Sunday, 30 April 2006

Why am I excited?

Why am I so excited? Why is my heart pounding in my chest? Why are my palms sweaty with anticipation?

The answer should be obvious: I have finally received my copy of Robert Sherman’s new book, The Shift to Modernity: Christ and the Doctrine of Creation in the Theologies of Schleiermacher and Barth (T&T Clark, 2005). Barth’s relationship to Schleiermacher is an immensely fascinating and important topic. There are not nearly enough books that explore this relationship in detail—so I can hardly wait to read this one.

As you know, there are many different ways to enjoy a good book. But in this case, I think I’ll sink into a warm armchair on a cool, quiet evening with a nice glass of Pinot Noir.

Psalm 75: creation and consummation

“It is useless to ask here whether the Psalmist [in Psalm 75] thought of a ‘historical’ or ‘eschatological’ event. Here, as elsewhere in the Psalms, the perspectives are commingled. Every historical victory of Yahweh over the adversary is on the one hand a confirmation of his act of creation, and on the other hand a pledge of his coming, final blessing. History is the road by which the king strives ‘conquering and to conquer’ (Rev. 6:2) from creation to consummation.”

—Hendrikus Berkhof, Christ the Meaning of History (London: SCM, 1966), p. 43.

Friday, 28 April 2006

On the move

Purgatory—if such a place exists—will be a removalist truck that is forever being unloaded, but never emptied....

Well, as you might have guessed, I’m currently in the midst of moving house. So I’ll probably be offline for a couple of days.

Longing for beauty

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things ... are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

—C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in Transposition: And Other Addresses (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949), p. 24.

Beauty

“Beauty walks a razor’s edge,
Some day I’ll make it mine.”

—Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm” (1975)

Thursday, 27 April 2006

Every child’s dream

One of the most amusing things about children’s toys is the exaggerated way in which the benefits of the toys are described. The packaging will boast of all the ways this toy will improve your child’s learning and development.

As a father of two young kids, I’ve seen plenty of this toy-speak. The other day, we gave our 18-month-old daughter a little 4-page book of animal stickers. The front page included the following announcement:

“It’s every child’s dream to own this special playing book collecting all memories of childhood. It will record all steps of your growth and create a whole new feeling for your books.... Don’t let wonderful remembrance be lost easily from your life. Share your treasure; enjoy with your family and friends.”

Every child’s dream? Four pages of animal stickers?

Well, I don’t know if all my daughter’s dreams came true within the 60 seconds that it took her to remove every last sticker from the book. But she did look rather pleased with herself as she marched off down the hallway with a hippopotamus stuck to her forehead.

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Resurrection controversy

Mike Bird has written a very nice response to my critique of his post on the resurrection. I suppose I’ll have to agree with him now, after all the flattering things he says about me!

In any case, flattery aside, Mike seems to express himself in a more balanced way in this response. He points out that the New Testament does not define the resurrection in any narrow way, but it only offers certain “boundaries” within which differing interpretations are possible. This is exactly how I see it too—there is no occasion for theological relativism, since the New Testament witnesses themselves (without defining resurrection in any narrow way) set the boundaries for how “resurrection” should be understood.

So I suppose Mike and I would simply disagree about where these boundaries lie. Certainly I would want to place people like Bultmann, Schillebeeckx and Borg within the boundaries (regardless of whether I agree with them), since in cases like these the issue is not whether “God raised Jesus from the dead,” but only the precise way in which this event should be interpreted.

For more discussion of this controversial topic, and for some attempts to adjudicate between Mike and me, see also the posts by Sean du Toit, Richard Hall, Denny Burk, Aaron Ghiloni and Ron Short.

And thanks especially to all those who contributed such marvellous comments in response to my earlier post. I found this discussion remarkably helpful, and it has given me a lot to think about. Has any other blog out there ever been graced with such brilliant and amiable readers?

What does resurrection mean?

“[W]hat does ‘resurrection of the dead’ mean? The best help for understanding this is to abandon any effort to form an image or idea of it. That Jesus is risen from the dead does not mean that he returned to this earthly life as one who has death ahead of him once again. But it means that he, the dead one, has death (not just dying, but death) finally behind him, and is finally with God, and for this reason is present in this earthly life. What resurrection from the dead means can only be understood when we begin to apprehend what ‘God’ means.”

