Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evangelical Theological Society, Day 3

Final day of ETS! Here are the highlights:
  • Found a good sushi place today - best I've had since leaving Hawaii. Funny - they had a health warning posted about eating raw fish.
  • The best part of being at these conferences, as everyone agrees, is spending time with people. I have enjoyed having coffee or meals with former students, former professors, and colleagues who teach all over the country. Kind of strange - I am only (ha!) 42, but I think I have at least 7 or 8 former students who are now professors.
  • NT Wright gave a really good lecture near the end of ETS yesterday, and Tom Schreiner and Frank Thielman responded to him. They covered lots of ground, but several things impressed me. 1) All three were models of Christian civility, even in their disagreements with each other - something sometimes lacking in this debate. They emphasized their points of agreement (e.g. substitutionary atonement, Christ as the heart of the gospel, and others), and did not overstate their areas of disagreement. Wright was rather pointed as he addressed the crowd, asking them not to quote him out of context or allow false rumors about him to spread (he has taken a lot of heat, some of it quite unfair, in books and especially blogs). 2) Wright agrees that Paul teaches that sin and guilt transfer to Jesus (substitutionary atonement) but he doesn't think that Paul teaches that righteousness transfers to the believer (imputation of righteousness). However, I was surprised to hear him admit that there might be space for imputation as a trajectory in Paul's thought stemming from union with Christ. 3) I found myself persuaded by Wright's reading of the larger narrative of salvation (you can read his work on this, but it emphasizes the roles of Adam, Abraham, Israel and Jesus in God's plan), but in general I am still unpersuaded by how he reads it into particular passages in Romans and Galatians. 4) Wright is sometimes viewed as overemphasizing the role of works in justification, but in the conversation between the three, it became apparent that this difference might be more semantic than real. All three (along with most Paul scholars) recognize that Paul repeatedly emphasizes that we will be judged for our works, but that our justification rests solely on faith in Christ and his work.
  • Craig Keener discussed his new book on the historical Jesus. Lots of good stuff (about 800 pages), but in the presentation, he emphasized 1) Studies of ancient biographies show that biographers were relatively bound by their available data despite authorial purposes and biases. He showed how the three biographers Suetonius, Tacitus and Plutarch all had significant overlap in the details of their account of the Roman emperor Otho. Keener suggests this should affect our view of the biographies of Jesus (the gospels). 2) Studies of memorization prove that both ancient and modern cultures regularly preserve vast amount of information by memory alone, and that very little changes in the memorized material over generations. The first of the gospels was written within 40 years of the events, and relies on even earlier memorized material, demonstrating that there is no reason to believe that lots of extraneous material crept into the memorized data about Jesus.
  • On Friday night, I went to the Institute for Biblical Research. This year, they started giving away the traditional free book to members only, so it looks like I finally need to apply for membership! NT Wright was again the speaker. I won't try to summarize his paper here; its content about Jesus' message of the kingdom might be revolutionary in many of our churches (which was his point), but is almost commonplace among evangelical gospels scholars. Still, Wright managed to present it in a compelling and even entertaining manner. Ditto for his respondent, Michael Bird. 
  • Favorite quote/anecdote of the week: Tom Wright told about being stuck in traffic in London. The cabby saw his clerical collar (Wright was a bishop until recently) and said (imagine a good Cockney accent) "You anglican bishops are having quite a row over women bishops, aren't you?" Wright agreed. The cabby weighed in, "Well, the way I figure it, if God raised Jesus from the dead, then the rest is all rock'n'roll, i'n't it?" Wright said that quote became the main text of his next Easter sermon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Evangelical Theological Society, Day 2

