Thursday, March 26, 2015

Apocalyptic Paul

So as someone who has struggled to keep up with currents in Pauline studies over the last 5 years, has limited time for reading and blogging I wanted to try and get a handle on "Apocalyptic." General the term is presented in the following trope: "scholar so and so thinks that apocalyptic is that but they are wrong apocalyptic really means this!" So it strikes me that what we have is not one agreed upon concept but a trendy word which scholars like to throw about to show that they are no longer trudging around in the old hat of the "new perspective". Is apocalyptic just a cipher for "my preferred approach to reading Paul"?

So where should one go for a primer on Pauline Apocalyptic, a concise description and a balanced account of the differing views?

Well Scot McKnight is usually a reliable guide, he says,
First, the primary word is “apocalyptic” but this term is not being defined by Jewish apocalypses so much as it is almost equivalent to a cosmic, universalist redemption that has now invaded the world in Christ (the old age is shattered by the new age). Apocalyptic is associated closely with soteriology, cosmic soteriology, in this reading. God’s acting in history is heavily emphasized; the divine action is at the core of the apocalyptic Paul. It is all played on the cosmic stage in grand categories — almost abstractions.
Thomas Bridges feels that Pauline Apocalyptic has the power to deliniate the all encomapassing cosmic scope of the gospel,
In a sense, the Pauline gospel contextualizes us, rather than vice-versa. But it is extremely important to note, however, that the highly contextual nature of Paul’s writings also shows that the good news inhabits and transforms multiple cultural sites in various ways, rather than calling everyone from his or her culture to a single, all-encompassing culture.
Andrew Perriman has a nine point outline too long to reproduce here which is intended to be,
I would argue—but of course, I have argued—that the theological content of Romans becomes remarkably lucid and coherent once a consistent ‘apocalyptic’ narrative is brought into view. This forward-looking narrative, which should be construed quite realistically and biblically—we might say politically and prophetically—provides the magnetic field that brings the central concepts of wrath, gospel, faith(fulness), justification, salvation, suffering, etc., into meaningful alignment and keeps them from being exploited or deformed by extrinsic theological concerns.
 
Andrew Wilson kindly provides a summary of a 2014 pre SBL session featuring the big guns of PA. Most notable is that the final contributor, the venerable Barclay is remembered as saying,
Eight different definitions of apocalyptic have been used this afternoon, and that’s because it’s a label we’ve invented to identify things we regard in a certain way.
And just when I think I am starting to get a handle on it Chris Tilling gives a lovely four point definition which seems to only describe good exegesis (IMHO) and have little to do with any of the above!?

So is "Apocalyptic" a helpful term? Well presumably it is or the scholars wouldn't use it, but it seems hard to me to have a fight over new perspective versus apocalyptic or narrative historical versus apocalyptic, e.g., when there is so much fighting about what apocalyptic actually is. Can a house divided against itself stand?

Well Peter Leithart seems to think that that is not the point anyway. Pauline Apocalyptic is just a part of a wider Apocalyptic discussion which represents the age old clash between Greek and Hebrew theologies:
Jenson argues that “The two theologies are contrary; the debate between them has been greatly fruitful, but it is a debate. The one is wisdom about a God whose eternity is perpendicular to time and the other is wisdom about a God whose eternity both embraces and is involved in time” (161). If that’s true, then whatever the fruits of apocalyptic theology, it cannot be all that we can or should say about God, for the Christian God’s “interventions” are always entries into a world that already lives, moves, and has its being in Him.

So that clears everything up!

Book suggestions I have picked up on my trawl through the blogs:
Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology: With and Beyond J. Louis Martyn (Cascade, 2012)
Douglas Harink Paul Among the Postliberals (W&S, 2013)
Bev Gaventa (ed.), The Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8 (Baylor University Press).

So any recommendations, blogs or books I have missed?

Stone the crows it's a mini black hole!


At some point, then, at the source of all sources and the origin of all origins, the contingent must rest upon the absolute. One will not understand this line of reasoning properly, however, unless one recognizes [sic] that it is not concerned with the question of the temporal origin of the universe; it would make no difference for the argument whatsoever if it should turn out that the universe has existed forever and will go on existing eternally, without beginning or end, or that it belongs to some beginningless and endless succession of universes. (102)
So don't panic, while the Cern LHC may blow up the planet now that it has been juiced up to twice the power at least it wont disprove the existence of God. Phew!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hart on Naturalism, Existence and God

So, life is kind of hectic and reading has not been high enough on the priorities recently, but this afternoon I picked up The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart (Yale 2013) again. The book is starting to get going, although I'm sure he could say the same thing more clearly with 1/3 of the words, but maybe that is a style thing?

[P]hilisophical naturalism could never serve as a complete, coherent, or even provisionally plausible picture of reality as a whole. . . The question of existence is real, comprehensible, and unavoidable, and yet it lies beyond the power of naturalism to answer it, or even to ask it. (p95)

To be clear here: not only has physics not yet arrived at an answer to this question, it never can. All physical events - all physical causes, all physical constituents of reality - are embraced within the history of nature, which is to say the history of what already has existence. The question of existence, however, concerns the very possibility of such a history, and the very expectation that the sciences could possibly have anything to say on the matter is and example of what might be called the "pleonastic fallacy"; that is, the belief that an absolute qualitative difference can be over come by a successive accumulation of extremely small and entirely relative quantitative steps. This is arguably the besetting mistake of all naturalist thinking, as it happens, in practically every sphere. (p98)

At some point, then, at the source of all sources and the origin of all origins, the contingent must rest upon the absolute. One will not understand this line of reasoning properly, however, unless one recognizes [sic] that it is not concerned with the question of the temporal origin of the universe; it would make no difference for the argument whatsoever if it should turn out that the universe has existed forever and will go on existing eternally, without beginning or end, or that it belongs to some beginningless and endless succession of universes. (102)

. . . the cause of being is not some mechanical first instance of physical eventuality that, having discharged its part, may depart the stage; rather, it is the unconditional reality underlying all conditioned things in every instant. (104) 

Hart is at pains, over several pages, to make the often overlooked distinction between cosmology and ontology clear. I think it is a helpful point and certainly relevant to discussions about the relationship between science and theology, i.e. any cosmological claims made by religion are at risk of the being overturned by the advances of science, but ontological claims are of a different order. And of course this is not just about justifying religious belief in the face of atheist attacks but about requiring an answer from the atheist as to how they explain existence in the first place. All good. Hart also makes a slightly more overreaching claim in the same vein which I might try and explain in another post.

Let me know what you think, :-)


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Politics of Prayer

Check out Don Burrows' excellent dissection of the Lord's Prayer's political resonances against the background of the Roman Empire. You''ll be glad you did.

pax