Saturday 31 January 2009

Stephen J. Wellum on Reading and Applying Exodus

Stephen J. Wellum, ‘ Reading and Applying the Book of Exodus Today’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12, 3 (2008), 2-3.

Stephen J. Wellum introduces an issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology devoted to the book of Exodus by exploring briefly how to read and apply it to today.

Kicking off with the importance of reading texts in context, he says we need to read beyond the immediate context of a passage to the whole of Scripture. The discipline that helps us do this is biblical theology, ‘which seeks to understand the whole Bible by carefully interpreting biblical texts in light of the entire canon, taking into consideration the progressive nature of God’s redemptive plan and revelation of himself’ (2).

He distinguishes three horizons:

• Textual – the immediate context of a text.
• Epochal – where the text is place ‘in the unfolding plan of God’ (2).
• Canonical – texts read ‘in light of the fullness of revelation that has now come in Christ’ (2).

Exodus is an important book in the overall story of the Bible. Abraham emerges in Genesis as God’s solution to the plight of men and women, but God calls and establishes his covenant with the nation of Israel in fulfilment of promises made to Abraham (cf. Exod. 3:6).

‘Israel, then, which serves as a kind of new Adam, will be the means by which God will bring about a resolution of the sin and death caused by the first Adam. Israel, as a nation, is the agent and means God will use to achieve the wider purposes of the Abrahamic covenant that will ultimately lead us to Christ’ (3).

Exodus lays out many of the typological building blocks of God’s redemptive plan – priesthood, sacrifice, tabernacle, etc. – which point beyond themselves to their fulfilment in Christ.

Friday 30 January 2009

George Hunsberger on a Missional Hermeneutic

‘The Gospel and Our Culture’ eSeries no. 2 has just been made available (as html here with a pdf link at the bottom of the page). It contains an essay by George R. Hunsberger on ‘Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping the Conversation’ (available separately here).

The essay reviews existing and forthcoming materials, and outlines four streams of emphasis – or ‘four points of gravity’ that ‘comprise an expanding and rich force field’ – as follows:

1. The missional direction of the story
The framework for biblical interpretation is the story it tells of the mission of God and the formation of a community sent to participate in it.

2. The missional purpose of the writings
The aim of biblical interpretation is to fulfill the equipping purpose of the biblical writings.

3. The missional locatedness of the readers
The approach required for a faithful reading of the Bible is from the missional location of the Christian community.

4. The missional engagement with cultures
The gospel functions as the interpretive matrix within which the received biblical tradition is brought into critical conversation with a particular human context.

Hunsberger suggests that future reflections in the area should take place around these four areas and questions:

1. Missio Dei: what is the story of the biblical narrative and how does it implicate us?

2. Equipping witness: what is the purpose of the biblical writings in the life of its hearers?

3. Located questions: how shall the church read the Bible faithfully today?

4. Gospel matrix: what guides our use of the received tradition in the context before us?

The issue also contains responses by Michael Barram and James Brownson. (I recently read a book by the latter on mission and hermeneutics and may write a few summary posts on it in the near future.)

Thursday 29 January 2009

Peter Enns on Reading Exodus (3): Contemporary Significance

Peter Enns, Exodus, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

In the Introduction (downloadable here) to his commentary on Exodus, Peter Enns reflects on the three interpretive steps utilised in the NIV Application Commentary series:

(1) Original meaning
(2) Bridging contexts
(3) Contemporary significance

When it comes to contemporary significance, Enns begins by saying that we typically approach the question of application by assuming (1) that the passage has to ‘speak to us where we are’, and (2) that it has to be ‘practical’ in terms of pushing us to do something. Both assumptions, he holds, are right and wrong.

The problem with the first assumption is that much of the Old Testament is narrative, recording ‘a story about something that happened, and therefore it is not… apparent how that story should be applied’ (31).

But he makes it clear that the problem is not so much with Exodus:

‘When we think of application, we tend to think of ourselves as the immovable point and the Old Testament as something that has to be brought into our lives. We think that it has to speak to our circumstances without always considering whether it is our particular circumstances that the Bible is designed to speak to’ (31).

He goes on:

‘There is another way of thinking about application. The book of Exodus is not waiting there for us to bring it into our world. Rather, it is standing there defining what our world should look like and then inviting us to enter that world’ (31).

Exodus tells us what ‘God is like, how he thinks of his people, the lengths to which he will go to deliver them, and the proper response of God’s people to this great deed’ (31). Moreover, as Christians, we understand the story in the light of the Christ who completes the story, ‘and then we begin to see more fully how this story affects how we look at ourselves and our God’ (31).

On the second assumption (that application has to be ‘practical’), Enns notes that application may also be to change how we think, how we grow in our understanding of God and his love, or even to lead us to worship.

He wonders whether contemporary society obliges us to ask ‘What’s the payoff?’, as if to suggest that if there is nothing demonstrable or practical as a result of interpretation, then it must inevitably lack worth. He is not advocating Bible study as a mere intellectual exercise, but wanting to say that ‘“practical” application need not always translate into something we do. Rather, what may be in order is to change how we define “practical”’ (32).

In short, summarising the three steps:

‘This commentary attempts to explain Exodus in light of Christ’s coming. In doing so, I have tried to listen as carefully as I can to what the story would have communicated to ancient Israelite readers of the book. The theology of the book pushes me outward to consider how that theology fits into the whole story, a story that culminates in the person and work of Christ. It is knowing how the story ends up that forms the proper context within which we are “in Christ” (to use Paul’s words) apply those words to ourselves’ (32).

Biblical eSources

Ted Hildebrandt of Gordon College has made available a wealth of (mostly academic) resources, old and not so old, on biblical studies here, including a large collection of articles on Genesis and Exodus.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Peter Enns on Reading Exodus (2): Bridging Contexts

Peter Enns, Exodus, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

The Introduction to this commentary is available online as a pdf download.

Peter Enns begins his commentary on Exodus by reflecting on the three interpretive steps utilised in the NIV Application Commentary series:

(1) Original meaning
(2) Bridging contexts
(3) Contemporary significance

On the bridging contexts step, Enns argues for a distinctively Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, one which knows the end of the story – Christ’s resurrection – and can read Israel’s story in that light. He says:

‘The Old Testament is not an ancient text with which we have to struggle somehow to find creative ways to bring its timeless principles into our world. God has already “interpreted” the Old Testament by raising Christ from the dead’ (27).

The New Testament writers interpret the entire Old Testament – not just isolated texts here and there – from this point of view (which, says Enns, needs to be taken into account when the writers quote an Old Testament passage in a way that doesn’t seem to fit). So, in 2 Corinthians 6:2, Paul can cite Isaiah 49:8 (‘… in the day of salvation I heard you…’) and understand that what originally applied to the Judean exiles in the sixth century BC ‘was merely a prelude to the fullness of God’s salvation as seen in the cross and the empty tomb’ (27). Christ can be seen in Isaiah 49:8 only by ‘standing at the end of the story’ (28).


‘This, then, is how the contexts between the Old Testament and our contemporary setting will be bridged in this commentary – not by seeking timeless moral principles in the Old Testament and then seeking to apply them to our lives, but rather by asking ourselves what the Old Testament tells us about the nature of God (i.e., how he acts, what he expects of his people) and then seeing how these things can be understood in light of the gospel… What God has done in Christ, in other words, is the proper context within which we interpret the Old Testament’ (28).

This doesn’t make interpretation easy, or turn Jesus into a magic key to unlock passages. Nor, says Enns, is it necessary to find Jesus in every verse. There are explicit links between Christ and the tabernacle (and temple), as (for instance) John 1-2 makes clear, but this ‘does not mean that we have to find Christological significance in every detail in the tabernacle’ (29).

Enns notes that he sometimes does not supply a separate section on original meaning, bridging contexts, and contemporary significance for each passage in Exodus: each of the plagues, for instance, does not need to be individually bridged to our setting. The nature of the book of Exodus ‘lends itself to drawing theological implications from larger blocks of text’ (30).

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Iain Torrance on David Ford

Iain Torrance, ‘Friendship as a Mode of Theological Engagement: David Ford’s Exploration of Christian Wisdom’, Modern Theology 25:1 (2009), 123-31.

Having blogged on David Ford already (here and here), I thought I’d add a reference to this essay, which partly functions as an extended review of Ford’s Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Torrance points out the lack of polemic in the book, its eagerness for exchange, its hospitality, its careful acknowledgment of conversations, friendships, and indebtedness to others. As the title of the essay indicates, Torrance sees such friendship as a ‘mode of theological engagement’.

Peter Enns on Reading Exodus (1): Original Meaning

Peter Enns, Exodus, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

The Introduction to this commentary is available online as a pdf download.

The NIV Application Commentary series is distinctive in treating each biblical passage in three sections:

• Original meaning – understanding the meaning of the text in its original context.

• Bridging contexts – building a bridge between the world of the Bible and today’s world ‘by focusing on both the timely and timeless aspects of the text’.

• Contemporary significance – applying the biblical message to today.

The second of these stages is arguably the most problematic, and (in my opinion) not all the contributors to the series have deployed the steps with the same degree of sophistication.

Peter Enns, however, begins his commentary by reflecting self-consciously on how he handles the three categories.

According to Enns, the first of them – original meaning – ‘is the meaning as it was intended by the writer to be understood by his audience’ (19).

He recognises this is not necessarily a simple task, not least because of the anonymity of a number of biblical books – which, in the case of Exodus, at the very least, is complicated. Likewise, there may be problems when it comes to identifying the original audience: who was Exodus addressed to?