—Gerhard Ebeling, The Nature of Faith (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), p. 71.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Believing in the resurrection

In a very lively post, Mike Bird critiques N. T. Wright’s view that one does not need to believe in bodily resurrection in order to be a Christian. Wright says: “I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection. But the view I take of them—and they know this—is that they are very, very muddled.... I do think, however, ... that for healthy Christian life individually and corporately, belief in the bodily resurrection is foundational.”

To all this, Mike replies: “No!” He points out that according to early Christian belief, it is confession of Jesus as the “Risen Lord” that marks a person out as a Christian. He also notes that “the belief that Jesus ‘died and rose’ was the most basic and primitive Christian confession,” and that the resurrection is bound up with the gospel (as Paul argues in 1 Cor. 15).

On this occasion, I will have to side with N. T. Wright against Mike. I think Mike is exactly right about the centrality of resurrection in the primitive Christian kerygma. But the crucial question is whether any particular theological interpretation of resurrection belongs to the heart of the gospel. And it seems to me that the New Testament itself resists such a view. In fact, the New Testament witnesses don’t offer any precise theological interpretation of the resurrection. None of the Gospels tries to describe or explain the event of resurrection at all—rather, the resurrection is precisely the mystery at the centre of the story of Jesus.

The closest thing to a definition of “resurrection” in the New Testament is of course Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 15. But even here, Paul focuses sharply on the discontinuity between the physical body and the resurrected body, so that the precise meaning of “resurrection” is made all the more mysterious. Paul elucidates the concept only with the aid of various metaphors—and that is just the point! The precise meaning of “resurrection” remains unknown; it remains an event of the world to come, whose meaning lies beyond the horizon of our current understanding.

Resurrection is not a this-worldly reality; it is eschatological reality. We can grope toward its meaning through metaphors like resuscitation or awakening from sleep. We can grope toward its meaning through narratives like Mark’s story of the transfiguration (Mk. 9) and Matthew’s story of the opening of graves (Matt. 27). But we cannot define the concept of resurrection itself. When we speak of the resurrection, we are speaking of a mystery.

So to make any specific theological interpretation of “resurrection” an essential component of Christian faith seems to be at odds with the New Testament witnesses, and with the eschatological character of resurrection.

I myself believe in “bodily resurrection,” and I think this concept is the most faithful way of following the New Testament witnesses—but I could never tell you exactly what “bodily resurrection” means, and I would never want the term to become anything more than a metaphor. Other Christians interpret the resurrection using different terms and different metaphors; in different ways, they are still trying to affirm the resurrection of Jesus.

Needless to say, some interpretations of the resurrection are mistaken, and some are closer to the truth than others. But the one thing that matters ultimately is faith in the “Risen Lord”—not one’s ability to define this faith in correct conceptual terms.

Human-fishers

Over at Patrick’s new blog Theologia Viatorum, there’s an insightful post about Jesus’ calling of Peter and Andrew. Patrick quotes Karl Barth’s interpretation of this calling: “when Jesus himself makes his debut as prophet, his call to discipleship implies commissioning to [the disciples’] own future speech and action.”

Monday, 24 April 2006

Continuous creation: critiquing Pannenberg

There were some very interesting and insightful comments here about Pannenberg’s view of “continuous creation.” I myself am also critical of the concept of continuous creation, even though I think Pannenberg offers a very challenging and nuanced way of understanding the concept.

I think Pannenberg has good reasons for wanting to revive the idea of a continuous creation. On the one hand, he wants to relate “creation” to the world’s temporal existence as a unified whole, which also means viewing the world eschatologically (since the whole is known only from the end). And on the other hand, Pannenberg wants to relate “creation” scientifically to the expansion of the universe and to the evolutionary process of the emergence of new forms of life. Further, his view of continuous creation rests on an awareness that “creation” in the Old Testament is not always depicted as an absolute beginning (as in the Genesis stories), but also as the creative act of God in Israel’s history (as in Deutero-Isaiah). And this is an important point, since it seems to me that the latter is really closer to the heart of Israel’s faith, and closer to the heart of Old Testament theology.

