Paul believes in BOTH predestination AND freewill (Kirk and Sanders)

Tucked in his ongoing series of blog thoughts on Douglas A. Campbell’s, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, my favorite New Testament scholar says,

…Now I know that on many of these issues you don’t think Ed Sanders has gotten things as straight as needs be. Fair enough. But one thing he said around the seminar table has stuck with me and resonated as true to much of early Jewish literature: “Paul believed both in predestination and free will, and so did the other Jews of the first century. Do you know what the Qumran community called themselves? The elect. You know what else they called themselves? The volunteers!”

It seems more than a little likely to me that what we consider theological contradiction a first century Jew might consider paradox or mystery. This is one reason I’m less than eager to base my assessment of Paul on an idealized reconstruction of theories. I’m not persuaded that our only other option is to relegate Paul to the realm of contradiction and confusion.

Both/and might be an alternative to either/or…

JRD Kirk, More on the Reformed Traditions in Campbell

I’ll just add that my African colleagues tend to have an easier time handling these BOTH/AND paradoxes than my linear Western EITHER/OR friends do. That’s just one more benefit of doing biblical studies in the African context.

5 books that helped shape how I read the Bible

I’ve been tagged by Karyn Traphagen with a book meme:

Name 5 books or scholars that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. [Ken Brown has collected responses.]

I’m going to come at it a little differently than some. These books are more representations of communities and experiences that have shaped my reading of Scripture.  As you can see, some do not directly address how I read the Bible per se, but they had a radical impact on my hermeneutics in a contextual kind of way.

  1. Peter Enns – Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament along with classes by Doug Green and Mike Kelly at Westminster (also Kenton Sparks – God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.—though more recent (2008), he gets at many of the same issues.) I guess half of you will disown me at this point; sorry.  These same Old Testament professors helped me appreciate a redemptive-historical approach to the entire biblical canon–the whole Bible as God’s story of redemption.
  2. NT Wright – The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God . (Also his most recent books, but the starting point was his article on How Can the Bible be Authoritative (or pdf)—the 5th Act elaborated more in his recent book on Scripture The Last Word).
  3. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith– Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the problem of Race in America (in conjunction with other books on ethnicity & race)  helped me see how a lot of “biblical interpretation” is driven by our sub-cultures and desires to preserve certain comforts and privileges. Social environment plays a huge role in our hermeneutical stance and which texts we choose to listen to or to ignore.
  4. Kwame Bediako – Theology and Identity : The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa.
  5. Laurenti Magesa – African Religion: The Moral Traditions of the Abundant Life provides some African religious context as a worldview setting for reading and inculturating the Bible). Provides the bookend with #1 in the dialogue between cultures of biblical times and Africa today into which God speaks.

[And since I always cheat on memes, a few more]:

  1. Walter Wink – Naming the Power series (helped me piece together together my biblical, American, and African misunderstandings of the spirit world in a somewhat unusual way—more on that some time in the future.)
  2. Anything demonstrating the more Jewish orientation of Acts (Tiede, Jervell, etc.)
  3. Sperber and Wilson – Relevance: Communication and Cognition – This book actually does a very poor job of communicating or achieving “relevance”, but the ideas that emerge out of it are important for hermeneutics and communication. (Ernest Gutt makes it more clear in Relevance Theory Guide to Successful Communication in Translation )

My hermeneutical journey went something like this.

  • At Wheaton College, perhaps the most significant “eye-opening” experiences were learning Greek, Hebrew, and textual criticism. It helped me begin to see the Bible as a living document in different ways than I had been raised to believe.
  • After my BA, I thought that if I could only figure out how the early church father’s interpreted the Bible, then I might be able to solve many of the disputes we have over interpretation today.
  • Then I studied the church fathers and realized they were just as confused and driven by culture as we are (Bediako’s book gets at that)—back to direct exegesis of the Biblical texts.
  • Through Trinity and Westminster, I became disillusioned with presentations of systematic or dogmatic theologies. (I have a relatively long list of books that paradoxically convinced me that their way of reading the Bible was untenable. The harder they tried, the less convinced I became.)
  • Meanwhile the African-American brothers and sisters began to open my eyes to the racist sub-culture of American Evangelicals and their limited readings of the Bible. They helped me appreciate the Exodus story (Exodus/New Exodus readings of the Bible) and the the importance God places on justice throughout the biblical narrative.
  • Peter Enns (I & I) and the other Old Testament profs at Westminster (Al Groves, Doug Green, and Mike Kelly) opened up the biblical cultural worlds and methods of interpretation during the second temple period. The key epiphany there was the christotelic (towards Christ) hermeneutic of the apostles. (They also introduced me to N.T. Wright.)
  • N.T. Wright opened my eyes to the Second Temple context and a more “Jewish”—story of Israel—reading of New Testament texts. Wright further helped reframe my worldview.
  • More recently, Laurenti Magesa helped me think of contextualizing the gospel in different African cultures, and along with Bediako helped me appreciate how understandings of African worldviews can enrich our understandings of the Gospel and our readings of the Bible.

