Thursday, 29 October 2009

Perichoresis 7, 1 (2009)

Perichoresis is the theological journal of Emanuel University of Oradea, Romania, published twice a year.

Volume 7, 1 (2009) – is available online as a pdf here, and contains the usual mixture of historical and theological studies.

Chris L. Firestone
On Integrating Christian Faith and Human Reason

Michael A.G. Haykin
“Dissent Warmed Its Hands at Grimshaw‘s Fire.” William Grimshaw of Haworth and the Baptists of Yorkshire

Maurice Dowling
The American Churches and the Civil War

Ian Stackhouse
God‘s Transforming Presence. Spirit Empowered Worship and Its Mediation

David Neelands
Richard Hooker and Assurance

Corneliu C. Simut
Paul Ricoeur‘s Concept of Fallibility as Fault, Myth and Symbol

Monday, 26 October 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (30/50) – His Ministry of Healing: In Word and Deed

‘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 thirtieth of the fifty emails.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Matthew 4:23-25

Matthew summarises here what he describes more fully elsewhere, and what the other gospel writers also make clear – that the story of Jesus cannot be presented without telling of his acts of power and compassion, of healing and transformation.

The ancient world had its fair share of ‘healers’, but Jesus was different – and people knew it. Not only does the list of those healed emphasise the authority of Jesus over all kinds of sickness, but his healings are a sign that, after years of seeming silence, God’s saving rule is now beginning to dawn in Israel. In words and in works, Jesus is proclaiming nothing less than the arrival of God’s reign, announcing and enacting the presence and power of the kingdom – bringing sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame, even life to the dead.

In the exorcisms, individuals oppressed in different ways are freed, signalling a defeat for the powers of darkness. Their deliverance – not by any magical means, but by a rebuke and a command – mark the presence of the kingdom. Where those with skin diseases of various kinds are socially ostracised, Jesus breaks taboos in stepping outside the ‘circle of purity’ in order to rescue them, not only making them whole but reintegrating them into the community. All of which shows that the works of the kingdom are not just an exercise of bare power but an expression of covenant love – bringing liberation and renewal, touching the whole of our lives, reconstituting the people of God.

In his ‘nature miracles’ too, Jesus demonstrates the good news he proclaims, that God’s rule over all creation – not just Israel – is being exercised. His works reveal in advance something of God’s purposes for the restoration of the whole created order, offering us glimpses of a renewed cosmos from which the powers of darkness will be ejected, when sickness and pain will be no more, and God’s creation will be restored to its original harmony.

Within the context of the gospels – and as the letters will make clear – the victory is bound up with the work he will do on the cross and in his resurrection. Meanwhile, as we look forward to the final redemption that will come to every part of creation, we delight that no area of the world is beyond God’s reach, no aspect of life is exempt from his rule.

For further reflection and action:

1. Read about some of Jesus’ works of healing and deliverance in Matthew 8-9.

2. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom not only with words but with deeds of power. How far can we be faithful to his teaching without acknowledging the place of healing and casting out demons? Dare we exclude the possibility of miracles today?

3. Even so, God normally works in normal ways through normal means. Reflect on the everyday, ‘normal’ ways you see God at work in your own life and in the lives of others.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Anna Minton on the Twenty-First Century City

Anna Minton, Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City (London: Penguin, 2009), xi + 240pp., ISBN 9780141033914.

A well-researched but readable account of the modern built environment looking at the city, the home, and civil society. Minton argues that the creation of cities within cities, stripped of local history and culture, complete with up-market housing, gated communities and private security forces has generated a culture of authoritarianism and control, the effect of which is to make the city a more fearful place where the pursuit of profit threatens to undermine the quality of urban life.

Philip Jenkins on the Lost History of Christianity

Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – and How It Died (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2008), xiii + 317pp, ISBN 9780745953670.

