Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Van Hecke on Metaphor

This is a nice concise definition of the way metaphors work:
Metaphor is considered not so much as a way in which people speak but rather as a way in which people think.  We use metaphors in our language because, to a large extent, we think metaphorically.  The essence of metaphor, according to cognitive linguistics, is that we make use of our knowledge of one conceptual domain (the source) in order to gain new understanding of a second, non-related domaim (the target).
Pierre van Hecke, "Conceptual Blending" in Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, pp 218-19 
cited in Dearman, Hosea, NICOT, p11

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Morning Quotes: Jesus, Israel and Election,

In terms of the open questions of the Old Testament and the apocalyptic promises, and the existential experience of Israel in exile and alienation, Jesus is revealed as the one who fulfills these promises. This of course can be described superficially as a proof from prophecy. But what is meant is that the person and history of Jesus have been manifested and understood as open to the future of God in a way which was characteristic of the distinctive existence of Israel among all the nations.  
Moltmann, The Crucified God, Fortress 1993, p99
Election needs to be seen as a doctrine of mission, not a calculus for the arithmetic of salvation. If we are to speak of being chosen, of being among God's elect, it is to say that, like Abraham, we are chosen for the sake of God's plan that the nations of the world come to enjoy the blessing of Abraham.
Chris Wright, The Mission of God's People, 2010, p72

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Death of Postmodernism

Thanks to Tony Jones for pointing to a very useful article on the death of postmodernism and what is to come after.

The death of postmodernism, 

For a while, as communism began to collapse, the supremacy of western capitalism seemed best challenged by deploying the ironic tactics of postmodernism. Over time, though, a new difficulty was created: because postmodernism attacks everything, a mood of confusion and uncertainty began to grow and flourish until, in recent years, it became ubiquitous. A lack of confidence in the tenets, skills and aesthetics of literature permeated the culture and few felt secure or able or skilled enough or politically permitted to distinguish or recognise the schlock from the not. And so, sure enough, in the absence of any aesthetic criteria, it became more and more useful to assess the value of works according to the profits they yielded [. . .]
In other words, increasingly, artistic success has become about nothing except money; and, increasingly, artists have come to judge their own success that way, too [. . .]  The paradox being this: that by removing all criteria, we are left with nothing but the market. The opposite of what postmodernism originally intended.

And, of course, there’s a parallel paradox in politics and philosophy. If we de-privilege all positions, we can assert no position, we cannot therefore participate in society or the collective and so, in effect, an aggressive postmodernism becomes, in the real world, indistinguishable from an odd species of inert conservatism.

And what will it be replaced with?  Rather optimistically, 

If we tune in carefully, we can detect this growing desire for authenticity all around us. We can see it in the specificity of the local food movement or the repeated use of the word “proper” on gastropub menus. We can hear it in the use of the word “legend” as applied to anyone who has actually achieved something in the real world. (The elevation of real life to myth!) We can recognise it in advertising campaigns such as for Jack Daniel’s, which ache to portray not rebellion but authenticity. We can identify it in the way brands are trying to hold on to, or take up, an interest in ethics, or in a particular ethos. A culture of care is advertised and celebrated and cherished. Values are important once more: the values that the artist puts into the making of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out of the object. And all of these striven-for values are separate to the naked commercial value.

Go deeper still and we can see a growing reverence and appreciation for the man or woman who can make objects well. [. . .] It’s not just the story, after all, but how the story is told.

These three ideas, of specificity, of values and of authenticity, are at odds with postmodernism. We are entering a new age. Let’s call it the Age of Authenticism and see how we get on.

Three words I think it is good to hold dear, whether or not they are the new hallmarks of the incoming "Age of Authenticity": Authenticity, Values, Specificity.  Of course it is worth saying that modernism is still very much with us and postmodernsim will linger with equal vigour, people are very inconsistent and flip switches with the least provocation, it is not like "authenticity is a good thing" is really news to anyone!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Was Paul a Trinitarian?

