Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stephen Fowl and the Virtue of Charity in Interpretation

Stephen E. Fowl, Professor of Theology, Loyola College, Maryland, is known best for his work on Paul (see his Ephesians, Philippians commentaries) and his work in Theological Interpretation of Scripture (see here) has an insightful essay on the latter in the Festschrift for Andrew Lincoln, Conception, Reception, and the Spirit, entitled, "Historical Criticism, Theological Interpretation and the Ends of the Christian Life" (173-186). Fowl does not offer specific methodologies on how theological interpretation should be carried out, but rather points the way forward with an eye towards the future of the enterprise, namely, matters of self-definition.

I'd like to focus on one particularly helpful section of Fowl's essay in this post. He notes:
When theological interpretation of Scripture was trying to get a foothold in the academy there was a good deal of overheated rhetoric from both theological interpreters and historical critics about either the necessity of or the bankrupt nature of historical criticism. I think the time is right to reflect on these relationships in less fevered tones. (178)
After Fowl argues that theological interpretation should employ various interpretive practices, including the various methods of historical criticism (182), he remains reluctant to provide a descriptive account of what theological interpretation should look like. Instead, Fowl takes a prescriptive posture towards the practice of theological interpretation, particularly as it pertains on the interaction with those with whom we disagree. Fowl writes:
Rather than pursuing a method, however, to keep all of the various interpretive interests of biblical scholars in some sort of proper order, theological interpreters would be better served by working to cultivate a set of interpretive virtues which will help them make wise judgments about how to keep theological concerns primary in their interpretive work (182; emphasis mine). 
Fowl recognizes that there is a multiplicity of virtues a theological interpreter should strive to cultivate, but insists that the most important are charity and prudence. My focus is on the former, because what Fowl states here, I believe, has ramifications for all sorts of discourse (political, religious, personal, etc.) and exemplifies Jesus' command of loving one's neighbor (Mark 12:31).

Fowl states:

Charity in interpretation is always directed towards maximizing agreement between interpreters. The point of this is not to reduce disagreement because disagreements are bad and upsetting. Rather charity assumes that if interpreters read each other's works in ways that maximize their agreements, then both the nature and the scope of their disagreements will be clearer and more capable of resolution. Such charity is particularly important when dealing with interpreters and interpretations that come from times, places, and cultures far different from our own. When we seek to maximize the agreements between ourselves and such interpreters we diminish the temptation simply to reduce those interpreters to inferior versions of ourselves who can be easily dismissed. In this respect, when historical critics emphasize how it the temporal and cultural 'strangeness' of the Bible, they are emphasizing a necessary, but not sufficient, aspect of interpretive charity. They see the importance of undertsanding intepreters and interpretations on their own terms (183; emphasis mine).
Fowl takes the notion of interpretive charity a step further when he states:
...the charitable interpreter will want to present alternative interpreters and interpretations in the most positive light possible. This might require going above and beyond the work done by those who hold alternative views; this may involve doing more for one's argumentative opponents than they did for themselves. (183).
In case Fowl could be accused of an artificial attitude of interpretive humility, he goes on to state:

It does not require one to support weak or erroneous interpretations in favor of keeping interpretive peace. There is no reason for charitable interpreters to shy away from disagreement or argument. Indeed, this seide of the eschaton, Christians can expect disagreement and debate will mark all their engagements with Scripture. In such a situation, charity is that virtue that will give us the best chance of resolving are disputes well (183; emphasis mine). 
We would do well to follow Fowl's lead. I believe he has his finger on the pulse of something hugely significant. I, for one, tire of the ad hominem attacks that pervade much of the scholarly, social, political discourse one sees on a regular basis. We have lost sight of the mantra, "Disagree without being disagreeable." Fowl has provided an important insight on how our discourse should take place in the scholarly community, and I argue, his point transcends this very community and gets to the heart of Jesus' command to love one's neighbor.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

C.F.D. Moule on the Historical Jesus

Recently, I was reading C.F.D. Moule's article, "The Christ of Experience and the Christ of History;" Theology 81 (1978); 164-172, when I came across this beautiful quote from a section of the article where Moule argues in part that the worshipped Christ "is continuous with a fully historical figure" (170).

