Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sinclair Ferguson on the NPP

If you would like to listen to a introductory audio lecture on the New Perspective on Paul from a conservative position I may suggest you try one Sinclair Ferguson recently delivered for the North Texas Presbytery. Although I could make a few criticisms about his understanding of it (others could probably make dozens), he does an exceptional job at presenting its core attractions (which when you are at introductory level is most important). Also he is discerning enough to see that those attractions are largely a result of a poor understanding of the Old Perspective promulgated by many Christians. Sadly I do not know of any single lectures that describe the NPP from within. Maybe they know better than to describe such a diverse phenomena in one lecture.

In addition he rightly calls both sides to remember that the fact that 'Christ died for our sins...' should held to be of first importance.

(HT to Scott on the Wrightsaid email list)

God's mandate to create, imperfectly followed

I found this quite enlightening:

In Genesis 4 we read about Cain (who built a city called Enoch), Jabal (the ancestor of those who live in tents and keep livestock), Jubal (the ancestor of those who play the lyre and pipe), Tubal-Cain (who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools), and Lamech (who wrote poetry [more questionable IMHO]). We thus must not assume that all this cultural activity is a result of sin. On the contrary, these cultural achievements come about when men and women develop the potentials that God has built into his creation. Such pursuits are essentially good, not evil. This is what Hans Rookmaker means in his small book Art Needs No Justification. Rookmaker did not mean that we should embrace art for art's sake. The justification for art is that God has made the world with the human potential for imaginative, artistic activity. Cultural activity is a fundamental way in which we may serve and glorify God. In the context of Genesis 4, however, we are reminded that sinful humans misdirect such good, cultural activities.

(Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 2004, Grand Rapids:Baker Academic, pp. 48-49)

In their jargon this is part of creation/cultural mandate for humanity to 'develop hidden potentials in creation'.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Smart view of legalism which almost balances the horizontal and the vertical element

A more sophisticated view of legalism like the following (but advanced a little further) may silence those who critise the view that Paul was countering legalism in Galatians.

Legalism is primarily a God-ward thing. It's a way of making and keeping yourself acceptable to God. From this flows the legalism that is directed towards one another It's a way of scoring sanctity points in our fellowships, and exerting what one postmodernist called a "truth regime" - it's about pride, power and control. It simultaneously glorifies man and "unsecures" man. Thus its true opposites are grace and faith.

From a good article on Legalism by Dominic Smart on Beginning with Moses. He presents eight anitidotes to legalism, although in my opinion they could do with being a little less abstract and bit more centred on the life, death, resurrection, and assension of the historical Christ. Paul did that I think. Paul also appealled to the experience of the believers and not 'just' doctrine, and although that is against my inclanation, and most modern thought I think we need to find a way.

I may be horribly wrong on Galatians, I have been before and am pretty scared of saying anything on it as a result, but I post what I'm thinking.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A big bad look at a post by Mo

There is in the blogosphere a little Irish person who thinks a lot called Mo, who is intelligent, fun and blunt and provides some interesting reading. Anyhow, he has recently posted some thoughts on the Emergent movement/church/conversation (who cares anyway) which he thinks is missing the point. Some of it got me thinking again about the subject of my previous post, and because I have not got the energy to write well tonight I am going do lots of recounting of what he said.

To get going he claims that McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian" 'seemed to be something of a misnomer [...] for one of his books, because quite frankly liberal Christianity has been round for years' something I have also been tempted to post about parts of Chalke's Lost Message of Jesus but never had the guts to.

Then interacting with another book he starts thinking about what salvation entails. McLaren (he claims) believes that 'Salvation is about being rescued from the cycle of violence, our pattern of hatred and fear, to be a blessing to others' which on first reflection he liked, because it points to how Salvation effects the here-and-now, but then he started to have misgivings. He is concerned that 'when Jesus comes to save us from our sins, it is not merely to get us out of the cycle of wanting to beat our enemies, but to deal with the root problem, God's judgment, and (this is where McLaren is right) for those people to live as God's new community won back to him, their sin dealt with.' More bluntly he says 'the REAL problem isn't sin - ie sin=oppression, but rather God's reaction to sin, which puts his people into exile, into the hands of their enemies. The problem of oppression by enemies comes from God's reaction of punishment to the people's sin - this stands out of the Old Testament on every page.'

