Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

(Professor) N.T. Wright Going to St. Andrews

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I thought I was done blogging about Bishop Tom for a while, but then the big news came out today: he is headed for St. Andrews University in Scotland as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. Both the University and the Diocese of Durham released statements today.

The good Bishop said it was the most difficult decision of his life (other than turning down the offer we made a few years back :-) ). In my conversation with him in Chicago, he dropped a hint in this direction, but I think most people are quite surprised. I know he is sad to leave the ministry in Durham, but this move certainly feels (w)right to me.

Why? He will now have time to actually get some writing done! (It’s about time.) No more slouching!

Seriously, he will be able to continue his pastoral writing, increase his scholarly output, and guide graduate students. In fact, I know that some people already inquired today about the Ph.D. application process at St. Andrews for the fall and learned that it is closed! I’m sure this was well planned.

Tom joins some interesting people at St. Andrews (which has a very strong biblical faculty and is currently rated the top school in theology in Scotland), including Philip Esler, Trevor Hart, and Alan Torrance not to mention Richard Bauckham (emeritus) (RB has moved to Cambridge in retirement), plus a young American gospels scholar, Kelly Iverson, a good friend of my colleague Chris Skinner.

Bishop/Professor Tom will be 62 in the fall—still a young and energetic man, with many productive years left, we hope and pray. (His colleague C.K. Barrett at Durham, who is 92, remains active to this day as far as I know.) May the next phase of his scholarship and ministry be blessed.

What do others think of this development?

N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference Report (2)

Monday, April 19th, 2010

As I continue my reflections on this historic conference, I want to state at the outset of this post that all of the participants are my professional colleagues, people with whom I have worked and/or interacted, and many of them are my friends, including Bishop Tom. So any criticisms I offer are those of a friendly critic.

I do not intend to give full summaries of the various papers. But Marcus Maher, a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School student who was at the conference, has done a look of summarizing over at his blog, Seeking the truth…

Day one of the conference, Friday, was dedicated to the Bishop’s treatment of Jesus and its theological implications, especially in his justly famous 1996 book Jesus and the Victory of God. The morning session was as follows:

“Knowing Jesus: Story, History, and the Question of Truth,” by Richard Hays (Duke)

“The Gospel of John Meets Jesus and the Victory of God,” by Marianne Meye Thompson (Fuller)

Richard Hays is probably the most respected American New Testament scholar and a long-time friend of Tom Wright. As always, Richard’s paper was incredibly well done, and one of the two or three from the conference that everyone interested in NTW or NT Theology needs to view, hear, or read. It was both a summary and a critique of Tom’s methodology in the study of Jesus and a public rejoinder to Tom’s devastating SBL review of the book Seeking the Identity of Jesus, edited by Richard and Princeton’s Beverly Gaventa. At that session, I remember Richard’s initial reaction to Tom’s review: “It makes me wonder if you read the book.” The tension over that book and the issues it raises have no doubt strained their friendship, and this paper and its hoped-for but unfortunately postponed dialogue (since Richard had to leave) can be seen in part as an attempt to heal the rift.

So what is the issue between Wright and Hays? It is the age-old tension between the so-called Jesus of history and the so-called Christ of faith, which has to get worked out in each new generation of theologians and scholars. More specifically, it is the relationship between, and the significance assigned to, the first-century Jew known through historical reconstruction and the no-less-Jewish but living Jesus whose identity is revealed in the canonical gospels and in the Christian tradition. In my view, Tom and Richard are actually closer together than they can sometimes appear to be, and their differences may be largely a matter of emphasis—though I’m not 100% sure either of them would agree with me on this.

After reviewing seven dimensions of NTW’s distinctive methodology for studying the historical Jesus and pointing out its principal strengths, especially vis-à-vis certain other approaches, Hays raised some concerns and questions, and then asked, “Where do we go from here?”

Among the most important points in Hays’s paper (meaning the ones I agree with most strongly):

• The story of Israel and Jesus that NTW posits as the biblical meta-narrative is never actually told anywhere in the NT; it is not the story proclaimed by any of the evangelists, nor is it the story of Jesus found in later Christian confession. I would say that this does not necessarily make it wrong, but it does make it suspect—or at least in need of nuancing. Hays rightly contends that sometimes the historical evidence or the exegesis gets overly systematized and forced into his (NTW’s) narrative construct.

