A Few MidWeek Links

A few fun links I’ve found on the web:

What N.T. Wright does with the early high christology of Hurtado, Tilling and Bauckham, by  Andrew Perriman

‘Wright aims to take the EHC argument a step further—in a way that effects some measure of reconvergence between the two strands, though he doesn’t put it in such terms. He accepts Hurtado’s thesis that it was the experience of the presence of the risen Christ that led the early Christians to worship Jesus and then develop a high christology through a rereading of the scriptures. Chris Tilling’s relational christology gets an approving mention in passing. But the more important hypothesis to emerge in recent explorations of early christology is Bauckham’s argument that Jesus is included in the unique “divine identity” of the one God.’

To Trust the Person Who Wrote the Books, by Francesca Aran Murphy  (review of Stephen Long’s book on Barth/Balthasar, with a reply by Long)

‘The thesis of this book is that von Balthasar spotted that when Karl Barth criticized the Catholic idea of an analogy of being between creatures and God, he had confused the Catholic analogia entis with the doctrine of a “pure nature,” used by Tridentine Catholic theologians to theorize a virtual reality which is emptied of grace. Long’s thesis is that von Balthasar thought that when Karl Barth heard “analogy of being between creatures and God” the word “creatures” got itself translated into “pure nature” and so Barth imagined that Catholics were constructing a real (rather than hypothetical) foundation for theology upon this “pure nature,” which is graceless and Godless. Long observes that von Balthasar has not only this negative observation about Barth to contribute, but also a positive perception of a “turn” toward acknowledgement of the “analogy” made by Barth round about the time he wrote his book on Anselm, and which is apparent in the Church Dogmatics. Barth may prefer to call it “analogy of faith” rather than “analogy of being,” but in effect he has perceived that, in the person of Christ, there is an analogy between creature (created human nature) and God (uncreated divine nature), and that this analogy is the operative center of theology. Long’s thesis is, moreover, that von Balthasar was right about this, and not merely right about that as a textual claim with regard to Barth’s writings, but right about reality—there is a Christ-formed analogy of being between creatures and God, and above all there is no non-hypothetically, actually existent pure nature.’

Wagner and German Idealism, by Roger Scruton

‘Wagner was to the end of his life a philosopher. All the currents of philosophical thinking that were important in his day, from Fichte’s idolisation of the self to Marx’s critique of the capitalist economy, and from Feuerbach’s repudiation of religion to Schopenhauer’s theory of the will, left traces in his dramas. There is no work of philosophy that delves so deeply into the paradoxes of erotic love as Tristan and Isolde, no work of Christian theology that matches Wagner’s exploration of the Eucharist in Parsifal, and no work of political theory that uncovers the place of power and law in the human psyche with the perceptiveness of The Ring. While taking us into the heart of philosophical concerns, however, Wagner never sacrifices concrete emotion to abstract ideas. Indeed, Tristan and Isolde, to take what for me is the greatest example of this, succeeds in displaying the philosophical mystery of erotic love only because Wagner creates a believable drama, and music that moves with the force and momentum of desire.’

The Conversation Shifts, by Scot McKnight

Some thought this new perspective on Paul — typified in the writings of Sanders, Dunn, and N.T Wright — would unravel the guts of the Reformation doctrine of sin (self-justification) and justification if one did not check the new wave of thinking. All the while at the foundation of this new perspective was a genuinely radical revision of what Judaism was all about. As it turns out, the “old” perspective assumed and in some ways required that Judaism (and especially Paul’s critiques) be a works based religion. With the growing conviction that Judaism was a covenant and election based religion (Sanders, Wright) there came a radical change in how Paul’s opponents were understood and therefore what Paul was actually teaching. He was, to use the words of Dunn, opposing “boundary markers” more than self-justification.’

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Achan, Ananias, Saphira and 1 Corinthians 5:13

The thought occurred to me the other day that the New Testament contains a number of passages dealing with just who not to include in the church and the appropriate measures for dealing with such ‘evil’ (to use the language of Scripture) persons. I thought of two cases: Achan, and Ananias and Saphira (sp?). A third case was pointed on to me, that of 1 Corinthians 5:13. Here’s a few of my thoughts:

– Achan and Ananias/Saphira (A/S) both commit crimes against God

– Both crimes are committed against the people of God as well – Israel and the early church. Both crimes can be said to hinder the spreading of the people of God, and both crimes are punished by death.

