Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paul and Wisdom

In preparing for a recent set of sermons on Ephesians chapter 1, exploring the link between wisdom, maturity and knowledge of God's purposes (which is Paul's great concern), I came across some good stuff from Graeme Goldsworthy. Commenting on Ephesians 1:9-10, he writes:

Paul thus points to the intellectual content of the gospel as it reveals the ultimate plan of God. It shows us that this plan is much bigger than we may be used to thinking of it...here Paul put's forward what we might refer to as the cosmic dimension in salvation. That is to say, God's plan, which he revealed in Christ, is to bring the whole universe or cosmos to its proper goal in Christ...Paul's purpose is not to define wisdom but to describe God's ultimate purpose. Yet wisdom is closely related to the knowledge of this purpose. Goldsworthy Trilogy, 354
And again, he writes that wisdom for the Christian...
is not first and foremost a knowledge of how to perform good works, but of what God has really accomplished for us in Christ. 355

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Late Reflections on Wisdom Literature

These reflections on last semesters Wisdom Literature course should have been posted back in the inter-semester break. But they weren't. And here they are now.

The wisdom literature module is taught by Dr Jamie Grant. It deals with themes and genres in the OT wisdom corpus, takes an overview of Proverbs and then a more detailed look at the book of Job. To round off, an assessed book review is thrown in - last semester this was of Jacque Ellul's (French Protestant Neo-Orthodox Techno-critical Philosopher) work on Ecclesiastes, Reason for Being (!). Sitting in the first lecture, I remember thinking: I'm not sure about interpretative principles for this corpus and I don't know much about wisdom as a genre. I think that just shows that the OT wisdom corpus is neglected, precisely because interpretation is far from straightforward. It just doesn't fit easily in OT theology (as Von Rad's omission in his OT Theology illustrates). So, what is wisdom? Bartholomew offers this pithy definition:
Wisdom in the OT is about how to negotiate life successfully in God's good but fallen world. Reading Proverbs with Integrity
Perhaps I'll post again on that...yes, perhaps some Goldsworthy and Brueggeman. But for now, here are a selection of the many highlights from this excellent course:
  • Wisdom and creation - wisdom is closely linked to creation theology. This is brought out in Bartholomew's definition above; wisdom affirms the doctrine of common grace, the goodness of God's revealed primordial intention for human life and society, and the continuing value of these despite the fall, especially with reference to the covenant people. If wisdom relates to the task of life, then this is not merely an activity for the fallen creation.
  • Wisdom and scripture - wisdom is to a degree empirical, dealing in observation. Wisdom statements are not to be interpreted as rules or laws, but rather generic norms. For example, reflection on the very first proverb 'A wise son makes his father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother' makes the point - it is not universally true. Therefore the human component of scripture is very much to the fore and presents challenges to any hermeneutic that is not attuned to this.
  • Interpreting Proverbs - One of our major assessments dealt with this question. Some interpreters recommend that proverbs are paradigmatic; any situation can be informed by them as long as you pick the correct proverb or combination of proverbs. However, my view (after the course!) is that proverbs have a more significant role as pedagogical rather than epistemological statements. They require interaction as well as interpretation - the empiricism requires reconciliation with the foundational epistemology of Israel, found in the revelation of Yahweh. It is not enough to view the proverbs merely as a toolbox for God's people, pulling out pithy statements to effect guidance in a certain situation; proverbs are more than this - they require interaction, reflection, and become a training ground for the godly...

    The didactic function of collected proverbs was not to produce proverbial parrots, but students of wisdom who understood the purposes of Yahweh. In learning wisdom – how to apply the revelation of God in Christ to our topsy-turvy world – proverbs remind us that we do so not by mere rote application, but through having the 'mind of Christ'. Proverbs still function as a training ground for the Church, since Christ is the telos of Yahweh's revelation.

This module has been hugely instructive. Engaging with the wisdom literature has been hugely rewarding.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Emerging from Stasis

The blog has been in stasis for six weeks (stretching sporadic blogging to breaking point). I have not been, and here lieth the problem. During the last six weeks I have done many interesting and exciting things: a birthday (a significant birthday), some preaching, some climbing in my favourite, long-unvisited mountains, time with my family, a church planting conference, drinking coffee with friends, driving 2000 miles...and the studies of course. Blogging is sliding down my list of priorities - although I do have another blog for my family and close friends which I keep going. Perhaps two sporadic blogs equals one more regular blog...?

Some time back, I wrote a series of articles for Free Magazine about young people, technology, Christianity and culture. One of the key emphases was the importance of the real over the virtual - therefore I intend to keep my blogging sporadic, and my involvement in the real regular and frequent.