Eddie Fearon and Daniel Kirk have been reflecting on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture Colloquium that I also attended this weekend past, although neither of them found my paper worthy of mention ;-) but like the Murphy's i'm not bitter.  Kirk shares the following exchange,
In a side conversation with one of the presenters (whose paper I very much appreciated and whose overall position on theological interpretation I find quite congenial), I made a brief case for why Christian hermeneutics should be Christological rather than Trinitarian.
He sees these working together. And I get that. But in trying to situate my point I asked, “Was Paul a Trinitarian?” He said, “Yes.” End of conversation.
That’s a small picture of where a biblical scholar can’t say what a theologian presumes, and why scholarship’s Bible will continue to be an enigma to the church. Beyond whether scholars are approaching their exegetical task as Christians, theologians (and church people) often want the Bible to say what it does not say, to support what it does not speak to.
I do wonder if the church’s theology will need to learn to hear what it takes for throat clearing as the song of the Spirit before the chasm will bridged between theology and the Bible
Which raises a number of very interesting points.

It is certainly true that Paul never made anything approaching the trinitarian declarations of the historic creeds, but as the paper I shared attempted to show, Paul was certainly capable of theologising within a theological framework that gave significance to the work of God, Jesus and the Spirit.  many biblical scholars have been happy to call this something like a "latent trinitarianism" but you do need to be careful that that doesn't get confused with talking about ousias and stuff.  The kind of counterfactual arguing that this might lead to would go something like "would Paul have signed the Chalcedon Creed if he had been presented with the same circumstances as that creed was addressing?"  Which of course could only degenerate into a useless giving of opinions.  My useless opinion is that he probably would have but only after they added a substantial "therefore" section detailing the believer's ethical response to the theological mysteries contained in the Creed.

Asking Paul whether or not he is a Trinitarian is a waste of time, but, as Kirk eloquently puts it, if we listen to what "the song of the Spirit" through Paul is actually saying we may learn many things that will enrich our own Trinitarian (or otherwise) theology no end.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Social Location of the Preacher and the Blame Game

Since coming to NZ I have heard a common refrain despairing at the poverty of preaching in NZ, how preachers willfully abuse the scriptures and fail to feed their hungry people on the word of God instead feeding them a toxic mix of homespun advice, pop psychology and gratutuitous proof texting. 

As a foreigner i would confidently guess that the percentage of good preachers to bad ones here is probably the same as anywhere else in the world, though i'm not sure i have sufficient experience to know for sure.  But for sure the percentage of those NZ academics ready and willing to decry the state of preaching is sky high.  The accusation is always that the preacher does not respect The Word, that they are too busy pushing their "leadership" agenda to properly minister the scriptures, or that they just don't spend enough time in preparation - all of which may be quite true.

But like all of God's creatures the preacher is a product of their environment, most particularly the church, the academy that trained them, and of course our consumer society. Those despicable preachers cannot shoulder the blame for all their failings.  I could go on to list ten reasons why the Church as a whole is to blame for the situation (i mean who employs these turkeys?), or even twenty why the academy is to blame (when you divide biblical studies, theology, church history and homiletics into different subjects don't be surprised if they don't interact in the student's brain) but passing the blame from preacher to congregation to academy manages to culture only serves to mimic the post-lapsarian shuffling of feet of Gen 3:11-13.  Instead we need to work out the ways in which we can cover our nakedness.  Making preachers feel guilty for not meeting the standards of their theology teachers is not one of them.

The truth is (and here comes some of my own pop pschology) the worse a preacher feels about their preaching, the less time they are likely to give to it.  The more they feel those in the academy they look up to have set an impossible standard the less they will work to reach it.  The more the church praises them for giving them junk food instead of real meat the less likely they are to take the time to cook a square meal. 

In today's consumeristic world, which has fully infiltrated the church preachers serving MacDonalds will draw the crowds, while those serving finely honed nourishing food will only attract the connoisseur.  And even those who are drawn to "real preaching" are in danger of making a marketing choice rather than a real act of devotion.  Spiritual pride can still be found in those listening regularly to "biblical preaching."