So although I think the notion of continuous creation should be criticised, I also think that Pannenberg’s account offers some important emphases and correctives that we should try to come to terms with in any contemporary doctrine of creation.

Pannenberg on continuous creation

“[P]reservation goes with creation. Nor are we to view preservation simply as an unchanging conservation of the forms of creaturely existence laid down at the first. It is a living occurrence, continued creation, a constantly new creative fashioning that goes beyond what was given existence originally.... God’s action, then, is seen to be a single act that embraces the whole cosmic process, that includes at the same time many individual acts and phases, and that thus leaves room for a plurality of creatures....

“Critics of the understanding of preservation as continued creation have objected that it calls into question the independence of creatures and their actions, or at least their identity and continuity. But these fears are groundless if God is faithful to himself in his creative action. The faithfulness of God guarantees as well as makes possible the emergence and persistence of continuously existing forms of creaturely reality and their ongoing identity and independence.”

—Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 2:34-35, 40.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

Faithful reading

“Reading Holy Scripture is ‘faithful’ reading: exegetical reason caught up in faith’s abandonment of itself to the power of the divine Word to slay and to make alive.... [T]o read Holy Scripture is to participate in the history of sin and its overcoming; to encounter the clear Word of God; and to be a pupil in the school of Christ.”

—John B. Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 86–87.

The Bible as interpreter

“The word of God is not interpreted—it interprets! ... The direction of the flow between interpreter and text that has dominated modern biblical criticism from its inception is reversed.... It is not the text that requires interpretation, but the interpreter.”

—Robert W. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic and the Word of God (New York: Harper, 1966), pp. 11–12.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

Do the heavens declare?

I like the following quote, because I think it embodies a constructive Christian approach to a “theology of nature.” The point here is not to learn about God or prove God’s existence through an observation of nature that is independent of God’s self-revelation. Rather, beginning with what we know about God through revelation, we can also become open to the natural world in a new and richer way. Here’s what the famous astronomer Owen Gingerich says:

“I am not a theologian, nor have I solved the riddles of existence.... I cannot prove that God exists, or that God’s claim on our lives is what makes life ultimately meaningful. But do the heavens declare the glory of God? I think so. The universe is so full of such wonderful things that I can hardly think otherwise. Holding this view makes my understanding of the world richer and more coherent. But I can’t prove it.”

—Owen Gingerich, “Do the Heavens Declare?” in The Book of the Cosmos, ed. Dennis Danielson, p. 528.

Creation as a trinitarian act

“In the free self-distinction of the Son from the Father, the independent existence of a creation distinct from God has its basis, and in this sense we may view creation as a free act not only of the Father, but of the trinitarian God.”

—Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 2:30.

Thursday, 20 April 2006

Freedom and theological arguments

“While arguments of physics, based on observation, experiment and mathematics, have a logically compelling character, the philosophical-theological arguments for the acceptance of a meta-empirical reality can at best be an initiation and an invitation. Thus in these latter questions there is no intellectual compulsion, but rather freedom.”

—Hans Küng, Der Anfang aller Dinge (2005), p. 95.

Theology and personal conviction

“A dogmatic treatment of doctrine is not possible without personal conviction.... It is to be required of every evangelical student of theology that he or she be engaged in forming a personal conviction regarding every proper locus of doctrine.”

—Friedrich Schleiermacher, Brief Outline on the Study of Theology, pp. 72, 78.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Quote of the day

“In order to be able to ask, one must want to know, and that means knowing that one does not know.”

—Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Crossroad, 1989), p. 363.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Karl Barth’s study

Professor Ray Anderson of Fuller Theological Seminary kindly sent me some pictures that one of his students took while visiting Karl Barth’s home study in Basel. Here they are, for your enjoyment.

The three stages of Barth’s Römerbrief—handwritten, typed and printed.


To the right of the chair, three metres of Mozart books—right between the Church Fathers!


Calvin and Mozart on the same level.

A change of scenery

For the rest of the week I’ll be in Sydney, giving some lectures on theology and science at Moore Theological College. Although I won’t be online much, I’ll still try to find time to keep posting throughout the week.

If you’re in Sydney and you happen to be looking for me, you’ll probably find me sitting here, drinking cup after cup of the country’s finest coffee...

