Monday 27 April 2009

Themelios 34, 1 (2009)

The latest volume of Themelios is now online in several formats, with the contents as follows:

D.A. Carson

Carl Trueman
Minority Report: A Lesson from Peter the Barber

Robert W. Yarbrough
The Embattled Bible: Four More Books

Jason S. Sexton
How Far Beyond Chicago? Assessing Recent Attempts to Reframe the Inerrancy Debate

Andrew Atherstone
Divine Retribution: A Forgotten Doctrine?

Kenneth J. Stewart
Calvinism and Missions: The Contested Relationship Revisited

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.
Pastoral Pensées: Power in Preaching: Decide (1 Corinthians 2:1–5), Part 1 of 3

Book Reviews

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (4/50) – It was good

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the fourth of the fifty emails…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31


There can be no mistaking how God evaluates his creation. The affirmation comes six times – to make sure we don’t miss it. The repetition makes it clear that each part is good, climaxing a seventh time with the statement that the sum of the parts is ‘very good’. God doesn’t just create the world; he creates the world good – very good.

That the word is applied to stars and seas and trees and turtles suggests that something more than moral good is in mind. Think good in the sense that Genesis 1 itself implies: a well-ordered, beneficial, fitting, beautiful, teeming-with-life, everything-in-its-place goodness – from the intricate parts to the immense parts – all of it good.

Nor is the goodness of creation to be limited to ‘nature’. Human society and culture are also embraced, with the goodness of work and marriage affirmed as spheres in which we may serve God – the architect at her desk, the baker in his kitchen, the mother in her home, the teacher in his class, the husband and wife in their bed. All of it good.

Alas, things don’t stay good. But the evil that comes later is not an inevitable or necessary part of the fabric of the world, or of human beings, and the Bible anticipates a time when evil will be removed. Meanwhile, we have a strong clue that salvation is not about being released from an evil body for a non-material existence. We may expect that the salvation Christ brings is not from the world but a salvation for which the world was made in the first place. A new creation no less.

For Christians, it is a reminder on the first page of the Bible that our faith is world-affirming, that we may delight in the goodness of God’s created order. And it should come as no surprise when God wants to show up in areas of our lives from which he has sometimes been excluded – our careers, our friendships, our studies – since it has all been designed with our well-being in mind, as a place of blessing for us.

Much more than a claim about the process by which life came into being, a biblical perspective on creation involves a response of praise to the God on whom the whole of life depends, and who is the source of all things good.

For further reflection and action:

1. What do today’s different ‘voices’ say about the physical and cultural and social world in which we live – think politicians, media, pundits, lobby groups, etc? How far do these square with Genesis 1?

2. Reflect on the actual difference the ‘goodness’ of creation will make to specific areas of your life this week – work, rest, family, money, time…? How do we live distinctly as servants of God in his good creation?

3. It has been regularly noted that on days 1-3, God forms the world (Genesis 1:3-13), and on days 4-6, he fills the world (Genesis 1:14-27). What he separates on days 1-3, he stocks on days 4-6, first making the ‘realms’ and then assigning their ‘rulers’. What might this suggest about the literary qualities of the creation account? And what might this careful structuring of the account teach us about the nature of God’s work in creation, and creation itself?

Thursday 23 April 2009

Philip Satterthwaite and Gordon McConville on Themes in Judges

Philip Satterthwaite and Gordon McConville, Exploring the Old Testament Volume 2: The Histories (London: SPCK, 2007), 94-96.

Satterthwaite and McConville highlight the following key themes in Judges:

• Covenant violation – while generally faithful in Joshua, the people are generally unfaithful in Judges, with the problem of ‘the nations that remain’ unresolved at the end of the book.

• Canaanization – where Israel comes to terms with the inhabitants of Canaan, intermarries with them, worships their gods, and changes their behaviour to suit the switch in commitment.

• Fragmentation – with Israel being less united than in Joshua, with instances of rivalry, disloyalty, apathy, and civil war.

• Yhwh and Israel – where there is a decline in relations between them.

• Grace – shown by the Lord in sending deliverers, who finds ways of saving his people even when they give up seeking him, where even the very judgments that fall on Israel can be seen as moments of grace as the Lord speaks to his people through the consequences of their disobedience.

• Leadership – where, although the Lord is the true leader (8:23), the book focuses on human leaders raised up by the Lord – and different dimensions of their leadership – in such a way to show the inability of non-dynastic and localised leadership to maintain the people’s covenant loyalty. The debates, apparent and at least implicit in Judges, about appropriate forms of leadership – and kingship – continue into Samuel and Kings.

• Yhwh’s spirit – which acts in different ways on different judges, but where it is also clear that the subsequent character and behaviour of the judge is not necessarily marked by purity and devotion to the Lord, suggesting ‘a complex view of divine-human interactions lying behind these simple-seeming texts’ (96).

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 3

[This is the third of twelve posts outlining a number of streams in the current interest in theological interpretation, paying particular attention to recent treatments. For earlier introductions to theological interpretation, see here, here, and here.]