Though he does not use these terms he identifies that the issue here is the relationship of salvation from both the penalty and the power of sin. As he points out, many emergent types think a lot about how salvation is from the power of sin (thought of largely in a social way), largely neglecting the idea of the penalty God exacts for it. In contrast Mo believes that 'the central problem Jesus solves is relational; between God and us' not between each of us.

My first reaction was (like in my previous post) look for a middle way that sees salvation from both penalty and power in a 'balanced' way. However now I think Mo is right that the restoring of the God-humanity relationship must come first, and that freedom from Sin's oppression comes out of this. The reason I think this is that the power of sin over us is a result of God's decision to punish us for the first sin. I think this mainly on the basis of Romans 1 where we are told that because humanity 'exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles [...] God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves'. I'll have to think about it a bit more though, as it is perhaps the key point of tension between Emergent-types and Trad-Evangelical-Types.

This has been a poorly written post because it is so parasitic on a someone else's post, please forgive me.

PS There is an interesting point in one of the panel discussions of the Sex and the Supremacy of Christ Conference where Al Mohler and John Piper have a bit of a surprise disagreement about the meaning of Romans 1 as it touches on Homosexuality. Mohler argues that the condition (?) is part of the corruption in-built in humanity as a result of the fall(s), and Piper argues that Romans 1 says it is to be seen as punishment for sin. I may be mischaracterising the debate, because it is a while since I watched it but I though this is interesting if you broaden the subject to be about the penalty and power of all sin (or Sin with a capital 'S').

PPS In all these comments I have still not forgotten Alistair's advocation of the centrality of 'Holy war' to salvation which has its attractions. As always I could write more but you have probably stopped reading and I would have even less of a clue about how to tie that concept in as well. My brain is tired.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A small taste of an Archbishop

I have a friend that, though an Evangelical, really likes to read Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury) he said I should read his response to some theses dreamt up by the infamous Bishop Spong (sounds like a supervillan doesn't it), though I do not know why. Archbishop Williams, like many theologians I infrequently read, seems often be playing a different game with different rules and different conventions when doing theology to what I recognise. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed some bits of his response and thought I would reproduce them for your reading pleasure:

Perhaps the underlying theme in all this is that if you don't believe in a God totally involved in and totally different from the universe, it's harder to see the universe as gift; harder to be open to whatever sense of utter unexpectedness about the life and death of Jesus made stories of pregnant virgins and empty tombs perfectly intelligible; harder to grasp why people thank God in respect of prayers answered and unanswered....

The cross as sacrifice? God knows, there are barbaric ways of putting this; but as a complex and apparently inescapable metaphor (which, in the Bible, is about far more than propitiation) it has always said something sobering about the fact that human liberation doesn't come cheap, that the degree of human self-delusion is so colossal as to involve 'some total gain or loss' (in the words of Auden's poem about Bonhoeffer) in the task of overcoming it. And that human beings compulsively deceive themselves about who and what they are is a belief to which Darwinism is completely immaterial....

But then we discover in Spong's theses that there is, after all, a non-negotiable principle, based upon the image of God in human beings. Admirable; but what does it mean in Spong's theological world? What is the image of a 'non-theistic' God? And where, for goodness' sake, does he derive this belief about humans? It is neither scientific nor obvious.

It is, in fact, what we used to call a dogma of revealed religion. It is a painful example of the sheerly sentimental use of phraseology whose rationale depends upon a theology that is being overtly rejected. What can it be more than a rather unfairly freighted and emotive substitute for some kind of bland egalitarianism - bland because ungrounded and therefore desperately vulnerable to corruption, or defeat at the hands of a more robust ideology? It is impossible to think too often of the collapse of liberalism in 1930s Germany.

