Wednesday 24 February 2010

Pelikan on tradition and history

Josh Lim of Reformed Blogging has a knack for posting great quotes by great theologians. To save me having to constantly steal his material , I suggest that if you haven't already done so you subscribe to his RSS feed and nourish yourself with his wholesome offerings.

Here's his latest, on tradition and history:
“Tradition without history has homogenized all the stages of development into one statically defined truth; history without tradition has produced a historicism that relativized the development of Christian doctrine in such a way as to make the distinction between authentic growth and cancerous aberration seem completely arbitrary.” – Jaroslav Pelikan
[The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 9]
Interestingly, Pelikan, a Lutheran professor who co-edited 22 of 55 volumes of Luther's works, converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1996 (you can read a bit about this and other converts here). I love what he has to say here. I wonder if he'd say it differently now ... (or at least before he died in 2006)? Here's a comment on his conversion:
Members of Dr Pelikan’s family remember him saying that he had not as much converted to Orthodoxy as "returned to it, peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there."

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Justifying form criticism of the Psalms

Erhard Gerstenberger is possibly one of the most renowned of modern-day practitioners of the form-critical method in Psalms interpretation. In his article: "The Psalms: Genres, Life Situations, and Theologies - Towards A Hermeneutics of Social Stratification" (in Diachronic and Synchronic, pp. 81-92), he outlines his approach. In the process he justifies it using both a linguistic as well as a theological argument.

Here is his linguistic justification:
All those theories of literature, which take into account the social conditioning of texts, in a way corroborate this stance. But why should this be true? Because - thus my basic axiom, debatable as it is - all human discourse is communicative action. There is always a speaker (sender) 0f messages and a recipient. The words pass from one to the other, they are anchored in determined life situations, they make sense in relationships between real people who speak and listen to each other, deities included (81).
Here is his theological justification:

Why do I emphasize so strongly the social origin and conditioning of biblical texts? How can I possibly consider social stratification as a basis for different theological concepts? Am I, as some dear colleagues suggest, walking on the bad path of surrendering unconditionally to social sciences, making theology a slave to empiric research and the precarious knowledge of social structures and processes? On the contrary, I would claim that my efforts to approach the Bible consistently from its human side, to tie texts to their social (and liturgical) roots, to admit social conditionings of biblical authors and modern exegetes, of theological conceptualizations and ethical judgements, does serve a thoroughly theological purpose. The word of God is known to us and communicated to us only by way of contextual events and sayings, narrations and confessions. Thus it is able to really interact with our limited human minds. The small change of God's love and forbearing can be recognized only in detailed studies of life's reality. From the different life situations of old, then, we may make inferences as to our social and personal situations today, and God speaks to us within exactly these rather earthly configurations. The Word which turned flesh really incorporated (and still incorporates) the conditions of our existence and our personal acting therein (92).
What do you think? Does this do justice both to the nature of the Biblical texts as well as to Christian doctrine of revelation?

Jerome Creach, though in general interested in the canonical shape the Psalter, can sympathise with this stance:
This approach to the psalms is important theologically because it reminds us that the psalms were originally wed to rituals that gave concrete expression to the psalms' claims of faith, statements of thanksgiving, words of praise, and pleas for deliverance. Just as ritual without ethics and commitment makes for an empty faith, so too spiritual expression without sacrifice makes for faith within no tangible imprint. The word of God is powerful because it is incarnational. By maintaining the link between the psalms and the cult we can, in some limited way, experience more fully the Word that both became flesh and demands expressions of devotion (in "The Psalms and the Cult," 120).
Update: Heath Thomas' response to these questions in the comments represent so fully my own thoughts on this issue that I'm reposting them here for the edification of all:
I suppose we must ask whether the different forms of communication in the divers (historical) texts that have been consolidated into a whole relate to one another. Indeed one may argue these texts relate to one another beyond a simple notion of a redactor or redactors taking disparate materials from different periods of time and consolidating (or forcing?) them into a 'new' text with a different purpose (I read Gerstenberger's work on the Psalter and OT theology in this way to a degree, but maybe I'm off on that). On this view, the purpose of editorial activity could be understood as scoring a point social, political or otherwise. But I think we must press beyond these to the larger theological question of how and why these divers materials have been consolidated into the final form of, say, the PSalter. Is there a theological relationship between the intentionality of Pss 15-24 and the larger corpus of the Psalter? Books 1-3 relating to the larger Psalter as the corpus grew? Pss 1-2 relating to the whole? Are these later relationships (which have been acheived through editorial arrangement, of course) rough or are they theologically consistent with the substance of the text? Another way of asking it is, Given that the text is divers and grew over time, are later editors (of the Psalter) changing the intent and message of previous versions of the Psalter? How would we know? I think here is where Childs points to 'canonical intentionality' or 'canonical consciousness' as a concept, which it seems Barr and Barton almost equate to a kind of magic. But then again, if it is a theological process, then it cannot be equated to magic on Childs' reckoning, but part of the process of God's revelation (cf. OT Theology in a Canonical Context). So maybe Gerstenberger -- given his assumptions -- does not go far enough.