– A possible angle I haven’t really explored: perhaps it could be argued that Achan/A/S were opposing the righteousness/promises of God to his people?

– While both cases involve death, there are some interesting differences. Achan is firstly investigated, after Joshua has it revealed to via casting lots that Achan is the perpetrator. Joshua then brings a fairly ‘official’ punishment against Achan. The severity of the punishment is warranted by closely noting Achan’s crime, which was to effectively bring Israel under ‘the ban’, or the order of extermination, by bringing items under the ban into the camp – in effect, Achan contaminated Israel.

– A/S is a much quicker and much less official (at least much less official sounding) case: they lie, Peter knows, God strikes them dead, almost on Peter’s command. No lots, no nothing. Bam. Dead.

– 1 Corinthians 5:13 exhorts the church to purge the evil from among them (specifically regarding instances of perverse sexual sin – this is important), and it appears that both cases are instances of this happening. 1 Cor 5:13 is a quotation of Deuteronomy 17:7, which is a fairly detailed set of instructions on how to approach ‘capital’ cases where the death penalty could be applied. Instructions on witnesses, priests, etc are all detailed.

– What’s very interesting is the just a few verses prior to Deuteronomy 17:7, verse 17:2 places the offences to be punished in the context of ‘crossing the covenant’ – the offence isn’t just a random criminal act, it’s an offence against the covenant. Given the fact that quotations of Old Testament verses in the New Testament generally refer to entire passages from which they are taken, it’s safe to say that Paul in the Corinthian passage is grounding church discipline in the context of the covenant as well. This implicitly sets the Corinthian passage within the context of creation as well, which is significant for the issue of sexual sin.

– Paul effectively says the following: put the evil person outside the church for God to judge, because the church judges those inside the church (presumably referring to practicing and confessing Christians), not those outside the church – that’s God’s job. The ethical standards of the church can’t be taken and held to those outside the church.

– There are similarities here to an earlier statement of church discipline in the same letter, where Paul says to hand over an immoral man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit may be saved. Another angle I haven’t explored: perhaps this is saying that the immoral man must die and be raised to life?

– The ultimate purpose of this discipline, as noted above, is so that the spirit may be raised to life, and not to simply police the boundaries of the church though there is an element of that. All three of these cases demonstrate the importance of the radical separation of the people of God, a people called to be holy, because the people of God are to embody God’s saving covenant faithfulness/righteousness. This includes standards of moral purity that are to be upheld.

– What Achan’s story can serve as a kind of case study to show is the seriousness with which God takes His holy people. Paul’s quotation of Deuteronomy 17:7, a passage concerned with the application of the death penalty, shows that the separation and holiness of God’s people is a matter of life and death, as it were.

Some Anti-Imperial Thoughts

The trend of identifying anti-imperial themes, rhetoric and messages in the New Testament is pretty hot right now – post-colonial readings of Scripture as well. I recently got ‘Jesus is Lord, Caeser is Not’, and spent a minute studying up on anti-imperial/post-colonial ideas regarding the New Testament, and here’s a few unsystematic thoughts. I should probably edit this down but I’m too tired.

– The basic thrust of the book? ‘Slow down there, sonny. There’s more to it than that.’ Empire critical/postcolonial studies have done a great deal of good in highlighting the dynamics of society, power, etc in the New Testament. Painting anti-imperialism as the actual main point of the NT, however, is misguided.

– The basic thrust of empire criticism? That saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ entails saying and believing that ‘Caesar is not’. A weakness here lies in the rather obvious fact that such an antithesis is never explicitly made in the NT. While this doesn’t mean that it’s an implicit antithesis, arguing from the implicit to the explicit can be a bit tricky.

– The dynamics of power, government etc are far more fluid than simple antitheses.

– The main culprit here is the imperial cult. There’s a problem here already, though, because to monolith-ize (my new term) something like the imperial cult doesn’t do justice to a movement/pattern of religion/pattern of thought that was actually fairly diverse and dynamic.

– The imperial cult, surprisingly, was more or less a grassroots movement, and not imposed from the top down.

– The deification of the emperor was less strict than one might imagine – deification shouldn’t be imagined to be so much of an ontological status (a man became divine) so much as, with regards to normal people, the emperor was divine, though with regard to the gods, he was still very much a mortal.

