A Helpful Guide to the Torah for Beginners (Kaminsky and Lohr)

Recently I had a chance to take a quick read of a new book called The Torah by Joel S. Kaminsky and Joel N. Lohr in Oneworld publisher’s “Beginners Guides” (2011). The book receives high praise with endorsements by Terence Fretheim, Ellen Davis, Walter Brueggemann, John Collins, and Matthew Levering.

Here are some helpful things to know about the book

(1) It is short. It is less than 200 pages and introduces the Torah succintly for non-specialists.

(2) It is written for the unitiated. Clearly the two Joel’s have thought a lot about how to break down dense theological and religious terms and ideas into language that makes sense to beginners. A helpful glossary appears in the appendix.

(3) One author is Christian, the other is Jewish. Co-authoring is very challenging. However, in this case, one can easily see the fruit because they can offer two perspectives on the Torah. Neither perspective is treated coldly or harshly. Both approach the Torah from a gracious and winsome perspective.

If a student asked me for a very basic introduction to the Torah, I would not hesitate to hand them this book. And I would ask for it back!

Blomberg gives high praise to Keener in review of Miracles book

This is not “new” news, but earlier this year (Jan, 2012), Craig Blomberg reviewed Craig Keener’s 2-volume tome Miracles (Baker, 2011) in the Denver Seminary online journal and gave the book high praise. Well done, Craig!

This phenomenal two-volume work belongs in the library of every person who is seriously interested in whether or not events akin to the New Testament miracle stories have occurred at other times and places and/or still occur today. (Craig Blomberg)

Pelikan on tradition vs. traditionalism

Today our pastor used this excellent quote by Jaroslav Pelikan about “tradition” in his sermon.

Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name (The Vindication of Tradition, 65).

In the study of Colossians, for example, I think this perspective is very relevant. Paul was not criticizing that the Colossians philosophers were ritualistic, but specifically that they relied on their rituals as rituals to obtain wisdom and ward off evil. For Paul, all activity and thought must be directed at Christ. That is the only way, for Paul, it will continue to be a LIVING faith.

Festschrift conference for Anthony Thiselton

Do you know about the tribute conference for Biblical scholar Anthony Thiselton at Nottingham, June 29, 2012? Speakers include Stanley Porter, Walter Moberly, Richard Briggs, Matthew Malcolm, James Dunn, Robert Morgan, Tom Greggs, and Thiselton himself. I wish I could be there!

My first interaction with Thiselton’s work was in seminary where Dr. Sean McDonough assigned us his massive NIGTC commentary on 1 Corinthians – rather overwhelming, but very good material. He also appears frequently in the Bibledex videos that I regularly use in my Scripture course.

If you are in the UK during this conference, it would certainly be worth the trip to Nottingham! By the way – it is also a celebration of his 75th birthday!

2012 North Park Seminary Symposium on Topic “Family” – speakers announced

The North Park Theological Seminary Symposium happens annually in the fall. The 2012 topic will be “Family” and the speakers have been announced.

-Stephen Barton (my doctoral supervisor from Durham, now retired)

-Jana Marguerite Bennett (U of Dayton)

-Lynn Cohick (Wheaton)

-Jim Dekker (North Park U)

-Dennis Olson (Princeton TS)

-Luke Powery (Prineceton TS)

-Caryn Reeder (Westmont)

-Julio Rubio (St. Louis U)

-Mary Veeneman (North Park U)

The dates are 9/27-29/2012. I have never been able to make it, but the papers are subsequently published in the Wipf & Stock journal Ex Auditu.

On Colossians – the troublesome philosophy

Most interpreters of Colossians recognize that there is some kind of problematic teaching that Paul addresses in the letter (though Morna Hooker has made the strongest argument yet that it is possible this was more general than specific, and not a local threat). The most direct and clearest information is found in chapter 2 (esp 2:4; 8-9). We are given some details in 2:16-23 – the “philosophy” teaches about strict regulations regarding food and festivals, and also particular restrictions in worship as well as the hope of mystical visions. All of this seems to have some connection to the Stoicheia (2:8, 20) that oppress and frighten the people.

Does Paul’s statement about perseverance (1:11) mean that the Colossians had already succumbed to this teaching? Given Paul’s tone, it does not appear to be an active problem, but perhaps this was the beginning of the road that Paul knew all to well – one that leads to a riven faith (see 1:23).

These six elements seem to be discernible from Colossians.

1. A teaching/philosophy has come to the Colossian churches.

2. The teaching is supported by philosophical arguments.

3. It focuses on heavenly wisdom and protection from evil spirits (my interpretation of the Stoicheia)

4. It teaches ascetic practices that treat the body negatively.

5. The philosophy devalues the importance of Christ (perhaps only by implication) in the pursuit of perfection and security.

