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.

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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.