• The quest for an alleged single story of Jesus behind the four gospels is theologically problematic, since such a quest deliberately muffles the distinctive voices of the evangelists and tries to create a kind of historian’s Diatessaron (melding of the four stories into one, as Tatian did with the four gospels; that phrase is my own, not Richard’s).

• The absence of the Gospel of John from NTW’s historical reconstruction is hermeneutically significant. Tom later replied that he did not include John for apologetic reasons—he would not have been taken seriously as a scholar of the historical Jesus. Interestingly, in light of recent scholarly developments, that situation is quite different now, and John’s gospel is receiving renewed attention for its possible contributions to understanding the historical Jesus. Maybe NTW would consider John if he were writing Jesus and the Victory of God today.

• The starting point for, and the basic fact of, a Christian statement about the identity of Jesus is the resurrection of Jesus. It is the key to any ultimately truthful and meaningful historical account of him. How would NTW as the author of The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) reconceive the project taken on in Jesus and the Victory of God (1996)?

• There is no need to bracket out the Christian tradition in our quest to understand and identify Jesus. Richard implied what another panelist, Edith Humphrey, said the next day: that the effects of Jesus tell us something important about him as an historical figure.

Marianne’s paper developed a point made by Richard—the problem of the neglect of John in Jesus and the Victory of God. She made two especially important observations:

• The destruction of the Temple, which occurs early in John, would likely signal, not the end of exile, but a new exile, or at least divine judgment. What does one (especially NTW) do with that?

• Ironically, the Jesus of NTW’s Jesus and the Victory of God (taking on the role of YHWH, etc.) might look a lot more like the Jesus of John than of the synoptics. Actually, I think the work of Kavin Rowe on Luke and the forthcoming work of Richard Hays on the use of Scripture in the gospels indicate that all the evangelists saw Jesus as identified in a significant way with YHWH. But the standard critical interpretation of the differentiation between the synoptics and John on this matter makes Marianne’s point at least interesting and probably valid.

Clearly these two papers gave and give both Bishop Tom and the rest of us much to consider.

Three thoughts on all of this:

1. Later on in the panel (I think), Bishop Tom noted that one of his concerns about reading Jesus through the creeds and tradition is that they have tended to engage in the “de-Israelitization” (his neologism on the spot) of Jesus, God, and the gospel. I have heard him register this complaint before, and I share his concern to a point, as I share his similar concern that the creeds skip from Jesus’ birth to his passion.

One way to deal with this is to realize that the creeds and the Christian tradition more generally do not override or replace the gospels—or at least they shouldn’t. They provide a hermeneutical lens, not a straight-jacket. That is, when we read the gospel narratives of Jesus the Jew, the creeds tell us, we are not reading the story of merely a Jewish teacher, healer, etc. He is, of course, that first-century Jew, but he is that first-century Jew simultaneously, and inseparably, as the once-incarnate and now crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming Son of God.

2. Someone on the panel spoke about a two-dimensional (purely historical) versus a three-dimensional (historical plus theological/canonical/creedal) interpretation of Jesus. I have to think more about this image, but if it is valuable, it reinforces my previous point. As Christians, we cannot think only two-dimensionally, historically (Jesus the first-century Jew), but neither can we skip the two dimensions, however flat they may be, and pretend that Jesus can be known only in the third dimension of canon/creed/theology. Or, better put—if the two-dimensional (historical) Jesus is inseparably part of the three-dimensional Jesus, then it is better to say that understanding Jesus historically, at least in regard to some basic aspects, is not merely an historical task but an essential part of the theological task, of understanding Jesus theologically. This is because, at the very least, (1) incarnation and resurrection and parousia all have something to do with history, and (2) failing to identify Jesus as a Jew, and a particular kind of Jew (the One who brought salvation to and through Israel), is a fundamental theological error in all sorts of ways.

3. It may be that Bishop Tom’s reading of Jesus, even in Jesus and the Victory of God, is more theological than he might want to admit. That’s OK. He’s a Christian! But that does not make his reading any less historical, or any less valid, in my view, because his implicit theological vision is fundamentally both historically and theologically true.

To summarize briefly: it’s a both-and, not an either-or; historical and theological readings of Jesus need to go hand in hand.

At almost 1,500 words, I will stop here and say something briefly about the Friday afternoon session in the next post.

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.

Why are 1,100 People Going to a Conference about N.T. Wright?

