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Richard B. Hays and the fire of texts

… Despite all the careful hedges that we plant around texts, meaning has a way of leaping over, like sparks. Texts are not inert; they burn and throw fragments of flame on their rising heat. Often we succeed in containing the energy, but sometimes the sparks escape and kindle new blazes, reprises of the original fire.

That is a way of saying that texts can generate readings that transcend both the conscious intention of the author and all the hermeneutical strictures that we promulgate. Poets and preachers know this secret; biblical critics have sought to suppress it for heuristic purposes. At times, the texts speak through us in ways that could not have been predicted, ways that can be comprehended only by others who hear the voice of the text through us—or, if by ourselves, only retrospectively.

Such phenomena occur repeatedly in all significant discourse: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.” The texts that envelope us speak through us; resonant speech discovers typologies that interpret present experience through the language of predecessors. But these typologies come to us unbidden, impose themselves upon us in ways that we understand through a glass darkly. Anyone who has ever acted in a play knows the experience of discovering that lines from the play come unexpectedly to mind in real-life situations different from the original dramatic context. The aptness of the quoted line does not depend on exact literal correspondence between the original meaning and the new application. Indeed, the wit and pleasure of such quotations lie partly in the turning of the words to a new sense. In such cases, the act of quotation becomes an act of figuration, establishing a metaphorical resonance between drama and life. Paul’s uses of Scripture often have a similar character: Scripture is for him the text of the word-play in which he performs and from which familiar lines repeatedly spring to life in new situations.

To limit our interpretation of Paul’s scriptural echoes to what he intended by them is to impose a severe and arbitrary hermeneutical restriction. In the first place, what he intended is a matter of historical speculation; in the second place, his intertextual echoes are acts of figuration. Consequently, later readers will rightly grasp meanings of the figures that may have been veiled from Paul himself. Scripture generates through Paul new figurations; The Righteousness from Faith finds in Paul a new voice.

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Richard B. Hays. Yale University Press: London, 1989. Print. 33.

REVIEW: ‘Introducing World Missions,’ Moreau et al.

Authors A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee wrote Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey “for prospective missionaries as well as for those who are interested in missions but may serve in other capacities in God’s work.”[1]  That second target audience is the one which applies most neatly to my situation.  I do not perceive myself to be one who will spend most of his life “on the field,” although the editors of this volume do state carefully that the “missionary call” is not necessarily a call to a lifetime in one place.  Nevertheless, a quasi-transient life being spent between a few locations either abroad or domestic would not be unwelcome. For being written to both the sent and the senders, IWM accomplishes its task well.

The authors divided the text into five parts.  Summarized, they are written respectively about the theology of missions, the history of missions, the “call” to missions (and its attendants), preparing for missions, and the contemporary milieu of missions.  The most fruitful sections for me were the history, preparation, and contemporary milieu of missions.  Also, on page thirteen, the first chapter relates twenty-three definitions used in missiology, a helpful reference for my own structuring of the theology of missions.  Having been exposed to some of those terms, although certainly not all, I find myself able to more easily converse with others (especially those who have gone on mission) about missionary work.

Part 2 of IWM relates the history of mission work throughout the church.  Especially enlightening was the focus on how the church has historically been concerned with proclaiming Christ to all men everywhere over against the contemporary trope that true Christianity is just being a nice person and minding one’s business.  Further, the ecumenical inclusion of Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, and Evangelicals helped demonstrate that, despite otherwise deep and troublesome theological rifts, most self-identified Christian groups are concerned with spreading Christ throughout their contexts and foreign contexts.  Part 4 details how one can and ought to prepare for a missions experience, whether they are the one being sent or the one sending.  The practical wisdom contained in this section is great.  From replanting families abroad to creating relationships with those people to whom one ministers, this section opened my eyes to many unforeseen aspects of international missions, which I would have ignorantly glossed over.

