Thursday, April 29, 2010

Top Ten Sports Rivalries

This month my coworker Brian and I (with an assist from another coworker) decided to tackle the list of the top ten rivalries in sports. This was a bit tough to pull together because rivalries tend to wax and wane depending on the strength of each team in any given year. It's also difficult given that neither of us has ever lived on the west coast. Throw in on top of that the sheer number of sports considered (not necessarily represented, but considered): college football and basketball, and professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and golf. I'm sure there are omissions to the list, so let me know what we missed!

10. Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

This one was tough, do you choose this rivalry or Edmonton vs. Vancouver? When you throw in French vs. English Canada, the Habs and Leafs is the rivalry to choose. This one would have ranked higher, but it cooled in my mind a bit given that they played in separate conferences from 1981 - 1998.

9. Texas vs. Oklahoma (NCF)

People in Texas and Oklahoma love football as much as Canadians(ens) love hockey. While always significant, this rivalry has gained some luster as of late given the high rankings that these two teams have had. 6 times since 2000, one of these teams has played for the national championship.

8. Army vs. Navy (NCF)

In many respects this is one of the most fun college games to watch each year. What could be bigger than bragging rights between the different service branches? Unfortunately the military academies are tough places to recruit to, so at least one if not both teams are not usually very good, dropping this game further down the list than it would otherwise deserve.

7. Auburn vs. Alabama (NCF)

Yup, a third college football rivalry in a row! The Iron Bowl always turns out to be a great game no matter how good or bad each team is. In the past ten years, 8 out of 10 Iron Bowls were decided by 10 points or less.

6. Federer vs. Nadal (ATP)

At first glance this may seem to be surprising and may seem short lived compared to the other rivalries on this list, but the intensity and importance of this rivalry cannot be overlooked. Federer may be the greatest ever, but Nadal has had his number, amassing a 13-7 record against him. They have been number one and number to for 5 years straight now.

5. Cubs vs. Cardinals (MLB)

First, it's gotta be up there just for the sheer number of times they've played each other; over 2,100 times! Add in proximity and the fact that both towns love baseball and you have all of the ingredients for a great rivalry. I think jealousy plays a role too as the Cardinals have had postseason success that Cubs fans can only dream about (10, second most all time, but only 2 since 1980).

4. Bears vs. Packers (NFL)

This is without a doubt the greatest NFL rivalry of all. There's just something about cold weather division rivals who both play outdoors that makes it extra special. The surprising thing about this one is that they've only played each other in the playoffs once, back in 1941 (a Bears victory).

3. Yankees vs. Red Sox (MLB)

This really doesn't need much explanation. In terms of peak intensity, I don't think anything quite matches this one. Over the last decade, it's been unparalleled with a number of notable playoff match-ups. Who can forget Grady Little or the bloody sock? If anything this is a rivalry that has gone too far and has caused too much rancor between fan bases.

2. Duke vs. North Carolina (NCB)

After the first weekend of the NCAA tournament there are no college basketball games I look forward to more than Duke vs. UNC. Both teams are so good and so close (only 8 miles separate the campuses) and everyone seems to care so much. Sweeping the season series is almost as important as reaching the final four. It's also fun to see incredibly smart college students acting so ridiculously over a basketball game.

1. Michigan vs. Ohio St. (NCF)

This one has benefited from the quality of the programs as well as its location on the schedule. It's the last game of the regular season for each and the Big Ten title has been on the line on 22 different occasions during this rivalry. No other rivalry can match the sustained intensity. It's been the fiercest in college football for more than 40 years now.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dating Galatians and Harmonization with Acts

We've gotten to the point where how we date Galatians and where we fit it into the narrative of Acts will affect our interpretation in a significant manner. The first question that we have to address is, which visit to Jerusalem is Paul recounting in Galatians 2:1-10? Is it the famine relief visit of Acts 11:27-30 or the Jerusalem council of Acts 15? First, I think it's worthwhile to point out that it's not all that obvious. Scholars are divided on this issue (even Evangelical scholars).

In favor of the theory of Galatians 2:1-10 referring to the Acts 11 visit are the following:
  1. This visit clearly is prompted by a revelation by the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Acts 15 gathering seems to be a public gathering, where the one described in Galatians is private.
  3. Paul never alludes to a letter sent to the diaspora churches which could have definitively won the case for him.
  4. The issue of food laws was already decided by James. Why would men coming from him in Galatians 2:11-14 be advocating a view stricter than the already existing agreement?
  5. Paul only mentions two visits to Jerusalem. If he visited 3 times why does he omit the visit in Acts 11?
  6. According to Acts 15, false teachers requiring circumcision had already been to Antioch.
In favor of an identification with Acts 15 are these:
  1. Why would Paul be told to remember the poor if he had just dropped off a pile of money for famine relief?
  2. The issue of Gentile circumcision is central in Acts 15 while it never comes up in Acts 11.
  3. There is mention of false teachers who demanded circumcision of Gentiles in Acts 15.
I think that there is one major argument that doesn't get brought up much that disarms one of the main arguments against identifying Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 15. Romans was written after the Jerusalem council, and that letter shows that the issue of Gentile circumcision was not a dead issue even then, nor was the issue of observance of food laws. Again, while this is a tricky decision, I think it's safer to identify the visit in Acts 15 with Galatians 2:1-10.

