Sunday, 26 December 2010

Is N.T. Wright's Curriculum Vitae the most significant and impressive? Think again...

I few days ago I searched online for good Christian CV's to help me with a simple and effective format. I was struck by the following bit in N.T. Wright's Web Version CV:

iv) Other early employment
1969 Site labourer, local building site (constructing chemical factory)
1968, May-July Dry chain labourer, Northwood Lumber Camp, Upper Fraser, British Columbia
1968, March-April Freight loading, Canadian Pacific Railway, King St Depot, Toronto

N.T. Wright was a 'Site labourer'; 'Dry chain labourer' and 'Freight' loader?

I have learnt allot from Wright in Durham while I studied there. I agree with him on several issues (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus, Gnosticism, New Creation etc), but I also disagree with him on some aspects of justification. Whatever these theological issues may be, Wright's Web Version CV taught me (and I hope other aspiring Christian Scholars) that what really count, is whether we can be humble enough to include the 'ordinary' things in our CV's. They won't impress the big shots in the academic establishment, but they will possibly show that we are just as comfortable being a 'site labourer' for the Lord, as writing a groundbreaking monograph....

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Why We've All Misread the Gospels: Kingdom and Politics Then and Now - Prof. N.T. Wright at the Sarum Theological Lectures in 2011

Mmmmm. I wonder who else have already picked this up? Prof. N.T. Wright is to deliver the 2011 Sarum Theological Lectures on 9-12 May 2011 in Salisbury, England. See details below:

Sarum Theological Lectures are designed to make accessible to a wide audience the work of specialists in a variety of fields in the study of theology. They are subsequently published by Darton, Longman & Todd.

Professor N.T. (Tom) Wright will deliver the 2011 lecture series on 9, 10, 11 and 12 May in Salisbury Cathedral. The series is entitled:

Why We've All Misread the Gospels: Kingdom and Politics Then and Now

Arguing that the gospels have traditionally been read either as the story of how the divine saviour died for our sins or as the story of how Jesus went about doing good, Wright says:

"In the first case, it's a puzzle as to why the gospels include all that other material; in the second, the puzzle is why his promising career as a social reformer was cut short so soon.

"This division has been symptomatic of a major split in modern western Christianity, showing up in scholarship as well as in popular church life. Part of the result has been an unwillingness to engage with the way 'kingdom-of-God' language relates directly to political challenges, as the gospels (especially but not only John) seem to indicate that it must."

During the course of these four lectures, Professor Wright will explore the problem, outline a basic solution, and suggest some practical ways forward.

The annual Sarum Theological Lectures are designed to make accessible to a wide audience the work of specialists in a variety of fields in the study of theology. They are subsequently published by Darton, Longman & Todd.

All lectures will begin at 7pm in Salisbury Cathedral. Tickets cost £7 each (£24 for the series) and are available in advance from Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury 2EE.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Why think about the future? After all, 'what will happen will happen' ? Graham Beynon at Tyndale House, Cambridge

"Why think about the future? After all, 'what will happen will happen', it only leads to controversy and argument, and it's irrelevant to life now." This is the first sentence on the back of my Cambridge friend Graham Beynon's book Last Things First, which has just been published by Inter-Varsity Press.

Beynon is a Baptist minister busy with his PhD here in Cambridge. We've had several heartwarming discussions about all sorts of interesting stuff. He gave me a copy of his new book for Christmas. Thank you Graham - now I've got a great book to read over Christmas! To order the book, click on this link:

I place the short summery found on the IVP website below, followed by a few nice photo's I took here at Tyndale recently.  

Why think about the future? After all, 'what will happen will happen', it only leads to controversy and argument, and it's irrelevant to life now.

