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.

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