This brings up the question of dating. Many scholars opt for an early date on the basis of seeing congruence between Acts 11 (which we can probably date to 48 CE) and Galatians 2. However, I think a later date is more likely on a couple of grounds. First, I would argue that Acts 15 happens 17 years after Paul's conversion, which would put it somewhere in the vicinity of 50-52 CE. Then we need time from there for the events of Galatians 2:11-14 to happen and then for the false teachers to make it to Galatia and for Paul to write the letter. So that would probably put us in the mid 50's. Second, in terms of content, Galatians fits in nicely with 2 Corinthians and Romans, both of which are dated somewhere around 55-57 CE, so it would seem like Galatians would fit well somewhere into that date range.

Paul's Argument in Galatians 2:11-14

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (TNIV)

Here we have the last of Paul's vignettes about his relationship with the church in Jerusalem. Antioch was in Syria and had a very large Jewish population and a significant number of non-Jews who were interested in Judaism and attached themselves in varying degrees to the Jewish synagogues. In all probability, when Christianity came to Antioch, it gained converts of mixed ethnic backgrounds. What's amazing is that the church initially seemed to thrive and did not have Jew/Gentile conflict, especially if they abandoned Jewish food laws. You would expect that it would have been difficult for the (most likely) Jewish majority to give up those distinctives, but it appears that it was not an issue for quite some time.

When Peter arrived at Antioch he went along with the existing practice. He ate at the same table with Gentiles and ate whatever they ate without any resistance. When men from James came, Peter's actions changed. What did the men from James have to say that changed Peter's actions? That's a complicated issue and deserves a post in its own right, so be looking for one soon. At any rate, the central issue here is that Peter acted as a hypocrite in his separation from the Gentiles. One key thing to note is that the Hypocrisei,' the Greek word rendered hypocrite, doesn't mean that Peter 'did something other than what he professed to believe.' It really means something along the lines of 'pretended' (Dunn 125, Fee makes the same point). He acted contrary to what he knew was the truth of the gospel, that Jews and Gentiles were on equal footing and both children of Abraham and heirs of the promise because of the work of Christ on the cross alone. That is why Paul can used such strong language in verse 11. Peter and James knew what the truth of the gospel was, but the message they sent through their actions was that only those who lived like Jews could be part of the people of God. 'For if Gentiles are forced to "live like Jews" on any matter that is based merely on Torah, then the theological result is that their salvation rests ultimately on "doing Torah" not on grace' (Fee 73). Thus Peter stood condemned (and presumably James too).

It's important to notice that Paul never tells us that Peter repented or changed his position. It seems that there was a rift between Paul and Peter (this seems to be smoothed over by Acts 21:17-25?). Thus, Peter's withdrawal at Antioch was probably used by the Teachers in Galatia to support the necessity of the Galatians coming under the Law and to paint Paul in a negative light. Paul told his side of the story so that the Galatians would see that Paul had actually been in the right.

I think that we need to ask then , why did Paul tell us about the meeting in Gal. 2:1-10? What was the point (thanks to danny for raising this question in the comments of my post on the dating of Galatians)? First, he uses it to show that Peter and James were acting against their principles. In theory they agreed with Paul even though they subsequently pursued a different course. I also think that Paul includes it because it sets up this section. The behavior of Peter and James looks much more problematic in light of the previous agreement. This is especially true if we are to identify the meeting in Galatians 2 with the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 because even the issue of dietary restrictions had already been decided.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

You Need a New Testament Theology

One of the most underrated elements of going to big conferences is the chance to buy books at discounted prices. One of the many books I picked up at the Wheaton Theology Conference was I. Howard Marshall's New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel. I hadn't owned one before and knew that it was a significant gap in my library, but I did not expect it to be as useful as it has been. I can think of at least four very practical ways in which a theology can be used very profitably.

1. As an aid to devotional reading

Are you about to start reading through Mark in your daily devotions? Before you start read the chapter in Mark in your theology. It'll take a little over an hour and it will greatly improve the depth of insight you gain from your devotional time. You'll have a much clearer picture of how the gospel fits together and what the main themes are that Mark was trying to communicate.

