Call for Papers: Paul and Judaism

HBU sponsoring “Paul and Judaism” conference: Wright, Gaventa, Wagner…

School of Christian Thought

Houston Baptist University’s Department of Theology is hosting a conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20, 2014. Our keynote speakers include N.T. Wright (St Andrews University)Beverly Gaventa (Baylor University), and Ross Wagner (Duke Divinity School).

In addition to the keynote speakers, we are inviting papers in the area of Paul and Judaism, representing a variety of approaches from scholars and graduate students. Participants will have 30 minutes to present papers (inclusive of Q&A). Please submit a 200-300 word abstract to Dr. Ben C. Blackwell at bblackwell[at] by January 15, 2014, and you should receive notification regarding acceptance by January 31. Registration by February 15 is required for those who will present at the conference.

For more info:

View original post

Lee McDonald on Jesus in History and Faith (review)

Jesus McDLee Martin McDonald (Acadia Divinity College) is well known for his work on canon and the origins of Scripture. In this book, The Story of Jesus in History and Faith: An Introduction (Baker, 2013), McDonald seeks to talk reflectively about the Historical Jesus from the perspective of both history and faith (as the title implies). In his own words:

My primary focus in telling the familiar story about Jesus is to provide something for serious students who are unfamiliar with the critical issues that surround this story and to do this within the context of faith (p. x).

The book is organized into 7 chapters that fall under 3 headings: “History and the Historical Jesus” (hermeneutical and metholodical issues); Sources for Studying the Historical Jesus (including what we can learn from archaeology and DSS study); The Story of Jesus in History (Events and Teachings). I will not give an exhaustive review since, as an introduction, some of what McDonald says is standard fare (as it should be).

In the first section of the book, McDonald offers some helpful comments on the nature of historiography:

Historians have not yet developed a set of universally accepted criteria for judging the historicity of events, although many operate as if they have…What we bring with us to our work affects our conclusions. What we bring to our investigation is not found in the sources themselves, but in our own peculiar interests, philosophies, and worldviews. (12)

McDonald represents a view that tries to see faith and history as complementary (not contradictory), and that something is missing when you eliminate one. In terms of history, McDonald urges: “Faith in Jesus as the Christ is faith in a historical phenomenon in the sense that Christian faith is centered on God’s activity in a historical person who lived and died in Palestine in the first century” (p. 21). On the other hand, “Faith…realizes that appropriation of God’s activity in Jesus cannot be found in the historical-critical dimension, but through faith alone” (p. 21).

As good models of scholars who can put together history and faith, McDonald points to : John P. Meier, James Charlesworth, Bruce Chilton, James Dunn, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, and Raymond Brown.

When it comes to studying Jesus from a historical perspective, McDonald presents a very handy chart of what five key scholars/camps conclude about what is historically most likely (from Sanders, Charlesworth, Luke Timothy Johnson, Funk/JS, and N.T. Wright). You will not be surprised that the list includes items like birth in Palestine, Jewish famiy, baptism by John, teacher (of parables) in Galilee, healing activity, strong following, and death on a cross (p. 36).

Again, I really liked the discussion of the relevance of archaeological work and examination of the DSS (153-156). From the former he mentions things like new light on Nazareth, excavation of a house in Capernaum, study of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jewish burial practices, and newer insight on crucifixion. As for the latter, he notes DSS’s interest in angels/demons, the Messiah, resurrection, and kingdom; connections with the message of John the Baptist; dualism (see p. 159).

The later parts of the book examine sources and also the events in the life of Jesus. Much of this is reflective of consensus views, so I will not take the time to survey the material, but it should be said McDonald is a clear and capable writer. This book would be a nice choice for a course on the life of Jesus.

Finally, lecturers as well as students will benefit from McDonald’s topical bibliography. I warmly recommend this to teachers and students as a “faith-friendly” guide to studying the historical Jesus!

