Sunday, May 30, 2010

4 line biographical poems about theologians, yes really!

My picks from Myers and Fabricus' brilliant Theological Graffiti:

Hans Frei
Replied with a sigh
To the liberal lot:
“You’ve lost the plot.”

Wayne Grudem
Had a stratagem
To define the role of women; but neglected to mention
Whether men, too, are allowed in the kitchen.

“Jürgen Moltmann,
The world,” we ask, “live without hope?”

Wolfhart Pannenberg,
Who studied in Heidelberg,
Is quite a stickler
For all things empirical, scientific, geschichtliche.

Totall genius, a number of other pearlers in there too, but i'll let you find them yourself.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Some Random Student on Hermeneutics: Quote of the Day

A young female student just walked past my door, coming out of a "Introduction to the Bible" lecture, she said to her friend,
It is so much better looking at it as a letter rather than just taking little chunks out of it,
Hearing her say that just warmed my heart.  Congratulations to her (i'm afraid i didn't recognise the voice) for taking an important step in discovering the riches of God's word when it is allowed to be what it is and not turned into a collection of "thoughts for the day."  And congratulations to George who was taking the class and is helping about 50 students make these crucial initial steps towards mature and informed biblical interpretation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bible as Socialist Tract

Recently Richard Beck observed that
for John [the Baptist], repentance is fundamentally about economics or, more precisely, getting right with money and our possessions. Preparing our hearts for the Lord begins with sharing, fairness, and contentment. That is, if someone is seeking a closer or better relationship with Jesus it seems the the first bit of advice John would give is pretty simple: Start with sharing your material possessions. That's the quickest way to Jesus.
Which to me makes perfect sense, but then I had the priviledge of being raised in a moderately left wing Christian family.  As a very general, and rapidly going out of date, rule non-conformists Christians in England (Methodists, Baptists, etc) have tended to be more red than blue. I know in America the assumption is usually the opposite, that evangelicals are right wing.  And I have been surprised to discover in NZ that the American model is followed pretty closely.  Something about colonies seems to turn non-conformists into capitalists. 

What I hear from people like Glenn Beck is that socialism is wrong because it forces people to do good instead of letting them do it off their own bats.  What Beck and his fans fail to understand is that although they complain that socialism is immoral wealth re-distribution from the rich to the poor capitalism is immoral redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.  All property is theft, those who live in the colonies should know that best of all.  Tax is at least a more even handed form of theft and is at least stealing from those who can afford to lose a little (or even a lot) and does so politely, predicatably and without offering violence (initially).  This is why our modern western society works best when capitalism flourishes under the restraining hand of socialism.  Money rises to the top rewarding those who generate wealth and work hard but imbalances are periodically readjusted so that social and economic disparity never gets so great as to divide the society or leave some of its members without hope or resources for improvement. 

It is well understood that the greater the gap between the rich and the poor the greater conflict and insecurity between the two groups.  Of course the OT law is filled with provisions to avoid this happening, not least the numerous regulations concerning the release of those in indentured servitude at regular intervals and the return of land to families.  Those sort of checks and balances, if practised (and its doubtful that they ever fully were), would enable a society to give people economic second chances.  Today our society offers the lottery and scratch cards and criminal activity as the only hope for those who are unable to make ends meet and escape the poverty trap.  But of course, giving someone a million dolars doesn't actual solve their poverty. 

Another well understood fact is that lottery winners are usually both miserable and broke with a few years of their wins.  Which is why socialism can only ever be half the solution.  Poverty is as much a social/cultural legacy as it is a financial one.  Which is why true social justice is not just a matter of the redistribution of wealth, but also of the redistribution of the gospel, that well kept secret of the transforming power of God to radically change communities, families, and lives.  And that is something no government can do, that is the job of a much larger and more powerful organisation, the church. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

More on Death and more on Love (being inadequate)

I am always badgering my students to make their reflections rooted in specific events and circumstances instead of the general sweeping statement, Clayboy's reflection on the death of one of his parishoners shows why.