2. To provide context before doing Bible study

In our church's small groups were not currently going through any book of the Bible, we're jumping around a bit. This week I'm covering Hebrews 13. I haven't studied Hebrews before so I am a little unfamiliar with it. In about an hour I got an excellent overview that helped me see how the closing exhortations fit into the book as a whole. It will keep me from extracting the text out of its context.

3. As a preparatory step before beginning a major study of a book of the Bible

None of us bring a blank slate to the text. We've probably read the text before and have some sort of preliminary understanding before we commence our study. In addition to reading the introductions to whatever commentaries you are going to use, read the chapter in your theology. It will help come to the text with some pre-understanding that your study will hopefully deepen.

4. As a tool for gauging the quality of your study of a book of the Bible

Don't only read the theology before you begin your study, read it after you finish. Compare the conclusions you drew with those the author of your theology has made. It's ok to disagree, but is your reasoning defensible? Also, is there a theme that you completely missed? If so go back and spend some additional time in the text to make your understanding of the book more complete.

How else have you used them, and what is your favorite New Testament Theology?

I'm also on the lookout for a good Old Testament Theology that takes a book by book approach (many seem to be more thematic). Are there any that you've used that you would recommend?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hays and Wright on the Historical Jesus

Hay's paper and Wright's response from the Wheaton Theology Conference has been getting some good discussion around the blogosphere. Here are a few worthwhile reads.

Michael Gorman

Daniel Kirk (part 1) (part 2)

Andy Rowell

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wrap Up

Thanks to everyone who stopped by over the last two days to read my posts on the conference. If you want to listen to or watch any of the talks, all but Bockmuehl's are here (hopefully his talk will be posted soon). Additionally, they did not record Wright's response to Hays which I wrote about here.

In reflection I think that there are three major questions that I will be wrestling with:

1. Should we Christians only study Jesus within a confessional framework? What's the right approach to historical Jesus studies, Wright's, Hays', shoudl we be doing a bit of each?

2. How should systematic theology dialogue with biblical theology?

3. Is Wright's understanding of atonement in the gospels sufficiently connected with his understanding of atonement in Paul? His last talk helped here but I still think it needs thinking through.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wright on Paul

In the closing talk we got the pleasure of hearing Wright give a brief summary of his 'big book on Paul' that he's working on and tentatively suggests could hit bookstores in 2012. My summary again will be brief and just hit some highlights I highly encourage you to listen to the talk when it becomes available.

Interestingly Wright states that he is going to take Philemon as his starting point for Pauline theology. I think that this move is absolutely brilliant! Philemon gives us a bird's eye view of something amazing. Paul is embodying the cross. The cross is where the unreconciled become reconciled. Where slave and free come together in the one new man. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 is the theology underlying Paul's writing of Philemon.

Wright then goes on to look at Paul more broadly. What background do we place him against? He doesn't fit neatly into second temple Judaism, and that's because Jesus has effected a shift. The story of Israel has been fulfilled but the symbols (circumcision, food laws, etc.) are relativized because God's plan is for the whole world. The central symbol for Paul now is the united community, the one people of Abraham for the world. Wright defends this that pointing out that all of Paul's letters are concerned with unity. It's everywhere, where as justification is primarily just in Romans and Galatians.

The unity that we have in Christ is powerful stuff. It shows the world that there's a different and better way of being human. It also shows the powers who the real boss is, King Jesus. Here and elsewhere the was a very strong anti-imperial current running in Wright's paper.

We, as God's people, are the new humanity and we put the world to rights through the empowerment of the Spirit. We are designed to play a key role. This is what we are saved for. We are the people of God in the Messiah, who succeeded where Israel failed.

God's plan is the context of justification. God puts humans to right to qualify them for redeeming all of creation (Romans 8). Justice connects present and future justification. All of this is accomplished by Jesus who launched new creation.

Theology is a Christian invention. Jews didn't really do it. However, Paul took over three central strands of Jewish belief and redefined them in the Messiah. These are monotheism, election, and eschatology.

Wright closed by going back to Philemon. We are to be people who put into effect the exodus that Jesus wrought. In Christ we are reconciled and Philemon gives us a beautiful portrait of putting it into effect.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wright and Bockmuehl Explained

This is a follow up on my earlier post summarizing Bockmuehl's talk. I won't attempt to cover all of the ground they covered in their exchanges, some of it dealt with rather technical exegetical issues. Wright did feel that Bockmuehl didn't accurately capture his eschatology. Wright disputes that he implied that the final state is earthly only. Earth and heaven are fused at the end. He also seemed to push back on the issue of whether or not we go to heaven after we die. He doesn't like the language 'heaven' because of the baggage it brings, but he does affirm that we go to an intermediate state where we are with Christ.

Bockmuehl responded by saying that he was somewhat exaggerating Wright's position to prove a point, it was a rhetorical move and it wasn't completely without grounding in some things that Wright had said (he mentioned a Time Magazine interview).