The Role of Works at Final Judgment, Barber (Review, Part 5)

At long last, we have reached the final “view” in the book Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment (Zondervan, 2013). So far we have looked at views from Robert Wilkin, Tom Schreiner, and James D.G. Dunn. The last “view” is the Catholic one, represented well by Michael Barber. His view is this: “Our works are meritorious at the final judgment because of our union with Christ by grace.”

Barber knows well that most Protestants don’t really know much about Catholic theology, and often operate out of stereotypes and numerous assumptions and misunderstands (throwing around the language of “works-righteousness”  too casually). So he wisely begins with a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that focuses on the grace of God:

The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting use to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace. (see p. 161; italics Barber)

With that statement as the focal point, Barber commences his essay. Here are some highlights

– Regarding the nature of salvation itself, Barber points out how it is a process, like a race, or better yet a “growing up” into maturity. In that sense “grace” and “work” are not such strange bedfellows.

– Following from the above point, in agreement with Dunn (and Schreiner), Barber urges us to see that salvation is not just rescue and freedom from something (sin, debt, hell, etc…), but also salvation for something – “union with the triune God in Christ” (p. 165).

– Works will be judged, and that is okay in light of the presence of Christ’s transformative and graceful presence and power within us through the Spirit! Looking at Matt 25, Barber argues that works seem to be a focus in judgment. One could think it is merely evidence of faith. But he thinks there is a better way to look at it:

[J]ust because the works of mercy performed by the righteous are likely the result of their embrace of the gospel, to conclude that such actions are therefore not the criterion for salvation at the final judgment would be to go beyond the text…[I]f Jesus wanted to say that the actual works of mercy shown to his disciples were truly in and of themselves a criterion for entering the kingdom, it is hard to see how the passage would look much different. (p. 169)

– Barber gives attention to wage, income, and debt language in Matthew (with a hat tip to the work of Nathan Eubank). Barber says, “Given that sins were understood in terms of debts, it is not surprising to find a corollary: good deeds were viewed as ‘reimbursement'” (p. 172). Looking at the parables of the talents, for example, he argues (with Eubank) that “heavenly wages go beyond what workers earn by strict dessert, but it is equally clear that this generosity is a generous wage for work done than an  unmerited gift'” (quoting Eubank; Barber pg. 176).

– Barber gives brief attention to the idea of “faith” – “even Protestants must affirm that to receive salvation one must do something–one must believe” (p. 178)

-The works of the believers is the work of Christ in us – “works performed by those in union with Christ have meritorious value. Why? Because they are the result of Christ’s work” (p. 180). I love how Barber reflects on the Christology here: “If the Catholic view is wrong, it is ultimately so because it gives God too much credit” (180).


Wilkin wonders how the works will be judged. He rightly wants to know more about this process.

Schreiner agrees with the spirit of what Barber says, but feels uncomfortable with the focus on the word “merit”

Dunn finds the most agreement with Barber, but challenges Barber’s use of “faith” language: (1) collapsing the ideas of “faith” and “faithfulness” (Dunn prefers to see it as “trust,” not “fidelity”); (2) arguing that “faith” is a “work.”

At the end of the book, editor Alan Stanley offers a nice retrospect where he summarizes each view.

Wilkin: “Black and White” – believers won’t be at the final judgment.

Schreiner: “A Coherent Blend” – At the final judgment works demonstrate who are saved.

Dunn: “We Simply Don’t Have All the Pieces”: Salvation at the final judgment will depend, to some extent, on works.

Barber: “A More Sophisticated Approach”: At the final judgment works will merit salvation.

Stanley hastens to point out that, despite disagreements between contributors, each essayist was working closely with Scripture and each perspective is driven by a desire to take the authority of Scripture seriously.


This is a very insightful book – it was especially helpful for me to see how Catholic theology approaches this issue.

The Role of Works at Final Judgment, Dunn (Review, part 4)

Our review of Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment is nearly at a close. We have worked through the introduction, and essays by Wilkin and Schreiner. Now we are up to James D.G. Dunn.