So here are the highlights of day two of the conference:
  • I had grits for breakfast. Of course, this obligated me to quote Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny to my friends: "Sure I've heard of grits. I just never actually seen a grit" and "How could it take you five minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit-eating world twenty minutes?"
  • Celebrity Alert: I saw Darrel Bock going down the escalator. I have it on good authority that some of his friends call him "Dome of the Bock" because of his vast forehead. This, of course, in contrast to my own thick, wavy hair.
  • Christian Book Industry Bailout Alert: I haven't bought any more books today, but it will be hard to avoid if I go back into the exhibit hall.
  • Last night's plenary session (for some reason, half the people say plee-nary and half say plenary, but that's not important right now): Tom Schreiner gave a brilliant lecture responding to Wright's view of justification. It was incredibly well-organized, strongly argued, and very gracious. Schreiner's basic points: 1) Wright is a gifted scholar who has contributed immensely to NT scholarship, but his view on justification needs correcting. 2) Wright thinks justification is fundamentally about ecclesiology (the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God), but Schreiner showed that the terms related to justification are constantly used in soteriological passages to communicate the granting of right moral standing. 3) Wright doesn't believe in imputation of righteousness, but Schreiner worked through several texts showing that Paul taught it. 4) Wright believes that "works of the Law" refers not to all Law-keeping, but to the use of certain laws (circumcision, diet, and holy days) as Jewish boundary markers. Schreiner showed numerous passages in Paul where this definition just cannot work. (I probably missed something there, but you can read Schreiner's paper in a few months). Looking forward to hearing Wright speak tomorrow.
  • Danny Hays presented a paper this morning on how the story of the Ethiopian eunuch's conversion (Acts 8) alludes to the story of another Ethiopian eunuch in Jeremiah 38-39. I was interested in this story because of a project I am working on about allusions to the OT in Luke-Acts. I had noticed the reference to Jeremiah, but could not figure out what Luke was doing with it. Hays had a great explanation. Hays spent several years in Ethiopia, and has an interest in Africans in the Bible (he's also co-author of a great undergrad hermeneutics textbook).
  • Nicholas Piotrowski presented a paper on an allusion to Ezekiel 36 in Matthew 1:21. Among other interesting claims, Piotrowski suggests that the Ezekiel allusion contributes to an "end of Exile" theme in Matthew; that is, some Israelites viewed themselves as still in the Exile, and Jesus ended that.
  • You can see by my choice of lectures that one of my special interests is how the New Testament uses the Old Testament.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Evangelical Theological Society, Day 1

So here I am, at theological nerdvana again. This year, three or four thousand scholars from around the country have converged on Atlanta, and all of them were trying to get on the same elevator at dinner time. But besides that, I'm having a wonderful time. There were probably a hundred lectures today, but I made it to about five. Here are today's highlights:
  • I helped keep the Christian academic book industry afloat by buying two books, The Heresy of Orthodoxy and Keep Your Greek. I bought the second book primarily because of the title of ch. 2: "Burn Your Interlinear: The interlinear is a tool of the devil, designed to make preachers stupid." Amen!
  • Celebrity Alert: I met Bill Mounce while signing in at the hotel.
  • Another Celebrity Alert: While I was glancing over Wayne Grudem's new book on politics and Christianity, Grudem walked by and said "Buy it! Buy it!" I bet he didn't know he would be quoted.
  • I just listened to my friend Ken Berding present a very good paper arguing that the proper translation of Rom 8:27 should be "and [the Spirit] who searches hearts knows the [believer's] mind set on the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to God's purposes" instead of the traditional translation: "and [God] who searches hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to God's purposes."
  • Darrel Bock, Gordon Johnston and Herb Bateman gave a presentation of their book, Jesus the Messiah. It covers how OT messianic texts were understood when they were first written, how they were understood by readers in Second Temple Judaism, and how they were understood by the authors of tne New Testament. Bock used the imagery of a puzzle: OT passages that contained limited information about the Messiah, or only hinted at the Messiah, are the separate puzzle pieces. Jesus put the pieces together in ways that were not anticipated by many before him.
  • A student, Jonathan E. Parnell, gave a good presentation of how Piper and Wright differ in how they read the Bible, resulting in different views. Wright emphasizes (overemphasizes, according to the presenter) the Jewish conceptual framework, allowing it to be more significant than the text itself, while Piper uses background information, but allows the text to dominate. One respondent pointed out that Piper allows broader theological concepts to dominate over the text.