– Other aspects of the imperial cult that prevent it from being a monolithic kind of thing: benefaction and patronage, which reflect a real patron/client relationship aspect of ancient Hellenic society.

– There is a real oppositon between Jesus and the powers and principalites, however – but I don’t see it being between Jesus and Rome/Caesar qua Rome/Caeser. Neither is power or power structures – the critiques leveled against Rome in the NT are about rulership, ruler worship and the mode in which the power is exercised.

– Worship is to be offered only to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit – this is a big point in NT critiques of Caeser.

– Instead of an empire built by war, political intruige, with power in the hands of the elite, the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed is seen to be a kingdom in which the way that the world does power is inverted. Peace, love and the the last being first are the order of the day in the Kingdom.

– The contrasts drawn between Jesus and Caeser aren’t, then, so much about how evil Rome is and how Rome is the real topic of the New Testament, but moreso about the overthrow of the present fallen order under which Rome is a servant of the powers and principalities.

– The opposition of Jesus and Caeser must always be seen in terms of the story of Israel, which is more often than not concerned with a contest between YHWH and the pagan gods.

– The narrative of Israel provides an anchoring for the opposition of Jesus to Caeser – consider Romans 1:3, where Paul refers to the Davidic king – and then consider Romans 15:12, where Paul refers to the root of Jesse. The Davidic kingship, one of peace, is set against the powers of the world, which operate by force, corruption, etc.

– Jesus must be seen as the climax of salvation-history, which is a thoroughly Jewish history. This is and must be a first principle.

Reading Notes

I just recently got ‘Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not‘, and am about 80% of the way through. The primary goal of the book is to basically say, ‘whoa, slow down there, sonny’, to the anti-imperial/postcolonial readings of the New Testament, especially Paul’s letters. I’ve read it quickly, so I’m sure I’ll come back to it for further reference, but so far the standout sections deal with Luke, Acts and Romans – the anti-imperial/postcolonial readings of these texts are taken to task for a few different things, such as the use of very modern methods in reading ancient texts, importing modern concerns to ancient texts, poor handling, both historical and exegetical, etc. Not to say that such readings are condemned – the anti-imperial character of New Testament writing is something that’s proven to be a pretty important aspect of the New Testament, and for bringing that out we should be thankful to those who advocate such readings. When the meaning of the NT is reduced to anti-imperial rhetoric, however, then there’s a problem. 

I also got Peter Leithart’s ‘A House for My Name‘, and started reading it (I’m only a few pages into it so far). Good so far – lots of tying together the symbolism that saturates the Old Testament – specifically the three-layer cosmology of Genesis. Good stuff.

Today I bought three more John Grisham books – ‘The Partner’, ‘The Chamber’, and one other I forget the name of. I also got a Father Brown story by Chesterton.

This last week I spent re-reading parts of Tim Maudlin’s great book, ‘The Metaphysics Within Physics‘, which I wrote a post on that generated some good discussion (see that post for some of my criticisms with his methodology) . His criticism of Humean-ism is pretty good – even though it basically boils down to, ‘why would anyone be Humean?’

On that same note, I read more of Brian Greene’s ‘The Elegant Universe’, as well as renting the NOVA documentary of the same name. The experimental aspect is definitely where string theory lacking – but empirical testing would require a particle accelerator roughly the size of the milky way galaxy. But the math more than hold true, it basically units quantum mechanics and relativity theory in a way that was impossible before. Most physicists will tell you that the experimental data is the most important part of a thrust, however, and there won’t be any for string theory for a while if ever.

Continuing that same note, I picked up Timothy Ferris’ absolutely brilliant book, ‘Coming of Age in the Milky Way‘, which remains one of my favourite science books I’ve ever read. As far as history of science goes, this is probably as good as it gets – I’ve yet to read a volume which explains and expounds the ideas as well as the thinkers behind them so clearly and delightfully. Yes, reading about Kepler’s calculations for elliptical planetary orbits, Newtons theory of gravity, the quantum revolution and particle physics  can, in fact, be great fun. 

Rough Thoughts on Pacifism

Prompted by a Facebook conversation – these are pretty off-the-cuff thoughts, since I don’t really have a terribly well-developed position, but here we go:

In a nutshell, I’m a pacifist in the same way I’m a universalist – hopeful but not really committed to it. As far as theological arguments for/against, I’ve yet to be really convinced that pacifism is a necessary part of Christianity, and all too often it seems that a nonviolent ethic is made to be central to the Gospel, and sometimes it seems that the Christian message is even reduced to one of nonviolence.

