Neville Callam, the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, calls upon Baptists to revive the practice of the veneration of the saints:
Shouldn’t Baptist churches retrieve the practice of venerating the saints, that is, engaging in corporate worship acts designed not to worship the saints, but to remember, honor, learn from, and celebrate saints from our Baptist family and from other Christian communions? Until we regularly include commemoration of the saints in our worship celebrations, we will continue to neglect the opportunity to give proper value to those from our past who have borne courageous witness to faithful discipleship. Commemorative acts done in our Sunday morning services would provide a suitable accompaniment for the tradition some have already developed as part of their Vacation Bible School program, in which stories are told of great spiritual leaders worthy of emulation … [HT: Steven Harmon]
The four gospels … are thus appropriately named ‘gospel’, in line both with Isaiah 40 and 52 and with the contemporary pagan usage. They themselves, in telling the story of how God became king in and through Jesus, invite their readers to the imaginative leap of saying, ‘Suppose this is how God has done it? Suppose the world’s way of empire is all wrong? Suppose there’s a different way, and suppose that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, has brought it about?’ And the gospels themselves, of course, contain stories at a second level, stories purportedly told by Jesus himself, which were themselves, in their day, designed to break open the worldview of their hearers and to initiate a massive imaginative leap to which Jesus gave the name ‘faith’. The gospels invite their readers, in other words, to a multiple exercise, both of imagining what it might have been like to make that leap in the first century (both for Jesus’ hearers and then, at a second stage, for their own readers) and, as a further stage again, of imagining what it might be like to do so today. For too long gospel study has been dominated by the attempt to make the gospels reflect, simply, the faith-world of the early church. Why, after all, the radical critics used to say, would the early Christians have been particularly interested in miscellaneous stories of what Jesus actually said or did, when all that really mattered was his saving death, making the gospels simply ‘passion narratives with extended introductions’? The conservative response has been that early converts would naturally want to know more about this Jesus in whom they had come to place their faith. But this stand-off, on both sides, has usually failed to reflect the larger question: that the gospels tell the story of Jesus not out of mere historical anecdotage or faith-projection, but because this is how Jesus launched the kingdom of God, which he then accomplished in his death and resurrection. Even to hold this possibility in one’s head requires, in today’s western church, whether radical or conservative, no less than in the non-Christian world, a huge effort of the imagination.
This imagination, like all good right-brain activity, must then be firmly and thoroughly worked through the left brain, disciplined by the rigorous historical and textual analysis for which the discipline of biblical studies has rightly become famous. But, by itself, the left brain will produce, and has often produced, a discipline full of facts but without meaning, high on analysis and low on reconstruction, good at categories and weak on the kingdom.
Richard Bauckham has a very witty piece on ‘Reconstructing the Pooh Community’ wherein he has a swipe at some of the speculative sociological readings of the NT that some in the guild are want to become obsessed with.
Ben Myers continues to enthral us with his own fiction, this time with ‘a short story’ called The Shakespearean Death.
Here’s a book written by someone who has wrestled long and hard with the subject but doesn’t feel the need to keep reminding you of that fact, a book written in full awareness and appreciation of the technical issues and debates going on in the background but is not sidetracked or straightjacketed by them, a book which articulates the subject at hand with sensitivity, pastoral wisdom, theological acumen, and a level of clarity and conciseness that I struggle to reach writing a birthday card.
Anthony Thiselton’s brief for The Living Paul was to pen ‘something which makes Paul accessible, but without undue oversimplification’. He has fulfilled this brief impressively. Many an undergrad will be helped here.
Finally, a good reflection by Rowan Williams, ‘Out of the abyss of individualism’: ‘… the importance of the family isn’t a sentimental idealising of domestic life; it is about understanding that you grow in emotional intelligence and maturity because of a reality that is unconditionally faithful. In religious terms the unconditionality of family love is a faint mirror of God’s unconditional commitment to be there for us. Similarly, the importance of imaginative life is not a vague belief that we should all have our creative side encouraged but comes out of the notion that the world we live in is rooted in an infinite life, whose dimensions we shall never get hold of. As for the essential character of human mutuality, this connects for me with the Christian belief that if someone else is damaged, frustrated, offended or oppressed, everyone’s humanity is diminished’. Read the rest here.
