Stephen Fowl and Theol Interp of Scripture (Book Review, Part I)

When I lived in Massachusetts, my wife and I would go to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra once in a while.  I like music as much as the next person, but I did not have enough technical knowledge of music theory and composition to really appreciate what was going on in each concert.  It happened, though, that prior to the concert, on one particular evening, the conductor offered to give a lecture before the concert where he would help to pre-guide novice listeners to the concert.  He offered behind-the-scenes sorts of tips.  He helped us to fine tune our ears to hear the details.  Essentially, he gave enough information to enrich our understanding.

Imagine if someone could do this for SBL for you….

In comes Stephen Fowl.  The Wipf & Stock (Cascade Series) Theological Interpretation of Scripture ‘companion’ does this sort of thing that the conductor did for the beautiful but complex symphony.  As a ‘companion’ at the party of scholars discussing ‘theological interpretation of Scripture’ (TIS), Fowl is a skilled and eloquent guide.

The ‘party’ metaphor is one that Fowl uses throughout the book.  He treats the book as a friendly introduction to a gathering of bible and theology scholars who have been debating and discussing an important issue.  In about 100 pages, Fowl masterfully succeeds in giving the tyro a succint and useful lay of the land.

In the first chapter, Fowl gives a view of Scripture itself and how Christians are meant to interact with it and what role it plays in ‘God’s drama of salvation’.  Then Fowl moves on to define how TIS is related to various other critical matters.  Thirdly, Fowl highlights certain ‘practices’ and ‘habits’ of TIS.  Finally, he briefly considers the ‘prospects’ for the future.  The book closes with a short set of profiles of the other ‘guests’ at the TIS party.

A more detailed interaction with Fowl’s book will follow in other posts.  For now, let me say that this was a delight to read.  I had lunch with Fowl last year at SBL and he is a humble and wise scholar.  His Philippians commentary (Two Horizons) was a great inspiration to me and I was also not disappointed at all with this book.  This is another great volume in what looks to be a very promising series from Wipf & Stock.

Quick Update

I have been off of the blogging radar for a while for several reasons, the most pressing: I just returned from a holiday in Rome and I am getting ready to move back to the US having completed my phd.

I have plenty of books waiting for me to crack open and review once I return to the States.  Until then, time permits only a few short posts in the next two weeks or so.

I hope to post on the British New TEstament Conference and the glory of Aberdeen after the conference – as well as how my papers went.

Thanks to everyone who offered advice about Rome.  Other than the almost unbearable heat, we had a great time and enjoyed some really excellent ice cream.

Hermeneutics Seminar of Brit NT Conference (programme)

I am getting excited about the British New Testament Conference (Aberdeen, this year)- always a fun time and usually some very good papers.  The seminars and paper abstracts are steadily streaming in.  Today the programme for the Hermeneutics seminar is up.  Of three sessions, one is combined with the Paul group.  The other two sessions are as follows:

Dr. Cherryl Hunt (Exeter Univ) – ‘Reconciliation of the Cosmos? Re-reading Paul in a time of Ecological Crisis’

Abstract: New readings of Paul are generated not only by new historical and exegetical information but also by changing contemporary circumstances and demands. The present ecological crisis calls for a fresh engagement with the Pauline corpus. The obvious place to begin is with what are already favourite texts among ecotheologians: Romans 8.19-23 and Colossians 1.15-20. However, a more significant challenge is to ask, once texts such as these are placed centre-stage, how the wider patterns and resources of Pauline theology and ethics might be re-read from an ecological perspective. Informed by the approach to hermeneutics of South African theologian Ernst Conradie and by a narrative reading of Paul, the paper will briefly consider cosmic reconciliation as a unifying theological theme and other-regard as a central ethical theme, and will assess both the potential and the difficulties entailed in recruiting Paul for the ecological cause.

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta (Durham Univ/Ashland Theol Seminary) – ‘Mirror-Reading Paraenesis and Moral Discourses in an Ancient Letter: Sexual Immorality in Romans and 1 Thessalonians as Test-cases’

Abstract: Over twenty years ago, Prof. John M.G. Barclay wrote a seminal article (JSNT 31: 73-93) on the important subject of ‘Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter’. Barclay demonstrated concern for how scholars reconstructed the nature and arguments of presumed opponents (especially in Paul’s letters); he argued that often such mirror-reading lacks methodological precision and care. His proposed criteria have aided in refining scholarly approaches to studying epistolary polemics.