#1 – Its uneasy relationship with historical criticism

#2 – Its disputed overlap with biblical theology

#3 – Its natural affinity with precritical interpretation

Along with the waning of the hegemony of historical criticism and suggestions about the reconfiguration of biblical theology, dialogue with precritical interpreters has become something of a leitmotif of theological interpretation.

[A small sample of pertinent studies includes: Brian E. Daley, ‘Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms’, in Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays (eds.), The Art of Reading Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 69-88 (and see the other essays in this part of the volume); P.B. Decock, ‘On the Value of Pre-Modern Interpretation of Scripture for Contemporary Biblical Studies’, Neotestamentica 39, 1 (2005), 57-74; Donald Fairbairn, ‘Patristic Exegesis and Theology: The Cart and the Horse’, Westminster Theological Journal 69, 1 (2007), 1-19; Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin, and Barth Read the ‘Plain Sense’ of Genesis 1-3, Issues in Systematic Theology 5 (New York: Lang, 1999); John J. O’Keefe and R.R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); Daniel J. Treier, ‘The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis? Sic et Non’, Trinity Journal 24, 1 (2003), 77-103; Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 39-55; William C. Weinrich, ‘Patristic Exegesis as Ecclesial and Sacramental’, Concordia Theological Quarterly 64, 1 (2000), 39-60; Robert Louis Wilken, ‘Allegory and the Interpretation of the Old Testament’, Letter & Spirit 1 (2005), 11-21; Frances M. Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); ‘The “Mind” of Scripture: Theological Readings of the Bible in the Fathers’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 7, 2 (2005), 126-41.]

Although by no means monolithic in outlook or approach (cf. Treier, ‘Pre-Critical Exegesis’, 79), precritical interpreters offer unashamedly theological readings from which those seeking to develop postcritical modes of theological interpretation may learn. Hence, Brian Daley calls for ‘a more positive perception of early Christian exegesis… as not merely “pre-critical” but as thoroughly and – in many cases, at least – successfully theological’ (Daley, ‘Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable?’, 214, his italics). Frances Young captures it well when she says that the lesson of the Fathers is that biblical interpretation ought to embrace the concerns which tend to get separated into theology and praxis, scholarship and spirituality:

‘The purpose of biblical exegesis, implicit and explicit, was to form the practice and belief of Christian people, individually and collectively. Insofar as there was contention about belief or practice, the Bible was at the heart of the debate’ (Young, Biblical Exegesis, 299).

This movement is arguably part of a wider ‘recovery of ancient Christian practices’ (Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 39). It is seen, not least, in the publication of two commentary series exploring ancient traditions of biblical interpretation – ‘The Church’s Bible’, edited by Robert Louis Wilken, published by Eerdmans, and the ‘Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture’, edited by Thomas Oden, published by IVP.

Those favoured for consideration include Irenaeus, Augustine, Origen, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin.

[E.g., Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 96-99 (Aquinas); Brian Brock, Singing the Ethos of God: On the Place of Christian Ethics in Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 99-237 (Augustine and Luther); Jason Byassee, Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine, Radical Traditions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); Brevard S. Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) (Irenaeus, Origen, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin); Stephen E. Fowl, ‘The Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense of Scripture: The Example of Thomas Aquinas’, in in A.K.M. Adam, Stephen E. Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Francis Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 35-50; Karlfried Froehlich, ‘“Take Up and Read”: Basics of Augustine’s Biblical Interpretation’, Interpretation 58, 1 (2004), 5-16; Luke Timothy Johnson and William S. Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 35-118 (Origen and Augustine); William S. Kurz, Reading the Bible as God’s Own Story: A Catholic Approach for Bringing Scripture to Life (Ijamsville: The Word Among Us Press, 2007), 69-104 (Irenaeus and Athanasius); Matthew Levering, ‘Ecclesial Exegesis and Ecclesial Authority: Childs, Fowl, and Aquinas’, The Thomist 69, 3 (2005), 407-67, esp. 454-66 (Aquinas); Angus Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics and 1 Thessalonians, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 133 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 69-135 (Aquinas and Calvin); M.M. Pazdan, ‘Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Biblical Interpreters: “I Call You Friends” (John 15:15), New Blackfriars 86, 1005 (2005), 465-77; R.R. Reno, ‘Origen and Spiritual Interpretation’, Pro Ecclesia 15, 1 (2006), 108-26, a version of which appears in Justin S. Holcomb (ed.), Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 21-38; Eugene F. Rogers, Jr., ‘How the Virtues of an Interpreter Presuppose and Perfect Hermeneutics: The Case of Thomas Aquinas’, Journal of Religion 76, 1 (1996), 64-81; John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Current Issues in Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 68-106 (Calvin); Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 47-77 (Luther).]

