Friday, October 18, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 3

Click here for part 1 and part 2.

In the fall of 2009 I began taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I felt a little conflicted over signing their statement of faith, but I eventually did. I didn't learn many things there (besides Greek) that had long term impact on me, but it was generally a good time that really stretched me, both by challenging my thinking and by making it clear to me where my main points of disagreement with conservative evangelicalism lied. I did a total of 19 credits prior to withdrawing. Before moving on, though, I do want to say how much I appreciated Graham Cole's class on biblical theology. I am more of a historical theologian (with the biblical text being the most important stage in the historical process) than a biblical theologian, but I think that Cole's basic definition of the missio dei, 'securing God's people in God's place under God's reign living God's way enjoying God's shalom in God's loving and holy presence as both family and worshippers, to God's glory,' has a lot to say for it. Whether or not the Bible actually is one story, many of the earliest Christians viewed it that way, and I think there is room to subsume biblical theology under historical theology. I also think he nailed most of the key elements of being a Christian and properly emphasized the royal identity of God.

To this point I have left aside the comments I made about Sanders' work. The seed was planted in my mind, back in 2007 that being 'in Christ' was a central theme for Paul. At the start of 2010 Scot McKnight asked for readers to review books for his blog. Several people requested someone review a book by Michael Gorman, so I decided to tackle Inhabiting the Cruciform God. It changed my life. Cruciformity became my personal goal. I was a little slow in coming around on theosis, but I think it is probably the best explanation for the 'in Christ' language in Paul and is well grounded, as Gorman claims, in Paul's language of co-crucifixion. When we are justified we are united with Christ, we are brought to share in his very life itself. Importantly, this put me halfway to Campbell's apocalyptic reading of Paul.

In the Spring of 2012 I began reading Douglas Campbell's magisterial Deliverance of God. Here I found the other half of what intrigued me about Sanders' work demonstrated (and much of what I previously believed about soteriology dismantled). Paul's thought was indeed retrospective. Everything was evaluated in light of the reality of what God had done through Christ. In fact our need for Christ can only be seen in retrospect.

I bring up Gorman and Campbell because the way I understand Christian experience shapes the way I understand the Bible. Campbell's emphasis on retrospection confirms that, as Barth claimed, truth is revelatory, not propositional. Faith (and this is something much bigger than just belief) results from an encounter with Jesus, a time when he is revealed to us. I believe (as Enns claimed in Three Views of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament) that the earliest Christians read their Old Testaments retrospectively as well, meaning in light of Jesus. This fits the data much better than the old promise and fulfillment model in my opinion (even though fulfillment language is used in the NT, especially in Matthew). Scriptural and other texts were a pallet of colors. The evangelists used them to paint a picture of Jesus (to extend a metaphor of Markus Bockmuehl). Our job is much the same: to explain who Jesus is and what he means to us. We must paint well, in both word and deed.

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