Forgotten Saturday

I am knee deep in research for my LATC paper in January on the relationship between the burial of Jesus and eschatology. The day between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, or Holy Saturday, was until recently, in my experience and thought, relatively unimportant. Mark Davis’ words capture my, and perhaps many Christians’, view of this middle day.

. . . even when the burial remains in a church’s reading as part of the Passion Sunday or Good Friday lection, it is overlooked in lieu of the crucifixion itself, or of the hints of the resurrection found in the elaborate detail of guards and the Chief Priest’s anticipations of foul play with Jesus’ body by the disciples. After all, touching though it is, one is tempted to see Joseph’s burial of Jesus as just a necessary moment along the way from the cross to the empty tomb, as opposed to having meaning in itself (Int 60.1 [2006]: 76, emphasis mine).

My own opinion, though, is that there is much redemptive activity, theo-drama (to borrow a phrase from von Balthasar and Vanhoozer), going on. It may be behind the scenes and invisible to our fallible physical eyes, but I’m increasingly convinced that it is not arbitrary that Jesus spent three days (rather than 3 hours or 3 minutes or even no time at all) in the tomb.

There have been a number of options put forth throughout church history, and many are probably most familiar with the idea of the harrowing of hell. In this view Christ descends to the supposed limbo of the just (righteous Jews and pagans who lived before Christ) to release them into heaven, or maybe purgatory. Von Balthasar innovated on this traditional Roman Catholic doctrine and said Christ descended, in Catholic cosmology, to the very depths of hell, where his whole person experienced the full wrath of God, separating him from the Father and the Spirit.  I find this traditional Roman Catholic doctrine to be a late medieval development and relying on unbiblical positions regarding covenantal continuity, justification, and cosmology, and von Balthasar’s innovation seems to me to be a Trinitarian impossibility.

Both of these positions, however erroneous they may be (and I find them both to be biblically unjustifiable), do still bring out an important part of Christ’s work, namely his defeat of death and Hades. Christians historically have confessed that this is the purpose of Christ’s time in the tomb on Holy Saturday. Luther captures what I think is the more biblical position on this matter when he says in his Sermon at Torgau (1533) that Christ descended to Hades and ” . . . destroyed the power of hell and stripped the devil of all his might.” Christ in his death – not only in his crucifixion but in his burial – defeated death, Hades (the place of the dead), and the devil. This is part of the meaning of Holy Saturday. We of course cannot separate the cross from the resurrection, and we also ought not to separate Holy Saturday from Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They are each part of the one work of Christ, which stretches from his life, death, burial, and resurrection to his ascension and sending of the Spirit and ultimately to his return. Each piece accomplishes the unified but still distinct parts of redemption. While Christ’s crucifixion vicariously substitutes and his resurrection inaugurates the new creation, his burial is the defeat of death and Hades. While he is sealed in the tomb he is binding the strong man.

 

Creedal Discrimination

Yesterday Christianity Today published an article by Tish Warren, an InterVarsity employee whose experience at Vanderbilt University may be a proleptic look at where our current culture is headed unless someone puts on the brakes. Warren relates how her college ministry was forced to either allow anyone, regardless of faith commitment, to run for office in their InterVarsity chapter or face expulsion from campus by Vanderbilt. Warren and InterVarsity ultimately chose to leave instead of abiding by the administration’s policy.

One chilling quote comes from Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor:

Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.

In other words, religious groups cannot have requirements for leadership or membership that include any sort of faith commitments. My hunch is that these administrators are attempting to beat down the big bad wolf of American Christianity, but I wonder if they realize the implications of their actions for other religious groups. A Muslim group must allow a Jewish member to run for office, and a Jewish group must allow a Hindu member to stump for the presidency. A Sikh student organization cannot require members to abide by Sikh practices, nor can they bar a Bahai person from trying to get elected as treasurer or secretary.

Let’s move beyond student groups to organizations. Religious universities, whatever their faith, could not require faculty or staff to abide by their tradition’s or religion’s faith statement in order to teach or work there if discrimination is broadened to include “creedal discrimination.” Now we are talking not just about student groups but educational institutions, begun explicitly to train students through the lens of a particular faith, being required to hire anyone regardless of belief. Now it is not just a Catholic student group, but a Catholic university who theoretically must hire a Muslim educator if s/he is the most qualified. A Jewish seminary must hire a Bahai religious studies Ph.D. if they are the most qualified. Etc. etc. etc.