One of the perceived beneficial features of drawing on precritical traditions is that interpreters saw a continuity between the biblical text and their own situations. To be sure, historical distance was an issue for the church fathers, but they offered theological guidance for bridging the gap. As Reno articulates it:

‘The most important and debilitating distance that separates us from what the Scriptures are saying should be understood spiritually. For all our worries about history, as well as those about the limitations of finite language and culturally conditioned texts, our difficulties in relation to the biblical text are not historical or metaphysical’ (R.R. Reno, ‘“You Who Were Once Far Off Have Been Brought Near”: Reflections in the Aid of Theological Exegesis’, Ex Auditu 16 [2000], 170-82, here 170-71).

The distance to be overcome was the distance between sin and righteousness, and guidance came from affiliation with the community of faith (Reno, ‘Theological Exegesis’, 172, and see 180: ‘Only as we are formed by the common life of the church, her ancient teachings, her ceaseless prayer, and her patterns of self-discipline and mutual service, can we read rightly’).

Furthermore, the Scriptures themselves do not treat the passage of time as ‘corrosive and corruptive’ (Reno, ‘Theological Exegesis’, 173). The rediscovery of the book of the law after centuries have passed, and the results its reading brings about (2 Kings 22:11-13) reminds us that ‘history does not necessarily or inevitably distance us from the word of God’ (Reno, ‘Theological Exegesis’, 174). ‘[T]he crucial issue is the distance at which we stand from that which is near’ (Reno, ‘Theological Exegesis’, 175). The distance, such as it was perceived, was bridged with figural reading (which ‘allows the reader to bridge the very real and enduring distances of time through interpretive coordination’), and ‘intensive reading’ (which ‘focuses on the semantic plenitude of particular scriptural signs or episodes’) (Reno, ‘Theological Exegesis’, 175-79). Thus, for Origen, the ‘decisive background assumption that underwrites his bold exegetical moves is a belief in the divine economy as the overarching, structuring principle of scripture (and of all reality)’ (Reno, ‘Origen’, 125).

[See also Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 45-51 on allegorical and typological reading as interpretive strategies.]

It is for such reasons that David C. Steinmetz wrote of the superiority of pre-critical exegesis, making the point that – unlike the historical-critical method – the theory of levels of meaning was able to generate a plurality of meanings.

[David C. Steinmetz, ‘The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis’, Theology Today 37, 1 (1980), 27-38, reprinted in Stephen E. Fowl (ed.), The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 26-38.]

Here is a recognition that the ‘plain sense’ may encompass the ‘figural’ as well as the ‘literal’ (e.g., Greene-McCreight, Ad Litteram, 22, and Fowl, ‘Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense’). Appeal may be made to Henri de Lubac’s study showing how medieval exegesis recognised richness of meaning whilst still not advocating arbitrariness.

[Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, trans. E.M. Macierowski, 2 vols., Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998 and 2000). On which, see Marcellino D’Ambrosio, ‘The Spiritual Sense in De Lubac’s Hermeneutics of Tradition’, Letter & Spirit 1 (2005), 147-57; Kevin L. Hughes, ‘The “Fourfold Sense”: De Lubac, Blondel and Contemporary Theology’, Heythrop Journal 42, 4 (2001), 451-62; Susan K. Wood, Spiritual Exegesis and the Church in the Theology of Henri de Lubac (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998).]

Hence, precritical interpreters did not hold Scripture could say whatever they wanted it to.

‘The quadriga teaches four sets of criteria with which to evaluate representations of biblical texts; the fourfold approach to allegorical interpretation was not a license to permit imaginations to run wild but a set of channels to guide interpretive imaginations.’

[A.K.M. Adam, ‘This is Not a Bible: Dispelling the Mystique of Words for the Future of Biblical Interpretation’, in Robert M. Fowler, Edith Blumhofer, Fernando F. Segovia (eds.), New Paradigms for Bible Study: The Bible in the Third Millennium (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 3-20, here 17. See also his ‘Poaching on Zion: Biblical Theology as Signifying Practice’, in Adam et al., Reading Scripture, 17-34, esp. 25-28.]

Interpretation was thus not a ‘free for all’, without limits. One such important check is that Scripture was read according to the church’s Rule of Faith.

[For representative treatments of the ‘Rule of Faith’, see, e.g., Paul M. Blowers, ‘The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith’, Pro Ecclesia 6, 2 (1997), 199-228; Stephen E. Fowl, Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 7-8; ‘Theological and Ideological Strategies of Biblical Interpretation’, in Michael J. Gorman (ed.), Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005), 163-75, at 169-71; Prosper S. Grech, ‘The Regula Fidei as a Hermeneutical Principle in Patristic Exegesis’, in Joze Krašovec (ed.), The Interpretation of the Bible: The International Symposium in Slovenia, JSOTS 289 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 589-601; Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 80-85; Paul Hartog, ‘The “Rule of Faith” and Patristic Biblical Exegesis’, Trinity Journal 28, 1 (2007), 65-86; Robert W. Jenson, ‘Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church’, in Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (eds.), Reclaiming the Bible for the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 89-105; Bryan M. Litfin, ‘The Rule of Faith in Augustine’, Pro Ecclesia 14, 1 (2005), 85-101; Daniel J. Treier, Virtue and the Voice of God: Toward Theology as Wisdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 113-25; Introducing Theological Interpretation, 57-77; Robert W. Wall, ‘Reading the Bible from Within Our Traditions: The “Rule of Faith” in Theological Hermeneutics’, in Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 88-107.]

