One of the hottest theological topics is Calvinism and Arminianism. The debate divides churches, and denominations like the Southern Baptists have been at odds over it for some time. One thing that bothers me about this whole discussion is that it seems to operate from a mistaken understanding of divine and human agency.

In his excellent introduction to the volume Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment, John Barclay outlines three models of divine and human agency, two of which are relevant to this issue:

1) Competitive: In this model divine and human action negate each other. When God acts the human is passive; when the human acts God is passive. Barclay writes, ‘Divine sovereignty and human freedom are mutually exclusive; human freedom must be understood as freedom from God’ (p.6).

2) Non-contrastive transcendence: According to this model, divine sovereignty indicates that God works outside the realm of the human agent. Humans act out of their own freedom. The two agents do not negate each other since they operate on different levels. Barclay writes, ‘The two agencies stand in direct, and not inverse proportion: the more the human agent is operative, the more (not the less) may be attributed to God’ (p.7).

The debate about Calvinism and Arminianism operates in the first model. Both views treat the two agents as opposing agents. Calvinists stress divine agency, not only because humans are sinners, but because any action that is attributed to humans impinges on God’s sovereignty. Arminianists emphasise the human agent in order to uphold human freedom. In both views the actions of one agent impinge on the other. True human freedom is only established and maintained in the absence of divine action. Conversely, divine freedom and sovereignty is only established and maintained in the absence of human action.

I wonder, though, if this competitive understanding of divine and human agency is right. Paul’s view seems more in line with the ‘non-contrastive transcendence’ perspective when he writes of grace (1 Cor 15.10) or the Spirit (Rom 8.4-13) working in him and believers in general. Paul holds that human action is established and maintained precisely because God is at work in believers. It is not an either-or, but a both-and. In his book Faith and Perseverance Berkouwer writes,

Preserving ourselves is not an independent thing that is added paradoxically to the divine preservation. God’s preservation and our self-preservation do not stand in mere coordination, but in a marvellous way they are in correlation. One can formulate it best in this way: our preservation of ourselves is entirely oriented to God’s preservation of us. (p.104)

If we shifted the philosophical model behind the Calvinist-Arminian debate, I wonder if it could bring about different conclusions and clarify how the salvation process works and the place of the divine and human agents in it.

I noted this at the Texts and Traditions in the Second Century

For those of you in the North Texas area, TCU has a regular gathering to discuss the second century called the Second Century Seminar. The next meeting will be April 3rd and features a paper by David Moessner on the Papias fragments in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical Histories. For more details and to RSVP (please RSVP by March 24th) send an email to Lindsey Trozzo at secondcenturyseminar@gmail.com.

N.T. Wright’s volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God was eagerly anticipated by many and broke the back of many mail carriers. For those looking for some help through the massive two-volumes, Larry Hurtado is posting on some key issues. After an introductory post, in which he comments on the length of the work, Hurtado focuses on Wright’s Christology. In the second post, he questions Wright’s claim that in Paul’s view Jesus is the personal return of YHWH. In the third post, he challenges Wright’s understanding of how Jesus’ messiahship functioned in Paul’s thought and its significance for Pauline theology. All three posts are very helpful for seeing the differences between these two leading scholars. Also, in the comments Richard Bauckham and Crispin Fletcher-Louis have weighed in.

The posts can be found here: “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: Wright’s big Opus; “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: 2nd Posting; and Messiah and Worship.

Paul and Judaism landscape

Let me invite you to a major event we’re hosting here at HBU next week. N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham and now Professor at St Andrews University, will be giving two public lectures in Dunham Theater: Wednesday (3/19) at 11am and Thursday (3/20) at 7pm. All are welcome, and there is no cost to attend nor need for registration for the conference (see below) to come to Wright’s lectures. In addition to his very helpful For Everyone series, Wright has written numerous scholarly works that have helped shape the face of New Testament studies in the last several decades, not least his Christian Origins series. In fact, his very recent work on Paul in this series will be the source of his talks here: Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (If 1600 pages is too much, check out the short version in Paul: In Fresh Perspective.)

Concurrent with Dr Wright’s visit, we are hosting a conference on Paul and Judaism. Internationally respected Pauline scholars, Beverly Gaventa and Ross Wagner, will be our other plenary speakers, in addition to shorter paper sessions. If you want to push in a little deeper on Paul, we would love for you to join us for the conference.

We hope you invite friends to come hear these excellent scholars with you. For more details on any of these items, see the conference website: hbu.edu/theologyconference

Since I regularly teach book studies in the Pauline epistles to students who have no knowledge of Greek, and I generally dislike assigning lengthy commentaries as textbooks, I am always on the look out for non-/less-technical, affordable academic resources focusing on individual NT books. A good example of what I mean is Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians (Abingdon, 1998). Although Longenecker’s volume provides a focused reading of Paul’s letter and engages various scholarly debates, the book itself is intended to be accessible to non-specialists and does a fine job of showing how one scholar interprets all/most of Galatians. Additional examples include Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity Press, 2010), and Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (InterVarsity, 2004). Similar, though in certain ways quite different, is Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2013), which, dispite its title, is really a distillation and more practically-oriented version of his SNTS volume Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum (CUP, 2005).

I’m seeking to identify additional titles belonging to this genre. If readers know of similar resources, please do share in the comments. Thanks!

Ben C. Blackwell:

I’m overseeing an MA thesis on Barth’s theological exegesis by Jessica Parks. Here’s a nice quote she found…

Originally posted on Cataclysmic:

“My sole aim was to interpret Scripture.  I beg my readers not to assume from the outset–as many in Germany have assumed–that I am not interpreting Scripture at all, or rather, that I am interpreting it ‘spiritually’.  In this context the word ‘spiritually’ is used, of course to convey a rebuke.  It may be however, that the rebuke turns back most heavily upon those who launch it so easily against me.  The publication of this book in English may perhaps lead to a fresh formulation of the problem, ‘What is exegesis?’  No one can, of course, bring out the meaning of a text ( auslegen) without at the same time adding something to it (einlegen ).  Moreover, no interpreter is rid of the danger of in fact adding more than he extracts.  I neither was nor am free from this danger.  And yet I should be altogether…

View original 65 more words

Clement of Alexandria on who wrote Hebrews (via Eusebius):

He [Clement] says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language. Luke however, translated it carefully to make it available for the Greeks and for this reason the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 6.14.2)

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