A Word in Edgewise

The (W)right Way to Read Paul

My coauthors (Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards) and I are working on the second edition of our book Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (InterVarsity, 2007).  It is a substantial rewrite, not just a cosmetic upgrade. Rediscovering Paul cover

Chapter 10 is our chapter on Paul’s theology and, as I’m rewriting, I’m (re)reading N. T. Wright’s two volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013).  At the beginning of the second big volume he lays out his agenda.  His central argument is that Paul’s worldview and his theology must be understood together.  They are interdependent.  When you grasp Paul’s theology correctly and faithfully, you “do justice to the whole and the parts;” you understand the shifting historical contexts in which he lived, the forces and factors that influenced him, and you read his letters a bit more faithfully.

The (W)right way to read Paul holds together and in tension the various themes of his letters which scholars often pit against one another.  There is, he says, an “inner coherence” which emerges when you try to understand the sequence of his arguments. The letters are not a collection of detached sayings; they are robust arguments.  They are grounded in the larger themes and narratives of his Scripture and Jewish heritage.

Wright cites with approval Kasemann (Romans, 1980) when he noted that Paul’s letters do have a central concern, a coherent, inner logic which can be investigated and known.

So Wright builds his project on three platforms:

First, he begins with Paul’s Jewishness as a given, expressed in a framework of three major aspects of second temple Jewish thought: monotheism, election and eschatology.  For Wright, these elements are integrated not detached.  You cannot, for example, understand Paul’s soteriology in isolation from election, theology and eschatology.  These three elements cover the wide, gaping central concern of Paul who remained a thoroughly Jewish thinker.

Second, this framework had to be rethought, reimagined, and recast around Jesus and the Spirit.  Paul had a new understanding of what God had been up to in the Messiah and the gift of the Spirit.  He could no longer continue to think about these central categories in the same way.  The cataclysmic event of the cross and resurrection of the Messiah had changed everything.

Third, Paul’s christologically and pneumatologically redefined categories (monotheism, election, and eschatology) were deployed through the Gentile mission in three ways.

  1. They became the major aims of his letters. His letters were part of his missionary strategy, that is, to establish Jesus-infused and Spirit-directed communities across the Mediterranean.  His letters reflect this radically reworking.
  2. Paul’s own charismatic readings of Scripture were not based on proof-texting; they were grounded in reading large swaths of Scripture and attuning his mind to the great narratives of Israel which reached their appropriate climax in the Messiah. It is Paul’s full intention that his Jesus-infused and Spirit-directed communities inhabit these stories.
  3. Even as Paul’s own theology demands the formation of “churches,” he is also engaging the pagan world of his day (again in three ways).
  • the philosophers’ quest for the good life is upstaged by the good news of the gospel
  • the religious quest of late antiquity for salvation (broadly understood) with its obsession with gods and spiritual powers finds its final destination in the church
  • the imperial quest of empire is outmaneuvered by the acclamation of Jesus’ lordship, Israel’s true Messiah

Paul, according to Wright, draws from paganism everything which he thinks is true.  But pagan idolatry had ruined any chance for the wise of this age to achieve their human potential.  The human-happiness project of pagan philosophy never achieved what it promised.

But the gospel made people more human not less because, among other things, it placed in the center the only human whose life was worth imitating.

In the end Wright believes there is a coherence to Paul’s thought.  It is a coherence which holds together all the parts, uniting the disparate elements of his arguments even thought each letter is written over against a contingent situation.

An early generation of scholars was fond of talking about “the center” of Paul’s theology.  It was identified by some as justification by faith, by others reconciliation, and still by others participation in Christ.  Each of these were different ways of dealing with the broad theological category, soteriology.  Wright does not utilize the language of “center,” but his discussion of what is central, coherent appears to operate along a similar track.

 

God-talk in the New Testament

Here is a link to a good post by my friend, Larry Hurtado.  It is his reflection on over 30 years of critiques of his work.  Critics have accused his work of being either Arian or proto-Calcedonian.  Both accusations are drawn from later church controversies and should not be read back into the New Testament.  If Hurtado can be accused of anything, it is doing history not theology.  He’s not averse to theology; he just thinks the later categories invade historical reconstructions too often.

Read more about it here.

Or you can cut-and-paste this URL: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/jesus-and-god/

God in NT Theology

Figural Reading . . . the Old in the New

Last year I had the great honor of being on a panel discussion at the Lanier Theological Library with some leading scholars.  The topic was “Figural Reading . . . the Old in the New.” Richard Hays had written an important book on the topic entitled, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor University Press, 2014). That was the topic of our discussion.  It is an outstanding conversation hosted by Mark Lanier.

