Saturday 17 February 2018

Currents in Biblical Research 16, 2 (February 2018)

The latest Currents in Biblical Research recently arrived, with titles and abstracts of the main articles as below.

Amy C. Merrill Willis
A Reversal of Fortunes: Daniel among the Scholars
Scholarship on the book of Daniel has undergone a significant shift since the publication of K. Koch’s groundbreaking work, The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic, in 1972. Despite significant achievements in understanding the historical-critical issues of the book, scholarship viewed Daniel’s apocalyptic visions as embarrassing. The renaissance in Daniel studies that began in the 1970s has since produced a robust conversation and newer theory-driven insights around well-established areas of interest. These include Daniel’s textual traditions and compositional history, the function of its genres, the social settings of its writers, and Daniel’s near eastern literary and cultural milieu. New areas of interest identified in the landmark study of J.J. Collins and P.W. Flint (2001; 2002), namely the history of reception and political theologizing, have also gained ground. Daniel’s reversal of fortunes is due to new methodologies as well as a fundamental paradigm shift in interpretation; this change has seen Daniel scholarship move away from the search for Daniel’s historical meaning, narrowly construed, and toward the quest to understand what Daniel does to and for its readers.

Stephen Germany
The Hexateuch Hypothesis: A History of Research and Current Approaches
This article traces the development of the concept of the Hexateuch in five major stages: (1) its beginnings in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, (2) its floruit in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, (3) the challenge to the Hexateuch hypothesis by the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis, (4) the partial decline of the Hexateuch hypothesis during the second half of the twentieth century, and (5) its recent revival and reinterpretation, particularly since the turn of the millennium. Within the current discussion, the most decisive question is whether one should conceive of the Hexateuch as an early (i.e., pre-Priestly and/or pre-Dtr) narrative work, as a late redactional construct, or both.

Simeon R. Burke
‘Render to Caesar the Things of Caesar and to God the Things of God’: Recent Perspectives on a Puzzling Command (1945–Present)
This article surveys post-1945 scholarly attempts to interpret Jesus’ command to ‘render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God’ (Mk 12.17; Mt. 22.21; Lk. 20.25). It suggests that part of the confusion surrounding the interpretation of this phrase lies not only in the disputed nature of the data, but also in the failure to clearly define the interpretive categories. This has resulted in contradictory interpretations being described with the same label, as well as scholars failing to notice similarities between the different readings. To this end, the following article attempts to more precisely outline the four major approaches to the command which have emerged since the Second World War (while also noting the various connections between some of these views): (1) exclusivist interpretations in which ‘the things of God’ nullify the ‘the things of Caesar’; (2) complementarian readings in which the two elements are held to be parallel; (3) ambivalent readings that stress the ambiguity and open-ended nature of the utterance; and (4) subordinationist readings that seek to uphold both elements of the command while prioritizing the second element (‘the things of God’) over the first (‘the things of Caesar’). The discussion then turns to considering four areas that might prove fruitful in future analysis of this command.

Todd Berzon
Ethnicity and Early Christianity: New Approaches to Religious Kinship and Community
This article outlines how recent scholarly interventions about notions of race, ethnicity and nation in the ancient Mediterranean world have impacted the study of early Christianity. Contrary to the long-held proposition that Christianity was supra-ethnic, a slate of recent publications has demonstrated how early Christian authors thought in explicitly ethnic terms and developed their own ethnic discourse even as they positioned Christianity as a universal religion. Universalizing ambitions and ethnic reasoning were part and parcel of a larger sacred history of Christian triumphalism. Christian thinkers were keen to make claims about kinship, descent, blood, customs and habits to enumerate what it meant to be a Christian and belong to a Christian community. The narrative that Christians developed about themselves was very much an ethnic history, one in which human difference and diversity was made to conform to the theological and ideological interests of early Christian thinkers.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

The King of Romance

This is a lightly-updated version of a piece I wrote back in 2014.

If any of the stories about Saint Valentine are to be believed, he would barely recognise how we celebrate the day that bears his name. As one meme puts it: ‘I was beaten with clubs, beheaded, buried under the cover of darkness, disinterred by my followers, and you commemorate my martyrdom by sending each other chocolates?’