Do lawmakers in D.C. and administrators in secular educational institutions realize the implications of their disdain for Christianity? Do they understand the point of faith based institutions, no matter the faith? Do they understand the first amendment? There’s not much evidence these days that the answer to any of these questions is yes.

Our Papers at the Upcoming L.A. Theology Conference

Lamb

Matt and I both are both pleased to be presenting papers at the upcoming Los Angeles Theology Conference, which will convene January 15-16, 2015, at Biola University. The conference features a stellar lineup of plenary speakers (Michael Horton, Matthew Levering, Bruce McCormack, Ben Myers, and Eleonore Stump), who will be presenting on the conference theme, “Locating Atonement.”

Matt and I will be presenting two of the nine breakout session papers.

Matt’s paper seeks to draw out the eschatological dimensions of the atonement implied by Christ’s descent to the dead.

My paper attempts to situate atonement in a dyothelitic (two-wills) understanding of the Incarnation.

One of the conference organizers, Fred Sanders, highlights all nine of the breakout session papers:

Matthew Emerson (California Baptist University): “He Descended to the Dead: The Burial of Christ and the Eschatological Character of the Atonement”

Joseph Jedwab (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania) and Daniel J. Hill (University of Liverpool): “Locating Atonement in Punishment and Retribution Theory”

David S. Koonce, L.C. (Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum), “Atonement in the Act of Faith”

T. Mark McConnell (Laidlaw College): “Atonement and Shame”

R. Lucas Stamps (California Baptist University): “Atonement in Gethsemane: The Necessity of Dyothelitism for the Atonement”

Kyle Strobel (Biola University) and Adam Johnson (Biola University): “Atoning Wisdom: The Wisdom of God in the Way of Salvation”

Jeremy Treat (Reality LA): “Atonement and Covenant”

Adonis Vidu (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary): “The Place of the Cross within Trinitarian Opera Ad Extra”

Eric Yang (Claremont McKenna College) and Stephen Davis (Claremont McKenna College): “Atonement and the Wrath of God”

We’re excited to be a part of this and hope to see some of you there.

For more information, check out the LATC website.

Summa contra Cartesians

I’m currently doing some research for a paper on the anthropological implications of Chalcedonian Christology. My working hypothesis is that Christian theology has often insufficiently applied the person-nature distinction (so vital to the church’s Trinitarian and Christological formulae) to the topic of theological anthropology. So, for example, while Chalcedon understands the soul as a part of human nature in which a person subsists (Christ’s human nature consisted of a “rational soul and body”), many Christian theologians continue to articulate an understanding of human personhood that equates “soul” with “person.”  On such a Cartesian understanding, the person “just is” the soul.  But Chalcedonian Christology seems to demand a distinction between person and soul in order to avoid the error of Apollinarianism.  The person of the Son assumed a human nature that was already equipped, so to speak, with a soul, no less than a body.  So the person must be distinguished from the soul, at least in the case of Christ.  I don’t have space to defend it here, but a strong case can be made that the next ecumenical council, Constantinople II, implies that the same is true for all human persons.

In any event, this Cartesian dualism isn’t the only kind of substance dualism on offer in the Christian tradition.  Thomas Aquinas, for instance, articulated a kind of hylomorphic dualism that equated the person neither with the soul nor the body.  Instead, on Thomas’ scheme, the soul is the substantial form of the material body that gives to it its rational configuration. The person is the individual thing (suppostium) that exists in and through the soul and the body as constitutive parts of human nature.  I have a lot more to read in Thomas (as well as in the secondary literature on him), but the following discussion from the Summa Theologiae (1.75.4) should suffice to demonstrate that Thomas clearly distinguished the person and the soul.  In response to the question, “Is the soul man?” Thomas cites Augustine:

On the contrary, Augustine (De Civ. Dei xix, 3) commends Varro as holding “that man is not a mere soul, nor a mere body; but both soul and body.”

Thomas argues that the soul cannot be equated with “man,” conceived of either as a species or as an individual. Instead, Thomas maintains that the soul is a part of man along with the body.  He concludes:

Not every particular substance is a hypostasis or a person, but that which has the complete nature of its species. Hence a hand, or a foot, is not called a hypostasis, or a person; nor, likewise, is the soul alone so called, since it is a part of the human species.