Praise God for salvation

How can you read the following and not sing in your heart?

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:17-23)

I wished I sung more praise on this blog; I seem to do a lot of bare analysis. I am already wondering about the purpose of the 'for' in v. 23.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Saved from the penalty and the power of sin

waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

(Titus 2:13-14)

It is an old cliche that Christ died to save us from the penalty and the power of sin. But the fact that my pastor last Sunday preached from the above and only managed to preach on our salvation from the penalty of sin got me thinking. It got me quite cross for a while actually, but he had some good things to say though later, and in the light of my own common blindness to the obvious repented.

By contrast it seems to me that Tom Wright fans often like to talk only about our freedom from the power of sin. Although they have a lot more universal view of what that phrase means than my pastor probably has (although I should be careful here).

The need to keep both together should have something to add to theories of atonement (penal substitution + Christus Victor). But whether it does or not we all must try and keep both of Christ's blessings in our hearts and our minds.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The ideal of the NT church

John Van Devender from Deeper Thought makes the following observations, in an interesting post picked up upon by Dave Bish and JollyBlogger:

There does seem to be certain strain within Evangelical Christianity, throughout the ages, which attributes to the "primitive" church an almost Rousseau/Voltairesque expectation of purity.

Which got me wondering why that was when there were so many contrary examples in the bible (e.g. the Corinthians, the Galatians etc.). With only a little reflection I can only think of three places to lay the blame.

  1. Luke. Acts after all emphasises the 'good' side of the church, and its great victories, ignoring most of the rest. However, we should not be too hard on Luke, because he provides a valuable view of the church being used by God/Jesus Christ/The Holy Spirit, who in reality are the one(s?) who rightly get all the credit in Acts. God is doing great things in the Church now, its just you get distracted by all the bad things people are doing.
  2. Overly quick application of the letters. Too often we forget that the letters of the NT were not written to us. The critisms of Paul etc. are seen as only belonging to us and we forget about the original addressees (after all it is a lot easier to remember the narrative pictures of the church provided by Luke). So our only raw materials to build a picture of the NT church are the narratives in Acts.
  3. A way of thinking that makes the ideal of the perfect church (as an organisation) the point of Christianity. What I mean is, we are thinking about perfection on a this-worldly scale, and not an future-orientated/God-centred one, and we need an aim, and a goal. To create this we make the NT church in our own idealised image so it can be our own semi-realistic goal too. I do this all the time. Dreaming of how my church/cell can be changed (usually by me!) into this perfect church which is really Christ-centred. But without me realising it, the church has become the centre.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who Jesus and Peter ate with

"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:11)

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:11-12)

I get the feeling that the people Jesus ate with is a favourite topic of a lot of people these days. I am currently reading a recently released book on it by Craig Blomberg, called Contagious Holiness: Jesus' Meals With Sinners and I suspect Conrad Gempf's book with the title Mealtime Habits of the Messiah: 40 Encounters with Jesus has something to say on it too. I think emergent types are particularly fond of the theme. And it is a great truth full of encouragement for 'Gentile sinners' like me(Gal 2:15).

However, I wonder that in all my reading on Galatians recently nobody seems to have made the connection between Jesus' eating with sinners and Peter worried about becoming a 'sinner' (cf. Gal 2:15,17) by eating with Gentiles. Maybe it is because, although it is widely argued against, many scholars still do not think that Paul knew many of the Gospel stories. But surely it has much light to give. That the church as the body of Christ and possessing the Holy Spirit should be confident in its contagious holiness, as opposed to contagious sin, which we have to work hard to avoid is clearly a central gospel truth.

No more Christian Counter Culture?


What is this all about?

I just swung be the ChristianCounterCulture website (connected to The Discerning Reader bookstore) today because they had a newsletter due out soon, but the screen reads as above!

