Saturday, February 8, 2014

Yet more light to be revealed from God's Word?

Some recent argumentation here concerns the ever recycling question of 'authority' and 'interpretation' of Scripture, as well as the role of the Spirit in inspiring Scripture and illuminating its meaning for each generation. Hint: when engaging in such discussion it is helpful to be really clear about what aspect of the matter is being worked on. (It saves tiresome debate when a riposte tackles something one didn't think one was trying to say).

Anyway, all that means I think it worth drawing attention to this Down Under post by Jason Goroncy which (at the end) includes this phrase,

"God has yet more light to break out of his holy word."

Also at the end is a bit of a clever comment about N.T. Wright. Last year I had the privilege of travelling in the same train as Tom Wright. I can report that we made it to our planned destination.


Bryden Black said...

Yet more light to be revealed from God’s Word? - A Reflection ...

Butterfield: “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.”

It’s many years since I read or even re-read Honest to God. And I agree, Robinson wrote far more interesting books even if the media didn’t know how to pick up on the fact due to its penchant for the trendy. That said, the point of the Herbert Butterfield banner quote is this. If we were more culturally aware of the struggle to articulate Nicene Faith in the 4th C, if we were more aware of the dynamics of Reformation humanism and the significance of the cry “ad fontes”, then things like the cultural fall-out of Deism would not surprise us Christians quite so much perhaps.

The sovereign freedom of the transcendent Lord and Creator of “all things” to transcend his own transcendence and to actively engage in his own creation, and even - horror of horrors for any ancient Hellenism or contemporary materialist naturalism - to become a creature among that creation, will inevitably clash with cultures whose plausibility structures are more narrow minded or self serving. And those cultures NB are found both in societies at large and within the churches.

The point about a culture however that realises and acknowledges itself to be an integral part of the historical process, that appreciates there is an historical process to reality itself is this, to use the words of Robert Jenson: “God does not create a world that thereupon has a history; he creates a history that is a world, in that it is purposive and so makes a whole.” Both individuals and societies are going somewhere. We humans are not trapped within either an eternal temporal return or an immanent natural nihilism. And because we therefore may honour a particular form of tradition and traditioning, one that enables people to participate in this glorious purpose for which we were created, we may enjoy an essential dialectic that is classically biblical. [BTW, that’s termed the Church!]

There is both a normative status to the canon of Scripture and yet the possibility, the necessity even, for new light to be cast upon that textual deposit, by means of which we ‘read’ our world of human history, “the star to every wandering bark”. Augustine caught this dynamic especially well: “The New Testament is hidden [Latin: latet] in the Old; the Old is made accessible [patet] by the New.” Similarly, newer emerging cultures may be sifted for what might lie hidden there to be drawn out to become more apparent - or what should be shelved altogether! Not all trendy traits are the more true just because they are newer! CS Lewis reminds us of that by means of his delightful phrase “chronological snobbery”. For the Scriptures are both the reflection of God’s historical faithfulness as well as reflection on that faithfulness.

Just so, authentic Christian faith not only doubts the doubters but especially participates in the very faithfulness of God, Father Son & Holy Spirit, as the Trinity fulfils the divine-cum-human-cum-cosmic economy. Something one suspects John Robinson is now more fully aware of!

MichaelA said...

When asked what he thought about Robinson's book, C.S. Lewis responded:

“I prefer being honest, to being ‘honest to God’."

Which is interesting when one compares the two authors: Robinson's "Honest to God" achieved massive sales on its launch (although perceptive observers might have wondered how much of this was due to the author's recent notoriety from the Lady Chatterley case) yet is now almost forgotten. Whereas C. S. Lewis continues to be one of the major selling authors of the English-speaking world. In that sense, Robinson has proved to be only a flash in the pan.

Anonymous said...

"Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it."

Not Butterfield but Santayana, I think - but don't repeat it!


Bryden Black said...

While the saying certainly chimes nicely with S's views, HB most certainly did say it!

Thanks Martin for your enlightening thoughts.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Whereas C. S. Lewis continues to be one of the major selling authors of the English-speaking world. In that sense, Robinson has proved to be only a flash in the pan." - Michael

And where will Tom Wright be in fifty years time, I wonder? My English clerical brother-in-law, currently reading T.W.'s extensive volume on St. Paul, offered this to me. However, I politely declined - in favour of some less polemical spiritual reading.

Anonymous said...

Tom Wright is not very polemical, and he is pretty much in the center theologically speaking.

That said, I think his take on Paul is wrong.

Bryden Black said...

I think Shawn it might be premature to venture NTW "wrong" re Paul!

If you were to read his Pauline Perspectives, published at the same time as Paul & the faithfulness of God, you might see the close exegetical work that has gone into his conclusions ...