So the soul is a substance, distinct from the body, but it is not a subsistence; it is not a person.  A person has the “complete nature of its species,” which, in the case of a human being, ordinarily includes (bracketing out the question of the intermediate state) a body and a soul.  In sum, Thomas maintains the person-nature distinction even outside of its normal Trinitarian-Christological context and applies it consistently to ordinary human persons as well.

New Book on Reformed Catholicity

Since we’re pretty interested in retrieving a sort of Baptist Catholicity around here, I took notice when I saw this forthcoming book by Michael Allen and Scott Swain: Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation.  It’s due out in January 2015.  Here is the publisher’s summary and the table of contents:

About

Can Christians and churches be both catholic and Reformed? In this volume, two accomplished young theologians argue that to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity rather than away from it. Their manifesto for a catholic and Reformed approach to dogmatics seeks theological renewal through retrieval of the rich resources of the historic Christian tradition. The book provides a survey of recent approaches toward theological retrieval and offers a renewed exploration of the doctrine of sola scriptura. It includes a substantive afterword by J. Todd Billings.

Contents
Introduction: Renewal through Retrieval
1. Learning Theology in the School of Christ: The Principles of Theology and the Promise of Retrieval
2. Retrieving Sola Scriptura, Part One: The Catholic Context of Sola Scriptura
3. Retrieving Sola Scriptura, Part Two: Biblical Traditioning
4. A Ruled Reading Reformed: The Role of the Church’s Confession in Biblical Interpretation
5. In Defense of Proof Texting
Afterword: Rediscovering the Catholic-Reformed Tradition for Today: A Biblical Christ-Centered Vision for Church Renewal by J. Todd Billings
Index

HT: Jonathan Pennington

Remember Steinmetz

It might be a good time to revisit David Steinmetz’ 1980 game-changer, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis” (Theology Today 37: 27-38). You don’t have to agree with all of his conclusions to appreciate his trenchant critique of the historical-critical method and his praise of patristic and medieval interpretation. Here’s the conclusion:

The defenders of the single meaning theory usually concede that the medieval approach to the Bible met the religious needs of the Christian community, but that it did so at the unacceptable price of doing violence to the biblical text. The fact that the historical-critical method after two hundred years is still struggling for more than a precarious foothold in that same religious community is generally blamed on the ignorance and conservatism of the Christian laity and the sloth or moral cowardice of its pastors.

I should like to suggest an alternative hypothesis. The medieval theory of levels of meaning in the biblical text, with all its undoubted defects, flourished because it is true, while the modern theory of a single meaning, with all its demonstrable virtues, is false. Until the historical-critical method becomes critical of its own theoretical foundations and develops a hermeneutical theory adequate to the nature of the text which it is interpreting, it will remain restricted-as it deserves to be-to the guild and the academy, where the question of truth can endlessly be deferred.

The Pure and Undefiled Religion of Critical Biblical Scholarship

UPDATE: After reflecting on the fact that this discussion occurred on a Facebook thread, I’ve removed direct quotes. It’s also been brought to my attention that to include quotes from a private Facebook thread is not allowed by their privacy policy. Please know that their inclusion in the original post was to illustrate the nature of the discussion, not to direct attention to those individuals. My apologies for any offense given in including them in the first place.

I want to make clear at the beginning of this post that I’m arguing against particular comments by particular members at SBL, not the organization as a whole. I am a member of SBL because a) I have benefited greatly from the insights of many of its members and b) I support its mission to “Foster Biblical Scholarship.”

Yesterday on Facebook Twitter Timothy Michael Law posted,

Has RBL merged with the Evangelical Theological Society and not told us?

In the comment thread on the same post on Facebook it became clear that there was some controversy over the review Tom Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty, written by a fellow evangelical. Many of the commenters on Law’s post did not appreciate the fact that someone in the same camp as Schreiner reviewed the book or that said reviewer did not offer any substantive critique, especially at a methodological level. While I can appreciate that critique, it also became clear throughout the comment thread that many of those who posted not only were irritated at the reviewer but more importantly at the idea that evangelical work would be admitted to RBL (and by implication SBL) in the first place.

I then attempted a few times to point out the irony of these biblical scholars’ attempt to exclude confessional scholarship while at the same time accepting and many times promoting a plethora of ideological readings. I also tried to point out that modern biblical scholarship holds to its own presuppositions just as much as confessional biblical scholarship. This comment of mine summarizes most of the points I was trying to make:

In other words, keep your confessional commitments to yourself. In response I’ll simply point out again the plethora of “Asian feminist pansexual reading of Exodus 19″ papers at SBL.

