SBL Sessions, Everybody’s Doing It

Since everyone else and their mom is posting where they’ll be presenting during SBL, courtesy of the online program, far be it from me to refrain!

Intertextuality in the New Testament
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Theme: Approaches Toward New Testament Intertextuality

Jerry L. Sumney, Lexington Theological Seminary, Presiding (2 min)
Alain Gignac, Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal
“We know that everything that Law says… “. Rom 3:9-20 as a narrative utilization of intertextuality that develops its own theory of intertextuality (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)
J. R. Daniel Kirk, Fuller Theological Seminary
Toward a Theory of Narrative Transformation: The Importance of First Context in Paul’s Scriptural Citations (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)
Jason B. Hood, Christ United Methodist Church
Summaries of Israel’s Story: Intertextual Pratice in an Overlooked Use of Scripture (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)
Jim Waddell, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
The Intertextuality of First Enoch, Paul, and the Gospel of Matthew: Modeling Early Jewish Messianic Systems (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)

And then this panel discussion:

From Dissertation to Publication: Advice from Editors and Authors
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Hosted by the Student Advisory Group

Brandon Wason, Emory University, Presiding
Claudia Camp, Texas Christian University, Panelist (15 min)
Jeremy M. Hutton, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
J. R. Daniel Kirk, Fuller Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Gregory Sterling, University of Notre Dame, Panelist (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Nothing like being on a panel that gives “advice”–yes, I get to tell people what to do. Awesome!

The Best Advice I Can Give…

So, you want to be a biblical scholar? No? Ok… um… Let me try again: You want to be a good reader of the Bible? You want to appreciate the stories and letters and songs and visions? Here’s the single most important thing you can do.

Are you ready?

Learn how to read.

Don’t be offended that I said this. Being able to read and being a competent reader are two very different things. In fact, it took me a very long time to learn how to read. I remember going through high school English class and listening to the teacher prattle on about imagery, use of symbolism, stories “meaning” things that were not stated in the text. It all sounded like b.s. to me. In college I remember reading Dubliners and absolutely hating it. Pointless stories with no plot.

But then I began to read and appreciate literature. I stared learning to read.

Surveying the history of Gospels scholarship, I see the history of a discipline that was controlled by people who did not know how to read a good story. They came looking for answers to questions the text was never meant to answer, questions of history or Romantic psychology.  But the Bible isn’t that kind of book, and it most certainly isn’t an engineering book that can be completely understood once we’ve dissected the Greek grammar.

Poor Mark, in particular, has been a victim throughout church history of people who did not know how to read. Since Papias, the maligned genius has been accused of having written an account of no particular order (in contrast to Luke’s claims?), which, though it didn’t exactly screw the whole thing up, came as close as it could without saying anything false. People have been unable to find a coherent narrative, no sense of development in the story, see only a disconnected series of pericopes, etc.

The point: throughout too much of its history, the Bible has been read by people without the literary sensibilities to make heads or tails of it. I know, I know–this is all just so much assertion. What if they’re right? What if Mark is a nincompoop?

Well, he’s not.

Here are a couple of stories where Mark’s literary artistry comes to the fore:

(1) His “sandwich” technique, where he puts one story in the middle of another creates a wonderfully rich story when the temple clearing is interpreted in conjunction with the cursing of the fig tree. Otherwise unintelligible editorial comments such as “it was not the time for figs” become clear when the stories are read together–especially in light of the OT allusions.

(2) The puzzling story of the two-stage healing of the blind man. When the “historical” question is asked, it’s a total mess. Couldn’t Jesus get it right? Why did he have to heal the dude twice? But once we recognize that the disciples’ inability to see (while seeing!) is front and center at this point of the story, we ourselves can see that this story has a point beyond itself in the narrative.

(3) Is it really just an accident that Jesus is called “son of God”, that “Elijah” is mentioned or present, that the barrier between God and man is torn (Gk: schizo), etc. in both the baptism and the crucifixion?

Teaching Mark this quarter, I was going over a story and unpacking these types of “literary” implications with my students. Their question to me was this: How do you know you’re not making this stuff up? Did the Spirit put it there?