Jenkins’ acclaimed earlier works have documented how Christianity is exploding in unprecedented ways outside Europe and North America in the global south. Here he shows us that if we read our church history carefully enough, we will see that Christianity – in its various forms – has always been a global religion. Perhaps especially helpful for those whose sense of Christian history is predominantly western, Jenkins writes of a time when churches stretched eastwards from Jerusalem to the Pacific, taking in India, Tibet, and China along the way.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (29/50) – His Calling of Disciples: Apostles and Apprentices

‘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 twenty-ninth of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-20

Luke tells us that Jesus spent a night praying on a mountainside before he named the twelve men who were to be his special disciples or apostles. He had called them to be with him for the three years or so of his public ministry. He called twelve, and the gospel writers carefully record their names (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:14; Luke 6:14). These twelve men, recalling the twelve tribes of Israel, would be the messengers of the kingdom to the world, the apostle planters of the church, the new Israel. In his vision of the new creation John sees their names on the twelve foundations of the wall of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, just as the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written on the gates (Revelation 21:12, 14).

Jesus taught them, involving them in his ministry and sending them out to preach the news of the Kingdom. But the powerful symbolism of the number twelve does not mean that these men were the only disciples. Jesus once sent out seventy to preach the Kingdom. Some of the twelve hardly figure at all in the narrative. Of the ones we do follow, we see them as they learn from him, sometimes doubting and misunderstanding him, sometimes questioning his decisions. But we also see them realising the amazing unimaginable truth about the Lord who had called them.

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
John 6:66-68

‘You will be my witnesses’, Jesus told them, just before his ascension. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they were to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As we read Acts, and their letters, we see them laying the foundations of the church by their teaching and preaching, and are ourselves grafted into the body of Christ, his church, through their teaching. Did Peter get to Rome and was he martyred there? Did Thomas get to India? One day we may know!

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. By calling twelve apostles Jesus was reminding the early Jewish Christians of their heritage as the people of Israel, the people of God. With the multiplicity of churches, new and old, today, how far is it important for Christians to know their heritage, honouring the Christian past and the history of the church?

2. There is much reassurance in the story of Jesus and his disciples. He chose the imperfect, the doubters and the muddle-headed. But he trusted them to do his work in his world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. How might we use this as a model for the way we encourage our employees, our children, our fellow believers?

John Stott on the Essence of Evangelicalism

Over at First Things’ Evangel blog, Justin Taylor links to a Christianity Today interview and the audio file of a talk by John Stott on ‘The Essence of Evangelicalism’, which deals with the topic under four main headings:

1. The claim of evangelicalism
2. The distinctives of evangelicalism
3. The concern of evangelicalism
4. The essence of evangelicalism

Justin Taylor summarises the lecture, calling it ‘a masterful example of clear thinking and concise expression’.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

N.T. Wright on Paul and the Faithfulness of God

I’ve just seen news from the Center of Theological Inquiry that Tom Wright is working on volume 4 of his ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’ series.

The following summary (found here in the members’ profiles) whets the appetite:

Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Volume IV of Christian Origins and the Question of God) combines history and theology (exegesis being a branch of both), using the worldview-analysis outlined earlier. I shall examine (i) Paul’s characteristic praxis, stories and symbols, and his answers to the key worldview questions; (ii) his theology in terms of the revision, by means of Christ and the Spirit, of the central Jewish topics of monotheism, election and eschatology. At each point we see Paul in implicit dialogue and/or confrontation both with other Jewish readings of scripture and with hellenistic and Roman ideologies. His central aim was to found and maintain united and holy Christ-communities as a sign of new humanity to the wider world.

Theologically, this demonstrates a deep inner coherence throughout Paul’s theology, reconciling otherwise puzzling topics (e.g. the classic stand-off between ‘justification’ and ‘being in Christ’), and reframing ‘ethics’ and ‘ecclesiology’ in a more central and positive role than usual. Historically, I shall reconstruct Paul’s worldview and mindset in terms of a complex but coherent relationship (part derivation, part confrontation, part creative engagement) with the multiple worlds of C1 Judaism, Hellenism and Roman imperialism.’

Ecclesia Reformanda 1, 2 (2009)

I received my copy of the second issue of Ecclesia Reformanda, ‘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 contents are as follows:

Neil G.T. Jeffers
‘And Their Children After Them’: A Response to Reformed Baptist Readings of Jeremiah’s New Covenant Promises

The promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is a key text in the infant baptism debate. For Baptists, it describes the discontinuity between Old and New Covenants, highlighting in particular the individual, unbreakable, more subjective nature of the new. While paedobaptists often respond defensively, Jeremiah 32:37-41, where this promise is echoed with the important addition ‘for their own good and the good of their children after them’, suggests the Old Covenant principle of family solidarity may remain in place. This article re-examines the Baptist argument, and suggests closer exegesis shows that even Jeremiah 31 still includes children in the New Covenant.