Balthasar on Holy Saturday

I’m a few days behind with this one: but at Gaunilo’s Island there is a superb post on Hans Urs von Balthasar’s view of Holy Saturday. Balthasar’s work on this theme has been one of his greatest achievements.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Catholic dialogue with Karl Barth

Over at the insightful blog, Catholic in the Third Millennium, there is an excellent post on contemporary Catholic dialogue with Karl Barth.

The humanity of God’s deity

“God does indeed come from God and only from God, and he is determined by nobody and nothing other than by himself; however, he determines himself to be God not without humanity. That is the sense of the New Testament statements about the preexistence of the Son of God identified with Jesus.... God comes from God, but he does not want to come to himself without us. God comes to God, but with humanity. Thus, God’s humanity belongs to his divinity.”

—Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1983), p. 37.

Sunday, 16 April 2006

Uneasy Easter

My friend Kim Fabricius posted this recently at Connexions, and I thought it deserved to be posted again here today:

Simone Weil once said that “if the gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me.” What could this brilliant, saintly, mystical French philosopher have possibly meant by such a provocative statement?

I think that Weil was challenging the common but shallow assumption that the resurrection makes life easier for those who believe. It doesn’t.

After all, the disciples were completely wrong-footed by the events of Easter, and their reactions to the news that “He is risen!” suggest disturbance and disorientation, not confirmation and relief. They were like the walking wounded after an explosion, and their subsequent witness was as overwhelmed as it was overwhelming.

That’s why those courtroom-inspired “proofs” of the resurrection are so misconceived and insipid. They not only fail to resolve the insurmountable literary and historical problems of the gospel texts, they turn the irreducibly mysterious into the demonstrable and manageable, as if the resurrection were under our control and for our consolation.

Of course the Easter message is about life, but only insofar as it is not a denial of death but a defiant “nevertheless!” in the face of the inexorable fact of death. There is power in this “nevertheless!”, but as Nicholas Lash observes, “it is not, however, explanatory power. The Christian is as baffled and as heartbroken by the darkness of the world as anybody else.”

In short, Easter does not eliminate Good Friday, Easter illuminates Good Friday; the resurrection is not the reversal of the crucifixion but the disclosure of its eternal significance.

Finally, the resurrection begins an insurrection led by the Crucified, who in a world of vengeance does not settle old scores but speaks words of forgiveness and peace; who in a world of suffering does not hide his wounds but exposes them to human touch; and who in a world of escapism does not protect his followers but sends them out as agents of liberation.

The dawning

Arise, sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,
Christ's resurrection thine may be;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand
Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee:
Arise, Arise;
And with his burial linen dry thine eyes.
Christ left his grave-clothes, that we might, when grief
Draws tears, or blood, not want a handkerchief.

—George Herbert, “The Dawning” (1633)

Saturday, 15 April 2006

Resurrection or immortality?

“I believe ... in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” This has always been the confession of Christian faith. But belief in “resurrection” has time and again been obscured by notions of “immortality.”

According to the doctrine of immortality, human beings have a soul which is naturally immortal. When the body dies, the soul simply continues to exist. Death is not the end of human existence, but only a point of transition from one state of being to another.

If we imagine that human beings are immortal in this way, we can hardly even begin to appreciate what is meant by the word “resurrection.” For resurrection is the very opposite of any sort of natural transition to a life-beyond-death. To believe in resurrection is to believe in a miracle—in something utterly unheard of, unnatural, impossible.

Death is finality. It is the end of our existence, and it as an end after which there can be no new beginning. Death is the end of all life—so that it is meaningless to speak of an “afterlife,” or of any kind of continuing existence beyond the grave. Even if it were still possible to think of an immaterial “soul” in distinction from the physical “body,” we would have to say that this soul is utterly extinguished by death.

Christian faith affirms all this; but it also says that something unthinkably strange happens: God raises the dead. God does what is intrinsically impossible: he brings new life from death. This is a sheer miracle. It is, in the strictest sense of the term, an impossibility. It is pure contradiction—for to raise the dead means to contradict death itself, to negate death and turn its whole reality upside down. Death is, by definition, the end. But by the act of God death becomes a new beginning! In other words, the resurrection of the dead is the death of death.