The title of Dunn’s essay captures his overall view: “If Paul could believe both in justification by faith and judgment according to works, why should that be a problem for us?” A key example of his own perspective is found in Philippians 2:12-13 – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” – why should it prove so probematic that Paul could put both clauses in the same sentence (p. 132)?

In this essay, Dunn makes six points I wish to highlight.

#1: We should not be so quick to read a coherent system and logic into the text that we neglect a key emphasis (i.e., judgment). This point is made using examples like Phil 2:12-13.

#2: There are many indicators that salvation/justification is conditional. So Rom 8:13; Gal 6:8; 1 Cor 15:2; Col 1:22-23; 1 Cor 3:10 and so forth. Dunn writes, “it is hardly possible to doubt that part of Paul’s pastoral theology was his all-too-real concern that faith could once again be compromised and cease to be simple trust, that commitment could be relaxed and resolve critically weakened. The result would be an estrangement from Christ, a falling away from grace, a reversion to life solely ‘in accordance with the flesh’, and the loss of the prospect of resurrection life” (p. 127).

#3: Covenantal Nomism? Dunn tries, despite his warnings to avoid systemization, to think about the relationship between justification and judgment, and keeps coming back to the nature of early Judaism – founded on grace and election, but determined also by covenantal obedience. Keep in mind Sanders didn’t think Paul’s theology was CN. But Dunn feels comfortable reading Paul this way.

#4: Transformation: this was my favorite section. Dunn establishes a teliology for justification. What is the goal of faith? In Dunn’s reading of Paul, “it is never less than the divine intention that faith should be expressed in faithfulness” (129). Furthermore, grace is not just a blank slate or a clean record. We must attend in Paul’s theology to “the transforming character of divine grace” (p. 129).

#5: The purpose and nature of Paul’s letters and teachings. Dunn notes how much Paul focuses on ethical/pastoral issues in his letters.

Paul’s ethical teaching assumes that his readers were responsible people, who should be making effort–enabled by God’s Spirit, of course– but nevertheless having the responsibility to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, with the express corollary that failure to do so would have severe and possibly damning consequences. (135)

#6: The Teaching of Jesus: The devaluation of the reality of judgment, or the over-emphasis on “free grace” among modern Christians, Dunn urges, may have something to do with the lack of attention paid to Jesus in the Gospels. Even John records Jesus saying, in the last day, “those who have done good will come forth (from the grave) to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Matthew’s Jesus condemns the judged because they are “workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:21-23).


I am not going to line them up individually except to say that several of them commented that Dunn is more deconstructive than constructive. He nods his head at covenantal nomism, but continues to press again forced systematization where something important is lost.

Wilkin raises the important question regarding assurance – should Christians have a doctrine of assurance? What kind, if salvation is conditional? I think Wilkin asks a fair question, but in the end I do not think we were meant to have impenetrable assurance (a “get out of jail free” card). This is where Dunn’s discussion of transformation is important. What if God’s goal is not just to “save,” but to restore-in-order-to-equip-for-agency? I once gave a paper called “To What End Dikaiosyne?” We often think about what we get from justification. What about what God gets? I think that is the point behind Rom 2. Does God want “saved people” or does he want “good people”? He wants “good people.” Wouldn’t you? [Now I am starting to sound Catholic, aren’t I? Well, its very Wesleyan too]

Ultimately, we see that Schreiner, Dunn, and Barber share much in common. Dunn even affirms the Catholic view briefly. So, I will look forward to reading Barber’s own essay, and the responses.

Book Notice: Embracing Shared Ministry, Joseph Hellerman

In seminary and on into my doctoral program, I was deeply influenced by returning again and again to Michael Gorman’s Cruciformity and Joseph Hellerman’s Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum. I have often taught students Hellerman’s point about the double-teaching of Phil 2:5-11 – Christology (who Christ is) and ethics (how he models humility and other-regard). Hellerman does a fantastic job contextualizing all of this within Roman Philippi, and then drawing out the substance of Paul’s message.