Paul White
An Intertextual Analysis of Romans 2:1-16

We contend that Paul consciously alludes to Deuteronomy 9-10; 29-30 and to Jeremiah 31:30-34 in Romans 2:1-16. These allusions shape and inform Paul’s discourse and, therefore, provide a new approach to old exegetical questions, such as, the rhetorical nature of vv. 6-11 and whether vv. 13-16 refer to ‘Gentile Christians’. On the basis of our intertextual approach we assert that: (1) Romans 2 is essentially covenantal in concern, (2) vv. 6-11 are not hypothetical, and (3) vv. 13-16 refer to ‘Gentile Christians’.

Marc Lloyd
What the Bible Says, God Says: B.B. Warfield’s Doctrine of Scripture

B.B. Warfield’s writings continue to provide a highly influential Reformed Evangelical doctrine of Scripture that is faithful to the historic Christian view of the Bible. Warfield seeks to present the Bible’s own doctrine of Scripture. His conviction that what the Bible says, God says is grounded on the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture which guarantees its inerrancy. Particular consideration is given to the mode of inspiration and the humanity of the Bible. Following the Westminster divines, Warfield argues for the necessity, clarity, sufficiency, preservation and translation of Scripture. The Bible mediates relationship with Christ and is God speaking to the believer.

David Batchelor
Trinitarian Telos: Tracing Some Theological Links from God’s Triunity to Christian Eschatology

Drawing on the work of Peter Leithart and Robert Jenson, this article demonstrates that Christian eschatology is inescapably founded on the doctrine of God’s triunity. The basis for many of the ‘systems’ used by Christian eschatology is found antecedently within the triunity of God’s being. The divine activity within the economy by which creation is being directed towards its glorious climax is trinitarian at every turn, as is the shape of God’s ultimate end-goal for creation – permanently differentiated (triune and human) persons united in love within the Totus Christus, by which the saints participate in the triune Life.

Book Reviews

Monday, 12 October 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (28/50) – His Proclamation of the Kingdom: The Lord Reigns

‘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 twenty-eighth of the fifty emails, this one written by Helen Parry.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
Mark 1:14-15

What was Jesus talking about? What is the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven (Jesus appears to have used the phrases interchangeably)? Is it present or future? Spiritual or temporal?

In fact, it is all of the above. All four uses of the phrase are implied in Jesus’ teaching. And in all four senses the kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus.

When God broke into human life, incarnating the eternal Word in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a new era dawned. The impossible became possible. ‘The kingdom of God has come near’ (or ‘is at hand’), Jesus said, and ‘the kingdom of God is among you’.

The kingdom of God is essentially the rule of God. So whenever Jesus exercised the authority of God he was putting down a marker for the kingdom. ‘If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,’ he argued, ‘then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Matthew 12:28). Such events were a foretaste of the victory that Jesus won over Satan by his death and resurrection, when, ‘having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15).

The final establishment of the kingdom, of course, awaits Jesus’ return, when ‘he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power’ (1 Corinthians 15:24).

So where does this leave us, living as we do between Jesus’ resurrection and his final triumph? To the extent that we allow Jesus to reign over our lives, to that extent the kingdom has come; and to the extent that we allow Jesus to reign in the Church, to that extent the kingdom has come. But it is also true that as we proclaim and live out the values of the kingdom, the values of the world are challenged, the boundaries of the kingdom of darkness are pushed back. We are, as Jesus said, ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14).

Proclaim and live out – a double challenge. In an age desperately in need of values to live by, we are called to speak up for the values of the kingdom – for integrity, commitment, truthfulness and compassion. But we can all, also, submitting to Christ’s rule in our lives, live by these values, and even in the smallest way seek to change the culture of our workplaces or our community.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). What might it mean for you, in your particular situation, to pray this prayer today?

2. As a citizen of the kingdom, an ambassador for Christ, where is your ‘front line’ (the place where you spend most of your time in an ordinary week)? How – at this point – can you seek to challenge prevailing attitudes and ways of doing things, and seek to recommend kingdom values?

