Archive for the ‘Paul’ Category

A Pauline Missional Hermeneutic (1)

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I was recently asked to write a short article on reading Paul missionally. Here’s an excerpt; the full piece will appear in a publication for seminarians called Catalyst.

In his very readable published dissertation, Mission and Moral Reflection in Paul (Peter Lang, 2006) Michael Barram (St. Mary’s College of California) argues that “mission” is not a discrete aspect of Paul’s work, such as evangelism and initial community formation, but a principal rubric for understanding the apostle’s entire vocation, including moral reflection and ongoing community nurturing. Paul’s letters are therefore “mission documents.” If Barram is right, as I think he is, then we need to read Paul’s letters in two ways: first, as witnesses to Paul’s understanding of God’s mission, his role in it, and the place of his congregations in it; and, second, as scriptural texts for our own missional identity, our contemporary vocational and ecclesial self-understanding and practices. Thus is born a Pauline missional hermeneutic.

In a Pauline missional hermeneutic, the guiding question is “How do we read Paul for what he says about the missio Dei and about our participation in it?” In other words, the issue before us is not primarily exegetical or historical, but hermeneutical. What is a Pauline letter? (a mission document). How are we to read it appropriately? (missionally). Older historical and exegetical questions—e.g., about how and whom Paul evangelized, and whether he expected his communities to do the same—are still relevant, but they will not be our primary concerns, and they are not ends in themselves. Rather, they are part of a larger discussion about Paul and mission. Together with all kinds of new questions that emerge from this enlarged understanding, they serve as a means to our own theological and missiological reflection.

Douglas Campbell Interviewed Online

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Douglas Campbell is interviewed for 30 minutes here about his books on participation in Christ. HT Matt Montonini and Mike Bird.

I am largely very sympathetic with Douglas’s thesis, at least in what it affirms–though not in what it denies (specifically about Romans 1-3).

Announcing the Journal for the Study of Paul & His Letters

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

As a member of the editorial board of a new journal, I am pleased to announce the launching of the Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters, edited by Michael Bird and Nijay Gupta. The journal’s website, courtesy of publisher Eisenbrauns, is already up here along with a small sample issue, consisting of an introduction to the journal and an article by Susan Eastman on Philippians 2:6-11. The first full issue will appear next fall, with two contributions by yours truly and of course others.

This should be a great–and affordable–journal, one to which individuals and institutions alike should subscribe.

Three Book Reviews Online

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I have three book reviews in the current issues of magazines and journals, all of which are available online. My previously noted Interpretation review of Beginning from Jerusalem: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 2 by James D. G. Dunn is here.

My Christian Century review of Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation by J. Nelson Kraybill is here.

And my Duke Divinity School Magazine review of World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age by C. Kavin Rowe is here.

SBL is Coming

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) will meet in Atlanta this November, and there will be a lot of good sessions. The preliminary program book is now online. Although last year I gave three papers (which was crazy!), this year I will only be chairing a session for one of the groups on whose steering committee I serve. (Why nothing else?Largely because of numerous other lecture commitments this fall—four major academic lectures in September and October.) Among the many things I find inviting are the following (must-hears in bold italics; may require some bi-location!):

Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: History, Historicisms, and Theological Interpretation
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Presiding (5 min)

Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, Eastern University
The Quest for the Historical Leviathan: Truth and Method in Biblical Studies (30 min)

Joel B. Green, Fuller Theological Seminary
Rethinking “History” for Theological Interpretation (30 min)

Matthew Levering, University of Dayton
Augustine’s Theology of History (30 min)

Jeannine Brown, Bethel Theological Seminary (St. Paul, MN), Respondent (15 min)

I will also attend the session of the Gospel and our Culture Network, Missional Hermeneutics Forum, on whose steering committee I serve as well:

GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Exile, Identity, and Mission: Interpreting Biblical Texts
Michael Barram, Saint Mary’s College of California, presiding

Bo H. Lim, Seattle Pacific University
From Servant to Servants: Continuing the Legacy of the Exile in the Post-Exilic Era (20 min)

Andrew D. Rowell, Duke University
ohn Howard Yoder’s Missional Exiles and Jeremiah 29: A Case Study for Missional Hermeneutics (20 min)

Aaron Kuecker, Trinity Christian College
As He Who Called You is Holy: Missional Holiness and the People of God in 1 Peter (20 min)