However, I never entertained using his monograph as a textbook because it can be very technical, and a young student would have to be very patient to get to the final pay-off. Well, seven years after the publication of Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi, Hellerman has published a popular-level book that attempts to draw out the wider implications of his cruciform reading of Paul’s theology, and how that can help pastors and leaders better understand their role in the kingdom of God and community of the saints.

0004666_embracing_shared_ministry_power_and_status_in_the_early_church_and_why_it_matters_todayThe book is called Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2013). It is nearly 300 pp., but the text is largely free from footnotes and Hellerman has done a fine job eliminating jargon and furnishing plenty of ancient and modern examples for the topics and issues that he addresses.

I have only poked around here and there in the book, but I imagine that I could easily be persuaded to use this as a textbook for my Biblical Theology of leadership course for next fall.

Derek and Diane Tidball on The Message of Women in Scripture (Review)

Recently a pastor asked me, I have a parishioner interested in the issue of women in ministry leadership and teaching. He wants to know the exegetical arguments in favor of supporting women in ministry. Is there a good lay-level book?

I have often struggled with this question because egalitarian defenses that are convincing tend to be quite advanced (like the outstanding Discovering Biblical Equality). There are less-than-convincing discussions, but I don’t want to support those further. So, I was delighted to have Derek & Diane Tidball’s volume on The Message of Women come across my desk (IVP, 2012). This is now my go-to volume when a lay-person wants to know more about what the Bible says about women in ministry. I have used books by Derek Tidball before and he is a very good researcher, and particularly skilled at making arguments and ideas accessible. No doubt it means something special to have Derek and Diane write and teach together in this project.

The book does not deal exclusively with issues of leadership and ordination – it attempts to address what Scripture has to say about women comprehensively. There are four sections (Foundations, Women under the old covenant, Women in the kingdom, Women in the new community) divided up further into twenty short chapters. I could spend dozens of posts offering nuggets of wisdom from this book, but I will limit myself to a handful of  reflections.

Fatherhood and Family: 

…the Biblical emphasis on the upbringing of children is that it is the joint responsibility of the parents, not primarily the responsibility of the mother. Fathers, if anything, were considered to be more responsible. The Bible does not put forward a particular pattern or structure of child-rearing, even if there are principles to be observed. (p. 77)

Leadership of Miriam:

Micah later acknowledged the significance of her leadership when, without making any distinction between them, he wrote, ‘I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam’ [Mic 6:4] (117)

The legacy of Huldah:

Later Jewish tradition regarded Huldah with great respect. Two sets of gates at the south-eastern entrance to the temple mount were named in her memory at the time of the second temple. They became the most frequently used access to the temple. (p. 121)

Mary as teacher:

Luke’s attribution of the Magnificat to Mary and his inclusion of it in his Gospel meant it would be read widely in the church and used as the basis for Christian instruction. In identifying Mary as its author, as Kenneth Bailey has pointed out, ‘he indirectly presents her as a teacher of theology, ethics, and social justice for all his readers.’ (p. 154; Bailey –> see “Women in the NT: A Middle Eastern Cultural View’, Anvil 11 (1994): 9)

Context and Meaning of Paul’s Instruction in 1 Tim 2:5-11 [and salvation through child-bearing]

Paul seems to be warning women not to stridently reject or abandon their primary role for some sought-after status as teachers in the church but to accept their procreative privileges with good grace. Thy need have no fear that they will be denied salvation if they fulfil the role that only they can play in creation. (p. 255)

I could say much more, but I will leave it at that. This is a book every pastor should own, and could easily be a basis for a Sunday School course on women in Scripture. There is a handy study guide for discussion groups in the back of the book. I hope this resource will enjoy a broad readership and will aid and support and encourage women in their pursuit of God’s calling in ministry.