OK–we are definitely on. Be careful on side streets and any places that have not completely melted. Pls arrive by 4 or after 4:30 and don’t park in front of the house or adjacent if possible.
The latest so-called scholarship arguing against the existence of Jesus has appeared from a University of Sydney graduate student and part-time lecturer. It started on the University web site and was picked up by the Washington Post, at least it’s online edition. (I’ve not yet seen it in the print version.)
I sent a letter to the editor despite the fact that the Post does not print letters responding to online articles. So here is the text of my letter:
Ralph Lataster’s “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up” (Dec. 20) is so full of factual error and sloppy argumentation that it is not worthy of publication by a scholar—or by a newspaper—no matter what one thinks about the issue.
First of all, Lataster misrepresents the debate. Discussions about the existence of Jesus are debates among historians, not disagreements among atheists. Furthermore, even if Christians believe in “the Christ of faith” (though this is a problematic term in many ways) and also affirm the existence of the historical Jesus, that does not disqualify academically trained Christians from rightfully participating in the debate about Jesus’ existence. Many historians who are Christians are able to believe, in part, because they are convinced that historical study supports the existence of Jesus.
Second, Lataster misrepresents the text of the New Testament. There are plenty of passages in the gospels that narrate a teaching, healing, law-abiding, and law-breaking first-century Jewish teacher that do not even begin to fit the description of a “fictional Christ of faith”—though there are certainly texts that do portray Jesus as more than such a teacher. Moreover, in considering Paul’s letters, Lataster ignores Paul’s allusions to Jesus’ teaching, as well as Paul’s reliance on oral tradition like that found in the gospels when he describes Jesus’ Last Supper. Furthermore, Lataster mischaracterizes Paul’s apocalyptic language as indicating belief in a “celestial” rather than a human” Jesus. He also conveniently fails to mention Paul’s statement that Jesus was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).
Third, Lataster misrepresents the nature of oral tradition and of the sources for our gospels, and either he is ignorant of current debate about each of these or else he fails to mention them. Yet he draws conclusions about the existence of Jesus based on such misrepresentation and ignorance (or suppression) of contemporary gospel scholarship.
The word “atrocious” that he applies to biblical scholarship does indeed characterize certain forms of published work. (Let the reader understand.) Another word comes to mind, too—“insulting”—both to people’s intelligence and, this week, to their spiritual and historical sensibilities.
Michael J. Gorman
Raymond Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology
St. Mary’s Seminary & University
Advent text for the day:
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the saving justice of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21; NRSV altered).
Four reflections on this passage:
1. There is a unity of purpose from Christ’s incarnation to his ministry to his death and resurrection. These aspects of his work are inseparable from one another.
2. That purpose can be summarized in the words reconciliation, participation, and transformation. These aspects of salvation are inseparable from each other.
3. The reconciled are to be instruments of reconciliation, bringing people to peace with God and with one another. Salvation and mission are inseparable from each other.
4. Every Christian person, community, theology, and ethic needs to make reconciliation a central part of its identity.
The last point is the implicit claim of my latest book (The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A [Not So] New Model of the Atonement [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014]) and my forthcoming book (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015]), each of which devotes two chapters to peace and peacemaking.
If anyone is interested, I have a free excerpt of my new book (Introduction and first chapter) to send out. (I would like to post it here but have failed in my attempts.) Send an email to mjg [at] michaeljgorman.net.
Over at Crux Sola, Nijay Gupta and Chris Skinner have kindly conducted and posted an interview with me about the new book. Part 1 is here.
Professors Ben Blackwell of Houston Baptist University, John Goodrich of Moody, and Jason Maston of Highland Theological College have organized a pre-SBL conference on Paul and Apocalyptic at which I will be presenting a paper. If you plan to be in San Diego for SBL, or even if you don’t, think about attending this (taken from Dunelm Road blog):
With all the debates over the last few years at SBL about the nature of Apocalyptic in Paul, we here at Dunelm (John, Jason and Ben) thought we would facilitate a Pauline cage match to let the different schools of thought engage one another directly. So, plan to come to SBL early to catch this Friday afternoon session. You won’t want to miss this line-up. The fruits of this discussion will come out afterwards in a volume with Fortress Press.
Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (S21-201)
12:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Room: 300 A (Level 3 (Aqua)) – Hilton Bayfront (HB)
Across various branches of biblical and theological study, there is a renewed interest in ‘apocalyptic’. This development is seen particularly in the study of Paul’s theology, where it is now widely agreed that Paul promotes an ‘apocalyptic theology’. However, there is little agreement on what this means. Scholars from different perspectives have, as a result, continued to talk past each other. This special session provides an opportunity for leading Pauline scholars from different perspectives to engage in discussion about the meaning of Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Indeed, one of the strengths and aims of this event is that different and opposing views are set next to each other. The session will hopefully bring greater clarity to the ‘apocalyptic’ reading of Paul by providing much needed definition to central terms and interpretive approaches and by highlighting both their strengths and weaknesses.
Jason Maston, Highland Theological College, Welcome (5 min)
M. C. de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – VU University Amsterdam
Apocalyptic as Eschatological Activity (25 min)
N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
Apocalyptic as Heavenly Communication (25 min)
Loren Stuckenbruck, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Apocalypticism in Second Temple Judaism (25 min)
Philip Ziegler, University of Aberdeen
Apocalypticism in Modern Theology (25 min)
Discussion (15 min)
Break (15 min)
Ben Blackwell, Houston Baptist University, Presiding
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University
The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit (25 min)
Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Apocalypse as Theoria in Paul: A New Perspective on Apocalyptic as Mother of Theology (25 min)
Douglas Campbell, Duke University
Paul’s Apocalyptic Epistemology (25 min)
Beverly Gaventa, Baylor University
Romans 9–11: An Apocalyptic Reading (25 min)
John Barclay, University of Durham
Apocalyptic Investments: 1 Corinthians 7 and Pauline Ethics (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)
As previously noted, my new book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, should be available by the end of the month (by June 30) from Cascade/Wipf and Stock. Here is another excerpt, this time from chapter 1, “The Promise of the New Covenant”:
The Need for a New, More Comprehensive Model
There are at least four major problems with the traditional models of the atonement as a group. We will consider each of these problems briefly.
• The first problem is the isolationist, or sectarian, character of the models. Each one is constructed as a kind of stand-alone theory that supposedly tells the whole (or at least the most important) story and requires the exclusion (or at least the marginalization) of other versions of the story. In sympathy with certain postmodern complaints about the very idea of a doctrine of the atonement, Kevin Vanhoozer says [in “Atonement in Postmodernity], “The problem is that theologies of the atonement seem unable to articulate a theory that explains the saving significance of Jesus’ death without betraying the rich testimonies to the event of his death.” Only rarely, as in the case of Colin Gunton (The Actuality of the Atonement), does a theologian try to appropriate and integrate various traditional models.
• The second problem derives from the first: the atomistic, or nonintegrative, character of the traditional models. They do not naturally pull other aspects of theology into their orbit. “Atonement,” however interpreted, often stands apart, separated from ethics, spirituality, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and missiology. In some cases atonement becomes a narrow branch of theology that is almost irrelevant to the actual life of Christian individuals and communities.
• The third problem is individualism. The traditional models have a nearly exclusive focus on the individual, rather than on both the individual and the community, as the beneficiary of the atonement. Scot McKnight (in A Community Called Atonement) and others have, of course, also recognized and begun addressing this problem.
