Posted by: chuckbumgardner | February 17, 2021

You should subscribe to the Biblical Studies Blog

A recommendation: If you are involved in academic biblical studies and wish to keep up with what is being published in journals in the field, subscribe to email updates from the Biblical Studies Blog (Ιστολόγιο βιβλικών σπουδών).

This excellent blog is hosted by Ekaterini G. Tsalampouni, a professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Any post content is published in Modern Greek, but the extremely timely updates on journal tables of contents have the titles in English as well, and the English-speaking reader will find immediate profit. Combing back through the latest posts, I find just-published TOC’s from, e.g., Journal for the Study of Judaism, Vetus Testamentum, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Hervormde Teologiese Studies, Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie religieuses, Electrum, Textus, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Distant World Journal, Perspectives in Religious Studies, Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Theologische Literaturzeitung, Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok, and so forth. As is evident, the net is cast very broadly. Abstracts are linked, and full-text where occasionally available. An altogether admirable service, and the host is to be thanked for providing it. Email signup is simple: just scroll down and you’ll see “Follow by Email” (in English).

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | February 15, 2021

Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

The year 2020 will doubtless go down in infamy, but it produced at least one excellent work of lasting value: Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020). Thoughtful Christians who read this admirable volume will find much profit therein.

I have long found it necessary to understand the history of a thing in order to properly understand the thing itself. Looking at “where we are” in terms of a cultural phenomenon is always illuminated by looking at “how we got here.” Trueman’s book helped me to do precisely that. In terms of the current moral revolution, I had recognized that we did not arrive where we are without other things paving the way — but I had not gone back far enough or deep enough. Trueman guides the reader to and through the thought of Rousseau (along with artistic mediators such as Wordsworth, Shelley, and Blake), Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin, and Freud in order to lay out the path which has brought about the present state of things. In doing so, he popularizes (in the best sense of the term) some of the work of sociologist Philip Rieff (1922-2006) and engages the thought of the important philosophers Charles Taylor (1931-) and Alasdair MacIntyre (1929-).

Trueman appropriates from Taylor the concept of the “social imaginary,” that is, “the way people think about the world, how they imagine it to be, how they act intuitively in relation to it…. It is the totality of the way we look at our world, to make sense of it and to make sense of our behavior within it” (37-38). He argues that we have arrived at our current social imaginary, which is bound inextricably with the sexual revolution, in three broad steps which provide a broad summary of his entire work: “The self must first be psychologized; psychology must then be sexualized; and sex must be politicized” (221). Rousseau is central to the first move; Freud is key to the second; and the third is the purview of the New Left in its engagement of critical theory (with emphasis not only on Marx, but on the seminal work of Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse). As Trueman puts it: “To follow Rousseau is to make identity psychological. To follow Freud is to make psychology, and thus identity, sexual. To mesh this combination with Marx is to make identity — and therefore sex — political” (250). In the final section of the work, Trueman highlights certain “triumphs of the revolution,” focusing “on the triumph of the erotic in art and pop culture, on the triumph of expressive individualism and related therapeutic concerns in law, ethics, and education, and on the triumph of transgenderism as the latest logical move in the politics of the sexual revolution” (380). Importantly, “the individualism, the psychologized view of reality, the therapeutic ideals, the cultural amnesia, and the pansexuality of our present age are closely intertwined, and each can be properly understood only when set in the larger context of which the others are a significant part” (380).

There are far more salient insights in this work than a review could set forth. Simply put, Trueman’s work provides an historical and philosophical framework which helps us to understand better why things are the way they are. I particularly appreciated how Trueman emphasized the role of aesthetics in cultivating the sentiments, such that artists are “unacknowledged legislators,” to use Shelley’s phrase (130). I am doubtless expressing the matter too simplistically, but it has long seemed to me that the artistic mediates the philosophical to a broader audience, and that the church has paid too little attention to this in their appropriation from the artistic realm. Also helpfully, Trueman explains why Christian virtues in the realm of sexuality such as modesty and chastity are now seen by moral revolutionaries not merely as outmoded, but actively harmful. He further demonstrates that an antipathy toward the biological (“traditional”) family is a natural consequence of the sexual revolution: “It makes sense, of course, for the family is the primary means by which values are transmitted from generation to generation” (263). Other significant insights abound.

Trueman shows charity to the reader by laying out the book’s entire argument at the outset (26-29). I recommend going back to reread this helpful synopsis once the end of each of the volume’s four major sections is attained. The work is helpful not only in laying out a coherent framework which makes sense of our current cultural moment, but also gives us helpful language and categories in which to express ourselves (“social imaginary,” “deathworks,” “expressive individualism,” “unacknowledged legislators”). This book is not for the average person in the pew, even though Trueman is mediating in clear language the thought of more abstruse thinkers. Pastors and teachers should work through this volume, however, for their own clarity of understanding and so they may in turn mediate its insights to those whom they guide.

I close with two related quotes from the volume’s introduction. “The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them” (30). “Understanding the times is a precondition of responding appropriately to the times. And understanding the times requires a knowledge of the history that has led up to the present” (31). Tolle lege.

