthetic playground only when no author is there to superintend the play. For man to play, for man to realize his creative freedom, the Author must die’ (47).

5. Aesthetic theology: the Bible as ‘text’
The Bible is being used as an ‘aesthetic object, cut off from its original situation and from the authority of its author’ (47). We should applaud the emphasis on the unity of the text, the structures and patterns of a work. We should also acknowledge that our interpretations are provisional; we are finite and limited.

• Parables and metaphors – parables can be seen as aesthetic objects, and have been treated as such in scholarship, but the trouble comes ‘when the parables are taken to be paradigmatic for all biblical literature’ (48-49). Ricoeur possibly falls into this trap in his treatment of biblical hermeneutics, when he ‘extends the metaphorical nature of the parables to all religious language’ (49).

• The hermeneutics of ‘aesthetic’ theology: the religious ‘classic’ – David Tracy is an exemplar of aesthetic theology. Taking account of the pluralistic context in which he does theology, he sees Christianity as a particular expression of a universal truth. ‘Tracy’s book has for its thesis that all “classics,” both religious and secular, reveal truth in an analogous way. “Classics” are works that “so disclose a compelling truth about our lives that we cannot deny them some kind of normative status”’ (50). The Bible is the ‘classic’ of Christianity, and the stories and symbols in the Bible more adequately express ‘Christian fact’ than do doctrines. The power of the gospels (for instance) does not depend on events actually happening, but on the power of great art, or a great story. ‘The story of Jesus has the power to disclose truth and transform lives, regardless of whether or not it happened. For what is important is the meaning of the story. In Tracy’s pluralist context, the meaning of the Christian classic is the same as that of all the other classics: life is trustworthy’ (50). But the problem for aesthetic theology ‘is to account for the indispensability of the historical Jesus’ (51-52).

6. Toward a theology of language and literature: aesthetics or ethics?
The death of the author permits us to consider the text as an autonomous object onto which we may project our own interpretations. The death of the author is also related to the death of the Author (52).

‘The Christian theologian must affirm that an interpretation of the world which wilfully ignores the Creator is a hermeneutics of rebellion… I would like to suggest that we view language not as the creation of human beings, but rather as the gift of God. Our language is not our own, not something merely to be played with. Rather, language is a privilege and responsibility… As privilege and responsibility, the major category for language and literature should not be aesthetics but ethics’ (53).

Wilful misunderstanding of a text ‘is somehow guilty of doing violence to the author’. ‘Purpose to misinterpret an author seems akin to disrespect, a kind of semantic rape’ (53).

7. The return of the author: speech acts
Speech act theory is ‘admirably suited to meet our call for an ethics of language and literature’ (54). Searle treats language as a kind of action, which brings it under the domain of ethics; he also demolishes the barrier between ‘ordinary’ and ‘poetic’ language, and offers a revised notion of intentionality which escapes the criticisms levelled against Hirsch.

Searle distinguishes three components of a speech act: ‘the locution is the actual utterance; the “illocution” is what one does in saying something; the perlocution is the effect the saying has on one’s hearers’ (54). Searle proposes ‘that the speaker or author enacts his intention by invoking a convention that signals his intent’ (54). We signal our intention of thanking someone by saying ‘thank you’. We may need to know the context to understand the act; if I shout ‘fire’, it helps to know whether I’m defending a castle or warning an audience to flee the cinema (cf. 54-55).

‘If a text is a speech act, it seems as far-fetched to separate an author from his language and literature as it does an agent from his action. The author “belongs” to his text. He is responsible for his illocutionary acts. Author-ity designates the right – indeed, the obligation – of the author to be held responsible for his speech act. And if the author is accountable for this speech act, surely the reader is responsible for treating the author in a way that he deserves. Wilfully to misinterpret a text is akin to attributing an action to the author that he did not commit’ (55).

8. Conclusion
‘The moral of this study is that theologians should participate in the interdisciplinary discussions concerning textual meaning and truth’ (55).

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (6/50) – How Could They?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the sixth of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Genesis 3:6

However we interpret the first three chapters of Genesis, they teach profound theological truth which is fundamental to our understanding of our faith.

The core sin of Adam and Eve was, of course, their disobedience to God’s explicit command, ‘you must not eat from the tree’. It was both a transgression – the crossing of a forbidden frontier – and thus, inevitably, a revolt against God. The prohibition represented a limitation on the behaviour of people who were otherwise given extraordinary freedom to explore and exploit God’s creation; and an assertion, in the enjoyment of that freedom, of the ultimate authority of God.

There’s a widespread belief outside the church that Christianity is a very negative religion – human freedom being curtailed at every turn by ‘thou shalt not… thou shalt not’. But, perhaps surprisingly, negative commands give more freedom than positive ones. Thus, rather than giving Adam and Eve handbooks on pruning or sex (‘now this is exactly what to do’), God gave them the liberty to find out for themselves how to do things, and the joy of making their own discoveries.

This included, of course, the liberty to make mistakes. The transgression, however, was more than a mistake: they could hardly have turned to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, so sorry, we forgot’. They thought they knew better than God, and made a conscious choice.

