Even A Blind Squirrel Gets A Nut Once In A While

Every once in a while the unthinkable happens: Jim West blogs something meaningful and true.

  • 1- Theologians of the Cross do not endorse political candidates.
  • 2- Theologians of glory, seeking glorification and power, do endorse political candidates.
  • 3- The task of the theologian truly so called is to stand only for God’s Word and not any other power.
  • 4- The task of the theologian falsely called is to adhere himself to any power but God’s Word.
  • 5- The theologian of the Cross refuses to be co-opted by any political movement or to stand with it or alongside it in a quest for worldly power.
  • 6- The theologian of glory will happily be co-opted by any political movement and stand alongside it as it quests for worldly power.
  • 7- The theologian of the Cross abhors what is not of God.
  • 8- The theologian of glory despises the cross and embraces that which is not of God.

Jerry Falwell Jr. is a theologian falsely called such; a theologian of glory; a worldling who cares nothing for the power of the Cross and only for the power of politics.

Book Review: The Early Hans Urs Von Balthasar

EarlyVonBalthasarTitle: The Early Hans Urs Von Balthasar: Historical Contexts and Intellectual Formation

Author: Paul Silas Peterson

Series: Theologische Bibliothek Topelmann

Bibliographic info: 379 pp.

Publisher: Walter De Gruyter, 2015.

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With thanks to Walter De Gruyter for the review copy.

In this volume, a revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Tübingen in 2011, the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is discussed in relation to the various contexts—literary, historical, cultural, sociopolitical, ecclesial, and theological—of his day that he drew upon (and responded to) during the period of the 1920s-1940s.

The key contexts which the author delves into are the central European Germanophone cultural context, the Germanophone Catholic cultural context, the German studies context, and the French Catholic renewal literature and theology. Within these are smaller sub-contexts, including the important German Jesuit journal Stimmen der Zeit, Neo-Scholasticism, Swiss fascism, Renouveau Catholique, George-Kreis, Neugermanistik, Germanophone Catholic theology, and French Catholic culture.

The author begins this study by looking at the earliest literature von Balthasar produced in the 1920s, such as his first work Die Entwicklung der musikalischen Idee (1925), which Peterson sees as being representative of how von Balthasar absorbed and integrated cultural criticism and philosophical themes from figures like and Hegel. A couple specific areas of focus are: (1) von Balthasar’s appropriation of Guardini’s cultural criticism, particularly his development of a Christian worldview, and von Balthasar’s treatment of Goethe and Nietzsche; and (2) German literature and culture, which includes a discussion of the background of German literature from 1880-1920, with the spotlight being places on a few figures and movements, such as the George-Kreis.

A couple of the most interesting sections of this volume were those that looked at the influence that the following persons and concepts had on von Balthasar: Swiss fascism, Nazi German (and the situation of the church in the context of national socialism), Julius Schmidhauser (and those who had been searching for a more profound relationship between Deutschtum and Christentum), and the relationships between von Balthasar and  two other thinkers, Erich Przywara (specifically Przywara’s metaphysics) and Karl Barth (his anti-liberal dialectical theology). There is, naturally, a section devoted to the Barth-Balthasar relationship.

The unfortunate anti-Semitism to be found in von Balthasar gets its own chapter which provides an analysis of his writings from the 30s and 40s (and a historical contextualization). So too does von Balthasar’s relationship with Renouveau Catholique, Neo-Scholasticism and Nouvelle Theologie, which is achieved by bringing key figures like Speyr, Rahner, and Lubac into the discussion. Balthasar’s works Présence et Pensée (1942) and Wahrheit (1947) are also discussed, with the latter work being examined in light of the context provided by Rahner’s new approach to transcendental philosophy.

The volume then concludes with a concluding chapter, an index of names, and a helpful five-page historical table with the dates and titles of von Balthasar’s publications in two columns and two other columns showing the contemporaneous literary movements (e.g. Blut-und-Boden) and local/global events (e.g. NYSE crash, rise of Swiss fascism, student fascist groups in Zurich, etc).

Hans Urs von Balthasar is the primary theologian from the Catholic tradition that I have been acquainting myself with. In order to understand the writings of a theologian, one needs to properly understand the Sitz im Leben that their works sprung from. This study from Paul Silas Peterson does a fantastic job of illuminating the world von Balthasar lived in and how it relates to his theology. I particularly appreciated the frank look at von Balthasar’s early anti-Semitism and other awkward aspects of his early work. This volume will appeal for those with interest in Hans Urs von Balthasar, European Catholicism, and twentieth-century German theology. If you are truly a fan of von Balthasar then this work should definitely be at the top of your list of books to read.

