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Showing posts from November, 2009

Book Review: The Early Preaching of Karl Barth

The book review for November is 'The Early Preaching of Karl Barth.' This is a collection of fourteen sermons preached by Barth between 1917 and 1920 while serving as a pastor in Safenwill, Switzerland. Following each sermon William Willimon provides us with a brief commentary. Unlike Willimon, I certainly am no expert on Barth, all I have read is the first volume of Church Dogmatics. Thus, I don't think that I am in too much of a position to engage on a detailed level with these sermons. However I will make some general comments that I hope are useful if you are thinking about checking out this book.

Because these are sermons, this book is much more accessible than Church Dogmatics, however, they do not form a good introduction to Barthian theology. What struck me most, especially in the beginning of the book (the sermons are arranged chronologically), was how much his theology developed over time. His early sermons sound, in some ways, very un-Barthian. Early on, especial…

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapters 3 and 4

For those of you who were overwhelmed by the length of my last post on The Art of Reading Scripture, this post is a bit shorter. The third essay, written by Richard Bauckham is titled, 'Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story.' Bauckham begins by explaining what it means for Scripture to be a unified narrative. It doesn't mean that all of scripture is narrative, or that it has the coherence of a single author work. Rather, its coherence can be seen in the way that different books of the Bible, by different authors, interact with one another. They summarize each other, intentionally build off of one another, quote each other, allude to each other, etc. There is an attempt by later writers to show how they are continuing the story of earlier texts (this is not true only of the NT, we see the same phenomenon in the OT as well). While the whole Bible, at the human level, was clearly composed by many very different people with distinct perspectives and purposes, we can still see…

Giving thanks for the misguided who cause us grief

I was inspired both by Pastor Dave's reflection on Paul's various introductory thanksgivings at church this past Sunday and the fact that Thanksgiving is this week to write a few reflections throughout the week on selected thanksgiving's of Paul. Today's reflection comes from 1 Corinthians 1:4-9:
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (TNIV). Paul had to write a difficult letter to Corinth. The church was badly fragmented, it tolerated gross sin, misunderstood spiritua…

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapters 1 and 2

I am grouping my review of the first two essays together, because they both impinge upon the question of how Scripture is to be used inside the church. The second chapter, 'Scripture's Authority in the Church' by Robert Jenson is the more basic of the two essays, so I will begin the discussion there, and then move to Ellen Davis' essay.

The easiest way to describe Jenson's essay is that in many ways it is an outworking or application of Barth's understanding of Scripture . Jenson makes five main points in his essay:

The only meaningful way for a Christian to read Scripture is in a Christian way (pp. 27-29).Each passage of Scripture is to be read for its contribution to the grander narrative that Scripture tells (pp. 29-30).We can only read Scripture as characters within the narrative of Scripture (pp. 30-34).Our reading of the Old Testament must assume the presupposition that it is Christian Scripture (pp. 34-36).The authority of Scripture is something to experie…

The Art of Reading Scripture: An Introduction

When I posted last week that we'd be starting The Art of Reading Scripture by reviewing chapters 1 and two on Monday I didn't realize that there would be so much in the introduction and nine theses that I would need to write a separate post about them. However, a separate post that introduces the book would be beneficial, so we'll embark upon that now.

The first thing to note is that this book is the work of a group of contributors that extends beyond just Richard Hays and Ellen Davis. It is the work of a collection of scholars from diverse disciplines (OT, NT, systematics and historical theology) and two practicing ministers.

In the introduction, Hays and Davis lay out four very important questions to consider (pp. xiv-xv):
Is the Bible authoritative for the faith and practice of the church? If so, in what way?What practices of reading offer the most appropriate approach to understanding the Bible?How does historical criticism illumine or obscure Scripture's message?How …

How Jude Dealt with Division, In Canonical Context - Part 2

Earlier in the week I randomly picked Risto Saarinen's commentary on Jude in the Brazos Theological Commentary series, and found it to be very enlightening. In a previous post I commented that Jude's approach to those influenced by the false teachers (and possibly to the false teachers themselves) was one filled with mercy. That claim is true, but what I failed to see is how Jude substantiates it.

Saarinen points out, as did Bauckham, that when Jude discusses OT and deutero-canonical texts discussing God's judgment (vs. 5, 9, 14), that Jesus is the one coming to judge. The move that Saarinen makes at this point is worth pointing out:
The Epistle of Jude performs its christological rearrangement of Jewish texts in a manner that is clear and provocative. The Lord, who saved a people out of Egypt and will come to execute a judgment on all, is Jesus Christ...When Jesus Christ is portrayed as a judge in this manner, on the one hand, he takes the traditional roll of divine judge. …

Baptism

In the next month or two I hope to start a new study on baptism.

I know Everett Ferguson's book, Baptism in the Early Church is supposed to be excellent. I also know about the different systematic theologies out there. What else is there? What are some books, or parts of books that were helpful to you? I want to read a wide spectrum, so I'd like to get a diversity of view points and to mix in plenty of older works with the newer ones.

N.T. Wright on the Sacraments

NT Wright delivered a few talks at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in 2007 on the Sacraments. They're well worth listening to. One thing he said in 'Part Two' I think is particularly worth reflecting on:

'Of course God welcomes us as we are, but God's welcome never leaves us as we are. Thank God. God's inclusiveness is always a transforming inclusiveness and that is precisely what baptism is all about.'

