A couple of weeks ago, I gave a public lecture at George Fox University with this title: “People of Faith”: Why the First Christians Called Themselves ‘Believers'”
I was deeply appreciative of those who turned up on the day, but several others reached out to me to say they could not make it. Thankfully, GFU video-recorded the lecture and has now posted it to Itunes U (free).
I have long term plans to turn this into a book on earliest Christian religion and how the faith, courage, and creativity of those Christians then can fan the flame of our faith today.
To get access, click on the image below. If you enjoy the lecture, please rate it positively. Feel free to leave questions about my lecture here in the blog comments. (Impolite or cruel comments will not be approved.)
A Quick Look
In the new year, the book that I was most looking forward to reading was Preaching Romans, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica. This book boasts an impressive list of contributors: Stephen Westerholm, Scot McKnight, Douglas Campbell, Michael Gorman, Michael Bird, James D.G. Dunn, Fleming Rutledge, William Willimon, Tim Gombis, Richard Hays, and Suzanne Watts Henderson (and more).
There are two unique dimensions of this book—it is not just “another book” on Romans. First, it lays out four approaches to Paul and how one’s reading of Romans would be affected: Lutheran, New Perspective, Apocalyptic, and Participationist. Secondly, the book includes sermons that exemplify preferences for each of these categories. When I think about how academic biblical scholarship can be more accessible and “user-friendly” for pastors and lay-people, the inclusion of sermons is very attractive.
This was a wonderfully enriching and easy read, mostly due to the arrangement of the book and the selection of winsome and engaging writers. Here are some assorted notes:
- Westerholm leads off on the Lutheran approach; as one might guess, there is a large focus on Romans 1-4, but I found his essay very compelling. It is hard to get around the fact that Paul talks a lot about human sin and its consequences, and the need for justification/salvation from God.
- The New Perspective (represented esp. by McKnight and Dunn) puts a strong emphasis on socio-historical context, and rightly so. Romans is not a generic theological essay. McKnight is right to recommend “reading Romans backwards,” and paying careful attention to challenges and problems in the belieiving community in Rome that are end-loaded in Romans 12-16.
- While it is helpful from a heuristic standpoint to have 4 “different views,” it becomes clear that there is some overlap and blurry boundary lines. That is to say, some scholars fit multiple categories. Mike Bird, for example, is deeply sympathetic to old perspectives (hence his categorization in this volume), New Perspective (esp. given his close relationship with NTW), and participation in Christ. Hays is placed in the participation group, but could easily be with the New Perspective OR Apocalyptic!
The conclusion of the book does well to avoid trying to push towards only one approach “winning.” When it comes to Romans—and Paul himself—it is just not that simple. Each view has its merits; what is helpful is making sure we are aware of our hermeneutical blindspots. This is a great academic exercise that benefits the Church, and I hope to see more works like this in the future.
I have decided that some books I get and read are worth talking about, worth engaging with and sometime promoting, but ones that I don’t want to do a full-blown “review” (esp trade books and textbooks): so, here is a new type of review on this blog I call “Quick Looks.”
I have long admired the work of James D.G. Dunn (aka “Jimmy”). His Theology of Paul the Apostle is a master piece. His commentaries are spectacular (Romans, Colossians, Galatians, even his short work on the Pastoral Epistles). But he is also good at writing at the more popular level. Now well into his retirement, he has produced a very readable reflection on how Jesus is remembered and honored by the New Testament writers.
Here Dunn is not engaged with critical scholarship. With a Bible in hand, and with lay readers primarily in view, he briefly outlines what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus Christ. I think one quick lesson I learned from this book is that often biblical scholars overthink their subject of study. In many ways, Dunn looks at the New Testament as a historian of antiquity, just collecting basic information about what these ancient religionists said about Jesus. Dunn identifies lots of simple observations—but striking ones nevertheless—like Jesus’ distinctive use of abba, his interest in children, and his use of parables (according to the Evangelists).
In my opinion, this would make for great Lenten reading, simple lessons from a master scholar.