Even so, according to Enns:

‘To acknowledge that the author and the audience cannot be precisely identified is not to say that we can freely mold the text to any shape we desire. Even though we do not have access to the mind of an author, we most certainly have the words he has produced, and it is to these words that we are bound’ (21).

Furthermore, says, Enns, because Scripture is God’s word, we must go beyond the matter of human authorship to the divine author. Discovering God’s intention in a text may require stepping back from the details and looking at ‘the sweep of Scripture as a whole’, which entails that ‘the “meaning” of an Old Testament text cannot simply be equated with what was intended by its human author and what it meant to its original audience’ (22).

On the issue of ‘original meaning’, Enns also deals with the related matter of ‘the question of history’, especially important for Exodus. Crucial though this is, however, he makes the point that we have not understood the book of Exodus when we have successfully defended its historicity. Rather…

‘The Old Testament is theological history. It has been written to teach lessons. The primary lesson I would argue is to teach us what God is like and what it means for his people to live with that knowledge’ (24).

It is not that the things the text records as happening did not actually happen, but that ‘it is the text that is the focus of our attention, not what might lie behind it’ (25).

For Enns, then, the goal of the ‘original meaning’ sections of his commentary is ‘to draw out the theology of the text’, to understand what the text teaches ‘God’s people about himself and their relationship to him’ (25).

Monday 26 January 2009

The Briefing on Reading the Bible

The major articles in the January 2009 issue of The Briefing are devoted to ‘The Gospel, the Quiet Time and the Death of Bible Reading’.

The Gospel and the Quiet Time

Paul Grimmond notes the steady decline of prayer and Bible reading among evangelicals, citing the ‘changing nature of life’ (particularly competition for our attention) as a major reason. The answer, he says, is to understand quiet times as our response to the gospel, ‘a profoundly spiritual response to the grace of God’. He points out what he considers the unfortunate legacy of the distinction between ‘devotional’ reading and ‘serious’ Bible study, and the danger of a ‘retreat into a world where we read a small passage of Scripture each day in order to find some happy moral to brighten our lives’. ‘We have learned,’ he says, ‘to read the Bible as small, easily digestible chunks, rather than as a book with a big story that stretches from the creation of the world to the new creation in Christ’. He closes by reminding us of the necessity of discipline in reading the Bible and the importance of ‘responding in prayeful obedience’.

The Swedish Method

Peter Blowes outlines the so-called ‘Swedish method’ of reading the Bible in groups (attributed to Ada Lum, an IFES staff worker). After prayer and the reading of a passage, each person is encouraged to go back over the passage on their own looking for three things: (1) a light bulb – something that ‘shines’ from the text, (2) a question mark – any questions raised, and (3) an arrow – a personal application. Each member of the group then shares their findings. Blowes notes that this style of reading promotes ‘good observation of the text, group participation and self-guided discovery’. He outlines some theological underpinnings of the approach, points out its adaptability in different contexts, as well as some of its limitations, concluding with suggestions on how to take it further (including a final step where members write down the name of someone who would benefit from them sharing what they have learned).

The Power of God’s Word

Tony Payne interviews Robert W. Cole, President of Bible League, about the extent of the need of those in the world who don’t have access to their own copy of the Bible. (In Africa alone more than 200 million literate Christians are without Bibles.) Bible League is intentional in placing Bibles in contexts of groups where participants are committed to studying it, and especially in situations where Christians are experiencing persecution.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Sermon preparation, according to Donald Howard, is ‘a matter of much-needed hard work’, involving careful reading of the text, and requiring a ‘well-rounded grasp of biblical theology’.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Six of the Best 1: Books for Beginners on Interpreting the Bible

I hope to write a monthly series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture for the relaunched LICC website (due March). I’ll probably start with books on biblical interpretation written with the ‘beginner’ in mind.

The following titles are among the best I have come across at an introductory level, written in an engaging, accessible style. They all include discussion of basic principles of interpretation (such as the importance of literary context, the historical background of the text, genre, translation, etc.) and they are all concerned, to a greater or lesser extent, to help readers think about how the Bible applies to today.

Books for the so-called ‘beginner’ are also useful for those of us who are further down the road, because they often remind us of ‘first principles’, and provide examples of good teachers in action, giving tips of how we might pass on insights and skills to others.

Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, Dig Deeper! Tools to Unearth the Bible’s Treasure (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
A very helpful user-friendly guide for beginners. This is an excellent place to start if you feel new to the area, and a good book to give to others starting out. The book contains short, easy-to-read chapters on different ‘tools’ for reading the Bible, with worked examples on biblical passages.

Richard Briggs, Light to Live By: How to Interpret the Bible (Bletchley: Scripture Union, 2005).
First published in 1998 with the title Be an Expert in 137 Minutes in Interpreting the Bible, this is one of the best and most enjoyable ways into biblical interpretation. It has less of a ‘workbook’ approach than others in this list, but has more discussion of some of the over-arching issues in biblical interpretation more generally, introducing contemporary thinking in the area in a highly engaging way.

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, Reading the Good Book Well: A Guide to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007).
A user-friendly way in to different aspects of interpreting biblical passages, with lots of worked examples – from the way language works generally as well as from the Bible. Although still accessible for beginners, this is probably the most ‘difficult’ of the books in this list. Someone stating with Beynon & Sach (above) or Duvall & Hays (below) could move on to this for more extended discussion of methods of reading biblical passages.

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Journey into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).
An abridgement of a fuller work by the authors, this is a very helpful book for newcomers to the area, with separate chapters covering the major types of literature in the Bible as well as issues related to interpretation and application more generally.

Ray Lubeck, Read the Bible for a Change: Understanding and Responding to God’s Word (Bletchley: Authentic, 2005).
This one, the fullest in this list, explores four steps to a method of Bible study: seeing (what does it say?), understanding (what does it mean?), sharing (what truths is it teaching?), and responding (so what?), all with plenty of examples to show the ‘working out’.

Andrew Reid, Postcard from Palestine: A Hands On Guide to Reading and Using the Bible, 2nd edn. (Kingswood: Matthias Media, 1997).
The oldest in this list, this one adopts a ‘workbook’ approach, and suggests a seven -step method for showing how readers can travel back to ancient Palestine, hear what God said, and travel back to the 21st century to apply it. Contains lots of examples and exercises, and is suitable for small groups as well as individuals.

Future ‘Six of the Bests’ will be devoted to intermediate books on interpreting the Bible, advanced books on interpreting the Bible, books on reading the biblical story, genre, theological interpretation, translating the Bible…

Eugene H. Peterson on Exodus

Eugene Peterson reminds us of the significance of the basic structure of the book of Exodus:

‘About half the book (chapters 1-19 and 32-34) is a gripping narrative of an obscure and severely brutalized people who are saved from slavery into a life of freedom. The other half (chapters 20-31 and 35-40) is a meticulous, some think tedious, basic instruction and training in living the saved, free life. The story of salvation is not complete without both halves.’

Eugene H. Peterson, The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008), 39.

Eugene H. Peterson on the Books of the Bible

Eugene H. Peterson, The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008), 203pp., ISBN 9781600062339.

This nicely-produced hardback book gathers together the introductions provided by Eugene Peterson to each biblical book in The Message, effectively providing a concise overview of the whole Bible. Each major section (Books of Moses, Historical Books, etc.) also has its own introduction.

In addition, the book begins with three short, helpful chapters: (1) ‘On Reading the Scriptures’, compiled from Peterson’s evocative Eat This Book: The Art of Spiritual Reading (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006), reminding us of the importance of submission and transformation in reading Scripture; (2) ‘The Bible of Surprises’, reflecting on reading the Bible as personal address from God, as a conversation in which the first and last words are his; (3) ‘The Story of the Bible in Five Acts’, a brief overview of the biblical story in, er… five acts: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, and the new people of God.

The book would make a nice gift. It could be given to someone fairly new to the Bible, but it may well be that some of Peterson’s insights depend on existing knowledge which he then ‘slants’ in a particular way.

Saturday 24 January 2009

On Erich Auerbach

In the preface to The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), Hans W. Frei notes that the impact of Auerbach’s Mimesis is ‘evident through this essay’ (vii, and see esp. 1-16, 28-37). (Note also that Frei has the audacity to call his 350 pages of dense prose an ‘essay’…)

As we might explore in subsequent posts, Frei saw the identification of parts of the Bible as ‘realistic narrative’ (as described by Auerbach) as significant for understanding the history of biblical interpretation, the nature of biblical narrative, and the theological relationship between the two testaments.

In fact, however, Auerbach’s importance extends beyond his influence on Frei.

Like his peers, Leo Spitzer, Ernst Robert Curtius, Karl Vossler, and Helmut Hatzfield, Erich Auerbach (1892-1957) was grounded in the tradition of Romance philology and literary history.

[Jan N. Bremmer, ‘Erich Auerbach and His Mimesis’, Poetics Today 20:1 (1999), 3-10, provides biographical background.]

He gained recognition with his 1929 work on Dante and an essay published in 1938 on figural interpretation, but especially for his subsequent volume, Mimesis, first published in German in 1946 and translated into English seven years later.

[Erich Auerbach, Dante, Poet of the Secular World, trans. Ralph Manheim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961); ‘Figura’, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature, trans. Ralph Manheim (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 11-79; Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), reissued in 2003 with a significant introductory essay by Edward W. Said (‘Introduction to the Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition’, ix-xxxiii).]

Auerbach moved to Yale in 1950, and was Sterling Professor of French when he died in 1957, the year after Frei completed his doctoral thesis. Recent appraisals have explored the implications of his work for the place of philology in the curriculum, the institutional history of university departments of literature, the nature of realism, the status of the western canon, the relation between exile and reading, and the concept of periodisation in literary history.