Part 5 explicates the conduct and particularities of missions in the modern world.  This, in my opinion and for my own development, is the most importation section of the book.  I feel drawn to cross-religious dialogue and engagement.  In particular, the rise of Islam across the world, as well as the burgeoning problems in India between Hindus and Christians, compel me to understand, engage, and demonstrate the falsity of those false religions as opposed to Christ.  If such studies were to take me to the Middle East or to Indonesia, I would do well to honor those principles highlighted throughout the final chapters of this book. Particularly helpful were the characterizations given on pages 298 to 302 concerning the role of engaging another religion. I order, the authors listed the roles as Adherent or Insider, Seeker or Inquirer, Explorer, Reporter, Specialist, Advocate of a new religion, and Apologist or Antagonist.  I find myself drawn especially to the Specialist and Apologist or Antagonist roles. I can foresee future studies being devoted exclusively to Christian and Muslim engagement, for example.

Although IWM is not a work which I would otherwise have purchased for my library had it not been assigned reading, it will prove to be a valuable tool for future ministry. Whether this ministry is directed towards my fellow churchmen or to myself as I minister to those at variance with Christ, IWM will give tools and principles that will enable me to send others to and to myself reach the lost.


[1]Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 7.

Two cautions for the study of God

February 26, 2014 Leave a comment

The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. To study theology, for the purpose of gratifying curiosity, or preparing for a profession, is an abuse and profanation of what ought to be regarded as most holy. To learn things pertaining to God, merely for the sake of amusement, or secular advantage, or to gratify the mere love of knowledge, is to treat the Most High with contempt.

J.L. Dagg, Manual of Theology

The Bible is not a dead document to be once and for all mastered and deposited in the reservoir of academic achievement. The Word of God is alive and powerful, and it must be owned and studied reverently and faithfully in every generation. Theology is a discipline of faith that must be pursued arduously but not dispassionately in the service of the church to the glory of God, its gracious and sovereign Object. From this perspective every act of biblical exposition is once an act of prayer.

Timothy George, in his introduction to the Galatians component of the New American Commentary.

Martin Luther on justification by faith

February 26, 2014 1 comment

This doctrine can never be discussed and taught enough. If it is lost and perishes, the whole knowledge of truth, life, and salvation is lost and perishes at the same time. But if it flourishes, everything good flourishes—religion, true worship, the glory of God, and the right knowledge of all things and of all social conditions. There is clear and present danger that the devil may take away from us the pure doctrine of faith and may substitute for it the doctrines of works and of human traditions. It is very necessary, therefore, that this doctrine of faith be continually read and heard in public.

Martin Luther, in the preface to his commentary on Galatians

Chapter 19: Of the Law of God (V)

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

V. The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as other, to the obedience thereof;(a) and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.(b) Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.(c)

(a) Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 2:3, 4, 7, 8
(b) James 2:10, 11
(c) Matthew 5:17-19; James 2:8; Romans 3:31

Chapter 19: Of the Law of God (IV)

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

IV. To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.(a)

(a) Exodus 21-22; Genesis 49:10; 1 Peter 2:13, 14; Matthew 5:17, 38, 39; 1 Corinthians 9:8-10

Chapter 19: Of the Law of God (III)

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

III. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits;(a) and partly, holding forth diverse instructions of moral duties.(b) All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament.(c)

(a) Matthew 22:37-39
(b) Hebrews 9; Hebrews 10:1; Galatians 4:1, 3; Colossians 2:17
(c) Colossians 2:14, 16, 17; Daniel 9:27; Ephesians 2:15, 16

REVIEW: ‘The Person of Christ,’ Donald MacLeod

February 17, 2014 Leave a comment

MacLeod published The Person of Christ in 1998, as the seventh installment of the Contours of Christian Theology series (ed. Gerald Bray). IVP Academic markets this series as “a series of concise introductory texts focused on the main themes of Christian theology,” which is a well-enough categorization. MacLeod, through ten chapters and 303 pages, offers a fairly standard evangelical account of the history of the doctrines of Christ–notably his preexistence, his relationship to and within in the Trinity, and his own nature and person.

I came to this text as one who desired to study the nature of Christ but who had never formally done so. MacLeod’s work does not read easily at times, although it is hard to believe that this is essentially his own fault. He spends most of each chapter detailing the ways in which both ancient and contemporary theologians have understood the various facets of Christ’s nature. He highlights the Gnostics, Docetics, the German liberals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and others. It is almost inevitable in any text not devoted specifically to the different movements for the specifics and distinguishing marks to become muddled. MacLeod is no exception to that rule, and many chapters are nearly overwhelming dense to one who does not have prior training in both the questions and proposed answers that are given in each chapter. For this reason, The Person of Christ would do well as a book read under the direction (current or past) of an academic who has already studied Christology, unless one wants to spend an inordinate amount of time with this book. While the work has helpfully made me aware of certain readings of pertinent Christological passages (especially of those of the German theologians), The Person of Christ does not seem to warrant a slow and steady reading for one who is merely curious about the doctrines and would like individual study.