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wright's Non-Answer to the $50 Question

In the Q&A/Response time Wright critiqued Vanhoozer's presentation of justification as insufficiently Jewish. A narrative has to be imparted to Paul because Paul hints at such a narrative (a Jewish one). Our formulation of justification has to be rooted in that narrative. Fair enough. Vanhoozer asked Wright, then (and this is a paraphrase), what role does he assign to systematic theology? How can it dialogue with him more effectively? Wright did not utter a syllable in response. The silence was deafening. It seems that (and I'm not basing this solely on his non-answer here - I get the same vibe in his book Justification) he views biblical theology to be a superior discipline to systematic theology with the former feeding the latter and that's it. There's no reverse feeding.

I am troubled by this. Both Vanhoozer and Wright rank among my greatest influences. I was thrilled when Vanhoozer asked the question because my hope is to see an interchange between the disciplines and I was hoping to hear a fruitful discussion about what that could look like from my favorite systemetician and my favorite biblical theologian. I also am especially disappointed because (and this may not always be evident from my writing) I intend to go into the field of systematic theology. Part of what these formative years are for me is to figure out how to put those two disciplines together in dialogue because the two have been separated for far too long. And again, I do wonder if this doesn't reveal what I sense, an anti-systematic theology sentiment in Wright.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Markus Bockmuehl

Note, that after the question and answer that I realized that I missed an esential element of Bockmuehl's paper, so I added to the third paragraph.

The first talk this afternoon was by Markus Bockmuehl. On a side note, his Philippians commentary needs to get more attention than it does. I think it's the best one on the market.

With that said I found his talk today to be very interesting but also somewhat curious. Either Bockmuehl or I have misread Wright (or I misunderstood Bockmuehl). He claims that Wright would claim that Paul didn't go to heaven when he died. Really? I don't think Wright would say that. I've heard Wright say that heaven is important but it isn't the end of the world. Or say that what he's really interested is in life after life after death. At any rate, Wright will sort out my confusion here in the Q&A. Here's a very short summary of Bockmuehl's talk.

Bockmuehl's talk was fairly straightforward. He attempted to show that we cannot postualte that the Christian hope is not in some sense other worldly. He believes that both Colossians and Ephesians suggest future non-earthly hope. Our hope is with Christ in heaven. [Additions start here] Additionally he notes that he believes that Wright makes a false dichotomoy between earth and heaven. One isn't up there and the other down here, rather the two overlap.

Second, he noted that Paul's earliest interpreters, the Fathers viewed things the opposite of Wright in some manner. Yes all in the early church except the gnostics claim that there is a physical resurrection, but many, like Justin Martyr, still affirm heaven as their home. Even a millenarian like Irenaeus does. He sees a millenial state here on earth to be the intermediate state, with heaven being the final state (still in a body). Notice that's the opposite of Wright. Wright's read isn't the only non-gnostic read.

On a related note, implicit here is a critique by Bockmuehl that Wright needs to read the Fathers more. Humphrey hammered this idea at the end of her talk too, that Wright needs to not ignore the great tradition of the church (to summarize her by stealing a phrase from Scot McKnight).

Wheaton Theology Conference - Jeremy Begbie

I had told myself that I would only blog on one talk per session, but both talks were so good that I had to break my own rule. Begbie's talk was about the strange relationship between the emerging church and NT Wright. Why would the emerging church like a churchman so much? Begbie proceeded with much pastoral insight by marking out what attracts emergers to Wright, what they still need to learn from him, and finally what Wright could learn from the emerging folk.

A couple of the attractions of Wright's theology are that the church is intrinsic to the purposes of God and to salvation and a 'reverse ecclesiology.' The central work of God in the world is forming a community through the work of his son. Eccelsiology and soteriology cannot be separated. You are saved into a community. Wright gets there in part because he works in reverse. He looks at the final product, the new creation and works backwards to understand what the church should be doing to carry out God's mission and embody new creation now.

At the same time there are a couple of critiques from Wright's theology that the emerging church needs to hear. The biggest in my opinion is the need for catholicity. First we need qualitative catholicity. Too many emerging churches only go after people just like themselves. The people of God transcend social boundaries and our churches need to do that too. We need to love people who are nothing like us and that we would never want to hang out with if it weren't that they were also part of the body of Christ. We also need extensive catholicity that transcends spacial separation. Institutionalism is necessary and it isn't evil. It's too easy to avoid institutionalism as a way to avoid the pain of unity. This is a gospel issue, we are one world wide family and we need to express that.

