Archive for May, 2009

Off to Cameroon—Blogging Sabbatical

Friday, May 15th, 2009

As part of my year-long sabbatical, I am off to teach, preach, and lead retreats in Cameroon, West Africa. As I will not likely have access to the Internet, I am taking a blogging sabbatical until some time in early June. Meanwhile, get off the computer and read a good book! :-)

Epiphanius on Christian Books

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

“The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.”—Epiphanius

(courtesy of Scott Savage at Two Empty Hands)

Theologians without Borders

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

In preparing for my upcoming teaching visit to Cameroon, home to some of our alums, I discovered an organization called Theologians Without Borders. Similar in spirit to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Theologians Without Borders connects needs for teaching in theological schools and churches (e.g., pastors conferences) with gifted and educated volunteers (professors, pastors, etc.) elsewhere.

As a big believer in the benefits of teaching (and thus learning) in new contexts, as well as in the universality and diversity of the church, I recommend this organization and this kind of experience. (I will of course have more to say when I return).

The Faith of Christ (in French translation)

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In preparing to lecture on Paul in French next week, in the West African country of Cameroon, I noticed that the French equivalent of the NRSV (the TOB, Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible) has twice—but only twice—translated the Greek phrase pistis christou or its equivalent as “the faith of Christ.” Both are in Gal 2:16: (1) justification is “seulement par la foi de Jésus Christ” = “only by the faith of Jesus Christ” and (2) “par la foi du Christ” = “by the faith of Christ.” In Gal 2:20 and elswhere in the Pauline corpus (Gal 3:22; Eph 3:12; Rom 3:22, 26; Phil 3:9), the TOB translates the phrase as “faith in” (French “en” or “au”), but it provides a note (like the NRSV) that “the faith of Christ” is an alternative translation.

It is not clear to me why the TOB translators chose those two texts, and only those two, but at least “the faith of Christ” translation, which I think is correct, made it into the text a couple of times, and not only into the footnotes.

I know of only one recent English translation, the NET Bible, that renders the pistis christou phrases as “faith of” in the main body of the translation. In fact, the NET Bible actually uses “faithfulness” rather than “faith,” and it does so consistently in all occurrences. (Interestingly, the KJV used “faith of” in every instance but Rom 3:26).

It wil be interesting to see what the new Bible translation from Abingdon, the Common English Bible (CEB), does with these texts, especially since one of the translators for Romans is Richard Hays, a key proponent of the “faith of” translation.

Does anyone know of any other translations, English or not, that have gone with “faith of” (the “subjective genitive”) for any or all of these texts?

Theological Interpretation (pt. 6)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

This is the last, for now, in this series on principles of theological interpretation.

7. The Conversion (or Transformative) Principle
The last two principles assert that theological interpretation is more than the linguistic, historical, and even theological analysis of texts. Theological interpretation has a much more ambitious, constructive goal than simply analysis of the text; it is to form Christian disciples who can perform the Scriptures faithfully and creatively, and to inform the theological reflection of such disciples individually and ecclesially.

We may describe principle of theological interpretation in terms of its function: scriptural interpretation is the primary means by which God effects (in traditional Catholic terms) the church’s ongoing conversion, that is (in traditional Protestant terms), the church’s continuous reformation, or (in Orthodox language) the church’s increasing participation in the life of the Triune God—its divinization, or theosis. We may also describe this principle in terms of its telos: the ultimate goal of scriptural interpretation is for the individual and especially the community to “perform” the text, to become a living exegesis of the text. (Much more could be said about this.)

8. The Constructive Principle
Finally, in addition to the formation of Christian existence, part of the goal of theological interpretation is to contribute in a profound way to the church’s constructive task of articulating its convictions and practices faithfully and creatively in ever-changing contexts. Scripture, as the Catholic Church has said, is “the soul” of theology. This constructive process is a two-way street, with Christian theological claims and practices contributing to the task of biblical interpretation even as ecclesially based biblical interpretation seeks to permeate the church’s thinking and its public expressions of that thinking.