And le voila; here I am: more confused than ever, but hopefully confused at a higher level. All in all, I have developed a far deeper respect for Scripture and how God continues to speak through it the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ to peoples of different times, places, and cultures. May God be praised!!

If they feel like doing some variation of this, I tag: Rombo Kins (who you’ll probably have to catch on Twitter); Eddie Arthur; Pastor M; David Ker; Michael Kruse; Brad Wright; the newly minted REV. Simon Cunningham; and David Bawks (who should be done with exams and student council business in a couple of weeks.)

The latest Review of Biblical Literature (RBL)

Here are a few interesting new reviews that  have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL). For those who aren’t familiar with this resource, RBL provides short 3-4 page summaries of recent books.

Paul N. Anderson, Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher, eds. John, Jesus, and History: Volume 1, Critical Appraisals of Critical Views Reviewed by Mark A. Matson

David Catchpole, Jesus People: The Historical Jesus and the Beginnings of Community. Reviewed by Paul Foster

John Granger Cook, The Interpretation of the Old Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism. Reviewed by David Lincicum

Hubertus R. Drobner; Siegfried Schatzmann, trans.The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction Reviewed by Wilhelm Pratscher

Zev Garber, ed. Mel Gibson’s Passion: The Film, the Controversy, and Its Implications Reviewed by W. R. Telford [I’m not particularly interested in this one, but I thought some of you might be.]

Thomas J. Kraus. Ad fontes: Original Manuscripts and Their Significance for Studying Early Christianity: Selected Essays. Reviewed by Christopher Tuckett

Yuzuru Miura, David in Luke-Acts: His Portrayal in the Light of Early Judaism Reviewed by Steven Cox

Stephen W. Need. The Gospels Today: Challenging Readings of John, Mark, Luke and Matthew. Reviewed by Peter J. Judge

In this very brief book, Stephen Need (Dean of St. George’s College, Jerusalem) provides ten studies of New Testament Gospel passages, themes, or issues, aimed at an audience outside academic circles but one that can be expected to have a general familiarity with
the Gospel texts. . . The typical nonacademic reader of scripture (whether lay or clerical) is often so blinded by modern assumptions about the world or numbed by a lengthy tradition of sermonizing and popular exegesis that he or she is unable to ask new questions of a text or understand it against its historical and literary context. Need sets out, then, to “make constructive, critical approaches to the Gospels available to a wider circle of interested readers … [and] provide examples of how the study of the Gospels proceeds as a discipline.”

*Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement Reviewed by John A. Dennis

Rivka Ulmer, ed., Discussing Cultural Influences: Text, Context, and Non-Text in Rabbinic Judaism. Reviewed by Joshua Schwartz

Laurence M. Vance, Guide to Prepositions in the Greek New Testament Reviewed by Paul Elbert
[I was disappointed to find out he uses the KJV for English translations ;-(]

Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation: Literary, Historical, and Theological Perspectives Reviewed by Jan G. van der Watt

*Magnus Zetterholm, ed. The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity Reviewed by James H. Charlesworth


Okay, so I wound listing almost all of them – and there are more good ones. (Here is someone else’s list of picks). I’ve already read some of these books*, so I’m interested to see if any of these reviewers offer critiques.

YOU TOO CAN BECOME AN INSIDER. Weekly notices of new RBL reviews are a FREE e-mail service of the Society of Biblical Literature. Click HERE to find out how to subscribe.

PS – you can also download Adobe 9.0 now.

NT Theology; 2 unifying themes (Schreiner)

Collin Hansen (CT) interviews Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, about his book New Testament Theology (Baker Academic, 2008), in which he argues that the 27 books of the New Testament present two unified themes.

1. In Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom has come, the New Testament (NT) advances the redemptive history of the Old. Since the first century Christians have lived in an “already not yet” tension, awaiting the kingdom’s full consummation.