Finally, he closed with what the emerging church can teach Wright. Many people are in the emerging church movement because the institutional church hurt them. Wright needs to do a better job of pointing out the frailness and proneness to corruption of institutional authority in his own denomination.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Kevin Vanhoozer

Wow what a morning it was. Vanhoozer's talk was nothing short of spectacular. Both his wit and his learning are hard to overstate. Vanhoozer's goal was to try to show how we might reach a rapprochement between the Old and New Perspectives on Paul. I'll sketch pieces of his argument.

One issue Vanhoozer notes right of the bat is that many Protestants are opposed to doctrinal development, which is strangely un-Protestant. This clearly needs to be addressed. Then he asks the question, 'does being biblical mean attending to the details or the big picture?' His answer was 'Yes.' Wright excels at showing the narrative elements of Pauline theology, connecting textual and canonical dots without having to resort to allegory. Here's where Vanhoozer has a concern. Is Wright guilty of illegitimate totality transfer in his imposition of 2nd temple Jewish categories on Paul. Vanhoozer agrees that context is key, especially canonical context. This laid the groundwork for him to later challenge Wright to include the pastorals into his understanding of Paul (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:15).

Vanhoozer correctly notes that Wright's reformed critics aren't challenging his affirmations, but his denials. Especially troubling is (related to the last paragraph) the bit that 'the gospel isn't about how one gets saved.' Vanhoozer notes that Paul doesn't think the question of individual salvation is one to be sidelined when asked (see Acts 16).

Vanhoozer points out that for Wright ecclesiology is the new soteriology. Justification is the verdict that you are in God's people and faith is a sign of covenant membership not an entry ticket. Of course this conflicts with many in the Reformed tradition. So, Vanhoozer suggests a way forward that can bring the concerns of both together - union with Christ.

Vanhoozer analyzes justification as everyone would expect him to - as a speech act. Here his analysis is helpful (and what follows is an extreme simplification). He notes that locuted righteousness actually brings about a state of affairs by the utterance, it's more than just a declaration of fact.

In the rest of his talk he went on to link imputation and justification in ways that are extremely helpful, subsuming the discussion into union with Christ and ultimately adoption. What's imputed to us is Christ's covenant faithfulness. He also suggests that what happens at justification isn't just an acquittal (criminal court) and isn't just a determination of covenental staus (civil court), it's membership into Christ and thus into God's family (adoption court).

Vanhoozer closed by calling for more dialogue between Wright and the old Reformed guard. Neither side gets it right completely. They need each other. That dialogue must be laced with grace and the fruit of the spirit. I think that Vanhoozer has given us excellent suggestions at what our way forward should be.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Day 2 Beginning Soon

We're about to open day 2 with a time of prayer. I'm very excited about today, I'm definitely a Pauline guy, so hopefully I will learn a lot! Look for posts throughout the day again today. I'll post when I can.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference - N.T. Wright

The last talk for today was on the importance of historical Jesus studies, especially for the life of the church. Wright spoke at breakneck speed which made taking notes difficult and following him a little tricky at times so I am absolutely certain that my report here will be woefully inadequate. Please listen to this talk (and all of the others too) when the audio becomes available.

Wright began by talking about how we got to where we were in the 1960s with a Christ of faith that had little rooting in the Jesus of history. He pinned it squarely on a Lutheran two kingdoms approach that had a split level view of reality with earth and heaven in separate compartments. This two kingdom approach kept Jesus out of the messiness of politics. The model for this approach was Bultmann.

This created a major pastoral concern. If scholarship says that the gospels are unreliable what does the pastor do? Does he ignore scholarship or does he tell his parishioners that the gospels are unreliable? Either solution is disastrous.

Wright then went on to defend that we must have historicity. If Jesus didn't do what the gospels said then how can you know your subjective experience is real? History also prevents false idols that we call Jesus - projections of our selves and our values onto the Christ of faith.

Wright believes that this false imposition has happened again and again, especially by the church. He affirms the Chalcedonian Creed, but believes that we need to say more than that if we are to have the real Jesus. The purpose of the gospels wasn't only to tell us that Jesus is God and died for us personally. The gospels are primarily about Jesus inauguration of the kingdom of God. Western theology has been completely unable to keep together a kingdom ethic with the cross (we see errors swinging both ways).

The questions we need to ask now are these (unfortunately they're paraphrases of powerful originals). How did Jesus keep both purposes, the inauguration of the kingdom and his sacrificial death together in his own mind? What sort of kingdom is it that climaxes in the cross? What sort of atonement establishes the kingdom of God?

Let's not forget the resurrection. The resurrection wasn't primarily meant to be a proof of Jesus divinity. It was first meant to be proof of Messiahship, and that his death was the messianic death that defeated the powers. Second, Jesus resurrection means that the new creation has been launched and now we have a job to do (isn't that how the gospels end and Acts begins?). Part of that is telling the story of Jesus as Israel's God.

