I am currently reading/reviewing Thomas Schreiner’s new Galatians commentary for the Zondervan Exegetical series. I knew, going into it, that there would be some things I disagree with. Overall, I have been surprised at how much I DO agree with him on and that, overall, he is not as hostile to the New Perspective as I had expected.
More than anything else, I was upset by his treatment of Galatians 3:28 and the issue of the “oneness” of the church and “male and female.” He writes
…the equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out, in Paul’s mind, the distinct roles of men and women in marriage [he cites household codes] or in ministry contexts (1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:9-15). 
OK, fair enough – nothing I haven’t heard before, although simply “citing” verses seems a bit superficial in an “exegetical” commentary series that exists almost solely on the basis of the idea that Scripture needs to be interpreted.
I have more concern with some of his hermeneutical concepts:
I just witnessed to some Mormons two days ago who found the doctrine of the Trinity to be philosophical nonsense. Some think the doctrine of the two natures of Christ is irrational as well. How can one person be fully God and fully man? I am not suggesting that anything in our faith is contradictory or irrational, but I am suggesting that even if some truths are beyond our finding out, we must submit ultimately to Scripture instead of limiting ourselves to what seems reasonable to us. .
I am quite shocked by this. Certainly he is right to say that the actual way the Trinity works is mysterious – no qualms there. But, when it comes to Christian ethics, I think we are in different territory. Consider the issue of slavery in America and the UK. Keep in mind, it was the pro-slavery group that had the stronger Scriptural arguments. To some degree the same would go for Apartheid. The impetus for the abolition of slavery, which did come from Christian circles, was exactly THAT IT WAS UNREASONABLE. The Scriptural arguments against slavery, and there were plenty in due time, only really came as a result of the uneasiness of slavery ethically.
He does backtrack a bit later: “Incidentally, I think a robust philosophical defense can be made of the notion that women and men are equal in essence and different in role.” (261). I am not sure, if he does believe this, why he makes the statement about “just believing it” even if you can’t understand why. I really think he would have been better of sticking to his guns and just making the best case for it.
The early church, even with the doctrine of the Trinity, was never content to say, “Ah well. My brain gets muddled when I think about the Trinity. Let’s just say we believe it and move on.” No, they knew that, even if it seemed like an impossible task, they had to keep struggling with it to make it intelligible philosophically (thank you Augustine, you tried very hard). The Church is not NIKE – we don’t “Just do it.” Paul’s letters could have been much, much shorter if he subscribed to this philosophy.
I was also disappointed by the judgmental tone of Schreiner’s final statement on the issue: “we must also avoid wrenching texts out of context and reading a program out of them that was never intended by the author” (261).
As an egalitarian myself (I prefer this label over Schreiner’s ostensibly derogatory label “evangelical feminist”), I hardly think he has to make such a bald warning. As an example of one who espouses the egalitarian position that Schreiner refutes, he cites F.F. Bruce. After citing Bruce, you caution “evangelical feminists” to be more exegetically carefully? Didn’t Bruce teach our generation of EVANGELICAL NT scholars how to be exegetically careful?
I have to apologize to Schreiner, that I judged him and his commentary before I had a chance to read it. Again, there is much I appreciate, especially his pastoral sensitivity and ability to write concisely. On the other hand, I think the messy hermeneutics of the handful of pages on 3:28 is disconcerting and fits only awkwardly in an exegetical commentary.
I am looking forward, in mid-May, to the Pacific Northwest SBL meeting. I will be involved in two sessions. First, I was excited to have my paper accepted. The Title and Abstract are below:
Door Locks Only Stop Mortals: The Isaianic Key That Unlocks the Mystery of the Johannine Resurrection House Appearances (John 20:19-29)
Only Luke and John recount resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples in a home (Luke 24:36-44; John 20:19-29). John’s account is more vivid, twice mentioning that the doors were locked when Jesus miraculously came into their midst, and only John recounts the audacious demand for physical proof from Thomas (20:24-25).
In this paper, we will explore the serious possibility that John draws from the prophetic-eschatology of Isaiah 26, a text strongly focused on the Day of the Lord and the coming of peace, divine vengeance, life from the dead, judgment, and victory. Drawing such connections allow the reader of the fourth Gospel to be further attentive to such key features of this narratives in terms of irony, faith, human agency, new life and the righteousness and faithfulness of the God of Israel. Ultimately, reading John 20 with Isaiah 26 helps the Gospel interpreter to understand how a crucified and risen Jesus could fulfill the hopes of restoration and peace promised to the people of God.