Suzanne Watts Henderson, Queens University of Charlotte, Respondent (15 min)
George Hunsberger, Western Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)

Also of great interest to me are the following book-review sessions, which are becoming quite popular at SBL:

Book Review: Joseph Mangina, Revelation, in Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010)
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Ryan Hansen, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Presiding

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT 06511, Panelist (15 min)
Richard B. Hays, Duke University, Panelist (15 min)
Nathan Kerr, Trevecca Nazarene Universit, Panelist (15 min)

Joseph Mangina, Wycliffe College, Respondent (20 min)

Christian Theology and the Bible
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Book Review Panel of C. Kavin Rowe’s “World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age”
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Presiding (10 min)

Beverly Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (25 min)
Robert Wall, Seattle Pacific University, Panelist (25 min)
Douglas Harink, Panelist (25 min)
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Panelist (25 min)
Kavin Rowe, Duke University, Respondent (25 min)

As for “regular” sessions, there will be plenty of good ones. Starting with “non-Paul”:

Book of Acts
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Loveday Alexander, University of Chester, Presiding

Patricia Walters, Rockford College
Irreconcilable Distances: A Challenge to the Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts (30 min)

Mikeal Parsons, Baylor University, Respondent (12 min)
Heather Gorman, Baylor University, Respondent (12 min)

Kavin Rowe, Duke University
The Return of Allegory: Scholarly Exegesis and the Literal Sense of Luke-Acts (30 min)
Steve Walton, London School of Theology, Respondent (25 min)

Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Use of Scripture in the Gospel of Luke
Bruce Fisk, Westmont College, Presiding

Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College
Luke’s Good Samaritan and the Chronicler’s Good Samaritans (30 min)

Richard B. Hays, Duke University
Intimations of Divine Identity Christology in Luke’s Reading of Scripture
(30 min)

R. Steven Notley, Nyack College NYC
The Hebrew Scriptures in the Third Gospel (30 min)
Discussion (60 min)

Some of the good Paul sessions:

Pauline Epistles
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Terence Donaldson, Wycliffe College, Presiding

M. David Litwa, University of Virginia
Transformation through a Mirror: Moses in 2 Cor 3:18 (30 min)
NOTE: I directed David’s ThM thesis at Duke.

Jonathan A. Linebaugh, Durham University
Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship Between Romans 1.18-32 and Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 (30 min)

Christopher R. Bruno, Wheaton College
Eyewitness Testimony and the Jesus Tradition in Paul: The Sermon on the Mount as the Background to Philippians (30 min)

Tom McGlothlin, Duke University
Patristic Rhetorical Analyses of Romans 3:1-8/9 (30 min)

David Briones, Durham University
Does Obligation Corrupt the ‘Purity’ of the Gift?: Comparing Seneca’s De Beneficiis with Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (30 min)

Romans through History and Cultures
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Reconciliation and Peace in Romans
Kathy Ehrensperger, University of Wales, Lampeter (Trinity St.David), Presiding

Jason A. Whitlark, Baylor University
Peace with God and the Pax Deorum: Hearing Romans 5:1 in Rome (25 min)

Matthew W. Bates, University of Notre Dame
The Proto-Creed in Rom 1:3-4—A tool of reconciliation?: Evaluating the Proposal of Robert Jewett (25 min)

Ralph J. Korner, McMaster University
Making Room for Sacred Space in Jewish – Christian Reconciliation (25 min)

Soham Al-Suadi, University of Basel
Placing Christian Origins into the Ordinary – The Hellenistic Meal and the „Birth of Christianity“ (25 min)

Edward Pillar, University of Wale, Lampeter (Trinity St David)
“The Reconciliation of the World”: Exploring how Paul’s Expansive Vision for Israel and the Gentiles Counters and Subverts Pretensions of the Empire (25 min)

Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: 2 Corinthians in general
Edith M. Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Presiding

B. J. Oropeza, Azusa Pacific University
Saved by Benefaction, Judged by Works? The Paradox of Rejecting Grace in 2 Corinthians (20 min)

Ryan S. Schellenberg, University of St. Michael’s College
Beyond Rhetoric: Self-Praise in Plutarch, Paul, and Red Jacket (20 min)

Hermut Loehr, University of Munster
Stone Tablets. Torah Traditions in 2Cor 3 (20 min)

James Buchanan Wallace, Christian Brothers University
Paul’s Catalogues of Suffering in 2 Corinthians as Ascetic Performances (20 min)