However, Graham Beynon shows that the real danger is that we don't think about the future. God in his Word puts last things first - the whole gospel is shaped around what is to come. God has a plan for where he is taking this world, and his people are called to live in the light of that future.
Christians are to be those who look back - to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. All that happened then shapes our life now. However, they are also to look forward - at what God will do in finishing his plans for his creation through Jesus.
The Bible teaches Christians to store up treasure in heaven; to wait faithfully for the return of their Master; to think of this world as temporary and passing; and to think of the world to come as their inheritance.
Graham Beynon takes a fresh look at this teaching and shows how what is to come should shape practical Christian living now, with regard to godliness, handling of money, service of others, speaking about Jesus, faithfulness to him, response to hardship, and more.

Graham Beynon at his Tyndale Desk today.
Thomas Robinson, David Brewer and Graham Beynon in the Tyndale House lounge yesterday.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Heresy in the Early Christian Church dethroned? Thomas A Robinson in Cambridge

Have you ever been in a situation where for weeks you've spoken to a person who, on the surface at least, doesn't stand out in any unusual way, only to find out in parting you've actually being rubbing shoulders with a significant scholar in your field of research? What's more, you have read some of his famous work and quoted him in your own work? That happened to me today! So, who is the scholar I'm referring to? None other than Thomas A. Robinson, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Why is he significant? Well, for several reasons, let me name a few:

i) His doctoral supervisors were EP Saunders and Ben Meyer

ii) The publication of his revised PhD dissertation in 1988 called The Bauer Thesis Examined. Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church, probably dethroned the famous theses developed by Walter Bauer (in his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity). Bauer's reconstruction of primitive Christianity would want us to hold that the so-called heretical movements in the early Church were early, widespread, and strong. I think Robinson debunked this assertion by citing the lack of data extensive enough to warrant such conclusions.

iii) His new book: Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways: Early Jewish-Christian Relations (2009), challenges long held theories about the 'Parting of the Ways'. Endorsements for the book came from Judith Lieu and Larry Hurtado. I found the following quote very informative:

"The distinction drawn between Jews and Christians by authors such as Ignatius is a real one, not an imagined one. The tendency in modern scholarship to narrow the gap between Jews and early Christians sometimes causes us to overlook the simple fact that were we to put a Clement and an Ignatius together, each would have preferred the company of the other to that of the local synagogue and each would have sensed that he shared a common identity with the other that neither shared with the local Jewish community. This is the world in which Ignatius operates" (p241).

Thank you for a wonderful talk professor Robinson - especially the advice on 1 Clement!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

'How to Study Early Christian and Jewish Texts Appropriately': Symposium on the occasion of the 100th birthday of W.C. van Unnik

I just got news of the recently held symposium in honour of Professor Willem Cornelis van Unnik at Utrecht University. Without prior knowledge of this, I decided yesterday to start a section on my blog dedicated to excellent Dutch Scholars, of which the first discussion was on Van Unnik! (Check it out in the right-hand corner if you like) I also put his extra-ordinary bibliography there! I put the program for the symposium below and will try to keep my eyes and ears open to find out how it went.

Symposium & Congres

     Prof. Willem Cornelis van Unnik (1910-1978) was an outstanding and remarkable theologian at Utrecht University. His proficiencies covered many fields, including New Testament, Greek, Syriac and Early Jewish literature. His publications still influence scholarly research of Early Christianity in its Hellenistic and Jewish environment. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, the Department of Religious Studies and Theology organises a symposium on 10 December 2010.

This symposium is dedicated to biographical aspects of W.C. van Unnik and to topical issues dealt with in his work. In particular, it questions the way how Christian and Jewish sources are studied appropriately in a historical approach.

10.00 Registration, Coffee
10.30 Opening by the dean of the Department of Religious Studies and Theology, Prof. M. Sarot
10.35 Prof. P.W. van der Horst
Willem van Unnik: Biographical Remarks on a Remarkable Scholar
11.05 Dr A. Noordegraaf
Van Unnik en de Kerk
11.35 Coffee and Tea Break
12.00 Prof. J.W. van Henten
Reading "I have knowledge of everything" in Context: the Case of Manaemus (Josephus, A.J. 15.375)
12.30 Dr E. Ottenheijm
Good Works in Tannaitic Traditions: the case of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai
13.00 Lunch
14.00 Dr M. Lang
Bericht zum Stand des Neuen Wettsteinprojekts
(on the occasion of the transfer of the Corpus Hellenisticum to the University of Halle)
14.20 Prof. A. Merz
Understanding John: Old Questions and New Developments through the Lens of W.C. van Unnik
14.50-15.00 Closing by the chairman of the W.C. van Unnik Stichting, Dr E. Ottenheijm