Moule states:
Besides Paul, there are the Gospels, representing, at their latest, collections including very early traditions about Jesus. A good deal is thus known about the character of Jesus. Of course the Gospels present us not with photographs but with portraits, and portraits conceived with varying degrees of freedom; they are all interpretations, not slavish chronicles. Each is different; each is more or less impressionistic. And there are those who deny that any clear-cut, consistent impression of a single sitter emerges through the portraits. But-although I would be among the first to agree that he is much too big to be characterized simply, and that any hope of portraying him may have to be through a succession of paradoxical, partly conflicting impressionsyet it seems to me that certain features do constantly recur. We know Jesus as a man with inflexible singlemindedness and a determination as resilient and hard as steel, and yet with a heart of extreme tenderness and feminine sensitivity; an artist of intense poetic directness, capable of grasping and presenting shattering truths pictorially with a few deft strokes of his brush; and, above all, one who took God with absolute seriousness, so that, wherever Jesus was, there was God's sovereignty, releasing men and women from their fantasies and neuroses and letting them stand free and upright as children of God. Where God is obeyed as intensively as Jesus obeyed him, where God is treated as axiomatic, there things happen which do not happen normally (170-171).

Friday, October 16, 2015

Murray Harris' Advice for Learning Greek

One approach I have used in the past to improve my facility in reading Greek was to dedicate myself to memorization of key passages and or complete letters, i.e. my start and stop relationship with memorizing Philippians.

I was delighted to read a brief interview with the great exegete, Murray Harris regarding his latest offering on John in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. When asked what study habits he has found most useful in his decades of research and study Murray states:

 As for the study habit that has proved most helpful in my academic career, it is this. There is no better way to become proficient in Greek, to gain a “feel” for the language, and to become enriched by the theology of the New Testament than the regular memorization of the Greek text. Paste a photocopy of verses or sections of the text on to cards and carefully reflect on it as you go about your daily exercise. 

This statement had provided me with a fresh impetus to try my hand at this once again. After all, if someone the stature of Murray Harris has found this practice helpful, who am I to argue?

For more on this volume and interview, click here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and the Quote of the Day

Sir Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, 13th Baronet and priest of the Church of England, is perhaps known best for his classic commentary, The Fourth Gospel, which was subsequently completed by his student, Francis Noel Davey, due to Hoskyns untimely death. To give one a measure of Hoskyns as a scholar, the great Charles Kingsley Barrett considered him a main influence in his own scholarly career.

In reading the Introduction, "The Problem of the Fourth Gospel"(17-20), Hoskyns discusses the anonymity of the authorship of the Fourth Gospel and states:

"...the author has done his best, apparently with intention, to cover up his tracks. For his theme is not his own workshop, but the workshop of God, and to this we have no direct access! Where the author's personal ideas and reminiscences? Where is his personal experience? No doubt they are there; no doubt, indeed, there is nothing else there but what he thought and what he experienced, but he does not intend us to bury ourselves with him as though he himself were himself the goal of our inquiry. He has, in fact, so burnt himself out of his book that we cannot be certain that we have anywhere located him as a clear, intelligible figure in history. At the end of our inquiry he remains no more than a voice bearing witness to the glory of God. So anonymous is his book, so intentionally anonymous, that there is in it, apart from the shy little 'I suppose' of the last verse, no 'ego' except the 'Ego' of Jesus, the Son of God. The author of the book has effaced himself, or, rather, has been decreased and sacrificed, in order that the Truth may be made known and in order that the Eternal Life which is in God may be declared." (18-19).