6. The philosophy has had enough of a presence or influence to cause Paul concern.

So much is relatively uncontroversial among interpreters. Where the disagreement persists is on the setting or background of the philosophy. There are clearly Jewish elements involved – esp with the mention of Sabbath. But is the philosophy demonstrative of syncretism (Arnold) or something that stands wholly within a form of Judaism (like Merkebah mysticism; see Ian Smith)? The verdict is still out and I go back and forth.

I think John Barclay is right to urge that we just cannot know from the evidence we have and we should not press for more certainty beyond what the given information permits. Instead of calling it “Jewish” or “syncretistic,” I simply refer to it as the “transcendent-ascetic philosophy.” It is “transcendent” insofar as it obsesses over heavenly visions and wisdom and salvation. It is “ascetic” because it treats the earthly, physical body as an obstacle to true worship. Paul has much concern over this kind of perspective because in Christ we see the world of heaven meet the mortal realm and God wants to reclaim this fallen world, not evacuate believers from it. Indeed, by focusing on the cross (1:15-20), Paul shows how the body can be the most important organ of worship because believers can imitate the love of Christ by using their own physical bodies to defend and support others – just like those that shared Paul’s imprisonment.

We wish we knew more about the philosophy, but any further speculation becomes dangerous. We know enough to make sense of what Paul says in the letter by and large.

For more information, check out John Barclay’s Colossians and Philemon (T & T Clark, 2004).

Some New Book Releases of Note

Today two books landed on my desk. The first is from Baker - Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation (Patrick Gray). Now this is a short work (< 200 pages) and meant to be very introductory, but I am currently reading two other books that would challenge Gray’s approach in different ways. Firstly, I am about half way through Ben Witherington’s new commentary on Philippians and he is very insistent that epistolary-genre analysis (what Gray is focusing upon) is a dead end – rhetorical analysis is the key. We shall see how Gray would respond to this, if he dips into this debate. On the other side, Joel Green feels that the genre-based approach that splits the exegetical task into “what it meant” (in that context) and “what it means today” (in our time) is too artificial a division. My guess is Joel would not like what Gray is doing, though I am generally more inclined to support Gray’s approach as a heuristic model of interpretation. Now I have not read Gray’s book yet, so we shall see where he goes with this exegetical guide. More to come!

The second book, from Eerdmans, is S.E. Porter and Jason Robinson’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Interpretive Theory. This book covers the basic questions about the field of hermeneutics, but the focus is on the major influences in theological hermeneutics: Schleiermacher, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Habermas, and others. They also give serious attention to Daniel Patte, Derrida, Barth and Bultmann, and recent contributions by Thiselton, Vanhoozer, Culpepper, and Stephen Moore.

Now I love books on exegetical method, but more philosophically-driven books on hermeneutics tend to make my head hurt. But I trust Porter and Robinson to be helpful guides, and I am convinced that if you are concerned with understanding what a text means, you must engage with serious hermeneutical questions about the search for textual meaning.

Announcing – a new title for my blog – “Crux Sola…”

After 5(ish) years of blogging under the blog-title of my own name, I have finally chosen a “proper” title. I searched the internet a bit to make sure I was not a copycat and I believe I am not (feel free to correct me if I am and I will go back to the drawing board).

The title is: “Crux Sola…” which is short for Luther’s famous dictum, “Crux sola est nostra theologia” - The cross alone is our theology.

Recently I read some of Luther’s works and also Alister McGrath’s fine essays on Luther’s theology of the cross where the dictum is stated. McGrath explains it better than I can:

In 1518 the German reformer Martin Luther defended a series of theses in disputation at Heidelberg, in which he set out the basic features of the “theology of the cross.” Of particular importance is the idea that theology involves a response to the “rearward parts of God” (posteriora Dei), which are only made known in the cross. The theses alludes to Exodus 33:23, which refers to Moses only being allowed to catch a glimpse of God from the rear, as God disappears into the distance. (McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 25)

McGrath points to two statements made by Luther in his discourse.

#19: The person who looks on the invisible things of God, as they are seen in visible things, does not deserve to be called a theologian.

#20: But the person who looks on the visible rearward parts of God as seen in suffering and the cross does deserve to be called a theologian.

The summary of Luther’s theologia crucis is so eloquently stated by McGrath:

For Luther, the cross is the center of the Christian faith. The image of the crucified Christ is the crucible in which all responsible Christian thinking about God is forged. (McGrath, 25).

Fellow blogger, Mike Gorman, has named his own blog from Luther’s statement, crux probat omnia – “the cross puts everything to the test.” While I share with Mike a Wesleyan background, I too appreciate Luther’s cross theology.