Christopher R. Bruno, Wheaton College
Carrying in the Body the Death of Jesus: The Passion Narratives as Paul’s Model for his Apostolic Self-Understanding in 2 Corinthians
(20 min)

Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: 2 Corinthians 4
Thomas Schmeller, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Presiding

Dustin W. Ellington, World Mission, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Revisiting Paul’s “We” in 2 Corinthians 4: A Shared Vocation through Participation in Christ (20 min)

Robin Griffith-Jones, King’s College London / Temple Church
‘We’, ‘You’, ‘All’: Respecting Paul’s Distinctions in 2 Corinthians 1-5 (20 min)

Timothy Luckritz Marquis, Moravian Theological Seminary
Apostolic Travels as ‘Carrying around the Death of Jesus’ in 2 Corinthians 4:10 (20 min)

Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, Catholic University of Leuven-Belgium
Episteusa dio elalesa (2 Cor 4:13): Paul and the Psalmist (20 min)

Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Respondent (10 min)

Paul and Scripture
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: The Place of Scripture in Paul’s Theology
G. K. Beale, Westminster Theological Seminary, Presiding

Matthew Bates, University of Notre Dame
How Do We Judge What Role Scripture Played in Paul’s Theology? (10 min)

Linda Belleville, Bethel College
Scripture and Other Voices in Paul’s Theology (10 min)

Roy E. Ciampa, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Approaching Paul’s Use of Scripture in Light of Translation Studies (10 min)

Papers will be summarized, not read. Papers will be available for download in early November on the seminar’s Web page at

Pauline Epistles
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: Paul and Cosmology
Emma Wasserman, Rutgers University, Presiding

Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Copenhagen University
Which Cosmology? And How Important? (30 min)

Stanley Stowers, Brown University
Theorizing Paul’s Cosmology (30 min)

Edward Adams, King’s College – London
“Things that are” and “things that are not:” Cosmological Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (30 min)

Pauline Soteriology
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: The “Cosmos” in Paul’s Soteriology
Susan Eastman, Duke University, Presiding

Martin de Boer, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam
The Cross and The Cosmos in Galatians
(40 min)

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary
Neither Height nor Depth: Discerning the Cosmology of Romans (40 min)

Edward Adams, King’s College – London, Respondent (20 min)

Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Jesus’ Resurrection in the Pauline Evidence
Papers will be available by November 1 at
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, Presiding

Todd Still, Baylor University
“Since We Believe that Jesus Died and Rose Again”: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians (25 min)

E. Johnson, Columbia Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)

James Ware, University of Evansville
Paul’s Gospel of the Empty Tomb: The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (25 min)

Dale Martin, Yale University, Respondent (15 min)

Pauline Soteriology
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: The Social Embodiment of Pauline Theology
Douglas Campbell, Duke University, Presiding

Jim Harrison, Wesley Institute
Augustan Rome and the Body of Christ: A Comparison of the Social Vision of the Res Gestae and Paul’s Letter to the Romans (35 min)

David Horrell, University of Exeter
Embodied Theology: Soma as Soteriological and Social Category in Paul (35 min)

Larry Welborn, Fordham University
The Kairos, The Awakening: Pauline Soteriology in Nero’s Rome (35 min)

New Unit Planning Session: Paul and Judaism
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: What Does it Mean to Approach Paul as Practicing First-Century Judaism?
Kathy Ehrensperger, University of Wales Lampeter, Presiding

Magnus Zetterholm, Lund University
Paul as a First-Century Jew: The State of the Question (20 min)

Anders Runesson, McMaster University
Paul and Jewish-Christianity: Terminological and Conceptual Issues (20 min)

Pamela Eisenbaum, Iliff School of Theology
Paul and Christianity: Was Paul a Christian? (20 min)

Mark D. Nanos, Rockhurst University
Locating Paul on a Map of First Century Judaism
(20 min)

Paula Fredriksen, Boston University
A Way Forward for Research and Discussion of “Paul and Judaism” (20 min)

Pauline Epistles
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
David Horrell, University of Exeter, Presiding

Bradley R. Trick, Duke University
The Singular Abrahamic Seed and the Law’s Supplementing of the Promise in Gal 3:15-20 (30 min)

K.B. Neutel, University of Groningen
Were You a Slave When You Were Called?: Questioning Paul’s Social Conservatism (30 min)