• The fourth problem we might call “under-achievement.” That is, the models do not do enough. We may summarize a model of the atonement in terms of its understanding of the fundamental effect of the cross on a person (or on humanity). In the satisfaction-substitution-penal model(s) the effect is propitiation, expiation, and/or forgiveness; in the Christus Victor model the effect is victory and liberation; and in the “moral influence” model the effect is inspiration. As I suggested in the Introduction to this book, the under-achieving character of these models means that, on the whole, they focus on the penultimate rather than the ultimate purpose(s) of Jesus’ death. In the new-covenant model I am proposing, the purpose (and actual effect) of Jesus’ death is all of the above and more, but that effect is best expressed, not in the rather narrow terms of the traditional models, but in more comprehensive and integrative terms like transformation, participation, and renewal or re-creation. The inclusion of terms like these in a discussion of atonement will seem odd to some readers, but I will introduce them because they capture the spirit of the new covenant promised by the prophets and inaugurated by Jesus’ death. It is precisely certain elements of the promised new covenant (which we will consider in the next two chapters), such as the coming of the Spirit and empowerment to fulfill the law, that are generally not considered to be aspects of atonement per se in traditional theories. This is, in part at least, why the traditional theories fall short of a fully biblical interpretation of the atonement.
My new book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, should be available by the end of the month (by June 30) from Cascade/Wipf and Stock. I intend to post a few excerpts here over the next few weeks. Here are the first few paragraphs of the Introduction:
For most Christians, from professional theologians to lay women and men, the word “atonement” refers to the means by which Jesus’ death on the cross saves us and reconciles us to God. Was that death a punishment? a sacrifice? an example? a victory over powers? Some people have insisted strongly on one of these perspectives, often over and against the others. Recently, some discussions of the atonement have tended to be more generous, incorporating multiple theories, models, or images from the New Testament and Christian tradition into a more comprehensive—and therefore less precise—account of the atonement.
However, the fact that there is no theory or model of the atonement called “covenant,” “covenant-renewal,” “new-covenant,” or something very similar is, or should be, rather surprising. These terms refer, after all, to a biblical image connected to Jesus’ death—originating, it appears, with Jesus himself at his Last Supper—and the source of the term “the New Testament.” The latter fact rightly suggests, indeed, that “new covenant” is what the New Testament is all about. The neglect of the new covenant in discussions of atonement is likely due to an over-emphasis on the theological question of how Jesus’ death brings about atonement, salvation, etc.—the mechanics, so to speak. But this is not, I would submit, the focus of the New Testament. To put it a bit differently, I would suggest that most interpretations of the atonement concentrate on the penultimate rather than the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death. This ultimate purpose is captured in texts like the following: [Mark 10:35-40; John 12:32; Rom 6:3-6; 2 Cor 5:15, 21; Titus 2:14; Rev 1:5b-6].
In texts such as these, we see that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death was to create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together. Moreover, this people will not simply believe in the atonement and the one who died, they will eat and drink it, they will be baptized into it/him, they will be drawn to him and into it. That is, they will so identify with the crucified savior that words like “embrace” and “participation,” more than “belief ” or even “acceptance,” best describe the proper response to this death. (Even the words “belief ” and “believe” take on this more robust sense of complete identification.) But most models of the atonement stop short of this goal, focusing on absolutely necessary but nonetheless penultimate issues, such as forgiveness of sins or liberation from evil powers. To put it even more starkly, some discussions of the atonement may be compared to arguments over which type of delivery is best in dealing with a difficult birth situation—forceps, venthouse (suction), C-section, or whatever—when the point is that each of them effects the birth of a child, each solving the problem from a slightly different angle. But it is the result (a healthy child) that is most important, and it is the child, not the delivery process, that ultimately defines the word “birth.”
(This is not meant to underestimate the value of carefully exploring the meaning of Jesus’ death from various angles, but to urge a proper ultimate focus.)
