Archive for September, 2009

Conversion—What is it?

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I am currently in Chicago at the North Park Seminary’s annual Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, meeting friends old and new and having great conversation about conversion, the theme of the symposium.

One of the big questions that keeps coming up is very simple: What do we mean by the word conversion?

Any takers?

Ephesians as the “Quintessence” of Paulinism?

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

I have already noted some initial comments about James D. G. (“Jimmy”) Dunn’s new book Beginning from Jerusalem, volume 2 of his trilogy “Christianity in The Making.” I want to continue making a few other observations

Unlike some other scholars who don’t think Paul wrote Ephesians, Dunn is quite fond of Ephesians (“one of the most attractive documents in the NT” [p. 1106]), agreeing with the well-known comment of F.F. Bruce (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, ch. 36) that Ephesians is the “quintessence of Paulinism.” Dunn is so fond of Ephesians because he believe it captures the essential movement and message of the first Christian communities more fully (30-70 CE; see, e.g., his conclusion to the book on p. 1175), perhaps, than any other NT document: the unity of Gentiles and Jews in Christ (pp. 1109-1115 plus a beautiful footnote [#398] on p. 489[*see below]). Dunn believes that Ephesians 1-3 eloquently expresses what Paul was “all about.” In addition, its high view of the church, together with its emphasis on being in Christ and on the Spirit, makes “Ephesians a fitting tribute to Paul and fully deserving of the accolade of providing ‘the quintessence of Paulinism’” (p. 1122).

*Dunn, p. 489, n. 308, commenting on Romans and Ephesians:

“The surmounting of these ancient hostilities [between Jews and Gentiles] was not merely a by-product of the gospel, far less a distraction from the true meaning of the gospel, but the climactic achievement of the gospel, the completion of God’s purposes from the beginning of time.”

What do the rest of you think of all this?

Craig Keener on Romans

Friday, September 18th, 2009

The good folks at Cascade, one of the high-end divisions of Wipf and Stock, have launched a new commentary series, the New Covenant Commentary Series (NCCS), and the first two volumes are out. They are Colossians and Philemon by Michael Bird and Romans by Craig Keener. Mike and Craig are also the series editors, so they have set an example and standard.

Since I am just starting a course on Romans, I will offer a few thoughts on Craig’s commentary after a quick skim of some parts. I will come back to Colossians and Philemon later.

Craig Keener of Palmer Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist) in Philadelphia is a prolific scholar whose knowledge of the ancient sources is nearly unmatched. (He’s also a very nice man and a very devout Christian.) In this popular to mid-range commentary (his description and the series intent), Craig of course draws on the relevant primary sources, even as he also shows his knowledge of the historical and contemporary issues in the interpretation of Romans, interacting with many of them while steering his own course.

The results are very good so far, even when I disagree on a point of interpretation. Craig is balanced and clear, and he gives good reasons for his positions, all very concisely. A few things I like/agree with so far:

1. His emphasis on justification/righteousness being more than a judicial pronouncement or (worse) legal fiction; it is transformative. He says that believers are “set right and made righteous as a gift” (58; see also 7-29).

2. His similar emphasis on faith (Greek pistis) as inclusive of faithfulness/loyalty/obedience (29-30), which reminds me of my own arguments and of Tom Wright’s insistence that pistis is “believing allegiance.”

3. His conviction that the letter is a pastoral letter about Jew-Gentile unity.

4. His frequent references to the history of interpretation.

5. His use of helpful tables. (I am a table junky.)

One point of disagreement: Craig prefers “faith in Jesus Christ” to “the faith of Jesus Christ,” but he provides good reasons and argues that the “faith of Christ” people (of whom I am one) don’t have to lose what they stress if “faith in Jesus Christ” is properly interpreted.

So…for anyone looking for a good, basic, insightful, informed commentary on Romans, this should fit the bill.

More later perhaps.

“Cruciformity” Resources?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I am writing a brief (750 words) dictionary article on “cruciformity.” I have space for three additional bibliographical items besides my own book. Does anyone have any suggestions? I have three in mind, but I am open to ideas.