2. The second theme is the book’s subhead: “Magnifying God in Christ.” The goal of the kingdom is to magnify God through the work of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

. . . I worked on and off for about seven years . . . First, as I read through the NT, I took notes on the major themes in the writings. Second, I wrote a first draft of the entire book from my notes. Third, I revised the book two more times after that. Fourth, I tried to read widely in NT studies to test my results against what was being said in scholarship. I revised and rewrote in light of what I read. . .

[Influenced by Ladd, but follows Jonathan Pennington’s work] . . . kingdom of heaven emphasizes the disjunction between God’s ways and ours. His kingdom is heavenly, in contrast to those that are wicked and earthly. . .

How do you envision this book edifying the church?

First, I hope and pray that preachers and teachers will preach and teach the greatness of our God and his saving work in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. In other words, my prayer is that my book will contribute to the proclamation of the gospel. Second, I hope that readers will grow in their trust in God’s Word. In other words, they will see that the NT message is fundamentally harmonious. Third, I know my book is long, but I hope that readers will see that the main message of the NT is clear. Our knowledge is limited, but God has revealed himself clearly to us in Jesus Christ. The gospel we proclaim wasn’t invented by us; it has been revealed to us. And we can understand it, live it, and proclaim it.

Read the whole brief article.

See also this longer interview, more detailed interview of Schreiner by Andy Cheung (Thanks: Jason)

Update: See some important comments by David Miller on harmony and diversity.

I also just remembered that Art Boulet has blogged on the first chapter of Schreiner’s Theology. Obviously, he’s been a little distracted lately (end of post), but hopefully Sundays with Schreiner will be back. (No pressure Art, we feel your pain).

Bible interpretation test; universal or cultural?

Most of us probably think that we are reasonably consistent in the way we interpret the Bible. Test it out with this Cultural Hermeneutics Test from William J. Webb. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), pages 14-16.

“Vote” for each verse: A, B, or C.
“A” means “universal and transcultural,”
“B” means “Christians don’t agree”
“C” means “Cultural and not for Christians today.”
[This is McKnight’s version; couldn’t find the link.]

Explain WHY you feel this way?

Webb’s original question: “Which of these instructions from Scripture are still in force for us today exactly as they are articulated ‘on the page’?”

[Go with your best hunch, and enjoy ;-]]

  1. ‘God. . . said to them [Adam and Eve], ‘Be fruitful and increase in Number’ ” (Gen 1:28).
  2. ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).
  3. ‘When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce. . . you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow” (Deut 26: 12).
  4. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (l Cor 16:20).
  5. “Women should remain silent in the churches” (l Cor 14:34).
  6. “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (l Tim 5:23).
  7. “Set apart for the LORD. . . every firstborn male of your herds and flocks” (Deut 15:19). Continue reading

Sage advice on book buying

Jim West has posted some wise cautions on acquiring books.

I confess, I’m as guilty as the next guy (just ask my wife). Still, here are some of some questions I try to ask myself when wanting to buy books.

  1. Do my neighbors have enough food?
  2. Is it available in the library here? (Surprisingly, the answer to this is usually “yes.”)
  3. Is it central to my work? i.e. I like to highlight books; read them once carefully, then reference them often, reading certain sections repeatedly.
  4. Do I really only need one of the chapters for careful highlighting? (photocopy that chapter only)
  5. Is it less than $30 (Sorry, Brill.) I’ll make a special exception to $40 if it is unavailable here and central to my work (Used books from save me here). (Luckily, I bought most of my key reference books and commentaries when I had a real job and could afford them.)
  6. Is it this an important book that I want to be able to pull off my shelf and hand to someone who asks me a certain question (usually non-academic category)?
  7. Is there a friend or family member coming from the states, and do they have room in their suitcase for this book ? (Otherwise add $10-15 shipping for each book which may or may not arrive. A friend mailed me a book in 2005 which arrived 2 years later.) This is a nice curb to my book buying appetite.
  8. Am I willing to leave this book behind if I have to suddenly move?

I’ll save everything else for a future trip to a US or European library.

Pandas, Hebrew Punctuation & Dandruffy Scholars

Lynne Truss in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Gotham 2003) writes:truss-eats-shoots-leaves.jpg

if Hebrew or any of the other ancient languages had included punctuation (in the case of Hebrew, a few vowels might have been nice as well), two thousand years of scriptural exegesis need never have occurred, and a lot of clever, dandruffy people could definitely have spent more time in the fresh air.

(Christi liked this quote so much that she called my cell specifically to read it to me because she considers me a clever, dandruffy person who doesn’t spend much time in the fresh air.)

She says this book is “like reading Anne Lamont on grammar.”