Some stuff on the stove

wood-stove

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]

[Image: from Old Picture of the Day]

The modern time myth

In light of recent inklings of revolution in the Middle East, and in light of a conversation I had just yesterday with a friend about Robert Jenson’s notion of time, I was struck by these words from Richard Bauckham in his characteristically-helpful essay on Jürgen Moltmann’s understanding of time:

‘The modern time myth can be seen as an ideology of the powerful, for whom a future continuous with the present represents the continuation and extension of their position of dominance and privilege. (Here the critique can be applied to the time myth only in its liberal progressivist, not its Marxist revolutionary form.) A model of time which requires the future to be extrapolated from the past and the present, which denies alternative possibilities, radical changes, real novelty, unpredictable irruptions in the historical process, is a model in the interests of those who must suppress alternative possibilities if they are to maintain their own power in the future. It is the ideology which justifies their own power to determine the future … Thus the one-sided secular millenarianism of the modern world is a myth of power which provokes among the powerless and the dominated the hope of an apocalyptic end to the present order and an alternative future …’. – Richard Bauckham, ‘Time and Eternity’, in God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (ed. Richard Bauckham; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 170.

The Answer? Richard Bauckham

BauckhamThanks to all who participated in our latest Who Said It? competition here at Per Crucem ad Lucem. There were definately some intriguing suggestions. The correct answer, however, is Richard Bauckham, and the quote comes from his book Moltmann: Messianic Theology in the Making (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1987), 100. While there were no winners this time, those who guessed Moltmann deserve an extra chocolate.

We shall play again soon.

On Bauckham’s criticism of Moltmann’s exegetical method

The November 2000 edition of International Journal of Systematic Theology includes Stephen N. Williams’ review of Richard Bauckham, ed., God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann, a book I commended here. One of the things Williams’ review highlights is a tension between Bauckham and Moltmann’s exegetical method. Williams writes:

‘Substantively, the most glaringly problematic response is to Bauckham’s essay on time and eternity. This lengthy essay, it should be said, contains constructive material on eschatology and aesthetics which is well worth pondering. In its midst comes a complaint worded with surprising strength, that ‘what little exegesis’ Moltmann offers on the things of time and eternity ‘tends to be remarkably ignorant and incompetent’ engaging in ‘exegetical fantasy’, a ‘substitute for disciplined exegesis’ (pp. 179f.). Moltmann’s reply reveals what is perhaps the Achilles’ heel of his whole theology. Bauckham, he says, is a New Testament scholar and he is not; Bauckham is thus ‘bound to a literal exegesis and committed to the colleagues in his particular field’ whereas he himself must develop his own theological relationship to the texts; he (Moltmann) is a ‘hearer of the texts’ who ‘becomes a friend of the texts, who discusses with them what they are talking about’ but, unlike the biblical Richard Bauckhams of this world, the theologian, or theology, ‘is not subject to the dictation of the texts, or the dictatorship of the exegetes’ (p. 230). One does not need to hold a remotely traditional position on the role of scripture in theology to find the spectre of conceptual chaos looming over Moltmann’s formulations on this point. He has left himself with much to do in a future volume on norms and method in theology’.

April Book Notes – 2

This is my second list of book notes for this month. The first can be read here. It’s been a month of reading around themes of hope. To that end, few are better friends to turn to than Jürgen Moltmann, whose writings grow on me more every year. He seeks to give voice to many of the questions of existential bite that I wrestle with, and along the way creates the invitation for the kind of open and informed conversation that I believe theology ought to be having much more often. So, to the list of highlights:

Richard Bauckham, ed., God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

This is a valuable collection of 6 critical reflections on Jürgen Moltmann’s eschatology (and 8 responses by Moltmann) that arose from a conversation at St Andrews some years back between Richard Bauckham, Trevor Hart, Timothy Gorringe and Moltmann (there’s also a essay by Miroslav Volf, who was not present). Who would not have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that room! Anyone who wants to engage with Moltmann’s impressive vision – and contemporary theology more generally – could do little better than familiarise themselves with these indispensable interactions. I reckon it’s worth buying just to read Moltmann’s brilliant 5-page essay on ‘The Logic of Hell’. The main drawback is that Bauckham (who is the editor after all) spills more than his fair share of ink and it may have been preferable to have some other voices included, or just a shorter book. ♦♦♦½

Brian Hebblethwaite, The Christian Hope (Basingstoke: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984).