A summary of key beliefs, configured around the triune God, shaped by the biblical narrative, the Rule of faith might be seen as an interpretive lens through which to read Scripture, which was christocentric and communal (Hartog, ‘The “Rule of Faith”’, 74-76, 78-79).

‘The rule of faith is the plot of the Bible that cannot therefore be read according to some other plot without disintegrating the Bible itself... [I]t is a summary of what the Church has learned hitherto when it has gone to the Bible to hear the Word of God. It is in this way appropriate that the rule of faith should light our way when we go back to the Bible again’ (Murray A. Rae, History and Hermeneutics [London: T&T Clark, 2005], 146).

Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s study of the notion of sensus literalis as deployed by Augustine, Calvin, and Barth suggests that although it operates with the constraint of the verbal sense of the text, it is by no means restricted to that, but also functions as a ‘ruled reading’ with a balance between a grammatical interpretation and the structure of communal practice or a rule of faith (Greene-McCreight, Ad Litteram). This sensibility is related to the broader interest in the mutually informing relationship between Scripture and doctrine.

[Cf. Joel B. Green, ‘Scripture and Theology: Failed Experiments, Fresh Perspectives’, Interpretation 56, 1 (2002), 5-20, at 15-17; Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 34: ‘Christian interpreters must discern not only how to read Scripture from a trinitarian perspective but also how other doctrines and broader theological interests might contribute to understanding the text.]

It has also provided an impetus to offer studies of doctrine from the perspective of the Rule of Faith.

[E.g., Ephraim Radner and George Sumner (eds.), The Rule of Faith: Scripture, Canon, and Creed in a Critical Age (Harrisburg: Morehouse,1998); Christopher R. Seitz (ed.), Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001).]

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis on Discipleship and Training

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community (Nottingham: IVP, 2007), 203pp., ISBN 9781844741915.

Some time back, I wrote an entry on this book, but it might be worth mentioning that Crossway in the USA have published it and made available a pdf sample of chapter 7 on discipleship and training.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch on Church and Mission… and Jesus

A few years back, Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch wrote a book together called The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003) (pdf samples available on this page) in which they wanted to say, among other things, that the whole notion of a missional church paradigm is not just an add-on programme to the church but right at the heart of what it means to be the church of Christ.

The challenge they present is for us to think seriously what it looks like to consider church where mission becomes the organising function.

Typically, evangelicals have understood their ecclesiology (their understanding of the church) around the four main functions of the church – worship, fellowship, discipleship (formation, teaching, rebuking, encouragement, etc.), and mission (engagement with the world, evangelism, church growth, etc.).

There is an obvious interplay between these functions. But, in general, say Frost and Hirsch, churches tend to organise themselves around the worship function. So, how does the church show its concern for building community and fellowship in its people? Through our worship services… with refreshments served at the end… How does the church form disciples? By making sure there’s a teaching slot at the heart of the worship service. How have we done evangelism? We’ve invited people to our worship meetings, or simply hoped that they will come in to our meetings. Or we have disengaged mission from the church completely, or have outsourced it somewhere else, putting it in the hands of parachurch organisations, for instance.

But what Frost and Hirsch do is look at how mission might become the organising principle of the other three. What if we organised church around mission? Is it possible to imagine what worship, discipleship and fellowship organised around mission would look like? And they have come to the conclusion that we form disciples better this way. If we see mission as the organising function, we build a community by taking people into mission, where discipling happens on the go.

It’s important to say that they are not playing worship and mission against each other, but they are wanting to recalibrate worship, fellowship, and discipleship around mission.

More recently they have pubished another book, called ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009) (pdf samples available on this page) which is very helpful in adding a certain perspective in bringing us back to Jesus. They’re still concerned about the centrality of mission, but they want to think about the missional church in light of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – and to say that a rediscovery of the Jesus of Scripture will mold our understanding of God, church, and the world.

Towards the start they write:

‘We must admit that both of us are somewhat obsessed with mission and what it means to be a missional people. But we both remain convinced that it is Christology that remains even more foundational and therefore the primary issue. We have elsewhere asserted that it is Christology (the exploration of the person, teachings, and impact of Jesus Christ) that determines missiology (our purpose and function in the world), which in turn determines our ecclesiology (the forms and functions of the church). Both of us (together and apart) have written books about a distinctly missional form of discipleship and ecclesiology. In writing this book, we feel we are now getting to the nub of the matter. We are going back to the founder and recalibrating the entire enterprise along christological lines’ (5-6).

‘In short, it’s about re-Jesusing the church’ (7).