As long as our thinking contains even a trace of the notion of “immortality,” we will understand neither the reality of death nor the miracle of resurrection. For to speak of “immortality” is to speak of a possibility latent within human nature. But to speak of “resurrection” is to speak of the act of God. Or, more precisely: to say “resurrection” is to say “God.”

[Reposted from July 2005]

15 theses on the cross

For your Easter reflection, Aaron Ghiloni has posted 15 theses on the cross of Jesus.

Friday, 14 April 2006

The blood and wine of Good Friday

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

—George Herbert, “The Agonie” (1633)

Good Friday and the terrors of history

“To recognize God in the cross of Christ, conversely, means to recognize the cross, inextricable suffering, death and hopeless rejection in God... [I]t must also be said that, like the cross of Christ, even Auschwitz is in God himself. Even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son and the power of the Spirit.... God in Auschwitz and Auschwitz in the crucified God—that is the basis for a real hope which both embraces and overcomes the world, and the ground for a love which is stronger than death and can sustain death. It is the ground for living with the terror of history and the end of history, and nevertheless remaining in love and meeting what comes in openness for God’s future.”

—Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM, 1974), pp. 277-78.

New historical Jesus wikipedia

In connection with his FaithFutures website, Greg Jenks has started a new wikipedia site for the study of the historical Jesus, entitled Jesus Then and Now. Among other things, it includes Crossan’s massive inventory, a Jesus Database, and a useful page on the Gospel of Judas.

Thursday, 13 April 2006

Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology

Since being founded by Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson in the early 90s, the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology (CCET) has been one of the world’s finest and most influential centres of serious ecumenical theology. The CCET now has a new director: Michael Root has taken over from Carl Braaten. The centre’s journal, Pro Ecclesia, also has a new editor, Reinhard Hütter.

In the new issue of Pro Ecclesia, Michael Root offers a programmatic statement of the “defining commitments of a catholic and evangelical theology”:

1. “First, a Catholic and Evangelical theology is committed to the christological and trinitarian dogmas of the early church as the permanently normative context for the explication of the Christian faith.”

2. “Second, a catholic and evangelical theology is committed to the constitutive significance of the church for the reality and the interpretation of the faith.”

3. “Third, a catholic and evangelical theology is committed to the message of God’s free gift of salvation, as that has been articulated at different times and places in the history of the church.”

4. “Finally, a catholic and evangelical theology is committed to the unity of the church and the reconciliation of divided Christians.”

If you can identify with this vision of catholic and evangelical theology, then you should consider supporting the excellent work of the CCET.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Singing the Song of Songs

Our friend Jo has been posting all this week about the Song of Songs. And she has also posted a very nice pop-song adaptation, entitled “Kiss Me, Kiss Me.” This pop version adapts some of the imagery of the Song of Songs, while also capturing something of the Song’s extravagant sensuousness and exuberant delight in the body.

Better Christians than theologians

“On the other hand, apart from some fundamentalists who are better Christians than theologians, there are few conservative theologians who would contest the presence of mythical elements ... in Holy Scripture.”

—Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 69.

Prayer and science?

An excellent New York Times column points out that “responsible religious leaders will breathe a sigh of relief at the news that so-called intercessory prayer is medically ineffective.”

I for one breathed a very deep sigh of relief. The column concludes by observing that “scientists who undertake the work of theologians are as reckless as theologians who pretend to be scientists.” Amen.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman’s new book, Peter, Paul, and Mary: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, is due for release soon. The good people at Oxford University Press have kindly sent me an advance copy of the book, and I will be posting about it here at Faith and Theology. So stay tuned for some details about the book, and also for an exclusive interview with the author.

Bart Ehrman is currently one of the world’s most popular and provocative religious authors. One of the most interesting aspects of his career has been his gradual movement from fundamentalism to agnosticism. If you’re interesting in reading about his personal journey, there’s a very insightful and moving article here.

Dale Allison on eschatology

“[T]he eschatological Jesus is theologically troubling; and if the practice of preferring those explanations farthest removed from traditional Christian belief is a failing of some within our profession [of NT scholarship], an equal or greater number within the guild are probably guilty of just the opposite practice, so that the theological wish has all too often become the parent of the alleged historical fact. The truth, however, is like God: we can run from it, but it is always there.”

