Archive for June, 2009

The End of the Year of St. Paul

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul and also the conclusion of the year of St. Paul in the Catholic Church. Although I am a Methodist, because I teach in a Catholic seminary and because my work on Paul is fairly widely read in Catholic academic and ecclesial circles, I gave about 30 or 40 talks and lectures on Paul between September and May in conjunction with the year of St. Paul. It was announced as an ecumenical celebration, and it was.

Two odds and ends related to today:

1. The pope has announced that Paul’s bones have probably been found. Highly unlikely in my view.

2. Peter and Paul were of course not always the best of friends (at least from Paul’s perspective!). But celebrating them together is important: in many ways, they are the Catholic apostle and the Protestant apostle. (Ecumenical) hope springs eternal.

The Nonviolent Missio Dei (again)

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

The discussion in the comments to the previous post is incredibly important, so I recommend them to all. Daniel Kirk has this to offer:

I really like the cosmic vision of Christus Victor, but if we miss that the victory part is attained by self-giving-love (so that others might live), it becomes a total disaster (cf. church history. :-) ).

One thing I say there is this:

The right question [regarding the appropriateness of Christian violence] might be, “Does the practice of violence cohere with or contradict the NT’s interpretation of what God has done in Christ—including his incarnation, teachings, death, resurrection, and exaltation as divine self-disclosure?”

The Nonviolent Missio Dei

Friday, June 26th, 2009

A number of people, not least John Howard Yoder and Richard Hays, have made the case that the NT does not give support to Christian participation in violence but, rather, leads us to practice nonviolence. Glen Stassen and others argue rightly that hearing the NT as a call to nonviolence alone is insufficient, and that we must also practice just peacemaking.

I am not disputing either of these claims and would in fact support them. Without going back and looking at each of their writings in detail, I would also add that each also says, implicitly or explicitly, that the mission or story of God is in fact a mission/story of nonviolent action centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If we think, then, of participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—that is, of participating in the story and mission of God—as the goal of human existence and the meaning of salvation, then nonviolence is not a matter to discuss or debate as one of so many possible topics in Christian ethics. Rather, it is at the very heart of what it means to be Christian, to be saved, to be a disciple.

Over at Getting Free, T has a brief but excellent post about this very topic: “The Cross and the Plot-line of our Time.” He says:

If this is a Story that we’re in, then the plot of how good beats evil in this world must be central to it. From what I can tell from the New Testament, generous love for people who are (currently) agents of evil (even to the point of giving one’s blood or money in love) is the central strategy of God in this plot line.

If T is right, and I think he is “spot on,” then the way Tom Wright and others tell the story of God in five acts (creation through recreation/redemption) needs to be more carefully articulated with an emphasis on God’s nonviolent, nonretaliatiory enemy love that is the central act of the story.

I wonder if Rev. Pagano and friends (see previous post) have thought about this? What’s the story of God they believe in and tell week in and week out?

T (and I) welcome responses there or here.

It’s Bring-Your-Gun-to-Church Day!

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Maybe you’ve seen this: one of my students passed along this article about an Assemblies of God church in Louisville that is sponsoring a bring-your-firearms-to-church event (not a worship service… or is it?). An excerpt follows:

[Rev. Ken] Pagano [the pastor] is a former Marine and currently a volunteer chaplain for the Louisville Metro Police Department (where he does not carry a weapon). Taking a break from a shift at the indoor gun range where he works one day a week, Pagano tells TIME that he’s an avid sport shooter and a proponent of responsible gun ownership. Despite criticism for co-mingling guns and religion, he stands by his view that Christians are called on to be prepared to defend themselves and their families. “Pacifism is optional for Christians,” says Pagano. “It’s not a requirement.”

(“Pacifism” is not really the issue here, Rev. Pagano.)


Some locals opposed to Pagano have planned an alternative rally, “Bring Your Peaceful Heart … Leave Your Gun at Home,” which is scheduled to coincide with the New Bethel [Rev. Pagano's church] event.

Revelation as the Key to a Missional Hermeneutic

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I ended my lectures on Revelation at Duke this past term, in both my own class on the book and in Susan Eastman’s NT Intro, where I was a guest lecturer, with the following paragraph:

Revelation concludes the canon; it completes God’s story. It is the last book of the Christian Bible. Perhaps it would not be too bold to suggest that if the church of Jesus Christ is to be faithful to its vocation in the 21st century, the book of Revelation—especially its vision of the slaughtered, victorious, and coming Lamb—needs to become more central to our worship, our spirituality, our practices. Perhaps, in a profound way, the last book of the Bible needs to become the church’s first book.

What would it mean if Revelation were taken as the first book of Christian mission, as the key to a missional hermeneutic? As a working proposal, I think this makes a lot of sense. After all, as I suggest above, the book of Revelation is the telos of the Christian Bible, and it contains the telos of the divine story. In that sense, it is analogous in a way to Christ himself, who is the telos of the Law, according to Paul (Rom 10:4). In both cases, we should take telos to mean “end” in the sense of both conclusion and, more importantly, goal.