Monday 20 April 2009

Victor H. Matthews on Judges

Victor H. Matthews, Judges and Ruth, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

The Introduction to this commentary is available as a sample from Cambridge University Press.

After some opening comments dealing mostly with the historical setting of the book of Judges (‘the settlement period prior to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy’, 4) and its date of final composition (‘the latter portion of the sixth century bce’, 5), Matthews’ introduction focuses on three areas:

• Literary analysis
• Cultural analysis
• Archaeological analysis

Literary analysis
Matthews holds that unrelated stories have been ‘compiled and systematically arranged and edited into a coherent whole’ (6), with a three-part division:

(1) Introductory and explanatory narrative (1:1-3:6)
(2) A collection of tales about the judges (3:7-16:31)
(3) Four episodes that accentuate the anarchic character of the period (17:1-21:25)

The introduction provides a transition from Joshua’s leadership to the period of the judges, explaining why the Israelites were unable to complete the conquest of the land.

The stories of the judges themselves ‘are progressively chaotic’ and told in a way which enhances the importance of the ‘later stability of the Davidic dynasty’ (8). The cycle of events highlighted in 2:11-19 provides a literary and theological unity, showing that the Israelites ‘always resume the pattern of disobedience that caused God’s displeasure in the first place’ (8) – although this structure begins to break down in Judges 9.

The final section contains episodes of lawlessness, civil war, and idolatry which characterise the rest of the book, except that no judge arises to meet the problems, the progressive anarchy providing ‘a crowning argument for the establishment of the monarchy’ (10).

Cultural analysis
Matthews described this as a ‘wild’ period in the history of Israel, which was at this stage a loose confederation of tribes with an agriculturally-based village culture. There was some cooperation between tribes, though with some feuding, making a case ‘for law and order and the establishment of a government to ensure stability’ (12). Matthews also holds that during this period there would be no discernible ethnic difference between the Canaanites and the people who would eventually become the Israelites (12).

Archaeological analysis
Patterns of settlements suggests a migration of population into the hill country during the period between 1200 and 1000 bce. There is some evidence of new housing styles – four-room houses with a central courtyard. Philistine cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gaza, and Canaanite and Phoenician cities of Meggido, Acco, Sidon, Beth-shemesh, Jebus, and Hazor have all been located and it has been ascertained that they were inhabited in the early Iron Age. It is more difficult, however, to authenticate social and religious practices of the period.

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (3/50) – And God...

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the third of the fifty emails…

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 1:1 and 2:4

Our first steps in Genesis begin not with creation, nor with ourselves, but with God – and the reminder that we do not properly understand the world (or our place in it) without acknowledging the God who created it, holds it together, and rules over it.

Genesis 1 was designed to work this way. The people of God knew that the real God – the only God – made the world not through violence and bloodshed (a regular feature of tales from cultures surrounding Israel) but by his word, through his wisdom, and out of love. The account thus shapes the way God’s people think and live at the same time as engaging with alternative takes on reality, in such a way as to say: this is the true God; this is what the true God is like; this is the one who alone is worthy of worship.

Genesis 1 does this not by discussing creation in the abstract, but by focusing on God as Creator, and not primarily through nouns or adjectives, but through verbs, highlighting what God does: he creates, he speaks, he sees, he names, he separates, he rules, he delights, he blesses, he rests… And this talking, acting God will take centre stage in the plot that unfolds, showing that far from removing himself from creation, he is personal and relational, intentionally providing an arena in which men and women can live under his rule and blessing.

It’s no surprise, then, that while Genesis 1:1 can use the standard word for ‘god’ or ‘gods’, Genesis 2:4 makes it clear that he is ‘the Lord God’, using the name by which he later reveals himself to Moses as the one who will establish a covenant with his people, setting up a link between creation and covenant which will be played out in the rest of Scripture.

Genesis 1 isn’t designed to satisfy our curiosity about issues raised by science, since something different and more significant is at stake, namely: which God do we trust to have the whole world in his hands? What stands at the heart of the Christian worldview is not a god of our own making, but the Lord God himself – Creator God and covenant God.

For further reflection and action:

1. If possible, take some moments this week to read through Genesis 1:1–2:4, pausing after the account of each day to reflect on – and then to praise – God as creator, sustainer, and ruler of all.

2. In Proverbs 8:22–31, God’s wisdom is personified as a craftsperson through whom God makes the world, designing, measuring, and setting boundaries in place, showing that wisdom is the standard by which God works as he crafts the world. This being the case, where do we see evidence of God’s wise ordering of the world? And what difference should it make to the way we seek to live in God’s world?

3. What do you bring to your reading of Genesis 1 in terms of background education, church tradition, scientific knowledge, and convictions about God? How might these various factors both help and distort your understanding of the passage?

Sunday 19 April 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Judges

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 77.

‘The tragic pattern in Judges points to the next phase of God’s great story of redemption, which will begin to move forward considerably through the stories of Ruth and of her great-grandson David.’

