October 28, 2008

AAR and other musings

I'm looking forward to AAR in Chicago this coming weekend. I wouldn't be going except it is so close I can't resist. And I can stay for free with my sister in Milwaukee; I spend a bit extra on gas, but save a ton on hotel costs. So I'm looking forward to coming home with a big pile of discounted books! I've got money set aside, and can't wait to prowl the aisles. I must add at this point that I bemoan the separation of AAR and SBL. I went to the joint meeting in Philadelphia in 2005. And it was awesome. There were so many great presentations in both the theological and biblical areas that I was horribly divided on which sessions I was going to attend (and I only made it to a few, but heard some great stuff). It seemed like such an important opportunity for theologians and biblical scholars to have their scholarship interact, such an important and growing emphasis these days. This year there are some great sessions as well, and I am looking forward to the weekend. I'm interested in the discussion on the Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology on Saturday (M1-200). I've been greatly enjoying that book, and look forward to a discussion about it's take on evangelical theology and practice. It seems to exemplify the best of evangelical scholarship and the promise of an evangelical future, though certainly not in an uncritical way. There's also a session on LeRon Shults's Reforming the Doctrine of God that should be good, and hopefully I can hang around for it on Monday.

Beyond that, I have a few thoughts budding, including some thoughts about "slavery and ministry" in the New Testament and it's applicability to discussions of hermeneutics and social roles with regard to women. Hopefully a post will be born of that train of thought sooner than later. I've also been deeply dug into Allan Coppedge's The God Who Is Triune, which is a great introduction on the Trinity (and the Shack and some of the issues it raises are still bouncing around in my head, and Coppedge's book is very insightful on how we think about the Trinity). More to come in the following days and weeks, including a report of all the books I did and didn't buy at AAR.

October 23, 2008

Praying to the Triune God

I have been reading a great book on the Trinity of late, The God Who Is Triune, by Allan Coppedge. I'll review the book in more detail in due course, but I have been greatly enjoying it. Thinking of God as Triune always seems so fruitful and fulfilling. And this morning, as I was praying, some of these basic insights about God's Triunity were bouncing around in my head, reminding me to not just throw up a "dear Jesus" or "dear God" or "dear Father" and stumble on into my prayer, but instead to pause a second and remember what I'm doing, praying to the Father in the name of the Son in and by the Spirit. For me, it's amazing how profoundly this changes the experience of prayer. It seems that for me, recalling and praying to the Triune God means remembering who God is, not just that God is. I'm not addressing an impersonal force, some amorphous perfect being, but a personal and self-revealing God who has made himself known. What a great thing to ponder as I sit down to pray.

October 16, 2008

I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology

I. Howard Marshall is one of the most distinguished evangelical New Testament scholars of the past twenty-five years. And the adjective "evangelical" is not necessary to make that statement true: he stands tall in any scholarly company. His work has been devoted to the documents of the New Testament, from Luke-Acts to the Pastoral Epistles, with many important works of biblical theology as well. This work, New Testament Theology, is clearly the fruit of his long career.

First, a word about general format. Marshall begins with an introduction about the nature of New Testament theology. He then proceeds systematically through the documents of the New Testament, with periodic breaks for synthesis and comparison. He sums up the theology of the Synoptics and Acts, for example, before proceeding to Paul, and after discussing the Pauline corpus document by document, he synthesizes Paul's letters and then proceeds to carefully compare the theology of Paul's letters to the theology of the synoptics and Acts, and so on throughout the collections of literature that make up the New Testament. In each book, Marshall begins with some introductory comments about the book, it's setting, authorship, etc. He then tells the "theological story" of the book by moving chunk by chunk through each book, dealing with the major teaching units and their content. After moving through the book this way, he synthesizes the theology by approaching the book's content in a more theologically organized way, looking at things like "God the Father" or "Spiritual Gifts" or the like. This allows the book's theology to speak to itself, but also helps the book's theology to speak toward the categories of systematics and helps piece together an author's theological perspective.

I have really enjoyed reading this book, and though I haven't yet read it cover to cover, everything I've read has been well informed and uniformly excellent. I have also really enjoyed his synthesis and comparison articles, such as the article dealing with the synoptics and acts in relation to Paul, which help to explore some of the really important and pressing issues that are often so formative to a New Testament theology. I also really enjoyed his article on the theology of the Pauline letters. His synthesis was concise and clear, bringing out important themes. He is certainly conversant in the latest developments in Pauline studies, but defends a very balanced approach. He also deals delicately but effectively with the "authorship" questions by synthesizing Paul's earlier theology of the undisputed letters and then discussing the data from the disputed (and almost uniformly considered to be later if genuine) epistles in relation to this basic formulation. This allows the later letters to modify and support the undisputed letters without making authorship a stumbling block to the whole enterprise.

In short, this is a great book that I highly recommend. Marshall's writing is clear and learned, and this book has proven to be both good reading and an essential reference work.

October 12, 2008


Scot McKnight on JesusCreed recently posted a Wordle, and it seemed too fun to pass up. So here's what it looks like for my site. You can tell what I've been blogging about lately.

October 10, 2008

Nicholas Perrin, Lost in Translation?