The act of mirror-reading, though, takes place even when ‘opponents’ are not of primary concern. There is also the matter of the author’s approach and response to intra-church moral concerns. Historical and social reconstructions are sometimes useful for the purpose of determining whether the author was exhorting his readers in a generic way (standard paraenesis), for preventative reasons, or for reparative purposes. This paper will explore a methodology, building on the work of Prof. Barclay, for mirror-reading moral discourses and paraenesis cautious of overinterpretation and other pitfalls. The matter of sexual immorality in 1 Thessalonians and Romans will serve as test-cases.

It is normally a small group that meets for the hermeneutics seminar, but I am looking forward to giving this paper.

Wipf & Stock New and Soon-Coming Releases

I get update emails, once in a while, from Wipf & Stock.  I was pleased today to see that Stephen Fowl’s Theological Interpretation of Scripture book (Cascade Companions series) is now out.  I met Stephen last year at SBL and he is a great guy.  The endorses for this book are all experts and give his book much accolade.  I hope to get my hands on this for some light reading in the near future.

James Charlesworth has written a nice little book (172 pp.) on the Odes of Solomon called The Earliest Christian Hymnbook.  He offers his own translation as well. Interestingly,this is pitched almost as a kind of devotional book.  The endorser writes: ‘…fine for scholars, wonderful for believers!’

One of my favorite journals, one that happens to be published by W & S, is Ex Auditu; each issue is themed (based on a conference each year) and the topics are well chosen (as are the contributors).  The newest issue, vol. 24, is on ‘The Idolatry of Security’.  The various articles look very interesting.

Fear in the Garden: The State of Emergency and the Politics of Blessing
Scott Bader-Saye

Response to Bader-Saye
Amy E. Black

“In God We Trust”? The Challenge of the Prophets
R. W. L. Moberly

Response to Moberly
Robert L. Hubbard, Jr.

Imagining the Unthinkable: Exposing the Idolatry of National Security in Amos
M. Daniel Carroll R.

Response to Carroll
Robert D. Haak

Security and Self-Sufficiency: A Comparison of Paul and Epictetus
John M. G. Barclay

Response to Barclay
Joel Willitts

Martin Luther’s Teachings on Security in the Psalms and Their Signicance for the Art of Reading Scripture
G. Sujin Pak

Response to Pak
Jo Ann Deasy

“One Who Trusts Will Not Panic”: Providence and the Prophet of Desecuritization
Jill Carson Colwell

As for future releases, keep an eye out for these:

– Colossians/Philemon commentary by Mike Bird

– Romans commentary by Craig Keener

– A book on Reading Revelation Responsibly by Mike Gorman

– The interestingly-titled: From Expected Death Comes New Life: The Theology of the Gospel of Mathew (M.J. Marohl).

Review of Mead’s Biblical Theology

James K. Mead’s Biblical Theology: Issues, Methods, Themes (WJK, 2007), is a wonderful critical introduction to this very important subject.  In many ways, it acts as a history of the study of BT as Mead synthesizes and compares the work of dozens of scholars interested in BT.  Mead leaves no stone unturned when it comes to problems and approaches to the subject.  His exploration of themes in BT is interesting as well, but he finds nothing ‘new’ that has not already been discussed by other scholars.

As a note, some scholars approach NT theology by going through the NT book-by-book (like Thielman and Marshall).  I appreciate, in these approaches, careful attention to the historical background and contextual significance of each book of the NT.  However, this can also lead to a very disjointed approach that does not help the reader to connect the dots.  Others try to trace certain themes throughout the NT.  This is what Mead does (with both OT + NT) in his chapter on themes in BT.  He has three master categories: ‘The God attested in BT’ (character of God, words of God, works of God), ‘Living in relationship with God’ (history and story, creation and covenant, worship and life), and ‘Living in relationship with human beings’ (Nation and nations, need and justice, community and calling).  Again, not unique, but a solid approach.

As a beginner in the area of BT, I learned a lot from Mead’s book.  What becomes clear is that he is a great teacher – wonderful charts, helpful titles and subtitles, and very clear illustrations and historical discussions.  He has put a lot of work and thought into this book and I will turn to it whenever I need to get a sense of those who are movers-and-shakers in this discipline and what they thought and stood for.

If I have one critique, which may have been beyond Mead’s control, it is that it is an ‘endnotes’ book.  Personally, I see no need for any academic book to have endnotes.  I am so often loathe to ever bother to look any notes up and when I do want to, it takes me a very long time.

This is a small issue, though, and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in BT, especially newbies.