I chose option C: No, I’m not making it up, and no I don’t think it’s all there just because of the Spirit–I think Mark was a good writer. How do I know that I’m not making it up when I’m reading Mark? Because I’m not making it up when I read Flannery O’Connor or C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkein or Tobias Wolf or Thomas Wolf or Herman Melville…

So, despite the fact that one popular N.T. scholar and blogger regularly confesses his grave sin of not reading fiction, I say that reading good literature is the single most important thing you can do to become a good reader of the Bible. (Ok, that and learning everything you possibly can about Second Temple Judaism.)

Should Our Faith Be 2,000 Years Old?

Things are nutso at the Kirk House these days, so I’ll have a little light fare for a Monday morning. Well, light for my posting responsibilities, hopefully prompting some deep conversation!

The question of the day comes from a Facebook friend who asks:

SHOULD our faith be 2,000 years old?

Should we have had some new ways of thinking about Jesus since the close of the canon even while we remain within the bounds of scripture?

If, for example, Polycarp and Chrysostom wouldn’t really recognize 21st c. American Christianity as the same thing they were doing, is that bad?

How ow paradigmatic should the early church be for how we understand what church is? What about the on-going activity of Holy Spirit?

What do you think?

“Son of God” more outrageous than “Messiah”?

In Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin in Mark, the high priest asks, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?”

A commentary I’m reading says that this brings together a Messianic claim with a claim to “an even more outrageous status as Son of God.” This, of course, makes me want to #stabmyself.

In the question, “son of the Blessed” means the same thing as “Christ”. To be “the Christ” is to be “son of the Blessed,” the son of God. These are not escalating claims, but mutually interpretive. To flog the dead horse, “son of the Blessed” is epexegetical. The priest doesn’t say, “Not only… but also…” He doesn’t say, “Are you claiming that, as Christ, you are son of God.” He says, “Are you this, this?” They mean the same thing.

The statements by Christian scholars such as that “even more outrageous status” remark drive me batty. While the commentary would never say that Jesus is seen as “son of God” in the Trinitarian sense, it gives repeated knowing nods and winks to lead his readers to think that the later Christian consensus is what’s “really” what’s going on. “Son of God” is referenced with vague allusions, inviting the reader to assume that the idea as they confess it in Trinitarian circles is more or less what Mark has in mind.

Not it’s not! Let Mark be Mark before you make him into the voice of the later orthodox consensus.

Christian Sex? (Part 2c of 2c)

[Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b]

Since moving to San Francisco two years ago, I have had and/or overheard several times over the same conversation about sex. The story goes something like this.

Context: San Francisco is the most single city in the U.S.

Characters: people who want to have sex, but are reticent to commit to marriage and/or long-term dedicated relationships.

Further implication for context: people are very lonely.

Plot: a quest for significant companionship. But this takes place through numerous sexual encounters that never lead to the desired end, leaving people as lonely and sometimes feeling more guilty than they had.

And, the most interesting thing to me is that I have heard this plot narrated as the story of traditional Christian communities / churches that are advocating sex within marriage as God’s plan for humanity and as the story of gay men in San Francisco. Two groups that would seem to be on opposite “extremes” of our culture’s understanding of sex are, in essence, playing the same script. And both are finding that it does not lead to the plot resolution they’re hoping for.

This highlights for me what is, perhaps, the most significant element of the Christian narrative of sex, and where the marriage analogy of Ephesians 5 gives us the severe grace of a call to repentance.

1. Self-giving Love

Ephesians 5 holds together Christ’s self-giving love on behalf of the church with the self-giving love that should define marriage in general and the sexual relationship in particular. When it invokes the creation narrative, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,” Ephesians 5 invites us to read and understand creation light of the story of redemption. That latter story is one of self-sacrificial love for the good of the other. The Christian story is cruciform, and Christian sex, too, must be cruciform.

This is where the issue of fidelity, of single-minded sexual oneness, comes to the fore. The pursuit of alternative partners beyond the one to whom we’ve clung to denies the story we claim as our own inasmuch as it makes us self-seekers of our own good, our own fulfillment, our own pleasure, at the expense of the other. This inverts the story of the cross. “Open marriage” is incompatible with the story of self-giving love.

I do realize that I’ve jumped from sex to marriage. I suppose I should apologize, and if there are dissenters out there I’m sure I’ll be charged with equivocating. But for all that our ideas of marriage are thoroughly modern and often assumed when we come to the text rather than being read out of it, I can’t get around the idea that marriage is the closest thing we have to creating a context that accurately narrates this story of complete self-giving.