John Goodrich, Moody Bible Institute
Compelled to Preach: Retaining Paul’s Apostolic Right in 1 Corinthians 9.17 (30 min)

Kevin Scull, University of California-Los Angeles
Paul’s Use of Self-Presentation as a Defense of His Oratorical Abilities in 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21 (30 min)

John Paul Dickson, Macquarie University
Did Paul expect his converts to further the gospel?
(30 min)

Disputed Paulines
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Colossians and Ephesians
Daniel Darko, University of Scranton, Presiding

Matthew E. Gordley, Regent University
Reading the Household Code of Colossians in its Contexts: A Critique and Proposal (30 min)

Ben C. Blackwell, Durham University
Deification and Colossians 2.10
(30 min)

April Favara, Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver
The Stoic Ethic of Perfect Manhood in Ephesians 4:13 (30 min)

Aaron Sherwood, Durham University
A Discourse Analysis of Ephesians 3:1–13 (30 min)

Additional meetings this year include the big N.T. Wright lecture:

Institute for Biblical Research
6:45 PM to 10:00 PM
Theme: Annual Lecture and Reception
Annual Lecture: N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
The Kingdom and the Cross
(45 min)

Michael Bird, Crossway College, Respondent (20 min)
N. T. Wright, Church of England, Respondent (5 min)


Society of Christian Ethics
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: What Biblical Scholars Wish Christian Ethicists Would Start/Stop Doing with Scripture
Scholarship exploring the context, meaning, and reception of Scripture makes a foundational contribution to Christian ethics, but in this session, Scripture scholars have been invited to advise ethicists not just about how to read texts but about how to do ethics. Terence Fretheim and Stephen Fowl will offer their manifestos, to which Stanley Hauerwas will respond. Their ensuing dialogue will invite additional contributions from those attending.

Michael Cartwright, University of Indianapolis, Presiding (5 min)
Terence Fretheim, Luther Seminary, Panelist (30 min)
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Panelist (30 min)
Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University, Panelist (30 min)

More to come!

Two Interviews

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

I cannot believe how long it has been since I have had time to blog—between family matters, starting summer school administratively, and now teaching a summer school course on Revelation while also finising my book on the Apocalypse—a book about which I will post more later.

Anyhow, though I don’t normally call attention to things like this. someone might be interested in an interview with me and one with N.T. Wright that mentions my work. Thanks to Nick Mitchell at The King and His Kingdom for doing the first one and for telling me about the second.

Nick has also recently posted at least 10 summaries of and reflections on my book Reading Paul.

N.T. Wright’s Pauline Respondents: Conference Report (5)

Monday, April 26th, 2010

This final post on the N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference will consider the papers given on Saturday, the day devoted primarily to NTW and Paul. The papers were as follows:

“Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology,” by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Wheaton)

“The Shape of Things to Come? Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies,” by Jeremy Begbie (Cambridge/Duke)

“Did St. Paul Go to Heaven When He Died?”, by Markus Bockmuehl (Oxford)

“Glimpsing the Glory—Paul’s Gospel, Righteousness and the Beautiful Feet of N.T. Wright,” by Edith Humphrey (Pittsburgh)

1. Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper was a theological and rhetorical masterpiece. If I were an evangelical reformed theologian (I’m an Anabaptist Methodist with Orthodox and Catholic interests), I would have said what he said, and I would have said a good deal of what he said even without being reformed. (But remind me that if I ever give a lecture at Wheaton to design a first-rate PowerPoint presentation—and to bring extra batteries for the remote.) Besides being a fine response to Wright, it was a noble attempt to build a bridge between the Bishop and his conservative reformed detractors.

Vanhoozer drew on his well-known adaptation of speech-act theory to argue that justification as declaration is not a legal fiction but a performative utterance, calling on Eberhard Juengel’s idea that justification effects an ontological change, and arguing that NTW’s understanding of declaration sometimes neglects this effective dimension of declaration. He suggested that NTW’s emphasis on God declaring people part of the covenant should include the effective dimension—it makes people members of the covenant community. I am with KV 100% on these points.

Vanhoozer also raised the question of whether the juridical declaration that justification is should be seen as something like a civil case or a criminal case, that is, is one declared “in” (settling a civil matter) or declared “innocent” (settling a criminal matter). (My hunch is that if one follows the juridical model, the answer should be “both,” which is where KV landed, though many, especially those who oppose NTW, stress the latter.)

