Theology


Douglas Moo Douglas CampbellIf you live in Chicago-land, you may be interested in the debate, “Paul on Justification: Is the Lutheran Approach to Pauline Justification ‘Justified'”?, between Douglas Campbell and Douglas Moo. The free event is being organized by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding and will be held 7:00-8:30pm, Thursday, February 12th, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s ATO Chapel. Here is the official add:

Martin Luther and other reformers viewed Pauline justification as primarily, if not exclusively, a forensic matter between us and God. We are justified before God, through faith in Jesus Christ, according to his finished work on the cross. If one believes the gospel message, then one is justified before God. Reconciliation (with God and with other humans) is a necessary implication of justification but is not part of justification as such. New perspectives on Paul have challenged this account of justification (both historically and exegetically). Rather than being merely a forensic matter focused on human salvation and its relationship to divine satisfaction, this approach suggests that Pauline justification is essentially about human liberation and the reconciliation of people one with another. On this view, Pauline justification means that Christians are justified when they participate in a realized eschatology within Christ, through the Spirit, working out their salvation within the empirical context of a life ministry of reconciliation with other humans beings. Supplementary questions of the debate include “What is justification according to Paul?” “How does it fit into the rest of Paul’s theological understanding?” and “Is a ministry of reconciliation essential to or consequential of Pauline justification?”

 

 

I see that the REF 2014 results were released today, so I was very interested to see how the various departments around the UK performed for Theology and Religious Studies. (For those that are not aware, the UK rates the research output for each of the university departments to help determine funding.) For some reason they don’t provide a weighted ranking of the departments, so I’ve done a quick assessment based on the overall percentages given a 0-4 ranking based on the recognized excellence at a national vs international level (see description at the bottom). I was surprised by some of the overall rankings especially given the previous results (see below), but I’ll reserve commentary here and just provide the results. The GPA is the weighted average of the 0-4 ranking. You’ll see that Durham is the top ranked department, just as it was for the most recent previous exercise: the 2008 RAE.

2014 REF Overall Results for Theology and Religious Studies Departments

% of the submission meeting the standard for:
University GPA 4* 3* 2* 1* U/C FTE
Average (FTE Weighted) 2.91 28 40 27 5 0 12.5
University of Durham 3.34 50 35 14 1 0 24.8
University of Birmingham 3.26 51 28 17 4 0 9.0
Lancaster University 3.15 42 33 23 2 0 22.3
University College London 3.15 37 41 22 0 0 7.0
University of Leeds 3.15 33 49 18 0 0 10.8
University of Cambridge 3.12 34 46 19 0 1 24.4
University of Kent 3.11 38 37 23 2 0 7.9
University of Edinburgh 3.09 34 44 19 3 0 26.6
King’s College London 3.08 39 37 18 5 1 26.0
Cardiff University 3.06 33 43 21 3 0 8.6
School of Oriental and African Studies 3.04 29 49 20 1 1 14.3
University of Oxford 3.02 34 38 24 4 0 32.7
University of Exeter 3.01 21 62 14 3 0 11.2
University of Nottingham 3.01 30 44 23 3 0 15.7
University of Manchester 2.97 28 47 20 4 1 14.5
University of Sheffield 2.93 21 51 28 0 0 4.0
University of St Andrews 2.93 31 31 38 0 0 14.0
University of Aberdeen 2.88 29 39 24 7 1 19.0
University of Bristol 2.85 21 45 32 2 0 8.6
Heythrop College 2.82 22 40 36 2 0 15.8
Open University 2.71 18 35 47 0 0 6.0
University of Wales Trinity Saint David 2.64 14 48 26 12 0 8.2
University of Glasgow 2.56 11 44 35 10 0 10.9
Canterbury Christ Church University 2.52 6 47 40 7 0 9.0
Roehampton University 2.47 16 27 45 12 0 6.8
Liverpool Hope University 2.37 9 37 38 14 2 14.9
University of Chester 2.35 8 27 57 8 0 11.1
University of Winchester 2.33 6 36 43 15 0 8.4
University of Gloucestershire 2.21 3 30 52 15 0 5.3
St Mary’s University, Twickenham 2.2 9 26 41 24 0 4.8
York St John University 2.07 2 23 57 16 2 7.0
Leeds Trinity University 1.99 0 34 32 33 1 3.5
Newman University 1.79 0 26 28 45 1 2.0


For a quick comparison, here are the top 5 of the 2008 RAE Results:

% of the submission meeting the standard for:
University GPA 4* 3* 2* 1* U/C FTE
University of Durham 3.00 40 25 30 5 0 19
University of Aberdeen 2.95 15 65 20 0 0 18
University of Cambridge 2.90 35 25 35 5 0 32
University of Oxford 2.90 30 35 30 5 0 41
University College London 2.90 30 40 20 10 0 7.2

GPA – Weighted average of the % of the submission meeting the standard for:

  • 4* Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • 3* Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • 2* Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • 1* Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Unclassified Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

FTE – Full Time Equivalent faculty members who rated

This is good: Hitler on Wright and Piper

HT: Joel Willits

But I also really like what my students have prepared:

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.