Here’s the opening paragraph of the article, which defines the term:

“Cruciformity”—from “cruciform” (cross-shaped) and “conformity”—means conformity to the cross, to Christ crucified. Cruciformity is the ethical dimension of the theology of the cross found throughout the NT and the Christian tradition. Paradoxically, because the living Christ remains the crucified one, cruciformity is Spirit-enabled conformity to the indwelling crucified and resurrected Christ. It is the ministry of the living Christ, who re-shapes all relationships and responsibilities to express the self-giving, life-giving love of God that was displayed on the cross. Although cruciformity often includes suffering, at its heart cruciformity—like the cross—is about faithfulness and love.

I then go on to discuss cruciform existence in the gospels, Paul, and 1 Pet and Rev before mentioning and responding to some objections to a cruciform ethic.

There’s the context. Any suggestions?

Protected: Class Comments: New Insights on Paul and Romans

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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Protected: Class Comments: New Insights on the Bible

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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Dunn on “Beginning from Jerusalem”

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I have just completed the writing of a review of James D. G. (“Jimmy”) Dunn’s massive book Beginning from Jerusalem, volume 2 of his trilogy “Christianity in The Making.” The 1300+ pages deal with the critical years 30-70. It is the sequel to Jesus Remembered (2003) and is primarily a history of those decades based on Acts and the letters of Paul. Of the many things Dunn, one of the chief architects of “the new perspective,” says about Paul, here are a few that may surprise some readers familiar with critical questions surrounding Acts and Paul:

1. Paul was likely a Roman citizen despite never mentioning it himself.
2. The Damascus road experience was a conversion, not just a call (contra Krister Stendahl).
3. The conversion was the most important source of Paul’s theology (following Seyoon Kim, a critic of the new perspective).
4. Justification is emphatically “vertical” as well as “horizontal” (a response to critics).
5. Luke rightly has Paul beginning each urban mission at the local synagogue.
6. Paul almost certainly does not believe in two ways of salvation (contra Gager et al).

“One-Way” Participation or Theosis?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Over at his blog, Bruce Hamill has an interesting reaction to the main contention of my book Inhabiting the Cruciform God. I am reproducing it and my response here:


Recently I have been thinking about Michael Gorman’s claim that Paul’s account of human participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus amounts to theosis. Basically the claim is fairly simple (grounded in his reading of Philipians 2, Galatians and Romans). If this kenotic existence is truly the life of God in history then to participate in it is to participate in the life of God – ie theosis. In the light of this claim I was reading Bruce McCormack’s article. “Participation in God, Yes; Deification, No”. Basically it is an attempt to show how the ontologies of both Jungel and Barth allow for an important distinction between creator and creature, human and divine being, while acknowledging a real participation of humans in divine being. I came across this statement, which provoked some thought.

“Participation in God is, for Jungel, participation in the relation of the Son to the Father. It is not participation in the relation of the Father to the Son which constitutes the life of God.”

It seems to me that this implies that the way to establish the distinction between human and divine is to acknowledge that the (Father-Son) relationship is constituted by at least two relations. The Father relates to the Son (relation 1) and the Son’s relates to the Father (relation 2). This in turn presupposes two perspectives, that of the Father and that of the human Son Jesus.

A further question then arises, this time not so much about relationship as about identity. What constitutes the Son’s identity? The Son is not merely a perspective, but an agent in history (who has a perspective). The identity of the Son is that of a history constituted by both relations. And the relationship that these relations conjointly constitute is one of mutual love, or the confluence of the love of Father for Son and Son for Father. This is expressed biblically as the Son doing the will of the Father so that the theoretical possibility of a divergence of wills (my will and not thine be done) is overcome in the history (of the Spirit’s empowerment of Jesus) whereby the wills in fact converge (not my will but thine be done = my will is to do thy will) according to a logic of persuasion rather than necessity or causality.