Vanhoozer then offered an interpretation of imputation and union with Christ that he dubbed “incorporative righteousness,” which means that human beings declared to be justified are both “in the clear and in the covenant.” He went on to build on Calvin’s understanding of the double grace of justification and sanctification (distinct but inseparable) by speaking of the triple grace of becoming sons [sic] of God, heirs of heaven, and partakers of righteousness. Incorporative righteousness/union with Christ is forensic, ontological, and covenantal, a Trinitarian communication of righteousness that the Father declares, the Son enables, and the Spirit effects.

Finally, returning to the question of what kind of court the metaphor of declaration refers to, Vanhoozer raised the provocative question, “Is the law court an adoption court?”

This was an exciting paper in many ways. Not only did it challenge NTW on justification precisely where I think he needs to be pressed—on the question of effective declaration, ontology, transformation, union with Christ, participation—it really did open the possibility of conversation between NTW and some of his severest critics—if they (the critics) are willing to talk, that is. My own work on justification resonates with Vanhoozer’s at some very significant points, though he did not (and likely would not) use the term theosis.

I will need to be briefer in treating the others.

2. Jeremy Begbie (my office-next-door-neighbor at Duke last year) is a fine theologian and musician, and we were treated to both aspects of his brilliance at this event. He gave an analysis of NTW’s ecclesiology, explaining its appeal to the emergent-church folks. According to Jeremy, NTW’s ecclesiology has five characteristics, all of which appeal to emergent: it is (a) intrinsic to his theology and his understanding of what God is up to, not an add-on; (b) eschatological, meaning that NTW does ecclesiology backwards and that eschatology is the context for mission; (c) cosmically situated, indebted to Colossians 1 and Romans 8; (d) material; and (e) improvisatory, as in the work of Sam Wells, Dean of Duke’s chapel.

Jeremy added that there are three additional themes in NTW’s ecclesiology that are easily forgotten: the ascension, its Jewish roots, and its catholicity.

At the end of his paper, Jeremy thrilled the crowd with an original, creative musical tribute to Bishop Tom at the piano. At the end of the day, he was called back for an encore.

In the panel later that day, Bishop Tom made a funny comment in response: “Until this paper, I didn’t know I had an ecclesiology, but this is it.”

3. Markus Bockmuehl, who knows the primary sources like almost no one else, pressed NTW on what we might call his “personal eschatology.” Markus finds inconsistencies, and perhaps exegetical problems, in NTW’s presentation of what happens to people at death.

Unfortunately, I took very few notes on this lecture and have not had time to review it. I will just add that I too find NTW’s language (such as what he means by “life after life after death”) less than clear at times.

4. The title of and introduction to Edith Humphrey’s paper had some people a bit anxious about how critical, or even serious, it would be, but it turned into a tour de force. Once again, I took few notes (by Saturday afternoon the energy to do so had all but dissipated), but the gist of her argument was close to my own interpretation of righteousness in Paul: the key is 2 Cor 5:21, which (contra NTW) is not merely about apostles embodying God’s righteousness, but about all believers being transformed into the divine character. She noted that this text and its theology form an important part of the scriptural basis of the doctrine of theosis. (She is a recent convert to Orthodoxy.) I agree, and I make the same argument about 2 Cor 5:21, against NTW, in Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

Depending on one’s interest, all of these lectures would repay careful viewing and/or hearing. The presentations of Vanhoozer and Humphrey are especially important for anyone interested in the topic of justification/righteousness.

The IVP book that comes out of this conference will be a must-have for anyone interested in Jesus studies, Pauline studies, or NTW studies. (Yes, I met with a young scholar preparing to do a PhD dissertation on NTW as theological interpreter.) Congratulations and thanks are due to Wheaton, to all involved, and especially to Bishop Tom. As Richard Hays said at the outset, adulation is for rock stars; critical engagement is what honors scholars.

N.T. Wright Himself at the N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference (4)

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Undoubtedly the main reason 1,100 people registered for the Wheaton conference was to hear the good bishop himself, and we had three opportunities to do so in the form of major addresses (followed by questions after the evening lectures, though not after the chapel service), plus his responses to the papers each day.

I would suggest that there was one loud-and-clear message that came through all three addresses: “God is ‘putting the world to rights,’ and we are called by Jesus and Paul to be part of that kingdom mission, so let’s get on with it as people of the resurrection.” No one who has heard or read NTW of late will be surprised at that summary.

