Friday, February 29, 2008

Sola Scriptura

In the third part of his extensive history of the church (2000 years of Christ's Power, Grace Publications), Dr Nick Needham points out that the attitude to tradition held by the average modern evangelical would not be recognised by the Reformers.

It was Heiko Oberman who classified two positions on the role of tradition and the relationship to the concept of Sola Scriptura; and Alasdair McGrath who added the third. Dr Needham describes these in the following terms:

  • Tradition 2: an authoritarian reverence for the history and traditions of the Church; the Catholic church at the time of the Reformation elevated theological tradition to an untouchable status.

  • Tradition 1: a critical reverence for the history and traditions of the Church; this was the position taken by the Protestant Reformers - they treated Christian theological tradition with deep care and respect, although they did not give it a blind or uncritical allegiance.

  • Tradition 0: little or no respect for the Church's history or traditions; this position was associated with the Radical Reformation - a Christian must read the Bible with fresh eyes, as if no-one else had ever read it before. Modern Evangelicalism often interprets 'Scripture Alone' in this sense.
For more on Oberman's study and the relationship between sola scriptura, tradition and ecclesiology, try “What Are We Trying to Conserve?: Evangelicalism and Sola Scriptura,” Evangelical Quarterly 76.4 (2004).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Road to Damascus and Paul's Commission

Luke relates the events of, and Paul's descriptions of, the Damascus Road experience on different occasions in Acts (9, 22, 26). And when you compare the accounts, you see significant differences. You have at least two choices: you collapse everything that Paul describes into that event (taking a lead from 26); or, you look for another conceptualisation of what Paul saw as his commission. I would maintain that viewing the Damascus Road experience as the discrete event, the singularity in which Paul's commission is transacted is not the way that Luke portrays it. The Lukan accounts give us the following:
  • Paul is confronted by Jesus on the Road and commanded to 'enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do'. Paul is blind for three days at Judas' house, and fasts during this time (9:9). As a devout Pharisee, Paul's reaction is to seek God; over this period he is surely reflecting on the implications of Jesus being alive - mainly that his claim to be the Messiah was in fact true! During this period Paul is reflecting upon the Messianic sciptures and begins to reinterpret them in the light of what's just happened; this would be one of his first reactions.
  • Ananias then goes to meet Saul in response to a vision, in which the Lord explains to Ananias that Paul will be a messenger to the Gentiles (9:15). Ananias is portrayed as a devout disciple of Christ. He surely relays to Paul the content of the vision: including the fact that Paul has been called to go to 'Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel' (note the order). For Paul, the import of Ananias' words was that he should be a witness to all men (pros pantas anthropous, 22:15). Here, in Judas' house, is the embryo of Paul's missionary thought and strategy. Again this would lead Paul to reflect on the OT to find justification there for Ananias' vision. Paul would already possess a well-rehearsed eschatology which included the Messianic Age and the Gentiles and the revelation at the Road and via Ananias prompt a cycle of eschatological reinterpretation.
  • However, Paul's commission is not yet complete. After three years in Damascus he returns to Jerusalem (9:26f) and is in the Temple praying. In a vision he is now explicitly commanded by Jesus himself to go to the Gentiles, ethne or 'nations' (22:17f). This is a explicit prioritisation of 'Gentiles, kings and the sons of Israel'. Did Paul see this as an ethnic or geographic command? Paul's practice of beginning in the synagogues of the various cities on his itinerary indicates that it was perhaps not merely ethnic, but strongly geographic. Paul was an apostle to the non-Jewish 'nations', including the 'sons of Israel' dwelling there.
  • So, how are we to understand Paul's narration before Agrippa? Here he telescopes the whole process of his call into the event of the Damascus Road (26:14f). This is a compressed account, as Longenecker sees it, including within the narrative structure of the Damascus Road both the contribution of Ananias and the experience in the Temple. In this account, 'Paul did not emphasize details of time or human aid in this third account of his conversion. What Paul did emphasize was the lordship of Christ and the divine commission Christ gave him' (Longenecker).
If we take Acts 26 as the lead for the Damascus Road experience, where everything is explained in that moment, we have difficulty with the Temple vision and we leave unrecognised the important human contribution of Ananias.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Semester means New Modules

