Sunday, November 13, 2005

PZ on Anne Rice:

I have been reading Anne Rice's new book on the childhood of Christ, which was given to me by some lovely friends from Jersey City last week. What is most interesting to me, initially at least, is the personal testimony of her return to the church, which she gives at length at the end of the book. She has returned to a conservative and orthodox form of Christianity, and from the pit of adversity. This is very touching and very striking – and even the photographs of her seem to be of a different person than the Anne Rice who wrote "The Vampire Lestat." I believe her story.

There is one important fact about her new search, however, that distresses me. She has become a serious student of earliest Christianity and has therefore read, with sincerity and dedication, all the latest views of Jesus, especially "conservative" views and not "Jesus-Seminar" views. This means that she has been thoroughly and one-sidedly influenced by the "Jewish Jesus" of contemporary scholarship. This is simply because just about all conservative books about the historical Jesus take the now standard line that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish not only in his background but also in his teaching; and that Christianity began really as a variant of Judaism for Gentiles. This is the contemporary teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and also of such scholars such as N.T. or Tom Wright. They are so busy being guilty over the Holocaust that they have become very reticent about those things that distinguish Christ's teaching from Judaism, those themes within his teaching that oppose or are in discontinuity with Judaism.

Thus we have a semi-Pelagian Jesus, who existed purely to take Jewish monotheism and present it in a form accessible to non-Jews. The current semi-Pelagian Jesus is a Second-Temple Jew who had a messianic self-consciousness. The idea that Jesus broke with Jewish teaching concerning the Law, and that this break with his inherited religion resulted in his death: such an idea is not allowed today.

I do understand why it is not allowed. I think we all recognize not only the self-evident fact that Jesus was Jewish, but also the fact that the Holocaust destroyed the credibility of all the Christian churches in many eyes. But it is a bad thing to water down or soften the real edge of the Christian Gospel in the interest of making the teachings of Jesus more Jewish than they were, and are.

Honestly, I wish that Anne Rice's tutors – because I feel certain she had a few tutors after her conversion, or re-conversion – had provided her with some alternative interpreters, and not just the very recent reigning voices. I see nothing, not a word or a phrase, of the Reformation sola gratia in her Jesus. So her picture of him is wanting…much as I recognize the power of what has happened to her!


E. Twist said...

Good thoughts, though I'm not sure we can speak of Jewish teaching as though it were one unifed thing. Could it be that some of the interactions with the Pharisees concerning the law (plucking of grain for example) were not unique to Jesus. I'm thinking of the ongoing debates at the time between the schools of Hillel and Shammai (spelling may be off). Is it possible that Jesus' interaction with the law reflects more than a unique break from a single, unified tradition, and, rather, more reflects many of the sentiments of the times. This is not to say that His teachings were not authoritative, but it does draw into question the reasons behind his crucifixtion. I'm not sure we can say that it was simply due to his break from the Judean understanding of the law. This was by all means an aspect of it, but I don't think there was enough unity among the different theological factions of the time for them to send Christ to the cross as a unified group. It may be more a matter of power struggles among such factions. If so, Jesus does not, then, become an adversary of traditional Judaism. And we are forced to, again, reconsider the Jewishness of the Christian message.

simeon said...

e. twist, you make some good points here. for a fuller understanding of pz's view on this question, see his "the first christian: universal truth in the teachings of Jesus" (eerdmans 2004), in which he discusses the issues you raise at more length, especially relating to the various rabbinic debates of the period and the degree to which Jesus was or was not "unique" in the context of the different discussions going on in jewish thought at his time. it really is the key question in historical Jesus scholarship today. the original subtitle of his book was meant to be "continuity and discontinuity and the historical Jesus," but, alas, the publishers had their way on that one. the point is that pz's (ok, dad's) views on the rice book come out of a great deal of his own research on the subject, including a sabbatical spent researching precisely this question at the tantur institute in jerusalem, and at tyndale house in cambridge, and can be found in his "the first christian." the book's conclusions do of course run against the grain of contemporary scholarship, but are worth checking out.

JDK said...

E Twist,
Your comment is thoughtful and reflects a genuine and sincere treatment of this subject. It is, without a doubt, THE question that surrounds contemporary NT scholarship.

You wrote,” I'm not sure we can say that it was simply due to his break from the Judean understanding of the law. This was by all means an aspect of it, but I don't think there was enough unity among the different theological factions of the time for them to send Christ to the cross as a unified group”

In one sense, you’re completely right. As has been pointed out most recently in the two volume set by D.A Carson, "Justification and Variegated Nomism," the original thesis of E.P Sander's "Paul and Palestinian Judaism" which was that there was a unified Judaism (as represented by Covenantal Nomism), has been found lacking. However, the fundamental assertion of NT theology, via Augustine and Luther, is that no matter what aspect of Jewish soteriology one hold onto, the entire system was subverted by a deeper and more profound Pauline anthropology than that which was evidenced by any form of Judaism.

2nd Temple Judaism, as has been shown (E.P Sanders is very helpful here), was certainly not the oft-caricatured religious system akin to straight-up Pelagianism as has been held by some; nonetheless, it is the contention of those who stand in the stream of Reformation thought that even Covenantal Nomism does not adequately represent Pauline soteriology as understood through the Cross.