So what? Among other points he made, here are three.Practically, we need to try to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel. To do that we need to understand who Jesus was in history, the Jesus of the canonical gospels. Also, our atonement theology can't be derived from Paul alone. We need to incorporate the gospels into our atonement theology. Lastly, we need to see that the pre-easter Jesus is the same as the risen Jesus. We know that the risen one was the crucified kingdom bringer. If we don't the resurrection will shrink to a detached spirituality.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Nicholas Perrin

I had trouble connecting to the wireless at Wheaton in the afternoon so this update had to wait til dinner time. Perrin's talk was very witty and very learned and a little beyond my level of experience at times to fully grasp him so I thought that I would comment only briefly. One of the nice things about listening to Perrin is that you are listening to someone who has made digesting Wright's work a major goal. We is simply soaked in Wright's theology and Wright's paradigm for understanding Jesus.

Perrin began with a sketch of how we got to where we are today in historical Jesus studies, including the two major schools of thought, one rooted in Bultmann and the other in Dodd. Wright obviously belongs to the latter school.

Next Perrin moves into a time of expounding upon some of Wright's key contributions to the historical Jesus discussion. One was how Wright effectively showed the weaknesses of the methodology employed by many within the 3rd quest (such as double dissimilarity). Another was the understanding of Jesus as summing up Israel and its entire historical trajectory. Perrin thinks very highly of the whole exile/restoration metanarrative.

Perrin did pose a couple of of questions to Wright, and one that I thought was very important. Wright claims that the repentence Jesus preached was a call for abandoning revolutionary intentions, it had eschatalogical and political overtones to it. It was a call for Israel to abandon one set of intentions for another, so that the exile could end. The problem is that it's fairly difficult to see how personal repentance fits in.


I'll try to post something on Wright's talk late tonight (no guarantees though). I'd love to cover this afternoon's Q&A but it covered way too many topics. Hopefully that audio will be available because it was helpful.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wright Responds to Hays

Since Hays had to leave early, they gave Wright an opportunity before Hays left to respond to the criticisms that Hays leveled. First, Wright rebutted that he had created a fifth gospel that replaces the canonical four. He then proceeded to give a bit of personal background.

Wright grew up in a time where the gospels were held to be thoroughly unhistorical, especially the gospel of John. His goal was to go into the home court of his critics and beat them at their own game. He knew that if he substantially used John in his work on the historical Jesus, then liberal critics like Crossan would not even bother with his work. So, he omitted John altogether.

Wright's last response was one that raised some eyebrows. He essentially claimed that the early creeds and confessions of the church got it wrong in that they screened out Jesus announcement of the kingdom and the Jewishness of his Messiahship. Thus, he claimed, that he was more canonical than many of the creeds and thus against Hays he didn't see the tradition of the early church as the right starting point for historical Jesus studies.

Wheaton Theology Conference - Richard Hays

Those of you who read my regularly know of my deep admiration for Richard Hays. He has been one of my greatest influences. First I'd like to offer my condolences to his family. His father-in-law passed away and the funeral is today. Graciously he decided to still come and deliver his lecture (though he could not stay for the panel discussion). He spoke on what he saw as flaws in Wright's approach to studies of Jesus. The timing of this talk is impeccable, coming on the heels of the recent debate between McKnight and Wright in CT (which I have commented on).

First, let me note that Hays was extremely gracious in the way he critiqued Wright. If only all Christians could follow his example of God-glorifying disagreement.

It should be noted that Hays is responding to Wright's criticism of him at the 2008 SBL meeting. Wright found the book edited by Hays and Gaventa, Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage, to be too Barthian in its understanding of history.

Hays response to Wright broke into three main parts. First he sketched Wright's approach. Then he mentioned some gains and losses from Wright's approach. He closed with a proposal of how we should proceed now.

I don't want to give a full outline of what Hays said, but he made a couple of key observations. One is that in Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright does not pay attention to the literary and theological shape of the gospels. In effect what happens is Wright mutes each writer's voice and in effect creates a fifth gospel which he has reconstructed historically. A second major criticism is his exclusion of John from his reconstruction (which was the topic Maryanne Meye Thompson discussed in the following lecture). I highly encourage you to listen to Hays to hear how he expands on this criticism, his points here were excellent.

Hays certainly sees strengths in Wright's work as well. These include a reading of Jesus in his historical context and his vindication of the NT's use of the OT.

How do we go forward? Hays believes that Barth and Wright need to be brought into conversation. They're not at odds as much as one might think. Second, Hays thinks we need to continue to explore the relation of story and history. Jesus cannot be known outside of a confessional framework or outside of the framework of the gospels. Our belief in the portrayal that the gospels and church has presented (especially including that Jesus rose from the dead and still lives) gives us a hermeneutical advantage because the resurrection is the key to all history.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference

This week has been a virtual week of silence from me. I've been up to my eyeballs in a paper that I'm writing. Look for some posts from me during the next two days, though. I'll be at the Wheaton Theology Conference listening to the likes of Hays, Wright, Vanhoozer, Bockmuehl and may others (woo hoo!), and I'll probably post my reactions to some (I'm sure not all) of the talks when I have breaks. I'll later add in links to the audio as it becomes available. I've posted the schedule of talks below.


