The Fall 2010 issue of the Princeton Theological Review has a diverse selection of essays under the general heading of “The Church After Google”. David Congdon and Travis McMaken have a good article on theological blogging that I think is worth making note of: “Theo-Blogging and the Future of Academic Theology: Reflections from the Trenches”.
A couple of conversations I had over the summer with proper employed theologians got me wondering whether the future of the discipline at university and even seminary level in secular societies is as secure as publishers’ lists and conference programmes suggest it is. Richard Dawkins may well be a rabid fundamentalist, but when he asserts that theology is no more entitled to a place in today’s universities than the study of leprechauns, I suspect that he may have post-Christendom history on his side. Perhaps in coming decades the centre of theological gravitas will have to shift away from the imposing mainstream institutions into more unruly, unregulated neighbourhoods—such as the blogosphere.
Roger Olson has just written a characteristically lucid summary of what narrative theology is. I’ll summarize his summary for those who can’t be bothered to go and read it for themselves: narrative theology deals with the whole Bible as a “dramatic account of God’s activity”; all other literary and theological forms—propositions, commands, prayers, parables, doctrines, etc.—are either subordinated to or subsumed within the story or drama of scripture; theology is only “our best human attempt to understand the biblical drama-story”; and the practical task of the church is faithfully to improvise the rest of the story.
The very same Bible—which biblicists insist is perspicuous and harmonious—gives rise to divergent understandings among intelligent, sincere, committed readers about what it says about most topics of interest. Knowledge of “biblical” teachings, in short, is characterized by pervasive interpretive pluralism.
One of the arguments raised against the authenticity of the Son of Man sayings—notably by Vielhauer—has been that in the earliest strata of the Gospels “kingdom of God” and “Son of Man” belong to separate strands. Since there is little debate about the authenticity of the kingdom of God theme, the conclusion is reached that the Son of Man material was introduced into the narratives by the church after the Easter event. Dunn points out that attributing the Son of Man sayings to Jesus’ followers doesn’t solve the problem—it merely relocates it; and he has an explanation for the failure of the two motifs to intertwine…
In the study of history there are no objective facts, only interpreted data. There is no objective Jesus, no artefact (‘the historical Jesus’) at the bottom of the literary tell to be uncovered by clearing away all the layers of tradition. All we have is the remembered Jesus, Jesus seen through the eyes of those who followed him, Jesus enshrined in the memories they shared and the stories they told and retold among themselves.
I don’t like to be so captious, but with all due respect to an excellent scholar, I really can’t believe Ben Witherington means this. I’m in and out of his book Revelation and the End Times at the moment, trying to write a serious review of it for the Evangelical Quarterly. In his chapter on the parousia he is keen to show that there are “no errant predictions in the New Testament saying that Christ would return during the lifetime of those Christians who lived in the first century A.D.“ (27-28). He’s very selective in the texts that he considers, but what really surprises me is his argument that the adverbial phrase en tachei in Revelation 1:1 means not “soon” but “quickly”. The ESV, for example, reads: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” Witherington thinks it should be translated “what must happen in a hurry, or with dispatch, or quickly”.
I suspect that many of the readers who find their way to this blog have a rather strong aversion to evangelical statements of faith—such as that of the Evangelical Alliance in the UK—probably because they are perceived in this easy-going postmodern age to be crudely propositional and coercive. I am less worried about the epistemological shortcomings of the genre than about the fit with scripture. Statements of faith have the form of a synopsis of the biblical narrative, but when you look closely, it becomes apparent that they are a highly refined and selective synopsis. They are theological rather than historical documents.
I have Ben Witherington’s short book Revelation and the End Times to hand, so I will take the opportunity provided by his discussion of the millennium to outline what seems to me a more coherent, historically grounded understanding of this mystifying thousand year period.
The modern gospel is the product of an excessive theological preoccupation with the salvation of the individual. It has led generally to the eclipse of scripture as historical narrative—see part 1 and part 2 of this review. But Dan Phillips’ book also illustrates another problem that arises when the defence of dogmatic tradition is elevated above biblical interpretation: Paul’s argumentation gets bent out of shape.