There is no fix, but for those of us who care about this, and i do, i can only suggest the following homespun wisdom:

1. If you are a biblical preacher teach your congregation what biblical preaching is and how to train their preachers in it and let them train you! (and make sure you are actively training others)
2. If you are an academic adopt a different preacher each year, be nice to them and encourage them in their preaching of scripture.
3. If you are a frustrated congregant pray for your pastor and talk to him or her gently but matter of factly about what is missing from the sermons.

Let me know what you think, and how you get on :-)

Paul’s Unconventional Sexual Ethic


This paper is what I presented at the recent Laidlaw-Carey/Otago sponsored colloquium on theological interpretation.  If you've already read my thesis, there is nothing new here, but if you haven't will give you a skeletal version of my last chapter.  Enjoy!

The Problem

In warning the Corinthians against πορνεα, sexual immorality, Paul does not appeal to OT law or the ruling of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:20, 29)[1]  instead he gives a stricter indictment against prostitution than anything found in the OT.[2] David Horrell argues that Paul’s argument here is based on the “presumption” that sex with a prostitute is illicit, while sex with a spouse, believing or not, is permitted.  He claims that, “while Paul uses arguments about holiness and bodily union with Christ to support and promote his sexual ethics, the substantive ethical convictions themselves are not derived from these arguments but are already assumed.”[3] 

In Horrell’s reading Paul is using the theological indicative only to support a previously assumed moral imperative.[4]   The ethical motivation is theological but the ethical content is merely conventional.    On the other hand for Karl Barth, in 1 Cor 6:18, “Paul is speaking of a sin of which only the Christian is really capable.”[5]  That is, not only is the ethic not conventional, but even the sin is not conventional!  Horrell and Barth cannot both be right.

My argument then is this

There were both Jewish and pagan objections to the use of prostitutes, but Paul’s argument does not resemble those nor show any concern in whatever ways prostitution might have been generally viewed as immoral.  Although 1 Cor 6:12 does read in many ways like a general argument from benefit and permission, using the language of similar pagan arguments,[6] Paul expands those principles in vs13-20 in a way that could only apply to the Christian.  He does not describe social, moral, or material consequences, norms, or ideals.  Instead the command to flee πορνεία is located solely in the Christian’s relationship to God through Christ in the Spirit. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The so-called "Slogans" of 1 Corinthians: 6:12: 1 Cor 6:12

1 Cor 6:12, A Corinthian slogan or Paul’s own words?

(12) Πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν ἀλλʼ οὐ πάντα συμφέρει· πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐγὼ ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπό τινος.

(12) Everything is permitted to me, but not everything is for the good. Everything is permitted to me, but I will not be ruled by anything. 


The consensus view is that the phrase "everything is permitted to me" is a citation of a Corinthian slogan.  Some translators go even further than merely putting the phrase in inverted commas and insert “you say” or words to that effect into the text.[1]  Brian Dodd traces this tradition back to Johannes Weiss and finds Weiss’ argument, based on what Paul didn’t write rather than on what he did, unconvincing, given the frequency with which Paul does signal his citations.[2]   Fitzmyer takes exception to Dodd’s thesis but does not tackle the issue of Paul’s failure to indicate a citation.  For Fitzmyer the statement cannot be Paul’s own words because it is “proverbial” and because of the following ἀλλʼ οὐ(κ) which “pits Paul’s reaction over against the saying.”[3]  Fee, writing too early to interact with Dodd, nonetheless follows a similar line of reasoning to Fitzmyer in arguing for a slogan.  For Fee, “[Paul] qualifies [the slogan] so sharply as to negate it.”[4]

Nevertheless, there is no reason why ἀλλʼ οὐκ should be considered to have this extreme negating effect.  The adversative particle ἀλλά functions to contrast two clauses,[5] but what is the effect of this particle when combined with the negative οὐκ?  Paul has twice used this same construction earlier in 1 Corinthians without any suggestion that ἀλλʼ οὐκ serves to negate the prior clause: