Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Polycarp and Ignatius - a Second Century model for Christian unity or not?

What are or should the core shared beliefs for Christians be? How much diversity can there be? These questions are complicated, especially in the 21st century! I'm busy reading an engaging book on the early church by Josef Lössl (The Early Church. History and Memory). In one section he discusses the unity and diversity to be found in Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch (both early second century bishop's). Ignatius clearly comes from a Hellenistic background where the liturgical processions and social order of the Greek city state receives a prominent place. Polycarp on the other hand comes from a Jewish background which colors his interpretation of among other things apostolic tradition and church liturgy. It is safe to say that at least in some sense Polycarp and Ignatius represent two radically distinct forms of ecclesiology and liturgy. But what binds them together, that Polycarp can call Ignatius his brother?
Just before being martyred Polycarp allegedly prayed: "I bless you... for the resurrection of eternal life of both soul and body in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit" (14:2).

Also on the resurrection, Ignatius writes in his letter to Smyrna: "For I know and believe that after the resurrection he [Jesus] was in the flesh...even though he was spiritually united to the father" (3:1-3).

Apparently, they agreed on the "central tenets". This included "Jesus Christ [was] 'truly' born, crucified, dead and risen from the dead, against those who believed that Christ had suffered and died 'in appearance' only" (Lössl, 2009:87).
What should constitute Christian unity today? Can the above "central tenets" be re-negotiated or not?

News from New Testament at Radboud University, Nijmegen: Johan Fourie from Tzaneen, South Africa is here for a few weeks to work on his PhD. His dissertation title is: "The Vine and the Body - A metaphorical-ecclesionlogical study on the unity and the essence of the church".

Hope you'll have a good time here with us Johan!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Written that you may BELIEVE!

In the Gospel of John, Thomas believed after he saw the Risen Jesus (John 20:27-29). As Thomas saw Jesus and then believed, in one sense the modern reader is invited to read the narrative and make a decision: either to reject or accept Jesus as the Son of God.
This means that the text has a PERFORMATIVE function. It refers to or reports on a reality (and actions), pulling the reader into its world. Nobody who reads the text can remain neutral after reading. You either accept or reject it.

This example in John illustrates at least one aspect of what has come to be regarded as "Speech Act Theory" (SAT). The latter has, at least for some, become a viable alternative for on the one hand Deconstruction, and on the other Scripture as talisman (as in some African contexts - where the physical paper is attributed with magical powers). Much more can and should be said about SAT, but what I reported here was quite interesting for me in prof. Jan van der Watt's paper (Who's the Boss: text or reader?), presented at Radboud University on 17 March 2010.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Who's the BOSS: The TEXT or the READER? prof. Jan van der Watt

Who decides the meaning of a text: the TEXT itself, or the PERSON reading it? There are at least two extreme views on this: the one, as is evident in some African contexts holds that the TEXT itself has magical powers (being like a talisman). The other view, usually associated with the deconstruction of the likes of Derrida and Faucolt, holds that the READER allone determines what the text means.
Two incompatible paradigms. Prof. Van der Watt, if I understood his 17 March 2010 lecture at Radboud University, Nijmegen correctly, proposes an alternative. Within the field of INTERTEXTUALITY, it is possible to give room for both the text and the reader. Not an either-or, but both-and. I will report on this in more detail next time.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

"Holy Shit! De banalisering van het heilige" - prof.dr. Ger Groot

Today I attended a symposium at Radboud University, Nijmegen, where interesting but also radically divergent papers were delivered. One was by prof.dr. Ger Groot, "hoogleraar Filosofie en Literatuur, Faculteit der Filosofie" with the title: Holy Shit! De banalisering van het heilige. In short (though highly oversimplified!) he argued for the radical separation of faith and science. Some of his insights sounded a bit like Richard Dawkins though I must admit that he was more nuanced. But his basic premise was clear: faith and science cannot be friends.. Quite interestingly, on my way back to the Erasmus building (where my office is) my eye caught a sculpture which almost looked like different beehives - each representing a different field of study. There was one for science, one for faith etc etc... This made me think of prof. Groot's separating faith and science from each other. Can Christians challenge prof. Groot? If so, how?