Then you might also venture how his appreciation of Paul complements extremely well!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryden,

"If you were to read his Pauline Perspectives, published at the same time as Paul & the faithfulness of God, you might see the close exegetical work that has gone into his conclusions"

Not according to many Reformed and Evangelical Biblical scholars. I have read a number of very good critiques of his take on Paul and particularly his understanding of salvation. Personally I have a suspicion that he is actually inserting his political views into his take in Paul. One Evangelical scholar described him as advocating "theological anti-Americanism" and I'm inclined to agree.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for your attempted push-back Shawn but I really suggest you do your own homework!

For example, two things.

1. It is often said by some such “Reformed and Evangelical Biblical scholars” that NTW is basically in error when he states themes like “Israel is still in exile” at the time of Jesus, so that Jesus’ understanding of “redemption” has to at least take this motif into account (among others), as does also Paul’s (again, among others).

Well; let’s just point to these resources. Craig Evans in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, ed Carey Newman (IVP, 1999) clearly assembles evidence that supports NTW - and proves Casey, in this case, wrong. Likewise, ch.6 of Pauline Perspectives, “Gospel and Theology in Galatians (1994)”, utterly demonstrates how “gospel” is both Jewish and pagan (Roman and Hellenist) in origin, and in its further application therefore has enormous significance for NT notions of “redemption”. Tuff that they conflict largely with American notions that would seek to separate once more matters of Church and State, ideas climaxing in the 18th C from folk like Marsilius of Padua, 13th- 14th Cs!

2. Directly linked to these key ideas: Jesus as Messiah. It is often downplayed how the word “Christ” seemingly functions in Paul’s theology and understanding of the Gospel, and therefore its application. Yet, it is no mere ‘surname’! One resource only: ch.31 of Pauline Perspectives, “Messiahship in Galatians (2012)”. Here NTW clearly shows how loadbearing this essential Jewish notion of Messiah is in this debate of Paul’s with both Jewish and Gentile opponents. It is also a multifaceted motif that requires we in the 21st C get a grip on something that is no mere cypher, to be filled with whatever spirituality takes our fancy - as is often the case in many e.g. Liberal circles today.

Frankly Shawn; please apprise the essential Reformation tag of ad fontes, rather than the ‘assured results’ of certain so called “Reformed and Evangelical Biblical scholars”. You might find the results refreshing! E.g. the final ch.33 of Pauline Perspectives, “Paul and the Patriarch: The role(s) of Abraham in Galatians and Romans (2013)”, homes in on Rom 4 in particular and comes up with surprising results, surprising that is for some trad Reformed and Evangelical exegesis especially re “justification/righteousness”. But that too was the point of my carefully chosen word, “complement” ... Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryden,

I usually do my own first source reading, but life is short, I can't read everything, and sometimes I have to rely on scholars I trust. Brits with a history of bashing America and Israel are not on that list.

I have followed the debate enough to know that NTW's take on justification raises a big red flag for me, not to mention what looks to me very much like a rather nasty form of replacement theology. I'm happy to leave it at that. The whole NPP thing is a rarefied academic debate that will have little impact on most Christians lives, and I cannot see Wright's understanding of justification bearing any long term fruit.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, my reference to Brits bashing the US and Israel was specifically aimed at NTW himself, not the British in general or any other scholar who has been cited on this thread.

"please apprise the essential Reformation tag of ad fontes, rather than the ‘assured results’ of certain so called “Reformed and Evangelical Biblical scholars”. You might find the results refreshing!"

I might also find that they aim a sword at the heart of the Reformation!

Justification is far too important to play with it in the way I think Wright does, and yes, his book on that subject is one I have read, when I was at St Johns. I was not convinced.

Anonymous said...

I have become utterly convinced that Captcha has nothing to do with proving I am not a robot, and everything to do with proving I am an alien with special powers to read indecipherable script! Took me 7 refreshes to find one I could actually read!

Bryden Black said...

Mmmm... I’ve no idea what you mean by “replacement theology” Shawn. But at least I trust you do NOT mean that God has replaced Plan A, that God would redeem the world through Israel, with another, Plan B, on account of Israel’s evident failure. For that would deny God’s righteousness!

I’m glad you ploughed your way through Justification (2009). Nonetheless I’d still recommend chs 30 and especially 33 of Pauline Perspectives. The exegetical work is superior to the earlier ch.7 on “Romans”, section VI in particular.

[BTW In that very chapter you would see NTW refutes clearly (e.g. p.194) your assertion about "hearts and swords"!]

Anonymous said...

Replacement theology is the view that God has replaced Israel with the Church and the promises to Israel no longer apply. NTW made that claim on a trip to "Palestine" to support Israel's enemies.