Maybe a few tears will be shed, though probably not by some (e.g Phil Johnson). But I for one will miss it. I have the hint of an idea why it may have happened, but to be honest the creators of the site always confused me.

It never was predictable in any way.

-----------Update (6th Sept)-----------

Well its implosion has been completed and now you cannot access even the Discerning Reader bookstore without a password. Strange goings on. Some prayer for the people behind it would no doubt be a good thing.

Churches within churches

Many churches have dealt with the problem of a split between those who love modern worship songs and those who prefer more traditional hymns and liturgy by effectively splitting into two churches. In fact I cannot think of an large(ish) evangelical Anglican church that I have attended which has not gone down this route. However, I cannot help feeling that this is a symptom of how we have downplayed God in our church life, and promoted a kind of consumerism.

In my opinion there are a number of benefits from uniting, although the likely fallout may be bad. Firstly I think both groups would benefit much from the other group's encouragement and rebuke. Secondly instead of making the style of worship seem like something of great importance, this self-sacrificing way of worshipping together would show that it is the 'joy set before us' which is of the most importance. It would therefore be a powerful witness to the world. As Leslie Newbigin famously said the church is the 'hermeneutic of the gospel' and churches which are not both diverse and united, as the church will be for most of the rest of time, are denying in part the power of God to achieve reconciliation between God and humanity, and between humanity itself.

Perhaps the fall out would be in reality too painful, and not worth it. But I have hope that with communication from the top-down about its Christ-exhalting benefits it would be worth it. Perhaps also, as someone who is not in church leadership of any sort, I should shut up lecturing like some kind of wise-guy with no responsibilities in the comfort of my ivory tower. Instead I will trust you to be discerning, and ask you to remember my lack of both knowledge and experience.

By the way though, Tim Chester (both knowledgeable and experienced from The Crowded House, Sheffield) raises some interesting questions about this matter in his essay Christ's Little Flock: Towards an Ecclesiology of the Cross which is a gem of an essay, because, although it raises as many questions as it answers they are all questions we need to think about. Here is a taster:

The gospel is good news not only of reconciliation with God, but also with other people. People of different ethnic backgrounds and social classes are united through the gospel. To grow homogeneous churches is to evacuate the gospel of a key part of its meaning. It is to weaken the demands of Christian discipleship. And it leaves the church vulnerable to partiality in ethnic conflict. If the church becomes associated with one social group it will also be associated with the political aspirations of that social group. The church must witness to the reconciling work of the cross.

Ageism and the church

Here are some thoughts of Craig Blomberg, which mirror some of my own.

It is increasingly common in the United States for twenty-year-olds to bridge traditional ethnic barriers as they form recreation and service. By their own admission, ageism remains a far greater problem than racism or ethnocentricity. The older university student who has already raised a family may find it as hard to fit in as the person of the wrong 'race' did a generation ago. International Christian student ministry could target this kind of population as an unexpected example of the marginalized.

(p. 178, Blomberg, Craig Contagious Holiness: Jesus' meals with sinners, Downers Grove and Leicester: IVP/Apollos)


Both Jeff Meyers and Mark Horne bemoan the use of technical terminology, even including words like salvation. It seems to me that all discourse within a group always creates its own jargon, and that in that context it is a helpful way to make sure people know what you are talking about without being too verbose. Every word carries with it so much meaning. However, the churches talk should be concerned more with those outside the discourse and communicating with them. And as Mark is at pains to point out at the moment, although we are crucified with Christ we still need to be putting to death sin in ourselves, which means challenging ourselves by not hiding behind jargon we feel comfortable with.

My thoughts are half-formed as always here, but I just post what I'm thinking.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Forthcoming commentaries

Jeremy the Parableman has done some stirling work collating all the information he can find on who is writing what commentary, for what series at the moment, in a post on forthcoming commentaries. There are probably a few errors but he deserves a medal anyway because there is a huge amount of information here.