[E.g., Seth Lerer (ed.), Literary History and the Challenge of Philology: The Legacy of Erich Auerbach, Figurae: Reading Mediaeval Culture Series (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), and the essays in Poetics Today 20:1 (1999).]

Mimesis remains the most well-known of his works, and the one which to date has received the most critical attention.

[See William Calin, ‘Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis – ’Tis Fifty Years Since: A Reassessment’, Style 33, 3 (1999), 463-74, and A.D. Nuttall, ‘Auerbach’s Mimesis’, Essays in Criticism 54, 1 (2004), 60-74.]

As the subtitle suggests, ‘mimesis’, for Auerbach, has to do with the ‘representation of reality’, the changing conceptions of which he examines in western literature from Homer to Woolf (making his work even more a tour de force of intellectual history than Frei’s Eclipse). His method was to take a brief excerpt from a representative text and submit it to close reading, before discussing broader matters related to culture and society. As such the work has appealed to philologists, literary historians, formalists, and Marxists, and has even been studied as an historical phenomenon in its own right.

Michael Holquist (‘The Last European: Erich Auerbach as Precursor in the History of Cultural Criticism’, Modern Language Quarterly 54:3 [1993], 371-91) sees it as a foundational document of cultural criticism. Earl Jeffrey Richards (‘Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis as a Meditation on the Shoah’, German Politics and Society 19, 2 [2001], 62-91) contends that Auerbach uses examples from western literature figurally to address contemporary issues of Jewish history.

[More generally, see further Herbert Lindenberger, ‘On the Reception of Mimesis’, in Lerer (ed.), Literary History, 195-213.]

As might be expected, reservations have been expressed about Auerbach’s reading of select texts as well as his use of the concept of mimesis which has been accused of suffering from lack of clear definition. Frank R. Ankersmit, ‘Why Realism? Auerbach on the Representation of Reality’, Poetics Today 20:1 (1999), 53-75, detects at least five conceptions of realism in Mimesis.

In all this, however, he remains important, and his readings of Dante (and the Bible) are regularly cited. Even those who demur from him begin with deep admiration for his work. As A.D. Nutall notes:

‘Auerbach’s book survives… Again and again he emerges from the dust and confusion in somewhat better shape than his attackers… I have suggested that Auerbach on occasion flattens, overstates, simplifies, and I hold to the charge; but if he overstates he is usually overstating an important truth’ (Nuttall, ‘Auerbach’s Mimesis’, 72). Said also comments on the book’s ‘amazing staying power’ (‘Introduction to the Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition’, ix).

Friday 23 January 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Exodus

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 42.

‘Exodus plays an especially important role in the rest of the biblical story, since it tells the basic story of God’s saving his people from bondage and of his giving them the law so that they will become the people of his presence. Exodus also serves as a pattern for the promised “second exodus” in Isaiah (esp. chs. 40-66) and thus for Jesus’ own “departure” (exodus) that would be accomplished in Jerusalem (Luke 9:30, spoken in the presence of Moses[!] and Elijah).’

Thursday 22 January 2009

Joel B. Green on the Nature of Humanity

Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic/Bletchley: Paternoster, 2008), xviii + 219pp., ISBN 9781842275399.

This book forms one of the volumes in Baker’s ‘Studies in Theological Interpretation’ series, which seeks ‘to appreciate the constructive theological contribution made by Scripture when it is read in its canonical richness’, and which ‘is dedicated to the pursuit of constructive theological interpretation of the church’s inheritance of prophets and apostles in a manner that is open to reconnection with the long history of theological reading in the church’, where the ‘primary emphasis is on the constructive theological contribution of the biblical texts themselves’ (ix). [Phew!]

This particular volume has had a lengthy incubation period. Though a noted New Testament scholar, Joel Green has published numerous articles on personhood and the nature of humanity over the last ten years or so, and has undertaken graduate work in neuroscience to allow him to engage in the interdisciplinary study required for the book.

He begins by referring to an article from the New York Times declaring that neuroscientists have given up looking for the ‘soul’, suggesting that what makes us human is the wiring of the brain. Neuroscientists, he notes, are largely setting the agenda for discussions about our essential humanity, with very little being done to bring biblical perspectives to bear on the issues. His book seeks to redress that imbalance, providing, he says, ‘a progress report on where my thinking at the interface of these disciplines has led me’ (xvii).

Russell R. Reno on Reading Genesis Theologically

Russell R. Reno, ‘Reading the Bible with the Church’, Calvin Theological Journal 43, 1 (2008), 35-47.

One of a number of essays devoted to Genesis in this issue of Calvin Theological Journal, this one explores some issues related to theological interpretation of Scripture, on which Reno has published elsewhere.

Reno is slated to write the commentary on Genesis in the ‘Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible’ series (published by SCM in the UK) for which he is also the general editor. The inaugural volume was Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), though a number of others have appeared since.

Reno writes that the series is written with ‘the conviction that dogma clarifies rather than obscures’ (‘Series Preface’, in Pelikan, Acts, 13). The aim of the series is to use the Nicene tradition as the ‘proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian Scripture’, on the understanding that ‘doctrine provides structure and cogency to scriptural interpretation’ (‘Series Preface’, 14, 16.). Hence the series has turned to theologians rather than biblical scholars, ‘chosen because of their knowledge of and expertise in using the Christian doctrinal tradition’ (‘Series Preface’, 14).

These same concerns are explored in this essay on Genesis focusing particularly on the contentious issues of the ‘beginning’ in 1:1 and of ‘creation out of nothing’ in 1:2.

Reno notes that exegetes fear that theological loyalties ‘have for too long overdetermined our reading of Scripture’ (37), and that ‘many modern readers recoil at the notion that doctrine should be relevant to any critically responsible approach to the Bible’ (42).

But he wonders whether biblical exegesis may be ‘blind to the wealth of reasons in favor of traditional readings’ (37), asks whether doctrine is ‘really so alien to a close analysis of the biblical text’ (35), and says that ‘we ignore our dogmatic, ecclesiastical, liturgical, and spiritual traditions at our peril’ (47).

He is not advocating an approach which ignores or distorts the text, but recognises that ‘doctrines such as creatio ex nihilo became authoritative precisely because communities of readers found them to be very helpful guides to a coherent, overall reading of Scripture’ (42).

‘A theological reader is theo-logical precisely because he or she wants to read Scripture in such a way as to sustain a coherent view of God’s plan and purpose’ (39).

‘[D]octrinal governance of scriptural interpretation is not a simpleminded submission to a biblically extrinsic authority. Traditional doctrines involve complex, multilayered exegetical judgments that operate across the biblical text as a whole’ (46).

Monday 19 January 2009

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on the Relationship between Theology and Philosophy

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Christ and Concept: Doing Theology and the “Ministry” of Philosophy’, in John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (eds.), Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 99-145.

Vanhoozer adopts H. Richard Neibuhr’s five-fold typology of Christ in relation to culture to tackle the relationship between theology and philosophy. He notes that the particular nature of the philosophy under discussion is crucial. He defines philosophy as ‘the critical and systematic reflection on enduring problems that arise in language and life’, and says that ‘if conceptual inquiry is the philosopher’s task, the words of ordinary language and the technical terms used to clarify the relations between them are the tools’ (105, 107).

His preference is for the ‘Christ the Lord of concept’ model, akin to Karl Barth, where ‘biblical revelation provides the material to be understood, and philosophy contributes the impetus toward conceptual clarity’. This means that ‘the theologian does not need a prior conceptual scheme within which biblical language can make sense; rather, one simply begins (unapologetically!) with biblical language’ (122-23).

Sunday 18 January 2009

Michael J. Williams on the Deceptions of Genesis

Michael J. Williams, ‘Lies, Lies, I Tell You! The Deceptions of Genesis’, Calvin Theological Journal 43, 1 (2008), 9-20.

This entire fascicle of Calvin Theological Journal contains essays on Genesis, based on papers first given at a Bible and Ministry Conference in June 2007, ‘Hearing and Reading Genesis: Texts of Order, Disorder, Deceit, and Destruction’.

Michael J. Williams kicks off with an essay on the deceptions of Genesis, noting that ‘almost every significant narrative in the book contains an incident of deception’ (9).

In defining deception, he notes the importance of intentionality: ‘Deception takes place when Party A intentionally distorts, withholds, or otherwise manipulates information reaching Party B in order to stimulate in B a belief that A does not believe in order to serve A’s purpose’ (11).

This being the case, he lists the deceptions in Genesis as follows (11):

(1) The serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve (3:1-19)
(2) Abram’s deception of Pharaoh (12:10-20)
(3) Abraham’s deception of Abimelech (20:1-18)
(4) Isaac’s deception of Abimelech (26:6-11)
(5) Rebekah’s and Jacobs’s deception of Isaac and Esau (27:1-40)
(6) Laban’s deception of Jacob regarding his wife (29:15-30)
(7) Laban’s deception of Jacob regarding his wages (31:4-9, 38-42)
(8) Jacob’s deception of Laban (31:17-18, 20-29)
(9) Rachel’s deception of Laban (31:19, 30-35)
(10) Jacob’s sons’ deception of the Shechemites (34:1-31)
(11) Joseph’s brothers’ deception of Jacob (37:29-35)
(12) Tamar’s deception of Judah (38:1-26)
(13) Potiphar’s wife’s deception of Potiphar (39:1-20)
(14) Joseph’s first deception of his brothers (42:7-28)
(15) Joseph’s second deception of his brothers (44:1-34)

Although most of the deceptions are evaluated negatively by the text, events 12, 14, and 15, he claims, ‘are evaluated positively, at least implicitly, by the narrative itself’ (12).