Finally, a warning to bloggers: ‘I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned’. (Jesus, in Matthew 12:36–37)
Professor Jenson’s third Burns Lecture was concerned with the emergence of the NT as canon.
Initially he looked at the emergence of the NT canon as documented in the writings of Irenaeus. He noted that Irenaeus‘ arguments are circular, however, this is not a vicious circularity, indeed ‘circularity is the very mark of the Holy Spirit’.
In the search for authoritative apostolic teaching, Paul’s writings were accepted in spite of the appearance of gnosticism. Paul’s letters are scripture but only in the broader context of the story to which they contribute. The acceptance of the gospels arose due to the ‘logical relation’ between the gospel and the earliest expressions of the regula fidei. ‘Jesus is risen’ – ‘the ‘shortest statement of the gospel’ – calls out for narrative specification of Jesus’ identity. The gospel offered precisely that thickness of description and ‘morally and religiously specific news’ that the Church’s continuing identity required. On the other hand the theology of Paul and the other writers gave specificity to the meaning of ‘is risen’. So ‘Jesus’ is a reference to a real person; ‘is risen’ is a statement of ‘utmost salvific import’, especially in Second Temple Judaism.
The overall argument of the lecture was for the mutual interdependence of gospels and letters, alongside the mutual interdependence of creed and canon. Just as the crisis of identity threatening the Church’s fading regula fidei called for both the narrative of the gospels and the theology of the letters, so the emerging creedal formulations arising out of the regula fidei required the canon.
In something of a introductory survey of the Second-Century Church, Jenson reminded us that it was Clement of Alexandria who was the first to refer to the ‘Old Testament’ and to the ‘New Testament’. He also argued that the NT canon probably would have been formed even without Marcion, but that it may have been a different canon. Still, ‘we cannot say’.
Jenson proceeded to argue that creed and canon ‘fit together’ like two halves of a puzzle: the NT is indispensable to the creedal tradition and the canon is indispensable to the NT. Although he didn’t specify which creeds have authority for the Church (e.g. what ought we make of the Reformation creeds?), he did define the criterion by which that may be determined. He reserved the title ‘creed’ for those statements which derived ‘organically out of the regula fidei‘. Thus this notion of the communal self-consciousness of the first witnesses (he praised Bauckham’s recent study here, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) becomes more and more central to his emerging argument. Canon and creed together as the source of the identity of the Church over time take over where ‘regula fidei’ leaves off.
He made a brief comment on inspiration, stressing that the work of the Spirit – undergirding that circular reasoning we talked of earlier – was a work from within (not from outside) both the writers and the interpreters of the canon. The inspiration of the Spirit, on Jenson’s view, is not a gift separable from the presence of the Spirit. Like other gifts, it is a gift in the self-giving of the Spirit and not apart from that.
The Burns Lectures are definitely warming up. In this lecture Robert Jenson dealt with the Tanakh, or Old Testament (as is his preferred terminology with appropriate qualification: ‘old’ equals ‘prior’ rather than ‘antiquated’) as Christian scripture. He began by clarifying the appropriate questions – the status of the OT as Christian scripture was never questioned and for Jenson this can’t be the Church’s question since it is both absolutely prior (presumably in the sense that it constitutes the world in which the Christian faith is born) and necessary for the Church’s self-understanding. Jenson says that the really interesting question for the first Christians was a kind of obverse to that which questions the status of Israel’s scriptures, namely whether Israel’s scriptures could accept the proclamation of the resurrection. The Church, he insisted, did not accept Israel’s scriptures. Rather, Israel’s scriptures received the Church. Jenson noted that for the century, it was Israel’s scriptures which served the Gospel rather than the obverse. This question is alive even though it cannot be clearly asked since God has already answered it in raising Jesus.
