Thursday, June 28, 2007

Does God get Amnesia?

Still perusing the Hebrew narrative I find myself struck by an odd notion, repeated in the New Testament, of God declaring that He will forget the sins of Israel. This raises the fascinating theological and philosophical question as to whether or not God can actually forget. The scriptures seem quite adamant on this. In the words of Miroslav Volf, The “miracle of miracles, God doesn’t even remember our sins (Isa 43:25; Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12; 10:17 see also the psalms where God is asked to forget, which presupposes that God can forget: Psalm 79:8 & 25:7). They are just gone, gone from reality and gone from memory.” [Volf, Free of Charge, pg. 142-143]

Since Open Theism has taken us further in discussing and illuminating God’s relationship to humanity, I’m asking the question as to God and Memory. Does God’s mind erase information? (I realise that there are immediately problems with referring to God’s mind, but I can’t find another way to speak about this) Or is something else meant by the verses quoted above? What does this suggest about God’s omniscience? Does God have perfect past knowledge? Volf has explored some of this in his recent offering: The End of Memory. But to my knowledge, and please feel free to fill in the gaps, this has not been extensively discussed. The commentaries on the various passages noted above, either completely ignore this issue, fail to grasp the issue, or merely restate the issue. What I'm looking for is some clear and critical thinking on this topic - other than my own of course...
A tentative thought, is to suggest that God not remembering Israel's sin means that the issue that was affecting the relationship between YHWH and Israel has been decisively dealt with, so that when YHWH looks at Israel that is not the first thought that comes to mind - but rather, Israel is viewed through the lens of sins having been dealt with. The problem with this thought, is that it flatly ignores the literal statements of Scripture and offers rather an explanation, that appears to be based on an anthropomorphic understanding of these passages. Which seems unlikely in my own hermeneutical understanding.
So my final remark is to simply accept that God forgets sins. But this seems to counter-intuitive. Like my mind is being held captive to philosophy... Does God really forget my sins? Should we rejoice with Volf at this "miracle of miracles"? Indeed, if true, if would constitute a miracle of miracles...
Comments, questions, criticisms? All welcome...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Confessions - Meme

From Ben Myer: Peter Leithart lists a series of theological “confessions” – so I thought I’d do the same.
These are quite different and I found myself unsure as to whether to share these confessions with you all, but in the Spirit of honesty, here's what I actually think...
I confess: I started my theological journey as a strict Calvinist.

I confess: I never felt like I understood what the gospels were about, until I read Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright.

I confess: that I sometimes think being an ivory tower theologian (scholar) would be fun.

I confess: I think theologians have missed [lost] the plot if they neglect commentaries and serious biblical exegesis.

I confess: I don’t quite get how some can passionately read and study all about Christianity and God and yet be so disconnected from His presence and mission.

I confess: I despise novels, especially Christian novels.

I confess: Pannenberg is one of my heroes.

I confess: that Paul Tillich, Richard Dawkins and Craig Blomberg annoy me.

I confess: although it’s fashionable to say bad things about Augustine, I think we should wholeheartedly support and embrace this trend!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hunting the Beast of Doubt- Responding to DeConick

April DeConick asks the cynical question: Why do these conclusions continue to be drawn by biblical scholars, as if the canonical gospels are any more accurate (or "peerless") theologies and histories than the non-canonical gospels?
[Now this is merely representative of many people's thoughts on this matter. And so my response is to all, not one.]
One could get tired of stating the obvious, but perhaps the answer to this is quite simply that having weighed the evidence, this is the best explanation we (I) have - that Matt, Marko, Lukas and Jonno are more reliable in ascertaining information about Jesus of Nazareth than Thomas, Judas, Mary or other gospels from the early centuries. The rhetoric displayed by DeConick & others seems to suggest that it is self-evident that "None of our texts are histories, let alone accurate histories. And how much historical information we can actually reap out of any of them, and the procedures for doing so, are questions more problematic than not."
In fact, I disagree. I think Lukas is an able historian, not in the modern sense of that word, but having surveyed the evidence & arguments I trust that he conveys reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth. I trust that he has used his sources wisely, and has testified to the reality and essence of Jesus' mission, message, and life. In general, I would reply to the quick retort: "where is the evidence?" by saying: "The evidence is in my library; read it, master it, tell me what's wrong with it in such a way that your objections actually outweigh the arguments made in this material, and then I might listen to you." I may not have read everything, but I've read and studied enough over the past seven years to make an informed and honest decision regarding the state of the question.
Now, lest I sound arrogant, I am reminded of the words of my former principle: Feel free to help me out: Sit me on your cyber-spatial couch and give me some therapy. Show me where I've missed something or made a fallicious reference, or neglected pivotal evidence. Failing that, stop whining about people who come to different conclusions. Offer critically engaging arguments with evidence (or point to works which actually do so, and don't resort to ad hominem), then we may realise the folly of our ways, and change our minds. Failing that, why not reconsider your own position, and realise that perhaps things are not self-evident, and maybe you have missed something...
Thoughts, comments and criticisms welcomed...
Nice chatting...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Blackwell Bible Commentaries

The blurb from Blackwell reads as follows...

The Blackwell Bible Commentaries offer a genuinely new approach in their emphasis on the way the Bible has been used and interpreted through the ages, from the church fathers through to current popular culture, and in spheres as diverse as art and politics, hymns and official church statements.

These are the first commentaries to place an emphasis on the Bible in literature, music and art; the Bible in history and politics; and the Bible in theology and religion. The volumes explore the fascinating reception history of the Bible, since what people believe a sacred text like the Bible means is often as interesting and historically important - theologically, politically, morally and aesthetically - as what it originally meant.