He rejects the views that deception is positive if (1) a person of lower social standing deceives a person of higher social standing, (2) if it is perpetrated by a patriarch, and (3) if an Israelite deceives a non-Israelite (13-14).

Instead, he suggests ‘that the only criterion for positive deception in the Bible is the motive of the deceiver, and the only acceptable motive for perpetrating deception on someone else is… the restoration of shalom… the normal relationship of things or people to each other’ (14).

When shalom is disturbed, where expectations and responsibilities in relationship have become imbalanced, then ‘the wronged part may legitimately use deception to restore that shalom to what it was before’ – providing that the deception is ‘limited to the person who caused the original wrong’, that it does not ‘disadvantage the deceived person’, and does not ‘advantage the deceiver beyond his/her status prior to what it was before suffering the original wrong’ (14-15). He argues that these criteria fit Tamar’s deception of Judah, and Joseph’s deception of his brothers, but not the other incidents of deception in Genesis.

From a big picture perspective, the deceptions show that God ‘continues to advance his plan of salvation’, and ‘will accomplish his purposes in spite of, and even by means of… human deceitfulness’ (16).

On the issue of whether the conclusions about deceptions in Genesis apply to deception elsewhere in the Bible, he notes the change in social structure from family groups to a multi-tribal people, but holds that there are places where the same principle of protecting or restoring shalom in the covenant community is operative – notably in the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:15-20), Rahab (Joshua 2:1-21), Ehud (Judges 3:12-30), Jael (Judges 4:17-22), Nahash the Ammonite (1 Samuel 11:1-11), and David (1 Samuel 21:10-15) (18-19).

On the matter of whether there are instances in the Bible where God himself deceives, Williams points to Exodus 3:18; 14:1-4; 1 Samuel 16:1-5; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Ezekiel 14:1-11 (19-20), as well as making something of the church fathers’ view that God deceived Satan through the cross of Christ (17).

On the question of whether this understanding of deception weakens the ninth commandment about not giving false testimony (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20), he argues that the commandment, presupposing a covenantal context, ‘is in effect prohibiting exactly the kind of violation of the responsibilities and expectations of this preexisting relationship that positively evaluated deception rectifies’, and thus ‘deception that is perpetrated for the purpose of restoring shalom does not violate the ninth commandment; just the opposite!’ (20).

[Williams has also written a full-length study on this subject: Michael J. Williams, Deception in Genesis: An Investigation into the Morality of a Unique Biblical Phenomenon, Studies in Biblical Literature 32 (New York: Peter Lang, 2001).]

Saturday 17 January 2009

New Dictionary of Biblical Theology

T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (eds.), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Leicester: IVP, 2000), xx + 866pp., ISBN 085111976X.

[The following is a lightly-edited version of a review first written in November 2000 and published on London School of Theology’s website. Although the volume is now nearly 10 years old, it remains an excellent resource.]

Although there is no full agreement as to the nature, tasks, and limits of biblical theology, there can be little doubt that it is now well and truly on the map of the theological landscape, and that evangelical voices are making significant contributions to the discussion. The voices gathered together in this IVP dictionary provide evidence of that, and the work as a whole demonstrates the strategic place of biblical theology in Christian interpretation and appropriation of the Bible.

Here biblical theology involves reading the Bible as an historically developing collection of documents describing the progressive unfolding of God’s purposes of salvation for humanity; it operates with a coherent canon, and seeks to work from individual books out to the canon as a whole, making connections among the various biblical corpora (collections of books, such as wisdom, history, etc.), and between the two testaments with Christ at their heart. Not content with merely describing the theology of biblical books (as some have limited the biblical-theological task), this biblical theology moves forward to the tasks of constructing theology for the Christian community and the world today. As such it is intimately related to exegesis, systematic theology, historical theology, and preaching.

The editors have helpfully divided the volume into three major parts, which not only increases its ease of reference, but highlights some of the different facets of the biblical-theological task. Part One contains twelve long essays which overview some of the fundamental issues of biblical theology: how the New Testament uses the Old Testament, how biblical theology is related to exegesis and systematic theology, and so on. This could easily be a very useful book in itself, and provides an important orientation to all that follows. Part Two contains articles on the main biblical corpora and books, discussing the theology of the book under consideration as well as links to other books and themes in the rest of Scripture. The largest part, Part Three, contains entries on particular topics – covenant, love, rest, Israel, temple, light, sacrifice – which (in the words of the editors) ‘are of central importance for an understanding of the unity of the Biblical corpus’.

Like any multi-author work, the entries are only as good as the individual contributors themselves; but most here are very strong, and it is gratifying to read the distillation of wisdom and scholarship from men and women who have spent many years working on the areas they here so helpfully summarise.

In short, this is a highly recommended addition to resources on the Bible in general and biblical theology in particular.

Friday 16 January 2009

John Stott on Parochial Evangelism by the Laity

Over at Quaerentia, Mark Meynell has kindly made available what he calls a ‘treat from the Stott archive’ – a 10-page paper by John Stott, given in 1952, called Parochial Evangelism by the Laity. It can be downloaded as a (1.9 MB) pdf file here.

As Mark points out, it’s ‘a classic Stott distillation of useful and practical wisdom’, in many ways providing ‘a glimpse as to why much of what he did at All Souls in the 50s and 60s was so pioneering’ – not least when we take into account that he was addressing ‘all the clergy in the London diocese, few of whom would have been evangelical in 1952’. His deliberate determination to delegate ministry to the ‘laity’, along with a call to train people for such ministry, would have been highly significant, even revolutionary.

Michael Horton on Contextualisation and Culture

Michael Horton, ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’, Modern Reformation 18, 1 (January-February 2009), 14-18.

The January-February 2009 issue of Modern Reformation contains several pieces devoted to the theme of ‘Christ in a Post-Christian Culture’.

William Edgar, ‘Culture and Calling: The Open Question’.
Michael Horton, ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’
David F. Wells, ‘Living in the Matrix’.
Jack Schultz, ‘Culture and the Christian’.
David Gibson, ‘Text, Church, and World: A Theology of Expository Preaching’.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, ‘Flying for Jesus’.
John Warwick Montogomery, ‘God at University College Dublin’.

Horton reminds us that ‘contextualization [the attempt to situate particular beliefs and practices in their concrete situation] is hot’ (15). But he fears that many today know more about their ‘target market’ than they do about the ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’. He is concerned that pastors are becoming ‘technicians, entrepreneurs, and bureaucrats who know the niche demographics of this passing age better than they know the Word by which the Spirit is introducing the age to come’ (15).

Not that contextualisation is unimportant, he says, reminding us how we and our beliefs are shaped by cultural habits, language and customs, and noting that we take it seriously when preparing for an overseas mission trip, but ‘are less sensitive to the ways in which our own faith and practice are shaped for good and ill by our own location’ (15).

Nonetheless, Horton wants to sound cautions, and does so under four headings.

A savior, not a symbol

Horton is particularly cautious about using the analogy of the incarnation for our contextualisation.

It is sometimes suggested that just as the Word became God-with-us, so the church must ‘incarnate’ Christ’s life. For Horton, however, ‘Jesus is a Savior, not a symbol. His incarnation is unique and unrepeatable. It cannot be extended, augmented, furthered, or realized by us. It happened… [Jesus] did not come to show us how to incarnate ourselves, but to be our incarnate Redeemer’ (15). Granted, there are places where we are called to follow his example, but nowhere are we told ‘to imitate, repeat, or extend Christ’s incarnation’ (16). We don’t ‘incarnate’ Jesus by our contextualising activity, we seek to ‘recontextualise’ our churches around him.

Contextualizing contextualization

Contextualisation itself needs to be contextualised. Horton draws here on sociology and philosophy of science to remind us that although all knowledge is shaped by language, beliefs and practices, and that presuppositions are inescapable… yet, however, recognising these ‘are formative is different from the assumption that they are determinative’ (16). Systems of thought can unravel and be overthrown.

Moreover, ‘when we make a particular context normative, we essentially concede that there is a captivity from which Jesus Christ cannot liberate’ (16). Ironically, such historicism has ‘become its own kind of dogmatic, universal, and totalizing claim’ (17).

Christ confronts culture

Contextualising approaches work with ‘a basically affirmative relationship to a given cultural context’ (17); but it may also be necessary to prise open cultural assumptions and practices at various points.

‘Whether we identify them as late modern or postmodern, our cultural assumptions should be studied and recognized not chiefly so that we can make the gospel more relevant and inviting to our neighbors, but so that we can recognize the particular ways in which they – and we – have become resistant to the gospel’ (17).

As Paul notes in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians, people had trouble understanding the gospel ‘because it was a solution to a problem they did not even consider’ (17). Where, then, might the gospel challenge rather than accommodate today’s dominant cultural paradigms?

What time is it?

Horton draws attention to the New Testament distinction between ‘this passing age’ and ‘the age to come’, a more significant division of history, perhaps, than ancient, medieval, modern, postmodern… This being the case, Horton expresses concern about accommodating message, methods and mission to ‘this passing age’ (17).

‘Taking the gospel more seriously than we take our context, we recognize that it is the age to come – breaking into this fading age through the gospel – that is normative.’ In Christ is ‘the normative location’ of every believer, ‘whether in ancient Thessalonica or contemporary Shanghai’ (18).

He ends with a plea that we ‘learn to speak our own language again and take our cues from the practices God has instituted for his own work among us as he creates the kind of community that is as strange as its gospel’ (18).