2007 is past, the exams are finished, the Reflections are reflected upon and the new semester is under way (two weeks under way). Long live the New Modules (they will live for around 15 weeks - at least for me). And, for completeness, the new modules are:
  • Greek Texts I, taught by Dr Jamie Grant and using Mounce's A Graded Reader of Biblical Greek (which I actually have as an eBook as part of Zondervan's Greek and Hebrew Library 6.0 and so this semester will for me also be about evaluating eBooks for study);
  • Hebrew Grammar II, again taught by Dr Jamie Grant (who else?) and continuing with the 'village policeman'* approach of Ross's Introducing Biblical Hebrew;
  • Pauline Theology, taught by Dr Mike Bird (who else?) and reading Jimmy Dunn's Theology of Paul, Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord and (of course) IVPs Dictionary of Paul and his Letters and (as my own supplementary choice) Ridderbos' Paul - An Outline of His Theology; and
  • Protestant Reformation, taught by Dr Nick Needham (who else?) and using his own book (deep breath) 2000 years of Christ's Power Part 3: Renaissance and Reformation along with Chadwick's The Reformation (Penguin History of the Church) and Hans Hillerbrand's The Protestant Reformation.
This is officially The Who Else? Dream Team of lecturers for subjects! Should be good...
*this is the way that Carson describes John Murray's (former NICNT)commentary on Romans in his Commentary Survey! Cheeky!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reflections on Greek Grammar II

The final Reflection on last semester. What can I say about Greek Grammar II? It's a bit like Greek Grammar I, only more so. You have lots of lovely things to learn about like participles, non-indicative verbs, periphrastics and mi verbs. You just get to thinking that the only way you'd fully understand these things is if you were one of them (which is an abstract concept if ever there was one). Or if you were a first century Greek speaker (but even then, you might not).

It's good to finish Mounce's Basic's of Biblical Greek and once again, I have to say I like Bill's style. And the CD-ROM stuff that comes with the book. Because he stays focussed on the task in hand, that is, teaching undergrads a working knowledge of Greek for translating, and because he's pretty relaxed in the way he does it, Mounce is the man.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Reflections on Hebrew Grammar I

Reflecting on language learning is a little more difficult than for other modules! The module last semester was taught by Andrew Matthews, who hails from the other side of the Atlantic and is studying a PhD at HTC, reading in Ecclesiastes. The usual tutor, Dr Jamie Grant was on a sabbatical, writing the second volume of the NIVAC on Psalms. So, what things stood out from this module? Hmmm, let me see....
  • Hebrew goes the other way. This is fairly easily spotted (!) but leads to some difficulties. Like, when you're translating from Hebrew to English, you start writing your answer at the left margin; from English to Hebrew, you start writing your answer at the right margin. But, do you right the exercise number in the left margin or right margin? It can get a little confusing and this is before you even start any proper learning. You know your brain's in a mess when you try to read English the other way (a bit like when you start writing alpha's instead of a's after doing Greek).

  • Hebrew is a little less connected to English than Greek. Throne...thronos...kise', for example. It's often pointed out that the Greek learning curve starts shallower and steepens up as you go on, whilst the Hebrew learning curve starts steeper and eases as you go on. That seems about right and probably explains why, with Greek Grammar II and Hebrew Grammar I running concurrently, last semester was pretty tough!

  • On the Grammar itself, I've already posted some thoughts on Ross' Introducing Biblical Hebrew along with pointers to resources that might help if you're using Ross.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Meaning of Redemption

The essay title for the Person and Work of Christ module last semester was Explore the Concept of Redemption in the Work of Christ. Now that's a big title and - how to approach it? I wanted to avoid diving into the atonement and various theories etc, and to instead focus on the concept of redemption instead. Murray's classic (and excellent) work Redemption Accomplished and Applied does the diving. I wanted to stay up in the realm of the concept of redemption itself and to that end the majority of the essay looked at the concept of redemption in the contexts of OT and NT separately, looking at historical and linguistic issues, helped to a large degree by Warfield (pictured) and Morris . A major focus was to analyse whether the biblical concept of redemption involves price-payment. Only then is the atonement brought into the picture. Here's a thought which brings in Vos (always a good thing!)...

