What N.T. Wright does with the early high christology of Hurtado, Tilling and Bauckham

Following the recent posts on “divine identity” christology, I have been urged to have a look at what N.T. Wright does with the argument in Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Wright starts by tracing developments in Pauline christology in the modern era (644-53). The two competing “orthodoxies” of post-Enlightenment discourse have been: i) the reductionist view that Jesus was a great teacher who was mistakenly divinized by his followers at a later stage in a thoroughly Hellenistic context; and ii) the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as simply God. In neither case is the proclamation of the coming kingdom of God taken into account. In the middle of the last century the dominant history-of-religions approach gave way to a new perspective that prioritized the Jewish origins and character of the New Testament. Within this new tradition opinion has divided between scholars who argue for an Early High Christology (Hurtado, Bauckham) and those who hold to a more “developmental” approach (Dunn, Casey, Vermes).

Richard Bauckham: the throne of God and the worship of Jesus

I couldn’t make up my mind what to write about this week. I was going to do something on the rather depressing Westminster Faith debate on the future of the Anglican Church that I attended last week in Oxford. I’ve also had it in mind to write a review of Emily Ackerman’s The Amazing Technicolour Pyjama Therapy, which is published by my friends in Edinburgh. But Richard Bauckham’s “divine identity” argument is still going round in my head, so it’s back to christology, I’m afraid. I want to examine this assertion in his book Jesus and the God of Israel:

From the earliest post-Easter Christology that we can trace, Jesus’ exaltation was understood as his sharing the divine throne in heaven and thus participating in the divine rule over the cosmos. (172)

Gender equality in Christian ministry and leadership

I said a couple of weeks back that I would post the document that Christian Associates, my favourite church-planting people, recently published on gender equality in leadership. It’s probably fair to say that we have held an egalitarian position in practice for years, without exciting much internal controversy. The document was not designed to settle an internal dispute so much as to clarify our position for the benefit of organizations, churches, and individuals who might be interested in working with Christian Associates. But we also wanted to take the opportunity to state our commitment to gender balanced leadership as a matter of missional priority defined in biblical rather than socio-cultural terms.

The document was a team effort, though it has to be said that I had a disproportionate influence on its development and final shape, for better or for worse. I have added a couple of footnotes referencing my book Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul for the detailed exegetical arguments and have provided links to posts on this site where appropriate. Inevitably, the document is only a summary of the group’s discussions and a pointer to the wider debate.

My problem with divine identity christologies: Hays, Bauckham, Wright

In the last two posts I suggested that the claims put forward by Richard Hays for “divine identity” in the Synoptic Gospels are problematic less for what they affirm—I am not arguing against Trinitarianism—than for what they obscure. Matt Colvin had this comment to make, and I think it merits a response:

I would gladly read more from you about what is missing or wrong about “divine identity” christology. If it is steamrolling an important narrative, flesh that out for us. Or remind me if you’ve done it elsewhere. (I have Re:Mission, The Future of the People of God, and The Coming of the Son of Man, and have benefited greatly from them all, but I don’t recall anything specifically targeted at this issue.)

Richard Hays: how is it that Jesus gets to pour out the Spirit of God?

Another questionable line of interpretation, if I may make so bold….

Jesus says to his disciples, “I will give you a mouth and a wisdom that none of those who oppose you will be able to stand against or contradict” (Lk. 21:14-15). Since his imminent death is in view, he must mean that he will have authority “to confer speech and wisdom in a supernatural manner” beyond death, in Richard Hays’ words. We may compare God’s promise to Moses: “Now go, I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak” (Exod. 4:11-12).

In Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness Hays asks how it is that Jesus has such authority (71). How is it that he can confer powers and blessing “that no one but God could confer”? How can he appoint disciples and give them authority over demons and diseases? How can he promise to send power from on high upon his followers and then “in the dramatic opening scenes of Acts, fulfil that promise by pouring out the Holy Spirit”? Surely the power to send the Spirit “is a prerogative that belongs exclusively to God”?

Richard Hays and the God who walks on the sea

People who read this blog regularly will know that I am generally rather sceptical about claims that the writers of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—intended to present Jesus as God. See, for example, “Jesus as Lord in Mark” or “Simon Gathercole’s argument about pre-existence and divine identity in the Synoptics”. I’m not saying that the idea does not occur, in some form or other, elsewhere in the New Testament, or that the later church was wrong to construct its theology in formal trinitarian terms. I am well disposed towards the view that the divine emperor paradigm was a significant factor in the development of the “kingdom” argument, providing a bridge between the early apocalypticism and the later metaphysics. But I am concerned that in our zeal to establish an early high christology we risk misrepresenting what is actually happening in the Synoptic Gospels, which is kingdom, not incarnation.

Why I love Christian Associates, etc.

I have been involved with Christian Associates in one capacity or another—as a pastor, inept church-planter, teacher—for the last twenty years or so. I love the people, I love the organization, I love its vision for starting imaginative new communities of faith in a difficult secular environment, and I love its willingness to give serious attention to its theological underpinnings. One of these days I will post the statement on gender balance in leadership that we recently produced, as an example of our determination to develop a solid, missionally focused, biblical theology for our work.

Resolving the tension between wrath and love by means of diagrams

Following on from the previous post on how to sing about the wrath of God, here are some simple diagrams to explain the hermeneutics involved.

1. There is a tension between two understandings of the cross. The rigorous conservative/Reformed folk want to sing about the wrath of God being satisfied. More liberal/squeamish evangelicals (like me) would much prefer to sing about the love of God being magnified.

And on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied…

I started writing this on Sunday morning before going off to church. It’s a reflection on a piece by Roger Olson about the difficulties many Christians have in using the language of divine wrath. He had come across a revised version of the song “In Christ Alone”, by Getty and Townend, in which the line “And on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied…” had been replaced with “And on the cross where Jesus died, the love of God was magnified…”. You can see what the editor was up to. Coincidentally—and wonderfully—the first song we sang at church was “In Christ Alone”. The unexpurgated version. And I was reminded of one or two other objections that I have to the “theology” of this charming song. You can listen to it live at the Gospel Coalition, with lyrics.

Why the Pharisee (probably) did not go home justified

Two men go to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God that he is “not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”. He fasts twice a week, he tithes his income. The wretched tax collector, on the other hand, says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus comments that it is the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, who goes home “justified” (Lk. 18:10-14).

In a detailed critique of Tom Wright’s book What Saint Paul Really Said Phil Johnson argues that this parable teaches exactly what Wright wants to deny about justification—that it has to do with “individual guilt and forgiveness”. This is where Jesus “expounds most clearly on the principle of justification”. It shows that he was “fully in agreement with the classic Reformed interpretation of Paul”. It’s as though Jesus had read Paul, foreseen the Reformation, and thought up a little story to illustrate the point!

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