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Global Conversation: Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World

October 2009‘s The Global Conversation, a collaborative partnership of The Lausanne Movement and Christianity Today, kicks off with an article by Chris Wright on ‘Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World’ (a version of which was published in the October 2009 edition of Evangelicals Now, available here).

There are responses by:

J. Samuel Escobar
Unity and Partnership in the Global Church

Emily Choge
The Lord of Public Life

Christopher L. Heuerts
Filling in the Holes of Holism

The Lausanne Global Conversation

The Lausanne Global Conversation is a place for Christians to engage ‘critical issues relating to world evangelization to better equip the whole Church in taking the whole gospel to the whole world’. The idea is to facilitate an online conversation with observations and ideas which will help shape discussions at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, due to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, 16-25 October 2010.

The October 2009 edition of Evangelicals Now reports on the conversation here.

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 7

[This is the seventh 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

#5 – Its relative comfort with multiple interpretations

#6. Its significant emphasis on the role of the community of faith

#7. Its contested dependence on ‘general’ hermeneutics

As might be expected, a range of views may be found on the question of how theological hermeneutics in particular relates to hermeneutics in general.

[See, e.g., Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 127-56; Andrzej Wiercinski (ed.), Between the Human and the Divine: Philosophical and Theological Hermeneutics: Proceedings of the First International Congress on Hermeneutics St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, NY, USA, May 5-10, 2002, Hermeneutic Series 1 (Toronto: The Hermeneutic Press, 2002).]

Anthony Thiselton poses the dilemma:

‘If hermeneutics is genuinely theological, might not this hermeneutical approach become merely subsumed within, and subservient to, some prior system of theology? Yet, conversely, if hermeneutics is permitted to remain an authentic free-standing, transcendental, independent discipline, in what sense does it still give serious priority to its status as explicitly theological hermeneutics?’

[Anthony C. Thiselton, ‘Resituating Hermeneutics in the Twenty-First Century: A Programmatic Reappraisal’, in Thiselton on Hermeneutics, Ashgate Contemporary Thinkers on Religion: Collected Works (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 33-50, here 37. Cf. Andrzej Wiercinski, ‘Preface’, in Wiercinski (ed.), Between the Human and the Divine, xii: ‘ How can theology appropriate hermeneutic philosophy without losing its specific character, that is, without accommodating itself to a criterion of rationality alien to its own horizon of understanding? On the other hand, how can philosophical hermeneutics engage theology without conceding its rigorous criteria of independent research to a religious Weltanschauung?’]

On the one side are those who argue that theological approaches to interpretation should be accountable to general hermeneutics.

[E.g., Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, ‘The Conflict of Hermeneutical Traditions and Christian Theology’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 27:1 (2000), 3-31; Werner G. Jeanrond, Text and Interpretation as Categories of Theological Thinking, trans. Thomas J. Wilson (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988), and Theological Hermeneutics: Development and Significance (London: SCM, 1991); Alexander S. Jensen, Theological Hermeneutics, SCM Core Text (London: SCM, 2007).]

On the other side are those who argue for a specifically theological hermeneutic rather than take recourse to general hermeneutical theories.

[E.g., Stephen E. Fowl, Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 28-31; cf. Stephen E. Fowl and L. Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life, Biblical Foundations in Theology (London: SPCK, 1991), 4-21; Murray A. Rae, History and Hermeneutics (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 149-51; Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994); Charles M. Wood, The Formation of Christian Understanding: Theological Hermeneutics, 2nd edn. (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993). Note also 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, who declares that ‘theological interpretation of the Bible is not an imposition of a general hermeneutic or theory of interpretation onto the biblical text’ (19).]

In fact, according to Donald Wood, Fowl and Jones don’t go far enough; their approach is ‘inadequately informed by specifically Christian doctrine’.

[Donald Wood, ‘The Place of Theology in Theological Hermeneutics’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 4, 2 (2002), 156-71, here 161.]

Wood explains that Fowl ‘adopts an antifoundationalist epistemology, and then asks what a postmodern ecclesiology, doctrine of scripture and theological hermeneutics might look like’ (‘Place of Theology’, 164), and thus ends up relying on sociological rather than theological categories in the first place. He contrasts this with Karl Barth, for whom hermeneutics is part of theology, not merely what is done before theology begins. Hermeneutics construed as ‘uninterruptedly theological’ means that ‘one need not necessarily accept the terms upon which the current debate over general and special (theological) hermeneutics often takes place’ (‘Place of Theology’, 170).