The hat tip for pointing the post out to me must go to EWZ at Foolish Blog who like me is most looking forward to O'Brien on Hebrews and also seems to be a bit concerned about Don Carson's work load. I am slightly less worried about Don though, after all he has been saying he has a commentary on John's letters for years (e.g. in the Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God) and by the sound of his comment on it during his recent lectures on the New Perspective he has barely even begun thinking about writing one on Galatians. On top of all that he has always been prolific, despite his hectic lecture schedule, and has not written much lately probably because he is tied up doing all these commentaries.

Other commentaries I am looking forward to are Mark Seifrid on 2 Corinthians, Richard Bauckham on John, John Goldingay on Isaiah 40-55, Darrell Bock on Acts and Scot McKnight on James. However that selection is more a reflection on my love of big name scholars which is part of what drives the overproduction of commentaries and reduces their usefulness. Nowadays (oh yes I'm old really) the number of commentaries seems to rise even faster than the number of translations. Oh for some more interesting monographs instead!

Graham Beynon, Elijah, Elisha, and best of all Jesus

I enjoyed reading the BT Briefing Chariots, Whirlwinds And Jesus - 2 Kings 2v1-25 by Graham Beynon recently. It was a really good discussion on the passage narrating the departure of Elijah from earth and his handing over to Elisha. It was like what all biblical studies should be. It stuck closely to the text, interacted with opinions going around but without discussing the interpretations to the extent that no interpreting was done. It drew the canonical connections, and so put Jesus at the centre. I encourage you all to read it.

It was not groundbreaking for me but I still learnt a lot. He drew canonical parallels as follows.

Moses-Elijah-John the Baptist

Although they were to differing extents outside the scope of the article I would have loved him to say something about:

  • The miracle working ministries of the six. Moses was one of the most publicised miracle workers of the bible, Joshua and Elijah a little less so. John the Baptist famously did no miracles (John 10:41), but both Elisha and Jesus did lots of miracles, and very similar ones at that. What are the connections we are meant to draw here. Particularly for Jesus' original audience, in what way were they meant to recall Elisha?
  • Similarly are we meant to draw any particular connections when Moses and Elijah are chosen to appear with Jesus at his transfiguration?

No doubt much has been written on this subject by various people but I've missed them all. Maybe I should spend less time blogging and more time reading; there is probably something in one of my commentaries. Then again they probably have too narrow a focus to make much of these connections. Graham Beynon mentions a few books but he does not seem overly impressed by any of them. hmmm...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Steve Chalke on the grill...

...but this time not by orthodox evangelicals.

At the moment I am reading the infamous The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann hoping obtain my own opinion of it. So far I am struck by how well written it is, how theological it is (rare in pop Christian books), and how most of that theology is a bit sub-Christian (in my opinion). I may return to my general thoughts on the book in future, but being a lazy blogger I like extensive quotes, and I really enjoyed this story of Chalke on BBC Radio Five Live and thought I would share it:

A few years ago I was taking part in a live debate on the BBC's Radio Five Live, Drive Time show. One of the stories the programme was covering was on the issue of adultery. As we chatted the presenter chipped in, "Why is God so miserable? Why has he got such a downer on everything we do?" And then, building into a real anti-God kind of rant, she added, "Don't do this and don't do that. Don's commit adultery. It's pathetic."

I interrupted her with a question. "Does the Bible really say, 'Don't commit adultery?'"

"Yes, it does," came her rapier reply.

"Well, I've never read that bit," I said.

You know very well it's in there," she retorted. "In fact, it's in there twice. It's one of the Ten Commandments."