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Gordon McConville on the OT and Human Flourishing

Just wanted to pass along a short video that I found interesting. J. Gordon McConville, Professor of Old Testament Theology at the University of Gloucestershire, has some compelling things to say about human flourishing in the OT in this brief interview.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Studying Isaiah with John Oswalt

John Oswalt, Visting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Seminary, best known for his work in Isaiah, particularly his two-volume commentary set in the NICOT series, has a series of  videos on Isaiah as well as Exodus through the Francis Asbury Society. Click here to access the channel on Vimeo.

Jack Lundbom's Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount

Jack R. Lundbom, best known for his magisterial work on Jeremiah, including a 3 volume commentary in the Yale University Press series and a recent stand-alone commentary on Deuteronomy for Eerdmans, has turned his keen interpretive eye towards perhaps the most famous section of the Gospels, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount teaching material (chs. 5-7). The volume, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: Mandating a Better Righteousness is a recent release by Fortress Press

Here are the particulars:

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the best-known repository of the teachings of Jesus and one of the most studied. Amid the considerable erudition expended on the Sermon, however, Jack R. Lundbom argues that it has proven too easy to deflect or disregard the main thrust of the Sermon, which he characterizes as a mandate to holy living and a “greater righteousness.” Through careful attention to the structure of Matthew’s Gospel and the place of the Sermon within it, keen sensitivity to the patterns and themes of Israelite prophecy, and judicious comparisons with other Jewish and rabbinic literature, Lundbom elucidates the meaning of the Sermon and its continuity with Israel’s prophetic heritage as well as the best of Jewish teaching. By deft appeal to Christian commentators on the Sermon, Lundbom brings its most important themes to life for the contemporary reader, seeking always to understand what the “greater righteousness” to which the Sermon summons might mean for us today.
For more info including chapter samples click here .

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Francis Watson's Forthcoming Volume

Francis Watson, one of the leading NT scholars in the world has already produced such groundbreaking works as Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith  and Gospel Writing, has another work on the way that promises to break new ground on how one should read the Gospels. Instead of focusing on the individuality of each Gospel in order to ascertain say, the theological meaning of Mark, Watson aims to read the fourfold Gospel in their plurality, arguing that this is the way the church witnesses to the work of God in Christ.

The book is set to release in April 2016 is priced at $24.99 and is 224 pages long.

Here is the info:

This groundbreaking approach to the study of the fourfold Gospel offers a challenging alternative to prevailing assumptions about the creation of the Gospels and the person of Jesus. How and why does it matter that we have these four Gospels? Why were they placed alongside one another as four parallel yet diverse retellings of the same story? Francis Watson, widely regarded as one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, explains that the four Gospels were chosen to give a portrait of Jesus. He explores the significance of the canonical Gospel's plural form for those who constructed it and for later Christian communities, showing that in its plurality it bears definitive witness to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Watson focuses on reading the Gospels alongside one another rather than in isolation and explains that the fourfold Gospel is greater than, and other than, the sum of its individual parts. Interweaving historical, exegetical, and theological perspectives, this book is accessibly written for students and pastors but is also of interest to professors and scholars.


Prolegomenon: The Making of a Fourfold Gospel More than Four? Fewer than Four? Why "Gospel"? Why the Evangelists' Names? Why These Four? Part One: Perspectives 

1. The First Gospel: Jesus the Jew The Messiah's Double Origin Genealogy as Narrative The Sacred Story and Its Shadow The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah 

2. The Second Gospel: Preparing the Way The Four Faces of the Gospel The Voice in the Desert The Inclusive Gospel An End and a Beginning 

3. The Third Gospel: Magnificat How Luke Became Luke Reassuring Theophilus Reading in Parallel 

4. The Fourth Gospel: Seeing God Three plus One The Johannine Eagle In the Beginning Part Two: Convergences 

5. Four Gospels, One Book The Evangelist: Portrait and Artist Prefatory to a Gospel Order out of Chaos Parallels and Numbers 