Book Review: The Promises of God

promisesofgodTitle: The Promises of God: The Background of Paul’s Exclusive Use of ‘Epangelia’ for the Divine Pledge

Author: Daniel J. Brendsel

Series: Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Fur Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft

Bibliographic info: xviii + 235 + 61 (indices and bibliography)

Publisher: Walter De Gruyter, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon or direct from the publisher

With thanks to Walter De Gruyter for the review copy.

Part I of this study attempts to answer the question of whether Paul’s usage of the ἐπαγγελία word group for the divine promise is exclusive to him (used twenty-two times in the undisputed Pauline writings). This section consists of five chapters. Chapter One is the introductory chapter which tackles the expected topics like method and so forth. Chapter Two looks at the language used for the divine pledge in Classical and Hellenistic literature from the eighth century BCE to the first century CE. Chapter Three looks at terms used for the divine promise in the Septuagint and the counterparts in the Masoretic text. Chapter Four then moves on to the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, while Chapter Five then looks for formal divine promise terms in Philo and Josephus.

The literature examined in this part is all found in Greek, whether it be by Classical, Hellenistic, or Jewish authors, with the Jewish literature of course comprising the bulk of the research due to the fact that more references to divine promises are found therein. From the writings the author examines, he concludes that Paul’s usage of ἐπαγγελία is indeed unique, with no one else contemporary with Paul or predating him exclusively using ἐπαγγελία for the divine promise. Another notable finding of the author’s is that Paul neglects to use the dominant term in the Septuagint for the divine promises in the Abrahamic covenant (the ὅρκος/ὄμνυμι lexemes). However, Paul opts to use the Septuagint’s least favored term for divine promises, the ἐπαγγελία word group (with usage of this group in the LXX with God as the source/subject being a rarity). Because of this, the author devises a method for identifying synonymous terms for divine promises. Doing so produces the ὅρκος/ὄμνυμι lexeme, as well as the ὑπόσχεσις/ὑπισχνέομαι and ἐπαγγελία/ἐπαγγέλλομαι word groups.

Part II then scrutinizes the reason for why Paul exclusively used ἐπαγγελία for the divine promise. Was it a conscious or unconscious decision on his part? If it was a deliberate decision to use ἐπαγγελία, then what is the reasoning behind it? The author attempts to answer these questions in the final four chapters. Chapter Six looks at the connection between ἐπαγγελία and εὐαγγέλιον. Chapter Seven then takes this further by specifically looking at this relationship in Romans. Chapter Eight then examines this connection in Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and some other New Testament writings (Luke, Acts, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and 1 John). And Chapter Nine provides the authors concluding thoughts.

The author finds that other than the authors of the Testament of Abraham and 2 Peter, the only writer examined who consistently uses ἐπαγγελία in a sense similar to Paul is Josephus. The author finds that Paul’s usage of ἐπαγγελία for the divine promise is invariably a reference to the promises that God made to Abraham in Genesis (seen especially in Romans and Galatians). This language choice was a conscious decision on Paul’s part, being an intentional rhetorical choice due to the lexeme serving Paul’s communicative needs better than any other. Ἐπαγγελία was employed due to its close conceptual and linguistic correspondence with εὐαγγέλιον. The linguistic correspondence is found in the assonantal wordplay that arises due to both terms having the –αγγελ stem, while the conceptual correspondence has to do with the promises of the Abrahamic covenant which is associated with Paul’s proclamation of the Christian gospel (despite the fact that εὐαγγέλιον does not appear in the Abrahamic narrative in Genesis).

So what I ultimately gathered from this study is that, on a conceptual level, Paul’s εὐαγγέλιον–the good news of Jesus’ death and his resurrection by God–establishes the realization of the ἐπαγγελία that God made to Abraham back in Genesis. And this I found to be a believable and satisfying solution to the peculiarity of Paul’s exclusive use of the ἐπαγγελία word group for the divine pledge.

Book Review: A Gospel Synopsis of the Greek Text of Matthew, Mark and Luke

bezaevaticanusgospelsynopsisTitle: A Gospel Synopsis of the Greek Text of Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Comparison of Codex Bezae and Codex Vaticanus

Editors:  Jenny Read-Heimerdinger and Josep Rius-Camps

Series: New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents

Bibliographic info: xxi + 630 pp.