W.C. van Unnik

Willem Cornelis van Unnik was appointed professor in the Exegese of the New Testament and Ancient Christian Literature at Utrecht University in 1946. A biography, bibliography and full text publications of this remarkable theologian are included in Utrecht University's Gallery of Honour.

Friday, 10 December 2010

dr Bruce Winter visits Tyndale House, Cambridge UK

Today I had the wonderful privilege of meeting dr Bruce Winter, former warden of Tyndale House here in Cambridge (1987-2006). He is one of my favourite New Testament scholars. One of his most influential books is After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001).

We spoke about the topic for my PhD for about half an hour. I am really excited about the comments he made. I got the impression that at least some of the ideas I hope to develop in my theses makes exegetical sense. 

I quote one key insight which Winter develops in the above book, within the context of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20:

"The Corinthian Christians who argued that everything was permitted for them rationalised the exercising of their privileges on the grounds of first-century Platonic anthropology, philosophical hedonism, and social conventions. An outline of the former argument is preserved where the body is said to have been ordained for pleasure and that the immortal soul was unaffected by any such conduct." (88).
What is Paul's answer to all this?
"...Paul responded by introducing a central Christian theme - that the body was meant 'for the Lord', and 'the Lord was meant for  the body'. He concluded with the command that the Christian men of Corinth were not justified in asserting their self-centred aphorism, for 'they were not their own [possession]'; they must 'glorify the Lord in their bodies' (6:19-20)." (92).

Monday, 6 December 2010

Momentous occasion: Michael Wolter at the NIJMEGEN PRESTIGE LECTURES 2010

On Thursday 2 December  2010, we had the annual NIJMEGEN PRESTIGE LECTURE IN BIBLICAL STUDIES here in Nijmegen. It was truly a momentous occasion given the significant papers professor Michael Wolter from the university of Bonn delivered. Turnout at the afternoon public lecture was good, and for the special evening dinner, we had guests coming from Amsterdam, Utrecht, Germany, Hungary and Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Which Jesus is the Real Jesus?
The paper professor Wolter delivered at the evening dinner, Which Jesus is the Real Jesus? was highly significant (and maybe controversial?) and promises to create a stir in academic circlesThis paper will form the basis of an exciting new Brill publication. Not giving away anything, I can at least say that he engages critically with the likes of Dale Allison (particularly his new book, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009]), Luke Timothy Johnson, James Dunn, and John Dominic Crossan, not to mention earlier giants in Jesus-research.

Paul, the Radical Apostle - his life and thoughts that changed the World

In what follows I offer a brief summary of some of the main points that stood out for me in professor Wolter's afternoon public lecture. These are my own, provisional interpretations. The title of the paper, as indicated above was: Paul, the Radical Apostle - his life and thoughts that changed the World.