Jenson proceeded to highlight how this question is constantly in the background of NT writing and how the NT demonstrates in the way it tells its story a ‘narrative harmony’ with Israel’s scriptures – relationship between passion narrative and Isaiah 53 being a case in point. The OT prophets were the one’s who provided the answer to ‘why’ did Jesus needed to die. Jenson argued that we cannot ask why the OT Scripture after Christ. Rather, we can only ask how scripture is the way for the Christian community. He also observed that the Church reads the OT as narrative because her gospel is itself a narrative, and because her gospel recognizes itself as the climax of the story told in the OT. Jenson cautioned about ‘unguarded talk of the unique fullness of God’s revelation in Christ’ [is that the mythological Christomonism?]. Such talk requires, says Jenson, the important qualification that the God present to the OT sages is the same Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus taught the scriptures with ‘authority’ says Jenson, ‘that is, as if he were the author … because, in a sense, he is’. Jenson continued this line with comments like ‘Christ prayed the psalms as the leader of Israel’s worship gathered as the body of Christ’. When ancient Israel gathered in the temple with their hymns and lamentations they were gathered as ‘the body of Christ’. At this point he introduced some of the difficult issues that were to arise later in his lecture also. In response to those who wonder whether Christians can pray the Psalms that call for the destruction of their enemies and the bashing of babies against rocks, he suggested, with some rhetorical flourish, that they could pray them at the foot of the cross against the devil and his angels. [We shall return to this claim]
The key question which the latter part of Jenson’s lecture focuses on is not whether the OT is Christian scripture but precisely how it so functions. Jenson’s answer is that it functions as ‘narrative of God’s history with his people’, including the Church. This arises because the Church’s gospel is narrative and it identifies itself as the climax of the narrative of Israel’s history. Why this should be so stems from the character of the ‘regula fidei’ as a ‘plotted sequence of God’s acts’ (economy) on the one hand and the nature of the book the Church wrote as a second testament. He interestingly contrasts the two movements to emerge from old Israel with the destruction of the temple – rabbinic Judaism ended up using the Tanakh differently from the Church because their second testament (Mishnah) had a legal character which meant that they read their Torah with law as a guiding concept. On the other hand the Church with its narrative gospel ended up contextualising law within the narrative of God with his people. This also had a lot to do with Paul’s very complex problematisation of the law.
The ‘how’ question in relation to the role of the OT was forged in contrast to various challenges to the initial role of the OT – Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Platonism. Although there was a certain ‘Church History 101’ feel to the lecture here, Jenson’s characterization of the movements and issues was always interesting. In response to all these developments, but particularly to that ‘monomaniacal Paulinist’ Marcion, Jenson says that Christians have no way of avoiding the fact that the God of Israel is a ‘man of war’ who goes into battle, sometimes for, sometimes against, his people, but a God who takes sides in history. This, says Jenson, is the only alternative to a god who abandons history. God is either involved in fallen history as the God of Israel is, or God is not. If God is to engage a violent history God cannot do so without being a ‘God of war’, that is, without getting God’s hands dirty. And it seems, for Jenson, to be involved is to be implicated as an agent of violence. Like Hans Boersma has also recently argued, Jenson seems to hold that God uses violence as a means justified by God’s ends – that God participates in the world’s violence but he does so by entering into that violence and dying in it, through which violence is undone.
When questioned as to whether there was a third alternative, namely to suffer violence as the crucified one, Jenson responded effectively that in relation to this issue it was not really a third alternative since the crucifixion was an event in which God was both the crucifier and the crucified – and therefore, presumably, not non-violent. He also presumed that the question was motivated by the issue of theodicy.
Three critical questions arise at this point:
The first picks up on the difference the revelation of God in Christ makes. Why did Jenson limit the praying of that psalm to prayers against “the devil and his angels”? If he is to be consistently true to the ‘man of war’ motif, why do not Christians pray against their human enemies and their enemy’s babies? And if they do so, how is this consistent with love for one’s enemies?
Is it necessary that if the Father sent the Son to the cross and the Son went to the cross in obedience to the Father that the God of Israel must be seen as both the crucified and the crucifier? Surely the willingness to be crucified and the willingness to let the Son be crucified (not my will but yours) do not entail the agency of crucifixion. Surely the fact that this evil event is ultimately good (Friday) lies in the good consequent upon it (for the joy that was set before him). There is no paradoxical necessity to make God (in whom there is no darkness) the agent of death. Surely the triune God is here its defeater.