Publisher: Brill, 2014.

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With thanks to Brill for the review copy.

While most (all?) current synopses of the gospels typically employ the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek text, this volume displays the synoptic gospels using the texts of Bezae (D/05) and Vaticanus (B/03). It does so, however, three times, with each iteration placing the synoptic gospels in a different order (so that each of the three gospels gets a turn as being the principal gospel in the comparison). Thus, in Part I the synopsis goes Matthew-Mark-Luke, then in Part II it goes Mark-Matthew-Luke, and in Part III it goes Luke-Matthew-Mark.

The gospels are displayed in parallel columns on the page, with the text of Bezae and Vaticanus on opposite pages (Bezae on the left-hand pages and Vaticanus on the right-hand pages), thus there are six columns on the two pages opened before you (with the left-most column on each page containing the text of the principal gospel and the second and third columns having the parallel text of the other two gospels).

There are instances in Bezae where the extant manuscript lacks the Greek text, so in these instances the Latin of Bezae has been translated into Greek (and marked out to the reader by its placement in parentheses). And in instances where the Greek and Latin of Bezae is missing, the editors utilized the text of Sinaiticus (A/01) which is printed in red ink.

There were a couple oddities I noticed in the text of Bezae, one being the omission of Mark 16:9-20 (which is attested in Bezae), and the second being that the Pericopae Adulterae is placed after Luke 20:19 (which is not attested in Bezae). So I’m not sure what that is all about.

The layout used in this synopsis has its pros and cons. One thing in its favor is that the text is written out in short lines, which I find helps a great deal in comparing the columns. A shortcoming I noticed is in how the gospel text is divided into pericopae that sometimes seem arbitrary as to where they are divided and some of which are too long. Another weakness is that the pages do not contain chapter and verse numbers at the top of the columns (which helps in a pinch if you’re flipping through the book trying to find a specific passage).

This synopsis is valuable as there is no other published synopsis comparing Bezae and Vaticanus (as far as I am aware). This is, however, at the same time a drawback. For in limiting this synopsis to two specific manuscripts, it isn’t going to be terribly helpful if your hoping to utilize it for getting a broader understanding of text-critical issues, which is only further compounded by the fact that this synopsis lacks a critical apparatus.

Ultimately, this synopsis gives the reader the ability to compare and contrast two specific instantiations of the text of the synoptic gospels in the early church. I can see why this may be a desired and much needed alternative to the usual synopsis which employs a carefully reconstructed eclectic text that was not actually used in the church.

Book Review: The Righteousness of God

righteousnessofgodTitle: The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation

Author: Charles Lee Irons

Series: WUNT II, 386.

Bibliographic info: xxiii + 382 + 61

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2015.

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With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

The phrase, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, “[the] righteousness of God”, appears several times in the Pauline corpus of the New Testament. Prior to the Reformation, the expression was commonly understood to refer to God’s justice, with this notion no doubt being supported by the Latin rendering of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ as iustitia Dei. When Martin Luther came onto the scene, however, he concluded that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is talking about a righteous status given by God to a person, in other words, we are declared righteous by God, though not because we actually are righteous in reality, but due to God imputing righteousness to us (think simul iustus et peccator). This understanding of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is a staple in Protestant theology, though it has been modified by various people, e.g., Wesley stressed that in addition to God declaring us righteous, God actually imparts righteousness to us (through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit).

In recent years, there has paradigm shift in how we should understand δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul. It is argued that the concept of God’s “righteousness” in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls refers to God’s power to save his people and God’s character to remain faithful to his covenant promises, with the corollary being that this too is how Paul essentially understood δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ. In this view, δικαιοσύνη  is not a legal concept, nor does it mean conformity to a norm; it is instead a relational concept and denotes the fulfillment of the demands of a relationship (think of the phrase “covenant faithfulness”). This relational interpretation was proposed by Hermann Cremer in 1899 and is now “a dominant influence on Pauline scholarship.” This paradigm suggests that the translation of the צדק-group in Hebrew with the δικ-group in the Greek of the Septuagint introduced covenantal ideas into the meaning of the δικ-group of words (even though such ideas are not found in use of these words in non-biblical Greek).