6. The City and the Garden Acclamation Reading the Event A Man of Sorrows 

7. Christus Victor The Death of the Messiah Atonement Pattern Life Aftermath 

8. The Truth of the Gospel The Eucharistic Milieu Evangelical Apologetics Form and Content The One Word


Friday, August 28, 2015

Robert H. Stein and the Quote of the Day

Robert H. Stein
Robert Stein's Jesus, the Temple and the Coming of the Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13, is a wonderful study on Mark's most enigmatic chapter. On the heels of Stein's excellent commentary on the Second Gospel in the BECNT series, Stein rounds out his work with a detailed study on this oft disagreed chapter. I recommend it without reservation as I am convinced of Stein's outline and

This brings me to the quote of the day as Stein concludes his interpretation of the command "keep awake" in Mark 13:37 this way:

The exhortation to 'keep awake' indicates that the warnings against apocalyptic preoccupation and frenzy in 13:5-8 and 21-23 are not meant to weaken the blessed hope of the parousia but rather to encourage watching, looking forward to and praying for the coming Son of Man. The longing for the blessed hope of the appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Chris is not primarily a characteristic of certain fanatics on the fringe of the Christian community but has been, is and will continue to be at  the heart off the Christian communtiy's hope and longing. This is why the Christian community has, is and will continue to pray, 'Your kingdom come' and 'Marana tha' (135; italics mine).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Going to Seminary not an Option? Ashland Seminary and Faithlife Offer a Way Forward

My alma mater, Ashland Theological Seminary, is partnering with Logos/FaithLife and their Mobile Ed curriculum to offer a Graduate Diploma in New Testament studies. This is a brilliant opportunity for those who desire to study from home. Want to study under David deSilva and others? Click here for more info.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Oscar Cullmann Audio

Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999), a Protestant Theologian and New Testament scholar, was a pioneer of the ecumenical movement where his dialogue with the Catholic church began in the 1920's, long before ecumenism became fashionable. Cullman served as Professor of New Testament and Ancient Christian History at the University of Basel from 1938-1972. Some of his principle publications were:
Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999)

Christ and Time: The Primitive Conception of Time (1950); Baptism in the New Testament (1950), and the Christology of the New Testament (1959).

Recently, my good friend, Cliff Kvidahl, notified me that a lecture Cullmann gave at SBTS (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) in 1966 was made available online. Click here for the link to the audio.

Friday, August 7, 2015

John A.T. Robinson Video

My good friend, Cliff Kvidahl, alerted me to a video of John A.T. Robinson (1919-1983), a New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, giving an informal lecture, "Gospel of John: Discussion Questions" before students of Southern Seminary in 1982, a year prior to his untimely death from cancer. Robinson was best known for his work Honest to God (1963) and his The Priority of John (1984), where he argued for an early date for John's Gospel, a study that extended his thesis in Redating the New Testament (1976), where he argued that all N.T. writings date prior to 70 AD. To get an idea of his stature as a British Johannine scholar, Richard Bauckham includes him in a dedication in his forthcoming Gospel of Glory (Baker Academic), along with B.F. Westcott, Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, C.H. Dodd, Barnabas Lindars, and C.K. Barrett. Pretty good company, indeed!

John A.T. Robinson (1919-1983)

George Eldon Ladd Audio Lectures

George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982)
George Eldon Ladd, one of the great and tragic figures in the history of New Testament scholarship, was best known for his career at Fuller Seminary (1950-1980) and his magnum opus, A Theology of the New Testament. For an excellent analysis of his life and career, I encourage picking up the excellent volume, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John D'Elia.

I, along with many others I'm sure, have long wondered what Ladd may have sounded like when delivering a lecture. I am happy to say that the Boyce Digital Library has nine audio lectures dated to 1982, the year of Ladd's death. The lectures, focusing on the Kingdom of God and eschatology, were the hallmarks of Ladd's scholarship.