For John Webster, likewise, interpretation of the Bible is ‘a matter for theological description’.

[John Webster, ‘Hermeneutics in Modern Theology: Some Doctrinal Reflections’, Scottish Journal of Theology 51, 3 (1998), 307-41, here 307.]

‘[T]he church’s reading of the Bible will not be conceptualised via an aesthetic of the classic, a critical theory of communicative action, or an archaeology of tradition, but by the doctrines of God, Christ, Spirit, salvation and church’ (‘Hermeneutics’, 323).

Webster is fearful that general hermeneutical theory assumes a view of the self, independent from God, making judgments. He emphasises a theological construal of the Bible as the Word of God, where God’s agency is real and effective, and where God’s self-communication is free, sovereign, and purposive (‘Hermeneutics’, 323-29). Hence, the search for a general theory of understanding is immaterial to a Christian reading of Scripture as the Word of God.

[Cf. also Angus Paddison, ‘Scriptural Reading and Revelation: A Contribution to Local Hermeneutics’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 8, 4 (2006), 433-48, at 435: ‘Theological hermeneutics concerns itself with the readers of scripture and the reading of this text as well as God’s grace will allow. Theological hermeneutics does not view as its first priority excursions into adjoining non-theological disciplines, either for means of attack or enlisting support.’]

Kevin J. Vanhoozer has characterised his approach in his Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Leicester: Apollos, 1998) as ‘a theological general hermeneutic because [he] construed the postmodern dissolution of determinate meaning as the result of certain theological moves, in particular, a denial of orthodox Christian doctrines such as creation, incarnation, and sanctification’. Now, however, seeking to ‘attend to what is distinctive about the Bible or to its interpretation in the church’, he is ‘inclined to pursue a theological special hermeneutic that recognizes (contra Jowett) the ways in which the Bible is not to be read “like any other book.”’

[Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Imprisoned or Free? Text, Status, and Theological Interpretation in the Master/Slave Discourse of Philemon’, 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), 51-93, at 60-61, noting that he sees this not as a ‘conversion’ from or a ‘retraction’ of his former position, ‘but rather its enrichment’!]

Others suggest that general and special hermeneutics ‘may share much overlapping territory’, and that ‘since its entire realm concerns living virtuously in communion with God according to the image of Christ, all understanding has a theological component’ (Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 156).

Jens Zimmerman, reflecting theologically on the hermeneutical implications of the incarnation, addresses general hermeneutics in a Christian fashion. Theologians can learn from Heidegger, Gadamer, and Derrida that all knowledge is hermeneutical, in that it is historically conditioned and interpreted.

[Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 145, 163, 318.]

According to Zimmermann, Gadamer’s ‘path-breaking’ critique of Enlightenment scientism relies heavily on ‘unacknowledged theological assumptions’ (Recovering Theological Hermeneutics, 159).

[See also Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Discourse on Matter: Hermeneutics and the “Miracle” of Understanding’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 7, 1 (2005), 5-37, reprinted in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, James K.A. Smith, and Bruce Ellis Benson (eds.), Hermeneutics at the Crossroads, Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 3-34.]

Zimmermann applies the theological category of the incarnation to human understanding. One implication of this, for Zimmermann, is we are not required to overemphasise either transcendence or difference. Incarnational theology allows for transcendence and difference: in the incarnation, ‘divine otherness is fully maintained and yet humanity is fully represented’ (Recovering Theological Hermeneutics, 285).

[Cf. Tim Meadowcroft, ‘Between Authorial Intent and Indeterminacy: The Incarnation as an Invitation to Human-Divine Discourse’, Scottish Journal of Theology 58, 2 (2005), 199-218, for whom the incarnation provides a model not merely for understanding the nature of the Scriptures, but also for the process of interpretation itself.]

This brings us back to the dilemma expressed by Thiselton: how should the hermeneutics in ‘theological hermeneutics’ be taken seriously without capitulating to autonomous, secular philosophy? On the one hand, Thiselton is fearful that a ‘regional’ hermeneutics ‘concerns only retrospective reflection’ and ‘serves only self-affirmation’. On the other hand, understanding ‘should accord with the nature of that which it seeks to understand, and that in the case of theology and theological texts this must be an explicitly theological understanding’ (‘Resituating Hermeneutics’, 37).