In this study, Brian Hebblethwaite provides the reader with a helpful survey of the tradition of Christian hope in both its classical and modern dialects. While sometimes his brevity leads him to so simplify the facts that he distorts them, this book is a useful introduction to some of the key names and issues that have informed Roman and Protestant eschatological discourse. ♦♦♦

Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope (trans. Margaret Kohl; Philadelphia: Fortress, 2004).

This was a re-read for me, and not for the last time. One of Moltmann’s best. ♦♦♦♦

Geoffrey Rowell, Hell and the Victorians: A Study of the Nineteenth-Century Theological Controversies concerning Eternal Punishment and the Future Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974).

I am aware of no more comprehensive – or important – study on nineteenth-century thinking concerning questions of heaven and hell than this one. That Rowell’s work remains a standard text after 30 years is testimony in itself to its abiding value. (The more-recent work by Michael Wheeler, Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology (along with its popular-level version, Heaven, Hell, and the Victorians (1994)) is also very valuable.) While Rowell’s study (too) largely neglects non-conformist voices and, to a lesser extent, voices from within evangelicalism (Anglican or otherwise), the treatment remains a valuable and encyclopaedic study! ♦♦♦♦

John Arthur Thomas Robinson, In the End, God.: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of the Last Things (London: James Clarke & Co., 1950).

Though pushing close to 60 years old (Forsyth did encourage us to ‘think in centuries’, after all!), and in parts showing its age, this short treatment remains a useful study, not least for the fact that herein Robinson outlines some critical contours in which the conversation regarding eschatology should take place. I found the chapters on the resurrection of the Body, and ‘The End of the Lord’, to be the most fruitful. Here’s a few tasters:

‘Indeed, every statement of Christian eschatology, whether of the end of the person or of the world, is an inference from some basic truth in its doctrine of God, and must be judged and tested accordingly. False ideas of the last things are direct reflections of inadequate views of the nature of God’. (p. 31)

‘The hope of immortality is a corollary of faith, but yet of a faith which knows no personal God. In consequence, it is a hope that can hold out no guarantee of the future as a life of personal communion’. (p. 79)

‘The sole basis for such a doctrine [of universalism], as more than wishful thinking, is the work of God in Christ’. (p. 108)

‘The recovered awareness is the “the Christian lives not at the End of Time, but rather from the End and in the End of Time” (Lambert). [The Christian] sees everything from an eschatological perspective. The Biblical world-view is not obtained by regarding all things under the form of a timeless eternity, nor as ideally they might be, but as they are already in Christ, the End’. (p. 125).

Covers an impressive amount of material in an easily accessible way. ♦♦♦♦

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (trans. Margaret Kohl; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004).

It is impossible for me to do justice to this book in a wee book note. Suffice it to say that there is a sense that in this book all that this great teacher has been saying previously – about God, creation, ecclesiology, hope, justice, christology, pneumatology, soteriology, mission, Sabbath, shekinah …everything – reaches its head. Like the best of muscats, this one is to drink slowly, and often. Here’s Moltmann on the fullness of God:

In order to grasp the fulness of God, we are at liberty to leave moral and ontological concepts behind, and to avail ourselves of aesthetic dimensions. The fulness of God is the rapturous fullness of the divine life; a life that communicates itself with inexhaustible creativity; an overbrimming life that makes what is dead and withered live; a life from which everything that lives receives it vital energies and its zest for living; a source of life to which everything that has been made alive responds with deepest joy and ringing exultation. The fulness of God is radiant light, light reflected in the thousand brilliant colours of created things. The glory of God expresses itself, not in self-glorying majesty, but in the prodigal communication of God’s own fullness of life. The glory of God is not to be found, either, in his laborious self-realization by way of his self-emptying, but follows upon that of the eternal day of resurrection (p. 336).

Amen, and Amen. ♦♦♦♦½

James Baldwin Brown, The Doctrine of Annihilation in the Light of the Gospel of Love (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1875).