And no…, that’s not a conservative evangelical trying to use postmodernism to legitimize myself, it’s pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of asking some people to leave their commitments at the door while welcoming all other presuppositions with open arms. If you want a “non-confessional” society, then have one. But that’s going to mean kicking out a lot more people, or at least excluding a lot more papers, than just confessional evangelicals.

Suffice it to say that there was much discussion on whether confessional scholars ought to be allowed to contribute with their confessional cards on the table, so to speak. At the end of the day it seemed that many wanted to exclude explicitly confessional scholarship and instead rely on the assumptions and methods of critical biblical scholarship. While the former’s stance towards the text can be questioned, it was clear from the comments that the latter should not be questioned, nor should those who do be considered participants in a scholarly enterprise.

“Pure and Undefiled Religion”

To be honest I’m dumbfounded by this entire thread. I thought we’d moved beyond this sort of autonomous, tradition-escaping, scientific positivism in just about every field there is, including biblical studies, but it appears to be alive and well within SBL. (Of course I shouldn’t be too surprised given the 2010 “Farewell to SBL” kerfuffle.) To begin, earlier in the thread everyone seemed to be on board with the idea that presuppositions can be critiqued, that is until I suggested that the presuppositions of modern biblical scholarship be critiqued. This then led one commenter to proclaim that this need not happen and that modern biblical scholarship is about data, not presuppositions. I don’t intend to be unnecessarily incendiary, but I simply don’t see how this position can be held by anybody acquainted with the last 100 years of philosophy. There is no such thing as a bald fact; there are only interpreted facts. So to claim that the SBL is interested only in a dispassionate study of data which leads to presupposition-less, verifiable conclusions makes little sense in light of the insights of postmodernism. Further, as Craig Bartholomew among others has ably demonstrated, the last 250 years of biblical studies have been dominated by and carried along in the current of a whole host of Enlightenment philosophical trends, including Cartesian and Kantian epistemology, Hegelian dialecticism, Heideggerian phenomenology, etc. etc. etc. The Enlightenment was not some gift from the gods of reason dropped from the empirical heavens, but is rather just as much a philosophical movement (or movements) and is thus open to evaluation and critique.

Will the Real Historian Please Stand Up?

A second astounding claim made by the aforementioned commenters is that critical scholarship pays attention to history while evangelical (or at least confessional) interpretation does not. Again, I’m dumbfounded. One has only to look at the work of people like Ray Van Neste or John Sailhamer or Stephen Dempster or Brevard Childs or N. T. Wright or Richard Hays or Stephen Fowl or George Knight or….and the list goes on. All of these scholars are well schooled in the issues surrounding the study of the historicity and historical development (or lack thereof) of the text, and yet come to different conclusions than those held by much of the academy for the last 100-200 years. What the commenters have a problem with is that confessional scholars don’t share their conclusions about historical issues, not that they don’t participate in historical studies.

Of course this brings us back to the first point, which is that modern biblical scholarship, no less than any other enterprise, is in many ways carried along and in some cases determined by its presuppositions. Approaching the biblical text as a purely human product devoid of unity or contemporary purpose is bred from the above Enlightenment commitments. Of course, seeing the Bible as a Christological unity is no less presuppositional. And this is not to say that presuppositions cannot be changed or modified; Bernard Lonergan among others has demonstrated how that happens.

One particular way that assumptions change is through an overwhelming confrontation by data, and I suppose this is what the commenters expect – for me and others to either ignore data or be confronted by it so overwhelmingly that we cannot help but approach the Bible differently. But the truth of the matter is twofold. First, there are many quality evangelical scholars who know intricately the data and the arguments for reading it a certain way, and yet interpret it differently. Take the authorship of the Pastorals – both Ray Van Neste and George Knight confront the supposed airtight case for pseudonymity and overturn it. Ironically, these commenters chide confessional scholars, evangelicals among them, for their holy huddle and refusing to have their assumptions questioned. But I wonder, how is this not the same on the other side?

On a historical level, there is also the irony of many commenters deriding other approaches to the text as “failed projects of modernity.” BIblical theology was explicitly mentioned a number of times in this regard. But what this fails to recognize is that biblical theology was originally a reaction against the growing realization that modern biblical studies was itself a failing project of modernity. I think the history of interpretation is a neglected field, and this is a fine example of where it gets us.