‘[H]ermeneutics must resist becoming assimilated into a prior system of theology, and… theology must avoid compromise by being shaped by an independent discipline of hermeneutics.’

[Anthony C. Thiselton, ‘A Retrospective Reappraisal of Part VII: The Contributions of the Five Essays to Hermeneutics, and the Possibility of Theological Hermeneutics’, in Thiselton on Hermeneutics, 793-807, here 802.]

Thiselton seeks to avoid collapsing either side of the dilemma (‘Resituating Hermeneutics’, 38; ‘Retrospective Reappraisal’, 802). What is required is a dialectic, which begins with the particular and contingent, which ‘operates interactively with a search for theological coherence’, where ‘we might hope for a hermeneutic that leaves room for an “open” system within which cross-currents of diverse motivations and conflicting voices contribute to ongoing understanding’. Such a process will stand ‘under criteria derived from the biblical writings as decisive for the basis of Christian identity’ (‘Retrospective Reappraisal’, 803). Thiselton avers that although we need to take sin and human fallibility into account, we may follow the example of Paul himself who used argument, and appealed to rational judgment and understanding, and did not see these in competition with the work of the Holy Spirit (‘Retrospective Reappraisal’, 804-805).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (27/50) – His Unique Birth: The Word Became Flesh

‘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 twenty-seventh of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:1-7

It’s such an ordinary story – government orders, people on the move, a baby born in a mucky corner of a third world city to a not yet married mother. We know the story, ‘celebrated’ in tinsel and reindeer from Tokyo to Timbuctu, from San Francisco to Seoul. And this one ordinary baby certainly has had influence beyond anyone else born before or since – millions counting their years and their history from his birth, millions knowing his name, one way or another.

Matthew ties his birth into the Old Testament – ‘fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah’ (1:17). John goes further back – ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through him all things were made… the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us’ (1:1, 3, 14).

The Word became flesh. This pivotal point in all history – the history of our world, the history of creation, the history of the universe, the history of humans from being made in the image of the Word, their creator, through the Fall to the end of time – begins with the birth of one small, vulnerable, helpless human being, whose significance and uniqueness has unimaginable implications for you and for me.

As we read through the four gospels, we experience again this contrast between following the life story of a man, and slowly beginning to understand who he is and what he is doing. And as we rejoice with gladness of heart in all the promises of salvation, forgiveness, mercy and grace won for us on the cross, we rejoice, also, that this man, our Lord and Saviour, who understands what it means to be human, vulnerable and subject to thirst and weariness, pain and death, rose from the dead, and promises that too.

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. Reflect on the cultural traditions of Christmas as practised in your household and your part of the world. How far should Christians challenge or affirm aspects of popular patterns of this ‘celebration’?

2. Reflect on the ideas behind the use of the word ‘Word’ in John’s first chapter. Look at Genesis 1:3 where God speaks, and it happens, and at Revelation 22:20 where he speaks again, ‘Yes, I am coming soon’. In what ways has God spoken to you in the past week?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology on Theological Anthropology

Volume 13.2 (2009) of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is devoted to theological anthropology. As usual, the editorial is available for download as is one of the articles.

In the editorial, Stephen J. Wellum highlights what he sees as the ‘collective identity crisis’ in the west, partly arising from ‘the rise of various technologies’ alongside particular ‘ideological viewpoints’ on what it means to be human. The sad irony, he claims, is that ‘our present-day confusion… is directly tied to our rejection of the Christian worldview and our refusal to acknowledge that we are creatures of God’. And the important lesson for us to learn, as Christians, is that ‘we will never understand correctly who we are apart from a theological anthropology’.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology

The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology (SAET) is ‘an evangelical organization dedicated to assisting pastor-theologians in producing biblical and theological scholarship for the renewal of the local church’, with a heart ‘to come along side those who possess the dual calling of both pastor and theologian – a calling once typified by past practitioners such as Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Edwards and more’.

There is an interview with the Director, Gerald Hiestand, here. Hiestand has also written an article – ‘Ecclesial Theology and Academic Theology: Why We Need More of the Former’ – outlining the kind of theological project the SAET hopes to embody: ‘a theological project born in an ecclesial context, driven by an ecclesial agenda, and prosecuted by ecclesial thinkers; not merely theology about the church – but theology for the church’.