If Revelation reveals the goal of the divine, biblical narrative and thus the goal of human existence (salvation), then what we see at the end of the end–that is, in Rev 21:1-22:5 (and related texts)–gives us both a picture of the telos and the contours of Christian mission: bearing witness in the present to the future, the telos.

Revelation 7, one of my favorite NT texts, briefly depicts the

“great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ”

This perpetual multicultural liturgy embodies the universal salvation brought in Christ: the reconciliation (one loud voice) of the peoples of the earth to one another and to their creator and redeemer.

In Rev 21:1-22:5 we find additional images of this salvation: the presence of God the absence of suffering and evil; the lush urban garden with beautiful walls and streets, and trees that have perpetual fruit and leaves for the healing of the nations.

What does it mean to bear witness, in advance, now, to this telos, this salvation? That is, it seems to me, the first, burning missional question that we must face. The answer will by necessity be both “vertical” and “horizontal.” That is, it will involve human-to-God and human-to-human relationships. And it will, I suggest, mean witnessing to the physicality and the beauty of the new creation, which has already begun (2 Cor 5).

Romans Course Syllabus

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

I have made my decision about required readings for my fall 2009 course on Romans. Thanks to all who gave input some time back.

Required Texts
1. Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul (Cascade, 2008)
2. Leader E. Keck, Romans (Abingdon NT Commentaries; Abingdon, 2005) (Richard Hays is also using this, with Tom Wright’s in the NIB, as a common commentary this fall.)
3. One additional (and longer) commentary, selected in consultation with the instructor, to be read in the library or purchased (student’s choice). Options will include Byrne, Cranfield, Dunn, Fitzmyer, Moo, Schreiner, Wright, etc.
4. J. R. Daniel Kirk, Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God (Eerdmans, 2008)
5. Several additional articles on the purpose, theology, and theopolitics (e.g. Georgi) of Romans.

Recommended Texts
1. Mark Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation (Westminster John Knox, 2005). Students will take turns reading and reporting on portions of this.
2. Michael J. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, revised and expanded edition (Hendrickson, 2009)

Course Requirements and Grading
1. Regular attendance, preparation of an exegetical notebook with annotations on the text of Romans, and appropriate participation in class discussions. 40%
2. Four brief (two-page) papers: 20%
3. Final paper: 40%

Douglas Campbell on Justification

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Duke professor Douglas Campbell’s much-anticipated new book on Paul’s soteriology, and justification in particular, will soon be out. The title is The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. This HUGE volume (almost 1400 pages!) will be a controversial book, to put it mildly. In substance, Campbell’s overall reading of Paul is very similar to mine, especially as articulated in Inhabiting the Cruciform God, though we do not agree on some major issues and arrive at our conclusions differently and separately.

Here is my blurb for his new book:

Douglas Campbell’s continuation of the quest for Paul’s gospel is a bold exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction. One may disagree with parts of his analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination, but there is no doubt in my mind about his overall thesis: for Paul, justification is liberative, participatory, transformative, Trinitarian, and communal. This is a truly theological and ecumenical work with which all serious students of Paul must now come to terms.

The price is phenomenally low ($60) for the length, and Amazon’s discount is currently 37%.

Campbell uses the word “theosis” at least twice in this book. He also has an argument for nonviolence grounded in Paul. Both of these are of course near and dear to my heart.

Returning to a missional hermeneutic next week.

Some Basics of a Missional Hermeneutic

Monday, June 8th, 2009

A missional hermeneutic is a type of theological interpretation of Scripture. In theological interpretation, we give priority to the witness of Scripture as summons to faith, hope, and love—what are we to believe, hope for, and do? A missional hermeneutic integrates all of these with a focus on doing in the light of faith and hope. In fact, as I will suggest in another post, a missional hermeneutic is fundamentally inspired and guided by hope.

Practitioners of missional interpretation specifically read the biblical text as witness to God’s purposes in the world and as invitation to participate in that divine activity. Hunsberger’s taxonomy (see last post) reminds us that there are different specific approaches to a missional hermeneutic, some focusing more on the text, some focusing more on the readers. Of the four approaches he describes, I find all of them useful, though I would be hesitant to ascribe an explicit missional purpose per se to every biblical writing (“identity-shaping” always; “equipping” less often). Rather, I believe that we now read the entire Bible in light of the gospel, and in particular in light of the telos of salvation, broadly understood, that is narrated for us in diverse ways in the NT, culminating in the Bible’s climax, the book of Revelation. (More on this to come.) We must therefore have an accurate and comprehensive biblical understanding of salvation if we are to participate appropriately in the missio Dei. (More on this to come, too. I have written about it at length for volume 5 of the NIDB and will summarize in a later post. For a starter, see this previous post.)