(Read, watch, or listen to Al Mohler’s interview of Carl Trueman about the book here.)

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | November 3, 2018

Tyndale Bulletin Archive

Well! I had no idea that the Tyndale Bulletin provides all but the last few years’ worth of the journal free online! Issues through 2014 are currently available. Many thanks to Tyndale House!

And it might be worth mentioning here that JETS has a similar archive, with all but the last two years available.

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | August 18, 2018

Martin, Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards

My friend Ryan Martin’s dissertation is finally gaining the broader exposure it deserves. Forthcoming in T&T Clark’s Studies in Systematic Theology series, this work highlights the distinction between the notion of the affections that played such a high role in Edwards’s theology, life, and ministry (on the one hand) and (on the other hand) the broader category of “emotions” that is often too quickly equated with the affections.

From the Amazon blurb:

This volume argues that the notion of “affections” discussed by Jonathan Edwards (and Christian theologians before him) means something very different from what contemporary English speakers now call “emotions.” and that Edwards’s notions of affections came almost entirely from traditional Christian theology in general and the Reformed tradition in particular.
Ryan J. Martin demonstrates that Christian theologians for centuries emphasized affection for God, associated affections with the will, and distinguished affections from passions; generally explaining affections and passions to be inclinations and aversions of the soul. This was Edwards’s own view, and he held it throughout his entire ministry. Martin further argues that Edwards’s view came not as a result of his reading of John Locke, or the pressures of the Great Awakening (as many Edwardsean scholars argue), but from his own biblical interpretation and theological education. By analysing patristic, medieval and post-medieval thought and the journey of Edwards’s psychology, Martin shows how, on their own terms, pre-modern Christians historically defined and described human psychology.

 

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | July 8, 2018

Jesus and the Theater

Hmmm. I am always intrigued when someone puts two things together for me that I had never put together for myself. In N. T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, he describes the pervasive Hellenism that existed in Jesus’s day. To illustrate this, he notes that “by the time of the first century, if Jesus had wanted to take his disciples to see Euripides’ [480-406 BC] plays performed, he might have only had to walk down the road from Capernaum to Beth Shean.”

True, there was a Roman theater at Beth Shean, said to seat 7000 people:

(Photo by AVRAHAM GRAICER – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44134289)

But it would be quite a walk!

capernaum-to-beth-shean

He could also have visited the theater at Sepphoris, just north of Nazareth, and a bit less of a walk from his Capernaum headquarters; that theater seated about 4000-5000 people, and apparently was active at the time of Jesus’s Galilean ministry (“Es wurde bereits im frühen 1. Jh. n.Chr. erbaut,” [http://www.theatrum.de/sepphoris.html]).

(Photo by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany – Sepphoris (Diocaesarea), Israel, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38328698)

capernaum-to-sepphoris

Much closer, however, was a theater in Tiberias, which would have presumably been an easy journey by ship across the Sea of Galilee. N. T. Wright may not have been aware of the newly excavated Tiberius theater; it appears to have been first recognized as such in 1990, and Wright’s NTPG was published in 1992. The theater would have been relatively new at the time Jesus and his disciples were ministering in Galilee; it was apparently built in three stages from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, and archaeologists date the first stage of construction to 18 A.D.

Somehow, I had never made the connection of Hellenization in ancient Israel and the possibility that Jesus would have had relatively easy access (it seems) to Greek theater. Whether he ever attended a Greek play is another question altogether, of course, and given the disparity between Greek theater and ancient Jewish custom (cf. ʿAbod. Zar. 18b; Josephus, Ant. 15.268), I strongly doubt he did.

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 28, 2018

The Cross as Communicative Act

“The cross is perhaps the most extraordinary of God’s communicative acts. The Word made flesh, hanging on a cross, is God’s yes and no. The cross is both promise of eternal life for those who believe it and sentence of eternal death for those who refuse it (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Because God is saying/doing several things in the cross, the cross is a complex of related illocutions: (1) as an assertive, the cross is a statement that God has made provision for sin; (2) as a commissive, the cross makes a promise that ‘if you believe, you shall be saved’; (3) as an expressive, the cross demonstrates God’s love for the world; (4) as a directive, it is a mandate for Christ’s disciples to ‘die’ with Christ to the world; (5) as a declarative, the cross is an absolution that does what it declares, namely, forgive sins.”

Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine (WJK, 2005), 65-66.

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 13, 2018

Water, Light, Shepherd

Hmmm, that’s interesting. Craig Blomberg (Historical Reliability of the New Testament [Nashville: B&H, 2016], 210-11) highlights three metaphors which Jesus used for himself, all apparently at the same Feast of Tabernacles, in John 7-10: he refers to himself as living water (7:38; cf. 4:10), the light of the world (8:12), and the good shepherd (10:11). Blomberg notes that, strikingly, this triad is also found prominently in a passage in 2 Baruch, a work which the EDEJ indicates was written “in the wake of the First Jewish Revolt and responds to the fall of the Temple in the year 70 C.E.” (which in my limited checking seems to be a scholarly consensus) and is known only because “it was translated and preserved in Christian circles” (M. Henze, “Baruch, Second Book of,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010], 426-27). We find in 2 Baruch 77:13-16 the following (trans. Charles):

13      For the shepherds of Israel have perished,

And the lamps which gave light are extinguished,

And the fountains have withheld their stream whence we used to drink.