  • The pre-Christian Pharisaic Paul saw himself as part of a community through which an exclusive ethos that is standardised by the Torah, determined the identity of Israel. At this stage, Paul's commitment to the fulfilment of the Torah was therefore primarily a commitment to Israel and the preservation of her holiness as God's people (Phil. 3; Gal. 1; Acts 22).
  • Paul did not persecute 'Christians', but Jews who differed essentially from other Jews only in that they revered Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Paul places himself in the tradition of zeal which demonstrates that his activity as a persecutor was motivated by the fear for a possible loss of Israel’s holiness. For Paul, the Torah cannot be fulfilled apart from the holiness of God.
  • Paul's persecution was triggered by two things: 1) The claim that a crucified criminal, and thus one accursed by God, is the Messiah; 2) The Jesus-Jews had put the importance of temple and the Law into question. For such an interpretation, which places Christology at the centre, Paul’s radical re-orientation must have been quite obviously caused by a Christological insight.
  • Paul had a 'visionary experience' in which he saw Jesus of Nazareth in a 'heavenly appearance'. This was an authentic experience in which he recognised Jesus as the Son of God (Gal. 1.16).
  • How did Paul interpret this event? The real theological substance of Paul's conversion was: a new reality had opened up for Paul the Pharisee, which was no longer centrally organised around Israel's election or the opposition of Israel and the nations, but around Jesus Christ, raised by God from the dead and appointed son and Kyrios, who was thus given a universal claim to lordship.
  •  The Damascus 'vision' had thus lead Paul to the conclusion that the way to participation in God’s holiness had been opened up to the nations through Jesus Christ. They no longer had to become Jewish. (It might be interesting to compare this insight with the likes of Dunn and Wright).
  • Professor Wolter then went on to describe two important phases in Paul's life journey: Paul the missionary, en Paul the letter writer (these two phases in Paul's journey seem obvious in hindsight  but frankly, I've never really thought it through systematically..)
Matin Luther

Probably the most significant part of the paper for me, was professor Wolter's reflection on Martin Luther in the last quarter of the paper:

"Between him [Luther] and Paul, there are two main differences:

First, in Luther, the question of the Law is no longer embedded in the Israel question. By ‘Law’ Luther no longer meant only the Torah, through which Israel expresses its election from the nations, but for him the ‘law’ is anything that confronts people as an ethical demand: “The law preaches what is to be done and what is to be left alone” (WA II, 466:3-5), and “good works are to be done and practised in obedience to the law” (WA LII, 349, 19-20). We do not have to look long to find the reason for this change: Unlike Paul, Luther no longer had to handle the process of Christian-Jewish separation. This in Luther’s days had already been completed more than 1000 years ago.

 The second aspect is connected to the fact that Christianity at the time of Luther was no longer a religion of conversion, but had changed into a religion of tradition. ‘The believers’ were not in the minority any more. The culture of Luther’s environment had become entirely 'Christian'.

On the other hand, there was, of course, still the dividing line between salvation and condemnation. Due to the changing cultural conditions, however, it no longer ran, as it did for Paul, between the minority of believers and the majority of unbelievers. Rather, the line coursed through the middle of each individual. It was this border experience, which the Augustinian monk Luther suffered in his own moral dilemma and was from it through the discovery of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Thus also Luther went through a conversion, but it differs fundamentally from Paul’s. Their consequences are also different: Luther's reformulation of the doctrine of justification was not based on ecclesiology, as it had been with Paul, but contained, in extension to his own experience, an orientation towards the individual Christian. Anthropology could then no longer be the solution. It became, rather, the problem. In this way, Luther gave the semantic field of the doctrine of justification a different topography. What was for Paul a more peripheral issue, now came to the fore: that it is the sinner whom God justifies sola fide and sola gratia. Conversely, the ecclesiological issues were pushed aside.
It would be unfair to accuse Luther of theologically distorting the Pauline doctrine of justification. His interpretation, however, had the consequence that the central ecclesiological impetus of Paul’s doctrine of justification has up to this present day become largely invisible and has been widely ignored by the Christian churches to their own detriment. It has become evident that the original Pauline concept bears an ecumenical openness, which extends beyond its original context of discovery. This sense of openness is, quite simply, that faith in Christ, which manifests the Christian identity of all churches, not only suspends the difference between Jews and Gentiles, but also makes the historically developed cultural characteristics and differences by which the churches differentiate from each other and without which Christianity has never existed, entirely irrelevant."

Some pictures taken during the evening dinner:

Friday, 3 December 2010

Lost Gospels - Brand new Cambridge Scholars DVD

This new DVD is certainly a must buy for any Christian who wants to dialogue with sceptics about the Gospel of Thomas/ Judas and other non-canonical gospels. The scholars in this DVD are world-class experts in their fields AND authentic Christians as well!