Ultimately, the constructive principle cannot be separated from the conversion principle, or from any of the other principles of theological interpretation, for the true goal of theological interpretation is the Spirit-inspired formation of communities that think and act like Christ (“the mind of Christ”) as they discern their role in what God is doing in the world in faithful and creative response to the divine address they encounter in the Scriptures.

That conclusion sets us up to consider a “missional hermeneutic,” about which I will post at a later date.

N.T. Wright Justification Book Video

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Tom Wright’s new book is out, and here is a promo video from IVPress.

As I said in a previous blog, I endorsed this book for the publishers (SCM and IVP), and I absolutely love Tom’s “big-picture” interpretation of Paul (which he mentions toward the end of the video). But that does not mean we see exactly eye-to-eye on justification itself. The majority of his critics criticize him for being insufficiently reformed. This seems like an odd criticism of a biblical scholar, unless we understand the Rule of Faith to be much more than the ecumenical creeds—which is precisely what most of Tom’s critics do. Our understanding of Paul’s understanding of justification should be guided primarily by Paul’s own words within the context of his letters, his Scriptures, and his world. The results should then be used to judge the tradition, not the other way ’round.

I do not mean to discount the theological tradition—not at all. But if we discover that Paul’s view of justification is (as I and others argue) more participatory and inherently transformative than some Reformation texts and traditions suggest, then what needs to be challenged is those traditions, not Paul. And that is happening. A growing number of historians of theology are arguing, for example, that participation is the key to the Reformation understandings of justification.

Let the debate continue…

Unlocking Romans

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Over at Euangelion, Mike Bird has a nice summary and review of Daniel Kirk’s book Unlocking Romans. The review and my skimming of the book confirm that this is an important book, and I hope to post on it later this summer.

Romans Suggestions?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

I will be teaching Romans again this fall and am always looking for good reads for the course. If anyone has ideas on (a) good basic to mid-level commentaries; (b) more advanced but readable commentaries for students; and (c) other interesting treatments of Romans, I’d like to hear from you.

In the recent past, for (a) I’ve used, among others, Luke Johnson, Kathy Grieb, and Ben Witherington; I’m thinking also of Lee Keck. For (b) I’ve often used Brendan Byrne. For (c) I’ve used Klaus Haacker’s theology, but I’m thinking of Daniel Kirk’s Unlocking Romans or perhaps Neil Elliott’s new book.

I know Chris Tilling (and probably others) have raised this question before, but that’s OK.

Theological Interpretation (pt. 5)

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Continuing my posts on theological interpretation, I here offer the sixth of eight principles:

6. The Charismatic Principle
The sixth principle of theological interpretation asserts that theological interpretation is a work of the Spirit of God, the same Spirit who gives the church gifts of grace (Greek charismata). The word charismatic is not intended, however, to suggest that all interpretation is spontaneous, lacking in control or reason. Indeed, if the gifts of the Spirit include wisdom and understanding, then careful, rational exegetical skill is a charism. But the principle does assert that such exegetical skill needs the grace and guidance of the Spirit to achieve its intended end of greater communion with God and with one another (so Augustine, retrieved recently by Steve Fowl).

This principle, like the Chalcedonian principle with which we began this series of posts, also permits and requires the theological interpreter to be open to new, imaginative readings of Scripture that are appropriate outgrowths of the historical, literary, canonical, and ecclesial contexts. These new readings must not do violence to the text but need to be properly analogous to the sense of the text, as best we can articulate it, in the original historical and literary context. This principle of analogy, or what we may call creative fidelity, is really at the heart of theological interpretation. It is in turn based on the theological conviction that because the Spirit of God, like Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Spirit’s new work always resembles the Spirit’s previous work.