Oh, now I know what you are talking about," I exclaimed. "It's just that I didn't recognize it at first because of the tone of voice you were using."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You're absolutely right," I continued. "God does say that we shouldn't commit adultery, but not in the way you've read it. You see, before he gives any of the Ten Commandments he introduces himself as the God who loves Israel. He lets them know that he is for them and not against them. He wants the best for them. God didn't sit in heaven making a list of all the things he knows human beings like to do and then outlaw them all to spoil our fun. Rather he knows the pain and heartache that we will cause others and ourselves if we pursue agendas that are contrary to the way he made us to be. The Ten Commandments is a loving God saying, 'Look, I am the God who loves you. I'm one your side. I got you out of slavery. I'm the best deal you've got going for you Trust me. Don't steak. Don't lie. Don't abandon me. Don't commit adultery, because if you do it will unleash destructive powers that will slowly over-shadow you, destroying you, your families and your society. Trust me. Don't be stupid.'"

(pp.52-53, Chalke, Steve, and Mann, Alan, The Lost Message of Jesus, Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2003)

Of course the problem with sin is not just that it is bad for us, and the punishment for sin is not simply an outflowing of a foolish act. But I enjoyed that.

the lost message of Jesus?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The devils brew

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

(Galatians 5:19-26)

I was out with friends from work on Tuesday, and while they were attempting to get wasted, I was attempting to stay sober. This successful attempt was inevitably noticed, and the inevitable questions followed. I did not answer these very well, and their understanding was 'Dave does not get drunk because that it is in the bibles list of bad things', which as the above shows is certainly true. The inevitable follow up questions were along the lines of what else the bible lists as bad (e.g smoking? gays?). How frustrating!

I have talked about this kind of situation with other Christians and the general conclusion is you have to take the wide angle view of the issue so bringing in Jesus, then the Gospel etc. etc. I think that is exactly right although in practice it can be hard, due to both my sinful desire to duck the issue, and the shortened attention span of the average drunken friend. However, thinking about the other passage, I think the way I zoom out may be a bit different to how I would previously.

My probable response to why I do not drink to excess last week would have been along the lines of drunkenness is idolatry which is bad because God is better. There is a problem with that explanation I think as it tends to equate drunkenness with alcoholism, which is more clearly idolatry, but for want of a better solution I have largely ignored that problem. In the light of the above passages and those like it I may have to change my route to God from drunkenness, if you know what I mean. The vices listed here have a common theme - the breakdown of human relationships, a common problem with the agitators in Galatia. The fruit of the Spirit in contrast can largely be charactarised by attributes leading to, and part of, healthy relationships. All very human centred for a Calvinist like me but its the Word of God, so its me that has to change and not the text.

Maybe next time I should begin with how drunkenness is bad because it is not loving(the primary dimension of the fruit of the Spirit). Then go on to why love is part of the order of creation which honours God, or something like that. I feeling my way here, and far from an answer - help is always welcome.

P.S. I did not make it clear, but I did not unload the theology on my friends on Tuesday, for both good and bad reasons. I have however offloaded theology before to my non-Christian friends though on more theological issues. To be honest I know no other way, as all my life is intertwined with it.

P.P.S. I recall here Ian Stackhouse's sermon on Galatians here on the distinctive marks (boundary markers?) of the Christian, and how they are all negative and legalistic, not positive and Christ-centred. I do not want to be part of the problem. (See previous post for more on Stackhouse.)

Gospels and biography

As you may have gathered I am reading New Testament History by Ben Witherington at the moment, which I am cheerfully ploughing through at break neck speed. It has started well, with the 'Prolegomenon' containing an interesting point. That I choose to blog on this point may reveal my ignorance to some, but I am not trying to impress anyone, just record my thoughts.

BW briefly but convincingly shows how Matthew, Mark and John should be considered a examples of ancient biography. Ancient biography has many different concerns to modern biography and he outlines these differences. Summing up the aim of ancient biography to be a description of a person (their character and identity), not a description of the events surrounding their lives. So Matthew, Mark and John primarily seek to answer the question 'Who is Jesus?'.

Most interesting to me though was that BW did not think of Luke as ancient biography but (along with Acts) a ancient historical monograph! 'Ancient historiography' BW asserts 'by comparison to ancient biography, focused more on events than on persons and personalities'. Like ancient biography it still wanted to teach something of moral importance, not just record bare facts, but it did it in a different way.