Interestingly Magret Hebron also comes to the conclusion (pace the Beatles and Steve) that love does not equal Christianity, although she is coming at it from a totally different perspective than Hays, her argument ends up being remarkably similar.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Love is NOT all you need

Richard Hays in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, (p202)  gives three reasons why "love" is inadequate as a unifying theme for NT ethics (and by implication why it is inadequate for ethics today).

1.  Mark, Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation "resist any attempt to sythesze their moral visions by employing love as a focal image . . . Despite the powerful theological uses to which the motif of love is put by Paul and John, that motif cannot serve as the common denominator for New Testament Ethics."  Instead Hays suggests "community, cross and new creation."

2.  "What the New testament means by love is embodied in the concretely in the cross."  and so to treat love apart from the cross is to result in "conceptual abstraction, away from the specific image of the cross."

3.  "The term ["love"] has become debased in popular discourse; it has lost its power of discrimination, having become a cover for all manner of vapid self indulgence."  "We can recover the power of love only by insisting that love's meaning is to be discovered in the New Testament's story of Jesus - therefore, in the cross."

So who do you believe, Hays or the Beatles?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The 10th Plague and the Problem of Evil

Tim, in his podcast on the passover, finds God's cold blooded killing of all the firstborn in Egypt (Ex11:4-8, 12:29-32) too much to stomach and too hard to believe.  As a compassionate human being, I find myself agreeing with Tim.  I said as much to the group that I am going through the E-100 readings with and got pretty short shrift from them.
image from here
One friend, who had his back broken in a car accident while working as a missionary in Egypt pointed out that this was God's judgment upon the Egyptians for their mistreatement of the Israelites (Ex 1).  That is a fair point, if indeed we do believe in justice, in the punishment fitting the crime.  The Egyptians had tried to kill every son of the Israelites, and were presumably only keeping the girls alive in order to take advantage of them, so this punishment seems proportionate, even a little lenient.

But I wonder if this kind of casuistry is a little beside the point. Part of the punishment was for the firstborn of all the animals to die, the first born of all the animals that had already been killed in the 5th plague (Ex 9:1-7).  Which suggests in at least one account, if not both, a little exageration is taking place.  This is not deception, because it is there in the text, as plain as the nose on your face.  If you read it you will see it, and its author/s must have seen it too.  My friend's second point, having lived in the Middle East, was that he could testify that that culture contains a lot more ambiguity than our modernist Western one.  So the rather absolute language of Ex11:4-8 and 12:29-32 could legitimately be taken with a grain of salt.

But I'm not sure how much that helps me either.  The real question is not, how can I get this text to fit in with what I think is acceptable or not for God to do?  The real question, or at least what I think they try and teach us at Bible college, is to ask what is this text trying to say to us?  It blatantly does not give a tinkers fart as to whether or not we think God's actions are proportionate or even historical.  The story's concern is with God's distinction between the oppressed (in this instance Israel) and the oppressors (in this instance Egypt) (Ex 11:7).  The story's concern is to show how God is keeping his promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), i.e. the survival of the people of Israel, ultimately how God is going to redeem all creation.  The story's concern is to tell us about . . . God.

This was my friend's most helpful insight today: A year ago, after his back had been broken, he had been praying and hoping for healing.  And yet in the last year, from being wheelchair bound and suffering in a number of other respects, he can see all the things he has learnt about God through his infirmity.  Now he isn't really that interested in praying for healing. 

Such an idea is disgusting.  How can he possibly justify God for his crippled state when he should be enjoying health and wealth and prosperity like any deserving child of the western world.  How can he possibly understand his suffering as something positive?  Is knowing God really better than walking and using a toilet?  Is it really worth the death of all those Egyptian first born humans and animals for God to accomplish his promise to Abraham?