Finally, does the fact that the Old Testament is the Church’s scripture rule out the possibility that it, like the New Testament, is a ‘text in travail’ bearing witness to Israel education by God. Is it not possible to discern in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ a journey within Israel to unlearn pagan violence – we think here of a trajectory which includes the Cain/Abel story, the Akideh, the repentance of God post flood, the Joseph story, story of Job, the servant songs and so much more. So rather than accepting a strand which is taken for granted in the scriptures – God as man of war – why not discern how that strand is being deconstructed in the course of Israel’s journey with God? If such a reading is persuasive then the motivation to question the ‘man of war’ motif need not be motivated by theodicy, or not in any simplistic way.
‘How do we get at the entire personality of Christ? The account in the Gospels is too meager for our purpose, and to many it has been made by criticism more or less unstable. With these data we are more successful in reaching the character than the person, though even the character cannot be depicted on modem, intimate, and psychological lines. The motivation, the pragmatism, cannot easily be traced, if at all. As we go into the Gospels it becomes clearer that they were not put there to depict a character, or to be a monument to a personality, but to lead up to the great crisis and victory which, for the first Christians, made Christ Christ before a Gospel was written, even in rudiment. The Gospels have a tendency. There is a movement in them. They hurry, with many a leap, to a dénouement, to a goal in which the movement “arrives,” where the deep fire flames. They make for a crisis where the center of gravity lies. And, as the interest concentrates, the treatment expands. They are more ample as they draw to the close. They spend a disproportionate space on the passion, and on all the precincts of the Cross. Their stream is never so broad as when it enters the sea and disappears. The Gospels have the work of Christ on the Cross for their goal, as the Epistles have it for their center. Redemption is their Leitmotiv.’ – P.T. Forsyth, ‘Christ’s Person and His Cross’. The Methodist Review 66 (1917), 9-10.
Upending Christianity’s popular notion of Jesus the comforter, the good shepherd, the Lord and Savior, this forceful document reexamines the Christ image of the New Testament gospels—the mysterious stranger, the singular, abandoned, and solitary figure—and rethinks the current role of Western culture through this altered view of Christianity. The existential Jesus has no interest in sin, and his focus is not on an afterlife. He gestures enigmatically from within his own torturous experience, inviting the reader to walk in his shoes and ask the question, Who am I?—establishing Jesus as the West’s great teacher on the nature of being. Incorporating a new and original translation of the Gospel of Mark from its original Greek, this radical reinterpretation identifies the philosophical and cultural significance of the gospels in the modern world, based on the life and actions—rather than the word—of Jesus Christ.
And in a review, Peter Jensen, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, writes that Carroll’s book ‘testifies to the need for our culture to grapple once again with the Jesus of the New Testament. John Carroll is right. This task is inescapable if we wish to undersutand our history and the significance of or civilisation’.
Gary Burge, from Christianity Today, interviews Richard Bauckham here about his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. For those who are yet to read the book, this interview is a great little taster.
The Gospels were written within living memory of the events. They are what historians in the ancient world regarded as the only sort of history that should really be written, that done while eyewitnesses were still accessible. They are what modern historians call oral history.
I think I left Australia at the wrong time. Not only am I missing the Commonwealth Games, but Tom Wright is visiting there too. Here’s what he’s been saying:
‘We Protestants belittle Paul, the Catholics have marginalised him, the Jews are afraid of him, let’s just get together and read the man again, and we’ll find that he’ll lead us all forward.’
‘Now if you say that the body of Jesus stayed in the tomb, and that the disciples were aware of a spiritual presence of Jesus somewhere, then what you’re saying is this is just a local variation on a new kind of spirituality. It’s certainly not a new creation. The point about the resurrection is not that it’s an isolated, odd miracle, in which God does strange conjuring tricks with bones – as one of my distinguished predecessors in Durham once said. The point about Christianity is that it’s the moment when, through Jesus, the creator God launches the project of new creation and says, ‘OK, guys, come on in.’’
‘The whole Bultmannian movement 100 years ago towards demythologisation was simply a misapprehension. Early Christianity was not like that, it really was rooted in what real people said, that their memories were incidents they’d taken part in.’
‘Trying to get the message of the New Testament without the Old Testament is trying to make a tree stand up without a root system. Many Christians ignore the Old Testament and profit still from the fact that this tree is still flowering and bearing fruit. But in fact if you try cutting off that root system, you’ll find the tree falls down dead pretty soon.’