This Blog's Direction

This is a note about the upcoming direction of this blog. One conclusion that I believe God has been driving me towards lately is to see that there are inadequacies in the historical-critical method. While beneficial in many ways, the historical-critical method is not the be all and end all in terms of biblical interpretation. In fact its quite inadequate for producing robust theology. While not abandoning the historical-critical method all together, I want to try to achieve a more theological reading of Scripture. To this end I want to read and blog through three recent books on the interplay of Scripture and theology.

First will be The Art of Reading Scripture by Richard Hays and Ellen Davis.

Second will be The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer.

Third will be Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Studies by Markus Bockmuehl.

After that I hope to test out what I learn on the book of Galatians. I invite you to join me on this j…

Commentary Reviews: Philemon

There is an overabundance of excellent commentaries available on Philemon, especially of more advanced commentaries. Regrettably, I had to omit several outstanding commentaries from my arsenal. So, just because I don't review Dunn, Harris, Wilson, or Fitzmyer doesn't mean I don't think they're worth consulting. It just means that I didn't have the time to incorporate all of them into my study, and given the audience of my studies, lay Bible study leaders at my church, it was best to omit commentaries that are more technical in nature.


With that said, my favorite commentary, without question, was Doug Moo's in the Pillar series. I originally read through it about a year ago and I wasn't overly impressed. This time around, when I really dug into it, I found it to be extremely helpful. One thing I liked was that he confined most of his discussion on the issue of slavery to the introduction. This is a good move because the issue of slavery is not a primary in Ph…

Philemon and Slavery, In Canonical Context

Slavery is probably the main issue on the conscience of most people when reading Philemon. This is a bit unfortunate. The main thrust of the book is about how relationships are configured in light of our union in Christ with fellow believers. I would also say that my earlier post on the example of imputation to be a far more central lesson to draw from Philemon than any conclusion that we draw from this post. However, given the history of the church and the present state of society, it is necessary to discuss the issue of slavery in Philemon and the wider context of Scripture.

One of the biggest 'problems' for the Bible is its seeming acceptance of slavery. The Old Testament seems to have different voices on the issue. At points it goes as far as prohibiting Israelites from enslaving other Israelites (Lev. 25:39-43). At other points it shows an understanding of the status and value of slaves that is no different than that of other Ancient Near Eastern nations (Ex. 21:28-32). Th…

Theology in Action: Imputation

As I mentioned in this post, I wanted to give an example of what it looks like for theology to be lived out. I selected imputation for two reasons, one convenient in that I came across it in my study of Philemon, and the other intentional in that I wanted to pick a doctrine that seems esoteric.

First let's begin by explaining imputation. The main idea of the doctrine of imputation claims that an exchange took place between us and Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, he bore the wrath of God that we deserve so that if we have faith in him we no longer have to face God's wrath. Here's where imputation comes in: our sinfulness was credited to Jesus as if he had sinned ('God made him who had no sin to be sin for us' - 2 Cor. 5:21a TNIV). Our sin was counted as if it was Jesus sin which, since Jesus paid the penalty for our sins means that our sins are wiped away. The imputation part of this, again, is our sins being credited to Jesus. This is not enough for us to be ac…

Philemon 8-25

We decided to split Philemon into two sections, so this will be the last post of my verse by verse notes, but like Jude, stick around for a few posts on the theology of Philemon and commentary reviews.

8-16: Paul's main goal is to reconcile Onesimus to Philemon. Onesimus was Philemon's slave who had run away from his master. Somehow, he came into contact with Paul, who was under house arrest in Rome.

There are four distinct instances in this passage where we see Paul attempting to smooth things over with Philemon. He does this when:
He informs Philemon of Onesiums' conversion (vs. 10).Paul refers to Onesimus as his son, stressing the relationship that Paul has to Onesimus (vs. 10).He stresses Onesimus' new found usefulenss (vs. 11, 13).Paul calls Onesimus 'his very heart' again stressing the intimacy of relationship (vs. 12).
8-10: Here Paul starts to get into the heart of the matter. What should Philemon do with Onesiums? Paul, as an apostle, has the authority to …

Theology in Action: Theology Builds Communities

Why did Paul write his letters? Surely it was not to dispense information solely for the purpose of the cognitive consumption of individuals in the communities he was writing to. That is to say, Paul had way more in mind than instructing us in doctrinal things that we must cognitively assent to, to be saved. Every part of every letter he wrote was written with the intention of constructing healthy Christian communities. That should cause us to ask, 'what roll does theology play in building community?'

One interesting proposal comes from chapter 3 ('Reading Paul: Myth, Ritual, Identity and Ethics') in Solidarity and Difference by David Horrell (which is backed up at length with arguments from the social sciences on group formation and identity - an excellent read that I highly recommend) where he argues that theological statements should be seen as identity-descriptors and group norms needing to be affirmed constantly, not indicative statements to be held as true or fals…

A Helpful Perspective on Growing Old and Dying

In the book, The Word Leaps the Gap, there is an excellent article by Richard Hays titled, 'The Christian Practice of Growing Old.' He has some excellent insight on the New Testament's answer to the problem of death. He argues that Jesus' resurrection affirms God's firm, resolute commitment and faithfulness to his creation, us as humans and creation as a whole. Our bodies will one day be redeemed when we are resurrected like Jesus was, which means that what we do with our aging bodies matters. Also, Jesus resurrection, which overcame the power of sin and death should give us hope and take away our fear of dying. Hays goes on to say that,
In such confidence inspired by the New Testament's testimony, we are set free from the paralysis that the fear of death produces in our culture: we need not deceive ourselves with costly amusements that distract us from the truth of our mortality and foster the illusion that we are immortal. Likewise we are set free from the fra…