The first address was a Friday-morning chapel sermon on Ephesians. Bishop Tom took us on a whirlwind tour of the letter, focusing on select verses (one per chapter) that unpack what NTW sees as the message of Ephesians: that God’s mission is to bring the entire cosmos together in Christ (1:10), and that the church is called to do good works (2:10) that, as the expression of a reconciled, unified, and loving community, bear witness to the powers (3:10) that Jesus is Lord and they are not. More could be said, but that’s the basic drift.

The second address was his Friday-evening lecture called “Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church.” Among the key points of the lecture:

• Without attending to history, we shrink Jesus into the abstract categories of humanity and divinity. We must focus on Jesus’ mission as the mission of the God of Israel, that God’s “invasion.”

• Kingdom and cross must be kept together; some churches focus on one much more than, or to the exclusion of, the other, but they are inseparable. We need to ask, “What sort of atonement theology effects the kingdom?”

• Because Jesus has been raised, the new creation has begun, and the church has a job to do. For the church, the risen one is the kingdom-bringer. The “so what” of both historical-Jesus studies and the resurrection is mission.

The third address, on Saturday evening, was called, in parallel fashion, “Paul and the People of God: Whence and Whither Pauline Studies and the Life of the Church.” It was an overview of the much-awaited “big book” on Paul, due out in 2011 (probably). It of course felt also like a summary of the little books on Paul, especially Paul: In Fresh Perspective But there was also a difference. Rather than ending on the topic of the task of the church as a conclusion, this lecture began, and the book will begin, with the letter to Philemon as an icon of Paul’s gospel in its real-life, and therefore most important, manifestation. For NTW (and for myself, I should add, and no doubt for many others), this little letter demonstrates the centrality of the cross as God’s means of reconciliation, not only of humans to God, but also of humans to one another. The letter is Galatians 3:28 (“neither slave nor free”) in the flesh.

I would suggest that this is a significant theological, rhetorical, hermeneutical, and ultimately pastoral move on NTW’s part. And he seemed to say so when he signaled, at the beginning of the talk, that he knew of no one else who started the study of Paul here. (Though I know someone who applied for a New Testament teaching job and did their “trial lecture” on Philemon.) Later he contended that the main symbol of Paul’s gospel is a unified community, and that this should be the starting point of Pauline theology. Moreover, though NTW did not reveal the title of his new book, his online c.v. says it will be called Paul and the Justice of God, a revealing title, to be sure.

Some other key points in the lecture (not all in chronological order):

• For Paul, the story of Israel is fulfilled in Christ but also, from another perspective, radically altered. This may have been a partial answer to more apocalyptically minded interpreters of Paul who criticize NTW for being too “salvation-historical” or “covenantal” in orientation.

• Paul’s theology is a “christologically reshaped and pneumatologically re-energized Jewish monotheism.”

• “The unity of the church is a sign to the world of a different way of being human.” The result of what God has done in Christ is a renewed humanity, a renewed humanness. Romans 15:8ff, about a community of Gentiles and Jews glorifying God with one voice, is a potent summary of Paul’s gospel. (In an SBL paper soon to be published, I say something quite similar.)

• Life in the new creation is a life of justice situated between present justification and future justification, the life of justice flowing from the former and leading to the latter. (As someone who has also stressed the connection between justification and justice in Paul, both linguistically and theologically, I was quite pleased to hear this.) Without justice, he said, you nave not understood Paul.

• One somewhat odd thing he said in passing: Romans 8, about the cosmos groaning in anticipation of the revelation of the children of God, means something like the world is waiting for God’s children in Christ to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. Though I am all in favor of earth-care as a Christian mandate, and would base my position in part on Romans 8, I think NTW temporarily lost sight of the very apocalyptic character of that text, and I imagine that some of his critics will turn this into an opportunity to accuse him of something nasty.

In fact, I confess to my own discomfort with where this last point could lead. Although I am fully in agreement with Tom about God’s purpose of reconciliation, new humanity, justice, etc., and that this is very much at the heart of Paul’s theology and mission, I think we must be careful not to make the mistake of turning Paul (or ourselves as the church!) into an updated semi-Pelagian postmillenialist. The church is not the savior of the world, humans do not put the world to rights, and we are not for the world what Jesus was for Israel. The Bishop mentioned the recently minted slogan of his diocese, which is officially “Helping to grow God’s Kingdom in every community” (from the diocesan website), though I think NTW said simply, “Growing God’s kingdom.” In any event, he reported that one of his priests objected that we do not grow the kingdom, God does. To which Tom replied something like, “Of course, but let’s just get on with it.”