Do the words of Jesus that we see in our Bibles today resemble the words that were actually spoken two millenia ago? Or have the Bible's authors, copyists, and translators played fast and loose with them? Bart Ehrman, in his book, Misquoting Jesus, makes a case for the (often systematic) corruption of Jesus' words and of the whole text of the Bible from the earliest times on down to the present. For him, the Bible isn't trustworthy: Jesus words and those of the earliest apostles have been lost in transmission. It is into this discussion that Nicholas Perrin, professor of NT at Wheaton College, enters with this new book.

Let me start by saying that this book is decidedly not academic, by design. Perrin, a NT scholar, could certainly mount academic responses to Ehrman and others on these issues, and other authors have in fact done so. Perrin, on the other hand, seeks to both respond in a way that can be understood, but more than that he seeks to put forth a compelling vision of what our New Testament is and why it's worth paying attention to. This whole discussion is encased in a testimony of sorts, as Perrin talks about his own upbringing and his first exposures to the Bible. His journey of discovery makes a great storyline within which these issues can be explored.

I recommend this book quite highly. He makes a lot of current research in a number of areas, from Jesus studies to textual criticism, highly understandable. His chapters on Jesus and his Jewishness are worth the price of the book, and his summary of the quests for the "historical" Jesus is one of the clearest I've read. Beyond that, he also (selectively and rather quickly by design) refutes a number of Ehrman's central points, and, probably more important, points toward more fruitful lines of inquiry and more authentic approaches to questions of the Bible's integrity.

Perrin's work is full of insights, such as the important assertion that Jesus intended his words be remembered by his disciples, and that, in their Jewish context, it is highly plausible that they would have done so with care. He also makes clear that God chose to impart his revelation into a human context and process, deeming it a sufficient and appropriate vehicle for the intended message. We shouldn't necessarily expect a wooden, flawless, perfect textual tradition, and this fact doesn't lessen the power of God's revelation or diminish it's call on us. In the end, he concludes that "even if that transmission [of Jesus' words] was less than completely perfect, it was faithful" (187). This book has clearly done a service to the church in making some of these discussions accessable. If these are issues that interest you, this book is a great place to start.

October 06, 2008

Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul

Pauline studies have been an interesting and contested field for the past thirty years or so. Even the most fundamental tenets of Paul's theology have been brought into question. Central to the debate has been the question of whether the "Lutheran" reading of Paul and his gospel, which has held sway in the West since the 16th century (or the 4th if you go back to Augustine), is faithful to the essence of Paul's preaching or whether it distorts Paul's intent.

Westerholm, in this spectacular book, provides a great entry point into the debates, careful analysis of the various positions, and a clear, mature assessment of Paul and the modern debates about him. I think this book provides an ideal starting point for people who want to get the lay of the land in current study about Paul, while also interacting (mostly in the notes) with these positions. He then, with surprising humor and wit, puts forth one of the clearest statements I've ever read concerning how Paul understood "law," "righteousness," and "justification by faith." Westerholm brings in the best of the "new perspective on Paul," taking into account a fuller understanding of the Jewish backdrop of Paul's writings and a fuller account of Paul's own thinking on these matters, while also showing that the essential core of the "Lutheran" Paul, especially when augmented and corrected at points, helps present a full and accurate view of Paul's thinking.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is very well written, surveys the most important historical figures in the debate, the most important current contributions, both for and against the "Lutheran" Paul (with frequent use of their own words, so that each author's own flavor and emphasis comes out), and then brings this all together with a great presentation of Paul's thought. His work on the role of the law, summed up in nine theses in chapter 19, is especially good. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. It has given me a grasp of all of these issues and debates, and a grasp of Paul's own thinking, that seemed almost too elusive to grasp before.

Ben Witherington, Paul's Letter to the Romans (with Darlene Hyatt)

Ben Witherington is one of the most prolific New Testament scholars writing today, and he brings a great volume of learning to the texts. In this book, a "socio-rhetorical" commentary, he takes a careful look at Paul's letter to the Romans, paying special attention to the social setting of Paul and his readers, and also analyzing carefully Paul's rhetorical structure and flow. These two emphases make this book a bit different than many commentaries, in that they bring out these two facets of the text, but I think this makes his book the stronger for it. This well-written commentary does justice to this very important and theological letter, discussing the many important issues of interpretation, all the while keeping Paul's "rhetorical strategy" in view. This helps, in my estimation, to help keep sight of the forest among the trees, by placing particular verses and passages within the larger narrative flow, to help see the relations between the passages and their role in supporting his main argument or countering possible objections. This, in turn, helps keep Paul's main idea always in view.

Witherington, with the help of doctoral student Darlene Hyatt, also adds "Bridging the Horizons" sections that illumine applications of texts and themes to our modern day, a very helpful addition. It is certainly not a comprehensive "application" section, but it demonstrates one possible direction one could go when looking at a particular text, and some of them prove quite insightful.

Overall, I think this is a great book on Romans. Witherington's Methodist leanings certainly show through, as do any commentators, but I think this provides a refreshing, non-Reformed and non-Lutheran take on this letter that is still very balanced and seems to take into account Paul's major points with ease. While not the only book one could or should read on Romans (I'm sure there is no such thing), this book is a worthy addition to a library and makes for very good reading.