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Next Friday and Saturday the annual Wheaton College Theology Conference in Illinois will be devoted to the subject of N.T. Wright’s contributions to the study of Jesus (Friday) and Paul (Saturday). “A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright” will consist of a series of presentations by some of the world’s top biblical scholars and theologians, a panel with the presenters and Tom Wright each day, chapel with Tom preaching, and a concluding lecture each night by the good bishop.

Why are 1,100 people, including yours truly, attending? Why did 900 come to my seminary to hear him, and in the process buy $13,000 worth of his books in about a 24-hour period? He may well be the most widely and influential New Testament scholar of all time.

A few thoughts:

1. Bishop Tom is a first-rate historian, New Testament scholar, theologian, churchman, and rhetorician all rolled into one. He is the total package.

2. As an historian and interpreter of texts, he is enormously insightful in his analysis and creative in his synthesis.

3. He has almost boundless energy and is simply a spellbinding speaker. As one noted speaker said when introduced as the next presenter following the bishop’s magical presentation, “No one should have to follow Tom Wright on a program.” Amazingly, he can do what he does often with little time for preparation—for instance, a riveting lecture or sermon prepared in a few minutes early in the morning and delivered before the rest of us have begun to think for the day. As one good friend of mine says, it’s a question of theodicy, of the justice of God, that someone can do that.

4. He is sometimes traditional and sometimes progressive, and often both at the same time.

5. He brings theology and Scripture to life, making the connection between them and the role of Christians in the real world.

6. Finally (at least for now) he has helped to revolutionize and solidify our understanding of many things about Jesus and Paul and the mission of the church. That’s not to say anyone, including me, agrees with him all the time. But he must always be taken seriously.

What else about him is worth noting?

Crossquotes (4): Cruciform Hope

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Cruciform hope implies a mission, not an eschatological daydream.

Paul and the Gospel of Thomas

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Over at peje iesous, Chris Skinner is doing an interesting series of posts on Paul and the Gospel of Thomas, with the first three as follows:

1. Introduction
2. Three introductory issues
3. GosThom 3 and Rom 10:5-8

The “Best” NT Introduction(s)?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I have not taught a basic NT survey in more than a decade, but I am now supervising an independent-study NT survey and am both thinking about writing a NT survey text with a theological bent and possibly teaching the course again.

So I am wondering (1) which NT intro(s) others like, or dislike, and why, and (2) whether you think there is a need for another one (of the making of NT intros there is no end!). If you say yes to #2, what would be the elements of the ideal NT intro, or at least the one you think needs to be written?

Here are some thoughts about the ones I have known and used:

1. Luke Timothy Johnson’s second edition from Fortress is my favorite because he attends so carefully and richly to the NT text in its literary and theological dimensions. It is not at all user-friendly, however—no illustrations or even maps—but I hope the third edition, soon to be out, will correct that problem.

2. The one I am using with the student this term is Mark Alan Powell’s new book from Baker. I always like Powell’s work, and this book is no exception. It has tables (I love tables!) and art and maps galore. It’s very user friendly, but it is a bit thin for a text at the seminary or graduate level, so I am supplementing it with some videos by Luke Johnson, NT Wright, and Bart Ehrman.

3. My old friend Bart Ehrman’s Oxford intro, now in its 77th edition and 17th form (abridged, abbreviated, condensed, full-length, etc.) ( :-) ), is a model of clear writing and user-friendliness, with tables, art, and other graphics. It’s good as far as it goes, but it deliberately displays no theological interests.

4. I used Raymond Brown’s massive Doubleday tome with a class when it first came out and was surprised at how well it was received, especially since it looks like an encyclopedia. Brown was a good writer and master of the secondary literature. There are good summary tables of basic data (who/what/when/where, etc.) for each writing but only a few other graphics. His treatment of the gospels is basically a mini-commentary on each from beginning to end; the rest of the NT is treated differently and more topically. I would not use it again as the main text, however.

5. I have only skimmed parts of David deSilva’s equally massive IVP NT introduction, with its stress on application to ministry. I’ve had some former students use it with him in the D.Min. program at David’s school, but I think it would only work in certain settings. (Our student body has more lay people than current or future clergy.)

6. The Eerdmans NT survey by Joel Green, Marianne Meye Thompson, and Paul Achtmeier is solid and well done, though less thorough than some and not as theologically rich as, say, Johnson.

So what do you all think?

Off to Turkey and Greece

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Tomorrow, God willing, I am headed on a journey to the cities of Paul and John with 21 students and others. We will go to Istanbul, Izmir/Smyrna, Ephesus, Pergamum, Assos, Neapolis/Kavala, Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens, and Corinth/Isthmia.