It seems almost incredible that Adam and Eve, among the lavish gifts of the creation (yet to be explored), their wills not yet corrupted by sin, should have succumbed to the seductions of one of those very creatures over whom Adam had been given authority. But succumb they did.

And that ‘original sin’, committed by the parents of the human race, was passed on, like a hereditary disease, throughout that race. Humanity, as Psalm 51 reminds us, has borne its stain ever since: ‘I have been… sinful from the time my mother conceived me’.

But let us never forget that the great story of the Bible doesn’t begin with sin and end at the cross. It begins with a perfect creation and ends, by way of the resurrection, with a perfect new creation.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve through their God-given faculties of taste, sight and aspiration. In what areas of your life are you most vulnerable to temptation?
2. Adam and Eve showed little understanding of the seriousness of their sin. How far have we  – in the permissiveness of our society – got used to living comfortably with our own besetting sins?
3. In speaking this week to others (whether or not professing Christians), let us try to express our understanding of the ‘glorious liberty’ that God planned for his people, rather than the negative attitudes that so often characterise our conversation.

Walter Brueggemann on 1 and 2 Samuel (1)

Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990).

This is how Brueggemann outlines 1 and 2 Samuel...

1. The Rise of Samuel (1 Samuel 1–7)
2. The Rule of Saul (1 Samuel 8–15)
3. The Rise of David (1 Samuel 16:1–2 Samuel 5:10)
4. The Reign of David (2 Samuel 5:11–8:18)
5. The Family of David (2 Samuel 9–20)
6. Memories of David (2 Samuel 21–24)

I like this, even if the homiletician in me would have forced the alliteration throughout the scheme… something like: 5. The Relatives of David… 6. The Remembrance of David.

Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, 1 (2009)

The latest issue of the Journal of Theological Interpretation arrived yesterday, and it probably says something very peculiar about me that I read the contents page with a sense of expectancy and excitement…

Daniel C. Timmer
Character Formed in the Crucible: Job’s Relationship with God and Joban Character Ethics

William A. Tooman
Edwards’s Ezekiel: The Interpretation of Ezekiel in the Blank Bible and Notes on Scripture

Douglas S. Earl
The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7

Michael D. White
Charles Hodge, Hermeneutics, and the Struggle with Scripture

Kent L. Yinger
Reformation Redivivus: Synergism and the New Perspective

Michael F. Bird
What if Martin Luther Had Read the Dead Sea Scrolls? Historical Particularity and Theological Interpretation in Pauline Theology: Galatians as a Test Case

Matthew M. Bridges
Reunderstanding How to ‘Understand the Scripture’

Hans Madueme
Review Article: Theological Interpretation after Barth

I may post on individual essays as I read them over the next few months.

Meanwhile, the contents page alone bears testimony to how far ‘theological interpretation’ has travelled in a relatively short period of time: the self-consciously theological readings of Old and New Testament texts informed by concerns from cognate disciplines, with a historical-ecclesial awareness (Reformation and post-Reformation traditions particularly prominent in this issue) – all in a peer-reviewed journal from the ‘academy’.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Alister McGrath on Augustine on Origins

Alister McGrath, ‘Augustine’s Origin of Species: How the Great Theologian Might Weigh in on the Darwin Debate’, Christianity Today (May 2009).

I’d read somewhere previously that Augustine (354-430) was embarrassed by the ‘days’ in Genesis 1: why would it take God as long as six days to create the world?

Alister McGrath provides a brief summary of Augustine’s thinking here, based on the latter’s Literal Meaning of Genesis. McGrath writes of Augustine:

‘God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static. God endowed it with the capacity to develop. Augustine uses the image of a dormant seed to help his readers grasp this point. God creates seeds which will grow and develop at the right time.’

However, Augustine has no place ‘for any notion of random or arbitrary changes within creation’, and God’s creation ‘is always subject to God’s sovereign providence’.

For Augustine, the six days of Genesis 1 are ‘a way of categorizing God’s work in creation. God created the world in an instant but continues to develop and mold it, even to the present day’.

McGrath notes that although Augustine does not necessarily answer the questions raised by Darwin and evolution, ‘he does help us see that the real issue here is not the authority of the Bible, but its right interpretation’.

The Bible in Transmission (Spring 2009): Darwin and his Legacy

Bible Society make a print version of this excellent publication freely available to subscribers as well as placing the articles online as pdfs and word documents. It’s the best free publication I receive through the post, and better than some I’ve paid money to subscribe to. Each edition is devoted to a particular theme and includes short essays, mostly written by experts in their field.

The latest edition (Spring 2009) is devoted to ‘Darwin and his Legacy’, and contains the following articles:

Michael Pfunder

Nick Spencer
Charles Darwin: From Faith to Agnosticism

Michael J. Reiss
Should We Teach Creationism and Intelligent Design Theory in Schools?

Denis Alexander
Christians Misunderstanding Evolution

Ernest Lucas
Interpreting Genesis 1-3 in the Twenty-First Century

John Hedley Brooke
Christian Responses to Darwin: Some Necessary Distinctions

Mary Midgley
Sorting Out Pseudodarwinisms

James Catford
News from Bible Society