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? :)
Like a kid on Christmas day, I love to break open my Eerdmans catalog whenever a new one comes out. While the Spring catalog tends to be less impressive than the fall one (in the run up to SBL), I was excited about a number of titles.
Jimmy Dunn has a collection of essays/lectures coming out called Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels (due May).
Arland Hultgren has penned an 800-page commentary on Romans (Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary) which can be purchased in May.
Richard Longenecker has been busy in Romans as well, producing a 500+ page introduction to Romans which is being released in view of his future NIGTC commentary on Romans. You need only wait until April to pick up this one!
Michael Stone has written a new book on Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views where he “challenges theologically conditioned histories of ancient Judaism devised by later orthodoxies, whether Jewish or Christians…” This should be very important for the study of ancient Judaism (due May).
Jodi Magness has offered forth the curiously-titled Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus – looks very interesting (April).
Looks like April and May will be exciting months!
I am teaching over the next couple of weeks on the Apostle’s Creed. In an essay I read these helpful statements by Chris Seitz on canon and creed.
Creed is more than putting out brushfires. It is letting Scripture come to its natural, two-testament expression. Just as the Old Testament leaves its father and mother and cleaves to the New, so the Scriptures cleave to the creed, and the creed to them, and they become one flesh. (“Our Help Is in the Name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth”, p. 20)