This outstanding series will be appreciated by students, their teachers, and anyone who wishes to understand how the Bible has been interpreted down the ages, and is still used in contemporary culture. Further information about the series is available from the Blackwell Bible Commentaries website at

The webiste offers sample chapters for free, so be sure to check it out. Christopher Rowland played a part in the one on Revelation, which I'm sure will be good. Anyone know anything about this series or read anything more about it?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hermeneutics of Trust

Reading through the Pope's new book on Jesus, and I found a most helpful discussion on what Richard Hays terms the hermeneutics of trust (See his article: Salvation by Trust? Reading the Bible Faithfully available from Religion Online).

The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history – that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly pure scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast the times.

The theological debate between Jesus and the devil is a dispute over the correct interpretation of Scripture, and it is relevant to every period of history. The hermeneutical question lying at the basis of proper scriptural exegesis is this: What picture of God are we working with? The dispute about interpretation is ultimately a dispute about who God is. Yet in practice, the struggle over the image of God, which underlies the debate about valid biblical interpretation, is decided by the picture we form of Christ: Is he, who remained without worldly power, really the Son of the Living God?[1]
Thus, the question over starting assumptions and how worldviews affect interpretation are always to be at the front of the researchers mind. How does my faith (presupposition), affect the way I read, understand and interpret? Does it prohibit me from accessing the truth? Or does it allow me to penetrate further into the mystery of what actually happened, because I am not constrained by the beast of doubt?
[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007) pg. 35-36

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

G'day Kiwi's

Funny story, apparently one of our Kiwi readers had the most unusual encounter with my little sister last week.
A reader of this blog from Auckland, New Zealand, went to the Salon to have her hair done and they started talking about this blog. Apparently she mentioned this blog and my sister curiously started asking various questions which led to the unveiling of my identity as her brother!
So, to whoever you are, glad you enjoy the blog!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Well, blogging has been slow due to work and some different reading. I'm thoroughly enjoying John Goldingay at the moment. The newly released commentary on Psalm 1-41 is outstanding, the translation in it fresh and helpful. Israel's Gospel, volume 1 of a projected three volumes (Volume 2, Israel's Faith has just arrived here), is one of the best books on the Hebrew narrative I have ever read. It is a solid, and exceptionally insightful book - with a few links to the New Testament as well.
Around the blogosphere there is some exciting stuff happening. Mark Goodacre alerts us to The Faraday Institute of Science and Religion, which has amazing audio, vision lectures, with notes and pdf files and even some powerpoint presentations - from scholars like McGrath, Polkinghorne (My favourite) to Simon Conway-Morris and my former lecturer at Auckland, Graeme Finlay. If this tickles your fance, check it out...
Michael Pahl begins an exciting series on "The Gospel" which is helpful. Mike Bird swims against the tide by questioning "Q" and then the so-called rupture between Peter and Paul, with links to Mark's gospel. My own view on Q scholarship is ably described by John Meier:

I cannot help thinking that biblical scholarship would be greatly advanced if every morning all exegetes would repeat as a mantra: 'Q is a hypothetical document whose exact extension, wording, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known.' This daily devotion might save us flights of fancy that are destined, in my view, to end in skepticism.

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol 2, p. 178.

In other spheres, Chris Tilling is hosting a review and interview with Chris VanLandingham about his new book: Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. Be sure to check them both out. Ben Witherington remarks that he is,
reminded of the intellectual responsibility of Christians to discourse with our culture at a level that can reach even the brightest of the potential converts. It's time to stop dumbing down the Gospel. It's time to boil up the people, tease their minds into active thought. For the mind is a gift from God, and is not only a terrible thing to waste, its an unethical and unChristian thing to waste.
Which leads finally to the post by my nemesis Eddie, on the necessity of historical questions in Christian faith. It's a great quote and should make those concerned to advance the Kingdom think, rethink and then deploy their intentions based on sound reasoning and clear thinking.
Back to work for me... The Psalms are calling... ANd my Hebrew is useless...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Importance of Apologetics

For my inaugural post, I thought I would share a quote which rightly captures the importance of the intellect in becoming a follower of Jesus. Although it is (slightly) outside the main focus of this blog (biblical studies), it is nevertheless tightly wed to it. In an atmosphere of sensationalism, conspiracy theories, and bad scholarship surrounding Jesus and the rise of the Christian movment, the area of Christian origins should (in my opinion) be the focal point of our dialogue with our contemporaries. So without further delay:
Commitment to Christ is a matter for the entire person, not for his mind alone; and intellectual conviction (if, indeed, it can be had at all without the whole person being involved) is not the whole business. But the whole business, precisely because it concerns the whole person, can never be achieved in defiance of the intellect. Reason, though not the whole, is a part of the personal response; and the attempt to bring to light the falseness of certain allegedly rational objections is therefore not unimportant.
-C. F. D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Implications of Certain Features of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1967), 2-3

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ezekiel 16

Ezekiel writes to shock and to shake, and reaches his most shocking so far here in his epic portrayal of the harrowing life story of Ms. Jerusalem. If it opens in the beguiling manner of a “rags-to-riches” fairy tale, it soon devastates the audience with the extend to which no one lives happily ever after as its camera moves from abandoned baby to nubile beauty to nymphomaniac whore to brazen adulteress to heartless child killer, a woman no better than her foreign parents and arguably worse than her sisters Samaria and Sodom. It is the prophetic equal to a four-hour movie blockbuster with repeated scenes of sexual violence and violence on children, which no one under 18 is allowed to see. It became another passage in Ezekiel which rabbinic leadership hesitated to have read in worship.
John Goldingay