I am not sure how all this should affect my bible study, but I am sure it should affect it somewhat. I mean, Luke a different genre to Mark! That seems to me quite a big deal, I'll have to think some more. Its just another indication of the poverty of my knowledge of the Gospels.

The preaching of Ian Stackhouse

Ian Stackhouse's preaching both encourages and rebukes, and I benefit from listening to it (you can find much of it here). I have been listening to what he says on Galatians and Jeremiah recently, and it has been particularly good to hear him preaching in a way faithful to so much of what I think is in Galatians. I only wish I could communicate the same things as well.

Most of you will not know who he is, but he is the pastor of Guildford Baptist Church, England. He is a charismatic who defies all the stereotypes. He seems to read incredibly widely and has written a book called The Gospel-driven Church. He will probably never become really well known though (a bit like one of my other favourite preachers, Mike Cain in Bristol). But more important than all the above is that he has passion for the Gospel and desires to see people grow in Christ-likeness.

Tom Wright and Jesus' self-understanding

An old historical question, that most educated people would have a stab at answering, is why the Roman Empire after centuries of domination fell to a bunch of barbarians. It seems to me that people have always sought to answer that question by looking at how the Roman Empire failed from within. I'm sure that this is not true in academic circles but it is certainly true in how I have thought about the question; not that I have thought about it that much. One day though I read an article which laid the blame at the doors of stronger barbarians, instead of weaker Romans and I kicked myself. It amazes me how you can miss the obvious by looking only down the paths you have looked down before.

You may be wondering what I am talking about but not long ago I had a similar epiphany moment hearing a question to Tom Wright following a lecture a Regent College (I think it was in his Jesus and the Victory of God series). Tom Wright was on one of his favourite topics: Jesus' opinion of who he was and what he was here to do. Tom Wright believes that Jesus probably did not think of himself to be the second person of the Trinity, though he did think he was the Messiah. Not because he was not, but simply because he did not know everything while on earth (cf. Matthew 24:36). Following the lecture in which the birth narratives were not discussed, the questioner asked what effect the virginal conception, presumably mentioned to Jesus by his mother, had on Jesus' self-understanding. Tom Wright instead answered the question he wished he had been asked, affirming the rationality of belief in the virgin birth. Such a question is of course not happening in the mainstream academic discourse and so Tom Wright had little to say, despite strongly believing in its factuality.

Moral 1: Sometimes academic biblical studies can be as much a hindrance as a help.

Moral 2: It is hard to do good theology with one arm of your faith tied behind your back.

Witherington on the Birth Narratives

I read this and thought it was quite interesting from an apologetic point of view:

We need to dismiss the view that the stories in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 are of some ilk different from other Gospel stories. In fact, they reveal the same mixture of the mundane and the supernatural we find elsewhere in the Gospels, and the stories are narrated with the same sort of theological perspectives as well. Like the passion narratives, the birth narratives, particularly Matthew's, are interlaced with scriptural citations precisely because these were portions of the Jesus story that would most need justification and explanation. Early Jews were not looking for a messiah miraculously born of a virgin [...] There is no evidence that early Jews saw [Isaiah 7:14] as a prophecy about a virginal conception [...] The notion of the virginal conception seems already to have existed prior to Matthew's connection of the idea with this Isaianic text, as its independent attestation in Luke without such a scriptural connection confirms [...] When all is said and done, it is easier to explain the Gospel evidence on the assumption that the virginal conception was a historical event that the Gospel writers tried to explain, albeit somewhat awkwardly, than to assume that this is a theological idea dreamed up by some early pious Christian.

(Witherington III, Ben, New Testament History: A Narrative Account, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001)

P.S. take note Ben Witherington, a newcomer to blogging has recently started bloging on biblical stuff worth reading. About time - I have high hopes for more.