Six of the Best 4: Books on the Biblical Story

This is the fourth in a series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture which are first posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

The first one profiled books for beginners on interpreting the Bible, and the second one looked at books on biblical themes. The third one highlighted biblical worldview formation. This one looks at books on the ‘big story’ told in Scripture.

The resources listed here overview the whole biblical story from beginning to end, and explore its significance for Christian thinking and living. The notion of Scripture being one unfolding story moving through creation and fall to restoration in Christ and final consummation has rightly been seen by many as crucial in shaping a Christian worldview (on which, see the previous ‘Six of the Best’).

Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (London: SPCK, 2006).
This is one of the best books to explore the biblical ‘big story’ and its significance in developing a distinctively Christian worldview. The authors trace the theme of the kingdom of God in six acts through Scripture: Act 1 – God establishes his kingdom: creation; Act 2 – Rebellion in the kingdom: fall; Act 3 – The king chooses Israel: redemption initiated; Interlude: A kingdom story waiting for an ending: the intertestamental period; Act 4 – The coming of the king: redemption accomplished; Act 5 – Spreading the news of the king: the mission of the church; Act 6 – The return of the king: redemption completed. The book is also supplemented by a website containing a number of useful resources.

Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Exeter: Paternoster, 1981), reprinted in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000).
Goldsworthy argues for a threefold idea woven throughout Scripture, which is ‘God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule’. When we use that as a rubric, we can see God’s kingdom in Eden with Adam and Eve (God’s people) living in the garden (in God’s place) under God’s rule. But, he says, we see the same motifs again as the biblical story goes on, with the kingdom revealed in Israel’s history, the kingdom revealed in prophecy, and the kingdom revealed in Christ. Goldsworthy’s book has been highly influential on some segments of evangelicalism in Australia and the UK.

Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure: Changing Our Culture by the Story We Live and Tell (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007).
A large-format book, and not at all prettily laid out inside. It perhaps tries to cover too much, but the content is great (heavily influenced by N.T. Wright) and the ‘workbook’ approach (with learning objectives and questions) will appeal to some. This gives the book by Bartholomew & Goheen a run for its money as the fullest and best of its kind in this list.

Ian Paul and Philip Jensen, What’s the Bible All About? Understanding the Story of the Bible, Grove Biblical Series 40 (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2006).
An excellent booklet-length treatment outlining the biblical story. Read this if you don’t have time for Bartholomew & Goheen (above) or Roberts (below). And read it even if you do.

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible (Leicester: IVP, 2002, reissued in a larger format in 2009).
Briefer and easier than Bartholomew & Goheen and Griffin (above), this book (heavily influenced by Goldsworthy’s approach, also above) organises the biblical storyline around the theme of kingdom, defined as ‘God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing’, which is then traced through Scripture in several stages: 1. The pattern of the kingdom; 2. The perished kingdom; 3. The promised kingdom; 4. The partial kingdom; 5. The prophesied kingdom; 6. The present kingdom; 7. The proclaimed kingdom; 8. The perfected kingdom.

Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2005).
As you might guess from the title this book looks at the scriptural story of redemption from the perspective of God’s covenant with his people.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on Exegesis and Hermeneutics

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Exegesis and Hermeneutics’, in T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (eds.), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Leicester: IVP, 2000), 52-64.

This is just one essay from the collection of extremely helpful lead articles in the first part of IVP’s New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

This post is less a summary of the article itself and more a reflection on it; the headings (and, I think, the shepherd example, are mine).

1. Defining exegesis, hermeneutics, and biblical theology
Vanhoozer is one of an increasing number of scholars who – far from setting aside their theological convictions when they come to Scripture, and far from ignoring the fact that they believe in God, Christ, sin, salvation, church, and Spirit, and far from reading the Bible like any other book – are self-consciously reading Scripture from the perspective of faith, theology, and church tradition.

Thus, in terms of defining exegesis, hermeneutics, and biblical theology, Vanhoozer is concerned to include a theological agenda where it’s not always been included. As he says at one point, ‘biblical theology is nothing less than a theological hermeneutic: an interpretive approach to the Bible informed by Christian doctrine’ (63). Hence, part of his problem with the popular distinction between ‘what it meant’ and ‘what it means’ is that it was a distinction that only really came to prominence in the enlightenment, and particularly in the hands of those who wanted to separate biblical studies from theology – which Vanhoozer wants to bring together again.