Those asserting that the Exodus displays redemption without cost too easily overlook the judgement and sacrifice that stand near the centre of the Exodus event and Isaiah’s description of Egypt as a ransom for Israel. Even so, we must not press the idea too far. Vos correctly describes OT redemption as primarily national and political so that ‘in an indirect, typical way only is the principle of the spiritual redemption of the people of God exhibited’ (Vos & Gaffin, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 367).

Anyway, here are the main points from the conclusion...

The concept of redemption in the work of Christ is built upon, and foreshadowed by, redemption in the OT. In the Exodus paradigm for redemption, so often used to justify a model of redemption without ransom price, there is a collocation of redemption, sacrifice and judgement. It is instructive to note that the NT also speaks of Christ as our Passover and as the Lamb of God, expressing salvation in terms of the Exodus. In the NT, the concept of redemption is also collocated with those of sacrifice and propitiation, reinforcing the straightforward reading of the NT data portraying redemption as involving a ransom price. However, the OT redemption was national and political (although socio-ethical components are present), whereas in the NT redemption is from a state of moral rebellion, comprising not merely emptiness of life, but also offenses against God that warrant his judgement. In taking this judgement in his death, Jesus Christ pays the ransom...

Reformed systematics has sometimes struggled to preserve the richness of the biblical theme of redemption. This may be one reason why redemption has too easily become merely deliverance, or a synonym for atonement, and its distinctive meaning obscured. For example, Berkhof has little to say about redemption, and in Calvin there is little on the specific theme of redemption. McGrath treats redemption under The Cross as Victory, and the association of redemption with the ‘ransom to Satan’ theories of early and mediaeval Christianity may be one factor behind its lower profile. Despite these comments, Reformed systematics has successfully constructed a theology that embraces a biblical doctrine of redemption as ransom-paying and a penal-substitutionary model for the atonement. The challenge for Reformed systematics is to maintain the richness of redemption imagery within this soteriological framework.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Reflections on the Person and Work of Christ

Reflections on the Semester 1 modules of the Second Year at HTC continue with the Systematics module: Person and Work of Christ. This module is taught by Welshman Rob Shillaker and covers the broad spread of the topic including Christology in the Early Church, the Humanity and Deity of Christ, Atonement Theories, Modern Christology and the Uniqueness of Christ. Texts for the course are Berkhouwer and Macleod (of course). So, the highlights of the module? They follow in brief:

Atonement theories. Surveying atonement theories was very useful and the presence of penal substitution in early church thought is hugely important for debates today. However, in the early Church, this was held alongside other perspectives on the atonement, of varying validity and importance. Penal substitutionary thought at that time was not developed along the lines of the Reformers' paradigm and, whilst current defences of penal substitution are important, I am worried about any tendency towards the total exclusion of other biblical prespectives on the atonement. A helpful book on the topic is The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. Thomas Schreiner argues for penal substitution (whilst stating up-front that he does not see it as the 'only truth' about the atonement, but as 'the anchor and foundation for all other dimensions of the atonement'); Joel Green argues for a kaleidoscopic view (which is redemptive-historical in its emphasis) where 'on its own, no one model or metaphor will do'. I have sympathy with Green, but it seems that Schreiner and Green might be getting fairly close from either side on the one point. Whilst I go with Schreiner, one continuing problem is the absence of penal substitution from the Lukan corpus.

Athanasius' De Incarnatione. We had to analyse this work for a seminar. However, Macleod throws up a difficulty when he says this about Athanasius...

Most of his work survives only in fragments gleaned from quotations by his opponents and the position is further complicated by the fact that some of his writings, published posthumously, appeared under false names (for example, two pseudo-Athanasian compositions, Quod Unus Sit Deus and De Incarnatione Verbi, are now widely regarded as works of Apollinaris).
It is true that you notice the Apollinarian thought in De Incarnatione. But after some degree of investigation, I'm still not clear if De Incarnatione is the same as De Incarnatione Verbi Dei and which of the manuscripts may or may not be in view here. This illustrates the difficulties that can face you with this kind of thing.

Quest for Historical Jesus. The Modern Christology unit on the module covers the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Reimarus and Wrede through Schweitzer to the neo-liberalism and neo-orthodoxy a la Bultmann and Barth - hence his picture above - to Kasemann and Second Questers through to the so-called Third Quest). This unit was a highlight and a helpful article on this whole thing is: Is there Really a 'Third Quest' for the Historical Jesus? SBET 24.2, by Dr Mike Bird no less.