Also, I will be participating in a review panel discussion of Paul N. Anderson’s soon-coming book on the Gospel of John entitled Riddles of the Fourth Gospel (Fortress Press). While it is not out yet, Anderson has furnished me with a copy and I am about 3/5 through it. So far, it is very impressive: carefully thought out, very accessible for students, and contains a cogent argument (thus far) regarding how he thinks the various “riddles” can be penetrated. I will certainly have some words to say about the book, but by far it will be positive.
So, if you are coming please do drop in on one or both of these and say hello afterward.
I noticed recently that Todd D. Still (Truett Seminary) has a Philippians commentary coming out soon in the Smyth & Helwys series. You can see the sterling endorsements he receives here. The book is due out in March (next month) and Todd showed me the text a few months ago and it is really excellent. Paired with the flavor of the series (lots of pictures and charts), I think students will be thoroughly impressed.
Lately I have been reading two very useful introductions to the Gospels. The first is Francis Moloney’s The Living Voice of the Gospels (Hendrickson/Baker, 2007). This is a very easy-to-read, accessible introduction that focuses on the literary and theological messages of the Gospels. After each introductory chapter on the four Gospels, he gives a commentary-like reading of a key passage (Mark 1; Matthew 1; Luke 22-24; John 6). There is a strong push for a narrative-critical reading, theological interpretation, and reader-response sort of hermeneutics which de-emphasizes historical questions and issues (though he shies away from technical jargon). While I thoroughly enjoyed his comments, I was sometimes left with the question – is this all just symbolism? Are the Gospels historical at all? I understand Moloney’s point in focusing on the “living voice,” but perhaps he has neglected the historical elements to a fault. In any case, complemented by other books, I found his approach very rewarding.
Another useful textbook is Mark Allan Powell’s Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (1998). Strikingly different in approach from Moloney, Powell concentrates on source critical and redaction-critical insights, presuming Markan priority. If you want to get acquainted with the history of the study of the Gospels and higher criticism (which I found very interesting), this is an excellent study with some very insightful charts and diagrams. I was particularly impressed with the brief, but cogent chapter on “Other Gospels” – a subject that many students are curious about.
Some time ago I interviewed UMC Bishop William Willimon regarding his role as editor of the Wesley Study Bible. When I saw that he had a new book on Jesus (Why Jesus, Abindon), I immediately ordered it. Might this be a good textbook for the course I teach on Christian Formation?
It is an excellent and interesting book, indeed, written for a semi-popular audience, stripped of Christianese jargon, and full of whit. It basically raises the question: Why bother with Jesus? What was he like and what can that mean for me? Why should I take notice?
As the book is an extended meditation on Jesus’ identity, the chapters focus on different aspects of this identity:
Vagabond, Peacemaker, Storyteller, Party Person, Preacher, Magician, Home Wrecker, Savior, Sovereign, Lover, Delegator, and Body.
The chapters are quite short (usually less than 1o pp.), and include small sidebar items called “Aside to Jesus” where, creatively, Willimon makes a quick statement relevant to the topic which he addresses to Jesus himself, such as: “Aside to Jesus: You sure are easier to live with when you are spiritual than when you get physical” (p. 125, in a discussion of the physical Church as the “body of Christ” according to Paul). Also, he has a “Look It Up” section at the end of each chapter where readers can spend time in the Scripture passages that Willimon makes reference to.
Here are some of the strengths of this book:
-It is unique – so contemplative, but Willimon is always provocative, often irreverent, and an equal opportunity offender. He especially goes after cheap grace, civil religion, separating ethics and faith, and hypocrisy.
- He is self-effacing, always drawing attention to the plank in his own eye.
- His reading of the NT (and mostly the Gospels) can be very insightful
-He does well representing the current state of discussion on NT issues when they are relevant.
Here are a few drawbacks or limitations of the book
- The book overall comes across as hippie and anti-American (politically). Obviously he is going for this, and I resonate with some of it (and perhaps much of it), but it becomes a bit too repetitive for me.
- This may seem nit-picky, but he calls Jesus a magician (and titles a chapter based on this). Personally, I think that is a mistake. He may have been mistaken for one, but I think his method and result are quite different in many cases than to so-called magicians of his day. Anyway, that may be a scholarly quibble not worth much.
-His style of writing in this book, while down-to-earth and accessible, comes across as very “stream-of-consciousness,” quickly darting here and there from idea to idea and text to text. While I enjoyed reading it, I can’t summarize what I read in each chapter save the guidance of the title. Perhaps at least a nice intro and conclusion per chapter may have been helpful.
Well, I have decided not to use it in my class, but that does not mean I didn’t enjoy reading it. I am going to quote Willimon tomorrow in my sermon, and I think many Christians will find the book convicting and probing overall.