Final analysis: The Person of Christ is best read as a survey to one already familiar with the various theological questions or as an introduction to one under the tutelage of a person already familiar with Christology.

Chapter 7 — The Testimony of the Spirit Necessary to Give Full Authority to Scripture, sec. 1 & 2

January 18, 2014 Leave a comment

1. Before proceeding farther, it seems proper to make some observations on the authority of Scripture, in order that our minds may not only be prepared to receive it with reverence, but be divested of all doubt.

When that which professes to be the Word of God is acknowledged to be so, no person, unless devoid of common sense and the feelings of a man, will have the desperate hardihood to refuse credit to the speaker. But since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only records in which God has been pleased to consign his truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized, unless they are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God has been heard giving utterance to them. This subject well deserves to be treated more at large, and pondered more accurately. But my readers will pardon me for having more regard to what my plan admits than to what the extent of this topic requires.

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed–viz. that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. Thus profane men, seeking, under the pretext of the Church, to introduce unbridled tyranny, care not in what absurdities they entangle themselves and others, provided they extort from the simple this one acknowledgement–viz. that there is nothing which the Church cannot do. But what is to become of miserable consciences in quest of some solid assurance of eternal life, if all the promises with regard to it have no better support than man’s Judgment? On being told so, will they cease to doubt and tremble? On the other hand, to what jeers of the wicked is our faith subjected–into how great suspicion is it brought with all, if believed to have only a precarious authority lent to it by the good will of men?

2. These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression of an apostle. Paul testifies that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and prophets, until her Judgment is interposed. For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed. Nothing therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends. When the Church receives it, and gives it the stamp of her authority, she does not make that authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted but, acknowledging it as the truth of God, she, as in duty bounds shows her reverence by an unhesitating assent. As to the question, How shall we be persuaded that it came from God without recurring to a decree of the Church? It is just the same as if it were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. I.7.1-2.

On Cross-Culture Disputes

January 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Critiquing another worldview is not as simple as most people seem to believe. By way of example, let’s take Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism since the two have engaged on Tumblr at times. An Eastern Orthodox critique of specific Protestant practices, framed as an Eastern Orthodox critique, is going to fall on deaf ears to one who is consistently Protestant. So will the Protestant critique qua Protestant against a particular Eastern Orthodox practice, whether of hermeneutics, doctrine, etc.

Why is this so? I’ll discuss one reason. If Lucretius were to critique Aristotle’s ethics according to his own Epicureanism, Aristotle could easily dismiss the critique as not comporting with reality. Why? Because the data are interpreted and emphasized differently depending on which system you are working in. Whereas Lucretius’s first principle would be the maximization of pleasure (forgive the broad stroke), Aristotle’s first principle (of ethics, at least) would be the inner (and outworked) virtue of the individual (again, broad stroke). Because any particular manifestation of Lucretius’s first principle would, in most circumstances, violate some aspect of Aristotle’s, Aristotle can simply dismiss it as groundless.

In like manner, a Protestant dismisses the Eastern Orthodox because the Eastern Orthodox’s claim, although logical within their own system, do not translate into the Protestant system. Why? Because of different sources of knowledge and authority (epistemology), doctrinal traditions, assumptions, presuppositions, etc. The Eastern Orthodox does the same. Both (and all) groups are guilty of confirmation bias; which authorities are heeded is determined, in part by what system you reason from (also, in part, by how consistently you reason from that system). And so, while a particular Protestant zinger against theosis may ring true for Protestants, the Eastern Orthodox may stare befuddled. And the Eastern Orthodox quotation of a Patristic may settle the matter for them, a Protestant will wonder why that settled anything.

So, what are we to do? If you are going to confront those with competing weltanschauung, you have to evangelize. By this I mean that you must translate what you mean into terms and concepts familiar to your audience. It is not enough to speak German to a Chinaman. The German ought to learn Chinese; and the Chinaman must be willing to grant some freedom of error in such a translation, as well as be willing to learn some German.

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