Macleod on Uniqueness. Macleods' work on the Person of Christ is both comprehensive and invigorating. I read most of The Person of Christ during the module and really enjoyed the chapter on the uniqueness of Christ (or maybe it just seems like I enjoyed it more because it was one of the last ones I read!). I posted a good quote on this before.

Redemption. The essay question for the module was 'Explore the concept of redemption in the work of Christ'. Where to go with that one?! I'll post separately on how I approached it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

New Exodus in Second Isaiah, part II

Here's the concluding section of the New Exodus in Isaiah essay, which summarises the main points of the way in which the theme of the New Exodus is used in Second Isaiah:
The new exodus theme in Isaiah is predominantly a feature of Second Isaiah, where it is the controlling theme of the prophet’s message. It is
employed typologically and imminently to predict the release of Yahweh’s people from exile in Babylon, and to assist them to survey their own Heilgeschichte and so gain confidence in the progress of Yahweh’s purposes. It is also employed eschatologically through the superimposition of covenant and creation theologies to give a grand cosmic horizon for deliverance and renewal under a new and everlasting covenant with Yahweh, not only for Israel, but for all the nations. The Servant Songs of Isaiah speak of a second Moses, who will lead the nations towards this horizon. In this way, Yahweh’s future purposes for the world are telescoped into the context of the Babylonian exile. The actual return from exile did not fulfil Second Isaiah’s glorious vision; rather than the nations flocking to Jerusalem, the returnees were still subject to Persian rule and failed in their covenant obligations. However, the telescoped vision awaited its true fulfilment: ‘Just as the restoration from exile was like a second exodus, so the coming of the Messiah is like a third exodus because he has come to lead sinners – Jews and Gentiles – into the full experience of salvation’ (Waltke).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

New Exodus in Second Isaiah, part I

The title given for the OT Prophecy module essay last semester was: Consider how the New Exodus theme is used in the Book of Isaiah. I knew the New Exodus theme was used in the book of Isaiah, but had never given much thought to how. And, as is usually the case with these things, when you look into it, it just gets better!
The theme of a new or second exodus...occurs throughout the canonical book of Isaiah, but becomes especially prominent in chapters 40-55...Most scholars see these chapters as the work of Second Isaiah, an exilic prophet, although some attribute the whole canonical book to pre-exilic Isaiah of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that chapters 40-55 are addressed to the exilic community and whether they originated in a pre-exilic or an exilic situation, we must primarily consider their impact on an exilic audience.
Snaith describes the Second Exodus theme as the one controlling theme of Second Isaiah, to which all other themes are subservient! Before you can successfully examine the theme of the Second Exodus, you need to have a handle on what's important about the exodus itself. Key here is seeing the relationship between the exodus and the Genesis prologue, the exodus and Sinai and the exodus and the Heilgeschichte of Israel as a whole. The employment of the theme by Second Isaiah to describe the release of captive Israel from Babylon has to be understood against its ANE background: this is not allegory (which assumes a vertical-spatial relationship for meaning), but historical typology (for which a horizontal-temporal relationship is key; it's about history).

This provides further contrast with ANE parallels where the annual rhythmic cycle of nature was identified with the repetition of the events of primeval time. Second Isaiah does not identify the new exodus as a return to the old in ‘a great historical cycle’, but a linear progression in Yahweh’s purposes for history. This heightening means that the ‘new exodus will be a radically new event. It will surpass the old exodus not only in wonder but also in soteriological meaning’.

Isaiah develops the theme eschatologically and it is here that the richness of his work comes out. With a theme so closely tied to the Mosaic covenant, the absence of references to it is truly significant. Instead we find the covenant language of the Noachian and Davidic covenants, through which Isaiah hints at a new unconditional covenant, with a new covenant mediator. We also find prominent creation theology, hinting at the recreation of Israel.
...the new exodus from Babylon does not merely constitute an idealised paradigm for God’s saving activity, but is the means by which the grand eschatological horizon foreseen by Second Isaiah is to be realised in the future. The inevitable eschatological consequences of the new exodus are telescoped into the event itself. Yahweh’s post-exilic people in Israel still awaited these consequences.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Day of the Lord in the Prophets

As posted previously, one of the highlights of the recent OT Prophecy module was the theme of the Day of the LORD in the prophets. If its not too self-indulgent (!), I'll quote from my own seminar paper on this...