Finally, again on a historical level, the assumption that an ecclesial reading is not scholarly ignores both the history of the text and of its interpretation. The Bible is forever intertwined with the church, and to try to separate them is a fool’s errand. And to claim that the first 1750 years of biblical interpretation, not to mention interpretation prior to Jesus of Nazareth, is at its heart not scholarly and inherently faulty is to identify not as an enlightened progressive but as a quintessential example of chronological snobbery.

Poor Richard…

Of course now the question is, what about people like Richard Hays or Joel Green, who operate with explicitly confessional assumptions? Are they now out of SBL? Is it only the atheist, or the one who pretends to be one, that can be a member? I suppose they’re out, as are a host of others. I suppose that’s fine, if the members choose to vote that way. But I suspect once the full implications of this “non-sectarian objective utopia” are realized, people might back off a bit.

 

Baptist Theological Method

Over the last day or so I’ve read Richard Barcellos’ The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory (Fearn: Mentor, 2013). I highly recommend this short but pastoral, exegetically based, and historically informed study of the church’s communion practice from a Baptist perspective. Although I could highlight a number of quotes from the book on everything from prayer to the Holy Spirit to Baptist history, one of my favorite sections is a very brief note on theological method Barcellos makes at the beginning of his final chapter. He writes,

The Reformed confessional and catechetical formulation of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace is not based on one biblical text or a few isolated proof texts. It is based upon a complex of texts, exegetical work on those texts, the doctrines derived from those biblical texts and others in concert with a redemptive-historical, whole-Bible awareness and in conversation with the history of the Christian tradition.

In place of “the Reformed confessional…as a means of grace,” we could substitute the simple phrase “Christian doctrine.” Doctrinal formulation is not a matter of proof-texting (although certainly we should allow for doctrinal formulation on the basis of only one text), but rather, as David Yeago puts it, using conceptual terms to render accurate judgments about the patterns of language found in Scripture.

Intertextuality in Revelation

Today on Twitter (and by today I mean 2 minutes ago) I mentioned that I think there is much work to be done on intertextuality between Revelation and the rest of the New Testament. Because of John’s obvious reliance on the Old Testament, there have been an increasing number of articles and books published on intertextuality between Revelation and the OT. For instance, G. K. Beale in his commentary, as well as in his earlier John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (which has been assimilated into the much larger commentary), notes all kinds of fascinating intertextual connections, but they are largely confined to Revelation’s use of the OT. So far there has been surprisingly little published on how Revelation alludes to other NT books.

Alistair Roberts pointed me to the John-Revelation project, which is a fascinating and compelling textual comparison of the two books, and he also mentioned Peter Leithart’s forthcoming commentary on Revelation as a possible source for this kind of work. In my book I point to a number of textual parallels between Revelation and Hebrews-Jude, and early in the twentieth century R. H. Charles in his ICC volume noted the distinctive connections between John’s Apocalypse and the Gospel of Matthew. But, given Revelation’s status as the canon closer and its relatively late date in comparison with the rest of the NT, we shouldn’t be shocked if there are a plethora of connections between it and the Gospels and Letters. I for one believe this is an area where NT scholars can find hundreds of treasures in a relatively unexplored field.

Baptists and the Creeds

Should Baptists have “no creed but the Bible”?  Consider this answer from the General Baptists’ Orthodox Creed of 1678:

The three creeds, viz. Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and the Apostles Creed, as they are commonly called, ought throughly to be received, and believed. For we believe, they may be proved, by most undoubted authority of holy Scripture, and are necessary to be understood of all christians; and to be instructed in the knowledge of them, by the ministers of Christ, according to the analogy of Faith, recorded in sacred Scriptures, upon which these Creeds are grounded, and catechistically opened, and expounded in all christian families, for the edification of young and old; which might be a means to prevent heresy in doctrine, and practice, these creeds containing all things in a brief manner, that are necessary to be known, fundamentally, in order to our salvation.

According to William Lumpkin, “The [Orthodox] Creed is alone among Baptist confessions in including and setting forth the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds” (296).  Other prominent Baptist confessions (the two London confessions, the New Hampshire Confession, etc.) certainly set forth the substance of the ancient creeds in terms of their Trinitarian and Christological conclusions.  But I think Thomas Monck (the principle author of the Orthodox Creed) and his General Baptist compatriots were onto something.  Inasmuch as they set forth the basic contours of the biblical God and the biblical gospel, the creeds “ought throughly to be received, and believed”–and utilized in the preaching, liturgical, and catechetical ministries of the church.