J. Baldwin Brown was PT Forsyth’s pastor, and his influence on the young Forsyth is obvious in a number of areas, eschatology among them. This series of lectures was penned and presented at a time when conditional immortality was an even more richly debated topic than it is today in the post-Fudge world. While much of what Brown has to say in his critique of annihilationism is inadequately developed, his instincts remain valuable, and his pointing us to towards the broader scope of God’s redemptive purposes as the overflow of his own community of love puts the discussion at least on the right page. ♦♦♦½

April Book Notes – 1

While there certainly remains a place for more lengthy book reviews, I thought it might be useful to just pen a few very brief book notes (and give some scores – ♦ – out of 5) on some of the more significant books I read each month. So here’s a few from April so far. As you can see, I’ve been following a definite theme.

Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (trans. John Bowden; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).

This is one of the most helpful introductions to Moltmann’s thought available. Appreciative, but not uncritical at key points, Müller-Fahrenholz introduces us to the big themes in Moltmann’s major works. Recommended. ♦♦♦

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed., Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell: Papers Presented at the Fourth Edinburgh Conference on Christian Dogmatics, 1991 (Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker, 1993).

Like most collections of essays, this one is a bit hit and miss. The better essays are those by Trevor Hart, David Powys, TF Torrance and Henri Blocher. ♦♦½

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (Boca Raton: Universal, 1999).

See my review here. ♦♦♦

Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge, ed., Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003).

This is a well chosen collection of essays and authors on a timely and important topic for evangelicals. It seeks to engage with Talbott’s thesis of dogmatic universalism which Talbott outlines in the first 3 chapters. His chapter on ‘Christ Victorious’ expands on what I believe is an underplayed theme in his The Inescapable Love of God, and so I was encouraged to see it included here. Biblical, philosophical, theological and historical responses are then offered. Talbott responds briefly in the final chapter. The best responses are those offered by Eric Reitan, David Hilborn and Don Horrocks. Overall, it’s a helpful discussion. It needs an index, but the book is worth buying for the bibliography alone. It’s 18 pages! ♦♦♦

Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2006).

This is the most well argued exegetical treatment on the subject of universalism currently available. It’s well written, and the combination of ‘MacDonald’s’ cogency of argument, respect for the Biblical texts, and personal humility as to his claims makes his advocacy of evangelical universalism most attractive. Those who disagree with his position will find here a case worthy of as humble response. Good bibliography, but no index. ♦♦♦♦

Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2007).

A beautifully-written reflection – it’s almost a poem – that deserves the widest readership. ♦♦♦♦

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? With a Short Discourse on Hell (Fort Collins: Ignatius Press, 1988).

While this wee book is not particularly well written (it may be better in the German), it’s almost impossible to put down, and it really does have not a few flashes of magnificent insight. Von Balthasar’s overall thesis regarding a hopeful universalism is attractive, even if not at every point convincing. His aggregating of quotes reminded me of Bloesch’s work (which I love). A good read. ♦♦♦½

Lindsey Hall, Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism: Are we free to reject God? (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

This is a helpfully lucid outline and critical response to important themes in the theology of Richard Swinburne and John Hick. While her own position is considerably more Hickian than perhaps most evangelical universalists will be comfortable with, Hall is to be commended for avoiding stereotypes and for offering a cogent contribution to an increasingly voluminous discussion on the question of Christian universalism. ♦♦♦

Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, Hope Against Hope: Christian Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999).

Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart pair up again for this project that arose out of number of conferences and the result is a stunning collection of six essays on Christian hope – its context, its value, its basis, its power, its praxis, and its goal. Bauckham and Hart set out not merely to expose modernity’s myth of inevitable progress and postmodernity’s Nietzschian anti-metanarrative and deconstruction of mimetic imagination, but do so by laying before our eyes the broad and graced vision of God’s promises begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and fully realised in the new creation. Inspired by the work of Jürgen Moltmann (to whom the book is dedicated), this is a book that requires careful and reflective reading, stopping regularly to view the terrain, and then returning to again and again to grapple with its implications. This is one to buy, read, keep and re-read. [NB. This may be a biased note as Trevor is my doctoral supervisor]. ♦♦♦♦

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – Bauckham Interview

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.

A snippert:

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.