Above all, then, this principle reminds the theological interpreter of Scripture that the Spirit is absolutely necessary to the church if it is to perform Scripture and not merely study it. The Spirit forms in us the mind of Christ so that we may participate appropriately in the dramatic narrative of God’s salvation—the story of God’s mission to and in the world—that we encounter as we hear or read the words of Scripture. (I will post more about this later under the heading “A Missional Hermeneutic.”)

Justification Jumble

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

With the publication of Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, the debate about justification has been reopened. (By the way, I endorsed this book [see below], as if Tom needed anyone’s endorsement to get them to buy and read it! The blurb is inside the front of the book in the British edition, where I suspect it will also be in the American version when it arrives later this month.)

There are in fact (at least) three important books on justification this year: Tom’s, my own (Inhabiting the Cruciform God; please pardon the self-promotion), and Douglas Campbell’s massive volume, The Deliverance of God, due out this summer.

There is actually significant convergence among these three books despite their significant differences. The bottom line is this: justification without participation is unPauline, and therefore justification without transformation and action is unPauline–in part because it is unJewish, uncovenantal, unJesus. Wright sees justification and participation as two equally significant foci (pp. 201-202, British ed.); I see them as two sides of the same coin, with Paul redefining justification in terms of participation; and Campbell sees them (I think) similarly to me, but with a stronger emphasis on liberation and a far more polemical critique of what he calls “contractual” models of justification.

In addition, the three of us agree (with differing emphases) that we need to move beyond the old-perspective/new-perspective dichotomy. We also agree (again, with differing emphases) that the word theosis may help us articulate what Paul is up to. (This word does not appear in Tom’s book, but he has been occasionally using it elsewhere, and his research assistant is writing a dissertation on theosis and Paul; it appears once in Douglas’s book; and it is in the subtitle of my book: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology).

Three quotations from my own book (rightly highlighted by Halden over at Inhibatio Dei) stress both what I am opposed to—cheap justification—and what I am arguing for—covenantal, transformative, participatory justification.

There have always been legitimate theological arguments about justification, as well as less noble but understandable interconfessional squabbles. But it may also be the case that there is another, more subtle (and thus more dangerous) theological reason for at least some aspects of the current situation regarding justification. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, parts of the Christian church have become enamoured with cheap justification. Cheap justification is justification without justice, faith without love, declaration without transformation.” (p. 41)

… Paul has not two soteriological models (juridical and participationist) but one, justification by co-crucifixion, meaning restoration to right covenantal relations with God and others by participation in Christ’s quintessential covenantal act of faith and love on the cross; this one act fulfilled by of the “vertical” and “horizontal” requirements of the Law, such that those who participate in it experience the same life-giving fulfillment of the Law and therein begin the paradoxical, christologically grounded process of resurrection through death. That is, they have been initiated into the process of conformity to the crucified Christ (cruciformity, Christification), who is the image of God—and thus the process of theoformity, or theosis.” (p. 45)

That is to say, justification is finally about faith (faithfulness), hope, and love:

Justification is the establishment of right covenantal relations—fidelity to God and love for neighbor—by means of God’s grace in Christ’s death and our Spirit-enabled co-crucifixion with him. Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to hew life within the people of God and the certain hope of acquittal/vindication, and thus resurrection to eternal life on the day of judgment.” (pp. 85-86)

If there is going to be a true discussion, debate, or whatever we wish to call it, it will simply not due either to call names or to claim that this or that view does (or does not) faithfully continue the Reformers’ views. The real—the only—issue is whether a view faithfully represents and interprets Paul.

My endorsement of Tom Wright’s book:

Like Paul himself writing to the Galatians, Bishop Tom expounds and defends in this book his interpretation of the apostle’s teaching on justification with passion and power. At the same time, he seeks to move beyond divisive categories so that Paul can speak from within his own context and thereby to us in ours. The result is an extraordinary synthesis that should be read by the sympathetic, the suspicious and everyone else.