In the latest issue of Catalyst, an evangelical United Methodist online publication, I have an article on “Scripture and Ethics.” I am pleased for it to appear alongside an excellent little piece by my friend Michael Gorman on “Missional Musings on Paul.”
It is my pleasure to present to you an interview with Brenda Colijn, Prof. of Biblical Interpretation and Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary. This interview focuses on her new book, Images of Salvation in the New Testament (IVP, 2010). Not unlike Paul Minear’s book on images of the church in the NT, but with more methodological rigor and more accessible, this book offers penetrating insight on what the NT says about way God has delivered and saved his people.
1. Brenda, your book is about “images” of salvation in the New Testament. What inspired you to write this book? How do you find “images” or metaphors or word-pictures to be particularly illuminating when studying NT theology?
I wanted to write the book because I’ve been fascinated by the diversity of the New Testament presentations of salvation, while remaining convinced that they all contribute to the same story. I wanted to give full play to the richness of that diversity while asking what holds them together. The study of images is a fruitful way into the theology of the New Testament because it lets us follow where the writers lead us without being constrained by our inherited theological categories, which limit the ways the text can speak. It lets the New Testament speak to us in its own voice. We can’t pretend to read it without any baggage of our own, of course, but at least we are better positioned to hear what the writers (and God through them) want to say to us.
2. You offer a whole host of images: covenant, kingdom, life, new creation, rescue/healing, freedom, justification, election, participation/theosis, holiness/perfection, pilgrimage, etc… Are there images that you think are more central or significant than others?
I could say that some are more central than others because they appear more often, or because I think they are particularly helpful in some way, or because they have been significant in this history of theology. After all, I did choose these images, even though one could make a case for including others. But the New Testament writers didn’t focus on one or two; they gave us a rich array of images. If we really want to understand what salvation is, we need all of them.
3. You spend some time in each chapter showing how the depth and power of each image speaks out to the modern church. When you were researching and writing this book, were their particular images that seemed especially neglected and underappreciated today in the (Western? American?) church?
In general, I think the relational images are less well known than they should be, at least in the American church. I’m thinking of reconciliation and peace, for example. Even well-known images like justification are more relational than we typically think. I was struck by the deep corporate dimension of every image I examined, which challenges the individualism of American culture. Salvation isn’t a solo act. This isn’t a new insight, of course, but when you examine the diversity of New Testament images, it comes through strongly. The Western church has also largely forgotten the participatory language of the New Testament, but we have begun to recover it through interactions with Eastern Orthodoxy. Finally, the idea that the Christian faith requires patient endurance to the end is often neglected.
4. I think you use the term “salvation” in a broader sense than sometimes used in popular lingo or classic textbooks. Can you try and define for us how you use the word in the book?
Salvation, broadly speaking, is God’s activity to restore his creation that has been damaged by sin. The new life that we experience as believers in Jesus is part of that grand plan that God has set in motion. The key to God’s plan is Jesus, who mediates salvation to the world. The Holy Spirit brings God’s offered salvation into the lives of human beings. For human beings, salvation encompasses not just conversion but transformation and fullness of life in Christ–and in Christ’s body–culminating in resurrection, glorification, and eternal life.
5. One of the things you emphasize at the beginning of the book is the cognitive utility of metaphors despite the bad reputation they sometimes get by theologians. Can you briefly summarize how you approach the way that these metaphors are powerful and “true” while still being non-literal and symbolic?
Identifying something as metaphorical is just a way of talking about how that thing functions – it tries to illuminate something unfamiliar (perhaps something abstract or difficult to describe) by comparing it to something familiar (usually something concrete). This act of comparison is fundamental to the learning process. It can also enable us to see already-familiar things in new ways, because it illuminates aspects of the world we haven’t noticed before. Therein lies the power of metaphor to transform us, because it can transform the way we see. Regardless of whether an instance of language is literal or metaphorical, we still have to ask what it’s saying, and then evaluate whether what it’s saying is true or not. When Jesus called Herod a fox, he was speaking truthfully about Herod’s craftiness in metaphorical language. It’s odd that some conservative Christians are wary of metaphor, because we’re quite comfortable with non-literal language like “my Christian walk” and “inviting Jesus into my heart.” We just don’t think of those as metaphors.
6. Thanks for your responses and answers. Would you mind sharing what other projects you would like to work on in the future?
I want to do some research on the historical development of the doctrine of salvation before working toward a more constructive theology of salvation in the future. My next book project will probably be a study of formational hermeneutics – that is, an approach to reading Scripture that integrates study and devotion for the purpose of transformation.
The very helpful commentary website “bestcommentaries.com” lists 75 commentaries on Romans written in the last 100 years (and I am sure that list is not exhaustive). It also lists almost another twenty that are contracted for the future (Porter, Gaventa, Longenecker, etc…). Do we really need more and more and more on Romans?