Well I don't know the answer to that question, I've never lost my legs or a child, I hope I never do.  But I do wonder if maybe I have the problem of evil all wrong, maybe evil looks so bad to me because I think the point of it all is for me to have a nice life.  What if the point of it all is to know God?  A god who prefers the poor and oppressed, a god who is redeeming creation, a god who doesn't appreciate my need for no one to get hurt, or at least for me not to get hurt, but is willing to hurt anyone and everyone if that is what it takes?  I don't know if that is a god I can believe in, I don't know if I have the guts for that, but I think that might be the sort of god that the Bible believes in. . . 

Let me know what you think,

Friday, May 14, 2010

The research skills that they don't teach you

Find important books on the online library catalogue.  Check availability.  Walk to the library clutching a piece of paper with the dewey decimal codes on.  Go to the shelf.  Locate place where books should be.  Go to computer in the library to double check availability.  Check librarians' trolley to see if books have been recently returned.  Spend ten minutes searching the surrounding shelves in case they have been put back in the wrong place.  Go to librarian.  Receive and endure tirade about post-grad students stockpiling books.  Go to post grad study carrells.  Locate those doing study on Paul.  Locate missing books.  Take missing books from desk.  Don't leave note, they've aready wasted enough of your time.  Take to check out.  Borrow books.  Relieve tension through social media.
image from here

Perseverance and Apostasy in 1 Cor 10

We may notice in this context that Paul’s language moves from ’all’ (10.1-4) and ’some’ (10.5-10) to third person singulars in 10.12. . . [I]t is precisely the individual who is in danger of falling away. Israel as an elect people (’all’) were not destroyed, only ’some’. As such, Paul affirms the election and final perseverance of the people of God as a collective whole similar to the wilderness and prophetic traditions that maintain that God preserves a remnant of God’s people (e.g., Num. 14.23-24, 29-32; Deut. 4.25-31; Isa. 1.9). If Paul’s theology on this issue is consistent throughout his letters, then it is plausible to suggest that individual Christians could take comfort in final perseverance only as they remain identified as members of God’s elect community. If such is the case, then there is really no contradiction between final perseverance and genuine apostasy. The tension is between individuals and the collective community. Regarding final perseverance, Paul may not believe that everything that is true of the whole community (or body of Christ) is necessarily true of every genuine member of that community-genuine members could fall away. 
B.J. Oropeza 
Paul's Message To the Corinthians in a State of Eschatological Liminality" 
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2000; 22; 69-86

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jensen on Sex, Slavery and the NT

This is another rare instance of a NT scholar noticing the elephant in the room of the sexual use of slaves.  This comes at the end of Jensen's clinical demolition of an earlier article by Bruce Malina that argued that porneia, a NT term for sexual immorality, did not include non commercial and non-cultic extra-marital sex. My only complaints are that he does not discuss the fact that male slaves might also be preyed upon and he neglect the evience of Philemon and 1 Cor 7:21 as Paul's implicit desire to see slaves freed.

The following remarks venture into what may be called purely indirect evidence.  This is less satisfactory, but nevertheless it seems necessary to ask whether we can suppose that the New Testament was wholly silent on the difficult and delicate question of relations between master and famle slave.

The was a close connection bewteen slavery and prostitution in the Hellenistic world.  Liddell-Scott give the probable derivation of porne, prostitute, from pernemi, because "Greek prostitutes were commonly bought slaves."  But also frequent was the use of female household slaves, who were subject to the whims of their masters for sexual relations.  In Israel too, this sort of relationship was l;egitimated.  Exod. xxi 7-11 deals with the Israelite girl sold as a slave and Deut. xxi 10-14 with the prisoner of war.   The basic protection offered each is that she might not later be sold.