Thursday 15 January 2009

Review of Biblical Literature

I have subscribed electronically to Review of Biblical Literature (a publication of the Society of Biblical Literature) for several years, periodically receiving notice of book reviews – mostly academic works in biblical studies and cognate disciplines – published online. I think a number of the reviews also end up appearing in print in Journal of Biblical Literature. In any case, Review of Biblical Literature now has its own blog, where the reviews published each month will be listed for easy reference, with a notice of each book review appearing in a separate blog entry.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Robert Alter on Genesis 38

Genesis 38 (describing the Judah-Tamar incident) is set between the story of Joseph being sold as a slave into Egypt (Genesis 37) and the account of Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39).

‘Critical’ scholarship has generally seen the chapter as an independent unit, having little connection with the wider Joseph saga. Kinder interpretations say that it builds an element of suspense into the story of Joseph, but it is still taken as something of an aside, perhaps even the result of poor editing.

Robert Alter, however, begins his The Art of Biblical Narrative (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981) with a delightful treatment of Genesis 38, showing how the final form of the text demonstrates an intricately interconnected literary unity.

Joseph’s brothers dip his cloak into goat’s blood (37:31). They bring it to Jacob, and ask him to recognise it (37:32). As Alter notes, they are careful to let the object itself do the lying for them, and they refer to Joseph as ‘your son’ (4). Jacob, for his part, improvises wonderfully… he recognises it (37:33, same verb as 37:32) and immediately falls for the trick. The remainder of the chapter describes Jacob’s elaborate mourning rituals (37:34-36).

Then in chapter 38, the narrative leaves Joseph behind and moves straight into the story of Tamar and Judah. However, connections are made with the surrounding narrative, with parallels and contrasts.

The story begins in 38:1-11 with Judah parting from his brothers (literally, ‘he went down’) a reference which may connect his separation from the brothers with Joseph’s separation from the brothers (the same root is used of Joseph in 39:1) (6).

The preceding narrative ended with a father mourning the loss of a son; this section begins with a father fathering three sons. The whole process is narrated in a matter-of-fact manner: ‘Judah sees, takes, lies with a woman; and she, responding appropriately, conceives, bears, and… gives the son a name’ (6). Then, in 38:7, without any indication of time-gap, we read of Er’s death. Onan, the second son, ‘makes the mistake of rebelling… against the legal obligations of the system of primogeniture, refusing to act as his dead brother’s proxy by impregnating the widow in his brother’s name, and so he, too, dies’ (6-7). Though we had a lavish description of Jacob’s mourning for Joseph, Judah’s mourning for his sons is passed over in silence.

In 38:11, we move to direct speech, and the narrator also explains Judah’s motive (he’s concerned about his youngest son), but Tamar says nothing.

38:12 begins with a time indicator (‘After a long time…’), which marks the next stage of the narrative in which the tempo of the action slows down (7). Tamar has been without a husband for a long time (in fact, in 38:14, her own perception, according to the narrator, appears to be that she has been neglected). Judah is widowed, and the period of mourning is over (he is ‘consoled’ [38;12] in contrast to Jacob who refuses to be consoled [37:35]).

Then Tamar begins her plan (38:13-23). Until this point, she has been passive in the plot; now she moves into rapid and purposeful action. In 38:14, a series of verbs describes her as taking off, covering, wrapping herself, sitting down at a strategic place, and in 38:19, another set of verbs show her resuming her former role and attire (8).

Judah falls for it. As Alter notes, ‘his sexual appetite will not tolerate postponement though he has been content to let Tamar languish as a childless widow indefinitely’ (8). 38:16-18 give us the only extended dialogue in the chapter, and it’s rather brisk and business-like. She takes a pledge of Judah’s credit cards (according to Alter, his seal and cord and staff are a kind of legal surrogate) (9). 38:18 concludes quickly with three verbs – he gave, he lay, she conceived. Tamar has become the channel of the seed of Judah.

When Judah sends the kid by his friend Hirah, of course, there is no prostitute to be seen, nor has there been one in that area (38:20-23)…

38:24 then brings us towards the climax of the story. The words are strong and brutal, but in 38:25-26 she reveals all. In these verses, we have the re-occurrence of the verbs ‘to recognise’. Again, it is used here at the climax of this episode as a formula of recognition. (Alter [10] points out that the same verb will be used in the dénouement of the Joseph story, with Joseph recognising his brothers in Egypt, and them not recognising him.)

‘This precise recurrence of the verb in identical forms at the ends of Genesis 37 and 38 respectively is manifestly the result not of some automatic mechanism of interpolating traditional materials but of careful splicing of sources by a brilliant literary artist. The first use of the formula was for an act of deception; the second use is for an act of unmasking. Judah with Tamar after Judah and his brothers is an exemplary narrative instance of the deceiver deceived… He is taken in by a piece of attire, as his father was’ (10).

Judah is taken in by his pledge for a kid, just as Jacob was taken in by the garment which had been dipped in the blood of a goat. Alter points out that the Midrash on Genesis noted this more than 1,500 years ago:

‘The Holy One Praised be He said to Judah, “You deceived your father with a kid. By your life, Tamar will deceive you with a kid”… The Holy One Praised be He said to Judah, “You said to your father, haker-na. By your life, Tamar will say to you, haker-na”’ (Bereshit Rabba 84:11-12, cited in Alter, 11).

The chapter then concludes with the birth of twin boys. As in other places in the Book of Genesis, the one who is about to be born first suddenly takes second place (38:27-30).

But there is more…

‘When we return from Judah to the Joseph story (Genesis 39), we move in pointed contrast from a tale of exposure through sexual incontinence to a tale of seeming defeat and ultimate triumph through sexual continence – Joseph and Potiphar’s wife’ (10).

Genesis 39 is framed by references to Joseph and the Lord being with him and bringing him success in two different situations (39:1-6, 21-23). In between, we have the story of Potiphar’s wife and her attempted seduction of Joseph (39:7-20). 39:7 gives us the first dialogue in this episode. There are no preliminaries, no explanations – just a direct sexual proposition. It seemed as if these were the only words she ever spoke to Joseph (39:10), until one day she grabs him (39:12). In contrast to her few words, Joseph’s refusal is an outpouring of language (39:8-9) (108-109). The key word ‘all’ is used by Joseph and is found in the frames at the beginning and end of the chapter, as is the word ‘house’ which appears five times in the frame verses, and is used twice by Joseph here (109).

Joseph eventually flees and leaves his robe in her hand (39:12). 39:13 virtually repeats 39:12, and serves to emphasise the robe in her hand. Again, we should note that Joseph is ‘linked with the misleading evidence of a garment, as he was when his brothers brought the blood-soaked tunic to his father’ (110).

She lies, of course, and now she too shows she can say a lot when it is necessary to do so (39:14-18); and, of course, Potiphar responds by throwing Joseph into prison (39:19-20). Then we conclude with the final three verses of the chapter which close the story balancing the verses at the opening of the story.

Overall, then, there are parallels between chapter 37 and chapter 38. Mourning features in both chapters, as does shepherding and sheep. At the climax of each narrative is a symbolic action (37:31-36; 38:25-26) – the Hebrew is identical in all cases (‘do you recognise this?’) – and also the act of recognising. But there are also parallels between Genesis 38 and 39, with both chapters involving chastity and unchastity, and punishment (or not) for sexual offenses.

Set within the larger narrative framework of Genesis, the saving of lives is important, so that the promised seed of Abraham can continue through the generations. Genesis 38 is thus not at all out of place in the larger narrative framework. The seed of the chosen people of God continues even though Judah doesn’t really want it to. Even Joseph’s being sold down to Egypt and prison incident works towards this end (cf. 45:3-8; 50:15-20). God provides for Jacob’s sons and keeps them alive, so that his promise of blessing to Abraham, recapitulating his original blessing to all humankind, may be fulfilled.

And then, within the ongoing story line of the Bible, Tamar’s son is Perez, from whom comes Jesse, from whom comes David… from whom comes the Christ. Thus, not only is Genesis 38 an integral part of the book of Genesis, it’s an integral part of Scripture as a whole.

Colin Duriez on Francis Schaeffer

Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Nottingham: IVP, 2008), 240pp., ISBN 9781844743100, £12.99.

An illuminating and authoritative biography of one of the most significant figures in 20th-century evangelicalism, covering his early ministry as a pastor and children’s evangelist, his passion for mission, his commitment to truth, his struggles with faith, his love of art, his engagement with culture, his founding and shaping of L’Abri, and his political activism. Colin Duriez, who studied under Schaeffer and interviewed him, emphasises how Schaeffer lived what he believed and taught – hence, ‘an authentic life’.

Monday 12 January 2009

David L. Petersen on Genesis and Family Values

David L. Petersen, ‘Genesis and Family Values’, Journal of Biblical Literature 124, 1 (2005), 5-23.

David L. Petersen makes three main points about ‘family values’ in Genesis: (1) Genesis is a book that focuses on the family; (2) Genesis is a book that includes family literature, and (3) Genesis offers clear and significant family values.

(1) Genesis is concerned with families – obviously in the ancestral narratives, but also in the primeval history, in 12:3, and in the ‘generations’ formula. The primeval history depicts families. 12:3 promises blessing to families of all nations. The generations formula links the genealogies and narratives throughout Genesis. In Exodus, a transition has been made from a family to a people.

(2) Genesis is ‘family literature’ – which is literature produced by families or about families, like Icelandic sagas and the family novel.

(3) Genesis and family values – notably three important values:

• Genesis ‘challenges readers to have an expansive view of the family’ (as larger than a couple or a nuclear family).

• ‘Patterns of marriage and sexual access in Genesis attest to the importance of the family continuing over time’ (all of which connects with the promise of descendants to Abraham).

• ‘Members of the family use diverse strategies to keep from injuring or killing each other’ (e.g., Abraham and Lot separating to avoid conflict; Jacob and Laban drawing up a legal decree of separation to avoid violence; Jacob and Esau, with Jacob giving gifts and engaging verbally with Esau, opening the door to reconciliation.