Because a missional hermeneutic acknowledges the Bible as a word from God that bears special witness to the very purposes of God in the world, it invites questions (and responses) appropriate to the subject matter. These questions emerge from an ongoing dynamic interaction between (1) text and (2) located, contextualized reading community. We can summarize this, perhaps a bit simplistically, as the dynamic interaction between the Bible’s witness to the missio Dei and our responsive participation in it, or between message and mandate. The former shapes the latter, of course, but also the latter shapes our perception of the former. Those who are already participating in God’s salvific activity in the world are more likely to read the Scriptural witness appropriately.

In the revised and expanded edition of Elements of Biblical Exegesis, I suggest that there are perhaps five key questions that readers operating with a missional hermeneutic will want to ask of the biblical text and themselves:

• What does this text say, implicitly or explicitly, about the missio Dei and the missional character of God?
• What does this text reveal about humanity and the world?
• What does this text say about the nature and mission of God’s people in the world, that is, about the church understood as an agent of divine mission rather than as an institution, civic organization, or guardian of Christendom?
• How does this text relate to the larger scriptural witness, in both testaments, to the missio Dei and the mission of God’s people?
• In what concrete ways might we deliberately read this text as God’s call to us as the people of God to participate in the missio Dei to which it bears witness?

Because for Westerners a missional hermeneutic always has the danger of becoming a revision of the narrow, individualistic, colonizing theology of the not-too-distant past, it may also be helpful to keep in mind some additional critical questions that deal with the need for imagination, transformation, and witness as key components of missional thinking and participation: How does this text call us to imagine and envision the world?

• What does this text call us to unlearn and then learn afresh?
• What powers that could deceive, seduce, and harm the world or the church does this text unveil and challenge—or call us to unveil and challenge?
• How does this text call us as God’s people to be both different from and involved in the world?

Missional Hermeneutics: Hunsberger’s Taxonomy

Friday, June 5th, 2009

George Hunsberger of Western Theological Seminary and the Gospel and our Culture Network (GOCN) is a leading missiologist and an ardent advocate of the missional church and of a missional hermeneutic. Last year, in meetings that met at both AAR (the American Academy of Religion) and SBL (the Society of Biblical Literature), George proposed a taxonomy of four distinct (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) approaches to missional hermeneutics.

1. The missional direction of the story. The framework for biblical interpretation is the story it tells of the mission of God and the formation of a community sent to participate in it.

This approach focuses on the Bible as one story, the story of God’s salvation, the missio Dei. The Bible offers us the true metanarrative. This view is associated with the names Christopher Wright (The Mission of God), Grant LeMarquand, Michael Goheen, and Richard Baukcham (The Bible and Mission). It is also largely assumed by the other approaches that place the accent elsewhere.

2. The missional purpose of the writings. The aim of biblical interpretation is to fulfill the equipping purpose of the biblical writings.

This approach focuses not on the Bible as a whole but on the individual writings, arguing that their purpose was and is to equip, or at least to shape the identity of, the missional church/people of God. It is associated especially with Princeton missiologist Darrell Guder (stressing equipping) but is visible in the work of others, notably Jim Brownson, also of Western Seminary (stressing identity; Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic).

3. The missional locatedness of the readers. The approach required for a faithful reading of the Bible is from the missional location of the Christian community.

This approach focuses especially on the general vocation and the specific social location of the church (as opposed to the nature of the biblical text). It has been advocated especially by Michael Barram of St. Mary’s College (“The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic,” a 2007 Interpretation article). This approach stresses concrete contexts for interpretation and mission.

4. The missional engagement with cultures. The gospel functions as the interpretive matrix within which the received biblical tradition is brought into critical conversation with a particular human context.

This approach is associated especially with Jim Brownson and also Princeton’s Ross Wagner. For them, a missional hermeneutic means allowing the gospel of God’s salvation in Christ to shape the way in which we interpret the text in a particular cultural context, allowing the gospel to shape us and address our specific culture.

I think it is fair to say that in this taxonomy we have two approaches that stress the character and role of the text and two that stress the character and role of the interpretive community. I hardly think these are incompatible.

For full text and responses, click here.

Steve Fowl on Theological Interpretation

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Steve Fowl has a new little book called Theological Interpretation coming out from Cascade (Wipf and Stock). Over at Christian Theology and the Bible, hosted by Chris Spinks, there is a series of excerpts from the book, especially focusing on Steve’s discussion of history/historical criticism and its relationship to theological interpretation.

Here’s my endorsement of the book for Cascade:

Steve Fowl has been both a pioneer and a leader in the return to theological interpretation. In this concise book, he offers us a truly theological and ecclesial account of theological interpretation. It is an inspiring, liberating, and practical work, encouraging all Christians to interpret Scripture so as to find our proper end in ever-deeper communion with God and one another in anticipation of the fullness of God’s reign.

BTW, Steve will be the respondent at a session on missional interpretation at SBL this fall.