Prof.dr.dr. Jan van der Watt also gave an engaging paper which I hope to report on next time.

On a more personal level, someone stole my bycicle at the Nijmegen train station (even though it was locked). Europe is not as civilised as some might think...

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Is the resurrection of Jesus a historical event?

        Anyone hoping to cast a dark shadow over Jesus' resurrection will have to take note of dr William Lane Craig, being one of the foremost New Testament Scholars of our time. He holds PhD's from the University of Munich in Germany, and Birmingham in England. He debated Gerd Ludemann (whom I featured earlier) some time ago. The debate was edited and published as a significant book. I put a link to a FREE Google excerpt at the bottom of the post. But first a YouTube video summarizing the evidence for Jesus' resurrection, presented by dr Craig:

The book by William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludeman:

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

No authentic religion can be built on projections

Highly controvertial professor Gerd Lüdemann declares: "Despite profound experiences with your God ... your  hopes [Jesus] for the future died. They clashed with brutal reality .. And had not your followers .. proclaimed belief in your resurrection, all your words and deeds would have been blown away like leaves by the wind ...But you did not return, because your resurrection did not take place, but was only a pious wish. That is certain, because your body rotted in the tomb – that is, if it was put in a tomb at all and was not devoured by vultures and jackals ...No authentic religion can be built on projections, wishes and visions, not even if it appears in such a powerful form as that of the Christian church, which has even exalted you to be the Lord of the worlds and coming judge. But you are not the Lord of the worlds, as your followers declared you to be on the basis of your resurrection, nor did you want to be ... You deceived yourself, and your message has been falsified by your supporters for their own advantage, contrary to the historical truth. Your teaching was a mistake, since the messianic kingdom did not materialize” (Lüdemann, Gerd, 1999, The Great Deception and what Jesus Really Said and Did, New York: Prometheus Books, pp2-4).
Most if not all New Testament Scholars disagree with Lüdemann's interpretations. But my question today is: HOW do we know Lüdemann is wrong? Will be nice to get some comments on this...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Why do we believe in Jesus?

Today I went to Den Haag to get my "verblijfsvergunning" from the Justice Ministry. Thankfully everything went smoothly. On my way back I stopped over at the University of Utrecht to visit their famous Protestant Theology Department. There I made friends with Jan van Wygerden, a PhD student  who is doing research on catholicity in the patristic era. We had a fascinating (and encouraging!) discussion. Thank you for that Jan.

Following our discussion I reflected back on some research I did last year in Durham. There are voices within Patristic and New Testament circles arguing that what came to be regarded as the orthodoxy of the late second century and beyond (i.e. belief in bodily resurrection, the virgin birth of Christ etc)  was, among other things argued for based on apostolic succession, and the authority of the church.
Much of this goes back to research done on the writings of Irenaeus in his well known work Against Heresies. I hope to discuss more about this some other time. For the moment though, I want to make one point by drawing on Tertullian's On the Resurrection of the Flesh (Resurrection). If we accept that apostolic succession and the authority of the church became apologetic tools to try and defend orthodoxy, other appeals were also necessary to argue for the legitimacy of what orthodoxy claimed. This Tertullian did masterfully in his Resurrection. Instead of focussing on apostolic succession or the authority of the church, he went on to face all those texts which Marcion and some Gnostic groups employed to argue for their interpretations head on. One good example is Romans 8:3 where the latter argued for a docetic Christology (which holds that Christ did not really took on flesh). In his defence of the orthodox position, Tertullian analysed the whole pericope and pointed out, among other things that a docetic Christology is impossible if one keeps in mind what Paul declares in 8:11: "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

Especially today, we as Christians should be able to use Scripture (and not apostolic succession and the authority of the church) in our witness and defence of WHY we believe.