Anonymous said...

I think it is absolutely essential to read 'The New Testament and the People of God' and 'Jesus and the Victory of God', and to grapple with the points they make, before dismissing Tom Wright. I devoted my entire summer reading to these two thick books, one year in the late 1990s, and although I don't follow Wright on everything, I was largely convinced by his arguments. His description of what he called 'First Century Judaisms' was especially helpful.

Tim C.

Bryden Black said...

G’day Shawn: re your response of February 12, 2014 at 10:22 PM

I sensed - was even fearful - that by “replacement theology” you meant supersessionism (to acquiesce to US spelling). I have no idea to what you are referring when you mention NTW’s trip to the Middle East, but whatever he was reported/purported to have said, it simply could NOT have been as you say. For to claim that NTW is a supercessionist is to get his entire theological programme absolutely wrong. In fact, it could not be more wrong.

I really do suggest you read NTW for yourself. You say you have Justification to hand. Well; please read it carefully again, especially the chapter on Romans, ch.7. If I may venture an analogy, prompted by some things Tom says twds the end of that chapter.

What NTW is proposing with his own version of the “New Perspective” is a paradigm shift. BUT there are two sorts of paradigm shift in the scientific world. When we moved from a Ptolemaic view of the cosmos to a Copernican one, it is vital to see that these two views oppose each other in the end: either the sun is at the centre, or it is not. [Yes, yes; I am aware of Stephen Hawkins’ pedantic perspectival views ...!] However, when Einstein entered on stage in 1905, the theory/paradigm he was proposing did not exactly replace Newton as Copernicus replaced the Middle Ages. Rather, Newtonian mechanics became a subset of an Einsteinian world, on the basis that Newton’s Laws still operate but have been shown to be inadequate in the case of the very small, the very large and the very fast (to be somewhat simplistic). So it is in relation to NTW’s ‘Paul’ and your treasured ‘Reformed’ views. The latter are now set within a far richer, grander and more glorious paradigm by the former. They are not being refuted exactly; but they ARE being given a most serious tweak, I grant you! Tolle! Lege! For then you might be able to see that NTW is not the big bad bogey man portrayed by some “Reformed and Evangelical scholars” ala Copernicus vs. Ptolemy. Au contraire; he indeed is casting more light for us upon God’s Word ...

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Bryden for a very helpful insight which I will remember as I try to make sense of NTW myself.

One thought I have is that (speaking about the New Perspective in general) the Reformed and Lutheran scholars rightly seek to protect justification by faith from all attacks but our gratefulness for that does not let them off the hook for whether they rightly understand sanctification (i.e the 'how then are we to live as righteous people knowing we are not justified by our own works?). The potential of NTW's great project is that he can work with justification by faith towards a new (and better informed, by the New Perspective) perspective on sanctification. For the benefit of us all.

The intriguing and challenging question for Protestant readers of NTW is that some say his 'solution' looks rather like what the Roman church has been saying all along ...

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryden,

I have decided to take a very long break from posting here, but as you were good enough to respond I thought I might do so as well.

I don't actually have Justification to hand, it was a St John's library book. I may get back to it at some stage, but at this time I'm taking a break from reading theology to read other things that are feeding my soul more, right now that is a wonderful bit of dark fiction titled 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'.

I get what your saying about world views, but is that necessarily the case? Is Lord Geering setting Protestant Christianity in a more expansive setting? No. Perhaps an unfair comparison, but my point is that the proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the doctrinal outcomes, and Peter hits upon why NTW makes some of us a little suspicious about the doctrinal outcomes from NTW. They sound like a backwards step towards Rome.

Wright has been fiercely critical of Christian support for Israel. If he is not promoting supercessionism, then why does he believe that the State of Israel is illegitimate? Why does he spend so much time and effort blasting Israel at every opportunity?

Here is a good article. from an Orthodox Jewish perspective on Wright, that sums up my own concerns.

He may be including the Jewish people in the schema of salvation, but you cannot claim that the promises to Israel, including the promise of the land, no longer apply, and he does say this often, and then claim to not be advocating replacement theology.


As you can see in this article Wright's rhetoric is very disturbing, especially to many Jews.

Here is an important quote from Wright:

"Instead of Israel as a political entity emerging from political exile, we are invited in the gospel to see Israel-in-person, the true king, emerging from the exile of death itself into God’s new day."

That in a nutshell is replacement theology. Yes, Jesus embodies Israel, but not in a way that replaces Israel as a separate entity from the Church that is still heir to the promises of God.

By the way, I gave up on Reformed theology months ago and have gone back to my Pentecostal roots.

Thanks for your time.