If you teach or preach from the NT, I hope and pray that one day you will take and/or lead such a trip. This will be my fifth, and I am now acting as a consultant with the educational and pastoral travel organization Illume to encourage and help others go to Turkey, Greece, Israel, Palestine, and elsewhere. If you are a pastor or biblical scholar reading this post, please read the letter below and then email me at Illume. I will answer you in late February when I return.

Dear Colleague in Biblical Studies and/or Church Ministry:

Like you, I love teaching biblical studies and/or preaching from the Scriptures, and I have been doing so for quite some time now. In the last 10 years or so, I have discovered that there is something that enhances teaching and learning the Bible more than the latest book, article, theological movement, or pedagogical strategy. I am talking about travel to the “lands of the Bible.”

Since 1999, I have led and/or participated in one trip to Israel and Palestine and five to Turkey and Greece. (What do you expect? I’m a student of Paul!) I’ve seen stunning Jerusalem, the arid region of Masada and Qumran; the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee; the incredible rock formations of Cappadocia; the amazing ruins of Ephesus and Corinth; the imposing acropolis at Pergamum and the more famous one in Athens; the unexcavated Colossae and the nearly unvisited Pisidian Antioch; and so on. More importantly, many of my students—as well as some of their family members and friends—have seen these same places, read their Bibles on location, and been transformed in unexpected ways because of their travel experiences.

I have come to believe so firmly in this kind of educational and spiritual travel that I recently became a consulting scholar with Illume, the pastoral and educational resource center that I have worked with for years in planning and taking trips. Illume collaborates with educational and pastoral leaders to create transformative programs that involve travel to places of great historical and religious significance, educational and pilgrimage-like tours to places related to the Bible (Israel, Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Egypt, Italy) and beyond.

Illume is different from other travel organizations you may be familiar with. Illume brings important resources to the table for successful program development and coordination:

• two in-house scholars (Michael Hartwig and myself) for program development;
• a portfolio of client-scholars that Illume also draws on for program development;
• a Boston-based professional staff that is attentive to detail, is quickly accessible, and has more than 35 years of experience, relationships, and resources; and
• a global network of long-term partners and affiliates who consistently deliver professional on-the-ground expert guides and tour managers.

This letter is both an introduction—to Illume and to my role in it—and an invitation. It is an invitation to consider leading a group on a life-changing journey. (And if you already lead study tours, perhaps we can discuss the difference working with Illume can make.) Let’s explore this further: send me an email with some thoughts and/or questions, and I will be in touch. We can begin the process of collaboration that is Illume’s trademark.


Michael J. Gorman

Richard Hays Encore

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Readers of this blog will know of my deep respect for the Duke NT scholar, and good friend, Richard Hays. His graduate student Andy Rowell, whom I got to know at Duke last year, posted some resources related to Richard, including video of a recent sermon at Duke chapel. Have a look!

PS My son Mark has the privilege of being in Richard Hays’s course on 1 Corinthians this term.

What I am Teaching in Spring 2010

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Classes begin for me today, with the following lineup:

Pauline Spirituality for Church and Ministry, a course I first taught at Duke last spring. We will read some recent works on Paul’s spirituality, pastoral vision, ecclesiology, and counter-imperial theology:
—Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross
—Kent E. Brower and Andy Johnson, eds. Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament
—James W. Thompson, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul: A Biblical Vision
—Richard A. Horsley, Paul and the Roman Imperial Order
—some articles by Kathy Grieb, Morna Hooker, and Beverly Gaventa

In addition, students will be doing some practical case studies and panel presentations on the intersection of these topics in Paul and in the life of the church.

The Book of Revelation and its Interpreters, which I have taught numerous times here and also taught at Duke last year. I only have three students, so it will be a small seminar, but very interesting: two of them are advanced students from Africa. Focusing on the text with them will help me finalize by little book on Revelation. The students will read the fantastic commentary by Mitchell Reddish and the fine theology of Revelation by Richard Bauckham.

The Cities of Paul and John, my bi-annual study tour to Turkey and Greece. We have 24 people going in February, and it is always a wonderful experience. (See the link to the right.) Reading includes parts of my Apostle of the Crucified Lord, the little commentary on Revelation by Gonzalez and Gonzalez, and the superb guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey by Mitch Reddish and Clyde Fant.