As a matter of personal opinion/ethic, I don’t really have a problem with a pacifist position – keep in mind that pacifism doesn’t = nonaction, just nonviolent action. The issue I have is primarily the extent to which it’s commonly seen as central to the Gospel.

I do think that the defense of children, widows, women, the weak, etc, can, will and do at times require violent force.I also think that pro-violence is a pretty terrible attitude to have – especially seeing Jesus’ very clear opposition to violence done in his name (Peter chopping off that one guys ear, for example).

 Having said that, one can’t ignore various Old Testament passages where various men and even heroes of the faith are praised for the willingness to commit acts of horrendous violence – Phineas kills an Israelite/Midianite couple in the midst of the sexual act, for example.Phineas and the Levites were called to be set apart specifically for their willingness to do some pretty raw things. Which, while not an argument by any means, is something one has to keep in mind.
 
With regard to whether Jesus commands Christians to not participate in national/state sanctioned violence, I see a couple of issues:

1) textual evidence – I’m not really aware of any real statements in the NT outright forbidding Christians to engage in national violence (say, a war or something like that). So we have to look elsewhere:

(2) Jesus’ posture toward violence in general – Jesus has very little to say about national/state violence – the famous turn the other cheek saying, for example, refers to personal insult/injury. Jesus certainly opposes violence in a sense, as I said before – he makes it very clear that the Kingdom of heaven will never be brought about by violent actions, perhaps in direct opposition to the zealots who sought to bring about the Kingdom by national violence. In that sense, yes, Jesus does forbid it by both word and deed.

 

Israel’s Failure and the Identity of God

A popular and well-known theme often heard from N.T. Wright and his supporters is that Israel failed in her vocation, which was to be a light to the nations, to be instructors of the ignorant and teachers to the immature. This failure is why Jesus, Israel’s God embodied, came. Wright has taken criticism in the scholarly world for overplaying this theme and for making Israel herself the messianic agent (Larry Hurtado argues that there’s no biblical data supporting the idea).

That Israel in some sense failed seems to be a fairly obvious theme in Paul – Romans 2:17-29 is basically an indictment for the failure of ‘the Jew’, who by his boasting both fails in his vocation as teacher and light and blasphemes the name of God among the Gentiles. Israel’s light is broken and dim, and instead of causing other nations to see the greatness of Israel’s god, causes the opposite to happen – the Gentiles want nothing to with God.

It may be here that Wright overplays his hand – though Israel was indeed to be a light, Israel wasn’t the actual agent of salvation but that through which salvation comes. Israel’s failure isn’t so much a failure of its own messianic vocation as a failure of its vocation to pave the way for the messiah.

The problem with which God is faced is that Israel is unfaithful – this is the primary failing on her part, not that she failed to be messianic. Romans 3:2-4 shows that though entrusted with the oracles of God but failing to bring the contents of said oracles to the world, Israel’s unbelief or unfaithfulness appeared to threaten God’s own faithfulness (as a side note, Wright appears to make the Incarnation a bit more contingent than other theologians).

God’s answer to this problem (though some may be uncomfortable with the language of ‘divine problem’, or ‘divine dilemma’, it should be remembered that Athanasius used the same language in ‘On the Incarnation) is reveal His righteousness through the messiah, who is faithful where Israel is not. Through the faithfulness of the messiah, the promises of Abraham are brought to the world. The true light (John 1:9) comes into the world, but this time not just to shine the light into darkness but to be the light of salvation.

Here, then, is where I see a bit stronger ground for the identification of Jesus and Israel by means of vocation. Israel is to a light to those in darkness – Jesus is the light of salvation. Israel is unfaithful, Jesus is faithful, and through his faithfulness God’s righteousness is revealed, where Israel’s unfaithfulness appeared to threaten God’s faithfulness. The identity of Israel with Jesus, then, is one of unfaithfulness/faithfulness in their vocation, as opposed to directly identifying the vocation of Israel/Jesus.

After reading this post, I like the basic point but don’t really feel I did a tight job expounding/arguing for it. Criticisms especially welcome here. Two brief critiques, one from Hurtado and one from Ben Witherington, can be found here.