So there I was yesterday, faced with racks of cards, a sea of red and pink hues. What to choose this year? Nah, too schmaltzy. Too gaudy. Too tacky. Way too tacky. I need something which communicates the perfect combination of desire, romance, fun, sensitivity, with a slight mischievous edge, while not taking itself too seriously. Is that too much to ask of a card? I’ve been married for over 26 years, so why doesn’t this get any easier?

But as I glance furtively around at my fellow browsers, to see who else is buying a card less than 12 hours before the deadline, I wonder whether we’ve all been sucked into a giant vortex of mindless corporate consumption – so many possibilities, but still trapped into spending £2.79 to say ‘I love you’. It’s easy to become cynical. In all this, my mind switches to those who might feel the lack of a Significant Other – whether through death, divorce, relationship breakdown, force of circumstances, or choice. I’m probably thinking about this way too much, right?

Yet, the God of creation and redemption is big enough to embrace all of it – all the yearnings and aspirations of the heart, met and unmet. Whatever the changing fortunes of the relationship between marriage and love through history, mutual attraction and displays of affection are a gift from God’s hand, not merely evolutionary glue to help keep us together. What God has done for the world in Christ simultaneously makes sense of the couple’s delight in each other, but also offers grace to the celibate and comfort to the lonely.

That’s why Christians understand that such issues are best framed through the gospel – which puts God rather than us at the centre of the universe, which tells us that love involves the cost of sacrifice, seen supremely in Jesus, which calls us to see all our relationships as places where discipleship is worked out in everyday life, and which reminds us that the union between Christ and his people remains ultimate for all of us.

Monday 12 February 2018

Preaching the Word of God

The below article has been posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as a supplementary piece to the resource on whole-life preaching.

In some churches, the reading of the Bible ends with the statement, ‘This is the word of the Lord’, to which the congregation normally replies: ‘Thanks be to God’. That declaration and response capture something significant about the Christian confession of Scripture – that the Bible is the very word of God, God speaking to us. And it’s to be received with gratitude – ‘thanks be to God’ – which isn’t always easy, perhaps, depending on the passage!

God has spoken in the Bible, and continues to speak through what he has spoken.

That gives us great confidence as preachers. We preach what was being said in the biblical passage, so that the same instruction, encouragement, commission, warning, or promise is passed on to the congregation. And we trust that the same Spirit who inspired the text will press it home to today’s hearers.

So it is that Paul tells Timothy that Scripture makes us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’, and is useful for ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’, so that God’s people ‘may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Echoing that, he goes on to say to Timothy: ‘preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ (4:1-2). The Bible is the means by which God speaks to his people today and equips us to live out the salvation brought by Jesus.

So, we confess the Bible to be God’s ‘word’. But what kind of ‘word’ is it?

1. God’s covenant word

The titles given to the two parts of the Christian Bible – ‘Old Testament’ and ‘New Testament’ (where ‘testament’ means covenant) – remind us that Scripture is God’s covenant word. In fact, the whole biblical story can be seen as a series of such covenant agreements that God makes with his people, binding him and them together. As a covenant word, it confirms his relationship with us.

As such, the Bible is not merely a vehicle for ‘information’ or ‘answers’. Nor is its first purpose to provide a set of ‘timeless principles’ or ‘tips for living’. Rather, it gives shape and substance to the relationship between us and God. It reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. It contains God’s promises to us, and tells us what he desires from us. Engaging with Scripture – in preaching or elsewhere – is engaging in relationship with our living Lord. That ongoing relationship, nurtured through God’s covenant word, then carries significance for our everyday contexts.

2. God’s word about Christ

God’s covenantal promises and acts come to their climax in Jesus. Jesus himself was clear that the Scriptures testify about him (John 5:39, 46-47). He explained Scripture to the travellers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) in such a way to show he cannot be understood apart from the Old Testament and the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from him.

So, preaching of the Bible is Christ-focused, involving an unfolding of the good news of Jesus and its implications for his people and the world. A goal of our preaching is to be a people whose lives are focused on the promises of God now fulfilled in Christ, the one who stands at the heart of God’s plan for all things.

3. God’s word to the church

When we engage with Scripture, we don’t do so as isolated individuals but from the perspective of the believing community – a people indwelt by the Spirit, who are formed by his word. Whole-life preaching assumes the significance of the church – gathered and scattered – not merely a collection of individuals who happen to gather for an hour or so each week.