Is this a mere rhetorical difference between the bishop and his diocesan priest? Or is it crucial for us, even as we stress mission and justice and reconciliation—as I do—to remember and to articulate that though we are being transformed into, and embodying, God’s justice/righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), it is God’s justice and kingdom and activity, not ours. This seems to be more than mere rhetorical emphasis, and it is important especially for the many young Christian communities who admire NTW and his message (about which Jeremy Begbie gave an excellent paper on Saturday) not to fall into the postmillennial trap of thinking that we can and will bring in the kingdom. We bear witness to the kingdom as we embody God’s justice in the power of the Spirit.

Enough for now. I will have more to say about Bishop Tom and Paul in the next post about the other papers.

N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference Report (1)

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

I am back from the NT Wright conference at Wheaton College in Illinois: “Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Dialogue with N.T. Wright.” I plan to offer my reflections in three parts: general, Friday (Jesus), and Saturday (Paul).

To begin, here are some general and rather random thoughts about the conference as a whole.

First of all, it was simply big, impressively big: lots of books, lots of people, lots of interesting people, both on stage and off. There were 1,100 people registered, plus some Wheaton students and faculty and, in the evenings, the general public watching in the gym on big screens. I have no official count, but it would not surprise me if there were 2,000 people in attendance Friday evening. The crowd was fascinating. Though mostly white, there was some racial and ethnic diversity, but there was definitely a wide span of ages. Lots of younger folks of course—college and seminary students, the newly ordained, etc.—but also people my age and older. The crowd was also denominationally diverse, with some Catholics, Orthodox, and even a Jewish rabbi sprinkled among the Anglicans and Protestants and post-Protestants of various stripes. I kept bumping into both younger and established biblical scholars and theologians, including some rather legendary figures like Kenneth Bailey and René Padilla. I spent some time with Nijay Gupta of Ashland (and soon Seattle Pacific), Woody Anderson of Nashotah House, Rodrigo Morales of Marquette, and Andy Rowell of Duke’s ThD program. I also saw Todd Billings of Western Seminary and met numerous other professors from various fields and places.

Second, it was stimulating: lots of good presentations, lots of interesting and even important conversations. I was particularly happy to get to interact with a few younger students who are preparing for ministry and/or considering doctoral work. I always relish those opportunities at SBL and elsewhere, but there were far more students here than at SBL.

Third, it was well organized and executed. Nick Perrin (NTW’s onetime research assistant) and Jeff Greenman, both of Wheaton’s faculty, did an excellent job, and the many orange-shirted student volunteers giving directions, etc. could not have been more helpful.

Fourth, it was doxological, which is what theology should be. Each session included sacred music by gifted instrumentalists, prayer, and congregational singing (chiefly Taizé and Iona pieces). Grant LeMarquand of Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh (and NTW’s former student) led the prayer and worship, ably assisted by musicians who were also from Trinity.

Fifth, the conference basically lived up to its subtitle: a dialogue. At one level, this was a laudatory event, a love-fest for Bishop Tom, if you will, or at least a profound expression of appreciation. But even the most appreciative papers offered critique, or at least suggestions for improvement or new directions. There was time for feedback from the Bishop to the papers, time for interaction between him and the presenters, and questions from the attendees. That said, however, there probably should have been more time and space allotted to interaction between the panelists and NTW. These were major figures giving substantive engagements with his work about important issues, yet he only had about 5 minutes max to respond to each paper (15-20 minutes to respond to four papers, though he took a bit more time). His responses were therefore necessarily—for the most part—brief and even rushed, with some papers getting lots of attention and some a lot less. The actual give-and-take dialogue, though good at points, was not extensive.

It was unfortunate that Richard Hays, one of the conference organizers and the co-editor of the conference volume that will appear, had to leave (to preach as this father-in-law’s funeral) after giving the first address.

Sixth, the conversation was rather comprehensive: Jesus in relation to history and story/theology, Jesus and John (since NTW has focused on the synoptics), Jesus and economic justice today, Jesus and ethics in light of his eschatology; justification and union with Christ in Paul, NTW’s emergent-friendly ecclesiology, Paul’s individual eschatology, and righteousness in Paul.