Gunkel über die Religion der Hymnen

Aus dem Vorhergehenden folgt, daß im Hymnus die objektive Seite der Religion hervortritt: Jahve selber, seine Eigenschaften und Taten; zugleich aber dies, was man, um das Einzelne zu verstehen, sich beständig vorhalten muß, daß die Grundstimmung vom Hymnus die Ehrfurcht und der Enthusiasmus ist. Und so kann man auch vom Hymnus sagen: "Ziehe deine Schuhe aus! Das Land, das du betrittst, ist ein heiliges Land!" (Gunkel, Einleitung in die Psalmen, §2.47, p. 71).
For Gunkel, form and content could never be separated (cf. Blum, "Formgeshichte - A Misleading Category?"). The hymns are theocentric, the LORD is their object (note this comment: "Nun hat das Lobsingen Gottes natürlich auch für den Singenden selber einen hohen Wert. Der religiöse Gedanke wird stark ... Aber über diese subjektive Seite der Sache denkt man wenig oder gar nicht nach; man singt den Hymnus für Gott allein," 69-70).

If this is the case, then what would an "objective" interpretation of the hymns look like?

Saturday 20 February 2010

Barth on the Christological centre of the Old and New Testaments

Josh Lim of Reformed Blogging has posted the following quote by Barth which I find very helpful for understanding Childs' own approach to Biblical theology (especially the last bit, which I print in bold). It affirms, once again, Childs' strong Barthian outlook.
As regards handling of Old Testament texts, we maintain that for us the Old Testament is valid only in relation to the New. If the church has declared itself to be the lawful successor of the synagogue, this means that the Old Testament is witness to Christ, before Christ but not without Christ. Each sentence in the Old Testament must be seen in this context. Historical exegesis can and must be done, but at the same time we have to ask whether this exegesis does justice to the context in which the Old and New Testaments stand. Even in a sermon on Judges 6:3 it is possible both insist on the literal sense and also to set one’s sights on Christ. As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ. As regards the justification of allegory, we have again to refer to the relation between the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament the natural sense is the issue. Preaching must bring out what the Old Testament passage actually says, but in a way that affirms the basic premise on which the church adopted the Old Testament. This does not mean that we will give the passage a second sense — just as we are not to oppose historical and Christian exposition to one another. Instead, we will see that this passage in its immanence points beyond itself. It is a signpost that gives us direction. The Old Testament points forwards, the New Testament points backward, and both point to Christ.[*]
A "signpost that gives us a direction," what a helpful way of thinking of the relation between the literal and spiritual senses.

For a statement by Childs that repeats this: "As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ" - go to my post The Task of Jewish/Christian exegesis.

For a quote by Francis Watson on this issue go here.

[*] Karl Barth, Homiletics Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Donald E. Daniels (Louisville, KY: WJK, 1991) 80-81.

Friday 19 February 2010

The religious significance of ethnic Israel and the canonical shape of Esther

In response to my recent post on Biblical scholarship and the State of Israel, a friend has highlighted the complexity involved in claiming theological continuity between Biblical Israel and the modern Jewish people. The term itself is ambiguous in the Old Testament. As he says:
What does the OT mean by the moniker 'Israel' in any case? Sometimes it's the North only, other times it's both North and South, and at times it's only the South. And then of course at numerous times it is commodius, and includes people entirely outside the North and South altogether, as in the 'sojourner'. On this last example, there is the matter of the 'catholicity' of Israel, and thus the inclusion of those who are not 'Israelite' but who are part of 'Israel' nonetheless by association (similar to the status of the others on the ark as "saved" because they were "with" Noah, or those whose blessing depends on their standing relative to Abraham)
His conclusion is that "to be 'Israel', canonically defined, was never only or even primarily about physical lineage, but by participation and association."

