Archive for the ‘Theological interpretation’ Category

SBL-Bound

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Tomorrow I leave for the 2010 SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting in Atlanta. This is always a great time of seeing old friends, meeting new people, hearing interesting papers, seeing (and often buying) new books, meeting with publishers and potential publishers, etc. Atlanta is not my favorite place for a conference; the downtown area is unexciting compared to, say, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco, or Boston. As I said to a good friend yesterday, Atlanta is a nice place to live but not such a great place to visit.

The conference will be good, however. N.T. Wright holds forth on justification, with respondents, tomorrow evening for the IBR (Institute for Biblical Research). I will chair a session on historical criticism and theological interpretation Saturday morning, featuring three fine papers, including one by Joel Green. Then I will attend the section on missional hermeneutics, focusing on exile, early Saturday afternoon. (I’m on the steering committee of both these groups, and I highly recommend both sessions.) After that, I’m not sure, except for the other session for the theological interpretation of Christian Scripture group. There’s an excellent buffet from which to choose!

Brief reports to come later.

“Reading Revelation Responsibly” is Out

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The good folks at Wipf and Stock/Cascade have miraculously turned my book around in record time. I got copies today for a talk and book signing this Friday. Here is the link to look at and order it. It is available now at 20% off, though Wipf and Stock may soon do a 40%-off email coupon to its regular subscribers. The official publication date is 2011, so don’t expect to see it on Amazon, etc. until some time in December.

The key to this book is the subtitle: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.

I would post a photo of the beautiful cover here, but, alas, I can’t get images to work in WordPress, so you will have to go to the site.

If you are in the Baltimore-DC area, come out to St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore Friday evening at 7 p.m. More information is here.

BTW, the info about me on the Wipf and Stock web site is 9 years old, so it is about to be updated.

Lund NT Lectures in Chicago Postponed

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Due to my father’s hospitalization, I will be unable to give the Lund New Testament Lectures at North Park Seminary in Chicago this Wednesday, nor will I be at the North Park Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. I am disappointed but it has to be.

I hope to post most of the North Park paper (which is completed and submitted) in the coming weeks. Otherwise preoccupied at the moment.

The lectures will be rescheduled.

A (Not So) New Model for the Atonement

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

I am working on a paper to give at the the North Park symposium on the theological interpretation of Scripture next month. The theme of the symposium is “atonement.” Here are a few lines from the paper, which is entitled “Effecting The New Covenant: A (Not So) New, New Testament Model for the Atonement”:

According to all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ own interpretation of his death on the night before he died was about effecting a (new) covenant:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:23-24)

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:27-28)

And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)

Moreover, in the only account of the Last Supper outside the Gospels, Paul passes on the same kinds of words, indicating that both the Last Supper and its act of remembrance, the Lord’s Supper, narrate an interpretation of Jesus’ death centered on the establishment of a new covenant:

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:25)

So why is there no theory or model of the atonement called “new covenant”?

Not merely the lack of covenantal language in the “names” of the standard theories of the atonement (“satisfaction” or “substitution” or “penal”, “Christus victor,” “moral influence”), but also, more broadly, the near absence of such language from standard expositions of their content, might suggest that the tradition is blatantly ignoring the interpretation of Jesus himself as well as a very early, pre-Pauline Christian tradition rooted in Jesus’ own interpretation. It is likely that more time has been spent in recent decades discussing the tradition history of the two forms of this tradition—the Markan/Matthean, on the one hand, and the Pauline/Lukan, on the other—than their common theological content and its theological significance.

In this essay, therefore, I aim in a modest way to help in correcting this problem by proposing a new model of the atonement that is really not new at all—the new covenant model. In fact, this model may legitimately lay claim to being the oldest model of the atonement in the Christian tradition, going back to Jesus, the earliest churches, and Paul. I will argue that this not merely a more comprehensive model, but also, and more importantly, a more integrative and integrated model than any of the major models in the tradition.

The fundamental problem with existing models of the atonement is not that they are inaccurate—though some may have problems—but that they are inadequate. Each one is constructed as if part of an atomistic theological non-system in which various key elements are not inherently connected to one another. Most existing models (whether traditional or more recent ones) of the atonement are not integrative; they are narrow and do not naturally pull other aspects of theology into their orbit.

The result is the separation of atonement theology from ethics, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and missiology.

We may summarize a model of the atonement in terms of its understanding of the fundamental effect of the cross on humanity. Whereas in the satisfaction-substitution-penal model 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, in the new covenant model the effect is best expressed in terms like transformation, participation, and re-creation.

What I’m Up to…

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Not much time to blog lately, but…

I just blurbed the new Paideia commentary on Romans by Frank Matera: a great resource for students.

My review of Jimmy Dunn’s Christianity in the Making, vol. 2 (on Acts and Paul), is in the July issue of Interpretation here.

My response to Markus Bockmuehl on Peter and conversion in the NT is in the 2010 issue of Ex Auditu.

I am editing my Reading Revelation Responsibly.

I am writing the Lund Lectures at North Park Seminary in Chicago on “Re-imagining Justification” (Wed., September 22)

I am writing a paper for the Symposium on Theological Interpretation of Scripture at North Park, which will be discussed Sept 23: “Effecting the New Covenant: A (Not So) New, New Testament Model of the Atonement.”

I am writing my paper for a special international conference at Duke (Oct 7-10) on Revelation, Intertextuality, and Politics. My paper is called “Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Impact History of Revelation.”

So now it is clear why I’m not blogging much!

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 (3)

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The afternoon sessions on Friday continued the focus on Jesus with the following papers:

“‘Outside of a Small Circle of Friends’: Jesus and the Justice of God,” Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (Toronto)

“Jesus’ Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet,” Nicholas Perrin (Wheaton)

I don’t have too much to say about these papers, not because they were uninteresting, but because my energy level was not real high after lunch following, essentially, three papers (Hays, Thompson, and NTW’s chapel address—an overview of Ephesians).

Always creative, husband-and-wife team Sylvia and Brian, who have been NTW’s students and friends for a long time, gave an impassioned address on the importance of taking Jesus’ teaching on wealth and injustice/justice even more seriously than does Bishop Tom. They argued for moving from a “crucifixion economy” where the non-elite are sacrificed on the altar of the “god of unlimited economic growth” to a “resurrection economy” that embodies the “prophetic critique and prophetic hope” of Jesus that is given validity and divine approval in the resurrection. They asked if we find that prophetic critique and hope of Jesus on the subject of wealth and justice in Jesus and the Victory of God. The basic answer—yes, but not as much as we should.

Former NTW research assistant Nick Perrin argued for seeing a close connection between eschatology and ethics in Jesus and in NTW, especially suggesting that NTW’s identification of Jesus with Israel yields an integrative biblical theology. In NTW’s work on Jesus we find a counter to docetism, a synthesis of soteriology and ecclesiology, and a basis for social ethics in its combination of Christology, praxis, and community.

Both papers, in other words, interpreted Jesus and the Victory of God as providing the foundation of a Christian social ethic grounded in Jesus, though the concrete implications of this (at least according to Sylvia and Brian) need to be explored more vigorously.

One small comment: Bishop Tom has grown increasingly aware of, and committed to addressing, social injustices, whether in his backyard or in Africa, since becoming bishop and a member of the British House of Lords. He grounds this in his meta-narrative and in his interpretation of Jesus and Paul. Jesus and the Victory of God might look a bit different now… That said, I will raise some questions in my next post, about NTW and Paul at the conference, about the direction he may be going.

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?

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?


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