In summary, ‘(1) the value of defining family in expansive terms; (2) the value of familial continuity; (3) and the value of nonviolent resolution of conflict within the family’.

Sunday 11 January 2009

N.T. Wright on the Meal Jesus Gave Us

Tom Wright, Holy Communion for Amateurs (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1999), viii + 97pp., ISBN 978-0340745793.

[The following review was first published on London School of Theology’s website in January 2000. The book has since been published in the United States by Westminster John Knox Press with the title The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion.]

The author stands with the best of the best New Testament scholars in the world today. The large heavyweight books he has published have ‘N.T. Wright’ on the spine; but to many, he is Tom Wright, former Dean of Lichfield Cathedral [and now Bishop of Durham since 2003], and author of Lent Guides and many other helpful semi-devotional works. Here he offers a popular introduction to Holy Communion (or the Jesus-meal, as he calls it), in Hodder & Stoughton’s new ‘For Amateurs’ series.

Those familiar with some of his fuller works will smile as the discussion in the book embraces the importance of ‘symbols’ and ‘stories’ for how we understand ourselves and the world in which we live. Nor will it come as any surprise that a few of the fifteen short chapters are devoted to looking at the Old Testament and New Testament (both Jewish and Pagan) setting to the Jesus-meal. Nor again that the focus of Christian end-time hope is for the renewal of all creation.

Not that one needs to have prior knowledge of that material to get the best out of the book. Unlike some other volumes which bear the designation ‘for amateurs’ or ‘for beginners’, this one is clear and concise, with full use of helpful illustrations and stories, as the author leads us through the Jewish Passover meal to the Last Supper (‘or was it the first?’, he asks) to the breaking of bread in the early church to wherever the Jesus-meal is celebrated by Christians today, and its significance both in looking back and in anticipating what’s to come.

Along the way he deals with some of the historical and theological issues (e.g., the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the disagreement between Luther and Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer’s influence on the Prayer Book) – all in a way that will introduce the significance of those things to the novice, and which may make many a seasoned theologian a little envious of his ability to present the pertinent material in such an appetising way.

The book might well be used by a home-group leader as the basis for some studies on the topic, or a copy could bought for a church library. It would be a shame if the inflated cover price for a relatively slim volume kept potential readers away from such a helpful introduction to one of the foremost celebrations of the church.

Saturday 10 January 2009

William Edgar on Culture and Calling

William Edgar, ‘Culture and Calling: The Open Question’, Modern Reformation 18, 1 (January-February 2009), 10-11.

The January-February 2009 issue of Modern Reformation contains several pieces devoted to the theme of ‘Christ in a Post-Christian Culture’.

William Edgar, ‘Culture and Calling: The Open Question’.
Michael Horton, ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’
David F. Wells, ‘Living in the Matrix’.
Jack Schultz, ‘Culture and the Christian’.
David Gibson, ‘Text, Church, and World: A Theology of Expository Preaching’.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, ‘Flying for Jesus’.
John Warwick Montogomery, ‘God at University College Dublin’.

William Edgar kicks off by noting the number of recently-published books on faith and culture (by, e.g., D.A Carson, T.M. Moore, Roger Scruton, Albert Mohler, Richard Mouw, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, some of which are briefly profiled here). Even so, he maintains that there is still work to be done on connecting culture and a biblical concept of calling.

We need, he says, to be aware of what understanding of ‘culture’ is operative in works by Christian theologians.

Some authors (e.g., Francis Schaeffer, Roger Scruton, and T.M. Moore to some extent) hold to a Matthew Arnold type of view of culture as civilisation.

Others (e.g., Richard Mouw, D.A. Carson, the essays in Vanhoozer’s edited Everyday Theology) look at culture as a functional, symbolic reality in terms of language, identity, particular human experiences, etc., and seek to reflect on these theologically.

Still others (e.g., James Davison Hunter, Albert Mohler) conflate the term ‘culture’ with the ‘world’ (as Niebuhr did in his classic study).

What is often left out, according to Edgar, is ‘the central idea of calling’ (11).

He notes that ‘something important about cultural development is asserted in the early chapters of Genesis with the mandate to multiply, inhabit the earth, subdue it’, but that there is also an eschatology. Despite the fall into sin, ‘that calling is reasserted in Christ’ (11).

‘So, biblically speaking, if it is appropriate to use the word “culture,” we might say it centers on God’s blessed call to the human race to move throughout history by enjoying and ruling over the earth, using all the tools and gifts given, overcoming the curse, for the sake of obtaining everlasting, blissful communion with him through Jesus Christ, in the fellowship of the Spirit’ (11).

Friday 9 January 2009

Library of Biblical Theology

Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology: An Introduction, Library of Biblical Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), viii + 433pp., ISBN 9780687340903.

This is the first volume in what looks like it could be an interesting new series of books, published by Abingdon Press. The blurb on the back cover reads:

‘The purpose of the Library of Biblical Theology is to bring the worlds of biblical scholarship and constructive theology together. It will do so by reviving biblical theology as a discipline that describes the faith of the biblical periods on the one hand, and on the other articulates normative understandings of modern faith and practice. Thus, volumes in the series will move from a description of God or an element relating to God as it is found in the biblical text, to making a theological judgment based on one’s own contemporary worldview, forged within a community of faith.’

Also promised as forthcoming is a volume by James D.G. Dunn on New Testament theology, and a volume to introduce the series by Leo G. Perdue, Robert Morgan, and Benjamin D. Sommer, called (appropriately) Biblical Theology: Introducing the Conversation.

Thomas W. Mann on the Theological Unity of Genesis

Thomas W. Mann, ‘“All the Families of the Earth”: The Theological Unity of Genesis’, Interpretation 45, 4 (1991), 341-53.

According to Thomas W. Mann, there are four main literary units to Genesis (345):

• The primeval cycle (1:1-11:26)
• The Abraham cycle (11:27-25:18)
• The Jacob cycle (25:19-36:43)
• The Joseph cycle (37:1-50:26)

Although the families in Genesis are largely dysfunctional, God still uses them as agents of his grace to ‘all the families of the earth’. The commission to Abraham (12:3) reflects a concern throughout the whole book, beginning with the blessing on humankind (1:28) and ending with Joseph’s words (50:24).

‘The central theological focus that unites the Book of Genesis is the promise that God makes first to Abraham and then repeats in various forms to Isaac, to Jacob, and, through Jacob, to Joseph: “In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (341).

In spite of the possibility of Genesis being made up of different literary strands, there are two key devices that cut across the sources and give the book of Genesis a unity: (1) the ‘generations’ formula, and (2) the divine ‘promises’.

(1) The ‘these are the generations of…’ formula begins in 2:4 and the book contains it 11 times, sometimes (e.g., 5:1 and 36:9) connected to a genealogy, and sometimes (e.g., 25:19 and 37:2) providing the heading for a large block of narrative material.

(2) The promise made to Abraham (initially in 12:1-3, but elsewhere as well) is repeated in various forms throughout the book: to Isaac (26:2-4); to Jacob (28:13-15; 35:9-12); connected with Joseph (46:1-4; 50:24-25).

The promise of blessing is for ‘all the families of the earth’, which is related to the ‘generations’ formula and, as Mann notes, ‘the formula combines with the genealogies to emphasize the continuity of God’s grace to humankind’ (345). In this way, 12:3 can be seen as a reiteration of 1:28.

The primeval narratives

For Mann, the tension throughout Genesis 1-11 is one between creation and civilisation (or nature and culture). Men and women are created in the image of God to have dominion over the world (1:28), but they try to do more than that. They try to become like God (3:5), to be autonomous; there is an illicit fusion between divine beings and human beings; at Babel they seek a security independently of God. Both 2:4-6:8 and 6:9-11:26 move from a human family to a story about the ‘attempted fusion of the divine and human realms (6:1; 11:4)’ (346).

The tension between creation and civilisation is not resolved at the end of the unit, with the scattering of the families of earth (11:4, 8, 9). It is only in the renewed promise of blessing through Abram to all the families of the earth that a resolution is offered.

The stories in this unit constitute a single narrative, tied together by the ‘generations’ formula, leading directly to the story of Abram and Sarai (347).

The patriarchal narratives

In contrast to the primeval cycle, the remaining units in Genesis provide a resolution to the tension that determines their plots (346).

• The Abraham cycle

‘The tension is not simply the anticipation of, and then the birth of, a son; rather, the tension involves the attitude of the human characters toward the God who promises a son, both before and after the son is born’ (346).

Abraham abandons Sarah in Egypt, thus casting the promise of God into jeopardy; he does this again in chapter 20. Sarah herself distrusts God (ch. 16). Yet, faith and commitment is still demonstrated (12:1-3; ch. 15; 17:22-27). The climax of the cycle is with God’s demand for the sacrifice of Isaac, and Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac (ch. 22). ‘His act recognizes that loyalty belongs to the God of the promise, and not to the promise itself’ (348). Then in chapters 23 and 24, a piece of the promised land is secured legally and Isaac is married, thus securing the potential continuation of the family.

• The Jacob cycle

‘The tension within the Jacob cycle is between conflict and reconciliation’ (348). There is conflict between brothers, Jacob and his Esau, even in the womb (25:22), as well as at their birth (25:27) and as they grow up (25:27). There is conflict between husband and wife over their children (25:28), between nephew and uncle (chs. 29-31). There is conflict between wives and conflict between their concubines (29:31-30:24). Throughout all this conflict, there is deceit and trickery: Esau is tricked out of his birthright (25:33); Laban’s trickery over his two daughters (29:15-28); Jacob’s trickery over Laban’s sheep (30:25-39); Rachel’s trick over the household gods (31:19-44).