Session 1 - Moderated by Grant LeMarquand,
8:15-8:40 AM Introductory Remarks and Prayer
Jeff Greenman and Grant LeMarquand
8:40-9:25 AM Knowing Jesus: Story, History, and the Question of Truth
Richard Hays
9:30-10:15 AM The Gospel of John Meets Jesus and the Victory of God
Marianne Meye Thompson
10:30-11:15 AM Chapel
N.T. Wright

Session 2 - Moderated by Grant LeMarquand,
1:00-1:45 PM 'Outside of a Small Circle of Friends': Jesus and the Justice of God
Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat
1:50-2:35 PM Jesus' Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet
Nicholas Perrin

Session 3 - Moderated by Grant LeMarquand,
3:15-4:45 PM Panel Discussion
Wright, Hays, Walsh, Keesmaat, Thompson, and Perrin
Includes audience Q & A.

Session 4 - Keynote Address,
7:00-8:30 PM Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church
N.T. Wright

8:45-9:15 AM Morning Prayer
9:30-9:45 AM Announcements and Worship

Session 1 - Moderated by Grant LeMarquand,

9:45-10:30 AM Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
10:35-11:20 AM The Shape of Things to Come? Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies
Jeremy Begbie

Session 2 - Moderated by Grant LeMarquand,
1:00-1:45 PM Did St. Paul Go to Heaven When He Died?
Markus Bockmuehl
1:50-2:35 PM Glimpsing the Glory—Paul's Gospel, Righteousness and the Beautiful Feet of N.T. Wright
Edith Humphrey

Session 3 - Moderated by Grant LeMarquand,
3:15-4:45 PM Panel Discussion
Wright, Vanhoozer, Begbie, Bockmuehl, and Humphrey
Includes audience Q & A.

Session 4 - Keynote Address,
7:00-8:30 PM Paul and the People of God: Whence and Whither Pauline Studies and the Life of the Church
N.T. Wright

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Paul's Argument in Galatians 2:1-10

1 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. (TNIV)

Paul continues to tell his readers about his past in defense of his gospel. Here we read of another trip to Jerusalem after fourteen years [1]. Paul went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, one a Jew and the other an uncircumcised Gentile. All three of them were united in one party under the same gospel. As Hays notes, the delegation's composition bore witness to the gospel in and of itself. Jew and Gentile were united into one new man (Eph. 2:15).

Somehow, in a revelatory manner, God had told Paul to go up to Jerusalem. Apparently it had been revealed to Paul that God wanted the leaders of the Antiochene mission to the Gentiles and the leaders of the Jerusalem church to have a conference discussing the incorporation of Gentile Christians into the church. Did they need to be circumcised? So, Paul went and met with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem to lay out his gospel. Since unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ was one of the goals of Paul's gospel, it was very important that he be able to achieve that. If the Jerusalem church disagreed with Paul and forced a split in the church, then Paul would have been running his race, to bring that unity, in vain. When we understand Paul's goals thus, it makes it clear that he wasn't telling the Galatians that he went to get his gospel the stamp of approval from the Jerusalem church.

Verses 3-5 give us a hint at why he went and why he brought Titus. Titus was brought along to show the fruit of the circumcision free gospel. The Holy Spirit had worked powerfully in Titus, and he became one of Paul's most trusted co-workers. In the face of such evidence, how could anyone claim that circumcision was necessary for entering into the people of God? Paul went up to Jerusalem because he had faced opposition to his gospel, and to attempt to satisfy his detractors and deal with the issue of circumcision once and for all.

Verses 6-9 continue to show that Paul considered compulsory circumcision of Gentiles to be a dead issue. The Jerusalem apostles did not require Paul to have his converts circumcised. They ratified Paul's gospel as being the true gospel and gave him the charge to continue preaching to the Gentiles. Thus by mentioning this agreement, Paul is firing across the bow of the Teachers. They are intruding on his territory and it is they, not he, who are at odds with the agreement he made with the Jerusalem apostles. Case closed.

One thing that sticks out as odd at first glance is the exhortation to remember the poor. Why would the apostles command that of Paul? Clearly, as Acts 11:27-30 shows, Paul had been faithful. While it's hard to ascertain why, I would conjecture that it was out of a desire to show that Jews and Gentiles truly were one. What better way for the uncircumcised Gentile Christians to show their love for their circumcised Jewish brothers than by sacrificing of themselves for those in need. The collection provided an opportunity for a beautiful display of the love and unity that comes through being united in Christ.