It can hardly be supposed that this srt of behaviour was tolerated in the Christian community, but the silence of the New Testament is surprising.  Paul is aware of the hold a master can have over his slave for evil, for he uses it as an illustration (Rom vi 16), but this has no place in his exhortations.  Instead we find the New Testament writers exhorting slaves not to seek their freedom (1 Cor vii 21-23); to obey wilingly (Eph vi 5-8); to render their masters respect for the sake of God and the church, mst especially if the masters are Christian (1 Tim vi 1-2); to try to please them in every way and not contradict them (Tit ii 9); to obey not only good and reasonable masters but even those who are harsh (1 Pet ii 18-20).

Human Nature being what it is, the abuse of female slaves would tend to persist, even in Christian circles, especialy those subject to hellenistic influences, unlessthe standard moral teaching made the matter clear.  The exhortations we have in the epistkles merely tell slave owners not to threaten (Eph vi 9) and to be just and fair (Col iv 1).  Unless we are willing to suppose that this important matter was completely ignored, we must suppose that the early Christians understood it to be included in the frequent exhortations addressed to all about avoiding porneia and that, therefore, the term included this as well as other sorts of extra-marital intercourse.
Novum Testamentum, Vol. 20, Fasc. 3 (Jul., 1978), pp. 161-184 

Let me know what you think :-)

For Theologians Everywhere (and everyone else)

 This Socratic moment comes to you from The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What do we learn from the way that we are taught?

Gregory Jones reflects on Duke University's research on corporate learning strategies,
I was intrigued to discover the 70-20-10 principle among chief learning officers for continuing training and development needs: 70 percent of learning occurs in the workplace, 20 percent from coaches/mentors and only 10 percent from formal educational “continuing education” programs. Yet in Christian institutions we typically have reversed these numbers and presume that most learning for Christian clergy, laity and institutional leaders will occur through formal learning opportunities.
Rest of the article here

I think it is pretty clear that what we teach people, no matter how many times we tell them that stuff needs to be applied in real life, is that Christian life is primarily about thinking and saying the right things in church, rather than saying and doing the right things in the world, because as a church that is what we spend our time getting good at and practicing.  Unless we put greater effort into being the people of God on those hours outside of church meetings than we do into those meetings themselves no one is ever really going to believe us that the other 90% of the week is actually the important bit.

Blog Admin

Sorry things are a bit quiet at the moment and that I am mostly posting quotes, big deadline at the end of this week and a full diary in other respects means blogging gets squeezed.  I'm also wondering if I will have to turn comment moderation on as Rich Greise seems to like commenting but not reading or understanding the post.  Ironically though he is my most consistent commenter at the moment so it does seem a shame to censor him. 

Anyway rest assured I have a number of posts brewing which will hopefully burst forth next week and reward your patience.  I am also dreaming of my first podcast although I have no idea what subject it will be on, if you have any let me know in the comments, but frankly I love the sound of my own voice and so think you should too.

No really, :-)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quote of the Weekend: Myers on Church and State

The "separation of church and state" designates the state's monopoly on coercive violence. This is quite distinct from the question of the relation between theology and politics. Every coherent political philosophy already presupposes a theology, since it embodies a particular vision of what constitutes a good society.
From here
Thoughts on the UK election also from Hobbins and Chaplin.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thinking about a short term mission trip?

It is extremely difficult for us to say to zealous American, Singaporean or Korean Christians that they are really not needed. While there is a lot of talk about “mission partnerships” these days, the theologies of mission that we hold are rarely scrutinized and challenged in a genuine rich-poor encounter. The world of “ missions” seems hopelessly fragmented- and more pragmatist than ever. As long as this state of affairs continues, will not the practice of “partnership” be loaded in favour of those churches with the bigger wallets and the louder voices?
The rest of Vinoth Ramachandra's withering critique is here (HT K&E)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Studying Politicians and Preachers

The words politicians use tell us more about their underlying instincts than their policy plans
 - Simon Lancaster, director of Bespoke

Here's a research project for someone interested in the phenomenon of preaching, take the methodology of these studies on politicians and apply it to preachers in a modern city.  I guarantee some fascinating results.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beware of Greeks Bearing Firebombs

The situation in Greece at the moment should give us all pause for thought.  The protestors are upset about austerity measures being introduced because of the state of the Greek economy.  They have grown used to a certain standard of living and expect their government to be able to ensure that it continues without disruption regardless of the world economy or other phenomena.  For a long time Greece has been living outside of its means and a disproportionate amount of whatever wealth the country does manage to produce ends up in the hands of the few.  Just like the UK, the US and NZ.  We now live in a society that has unsustainable expectations and is not yet serious about living and cooperating in a way that is realistic given the resources of the planet and human race.  For too long we have lived the high life by sucking the life out of the environment and the developing world.  How are you going to react when the money runs out and the capitalist dream is over?

Rowan Williams on Pullman and the Gospels

For the full review go here, (HT and links to other reviews RB)

Pullman leaves the Christian reader with a genuine paradox to ponder, and he doesn't – to his credit – suggest that the arguments are not serious. The sinister stranger in the book – who stands for all philosophical system-makers who want to improve on history by importing eternal truths at the expense of ordinary truthfulness – insists to "Christ" that Jesus's message can only survive clothed in the language of miracle and power. It is very much the argument we find in the mouth of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor – that Jesus was too radical for ordinary human consumption, and for his memory to survive at all, you will have to lie about him. But what Pullman doesn't fully allow, I think, is the degree to which the New Testament itself is already aware of the dangers. Mark's gospel, in particular, presents a Jesus who insistently refuses to use his own miracles to prove his status, and a company of disciples who are chronically incapable of understanding Jesus's challenges. It seems to recognise the irony that the more you say about Jesus the more you risk getting it wrong.

And through the Christian centuries, these unresolved tensions and deliberate ironies in the Bible have gone on prompting people to resist the lure of Pullman's "Christ" and his anxious religiosity – a Francis of Assisi, a Bonhoeffer; an Óscar Romero, murdered 30 years ago last week for his resistance to state terror in El Salvador. They have seen through the surface froth of religion and heard the voice Pullman himself obviously finds so compelling. That should make us pause before deciding that the New Testament is quite as successful in sanitising an uncomfortable history through religiously convenient "truth" as Pullman implies. It is aware of its own temptations. It trains its readers in self-questioning.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Nottingham University are making a short introductory video for every book in the Bible, a great project.  Some of the videos are a little fluffy and annoying (e.g. Jude and Luke), but some are pretty good.  Go here to see them all, below is the one on 1 Corinthians.  Enjoy :-) (Oh yeah and watch out for Anthony Thiselton describing his 1500 page commentary on the Greek text as "a bit ridiculous"!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Colloquium on Spiritual Complaint


theology and practice of lament

Call for papers:
This colloquium (sponsored by the Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School in Auckland, New Zealand) will explore cultural and theological implications of texts and practices of lament and/or complaint. Potential papers, should address complaint/lament with a focus on spiritual/theological dimensions so might include:
  • readings of biblical or other complaint or lament literature (Psalms, Job, Lamentations etc)
  • studies of historical or contemporary lament songs
  • pastoral perspectives on the contemporary practice of lament
  • theological reflections
  • cross cultural perspectives on lament practices
  • post Holocaust reflections
  • contemporary political reflections
The colloquium will take place in Auckland, NZ, on 10th-11th February 2011 (this is summertime in NZ but after the peak season), with a view to publishing a book with the same title in 2011 (draft papers will be circulated among participants in 2010 and final form submitted a month after the colloquium).
Please send abstracts or enquiries to:
original post can be found here

Another Approach to the Vengeance Psalms

[William P. Brown] reserves a special section for the “theological challenge of the Vengeance Psalms” (e.g., Pss 12, 44, 55, 58, 83, 109, 137, 139). After trying to contextualize these psalms as desperate prayers for “God’s judgment to restore a defeated and demoralized people,” he finds theological relevance in them as a summons to modern readers in the first world to hear in them the voice of the world’s oppressed poor.