This is where this volume—a revised version of the author’s Ph.D. dissertation completed at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2011—comes in. In this study the author seeks to disprove Cremer’s relational theory, critique and disprove the “covenant faithfulness” interpretation, and make a positive case for the traditional interpretation of the reformers. This is no small task, as this “reigning paradigm” of understanding Paul has had the support of many scholars in the past—e.g. Gerhard von Rad, Adolf Schlatter, Ernst Käsemann—and is still being advanced by many today—e.g., N.T. Wright, James Dunn, Richard Hays, and Michael Bird.

Chapter One provides the obligatory review of the topic, a history of interpretation of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul, covering the Greek and Latin fathers, the medieval period, the reformation era, and the new relational view (from its inception through to the contemporary New Perspective on Paul). Chapter Two then delves into methodological considerations, including lexical semantics and the role of the Septuagint in mediating Hebrew meanings into Greek.

Chapter Three looks at “righteousness” in extra-biblical Greek (from the sixth century BCE through to the Bar Kokhba revolt in the second century CE). Chapter Four does the same for the Old Testament. Irons concludes that the 41 occurrences in the Hebrew text and the 44 in the Septuagint (not including the apocrypha) of “my/your/his righteousness” are “focused on God’s judicial activity” and that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ terminology in both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint is “best understood in light of the judicial context of legal controversy, so that God’s righteousness is precisely iustitia distributiva.” Chapter Five then takes a look at “righteousness” in other Jewish literature, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the apocrypha, the Old Testament pseudepigrapha composed in Hebrew and Greek, and the New Testament.

Chapter Six carries this study forward with exegesis of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul. Irons attempts to find some evidence that Paul takes δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in a Hebraic sense as referring to God’s saving activity or covenant faithfulness, but finds this “barely possible.” After examining the ten instances of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul, Irons sees seven of these occurrences—Rom 1:17; 3:21-22; 10:3 (twice); 2 Cor 5:21; and Phil 3:9—as being best understood in a soteriological sense referring to “the status of righteousness that believers possess by virtue of union with Christ.” The other three instances of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ (Rom. 3:5, 25-26) are, according to Irons, best understood as “God’s attribute of righteousness or his distributive justice.” This chapter also includes a short excursus (pp. 329-33) on the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate which is closely related to the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ debate, though it must be noted that not all who interpret the latter phrase as God’s covenant faithfulness necessarily interpret the former phrase as the faithfulness of Christ (Dunn falls into this category IIRC). Additionally, in this chapter Irons makes a salient point in noting that if δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ does indeed mean God’s covenant faithfulness, then it’s difficult to understand why Paul failed to use it in Romans 11 (where he is quite concerned at upholding God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises with Israel).

Chapter Seven concludes this study, providing a synopsis of the author’s findings and some implications, with the overarching conclusion being that Cremer’s relational theory of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ has been “decisively disproven.” There is also an Appendix containing all occurrences of “righteousness” in the Old Testament.

All in all, this study is a must-read for those interested in the New Perspective on Paul. From the little bit of literature I had read on the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ debate in the past, it made me quite partial to the “covenant faithfulness” interpretation (though I was less convinced by the subjective genitive interpretation of πίστις Χριστοῦ). This study, however, is quite convincing and gives one serious pause to wonder if Luther was right all along. Future studies on this debate will have to take Irons’ findings into account, and it will sure be interesting to see how this changes the conversation.

Some Recent Review Books I’ve Received

From Ashgate:

From Oxford University Press:

From Fortress Press:

From Walter de Gruyter:

And from Wipf & Stock:

Book Review: Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth

9781409441175.JKT_ReschTitle: Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth: A Sign of Mystery

Author: Dustin Resch

Series: Barth Studies

Bibliographic info: 244 pp.

Publisher: Ashgate, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon or direct from the publisher

With thanks to Ashgate for the review copy.

When it comes to the virgin birth of Christ, one can find many notable theologians who rejected its historicity, including Moltmann, Küng, Ebeling, Pannenberg, and Rahner. I should note, though, that most of these theologians (and others like them) still find some useful theological meaning in the doctrine (I think Pannenberg did reject it having any kind of useful theological meaning). There is one theologian, however, with whom I have found conflicting opinions on what he thought about the virgin birth, and that is Karl Barth. Wanting to know exactly what Barth thought of this doctrine is the reason I requested this volume to review and I am very glad I did.

The author, Dustin Resch, is Assistant Professor of Theology at Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport, Saskatchewan, and this book is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation completed at McMaster University.