In my experience one basic problem with contemporary preaching is that most preachers are poor speakers. Not only do many of them not have a good command of their subject matter, but they give relatively little time to thinking about how to present the material. This could stem from several reasons, for example: a lack of confidence when speaking publicly; lack of time to prepare; or a rejection of the idea that a sermon should be well delivered. The first of these can be overcome with time. The second arises because of the general downplaying of the sermon in many of today’s churches. The role of the pastor-preacher has shifted away from the preaching of God’s Word to an administrator who manages church resources and staff. Ministers find all their time occupied by hospital visits or counselling sessions . Well these things are important (and I don’t want to downplay their signficance), the focus on them as the key components of a minister’s responsiblities reveals a shift away from preaching.

The third point stems from a misunderstanding and misuse of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 2.1-5:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)

This text is taken to mean that Paul didn’t give attention to how he spoke and whether he attempted to speak persuasively or not. Such a reading misses the contextual issues at play in the Corinthian church and overlooks the way in which Paul composes his letters.

The outcome of such neglect of speaking well, though, is that many people find the sermon boring and powerless, which breds the sense that the sermon is irrelevant to our contemporary lives. The striking thing, though, is that the ‘monologue’ is still a key element of public speaking in other fields. Political speeches are still highly valued, while people will listen to lectures from famous academics on subjects about which they know very little. The reason people listen to these others is because they speak well.

I think that the sermon has a vital role in the future of the church and the development of disciples. One key to recovering the power of the spoken Word is for ministers to give attention to how they speak. There has been signficant discussion about this in recent years, and a good place to start is the recent blog post by Ian Paul ‘Rhetoric in Preaching’, which draws attention to the place of rhetoric in contemporary society and in current reflections on preaching. He concludes by drawing attention to the practical implications of preaching persuasively:

Given the sense of growing hostility to Christian faith, the importance of good, persuasive, engaging preaching is not just about satisfying religious consumers in the supermarket of faith. Increasingly, Christians in the West need to have good reasons for what they believe, and encouraging faith involves continually making a persuasive case for trusting in God.

I’ve just learned that John Webster is leaving the University of Aberdeen for the University of St. Andrews. What a huge move!

A friend of mine tipped me off about a new and helpful work on the Holy Spirit in  modern theology: Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit, published with Mohr Siebeck in their newly established series Dogmatik in Der Moderne.  Mohr Siebeck kindly offered me a copy of the book to review here.

This engaging and challenging monograph began its life as doctoral thesis submitted to King’s College London, under the supervision of Colin Gunton and later Murrie Rae.  The title–God Without a Face?–points to ambiguity most Christians have with regard to the Holy Spirit.  God the Father, they understand, and God the Son, but what do we really think about the Spirit?  Many think of the Spirit as merely a way of talking about God’s action, and if they distinguish the Spirit from the Father and/or Son, he is merely an “it”, an indistiguishable grey blob of energy (cf. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, 24).  However, Awad wants the church and the academy to think more clearly about the distinct personhood, or “individuation” of the Spirit, so that one cannot think about God as Father and as Son without at the same time thinking about God as the Spirit.

Awad’s work is a fruit of the return to Trinitarian studies in the 20th century, which was spurred on by Barth but moved beyond him with the work of Moltmann and later Gunton and Torrance and a slew of other contemporary theologians.  This movement is not merely centered in Protestant thinking because it is highly influenced by greater ecumenical discussions particularly with Orthodox theologians as well as the patristic resourcement–a return to patristic sources as central to theological discussions.  Awad is no different in this, in that his study, is largely focused on patristic debates as means to assess modern Trinitarian constructions.  In particular, Cappadocian Trinitarian thinking is central to Awad’s argument.  This, I think, is a helpful move for all sorts of areas of theology, as my own thesis work on Greek patristic soteriology as a helpful introduction to reading Paul.  Accordingly, before picking up Awad’s monograph, I was already amenable to his methodology.

At the same time, I think the problem that Awad addresses is a central issue within Christian theology.  What place does the Spirit have in our theology?  Are we truly Trinitarian or do we merely use this language out of habit and out of tradition?  When I was in seminary and took my first class in systematics, my prof helpfully guided us into the Trinity as the foundational framework for doing theology.  As my essay for that class, I did a brief survey of different Protestant churches asking things about their stated views of God and their practice of incorporating the Trinity into their preaching and teaching.  I, unsurprisingly, found much continuity between different traditions about the Father and the Son, but there were wildly different conceptions of the Spirit portrayed.  This spurred me on to write almost every optional-topic essay I had in seminary about the Spirit–Spirit in the OT, Spirit in the New Covenant, etc.–so that I could better conceive of the Spirit in the divine economy.  I don’t think I personally scratched the surface, but I began to get a better feel for the Trinity.  I am woefully conscious of the continued general lack of Spirit-awareness, as my recent post on Christomonism demonstrates.

For my review I’ll do a few more posts as I interact with his helpful volume, so check back for those.

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