If this distinction is valid then we could qualify Gorman’s kenotic paulinism by saying that to participate in the life of the Son is to participate (humanly, partially, historically) in a relationship from one of its poles as a result of being conformed to the Son by the Spirit.

McCormack summarises the Jungel-Barth view thus:

“These differences notwithstanding, Barth and Jungel have arrived at a very similar conception of participation in God. For both, participation is an eschatological reality whose ground is to be found in Jesus’ relation to the Father. For both, participation in god is mediated by participation in the humanity of Jesus – a participation which takes place in this world only actualistically and by way of anticipation of the realization of eschatological humanity. In both cases, the older metaphysics has been set aside in order to achieve a relational and historical understanding.” [emphasis mine]

I have one remaining question: Why only?

My Response (slightly edited):

Bruce, Thanks for the post and for the heads-up on my blog. I was nervous that you had really taken me to task! I have not read Bruce’s article lately, but I have two concerns from this post.

First, I think that there is a misplaced fear among some Protestants (and I am a Protestant) that theosis blurs the distinction between humanity and God. It does not; rather, it preserves it. This issue came up at Princeton last spring when I gave a seminar on my book to the biblical faculty and PhD students. I made the point I am making here, and when concerns were expressed, the Orthodox NT professor there, George Parsenios, rose to my defense. The orthodox (lower-case “o”) Orthodox understanding of theosis does not allow humanity to become God; that is not what deification means.

Second, I worry that making a distinction between “conformity to the Son by the Spirit,” or what we might call Christosis, and conformity to God [the Father], or theosis, by stressing a “one-way” relationship of Son-like obedience (one might also say faith[fulness]) as the sole meaning of participation, creates some serious problems…. [It] separates something that Paul keeps closely together: the faithfulness of the Son and the faithfulness of the Father, which is also to say the love of the Father for the world and the love of the Son for the world. The cross reveals that Christ’s love and faithfulness are simultaneously God’s love and faithfulness. If God the Father in self-giving love gives the Son, who obeys the Father as an act of love both for the Father and for the world, then participating in this love cannot be participating in a one-way relation. Rather, the situation is much more dynamic and complex, and to participate in the life of this God is to become like both the Son and the Father inasmuch as the Son is like the Father in the faithfulness and self-giving love we see especially on the cross. That is to say, the cross reveals that Christosis is not merely full humanization or participation in the humanity of the Jesus the Son; it is also theosis, or divinization, christologically understood.

Translating Philippians 2:5-11

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Today I preached on Phil 2:1-16 at North Baltimore Mennonite Church, which is a great community just a few blocks from my seminary, but (therefore and unfortunately) 45 minutes from home. The very hospitable people included one of the daughters of Ben Ollenburger, who teaches Old Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and who lived near me, and taught me, at Princeton some 25 years ago.

During the course of the sermon I read my own translation of Phil 2:5
-11, which is more or less (apart from the brackets) the one that I have used in several publications:

5-Cultivate this mindset in your community, which is in fact a community in Christ Jesus,
6-who, although being in the form of God,
did not consider his equality with God as something to be exploited for his own advantage,
7-but rather emptied himself [of all but love!],
by taking the form of a slave,
that is, by being born in the likeness of human beings.

And being found in human form,
8-he humbled himself
by becoming obedient
to death—
even death on a Roman cross.
9-Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the title that is above every title,
10-so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, yes,
in heaven and
on earth and
under the earth,
11-and every tongue acclaim,
“Jesus the Jewish Messiah is the universal Lord,”
to the glory of God the Father.

There’s nothing spectacular about this translation except 2:5. To my knowledge, I’m almost the only one who has proposed it (I can think of one other scholar who has something like it in print), but I’m convinced it’s right and have argued for it on numerous occasions. For those who know Greek, my argument is that “ho kai” functions like Latin “id est” to equate “en hymin” and “en Christo….”

Maybe someone in a new translation will adopt it.

Up and Running Again?

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

It looks like things are back to normal, especially comments, for the moment. We will see…

Thanks to all who tried to help.

If you missed commenting on the NT Wright panel on justification, (yesterday), please do so now!