Certainly this huge interest in Romans is a testament to the importance of the book. And, we Paul scholars can’t help ourselves – when a new commentary comes out -we grumble…and then buy it.
Well, I am happy to concede that Frank Matera’s new PAIDEIA Romans commentary (Baker, 2010) is a good read and will be very useful for classroom use. Here is a note about the series
This series is aimed squarely at students…who have theological interests in the biblical text
Sometimes scholars have trouble remembering how difficult it is for uninitiated students to break into the study of Paul and make sense of debates and key discussions. Matera steps in and offers a very lucid treatment of the text in a way that makes Romans-scholarship accessible.
Certain elements of the series itself facilitate this: a critically-important aspect of the volume is the focus on the “flow of the text” -where is the argument going? What is the big picture? Too often, students (and scholars!) lose the forest, not just for the trees, but for a deep desire to obsess over the tiniest piece of bark on one tree! Matera follows the route of argumentation well (enough) and leaves a wide path for students to follow. The section-by-section analysis is pretty standard, general, and he does not promote “new” or controversial ideas. He sticks to standard viewpoints (which is not a bad thing).
Another important aspect of this series is that each section discussion ends with a discussion of “Theological Issues” and Matera carefully selects appropriate topics of reflection. I will find myself returning to these as well.
Now, having 380 pages to write a commentary might sound generous, but Matera has an almost impossible task given the complex history of debate in Romans scholarship and also the sheer depth and importance of the letter. However, he makes the most of it. There are even pictures and charts sprinkled throughout which offer clarity and richness.
Here are some points of conversation in Matera’s commentary that may be of interest
- 9:5 – certainly at least on some occasions Paul knew Christos as a title (i.e., more than just a fixed name)
- Beyond just in Romans 5, Adam Christology is in the subtext of the whole letter
- The dikaiosyne of God is his “saving righteousness”
- One should take “obedience of faith” as an appositional genitive
- In 1:18-32, theories that the “golden calf” incident is alluded to are tenuous (I disagree with Matera here)
- identity of interlocuter in chapter 2 is generally not in need of scholarly reconstruction (see p. 60)
- Bassler is right that Paul’s focus esp in chs 1-3 is on the impartiality of God
- Rhetorically Matera likes Thomas Tobin’s work, theologically Matera likes Wright.
- Overall emphasis on “sin” as evil “power”
- prefers subjective genitive reading of pistis christou
- the hilasterion is probably the mercy seat
- Romans 7 – the “I” is not a Christian
-Romans 9-11: “if the apostle cannot explain the continuity between God’s saving righteousness manifested to Israel in the past and God’s saving righteousness manifested in Jesus Christ, there is no continuity between what God has done and what God is presently doing. If this is so, Paul’s gospel calls into question the faithfulness and reliability of God. In a word, there is a festering wound between synagogue and church” (p. 212)
-The importance of the Jerusalem collection – “it could never be…a minor issue for Paul since it pointed to the purpose of God’s saving righteousness in Christ: the unity of all people – Gentiles as well as Jews — in the human being who has already entered into the fullness of God’s glory” (p. 348)
- Matera’s commentary ends with three words: “SOLI DEO GLORIA”
The scholar will probably not be wowed by new insights and controversial remarks in this commentary. It is a solid and fair reading of the text of Romans and should be helpful in instruction and student learning.
Studying at Gordon-Conwell gave me a passion for Biblical theology – ”whole-Bible theology.” A nice short treatment I read recently is by T. Desmond Alexander, one of the editors of the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP), entitled From Eden to the New Jerusalem. In this book, Alexander is inspired by all sorts of connections between Genesis and Revelation. At many times this felt like he was channeling Greg Beale.
In the first two chapters, he makes connections between Eden and the temple, finally making the connection between church and temple as well. The third chapter follows closely, looking at the royal roles of Adam and Eve. The fourth chapter concentrates on evil and the defeat of the evil powers in Christ. Redemption and new creation are the focus of chapter five. Six and seven engage with the transformation of the world and the vitality of new life in God. Obviously Alexander is interested in how Genesis and Revelation serve as important bookends to the meta-narrative of the Bible. It was a delight to read.
You may have heard that Asbury Theological Seminary just hired Craig Keener. Craig is a friend of mine – a fantastic guy and truly one of the great NT scholars of our time. The students will adore him and the faculty will cherish his warmth and collegiality. A hearty congrats to you, Craig. I talked to Craig recently about this change over and while it was very difficult for him to leave his beloved friends and students at Palmer, he is following the guidance of God in this move – what else would you expect of him?