What I’m getting at is this: the call for an “all-in” giving of ourselves is variously appropriate in different contexts. We give ourselves differently to people with whom we are in different relationships. Giving ourselves sexually to someone is a statement with our body that we are giving ourselves to them entirely. The Christian tradition has rightly insisted that if you aren’t willing to say to everyone as long as you both shall live, that such physical expression is a lie.

It’s probably important to say that sex isn’t the only way we can be inappropriately close to someone of the opposite gender. I know a guy who was best friends with a woman he wasn’t particularly interested in dating. The relationship developed an intimacy that was communicating to the woman a level of intimacy he wasn’t ready to stand by and express in other areas. That was a selfish use of a relationship.

Once upon a time I was at a men’s breakfast, and the pastor who was speaking encouraged us to process our responses to women using this grid: When you’re thinking about that woman, are you desiring her for your glory, or are you desiring God’s glory in and for her? If you can overlook the echoes of John Piper, that question can be a significant pointer toward which narrative we’re living out in our sex: either the world’s usually self-serving narrative of lust that seeks my own good even if, at times, at the expense of the other; or, the Christian narrative of self-giving love that seeks the other’s good even if, at times, at the expense of my own.

2. Union with Christ

Besides pragmatics and extrapolations, is there really any good reason to think that God wants sex to be reserved for one person to whom we are joined for life? (Or, if you prefer to build your theology from pop culture: Is Avatar right, that those who are best in tune with the world in which we’re created should mate for life?!) I do think so.

The union that we experience in sex is itself likened to the union we experience with Christ by the Spirit. Sex is an experience that joins us to another, changing both of our identities as we become one with the other. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians to guard against sexual immorality. Being joined “outside of Christ” means taking away the members of Christ and making them members of a prostitute.

It is not just official marriage ceremonies that make people “one flesh”–that is the function of sex itself.

The Christian story of salvation is one of being joined to another’s body, the body of the dead and risen Jesus. The “mystery” of sex, as articulated in Ephesians 5, is that an analogous kind of union is formed between sexually joined bodies on earth. The rich interplay between the God who is faithful to Israel like a husband, and the God who hates divorce, the Christ who gives up his body for his bride and calls the church to live in self-giving faithfulness, means that our sexual relationships provide a glimmer of the Christian story to those with eyes to see. We are joined to a body, we are one, to undo the union is to cut off the members of Christ. Am I talking about sex or marriage or salvation or church? Yes. That’s how sex works within the Christian story.

3. What is Suffering?

A few weeks ago I got to listen in on some thoughts on what God is up to in the world from Christians in New York City. They were wrestling with the question of what the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and glory has to do with their professional and personal pursuits. One woman volunteered this: Maybe suffering for the Kingdom, dying with Jesus, looks like being committed to a place.

Commitment as participating in the narrative of the self-giving messiah? That sounds like the gospel to me. Replace “place” with “person,” and I think we’re up against the scandal of Christian sex that the world (inside and outside the church!) is so reluctant to hear: even sex is a realm within which we are called to deny ourselves. Even sex is a realm within which we are called to commit. Even sex is a realm over which the crucified Christ reigns–and in which he invites us to live out a paradoxically life-giving narrative.

Can greater life come from greater self-denial? Can greater glory come from walking the way of the cross? Do we believe that the crucified Christ is the resurrected Lord over all?

A Little Less Alone with My Legos, Please, Papa?

This from David Dark in an interview at Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light:

I have no doubt that many people are trading away (or avoiding) the possibility of living relationships through the time they devote to seeing if someone’s written them or gazing over photos of long lost friends while there’s a child nearby who’d like to be a little less alone with their legos. There’s a false urgency and a pseudo-intimacy at work in our interaction with electronic appliances. BUT these platforms can and do occasionally facilitate real connections. Nevertheless, I’m haunted by Jacques Ellul’s adage: “A computer isn’t a companion. It’s a vampire.”

Yet another reason why David Dark is my hero. Check out the interview. And then go read Dark’s latest book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (quite possibly the best book to be published in 2009).

Only Worship God! Or the King, or…

From James McGrath’s blog:

1 Chronicles 29:20 depicts the Israelites worshipping/prostrating themselves before Yahweh and the king. One verb, two objects. The king is said a few verses later to sit on Yahweh’s throne.

