Friday, November 21, 2008

Farrer on form and content of early Christianity

After mentioning 'the common hypothesis' that the transformation of images of the Old Testament that flowered in Christianity originated not with Jesus, but with his disciples, Farrer brilliantly observes,
This elaborate and uneconomical supposition was the product of a prejudice which ought to outworn now. It was supposed that the Christian Faith could be divided into two parts, a vital content of ethical spirituality, and a mythological or theological frame constructed to set it off and give it emphasis. The spirituality, as being the primary fact and real motive cause, was then assigned to Christ; the theology could naturally be left to accumulate round it in the course of the Church's life. We shall not now accept such a distinction as corresponding with historical realities. It is, no doubt, always the pressing concern of religion to seek after and seize its own vital essence and spiritual centre, but that is a poor reason for supposing that spirituality came naked into the world, or could exist without the images which condition it. (14)
I couldn't resist inserting this marvelously worded gem, either:
Symbol endeavours, as it were, to be that of which it speaks, and imitates reality by the multiplicity of its significance. ...There is a current and exceedingly stupid doctrine that symbol evokes emotion, and exact prose states reality. Nothing could be further from the truth: exact prose abstracts from reality, symbol presents it. And for that very reason, symbols have some of the many-sidedness of wild nature. (19-20)

SBL 2008

Where has the time gone? Now that I have effectively alienated probably all of my readers by not posting in many, many moons, I have returned to say...well, not much.

I'm in Boston, at a youth hostel surprisingly crowded with SBL attendees.

After four years away from SBL (or is it five?), I've come to Boston to meet, greet and buy books. Oh yeah, and to hear papers. ...I guess.

As I arrived in Boston, I couldn't help but notice all of the scholarly types trying to remain incognito on the train and in the airport. I thought of announcing, "The historical-critical method of biblical exegesis is obsolete!" Just to watch the sparks fly. Ok, let's be honest the most I would get is a chuckle followed by many embarrassed looks from scholars who, in an academic setting, would ordinarily be the first to either outline the correctness of my observation or descry the shaky theoretical foundations on which I would make such a methodological presumption.

We are an odd tribe, but here we all are, taking over Back Bay and weirding out the hostel kids.

As I promised, that's all I've got--not much. Maybe this will get the wheels turning over here since my PhD applications are now in. Maybe not. In the meantime, the phoenix has arisen from oblivion to regale you with tales of Biblical geekdom. Um...sorry.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Elshtain on the bonds of civic affection

"Auden writes of 'blind skyscrapers' that 'use Their full height to proclaim/The strength of Collective Man.' I have a contrary thought. Skyscrapers are about power, no doubt. But they are also about freedom, and ingenuity, and beauty. They are not about the strength of an indistinguishable collective, but about the combined power of many men and women. There is something exhilarating about reaching for the stars, so long as we do not become presumptuous about achieving godlikeness. Totalitarian regimes do not aim high. They build squat prisons and block houses. They build execution walls.

"'We must love one another or die,' Auden tells us, finally. We cannot love one another--not in the sense in which Auden meant it--if we are locked indoors and afraid to venture forth. We must 'Show an affirming flame.' It is called hope. It is one of the great theological virtues. But it is also a democratic virtue linked to coming to grips with the reality of what we face and responding appropriately--whether through forceful interdiction or peaceful assembly. We must stop those who would harm us and go about our business, meeting and greeting one another, for 'we must love one another or die.' September 11 showed us that we are bound by civic affection. All else about that terrible day must pale with the passage of time. But that remains."

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror (New York: Basic, 2003), p. 181.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Elshtain, Billy Graham, 9/11

"Finally, the Reverend Billy Graham, dean of American evangelism, reminded us of the fog of history's unfolding in his remarks at the service in the National Cathedral for the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on September 14, 2001. Reverend Graham insisted that he did not know the answer to why God allows tragedy, and that there is a mystery at the heart of this question. September 11 did teach some lessons, however--lessons about 'the mystery of iniquity and evil, but, secondly, it's a lesson about our need for each other,' and in this need lies hope. This may be the only true Christian message to have come out of the horror of that day--a message of hope and human solidarity."

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror (New York: Basic, 2003), p. 123.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Problem with Sola Scriptura?

"The construction of new models of early Judaism and the circumstances of the rise of Christianity raise important questions for theologians. What happens, or should happen, when one discovers that theology is based on wrong history? It bears some serious reflection that the church has canonized documents that were written in its youth, in the heat of a polemic begotten of its identity crisis with Judaism, and that these early, highly tendentious, historically conditioned documents of the New Testament remain the yardstick for anti-Jewish and apocalyptic theologies.

"These observations are not intended to undercut the uniqueness and value of these texts as theological benchmarks. The question is of a different sort. Is there sufficient elasticity in the understanding of tradition to recognize that the texts of Scripture are themselves the crystallization of moments in the tradition and to seek, cherish, and recognize the value of other moments in that tradition? Catholicism and Orthodoxy, with their understanding of the complementarity of Scripture and tradition, can perhaps more easily adopt this approach than can Protestantism, with its emphasis on sola scriptura."

George W. E. Nickelsburg, Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins, p. 6.

1 Peter and "selective accomodation"

"First Peter had to help its readers justify their existence as Christians living as a 'holy community' within society. It was a single strategy with two interlocking components: creating an identity that separated them from Roman culture, and yet showing how they, as a 'community of the elect,' upheld the best of Greek and Roman values by 'living honorably among Gentiles.' First Peter does not urge its readers to reject the larger society wholesale. Instead, it urges a policy of selective accommodation. Those values that contribute to moral ruin it rejects wholeheartedly; those that foster political stability and social order it upholds steadfastly and encourages vigorously."

Carl Holladay, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 705.