—Dale C. Allison, “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (1994), p. 668.

Monday, 10 April 2006

Tools for Reformed theology

At ReformedCatholicism, there is an excellent post on James K. A. Smith’s use of his “neocalvinist” tradition.

The capitalist view of doctrine

“Now the good news of Jesus Christ is not a dead commodity handed over to us so that we can ‘have’ it. Beware of this capitalistic conception of Christianity in any form, old or new! The gospel must ever again be explored and sought and inquired into.”

—Karl Barth, Learning Jesus Christ through the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 19.

Sunday, 9 April 2006

Quote of the day

“There are stupid laymen who think that a person who lives a life of study cannot be devout, and stupid clergy ... who think that the only way for anybody to be devout is that practised by pious old women.”

—Karl Rahner, Mission and Grace, Vol. 2 (London: Sheed & Ward, 1964), p.105.

Saturday, 8 April 2006

Qumran and predestination (II)

Here is the conclusion to Chris Petersen’s guest-post on the Qumran community’s doctrine of double predestination:

So where did Qumran get its strong determinism from? Some scholars suggest the influence of Zoroastrianism. These scholars argue that during the exile when the Persians began to dominate, some of those Jews living in exile assimilated many of the Zoroastrian beliefs into their system, most notably the belief in a dualism between light and darkness. These Jews then synthesized their high view of God's sovereignty with this dualism, thus giving birth to the determinism that finally reached full bloom in the theological system of the Essenes.

This is of course only a theory. Nevertheless, what I find intriguing is that the first Christian to formulate a strong doctrine of determinism, Augustine of Hippo, was once part of a religious movement known as Manichaeism which had its origins in Persia and also borrowed dualistic themes from Zoroastrian religion. Now it is usually asserted that Augustine's doctrine of predestination arose out of his conflict with Pelagius. But I can't help wondering if the dualism he associated with in his Manichaean days might have provided the basis for this doctrine, which was subsequently developed during the Pelagian controversies.

Now, of course I'm not the first to suggest that Augustine's early Manichaeism influenced much of his later thought. But it’s worth asking whether there is a direct connection between belief in a strong dualism in nature, and belief in a fatalistic or deterministic ordering of that nature. Religious systems that hold to some kind of dualism in nature tend also to have fatalistic and deterministic characteristics. Could this have been the case with Augustine? Could his dualism have led ultimately to his doctrine of predestination?

Israeli abuses and the Church of England

There’s a good news report here about this important problem.

Theology of the body

Thanks to Mary from Theology of the Body for her very kind review of Faith and Theology!

Friday, 7 April 2006

Qumran and predestination (I)

I asked Chris Petersen from Resurrection Dogmatics to write a guest-post for us here about the doctrine of “double predestination” in the Qumran community, and Chris kindly agreed. So here is the first of Chris’s two posts on the topic:

Contrary to popular opinion, the doctrine of double predestination goes back further than Augustine. It can be found already in the Qumran community (3rd century BCE to 1st Century CE). This community was predominately composed of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, who authored many of the Dead Sea Scroll documents.

One of the recurring themes that struck the scholars translating these documents was the emphasis on God's unilateral providence and double predestination. Apparently, the Essenes were well known for their distinctive view of providence; the early Jewish historian Josephus noted: “The sect of the Essenes … declares that Fate is mistress of all things, and that nothing befalls men unless it be in accordance with her decree” (Antiquities 13.171-73). The theological content discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls substantiates Josephus’ statement. Here are a few passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

“Before things come to be, [God] has ordered all their designs, so that when they do come to exist—at their appointed times as ordained by His glorious plan—they fulfill their destiny, a destiny impossible to change…. He created humankind to rule over the world, appointing for them two spirits in which to walk until the time ordained for His visitation. These are the spirits of truth and falsehood. Upright character and fate originate with the Habitation of Light; perverse, with the Fountain of Darkness…. It is actually He who created the spirits of light and darkness, making them the cornerstone of every deed.” (1QS 3.15-19, 24-25)

