Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Reflections on Old Testament Themes

The Old Testament Themes module is taught by Hector Morrison, now principal of HTC. Its title seems to be a little simplistic for a Level 3 module - it sounds like something you might do on a Saturday course! However, this module is really akin to an Old Testament Theology primer. It's a great introduction to the Biblical Theology modules of Level 4. It is a superb module! Many highlights could be highlighted, but I will be brief:
  • Chaoskampf. One of the seminar themes - focussing on possible occurrences of the motif in the Psalms and writing prophets. I preached a mini-series on some of the Songs of Zion a few months ago and the chaos motif is clearly present in Ps46, contrasted there with the life-giving qualities of the Edenic Gihon spring on the slopes of Zion. The order displayed in the Sinaitic Law, whilst burdensome to the people, should perhaps be understood (at least to some degree) as a recreation of the world in the nation of Israel, which rises from the chaos of Egypt. Our God is a God of order!
  • Isaianic Portrait of the Messiah. This seminar caused disquiet for some by disallowing a simple reading-back of NT perspectives into the traditional Isaianic passages. However, important methodological decisions must be taken when intepreting the OT. One of them is to ask: what did this passage mean in Israel? If we do not ask this question, if we do not impose a historical ordering principle on our hermeneutic, then we will never properly understand the revelation of Christ.
  • Covenant. Dr Mike Bird used to harangue me (in jest) about the number of times I mentioned covenant! In this module, working through the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants enables your thinking to crystallize in this foundational area. A seminar on the New Covenant ('not like the covenant I made with their fathers...') was then an opportunity to build on this. Especially useful for me was time spent considering the fact that the New Covenant is made with the houses of Israel and Judah. Some want to interpret this spiritually, but I think that's a mistake. A literal understanding is what we need, if we are to understand what's happening at Pentecost (and before that, for example, at the well in John 4) and what Paul is getting at when he uses his vine imagery in Romans 11 (on a personal note, this kind of thinking a few years ago now was critical in my own ecclesiastical shift from being a Reformed Baptist to being a Presbyterian. In fact, thinking about it, does that move in itself make me a reformed Baptist?!). It also makes me wonder whether in some of the ways in which the Samaritans feature in the Gospels, we are in fact seeing some kind of tribal reconstruction motif - a rehabilitation of the northern tribes?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Proclaiming God's Redemptive Purpose

Re-reading my last post put me in mind of something I posted last year (prompted by studies in Paul's letter to the Romans) about the dangers of a gospel which is perceived in narrower terms than that proclaimed in the NT (and OT for that matter). The Near-Disaster of the Simple Gospel.

Kerygma, Didache and the Cross

Further to my reflections on Luke-Acts, I reproduce here a couple of excerpts from my assessment essay for the Luke-Acts module on the apostolic kerygma:

We have already noted the relative absence of atonement theology from the kerygmatic speeches of Acts, and contrasted this with its significance in Paul and elsewhere. Whilst CH Dodd's strict dichotomy between kerygma and didache expresses an unwarranted polarisation between the content of evangelising proclamation and the content of teaching in the Church, a case can still be made that the theology of vicarious atonement appears more strongly in the context of didache than in the context of the type of evangelising kerygma that we find in the book of Acts. This is not to say that the atonement did not feature at all in the kerygma of the early church. Such a view must contend with the evidence of passages like 1 Cor 15:1-8 and the fact that what is presented in Acts can only be a summary of the kerygma or didache of the church. However, it may still be the case that the salvation-historical emphasis of the kerygma necessitated that the atonement received less emphasis than it did in the didache of the church. The salvation-historical emphasis of the kerygma places the cross in its context as part of the work of Christ, and in the wider context of its role in fulfilling the purpose of God for humanity and creation. The didache, such as we find in the NT epistles, is where the riches of the doctrine of vicarious atonement are taught and explored. It is certainly pertinent that the sole explicit reference to vicarious atonement in Acts occurs in the context of Paul's address to the Ephesian elders, a context more akin to didache than kerygma.

...Luke contextualises the cross within the whole work of Christ, which in turn is contextualised within salvation-history. Therefore, the role of the cross does not receive a detailed exposition. This is also true of the largely salvation-historical kerygma of the apostles. It is in the didactic material of the NT that we discover this exposition. This observation itself perhaps challenges the practice of the contemporary Church at a number of points.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Reflections on Luke-Acts