In this book, therefore, I aim in a modest way to help in correcting the problem of penultimate models of the atonement by proposing a new model that is really not new at all—the new-covenant model. (I have no connections with the developing theological movement within some parts of evangelicalism [especially Reformed Baptist circles] that calls itself “New Covenant Theology” as a via media between “Covenant Theology” and “Dispensational Theology.”) In fact, this model may legitimately lay claim to being the oldest interpretation of the atonement in the Christian tradition, going back to Jesus, the earliest churches, and the earliest Christian theologians (i.e., Paul, the evangelists, etc.). I will argue that this is not merely an ancient model in need of rediscovery, but also a more comprehensive, integrated, participatory, communal, and missional model than any of the major models in the tradition. It overcomes the inherent rift in many interpretations of the atonement between the benefits of Jesus’ death and the practices of participatory discipleship that his death both enables and demands. I contend throughout the book that in the New Testament the death of Jesus is not only the source, but also the shape, of salvation. It therefore also determines the shape of the community—the community of the new covenant—that benefits from and participates in Jesus’ saving death.
The purpose of this book, then, is not to develop some new theory about the mechanics of Jesus’ representative, sacrificial, nonviolent, and/or victorious death “for us.” There are plenty of those around, and many of them have great merit. Rather, the purpose of this book is to show some of the connections between the themes of atonement, new covenant, participation, and discipleship in the New Testament, focusing especially on the participatory practices of faithfulness, love, and peace. At first, this trio sounds like a new version of the Christian tradition’s three theological virtues of faith, love, and hope. It is, rather, the same triad articulated in a new (but not really new) way. What I will argue is that, throughout the New Testament, faith, as a practice, is about faithfulness even to the point of suffering and death; love, as a practice, has a distinctive, Christlike shape of siding with the weak and eschewing domination in favor of service; and hope, as a practice, means living peaceably (which includes nonviolently) and making peace. Thus the summary triad “faithfulness, love, and peace” is appropriate.
The surprising part of this interpretation of the theological virtues to some readers will be the notion of hope as a practice, and specifically hope as practicing peace. But a moment’s reflection on the theo-logic of this idea should reveal its inherent plausibility. The greatest form of hope in the Bible is for a new creation in which violence, suffering, tears, and death will be no more. We see this expressed in such lovely, inspiring texts as Isa 65:17–25 and Rev 21:1—22:5. Those who have this hope for a new creation and, more to the point, those who believe that this new creation has already been inaugurated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, will begin to practice its vision in the present. Accordingly, the practice of hope is the practice of peace. This sort of practice may be referred to as anticipatory participation. Such participation, however, stems not only from hope about the future (a purely proleptic participation), but also from participation in the death of Jesus that makes such hope possible by creating peace.
With this emphasis on participation, and thus transformation, I will claim that the New Testament is much more concerned about what Jesus’ death does for and to humanity than how it does it. The New Testament employs a wide range of images and metaphors to portray God’s gracious action in Christ’s death. Yet this stunning array is part of a remarkably coherent picture of his death as that which brings about the new covenant (and thus the new-covenant community) promised by the prophets, which is also the covenant of peace. Many of the traditional and more recent models of the atonement related to the New Testament’s various metaphors can be taken up into the more comprehensive model I am proposing as penultimate aspects of the ultimate purpose of Christ’s death: the birth of the new covenant. Life in this new covenant is life in the Spirit of the resurrected Lord that is shaped by the faithful, loving, peacemaking (and therefore hope-making) death of the same crucified Jesus. Of course there is no Christian hope (or reason for faithfulness and love) without the resurrection of this Jesus from the dead. At points the resurrection will emerge explicitly, but even when it does not, we will assume its reality and significance throughout the entire book.
My former colleague Chris Skinner, now at the University of Mount Olive in Mount Olive, North Carolina, has arranged an invitation for me to deliver the Harrison Lectures there on Monday and Tuesday, March 10-11, The topic will be “Reading Revelation Responsibly.” There will be one illustrated lecture at 7 pm Monday and another at 9 am Tuesday, followed by a homily in chapel at 11 am. The talks are based on my book of the same name. More information is here.
I always look forward to these kinds of events with students, faculty, and local clergy, and I’m grateful to Chris.