I don't feel adequate right now to fully stake a position on this issue. I'll just cite one of the starkest quotes on the issue that I am aware of by Brevard Childs, a scholar who has deeply impacted my way of understanding the Bible. The context is a conclusion concerning the theological implications of the canonical shape of Esther:
Perhaps the basic theological issue at stake in this disagreement has been more clearly formulated by R. Gordis: 'It is fundamental to the Jewish world-outlook that the preservation of the Jewish people is itself a religious obligation of the first magnitude' (Megillat, 13). In my judgment, Gordis' assertion holds true for Christian theology if kept within the critical guidelines which have been fixed by the canonical context of Esther.
On the one hand, the book of Esther provides the strongest canonical warrant in the whole Old Testament for the religious significance of the Jewish people in an ethnic sense. The inclusion of Esther within the Christian canon serves as a check against all attempts to spiritualize the concept of Israel - usually by misinterpreting Paul - and thus removing the ultimate scandal of biblical particularity. On the other hand, the canonical shape of of Esther has built into the fabric of the book a theological criticism of all forms of Jewish nationalism which occurs whenever 'Jewishness' is divorced from the sacred traditions which constitute the grounds of Israel's existence under God (Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 606-607).

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Christen brauchen Fleisch

I had a brief exchange with a member of my church the other day about the fact that Christians can grow in their faith, that there is a distinction between young and mature Christians, and that this growth involves intellectual growth, a better grasp of theology. My friend didn't quite understand, especially in regard to a quote from Heb 5:12 about "milk" and "meat" that I e-mailed him. For him, the gospel is actually very simple and he cites John 1:14 as evidence. Not only is this verse easy to grasp, he says, what more could we possibly need to know? He is a new Christian. Here is my attempt per Email to clarify the issue. Please do tell me where I'm going wrong! (And feel free to correct my imperfect German.)

Bezüglich Heb 5,12. Zuerst würde ich gerne darauf hinweisen, dass der Hebräerbrief an Christen gerichtet ist. Also Menschen, die sich schon für Jesus entschieden haben. Sie werden um ihres Glaubens Willen verfolgt und laufen Gefahr, dieses Glauben zu leugnen. Dem Autor des Briefes geht es darum, ihnen zu beweisen, wie gut sie es in Jesus haben. Also: es gibt mehr als das, was sie gedacht haben. Dieses "Mehr" ist der Inhalt des Briefes und sollte ihnen helfen, in ihrem Glauben im Angesicht Verfolgung zu beharren. Im direkten Zusammenhang von Heb 5, 12, zum Beispiel, geht es darum dass Jesus nicht nur zu uns gesandt wurde, dass er lebte, starb, und auferstanden ist, sondern auch, dass er jetzt zur rechten des Vaters sitzt und für uns betet. Das ist ein Beispiel für das "Fleisch," was die Hebräer noch nicht begriffen haben. Vielleicht könnte man sagen, dass Milch genug ist für jemand der sich zum ersten Mal für Jesus begeistert ist (junge Christen sind in der Regel super begeistert), wenn es aber schwer wird, braucht man mehr Eiweiß. Dafür braucht man eine tiefere Theologie. Was man glaubt hat Einfluss darauf, wie man lebt, was man hofft usw. Hier ist ein Zitat zu Heb 5, 11 aus einem englischen Kommentar:

The "milk" of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ did on earth—His birth, life, teaching, death, burial, and resurrection. The "meat" of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ is now doing in heaven. [nach Heb 5, 12, z.B.] We begin the Christian life on the basis of His finished work on earth. We grow in the Christian life on the basis of His unfinished work in heaven.

Of course, even the maturest adult never outgrows milk. As believers, we can still learn much from our Lord’s work on earth. But we must not stop there! We must make spiritual progress, and we can do this only if we learn about Christ’s priestly ministry for us in heaven. (See Heb. 13:20–21 for a summary of what the Lord wants to do for His people now.)