“I know that the inclination of every spirit is in your hand; you did establish all its ways before ever creating it, and how can any man change your words? You alone created the just and established them from the womb for the time of goodwill … but the wicked you did create for the time of your wrath, you vowed them from the womb for the Day of Massacre, for they walk in the way that is not good.” (1QH 15.13-14, 16-17)

“And you, O God, created us for yourself as an eternal people, and into the lot of light you cast us for your truth. You appointed the Prince of Light from old to assist us, for in his lot are all sons of righteousness and all spirits of truth are in his dominion. You yourself made Belial for the pit, an angel of malevolence, his dominion is in darkness, and his counsel is to condemn and convict.” (1QM 13.9-11)

One of the peculiarities that you'll notice here is the notion of two different types of spirits created by God, usually described as “light” and “darkness.” Further, some of these passages indicate that God decided which spirit to assign to each person. Though they didn't use normal predestinarian language, it seems that the Essenes held to a strong form of determinism—so strong that it determined who would be righteous (a son of the light) and who would be wicked (a son of the darkness).

Barth and Bultmann

“Neither Barth nor Bultmann can be understood apart from an awareness of their close affinities and mutual sympathies throughout each decade of their lives.”

—Frank Jehle, Ever against the Stream: The Politics of Karl Barth, 1906–1968 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 14.

Mike Bird

My good friend Mike Bird is publishing a book on the historical Jesus with T&T Clark / Continuum. And he has just announced that his second book, a collection of essays on Paul and the New Perspective, will be published by Paternoster. To congratulate Mike, I have made him the new blogger of the week.

While you’re visiting Mike’s blog, make sure you also check out his excellent post on the New Testament scholar Markus Barth. Karl Barth’s own theology of the sacraments was deeply influenced by the brilliant work of his son Markus.

Thursday, 6 April 2006

More of Bob Dylan’s best lines

Best description of love
“I’m a stranger here and no one sees me,
Except you.”
(Nobody ’Cept You)

Best line about death
“When he died I was hoping that it wasn’t contagious.”
(Isis)

Best lines about humanism
“Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool,
And when he sees his reflection he’s fulfilled.”
(License to Kill)

Best image of a child
“Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.”
(It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue)

Best line about money
“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”
(It’s Alright, Ma)

Darkest image
“But the magician is quicker and his game is much thicker
Than blood, and blacker than ink.”
(No Time to Think)

Funniest line
“You might think he loves you for your money,
But I know what he really loves you for...”
(Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat)

Another funniest line
“But Willie had a heart of gold, and this I know is true,
He supported all his children, and all their mothers too.”
(Rambling, Gambling Willie)

Best apocalyptic image

“Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.”
(All along the Watchtower)

Graham Greene: God’s love

“Oh,” the priest said, “that’s another thing altogether—God is love.... We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.”

—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), pp. 199-200.

The limits of doctrine

Over at Connexions, Joel has some thoughtful things to say about the limits of doctrine.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Balthasar on paradox

A great post here by our brilliant friend Cynthia.

Bob Dylan’s best lines

has many great and memorable lines. Here are a few of my favourite lines on specific topics.

Best metaphor
“The harmonicas play the skeleton keys in the rain.”
(Visions of Johanna)

Best religious image
“I never could learn to drink that blood, and call it wine.”
(Tight Connection to My Heart)

Best lines about preaching

“The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies,
I’m preaching the word of God, I’m putting out your eyes.”
(High Water)

Best line about relationship-pain

“With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo.”
(Changing of the Guards)

Most vivid image
“Upon the beach where hound dogs bay
At ships with tattooed sails.”
(Gates of Eden)

Most sensuous image

“Her skirt it swayed as a guitar played,
Her mouth was watery and wet.”
(I Don’t Believe You)

Saddest line
“And she never sat once at the head of the table.”
(Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll)

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Forbidden fruit?

There are certain fruits that I could never live without.

If you enjoy things like fast food, greasy chips and soft drink, then you should try some time to give your tastebuds a holiday, and instead let your mouth, your lips, your tongue discover the exquisite sensual joys of fruit. Experience the audacious sweetness of the pineapple; the delicate intimacy of the strawberry; the incomparably smooth subtlety of the avocado; the fleshly honey-softness of the rockmelon; and, above all, the heartbreaking perfection of a freshly picked and sliced mango on a summer’s afternoon.