There are five chapters in this study which, briefly summarized, are as follows: Chapter One provides an overview on the history of the doctrine of the virgin birth in the Western tradition, covering Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Schleiermacher, Strauss, and Brunner. The author makes the interesting observation of how pre-Reformation thought on the virgin birth assessed it more in terms of its fittingness with other themes such as original sin and pneumatology. Chapter Two then tackles the development of the doctrine of the virgin birth in Karl Barth’s theology, beginning with his Göttingen and Münster lectures in dogmatics and going through to his penning of Church Dogmatics (with special reference to CD I/2, §15.3 “The Miracle of Christmas”). Chapter Three further delves into Barth’s theology on the virgin birth, with Resch arguing that for Barth the virgin birth is both a sign of God’s “yes” and “no”, that is, it is both a sign of genuine humanity and God’s judgment on sin. Chapter Four is the real heart of this study. In it the author discusses the conception of Jesus in relation to the work of the Holy Spirit, specifically in regards to how Barth tries to convince us of the theological necessity of the virgin birth (though not so much the historical necessity). Chapter Five consists of an unexpected discussion on the place of Mary in Barth’s theology and functions essentially as an appendix to Barth’s thought on the virgin birth.

I’ll go into a bit more detail on this final chapter, for while it did seem somewhat superfluous, I found it quite fascinating. Barth’s disdain for Mariology may be known for those with familiarity with his writings, saying such things as: “Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Excresences must be excised” (CD 1.2.139). Resch notes Barth’s contempt for Mariology and states: “Barth’s main problem with Mariology is simply that in it Mary is treated in relative independence from Christ. While never completely severed from Christ, Mary has come to have her own special dignity, merit and ministry.” Furthermore, he states that “Barth intended the whole of CD IV/2 to be read as his indirect counter to Roman Catholic Mariology.” In a nutshell, while Barth has great contempt for what Mary has become in Catholic theology, Resch argues that Barth still has a reasonably high view of Mary, seeing her as essentially a prototype of the perfect relationship between human autonomy and divine grace. Resch says that Mary is “construed by Barth to be the ideal Christian and one who has taken up her vocation in the way which all Christians ought, to be the handmaid of the Lord. Indeed, it is Mary’s exemplary life of service that Christians ought to emulate in their participation in the kingdom of God through union with Christ.”

When it comes to Barth’s thoughts on the virgin birth, Resch carefully delineates how Barth’s thought developed from the early lectures in Göttingen and Münster where Barth saw the virgin birth as having ontological/constitutive significance for the incarnate Christ, to the later period where Barth writes The Great Promise, Credo, and began writing Church Dogmatics, seeing it now as a “sign” (Zeichen) that has noetic (rather than ontic) significance. In other words, the virgin birth should not be seen as accomplishing the incarnation of God, but rather as attesting to it by being a sign that marks out the mystery of the incarnation (kind of like the role the empty tomb plays for the resurrection). To abandon the doctrine of the virgin birth is, for Barth, to take a Schleiermacherian turn that evaporates the mystery of the incarnation into a wholly natural theology, seeing it as simply a pinnacle hidden within humanity.

All in all, I found this study to be a very helpful examination of a question that has puzzled me for a long time: What role exactly does the virgin birth play in Barth’s theology? From reading this study I see that for Barth the virgin birth functions as a theological sign of the mystery of the incarnation. It is not a constitutive element in Christ’s life and isn’t necessarily making claims about biology and parthenogenesis, but should be seen more as a sign of Christ’s identity that directs the church to a number of its core claims about God, Jesus, and humanity. Resch states:

For Barth, the criteria by which the church should make its decision to adopt the biblical attestation of the virgin birth into its understanding of the biblical message should be the same as the criteria by which the New Testament authors themselves decided to incorporate the virgin birth into their witness. In both cases, questions of the age and source value of the tradition were not conclusive. Instead, the doctrine was accepted because of its ‘fit’ with the central elements of Christian faith.

Barth did not seem to be very willing to enter into discussion in regards to the historicity of the virgin birth, so I could see why some Christians (particularly evangelicals) may be off-put by that. Nevertheless, I found Barth’s use of aesthetic categories to be quite valuable in deciding upon the question of the virgin birth, providing a useful way of reading the Bible theologically.

This study is purely an exposition on Barth’s view on the virgin birth, and so is unencumbered with the author’s own criticism of Barth’s thought, though there are some critical questions posed at the end that offer up some interesting trajectories for future inquiry. The scope of this study is very small, but it will definitely be of interest to anyone interested in Barth studies or the history of the virgin birth in Western theology and in contemporary theology.


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