In Joel, the Day of the Lord is always near. This thought reveals a principle of decisive divine intervention as being a constant presence in human history. There is the real sense in which the final eschatological principle of salvation and judgement breaks into history and each historical intervention is a temporal expression of this potent principle...

Whilst the prophets spoke of forthcoming historical events, the Spirit of Yahweh was also granting to them revelation of a more cataclysmic principle through which redemption history would reach its conclusion. These two things are telescoped in the motif of the Day of the Lord. The principle of eschatological judgement and salvation was puncturing history at the behest of Yahweh to accomplish his purposes in establishing his kingdom. Van Gemeren rightly projects this theme forward to the coming of Christ, who ushers in the eschatological day of the Lord where the final intervention of God into history is inaugurated in the appearance of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Much of the apocalyptic imagery of the Day of the Lord is picked up in the New Testament, especially in the Petrine correspondence and in John the Seer. They look forward to the final act of this age, in the cosmic judgement of the same Jesus Christ when He appears in his Fathers glory to usher in the New Age of the earth.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Reflections on Old Testament Prophecy

The inter-semester break is almost over and it's time to reflect again; this time on the four first semester modules of the second year of my theology degree at HTC: OT Prophecy, Person and Work of Christ and of course Greek and Hebrew.

We begin with OT Prophecy. This course is taught by Hector Morrison and covers the main themes of Elijah and Elisha, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and Haggai. Highlights were:

  • Van Gemeren's book Interpreting the Prophetic Word. Van Gemeren is great, especially the start of this book, where he contrasts the ANE religious framework with the revelatory framework of Israel's religion.

  • Prophetic Call: comparing and constrasting the call experiences of the prophets as recorded in the OT is invaluable for an insight into their task. However, there is too much of a tendency to appeal to the call experiences of the OT prophets when discussing the call to the NT church ministry. Ignoring the redemptive-historical contexts for these two distinct subjects can get us into problems. Rather than drawing parallels between the OT prophets and Christian ministers, it is more correct to see the fulfilment of the role of the OT prophets in Christ and then, by necessary extension, to see the NT parallel in the Church as a whole, as a prophetic community.

  • True and False Prophecy: how could kings and priests, and the people in general, tell if as prophet was speaking the truth? L J Wood offers seven tests found in the OT: true prophets don't emply divination (a feature of VanG's ANE Religion framework); they speak against the vox populi (using VanGs language); their lifestyle is consistent with Torah; they are willing to endure self-effacement; their message is in harmony with Torah and the word of previous attested prophets of Yahweh; their foretellings happen; they are sometimes authenticated by miracles. None of these are watertight tests, but for me the crux is found in Woods' fifth test: harmony with Torah and former prophets.

  • Day of the Lord: the seminar on this topic was a definite highlight and I'll post separately on this.

I'll also be posting on the essay topic which was the theme of the Second Exodus in the book of Isaiah.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Wired to God II: to be is to bebo

The second article in the Wired to God series (written by myself and Aled Elias) has just been published in the latest issue of Free Magazine. This one tackles social networking - the cybertrinity of Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. At least we came up with a better title than recent articles in Evangelicals Now (Facebook Faceoff) and Third Way (Face Off)! Although, as always, the Third Way article was extremely helpful stuff.

As opportunities to initiate and maintain virtual relationships develop, it's an interesting question as to what level of authenticity can be achieved in such relationships. On one level, letter writing (as used by the apostles) works on a similar principle, but letter writing is intimate and considered compared with the opportunities for the indiscriminate presentation of the self to the world which social networking sites bring. SN sites tend to drive shallow, self-driven views of relationship, rather than relationships built on love for others. It can be 'look at me', rather than 'how are you?'.

And with virtual churches such as Vurch and now churches being planted in Second Life, the validity of virtual selves and of virtual relationships needs questioning. The principle can be applied in the real world as well as the virtual - how much time are we spending promoting ourselves and how much time serving others?