2. Doing exegesis, hermeneutics, and biblical theology
In terms of doing exegesis, hermeneutics, and biblical theology, Vanhoozer writes about different ‘levels of biblical theological description’ (56-62). This long section is the real heart of the article, where Vanhoozer discusses four levels of describing biblical texts: (a) words, (b) events, (c) literary genres, and (d) the canon as a whole. It becomes clear that the last two are particularly important for Vanhoozer.

What’s needed, he says, is a ‘thick description’ of the text which embraces…

(a) Words
The sub-section on ‘biblical words’ (56-57) makes the fairly well-worn point that biblical theology must do more than load whole structures of thought into individual words. A theology at the level of words only (what does ‘shepherd’ mean?) would be a thin description.

(b) Events
Equally thin would be a theology at the level of events only (how does what is depicted in Psalm 23 relate to what is known historically about shepherds and shepherding, or what might have been going on in the historical context which brought about the composition of Psalm 23?). Hence, the sub-section on ‘biblical events’ (57) encourages us to move beyond a restricted focus on what’s going on ‘behind the text’.

Words and events are important, but a thick description takes many different levels into account, including genre (what kind of literature is Psalm 23 and how does it function?) and the canon as a whole (how does Psalm 23 relate to the rest of Scripture, and to Jesus in particular?). Hence…

(c) Literary genres
The sub-section on literary genres (57-60) is probably the most innovative part of the article. The ‘literary’ aspect of the Bible has not figured much in discussions of biblical theology. The main point being made in this section, as Vanhoozer himself says, ‘is that the Bible is made up of a variety of texts that need to be described not only at the linguistic but also at the literary level’ (59).

(d) The canon as a whole
The final sub-section (60-62) considers what is often understood to be the most distinctive facet of biblical theology: looking at Scripture as a whole, particularly in its collective witness to Christ.

New Covenant Commentary Series

Last week I took delivery of the inaugural volumes in a new commentary series, written by the two editors of the series, Michael F. Bird and Craig S. Keener:

Michael F. Bird, Colossians and Philemon: A New Covenant Commentary, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene: Cascade, 2009), xiv + 177pp., ISBN 9781606081310.

Craig S. Keener, Romans: A New Covenant Commentary, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene: Cascade, 2009), xxv + 268pp., ISBN 9781606081563.

I have already started to read the one on Colossians and Philemon, and I’m very impressed with what I’ve found. The blurb on the back says that the commentary combines ‘exegetical insight, rhetorical analysis, theological exposition, and practical application all in one short volume’. My first thought was, ‘What? All that – in 177 pages?’ Actually, it might be right.

The series itself is designed ‘for ministers and students who require a commentary that interacts with the text and context of each New Testament book and pays specific attention to the impact of the text upon the faith and praxis of contemporary faith communities’.

It claims a number of distinguishing features:

• The contributors come from diverse backgrounds, denominationally and from around the world, with an international set of writers drawn from every continent (except Antarctica), supporting its intention ‘to engage in the task of biblical interpretation and theological reflection from the perspective of the global church’.

• The commentaries deal with larger units of the text rather than provide a verse-by-verse treatment, seeking to interpret the ‘story’ in the text.

• The series aims to reflect on how the New Testament ‘impacts the life, faith, ministry, and witness of the New Covenant Community today’, sometimes by offering comments in a ‘Fusing the Horizons’ section, providing windows into community formation (‘how the text shapes the mission and character of the believing community’) and ministerial formation (‘how the text shapes the ministry of Christian leaders’).

I look forward to seeing how the series develops.

Michael Schluter on Capitalism

Michael Schluter, ‘Is Capitalism Morally Bankrupt? Five Moral Flaws and Their Social Consequences’, Cambridge Papers 18, 3 (September 2009).

The latest news from the Jubilee Centre reports that Michael Schluter has published a new Cambridge Paper claiming that corporate capitalism has had ‘a devastating impact on families and communities and has been responsible for the excessive growth of giant corporations and over-centralisation of state power’.

A summary is available here, and the full paper is available here.

He promises to set out an alternative – ‘a new economic order based on biblical revelation’ – in a future paper.