Christian tradition has long asserted that the forbidden fruit in Paradise was an apple. But I find this impossible to believe. Who would sacrifice herself and all the world for an apple?

Personally, I never would have plunged the human race into death and destruction for the sake of a mere apple. But if it had been a tree of ripened mangoes at the centre of that happy Garden—well, let’s just say that the cunning serpent would have found me with my mouth already full, and with juice running down my chin.

Eve eats the fruit

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she ate:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. (Paradise Lost, 9.780-84)

Monday, 3 April 2006

Predestination: Thomas Aquinas and Calvin

In popular books, and even in some theological text books, it is sometimes said that the idea of predestination was invented by John Calvin. Anyone who can say such a thing must never have read Augustine, or Anselm, or Duns Scotus, or Luther—or even Calvin himself (since part of Calvin’s aim is to prove that his doctrine of predestination was also the teaching of the Fathers).

In fact, even Thomas Aquinas has a detailed doctrine of predestination, which is, in many material respects, nearly identical to that of Calvin.

Here’s one quote from Thomas’s Summa theologiae (1a.23.5):

“The reason for the predestination of some and reprobation of others (praedestinationis aliquorum, et reprobationis aliorum) must be sought for in the divine goodness.... God wills to manifest his goodness in those whom he predestines, by means of the mercy with which he spares them; and in respect of others whom he reprobates, by means of the justice with which he punishes them. This is the reason why God chooses some (quosdam eligit) and reprobates others (quosdam reprobat).... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will (non habet rationem nisi divinam voluntatem).”

Certainly I think the notion of double predestination should be subjected to theological criticism. But let’s not pretend that the idea was invented by Calvin!

Sunday, 2 April 2006

N. T. Wright on faith and history

During the question-time after one of the lectures, I asked Bishop Wright about the relationship between faith and historical research. He responded to the question, and then he ended with these words:

“Some historians could do with a good dose of faith; and I know of many faithful Christians who could do with a good dose of history!”

A Karl Barth series

Over at The Truth Shall Set You Free, James has been doing some nice posting on Karl Barth’s theology (here, here and here).

Saturday, 1 April 2006

An interview with N. T. Wright

During a coffee-break yesterday, Bishop Wright kindly agreed to participate in an interview for Faith and Theology. So I asked him to respond to the question: “Who do you think is the greatest modern New Testament scholar?” Instead of naming just one person, he named four. Here’s what he said (paraphrased slightly):

“Well, I greatly admire Albert Schweitzer. He had feet of clay, of course, but he really saw the big picture, and he got it right on some of the most important issues.

“The Canadian Catholic scholar, Ben Meyer, has been under-appreciated. But he did some very important work, with massive scholarly and philosophical apparatus. His loss was a tremendous blow to the field of New Testament studies. And some of his work is still only being implemented today.

“Then, among contemporary scholars, Richard Bauckham from the University of St Andrews is doing some work that is really unrivalled at the moment. Richard has an absolutely astonishing command of the first-century sources.

“Hmmm, who else? It’s silly that I can’t think of anyone else, since there are so many scholars whom I read every single day, with great appreciation.... Well, yes, there’s Martin Hengel. He’s said some rather intemperate things against the New Perspective, which is unfortunate, really, because he has done as much as anyone to contribute to our understanding of early Judaism.”

At this point, Wright was about to name a fifth person as well, but I insisted that he finish his cup of tea instead.

Some N. T. Wright highlights

Here are some memorable remarks from N. T. Wright’s lectures yesterday:

“The longer you look at Jesus, the more you are led into the mysteries of trinitarian theology.”

“Where Jesus is, there God’s sovereign, saving action is doing new creation—right before your eyes!”

“Part of the point of the New Testament is that we don’t know what the word ‘God’ really means until we look hard and humbly at Jesus of Nazareth.”

“When Jesus wanted to tell his disciples what his death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory—he gave them a meal.”

“Take the resurrection out of [the epistle to the] Romans, and the whole thing will collapse like a human being with the skeleton removed.”

“The resurrection is not an odd ‘blip’ within the old world. It is the prototypical and foundational event of the new world.”

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