Dies ist nur ein Teilantwort auf deine Frage, "Was ist Fleisch"? Der Verfasser des Briefes gibt weitere Beispiele in den darauf folgenden Versen.

Hilft das? Es geht nicht darum, dass wenn man im Glauben wächst man entdeckt das alles doch nicht so ist, wie man gedacht hat (obwohl das zum Teil durchaus passiert; wir projezieren immer unsere eigenen Bedürfnisse auf Gott). Es geht darum, dass das Evangelium sehr umfassend ist (guck mal, wie groß, vielfältig, und manchmal schwierig die Bibel ist!). Das Leben ist eine Herausforderung, und manchmal braucht man mehr um überstehen zu können. Ich profitiere sehr momentan, z.B., von der Gedanke, dass "Himmel" letzendlich die Vollendung dieser Schöpfung ist, und nicht ihre Abschaffung durch eine unkörperliche Wirklichkeit.

Dazu würde ich sagen, dass es nicht nur mehr gibt, im Sinne von extra Information oder einem größeren Zusammenhang. Es gibt auch mehr im Sinne von einer Tiefendimension. Etwas, was zuerst einfacht erscheint, kann Vieles vergebergen. Lass uns deine Bibelzitat angucken:

14 Das Wort wurde Mensch und lebte unter uns. Wir selbst haben seine göttliche Herrlichkeit gesehen, wie sie Gott nur seinem einzigen Sohn gibt. In ihm sind Gottes vergebende Liebe und Treue zu uns gekommen.
Dieser Text ist für mich überhaupt nicht einfach. Ein Paar Beispielfragen: Was war das Wort bevor es Mensch wurde? Wieso musste es Fleisch werden? Und war es vorher ein "es" oder schon immer ein "er"? Und wie kann ein Mensch ein "Wort" sein? Und wie sieht ein Wort aus bevor es/er Mensch wird? Und was hat Fleischwerdeung mit Liebe zu tun (geschweige denn Treue)? Und welche Herrlichkeit wurde von Johannes gesehen? Ich dachte Jesus wäre nur ein Zimmerman. Oder ist das genau seine Herrlichkeit? Oder war es vielleicht seine Verklärung? Und wieso durfte Johannes das sehen aber ich nicht? Ist das Fair, dass ich von einem Zeugniss abhängig bin, ohne selbst die Herrlichkeit Jesu sehen zu dürfen? Und wieso ist das Wort/der Mensch ein Sohn? Wieso nicht Tochter, oder etwas Anderes? Ist das bedeutsam? Was hat "Vergebung" mit "Inkarnation" zu tun? Ich dachte, dass Vergebung am Kreuz stattgefunden hat und nicht beim Geburt. Und wenn diese vergebende Liebe damals gekommen ist, was hat das mit heute zu tun? Kommt er immer noch? Aber wenn ja, er kommt gewiss nicht auf der selben Art und Weise wie damals, weil er nicht mehr "unter uns" lebt. Zumindest nicht als Mensch - nur in seinem Geist (sein Vertreter). Wie im Hebräerbrief steht, Jesus ist eigentlich nicht mehr hier, er ist da, und wir warten auf ihn. Also, Johannes freut sich, dass Jesus gekommen ist, aber wir warten immer noch?

Wie du geschrieben hast, Joh 1, 12 ist eigentlich doch einfach. Ein Mensch lernt Gott in Jesus kennen und gibt ihm sein Leben aus Dankbarkeit. Aber wie in menschlichen Beziehung, ist dieser Schritt nur ein Anfang. Man muss weiter gehen und diese Person kennelernen, diese Person in seiner Gesamntheit, und das heißt seine Identität als Gott und Gesalbter Israels, als eine Antwort auf unseres Flehen, als ein Teil von eines umfassenden Heilsplans. Du hast sicherlich den Spruch gehört: die Bibel ist flach genug, dass ein Baby dadrin spielen kann, aber tief genug, dass ein Elefant dadrin ertinken kann.

Ein paar andere Bibelstellen zum Thema "Milch" und Wachsen: 1 Kor 3,1-3; Heb 6, 1; 1 Pe 2, 2. 21, falls du weiterlesen willst.