This is why the Bible is read aloud, proclaimed and sung in community (Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13), and why some from the church are set apart to minister the word to others (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15; 1 Peter 4:10-11). Being discipled through Scripture is bound up with prayer and worship, baptism and communion, as God works through his Spirit to build up the body of Christ. Here is a reminder that faithfulness is best cultivated in the context of the church; that preaching is given by God as a means to create and sustain faith amongst his people, and to equip them for everyday discipleship.

So it is that a covenant-focused, Christ-centred preaching of Scripture forms the gathered community that is then sent into the world in his name. Dispersed during the week we testify, in word and deed, to the presence of God’s reign in the world, bearing witness to what God has done in Christ.

Friday 9 February 2018

The Evangelical Alliance UK on the Discourse of ‘Spiritual Abuse’

The Evangelical Alliance UK has published a report, which is critical of the term ‘spiritual abuse’ as well intended but not fit for purpose.

Revd Dr David Hilborn, Chair of Evangelical Alliance Theology Advisory Group which produced the report, said:

‘We take the harm caused by Emotional, Psychological and other forms of abuse in religious contexts very seriously indeed. The Alliance has worked closely with its partner organisations and member churches in this area. However, we are deeply uneasy about increasing usage of the unhelpful and potentially misleading term “Spiritual Abuse”. We believe the existing legal frameworks of Emotional and Psychological abuse are sufficient and need to be enforced in religious contexts, as in other contexts. However, creating a special category of “Spiritual Abuse” just for religious people potentially singles them out for criminalisation. As such, it carries the risk of religious discrimination, and threatens social cohesion. As a diagnostic term, “Spiritual Abuse” may be well-intended, but this report shows that it is not fit for purpose.’

The executive summary is available as a pdf here, and the full report here.

Deeds Not Words

I wrote this week’s Connecting with Culture, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Queen Alexandra, George V’s mother, described it as a ‘sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman’. History has been kinder to suffragette Emily Wilding Davison who squeezed through the railings at the Epsom Derby to make a grab for the king’s horse as it raced past. Buried in Morpeth, her headstone is inscribed with the King James Version of John 15:13, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’, along with the maxim of the Women’s Social and Political Union – ‘Deeds Not Words’.

It was nearly five years later that the Representation of the People Act was given royal assent, granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned property, an act whose centenary has been marked this week. In the immediate wake of #metoo, the BBC equal pay debate, and the Presidents Club debacle, celebrations are mostly tinged with reflections on how much more needs to be done.

Earlier this week, The Guardian asked a panel whether parity between men and women would be achieved in the next 100 years. Economic inequality, the cost of childcare, and the objectification, even pornification, of women were all mentioned as issues to be tackled.

Christians have a stake in these debates. Christians also have a stake in demonstrating to those around us what renewed relationships in Christ look like, not least between men and women in different spheres of life.

Notable at the beginning of the biblical story is that men and women are equally and together created in the image of God, called to exercise dominion as representatives of God on earth. This gave men and women a status and responsibility not found in other cultures of the time. Notable, too, is the New Testament’s insistence – again, largely against the grain of its first-century world – that men and women are one in Christ, caught up together in God’s plan to reconstitute humanity.

As those living out this different story, we can start with the women we know, where we are – in our family, workplace, college and church, our colleagues and clients.

Originally the Suffragette slogan, ‘Deeds Not Words’, was a call to radical action, but it resonates with the biblical injunction that faith without works is dead, and is seen most remarkably in the supreme sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for his friends.

Thursday 8 February 2018

Fides et Humilitas 4 (2018)

Fides et Humilitas is published annually by the Center for Ancient Christian Studies, and ‘exists to provide an evangelical voice to the academic fields engaging ancient Christian literature’.