Richard Hays (Dean, Duke Divinity School)
Lynn Cohick (Professor, Wheaton College)
Carey Newman (Director, Baylor University Press)
David Capes (Professor, Houston Baptist University)
Mark Lanier (Moderator)

Here is a link to the site:

http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/seminar-videos-2/

The discussion takes place over 1 hr and 43 minutes.  If you’re interested in how NT writers read, interpreted and used their Bible–what we call the Old Testament but specifically the Greek version of the Old Testament–this will be a good video to watch.

I’m humbled and gratified to be a part of these conversations.

 

 

 

Jesus the God-Man

On my summer reading list is a new book by Darrell Bock and Benjamin Simpson, both faculty members at Dallas Theological Seminary.  The title of the book is Jesus the God-Man: The Unity and Diversity of the Gospel Portrayals (Baker Academic, 2016).  Bock and Simpson treat the Gospels as reliable sources for the life of Jesus, and they do give us a coherent, new reading of these diverse texts.  They are not just concerned with the Christ of faith but the Jesus of history, to use the traditional terms. Bock Jesus God-Man

It is typically understood that the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—provide us with the story of the human Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Anointed; the story of the Christ from above, that is the incarnate Word, is the subject of John’s Gospel.  Not so fast . . . Bock and Simpson say.  The portrayals in the Synoptics and John are far more interesting and complex.

At the end of the day, Bock and Simpson demonstrate that the Gospels give us different stories, different portrayals; but in their analysis their accounts are complementary not contradictory.  The Divine Christ is not absent from the Synoptics. The earthly Jesus is not alien to the Fourth Gospel.

How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?

My friend and colleague Larry Hurtado (University of Edinburgh) has written a brilliant and important book entitled How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans, 2005).  It is a more popular version of perhaps his most well known book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2005). Larry Hurtado

For those who want a 10 minute distilled version of his thesis, take a look at the video here.  It is the best summary I know of his big idea!

A “Forged” Gospel and Substitutionary Atonement

I had the privilege on May 6, 2016 of moderating a panel discussion at the Lanier Theological Library.  Mark Lanier, owner and namesake of the library, was out in California and made a surprise appearance at the end.  I guess the winds were in his favor.

The topics were diverse: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the notion of substitutionary atonement in Paul.  Those two topics were related only in that our special guest, Simon Gathercole, had written on them recently.  We rounded up some usual and unusual suspects for the afternoon’s discussion. Here are the key contributors:

David Capes (Moderator – Dean, Professor of New Testament, Houston Graduate School of Theology, Houston, TX)
Graham Cole (Dean, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL)
Craig Evans (Dean, School of Christian Thought, John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins, Houston Baptist University, Houston, TX)
Simon Gathercole (New Testament Scholar/Teacher, University of Cambridge, England)
David Moessner (Professor, A. A. Bradford Chair of Religion, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX)

The video lasts for 90 minutes but contains a lot of great information on topics related to the New Testament.  I’m grateful to Charles Mickey and Brent Johnson for their help that day.  Mark Lanier took a big chance getting a non-lawyer to moderate, but I hope he wasn’t too disappointed.  I thought it was a good discussion.

 

Here is a link to the discussion:

http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/seminar-videos-2/

 

Hell and Edward Fudge

 

I’m glad to learn that Edward Fudge is now following this blog.  I heard of Edward Fudge many years ago from my Doctor Father, Dr. Earle Ellis.  Ellis was impressed and persuaded by a book Fudge had written entitled The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment now its third edition.  My friend, Richard Bauckham, has written the forward.  Fudge makes the case that, according to the Christian Scriptures, the fate of the wicked is not conscious, eternal suffering but annihilation.  He moves carefully through the biblical texts and, like the good lawyer that he is, makes his case.  Fudge has convinced a lot of scholars and evangelicals that his reading is the best reading of a lot of controversial texts. Fire that consumes

Over the last few years I am pleased to say that Edward and I have become friends.  He lives in Houston and is a frequent participant in lectures and symposia at the Lanier Theological Library.  He has written other books which I’ve had the privilege to read and even endorse.  We talked the other day and he was busy researching another question: rabbinic stories which appear to parallel Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

Edward has lived a remarkable life. The story of how he came to write such an influential book is the subject of a movie produced by Jeff Wood, Hell and Mr. Fudge (2012; DVD released in 2012).  The movie shows how Fudge, played by Mackenzie Astin, comes under attack from members of his denomination because he dedicated a year of his life to prove whether or not hell really exists.  People who take the Bible seriously have a hard time ignoring Fudge’s work.

Recently, a group of scholars have gotten together and produced a Festschrift honoring Edward for his work.  It is entitled A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge (Wipf & Stock, 2015).  Christopher M. Date and Ron Highfield were the editors.  Stephen Travis wrote the forward.A-Consuming-Passion

If you are curious or puzzled by the biblical teaching on hell, you can do no better than pick up Edward’s book and spend some time with it.  Like I said, he’s convinced some heavyweight scholars. Maybe he will convince you too.

 

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