[1] Commentators are split on whether Paul means fourteen years from the last trip to Jerusalem or fourteen years from his conversion. I will address this issue in a later post on the chronology of Galatians and Acts.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

McKnight Vs. Wright on the Historical Jesus Explored

The cover article of this month's Christianity Today deals with the question of the historical Jesus. Can we know him and should we try? Scot McKnight takes the line that we can't and we shouldn't. McKnight's main concern seems to be that what historical Jesus studies end up doing is creating a fifth gospel, which selectively draws upon and trumps the four canonical ones. The strong danger is that the historian creates Jesus in their own image. They find precisely the pieces they like to be the authentic ones and the ones they don't like to be inauthentic. The canonical gospels get relegated to a role of less authority, as what really matters is what happened in history. McKnight, correctly sees that this is a major mistake, since the canonical gospels are, after all, the word of God and our scholarly reconstructions aren't.

Another issue that McKnight brings up that's very important follows Dale Allison in, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, which is an excellent book that all Christians who seriously study the Bible need to wrestle with, even if you disagree with him fundamentally (and I don't agree with him on several points). One thing that Allison shows in is that, using historical methods, it's really hard to penetrate the gospel traditions and know which specific stories are authentic. We can know the types of things that Jesus did and said, but we cannot know exactly what he did and said. It seems to me that there is something additional that is driving McKnight to say that we don't need historical Jesus studies anymore: Historical Jesus studies can't produce much of anything concrete. All we get are general impressions of who he was and what he did (e.g., Jesus performed miracles and had clashes with the Pharisees over a range of issues), with only a few exceptions like the crucifixion and resurrection.

I strongly agree with the points McKnight makes above; the question is, however, is his conclusion, that we should then abandon historical Jesus studies, warranted? N.T. Wright answers with a resounding no. I agree with him, but I want to clarify what the goals of the study of the historical Jesus should be. As Wright points out, historical studies can be rightly used in an attempt to understand the Jesus of the four canonical gospels better. We can analyze him within the framework of contemporary Jewish and early Christian thought. This is a very different type of historical Jesus study than that mentioned by McKnight (as Wright points out). Any historical study of Jesus must be done with the intention of working within the framework provided by 1st century Judaism and the early church, focused on the canonical gospels, trying to maximize our understanding of the four portraits provided there. In my opinion, any goals larger than that are unattainable and are potentially in tension with a high view of Scripture. For it is the portrayal of Jesus in the gospels that really matters for the Christian faith, as they contain the truth about Jesus that God wants us to know.

In closing I think that I should make one very important clarification. Above I state that we can't know much of anything with certainty, historically, about Jesus, and I say that this is ok, because I don't think that it undermines the truth of God's word. This does not imply that I believe the gospels to be fictitious and the creations of the early church. I do believe that they are firmly rooted in history, and I think that there are solid arguments to support that conclusion. The decision to trust the gospels, though, is still a move of faith. As Christians we need to approach the Scriptures with what Richard Hays terms, 'a hermeneutic of trust.' My points above are expressions of the conclusions arrived at by the usual methods of historical inquiry.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


As some of you may know, I'm a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan. Today is a sad day for the franchise. Donovan McNabb has been traded to Washington. There goes any shot at winning a Super Bowl in the next three years. In the NFL you need to win now. McNabb was unquestionably their best shot at winning now. They have the other pieces on offense with McCoy, Jackson, Celek, and Maclin. All they had to do was improve the defense and they were set. Now, the best they can be this year is 8-8. I wouldn't be surprised if they had a losing record. Even if Kolb turns out to be a good quarterback, he will struggle this year. When the other pieces are in place you don't rebuild. To quote John Clayton:

"As for the Eagles, who were 11-5 last season, the pressure falls on the unproven quarterback Kevin Kolb," writes Clayton. "With this being his first year as the full-time starter, we can expect a two- or three-win drop in the Eagles' record because first-year starters have difficulty winning close games. The Packers experienced that after they traded Favre to the New York Jets for a second-round choice in 2008. Even though Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2008, he struggled in the fourth quarter of close games, and the Packers dropped from 13-3 to 6-10."

Eagles fans have NO IDEA how good they've had it with McNabb. They are one of the worst fan bases in all of sports. At least they care, but gosh, you just ran one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league off of your team...a guy who has taken you to 5 NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. The guy with the third highest winning percentage of any active quarterback in the NFL behind Payton Manning and Tom Brady. The guy with the lowest rate of interceptions per pass attempt in NFL history...when he's only 34. It's a horrible decision that I am not happy about. My hope for the upcoming season is gone. Let's go Mets.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Wonderful Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace draw near and bless
Your name

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all