The Luke-Acts module was (when I took it in 2009) taught by Dr Mike Bird. Aiming to investigate the literary and theological relationships between Luke's two volumes, the module draws out the main theological themes through thematic lectures backed up by exegesis sessions from the text in translation. There were many highlights, but one will suffice here: the Apostolic Kerygma in Acts. This was the topic for the assessment essay.
Are challenges to the centrality of the cross in the apostolic kerygma justified? An analysis of the seven apostolic kerygmatic speeches (as opposed to other types of speech in Acts) shows that the death of Christ is referred to in all but one of them, with the cross explicitly referenced in all but two. The resurrection is always mentioned. However, Dodd's challenge (also that of Conzelmann) that the cross is not linked to the forgiveness of sins by Luke was significant. Key in refuting this view is Acts 20:28 - a prominent reporting of words of Paul which clearly support the idea of vicarious atonement. Textual difficulties in this instance are minor and sometimes exaggerated. Also significant are references to the cross as a 'tree' on the lips of Peter and Paul. The reference to the cross as a tree is unusual and due to its multiple use (and its use by Paul), Morris writes that 'it is difficult to escape the impression that Luke is alluding to this (Jesus bearing our curse)'. And, of course, the Suffering Servant in the preaching of Philip in Acts 8.

However, this said, it must be acknowledged that Luke's particular focus on salvation-history and eschatological fulfilment means that the significance of Jesus' death is not necessarily seen in terms of the mechanics of salvation, but in how it fulfils God's purposes for salvation in history.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Telling the Truth

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act, George Orwell

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Reflections on Amos

Continuing my very late reflections on the last of my third year modules, we reach Amos. The Amos module is translation and close textual exegesis of the Hebrew text of the whole of the canonical book, taught by Hector Morrison. Very briefly, highlights included:
  • Discussion of the canonical form of the book; Amos' words are introduced by a narrator; in chapter 7 Amos' visions are related in the first person, and his conflict with Amaziah in the third person. How were these sources and oracles, proclaimed against the Israelite elite (perhaps in a cultic setting), eventually set in their canonical form?
  • Amos' profession: was he a poor shepherd or a wealthy landowner? Not only was Amos a sheep-keeper but also a sycamore fig farmer - diversification is the key to succesful farming! Or was he actually a seasonal manual labourer who moved between both? The former view has some merit.
  • The plumb line. Or not? In 7:7, what exactly is the import of the vision? Whatever it is, it seems almost certain that it is not a plumb-line that is in view. Rather, it seems as if the weakness of the wall is in view here, anak being the material in mind. Dealing with a hapax like this just reinforces the difficulties that can often be encountered in the art of translation.
  • Of course, the huge theme is judgement - contectualized amongst the nations, but also crystallized against Israel's apostasy. Yahweh's indictment of the war crimes of the surrounding nations speaks in our world to the accountability of leaders and soldiers engaged in conflict. The indictment of the northern kingdom in the midst of their material prosperity speaks to the Church in the west, where wealth can so easily displace genuine, countercultural worship.
  • The Day of Yahweh - this prophetic leitmotif rises here in Amos. Discussion as to its origin is fascinating, including the classic treatment by Von Rad.
As always, much more could be said...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Over the last few weeks I've been dipping in and out of Walden by Henry David Thoreau, much like Thoreau himself dipping in Walden Pond! Thoreau's prose is beautifully constructed, but it's the prophetic quality of his observations of life in the mid-19th century that I find most striking. Walden was published in 1854. Early in the work, Thoreau muses on the the importance of shelter for life...

No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. Henry David Thoreau

In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the best, and sufficient for its coarser and simpler wants; but I think that I speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the air have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one-half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. Henry David Thoreau

Monday, March 01, 2010

Reflections on Greek Texts III

I'm quite a few months behind on my reflections on my course modules. Given that this blog is primarily about my experience studying theology at HTC, this is not good! So, over the next couple of days reflections will follow on my modules from semester 2 of year 3 - yes, I really have neglected it for that long!
First up, Greek Texts III. To get to Greek Texts III, you've already been through Greek Grammar I and II, and Greek Texts I and II. That's about 600 hours of Greek! So, with Greek skills more developed, Greek Texts III becomes an enjoyable journey through Acts 2, 2 Thess 2, Hebrews 6, Revelation 5, Psalm 41 LXX and selections from the Didache. Highlights include:
  • looking at citations of Psalms in Peter's sermon, comparing LXX and MT;
  • the relationship between repentance, baptism and forgiveness in the ministries of John and Jesus;
  • the meaning of Acts 2:39, always a bone of contention; the reference here to offspring is clear, and unless you abandon anchors in the Abrahamic covenant (therefore abandoning quite a bit of Paul, not least the all-important olive tree of Romans 11) then this message of Peter only leads to one conclusion;
  • discussions on the man of lawlessness and the parousia in 2 Thess 2; including Calvin's (I believe) view that the parousia would occur in Palestine;
  • more discussion on the warnings against apostasy in Hebrews; on this, I believe that Shepherd's idea of Observable Covenant Reality brings a much-needed emphasis in interpreting these passages;
  • Working in Psalm 41 LXX and the Didache was encouraging - here we are venturing outside the relative safety of the NT!
I will post some further reflections on Revelation 5, this being the text for our exegesis paper.