There is also a struggle between God and Jacob (28:11-22; 31:13; 35:1-15). Once Jacob has resolved a dispute with Laban (31:43-54), he wrestles with a mysterious being and sees the ‘face of God’, only then to have to move on to encounter Esau (chs. 32-33). Yet though he emerges from his wrestling match wounded, he prevails, and his meeting with Esau results in grace rather than revenge (348).

• The Joseph cycle

Mann understands the Joseph cycle as also working with the tension between conflict and reconciliation, only now within the entire family of Jacob (349). Again, the resolutions happen at the level of family. Jacob must be willing to give up his youngest son, just as his grandfather Abraham had to be willing to give up his son, in order for the family to survive (cf. 42:36-38; 43:13-15). Jacob must abandon the favouritism which caused much of the hostility in the family. Judah has to admit his own guilt and that of the brothers, and offer himself (rather than Benjamin) as a slave to Joseph (44:18-34). Joseph, for his part, has to forgive his brothers, and affirm his Israelite identity (45:4; 50:24-25).

But God, of course, is the real hero of the story. It is the tension between human rule and God’s rule which runs through the Joseph cycle. It is not Joseph’s role in the officialdom of Egypt (41:57); it is not Pharaoh, ruler of the greatest power of the world. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who works to keep many people alive (50:19-20) (349).

N.T. Wright on the Bible

N.T. Wright, Simply Christian (London: SPCK, 2006), 148:

‘It’s a big book, full of big stories with big characters. They have big ideas (not least about themselves) and make big mistakes. It’s about God, and greed, and grace; about life, lust, laughter and loneliness. It’s about birth, beginnings and betrayal; about siblings, squabbles and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion.

‘And that’s only Genesis.’

Thursday 8 January 2009

Tyndale Bulletin

Copies of Tyndale Bulletin, formerly Tyndale House Bulletin, the journal published by Tyndale House, Cambridge, are now available online, providing a wealth of scholarly resources in biblical studies and related areas from 1956 (the year of publication of the first volume) to the near-present.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

David J.A. Clines on the Theme of Genesis 1-11 (and the Pentateuch)

David J.A. Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch, JSOTS 10 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978).

David Clines here undertakes to look for the unity not just of Genesis, but of the Pentateuch as a whole. He understands ‘theme’ as a ‘statement of the context, structure and development of a work’, and describes it as follows:

‘The theme of the Pentateuch is the partial fulfilment – which implies also the partial non-fulfilment – of the promise to or blessing of the patriarchs. The promise or blessing is both the divine initiative in a world where human initiatives always lead to disaster, and a re-affirmation of the primal divine intentions for man’ (64).

In a subsequent chapter (61-79), he describes the theme of Genesis 1-11 as:

‘No matter how drastic man’s sin becomes, destroying what God has made good and bringing the world to the brink of uncreation, God’s grace never fails to deliver man from the consequences of his sin. Even when man responds to a fresh start with the old pattern of sin, God’s commitment to his world stands firm, and sinful man experiences the favour of God as well as the righteous judgement’ (76).

That’s it in summary form. Before he gets to this point, he highlights three suggested themes for Genesis 1-11, the first two originally forwarded by Gerhard von Rad and Claus Westermann. They are:

(1) a Sin – Speech – Mitigation – Punishment theme;
(2) a Spread-of-Sin, Spread-of-Grace theme, and
(3) a Creation – Uncreation – Re-creation theme.

Clines opts for a combination of (2) and (3) since they incorporate all the material in Genesis 1-11 – narratives, the creation account, and the genealogies (whereas the first theme, for instance, focuses only on the narratives).

Clines also discusses the theological relationship of the primeval history (Genesis 1-11) to the remaining sections of Genesis. He notes that it is significant that there is no clear-cut break at the end of the Babel story, between the primeval and the patriarchal history (77). What follows the Babel story (11:1-9) is a genealogy leading from Shem to Terah (11:10-26). But, as Clines points out, ‘who Shem is can be learned only from the Table of Nations, where his family is detailed (10:21-31)… or from the Noah story, where Shem is the son upon whom Noah has pronounced the blessing (9:26)’ (78). On the other hand, it is clear that the genealogy is leading to Abram (11:26-30) – it traces the ancestry of Abram and follows the line of descent from Shem.

The patriarchal narratives unfold the fulfilment of the divine promise, and this means that the most likely reading of Genesis 1-11 is a ‘positive’ one. Genesis 1:1-11:5 could be understood ‘negatively’ (as in the first theme above), but once it is followed by the patriarchal and Pentateuchal history, linked by a transitional passage, the tendency to read it as such is reversed (78).

This means that the patriarchal narratives function as the ‘mitigation’ element of the Babel incident, and that the divine promises to Abram may be read in conjunction with Genesis 1 – as a re-affirmation of the divine intentions for men and women. The promise of blessing is found in Genesis 1:26-30 and the promise of blessing to Abram envisages an overspill of blessing to humankind in general.

Clines concludes:

‘To link the primeval history with the patriarchal narrative specifies the thrust of the primeval history; it cannot be viewed negatively since it is the prelude to the promises and their fulfilment. But the dark side of the primeval history still remains. In itself it may be read as a story of how things go wrong when men take the initiatives; mankind tends to destroy what God has made good. Perhaps only the addition of a divine promise (Gen. 12) to a divine command (Gen. 1) can counteract that tendency’ (79).

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Robert W. Wall on Teaching 1 Peter as Scripture

Robert W. Wall, ‘Teaching 1 Peter as Scripture’, Word & World 24, 4 (2004), 368-77.

In line with current discussions about theological interpretation (to which he has elsewhere contributed), Wall holds that the ‘crucial issue’ in handling 1 Peter for contemporary Christian congregations ‘turns on whether the reader approaches 1 Peter as Scripture’ (369). He commends such an approach to the letter as a sacred text, ‘and to a practice of teaching 1 Peter as “theological pedagogy” for and of the church’ (369).

‘Scripture, rightly read, has this remarkable capacity to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Especially my congregation and my students, made comfortable by their undemanding variety of Christianity and the niceties of their middle-class lives, need more teaching about a holy God who demands a holy life; a suffering Christ who establishes the necessity of expending considerable personal cost in service of God; a community whose communicants are considered “aliens and strangers” by outsiders because of their radical commitment to a virtuous life and the unconditional obligations of real friendship; and a view of history that ends with the triumph of God rather than the triumph of some humanistic or nationalistic agenda’ (369-70).

That lengthy quotation captures the essence of the article in its five parts:

Teaching 1 Peter by the ‘Rule of Faith’

Early Christian thinkers (e.g., Clement, Irenaeus, Tertullian) measured interpretations of Scripture by a ‘rule of faith’, a ‘theological grammar’ which ‘summarized the heart of Christian faith and served as a theological boundary marker for Christian identity’ (371).


In line with the rule of faith, 1 Peter is theocentric in its ‘message of God’s existence as it relates to a suffering people who live in those places where the presence of a loving, powerful God may not be self-evident’ (372).


‘Scripture’s witness to Christ, as oriented by the rule of faith, is naturally divided into two relationships, the first his relationship with God and the second his communion with those who profess him as Lord’ (373).

The letter is ‘layered with christological affirmations’ (374), not least in 3:18-22 with its affirmation of belief in (1) ‘the reconciling death and resurrection of Christ’, (2) the proclamation of his triumph to the ‘spirits’ in prison (at the very least illustrating ‘the confidence a suffering people might have in a Messiah whose redemptive work has already defeated those invisible agents who are at work to wreak havoc’), and (3) the relationship, through baptism, of ‘Christ’s triumphant experience with that of his current followers and their experience of the living Christ’ (375).


The letter’s portrayal of church ‘is a community of marginal ones – weak and powerless by societal standards – who are called forth out of a world utterly opposed to God’s agenda’ (375). Such a people bear witness to God by walking in the steps of the suffering servant. The language of the letter normalises ‘human suffering as the expected character of purified human existence within a profane world: Christian discipleship is cruciform by nature since believers follow a crucified Lord’ (376).


‘The biblical narrative of God concludes where the rule of faith does: with salvation’s consummation in God’s triumph over evil and death’ (376). The triumph of the risen Christ provides hope for his followers (1:21; 3:15) who have a heavenly inheritance (1:3-5).

On the Structure of Genesis

One of the simplest ways of looking at the book of Genesis is as follows:

1. Primeval Narratives (Genesis 1-11)

2. Patriarchal Narratives (Genesis 12-50)

(a) Abraham (12-25)
(b) Jacob (26-36)
(c) Joseph (37-50)

Although this outline gives an indication of the content of Genesis, it doesn’t suggest any possible relationship between the parts.

More significant is the repeated formula, ‘These are the generations of…’, which naturally arises from the text itself, leading to an outline of Genesis with an introductory section followed by ten further sections each introduced with the formula.

1. The story of creation (1:1-2:3)
2. The generations of the heavens and the earth (2:4-4:26)
3. The generations of Adam (5:1-6:8)
4. The generations of Noah (6:9-9:29)
5. The generations of the sons of Noah (10:1-11:9)
6. The generations of Shem (11:10-26)
7. The generations of Terah (11:27-25:11)
8. The generations of Ishmael (25:12-18)
9. The generations of Isaac (25:19-35:29)
10. The generations of Esau (36:1-37:1)
11. The generations of Jacob (37:2-50:26)

It is regularly noted that the movement in these sections is from progenitor to progeny, either through the narrative that follows or via a genealogy. The presence of the formula in both main sections (chs. 1-11 and 12-50) supports the text’s unity, and suggests a movement forward, possibly even a plan in progress.