Saturday 18 April 2009

Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. on Joshua’s Days

Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., ‘Only a Distant Memory: Old Testament Allusions to Joshua’s Days’, Ex Auditu 16 (2000), 131-48.

The survival of Canaanite Rahab and the Gibeonites show there were exceptions to the mandate that pagans be destroyed. Hubbard tracks allusions and echoes of Joshua in the Deuteronomic History and the Prophets to see whether they reaffirm, reformulate, or relativise its problematic aspects (131-32).

After the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua, Joshua hardly figures at all in later books, overshadowed by Moses and Aaron. Most allusions occur in brief historical resumés of Yahweh’s deeds on behalf of Israel. Some texts exhibit an inclusivist spirit towards non-Israelites, reaching full expression in Ezekiel 47-48 where it is decreed that resident aliens may own land and belong to Israelite tribes.

Such texts show a ‘trajectory’ away from harsher aspects of the book of Joshua, as Israelite theologians work out the logic of their theological traditions on the one hand and historical experience on the other hand (142). Joshua’s policy is limited to a unique moment in Israelite history, and the trajectory of God’s plan for humanity points in a more ‘inclusive’ direction (143).

The book of Joshua, he claims, has been misread:

‘By “misreading” it, I mean that we tend to read it as if it had been written yesterday by a Christian rather than 2500 years ago by an Israelite and as a manual for ethics. We judge it by modern Christian standards of ethics and, on that basis, condemn its Nazi-esque policy toward Canaan. In my view, this approach is unfair to the book because it judges the book by an ethical standard which did not exist when it originated – in other words, to misread it. To read Joshua properly is to read it within its own original context, on its own cultural terms, before screening it by later standards’ (142).

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (2/50) – I’ll Tell You a Story

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the second of the fifty emails, written this week by Margaret Killingray.

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will utter… things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4)

Human beings tell stories, stories that weave individuals and their families into wider communities of place and time. They sing the story of the ancestors who built their village; they learn of the Romans that came and named their towns; they ferret around in the archives to discover their Russian great-grandparents; they say, ‘I’m Scottish’, ‘My grandmother was a slave’, ‘My father was in the D-Day landings’. And so we tie ourselves into place and time.

And the Bible, the story of humankind’s relationship with God, tells stories. One story from beginning to end, with many contributing stories of individuals and nations, which reflect, repeat and enlarge the grand narrative, a narrative, as we saw last week, with Jesus Christ at the heart of it, alpha and omega, creator, redeemer and final judge.

Listen to the story; tell it to your children; how God brought you out of slavery under the sign of the lamb’s blood and led you on a journey to nationhood; a story told over and over again in the Old Testament. That story illuminates a new and greater story of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and in that process invests with new profundity other stories: Isaiah’s suffering servant, the lamb silent before her shearers.

And when the pivotal moment of the whole history of God’s dealings with humanity took place, and a new born baby was laid in a manger, Matthew tells us that this baby is part of this human story; his family line descends from the great heroes of God’s people, Abraham and David, but also from the smaller stories of faithfulness and redemption, Ruth the Moabite and Bathsheba the Hittite (Matthew 1:1-17).

We need to hear the story, to recognise ourselves in it. ‘The whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’, the Lord told the Israelites at Sinai, and, through Peter (1 Peter 2:9), he tells us, the scattered people of God, that we are now that holy nation and priestly kingdom, until the final curtain goes up and we reign with him in a renewed earth.

For further reflection and action:

1. Christians are not utopians who believe that civilisation is always getting better. Nor should they be pessimists who believe the world is all bad and we should withdraw and endure until he comes again. The people of God, both OT and NT, are called to be salt and light, bringers of justice, love and social responsibility. How does that work out for you, and for your church, this week?

2. Jesus told stories; read Luke 15: 1-7. Two groups are listening (15:1). Look at Ezekiel 34 and Isaiah 40:10-11. Will the ones who need rebuke for bad shepherding and the ones who need assurance of forgiveness and mercy, hear the right story?

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Martin B. Copenhaver, Anthony B. Robinson, and William H. Willimon on Good News in Exile

Martin B. Copenhaver, Anthony B. Robinson, William H. Willimon, Good News in Exile: Three Pastors Offer a Hopeful Vision for the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), xi + 116pp, ISBN 9780802846044.

[This is a lightly edited version of a review which was written in October 1999, and first published on London School of Theology’s website.]

A relatively slim volume, but with challenge and insight on every page, this book could have an effect out of all proportion to its size. Reading it raises the intriguing question of where it should be shelved. Pastoral theology? Preaching? Doctrine of the church? It embraces all of these and more. Christians should read it, and pastors should discuss it.

The title of the book arises from the recognition that North American churches today are without privilege, in an environment which is indifferent or hostile, and so find themselves in a situation akin to an ‘exile’. But, as the authors remind us, God has considerable experience in working powerfully among those in exile. ‘As the history of Israel demonstrates, a time of exile can be particularly rich and fertile. There is opportunity in relinquishment.’