Click here to access and enjoy listening to one of the greats.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

More F.F. Bruce Audio

F.F. Bruce 
Over five years ago, I noted in a post some audio lectures I discovered that featured 1,700 lectures/sermons of scholars and theologians, no one more famous than F.F. Bruce (1910-1990).

Fast forward to the present, and I have discovered seven more audio resources on the Voices for Christ site, which can be accessed here. The provenance of these lectures is unknown, but make no mistake, these are authentic and one of them even features a Q&A with the audience!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Paul and the Gift: A Preview of John Barclay's Book

Perhaps the most anticipated book in biblical studies for 2015, John Barclay's Paul & the Gift, now has an extensive Google Preview where most of the volume can be read online. Click here if you don't want to wait until September.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Calvin Roetzel Remembers Ernst Käsemann

Calvin J. Roetzel, Sundet Professor of New Testament and Christian Studies, Department of Classical & Near Eastern Studies, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota and Arnold Lowe Professor of Religious Studies (emeritus), Macalester College, recently (March 25, 2015) spoke about his friendship and the influence of one of the greatest NT scholars of the twentieth century, Ernst Käsemann. His lecture, "Ernst Käsemann Remembered" delivered at Emory University, Candler School of Theology, Pitts Theology Library, can be found here.

Here is a description of the lecture and the donation Roetzel made to the Pitts Theology Library of his personal correspondence with Käsemann:

"Professor Roetzel was one of several prominent American scholars who worked with Professor Käsemann in Tübingen and brought his influence into North American scholarship. Prof. Roetzel is donating to the Pitts Theology Library his personal correspondence with Prof. Käsemann, a collection of letters that ranges in topics from personal details related to his visit in Tübingen to substantive conversations about Pauline theology. The Pitts Theology Library is using Prof. Roetzel’s donation as the beginning of a curation effort of other American scholars who own Käsemann correspondence. Building upon existing archival items, Pitts has contacted several New Testament scholars who have indicated they are interested in participating in this endeavor. Professor Roetzel’s lecture will provide the context to this collection and celebrate the enormous contributions of Professor Käsemann."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gordon Fee: Master of Pedagogy

Gordon Fee, in this short video clip, provides a brief master class on the effectiveness of using a historical illustration to teach a Biblical principle, namely, a lesson on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 that signalled the death knell of Nazi Germany in WWII, which eventually was consummated on May 8, 1945 (V-Day), eleven months later. Fee ties these events to an illustration with the Kingdom of God.

At one point during this stirring clip (about the 4:16 mark) Fee exclaims:
In the coming of Jesus, God planted his flag on this enemy turf and said "This is my planet! I claim it in the name of the cross!" 

What an inspiring clip! Enjoy!

Murray Harris's John 3:16

Murray J. Harris
Murray J. Harris, professor emeritus of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has written a nice little book on probably the most famous of all Biblical passages: John 3:16.  John 3:16: What's it All About?(Cascade; 2015). To call this a book is a bit of a stretch as it is probably closer to the size of an essay. Weighing in at twenty-nine pages of text (forty-two when endnotes are included), Harris provides a straightfforward exegesis, first, by providing a brief overview of authorship (Harris opines for the traditional understanding of John, one of the twelve being the author), and then by discussing the context of the famous passage, by examining Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus. On this score, Harris does seem to ignore the narrative function of the time of Jesus' and Nicodemus' discussion,(i.e. 'at night') preferring to elucidate the timing of the meaning by purely historical reasons, (e.g. "Jewish rabbis taught that the ideal time to study the law was at night..." ; 3-4).

After this, Harris goes through each phrase contained in the passage (e.g. "For God" [8-9]; "so loved" [10-11]; "the world" [12,13], etc.) Finally, the book ends with a section called "Final Comments" (27-29), where Harris lists six adjectives that describes what "eternal life" looks like (e.g. "Embodied," "Localized," "Personal," "Active," "Corporate," "Permanent").

All in all, this is a good little book for those who want to discover as the subtitle asks "What's it All About?"