Lastly, Bishop Tom was at his rhetorical best in his chapel address and in his two evening lectures. Not a lot of new ground, but vintage Wright on God’s mission and the church, Jesus, and Paul.

On a personal note, I was glad that my student Susan was able to attend the conference–and speak briefly with Bishop Tom—since she is doing an independent study on NTW and Paul this term. I was also glad that I could meet up with Fuller student Angela, who went to Greece and Turkey with me in February.

On a different note, presenter Markus Bockmuehl had a terrible and expensive time getting from Oxford to Chicago for the NTW conference—via trains to Paris and Zurich—and was fearing he may have to return via Africa! I am anxious to hear what happened to him.

More to come. Meanwhile, check out the initial reactions from Nijay Gupta and Andy Rowell (also here), who also has posted links to audio and video of the conference.

Philippians 2 and the Story we tell this Sunday

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

As we approach Palm/Passion Sunday, I want to offer some reflections on Philippians 2 from my forthcoming article on this text, which is called “The Apologetic and Missional Impulse of Phil 2:6-11 in the Context of the Letter.” Philippians 2:5(6)-11 is the epistle reading in the lectionary for this Sunday. Non-lectionary-based churches should feel free to use it, too!

I would like to reflect directly, theologically and missionally, on our own context for reading Phil 2:6-11. I have suggested that it is the church’s master story that it recites in some form, as creed or poem or hymn, when it gathers for worship. The story’s immediate context suggests that the story it tells is inextricably connected both to its larger life together as koin?nia in the Spirit (2:1-4) and to its mission in the world (2:12-16).

Thus to recite the story liturgically is to remember the narrative shape of the One who, by the power of the Spirit, lives among us (and within whom we live) to form and re-form us into his image such that our individual and corporate narratives more faithfully resemble his. Worship of this God as Father, Son, and Spirit is therefore an exercise in spiritual formation for faithful living—for ethics and mission, if you will.

Part of that worship—its high point if we follow the trajectory of the story—is confessing “Jesus is Lord.” To confess Jesus as Lord, to the glory of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Spirit is relatively easy to do in the safety of a community of the like-minded. But as a group of Christians makes this confession week in and week out, or (better) day in and day out, and as it keeps that confession connected to the larger story, it becomes empowered to live and proclaim that story faithfully outside of its own walls.

Here the insights of Aristotle and Thomas on virtue are worth considering. We become what we practice. Our liturgical habits make it possible, or not, to live and tell the story faithfully, even naturally, over time. Churches that dispense with the telling of the story, perhaps in the interest of sensitivity to “seekers,” will eventually have nothing identifiably Christian to say, either to themselves or to those seekers. But since everyone, and every community, needs a master story, a new one will fill the void, and the new master story will carry with it a new, and most likely alien, ethic and mission. The final consequence of this creedal amnesia will be that the church has nothing left to live for or, if necessary, to die for, that faithfully embodies the story of Jesus. (Parenthetically, this same consequence is likely for those with sacramental amnesia, though we learn that from the Corinthians [1 Cor 11:17-34] rather than the Philippians.) The church will, instead, call on its children to live and die (and even kill) for some allegedly noble cause, almost certainly one that is ethnic or nationalistic in nature. It will have come, thereby, full circle, reaping the whirlwind of its fear of confession. By neglecting the story and confession of Jesus as universal Lord, the Lord who rules as Suffering Servant, the church will substitute the universal Lord for a tribal deity and the Suffering Servant for a conquering king. Sadly, this has too often been the pattern of the church throughout its history, especially in its mission.

I would submit that the intrusion of an alien master story, and the ongoing re-conversion of the church to that pseudo-gospel, is the greatest and most persistent sin of the church, at least in the United States, today. From presidential claims, both Democrat and Republican, that the United States is the light of the world and the hope for human freedom, to the language of “mission” that permeates military discourse, to talk of “redemptive violence,” to the incorporation of nationalistic holidays and devotion into the liturgical life of the church, the church is constantly bombarded with temptations to honor an alien Lord with an alien mission in the world.

By telling and re-telling the church’s true master story, however, the church is empowered to cast off this alien master story and is prepared to live the story missionally and faithfully.

Wouldn’t Palm/Passion Sunday take on new meaning if we really understood, preached, and lived Philippians 2 as our master story and—most importantly—allowed it to challenge those alien master stories that seek to replace it?