Although the book’s three writers represent different backgrounds, all admit to having been nursed in the arms of ‘liberalism’ and to being subsequently influenced by the theological proposals of George Lindbeck and Stanley Hauerwas, which call for a move beyond liberalism into a new ‘postliberal’ situation. Liberalism assumed a basic continuity between the best of human thought and the Christian message, with the church as the centre of civic life, where the gospel was adjusted to the perceived needs of people. In postliberalism, however, the church is to be a counter culture. Instead of the gospel being adjusted to the needs of people, people are challenged to be transformed in the light of the gospel. Instead of speaking the language of culture, we speak the peculiar language of the church into the culture.

The book helpfully begins with each of the three writers writing an autobiographical preface, tracing these changes in their own lives and the life of the church; and the volume breaks some new ground in seeking to relate postliberal theology to different facets of the life of the church. So, the autobiographical reflections are followed by a series of chapters dealing successively with Scripture, preaching, sacraments, Christian formation, and social action.

Scripture, according to the authors, is ‘our home in exile’, which reshapes experience. Its authority has to do ‘not only from how the words got on the page, but also from how the words get off the page’. Scripture is to be acted out in the life of the congregation: we immerse ourselves in the biblical story and the world it creates, and when we do so, we find it makes sense of our lives. Sermons should be based on lectionary texts so that both preacher and congregation can hear what God says through Scripture, rather than what the preacher thinks congregations need to hear.

In liberalism, the preacher begins with some aspect of the human condition (we feel empty, we lack self-esteem), and then moves to Scripture to find a relevant text to address the contemporary concern. Against this, following George Lindbeck, they advocate a ‘cultural-linguistic’ approach.

‘To become a Christian is to enter a “culture,” a complex system of rituals, words, signs, symbols, habits, and practices that make us who we are… You cannot get Christianity by having the Christian faith translated into some other philosophical framework like liberalism, or existentialism, or Marxism, or the language of self-esteem. Rather, to be a Christian is to be someone who has learned the language, someone for whom the “grammar” of the Christian faith has become part of your life.’

On sacraments, they remind us that rituals sustain in situations of exile. Sacraments are particularising, and emphasise difference and separation. Sacraments place us in a vulnerable position, where we surrender to, and receive from, an ‘Other’. They are also acts of imagination, which defy the rational and allow space for us to rediscover the power of symbol and story.

On ‘Christian formation and the teaching ministry’, they argue that pastors pastor by teaching and teach by pastoring. Ministers must not be institutional managers or helping professionals, but community-based teachers of the faith. Theology is necessary for the life of the believer, and the teaching ministry of the church ‘has less to do with information than with formation’. In Christian formation, as in sports, crafts, and the arts, ‘there is a set of skills, a language, a history or tradition, a master teacher or teachers, and a community of those committed to the practice’.

When it comes to ‘mission and social action’, whereas liberalism sought to transform the world through political action, they argue that ‘the primary political role of the church is to be the church’. We gather in worship to get the gospel straight, to speak our native tongue, to make sure we do not forget the unique dimensions of our story. Encounter with God in worship may lead to conventional political activities, but not because of some ‘universal impulse’ to do the right thing. In fact, beginning with the gospel may redraw ethical debate.

For instance, on the nuclear weapons debate, both sides (whether to arm or not to arm) agree that the fundamental issue is our survival. But Christians follow one for whom survival was not the issue. Similarly with abortion, those who advocate a ‘right to choose’ and those who advocate a ‘right to life’ at least agree on the notion of ‘rights’. But the language of rights is not the language of Scripture – which speaks not of rights but of duties, which reminds us that life is a gift, which speaks of relationship with, and responsibilities towards, others. It may well be that the church best serves the world not by entering into debates on the world’s terms, but by recasting debates in ways that reflect the distinctiveness of the gospel.

They conclude with an emphasis on conversion. Although exile is a time of loss, it may also be a prelude to reconstruction and recreation. Our task is to point people to the new world of the gospel and to embody that world in our lives.

All in all, there is much on which to reflect, much by which to be challenged, and much in which to take encouragement. There ought to disagreement too. Those outside the North American context will want to ask how far the authors’ description of the church is accurate in their own situations. Although there is much here for evangelicals to agree with, they will have to realise that the authors are not advocating a return to the ‘conservative’ fold, and that there are things in the postliberal agenda to be critical of, even if it provides substantially more resources for life and ministry than other alternatives. For all of us who own the label ‘Christian’, the book sets an agenda which shouldn’t be ignored, as we seek to allow the gospel itself to set the agenda in discipleship and church life.

As the authors write: ‘In exile Israel had dared to name its national disaster as a time of judgment on its past fidelity and as a time of promise for a new God-given future. Might this be a similar time for my church?’

Dale Ralph Davis on the Outline of Joshua

Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua: No Falling Words, Focus on the Bible (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2000).