14      And we are left in the darkness,

And amid the trees of the forest,

And the thirst of the wilderness.’

15      And I answered and said unto them

‘Shepherds and lamps and fountains come from the law:

And though we depart, yet the law abides.

16      If therefore you have respect to the law,

And are intent upon wisdom,

A lamp will not be wanting,

And a shepherd will not fail,

And a fountain will not dry up.

I have no time at the moment to chase the interesting questions that this parallelism raises (such as: Can this metaphorical triad be found elsewhere, and were both Jesus and the author of 2 Baruch drawing from a common tradition?), but simply wanted to highlight the interesting connection here.

What Blomberg derives from this parallelism: “What many Jews ascribed to Torah, therefore, Jesus ascribes to himself. He is the true shepherd, lamp, and fountain” (p. 211). Assuming Blomberg accepts the consensus on the date of 2 Baruch (he doesn’t comment on this in the present context), he would presumably mean that the imagery found in 2 Baruch was commonly (perhaps collectively?) applied to Torah not only at the time of 2 Baruch’s composition, but earlier in Jesus’s day as well.

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 12, 2018

Parables

 

“While there are literally more than a thousand parables scattered throughout the encyclopedic-sized rabbinic literature, not one fictitious narrative at all close in form to Jesus’s parables has been discovered in ancient Greco-Roman literature. It appears to have been a uniquely Jewish form of teaching in that day.”

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 170. For illustration of this point, Blomberg points in a footnote to Harvey K. McArthur and Robert M. Johnston, They All Spoke in Parables: Rabbinic Parables from the First Centuries of the Christian Era (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990; repr. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

I was pleased to read a good little piece by Larry Hurtado about accurately representing the views of others, most specifically those with whom one disagrees. I received this instruction in no uncertain terms during my master’s work, most specifically from Kevin Bauder. He taught me very simply (but with no doubt as to the importance of the matter) that if I were to present someone’s views, that person should be able to agree wholeheartedly that I had presented them accurately.

This is significant in all of life, of course, but is of signal importance in academia. Anyone in academic circles has seen examples of published interchanges between scholars (presentation-response-rejoinder-surrejoinder) in which the constant refrain is how one scholar in the interchange is not accurately portraying the argument of the other.

I have been involved in editing a theological journal for a few years now, and (as would be expected) have seen a spectrum as to how well this is done. At times, an author’s presentation of an opponent’s position will strike me as a caricature at best, if not inaccurate. When I have dug down into the opponent’s position to check my niggling suspicions, I sometimes find that some level of misrepresentation is occurring—whether intentional or not (and I charitably assume “not”!). Here’s where it gets sticky: Is the author simply not reading carefully? Is the opponent’s position set forth at a level which the author is not comprehending, and so is being too simplistically rebutted? Has the author merely read a portion of the opponent’s full argument, and the resulting lack of holistic and contextual understanding has brought about a misrepresentation? Is the author actually purposefully distorting someone’s position?

An author’s natural inclination to support his own position can easily bring that author to subconsciously (or consciously!) misrepresent the position of his opponent. As Hurtado said, “the temptation to exaggerate or caricature views that you disagree with is very real, and no one is immune to it.” This does not mean that an author has no chance of representing an opponent’s position fairly—but it does mean that the author has to work at it.

I entirely agree with Hurtado’s practice of sending one’s work to the person one is reviewing or with whom one is interacting. I wouldn’t call such a practice essential, but I do think it wise. I have done that with one of my own reviews, and the very determination to do that shaped how I wrote the review, pushing me toward more scrupulous accuracy, and changing the ways in which I stated my critiques.

The Golden Rule could be applied this way in academia: portray your opponent’s arguments with the accuracy and evenhandedness with which you would want your own work portrayed. Represent others’ ideas as you would have others represent yours.

 

Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 28, 2017

Bibfeldt review

Franz BibfeldtI was so glad to have been introduced to the erstwhile theologian Franz Bibfeldt in my M.Div. work, and have been known to include his works in bibliographies of various papers I have written. In my Th.M. thesis on 2 Thess 3:6-15, for instance, I tucked in the following bibliographic entry:

Bibfeldt, Franz. “Disorderly Idol-ness: Worshipping Our Leisure.” Journal of Ambiguity in Biblical Studies 18 or 19 (1956): 23-45.

Imagine, then, how gratified I was tonight to stumble across one of Bibfeldt’s later book reviews (complete with his own inimitable musings) on Zondervan Academic’s blog — dateline April 1, 2015! I commend it to your perusal:

Franz Bibfeldt, “New Voices for Theology: Taylor Ruiz-Jones’s ‘From Siesta to Sabbath.'”

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