To claim that in Jewish literature no agent of God ever receives the same kind of worship that Jesus is depicted as being offered in the New Testament is to ignore fairly clear evidence from the Bible itself, never mind relevant extrabiblical evidence. Most scholarly studies recognize that this primary terminology of worship, which has as its root meaning prostration, is not consistently directed only to God Most High in Jewish literature.

McGrath is spot on. We take too little stock in how closely tied together are the identity of God and God’s representatives on earth in the Biblical narrative. God is so “other” in our thinking that we miss the ways the biblical narrative show that God is bound up with the persons of Adam, Israel, and the kings.

Basil on the Spirit

Hmmm… the title of this post seems like something my wife would make for us to drink with appetizers. But that’s not what I’m on about.

On Sunday, the person who prepared our worship service introduced the Pentecost-inspired service with this:

Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God “Father” and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.
– St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto

As we read that passage together, what struck me most of all is that the Spirit is the Spirit of the resurrected Christ.

Through the Spirit we are restored to Paradise. The restoration to paradise is a participation in the new creation. If anyone is in Christ–new creation! Those who are Spiritual are those to whom the world has been crucified, and vice versa. The Spirit who unites us to Christ in his death to the Old World is the same Spirit who unites us to Christ in his resurrection into the new. Through the Spirit of the resurrected Son we are restored to Paradise.

Through the Spirit we are led back to the kingdom of Heaven. The Spirit who anoints Jesus as king propels him forth to proclaim and enact the kingdom’s arrival. This same Spirit, poured out on Jesus’ followers, leads them out not to have the kingdom restored to them but to proclaim and enact the kingdom of which they have been made heirs. The resurrected Christ pours out the promise of the Father, and through the Spirit of this resurrected Christ we are led back to the kingdom of Heaven–the kingdom whose king has been enthroned, when raised, at God’s right hand.

Through the Spirit we are adopted as children. Jesus himself was the first adopted Son of God, by the Spirit of holiness, at the resurrection (Romans 1:4). We share in the Spirit of adoption as we share in the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8). Through the Spirit who appointed Jesus son of God we, too, are adopted as sons and daughters of God.

Through the Spirit we are given confidence to call God “Father”. The Spirit who leads us to call God “Abba, Father,” is the Spirit of Christ who himself cried Abba, Father in the garden. This is the Spirit who, in our suffering, draws us to God to find our deliverance and new life. Through the Spirit we cry “Abba,” and this is proof that we who are suffering with Jesus will also be glorified by the same spirit who glorified the firstborn of God’s large family. Through the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ we, too, cry out “Abba, Father.”

Through the Spirit we share in Christ’s grace. We share in Christ’s grace as he becomes for us what Adam was for us all: the one through whom the benefits of the one act of righteousness abound to those whom he represents. We become sharers in his grace as we are joined to his body and participate in all the gifts that are given there. We share in Christ’s grace when the Spirit baptizes us into one body–the body of Christ who is enthroned above.

Through the Spirit we are called children of light. The God who said, in his original act of creation, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s own glory–in the face of Christ. We are children of light as we shine the light which is Christ’s; when we reflect the image and glory of God that is recreated in the firstborn, resurrected Son. We are called children of light as we reflect the visage of the Child of light.

Through the Spirit we are given a share of eternal glory. The Spirit who makes us children, as it made Jesus Son, makes us heirs also–heirs of God and fellow heirs with our older brother Christ, if indeed we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Our eternal glory is his eternal glory, the Spirit that makes us Son-heirs is the same Son that made Jesus Son-heir–heirs of the eternal glory of the resurrected son.

Question of the Day: How Do We Theologize?

Today’s question of the day: Agree or Disagree with the following statement?

…if the Bible not only tells us what we are to believe, but shows us how to faithfully articulate Christian belief, then reticence to imitate the creative contextualization of the gospel that we see occurring in the Gospels and Paul is as faithless to the Christian story as telling a new version that does not quite fit.

These sentences seem to be prying at the assumption that being less theologically or hermeneutically creative is safer, and inherently more faithful, than being more creative. (An assumption held more often on the right side of various theological spectrums, of course!)

But what do you think? Is there equal danger in both directions? Is it equally dangerous to be creative in one’s theology and to be a repeater of what’s come before? Or is one inherently more faithful to the Christian story because of the inherent dynamics of that narrative?

Telling the story of the story-bound God