Monday 5 January 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Genesis

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 33.

‘Genesis begins the biblical story with God as Creator, human beings as created in God’s image but fallen, and God’s response through a redemptive creation of a chosen people – and doing so through all kinds of circumstances (good and ill) and despite their faults.’

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on How to Read the Bible Book by Book

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 444pp., ISBN 9780310211181.

This serves as a follow-up and companion volume to their valuable and much-praised How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, 3rd edn. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).

It provides an introduction to the books of the Bible, with each chapter following the same structure:

• Orienting data for the book in question
• Overview of the book in question
• Specific advice for reading the book in question
• A walk through the book in question

Their goal, however, is not simply to introduce each book of the Bible, but to show how each book fits into God’s story, in such a way that we might become better readers of Scripture. To this end, an opening chapter offers an overview of the biblical story (under the familiar rubrics of creation – fall – redemption – consummation), each main section (e.g., history, writings, prophets) begins with a brief discussion of its place in the biblical story, and each chapter ends with a summary sentence on the place of the individual biblical book under consideration in the larger story of which it is a part.

Fee and Stuart express the hope that their book will not be a substitute for reading Scripture in its own right, and that readers will read the ‘walk through’ sections of each chapter alongside reading the Bible itself.

Those attempting the task of reading the Bible through in a year may find it helpful to read this book (or others like it) alongside doing so. Periodically, depending on availability of material and time, I may post items of possible interest on the biblical books as I come to them through the year, although this will doubtless be difficult to sustain with some of the shorter ones. At the very least, unless it becomes too wearisome, I will post Fee and Stuart’s summary sentences from this book as milestones along the way.

Sunday 4 January 2009

J.I. Packer on Calvin’s Institutes

J.I. Packer, ‘Foreword’, in David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (eds.), A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, The Calvin 500 Series (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), ix-xiv.

J.I. Packer provides the foreword to a collection of essays on Calvin’s Institutes, averring that the 5th edition (1559) edition is one of the wonders of (1) the literary world, (2) the spiritual world, and (3) the theological world.

The literary world

‘… of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation’ (ix).

For Packer, ‘as grand-scale exposition of a very large body of integrated thought, the Institutio is truly a marvel’ (ix), and it remains ‘a literary masterpiece, a triumph of the didactic writer’s art, and when read seriously it makes a very winning impact on the mind and heart, even today’ (x). It grew to five times its original length during its five editions. In the 5th edition, the titles of the four books reflect the division of the Apostles’ Creed…

• ‘of the knowledge of God in his works and qualities… as Creator and sovereign Governor of the world’
• ‘of the knowledge of God the Redeemer as he has shown himself in Jesus Christ’
• ‘of the manner of participating in the grace of Jesus Christ’
• ‘of the external means of aids which God uses to draw us to Jesus Christ his Son and to keep us in him’

The spiritual world

‘… of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart’ (xi).

The Institutes began as a catechetical account of Protestant Christianity, and didn’t lose this discipling focus in subsequent editions. ‘Real, intelligent commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and God, to the fellowship of the church as one’s proper milieu for life, and to self-identification as pilgrims through a world that is not our home to a heaven that is, must ever be catechizing’s direct goal’ (xi).

The theological world

‘… of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds’ (xii).

Packer holds that justification by faith is central to the Institutes – spatially and theologically, with what precedes as ‘what must first be known before we can grasp it’, and what follows as, in effect, ‘a program for our spiritual health as justified sinners’ (xii).

Beyond even this, ‘doxological theocentrism shaped everything’, with Calvin’s ‘compassionate concern that everyone should know God’s grace’ itself rooted in a ‘deeper desire that everyone should glorify God by a life of adoring worship for the wonder of his work in creation, providence, and salvation’ (xii-xiii).

Luther Zeigler on David Ford’s Self and Salvation

Luther Zeigler, ‘The Many Faces of the Worshipping Self: David Ford’s Anglican Vision of Christian Transformation’, Anglican Theological Review 89:2 (2007), 267-85.

David Ford’s Self and Salvation: Being Transformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) was the inaugural volume in the ‘Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine’ series which promised to be – and has turned out to be – excellent, containing some significant works.

I eagerly started Ford’s book when it first came out and quickly struggled in the early discussions of Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, and Eberhard Jüngel. Some of the later chapters covered more familiar territory, but overall the book was hard work. (I was gratified to discover, subsequently, that others had found it just as demanding.)

It should be said (as noted here) that Ford’s more recent contribution to the series, Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), is a complete delight – readable and suggestive in all sorts of ways.

So, I was happy to spot an essay devoted to the earlier, less accessible volume in a recent Anglican Theological Review, which does a great job of summarising its contours and contribution.

Luther Zeigler notes what readers of Christian Wisdom will see, that ‘Ford has developed a model of theological discourse that is at once refreshingly interdisciplinary and culturally literate, while at the same time firmly grounded in biblical witness and liturgical life’ (267).

After an introduction, he unfolds the article in three parts (though the headings that follow are mine).

David Ford and the premises that inform theological method

Zeigler notes that Ford does not ‘subscribe to a classical philosophical or theological worldview’; rather, his tests for good theology are whether it ‘(a) is accessible in its elucidation of ordinary life, (b) recovers key images from that life, (c) is sufficiently rich conceptually to do justice to the rich texture of our experience, (d) is fruitful to us in our everyday lives of worship, prayer, learning and acting, and (e) is defensible to others in the world’ (270, referring to Ford, Self and Salvation, 2-7).

Theology, for Ford, is mediated through the senses, texts, music, and other dimensions of religious experience. In this way, theology merely helps us ‘to recover and grasp what is passed over in our experience of the world, God, and others’; it is ‘reflection brought to bear on unreflective, everyday life’ (271).

Ford himself asks: ‘Does this theology have practical promise of fruitfulness in the three main dynamics of Christian living: worship and prayer; living and learning in community; and speech, action and suffering for justice, freedom, peace, goodness and truth?’ (Self and Salvation, 5).

David Ford and the Christian self and salvation

Ford borrows philosophical insights into selfhood from Levinas and Ricoeur, and combines these with the christological perspective of Jüngel.

• The Levinasian self – not the Cartesian self of a ‘detached thinking ego’, but the Levinasian self of the physical embodiment that separates ‘me’ from the ‘other’; where ethics is the ‘first philosophy’, understood ‘as a relation of infinite responsibility to the other person’ (273). Ford’s basic image to express this ethical relation is facing, where I face the other.

• The Ricoeurian self – and ‘the claim that testimony is a constitutive aspect of selfhood’, where ‘testimony – telling stories of who we are and where we have been – is the manner in which we give expression to ourselves, and that allows us to relate to others’ (274).

• Jüngel’s christology – where the starting point is not the ‘fundamentally anthropocentric perspective’ of Levinas and Ricoeur, but a christology that is ‘closely parallel to Levinas’s notion of the radically substitutionary self’, such that ‘Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God is the primordial substitutionary self, the particular one who is there for all others’ (275-76).

Ford synthesises these perspectives ‘by insisting that the very source of our capacity to be there for others resides in what God has already done for us in Christ’ (276), and goes on to describe Christian selfhood – in terms of ‘flourishings’ – in the following ways:

• The singing self – taking a cue from Ephesians 5:18-22, seeing in it ‘the basis for illustrating how a particular call to sing praises was a transformative element of the new Christian self’, where ‘the act of singing in community draws the self out of itself into relationship with others’ (277). As Zeigler notes, Ford demonstrates ‘how the simple injunction “to sing” from Ephesians is in reality an invitation to the individual to be transformed by a community of voices responding to the presence of God’s superabundance in the creativity of song’ (277).

• The eucharistic self – where Christians flourish ‘by participating sacramentally in the narrative of the Last Supper’, orienting us ‘towards both Jesus Christ and others’ (277-78).

• Jesus Christ as worshipping and worshipped self – and the centrality of facing and being faced by Jesus Christ as the theological centre of Ford’s soteriology. The two main themes here are the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus at the heart of Christian soteriology, and the centrality of worship for an understanding of Christian selfhood (278).

• Thérèse of Lisieux and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – whose lives illustrate the ways in which ‘selves can be formed and transformed before the face of Christ’, where ‘each life was centered around Bible, prayer, worship, and the abundance and generosity of the grace of God’ (279-80).

David Ford and the Anglican theological tradition

Zeigler’s apparent overriding concern in the article is to place Ford within a classically Anglican tradition of doing theology (267, 268-69, 280-85). Toward the end he summarises:

‘My thesis is that Ford is indeed Anglican both methodologically and substantively. This is expressed most basically in Ford’s “mediating” method of theological discourse; in his primary focus on worship; in his emphasis on religious experience and its transforming power; and in his fundamental incarnational celebration of God’s superabundance’ (281).


• Theology as mediation – where the discourse is structured in dialogue with different conversation partners, seeking to discern points of contact with postmodern intellectual culture which might facilitate a Christian understanding of the self.

• The centrality of worship – where the primary focus is on ‘worship as lying at the heart of Christian identity’ (283).

• The phenomenology of religious experience – the place given to religious experience in his soteriology.

• The primacy of ethics – involving an adaptation of Levinas’s notion of ‘infinite responsibility to the other’ combined with Jüngel’s understanding of Jesus as the ultimate substitutionary self.

• Incarnationalism – with God’s goodness and love ‘reflected in the created order and in humanity in myriad ways’ (284).

Zeigler relates each of these features to the Anglican theological tradition, whilst noting that Ford moves beyond it in being ‘much more sensitive… to the realities of suffering and evil in the world and to the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross’ (285).