Davis outlines the book of Joshua as follows:

1. Entering the Land (Joshua 1-4)
2. Taking the Land (Joshua 5-12)
3. Possessing the Land (Joshua 13-21)
4. Retaining the Land (Joshua 22-24)

Thursday 2 April 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Joshua

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 69.

‘Joshua contributes to God’s story of redemption by bringing closure to the covenant promise of the land made in Genesis (and throughout the Pentateuch), thus setting the stage for the next phases of the story.’

Vaughan Roberts on God’s Big Picture

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Nottingham: IVP, 2009, first published 2002).

First published in 2002, IVP have just reissued in a large-format paperback this very helpful book by Vaughan Roberts.

In line with a number of others (Graeme Goldsworthy is especially influential), he organises the biblical storyline around the theme of kingdom, which he defines as ‘God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing’ (22). He then traces this theme throughout Scripture in eight epochs:

1. The pattern of the kingdom
2. The perished kingdom
3. The promised kingdom
4. The partial kingdom
5. The prophesied kingdom
6. The present kingdom
7. The proclaimed kingdom
8. The perfected kingdom

IVP makes available a very brief extract from the book, along with some resources (a PowerPoint file and a full handout) for those who might like to use it for courses.

Vaughan has also written a follow-up book…

Vaughan Roberts, Life’s Big Questions: Six Major Themes Traced Through the Bible (Leicester: IVP, 2004).

… which does exactly what it says in the subtitle, providing some helpful worked examples of the ‘storyline’ approach.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Chris Wright on Deuteronomy

Christopher Wright, Deuteronomy, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996).

Hendrickson make available the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and the section on Deuteronomy 1-3 as pdfs.

The Introduction deals helpfully with all the usual suspects – Title, Structure, Date and Setting (1-8) – but also includes a section on Missiological Significance (8-17), providing what was an early taster of some of Chris’ more recent work on God and mission, and the missional basis of the Bible.

Items covered here include:

• The challenge to loyalty in the midst of cultural change
• The challenge of monotheism
• Israel as a model for the nations
• Deuteronomy’s theology of history

‘It can be seen… that although it is true to say that Deuteronomy is primarily absorbed with God’s dealings with, and requirements of, Israel, it contains perspectives on Israel and the nations that ultimately led “over the horizon” of its own context and that influenced and shaped the mission of Jesus and Paul in theory and in practice. Such perspectives, with their overall canonical significance, need to be the broader framework for our understanding and application of the relevance of the content of the book, both in its urgent rhetoric and in its earthy legislation’ (16-17).

Elmer A. Martens on Deuteronomy

Elmer A. Martens, ‘Accessing the Theological Readings of a Biblical Book’, Andrews University Seminary Studies 34:2 (1996), 233-49.

Taking up a suggestion from Gerhard F. Hasel of doing biblical theology via a book-by-book approach, Martens illustrates from Deuteronomy the theology-shaping factors pertinent to the form, Sitz im Leben, traditions, and literary features of the text.

Form-critical structure
Deuteronomy has been by some as structured along the lines of an international treaty, and so its theology is bound up with its character as a covenant document. But attention has also been given by others to the long speeches of Moses in the book, which suggests it may be a testament – which means that the calls for obedience are motivated not by the covenant so much as by the commands of a leader. Others have claimed the book is akin to a catechesis, which would mean that the legally-oriented materials (chs. 5-28) hold centre stage.

Of course, as Martens points out, form is only one of several components in discerning a book’s theology…

Sitz im Leben
There are three main proposals for the life-setting of Deuteronomy: (1) instruction by Moses to the generation on the verge of entering the promised land; (2) seventh-century Judah and the reform of the Jerusalem cult; (3) not long after the exile of the southern kingdom, redacted as part of the ‘Deuteronomistic history’ to show the inevitability of divine punishment on disobedience.

This takes place in three stages, according to Martens: (1) identifying traditions (e.g., exodus, wilderness, Sinai, Decalogue, golden calf story); (2) investigating the ‘spin’ a tradition has in a text; (3) situating the tradition within the book (e.g., noticing the dominant emphasis of the Sinai tradition in Deuteronomy compared to the tradition about the centralisation of the cult).

Literary analysis
Unlike form criticism, which tends to focus on small units of text, literary analysis looks at the literary whole, including features such as characterisation, plot, repetition, patterning, metaphor, etc.

Given these several components, he offers a preliminary theological statement of Deuteronomy as follows:

‘Obedience to the expressed will of God is urged upon the people of God in view of God’s good intentions, the operating dynamic of love, his various grace-gifts (including Torah, land, and victory), the specificity of his expectations, and the warnings that emerge from the act-consequence nexus as illustrated in Israel’s checkered history. Further supporting theological nuances entail the authority (and also finitude) associated with the final words of a long-term, God-commissioned leader’ (233).

He also notes that the formulation of the theology of a biblical book will be affected by ‘factors residing in the theologian’ (233), dealing particularly with the role of imagination and creativity, prior views of biblical theology, and social location (233-37).