Occupy London: what would Jesus have done?

The confrontation between the Occupy LSX encampment and the St Paul’s authorities in London over the last couple of weeks has reminded many commentators of Jesus’ shocking display of anti-establishment indignation in the temple. Take Stephen Tomkins, for example:

Major national Churches are often the focus of protest. A homeless man, known to the authorities for his radical activism, once slipped into one with his supporters and wrecked it, overturning tables and lashing out with a homemade whip.

His point was that what should have been a place of prayer for all people had become an institution fleecing the poor. Those were tougher times than now, and he was executed a week later.

The right reason for crying "Abba! Father!"

It’s a long time since I’ve sung “Abba, Father, let me be yours and yours alone” in public, but it’s the song that is now rather dated, not the sentiment. Evangelical theology is quite insistent on the fact that as Christians, as sons and daughters of the Father, we have the unique right to address him in intimate terms as “Abba”, “Daddy”. We have been taught that this was Jesus’ typical form of address to God, and that because we have all received the Spirit of adoption, etc., we too may call out to God as “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

In the spirit of friendly deconstruction (I’m not sure that “deconstruction” should be used in this sense, but everybody else does, so why not?) that I hope characterizes this blog, I want to suggest that this misses the point. It is a good example of theological inflation at the expense of contextualized argumentation.

We do not know Jesus if we know him only as a personal saviour

In his book Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination and History, Dale Allison puts forward a number of arguments in support of his view that Jesus is presented in the New Testament as an eschatological figure, whose identity and vocation must be explained with reference to Jewish apocalyptic themes. One of these arguments is that much of what Jesus says about the coming turn of events draws on Old Testament texts that “foretell the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the influx of the Diaspora, the transformation of the land of promise into a paradise, and the realization of God’s perfect will throughout the world” (78). Allison then sets out a representative, not exhaustive, catalogue of passages to which Jesus alludes (79-82).

Blogging and the future of theology

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.

Some thoughts on some thoughts of Roger Olson on narrative theology

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 connection between "kingdom of God" and "Son of Man"

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…

The things that must soon take place

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”.

A narrative-historical creed (first draft)

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.

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