The contents of volume 4, and the abstracts where available, are as follows:

Coleman M. Ford and Shawn J. Wilhite
Editorial: Retrieval, Resourcement, and the Reformation: Tradition, Scripture, and the Protestant Reformation


Chase Sears
Finding Wine in the Water Jar: A History of Interpretation of John 2:1-11
Throughout much of the church’s history, interpreters have understood the sensus literalis of a biblical text to contain or lead to further spiritual senses. This understanding is particularly illustrated in how the church has historically interacted with the Gospel of John. Therefore, in this article I will use John 2:1–11 as a test case for how many throughout history have understood the sensus literalis. In doing so, I contend that the fullest readings neither diminished authorial intent nor a multiplicity of meaning. Rather, they recognized the sensus literalis of the biblical text to lead to further spiritual meanings. As a result of this study, many of the spiritual interpretations advocated throughout the history of the church will be found consistent with the literary and theological intent of John’s Gospel.

Miguel Echevarria
Early Christian Wives as Household Missionaries: An Analysis of 1 Peter 3:1–6
Following the pattern of a Greco-Roman household code, 1 Pet 3:1–6 provides advice to wives who were susceptible to domestic abuse at the hands of their unbelieving husbands. As the paterfamilias, the husband could exercise physical punishment on (who he deemed to be) an insubordinate wife – such as a woman who would not partake in the worship of the emperor or household gods. A Christian woman could therefore suffer abuse for refusing to submit to practices that contradict the Christian faith. In this essay, I engage with some Greco-Roman practices and David Horrell’s concept of a female missionary disposition in mixed marriages. With an eye toward the redemption of their husbands, Peter encourages the wives in his ecclesial communities to take a missionary posture in the home, which will hopefully lead to the salvation of their spouses. Thus, a Christian wife’s presence in the household is intended to serve a redemptive purpose.

Cogitatio: Ignatius of Antioch

Coleman M. Ford
“Attuned to the Bishop as Strings to a Lyre”: Imitation and Virtue Formation in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch

Edward L. Smither
Ignatius’s Trinitarian Foundation for Church Unity and Obeying Spiritual Leaders

Peter Sanlon on Scholarship in Service to the Church

Book Reviews

Previous copies of the journal can be found here. Volume 4 can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Theos Report on Assisted Dying

The latest report from Theos has just been published:

Here is the summary blurb:

In spite of Parliament’s emphatic rejection of a “right to die” bill in 2015, the issue of assisted dying remains a live one. Central to both sides of the debate is the idea of “dignity”. This essay examines the different meanings of the word and then outlines what an understanding of dignity as being loved and valued would look like for the terminally ill.’

As Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff writes in the foreword:

This report… examines concepts of dignity in living, particularly in the face of deteriorating health, and develops a more informed view of what dignity really is, how it is respected and enhanced, and what it can and should look like for everyone.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Resolved #5: To Boast in the Cross of Christ

This is a lightly-edited re-run of one of a post from early 2011.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.
Galatians 6:14-16

We might well resolve to do the things Paul calls on us in Galatians to do – to stand firm in our freedom, to walk with the Spirit, to fulfil Christ’s law, to do good to all people – but where, when all is done, will our confidence finally lie? For Paul, not in our own achievements or the approval of others, but in the cross of Christ.

Removed as we are from the first-century world, where crucifixion was looked upon as shameful by Jew and pagan alike, it’s not easy to feel the scandal of that claim. And yet, the cross is not something Paul returns to only when he has to, and then in slight embarrassment, but is at the centre of his message about Christ. For it was there that Christ became a curse for us (3:13), delivering us from slavery (4:5). And it is there, Paul says, that our old self has been crucified (5:24), echoing his earlier testimony that he has been ‘crucified with Christ’, and that he lives now ‘by faith in the Son of God’ who loved him and gave himself for him (2:20).

As Michael J. Gorman explores in his Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), Christ’s death not only provides the source of our salvation but the shape of our salvation, such that our daily life ratifies our fundamental allegiance to Jesus – as we take up our cross to follow him.

More than this, however, the effects of the cross are cosmic in proportion, reaching beyond individuals to embrace heaven and earth – bringing about ‘a new creation’ no less. Small wonder, then, that whatever privileges might have given grounds for honour for God’s people in the past (circumcision being the specific example here), are nothing compared to what really counts – belonging to the new age that God has begun through the cross of Christ.

And with that comes peace and mercy for the whole family of Abraham, Jew and Gentile alike, to all who ‘keep in step with’ this rule, whose identity is now derived from the new creation God has brought about through the Spirit and in Christ.