The central question is to what extent Paul’s theological anthropology changed on the road to Damascus in light of the Cross. Judaism, in all of its forms, does not display the (admittedly) disturbingly low anthropology of Pauline thought as understood by Augustine and Luther.

The argument against “The New Perspective” is that whatever the form of Judaism one wants to uphold as the “norm” the fundamental response, in light of the Cross, is the same. This view necessarily hinges on a particular understanding of the Law and the term “Works of the Law” which differs substantially from that held by proponents of the NPP (Dunn, Sanders, N.T Wright and the rest of the known academic world!).

Some thoughts, would love to hear what you think. .

E. Twist said...

Excellent thoughts. I appreciate the insights.

There is no doubt that with Jesus and his earliest disciples comes a subversion unlike anything Judaism had seen. I'm reminded of the ALIEN movies for some reason. It is one thing to challenge a group top down, as in the exiles. It is quite another thing to challenge from within; to be nursed on its heart. And we might say that (even in the absence of some unifying "nomism") all of Judea felt the birthpangs.

Yet, even if this be true, what is the difference? How do we, otherwise, have a Pelagian Jesus?
There is no doubt that aspects of the Pauline anthropology are low, but I am failing to see how an affirmation of a Jewish anthropology in Jesus is decidedly Pelagian.

Furthermore, what is the risk in Jesus' teachings being fully Jewish? Is a break from certain nuances of 2nd Temple Judaism a break from the whole breadth of historical Judaism?

Enjoying the discussion. Even though I'm totally out of my league right now.

Dave said...

I would like to weigh in on this. I should say in advance that I don't mean to provoke anyone! It may happen, though.

First, I have read one of PZ's books (I believe it was The First Christian). As I read it, I detected a vaguely polemical note, which is only confirmed in the post, where PZ writes "They are so busy being guilty over the Holocaust that they have become very reticent about those things that distinguish Christ's teaching from Judaism..." One polemic only spawns another.

And let it be known that I find aspects of NT Wright very problematic (see D. Harink's, Paul Among the Postliberals, a must-read). But in my perhaps-not-so-humble-opinion, these "new perspectives" actually bring light to much that was not understood or was misunderstood in New Testament studies. Thus we should not be threatened by them, but embrace them as far as we feel they have merit. If we just accept traditional Christian readings of Jesus and Paul, we are left with serious incongruence internal to the New Testament. Was Paul a faithful Jew or not? Did he say one thing in Galatians and another in Acts 21? Was Luke imposing his own viewpoint on Paul? Did Jesus keep the sabbath or not?

One thing I am certain of: Jesus didn't care about Judaism or Christianity; he saw the people of God. In his mind, the people of Israel were the locus and embodiment of God's revelation. To say that "Christianity began really as a variant of Judaism for Gentiles" doesn't go far enough. I would say it still such a variant (and vice versa?). The NT sees the people of God as including the ekklesia and Israel. PZ can concern himself with Jesus' discongruity with certain beliefs or practices of 1st century Palestinian "Judaism" (a nod to E. Twist's point on the fragmentation of that society), but I suggest that the uniqueness of Jesus is not to be found in his teaching primarily, but in his actions, his life, his death, and his resurrection.

I would also like to give some props to any books by Douglas Harink, Mark Kinzer and Mark Nanos.

JDK said...

E Twist: You wrote:
There is no doubt that aspects of the Pauline anthropology are low, but I am failing to see how an affirmation of a Jewish anthropology in Jesus is decidedly Pelagian.

"Jewish anthropology," at its best (not 4 Ezra) is what has been described as "Covenantal Nomism" by the NPP. This argues that "Judaism" (in 90% of its expressions) was a religion of Justification by Grace through Faith as the means of entrance and then a synergistic faith + "works of the law in love" way of remaining a part of the covenant people of God. (this is the general tact of Sanders, N.T Wright, Dunn and the like). What is interesting is to see how quickly Evangelicals have embraced this new perspective. The reason behind this almost wholesale acceptance of the NPP is that it simply gives credence to what has historically been known as “Semi-Pelagianism” which is what all Protestant churches deny in theory but completely embrace in practice. Basically, what the New Perspective argues is that God freely invites you to the party, but you’ve got to behave or you’ll be sent home.

You also said
Furthermore, what is the risk in Jesus' teachings being fully Jewish? Is a break from certain nuances of 2nd Temple Judaism a break from the whole breadth of historical Judaism?

Certainly not! Nonetheless, it has been the contention of the historic Christian church that what Jesus came was the New Testament of God, not (what is most commonly taught today) the new expression or the new “take” on the Old. . but actually something completely new.

This necessarily gets into your post, Dave. .

You wrote but I suggest that the uniqueness of Jesus is not to be found in his teaching primarily, but in his actions, his life, his death, and his resurrection.

I would completely agree; however, it is only in the context of his teachings that his actions make any sense. From the antithesis of Mt 5/Lk 6 to the “friend of sinners” moniker, Jesus was preparing the way for the revelation of his purpose on the Cross by ratcheting up the demands of the Law so that Paul would, among others, finally get the point.

The New Perspective on Paul has taught us a lot about 2nd temple “Judaisms” and, consequently, given us an even clearer picture of the socio-religious context of 1st century Palestine. I am indebted to the NPP because it has forced supposed Protestants who ostensibly see justification as the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae to finally realize that what they are arguing for may be an expression of Christianity, but certainly not that which has been held by Augustine, Luther and company.

John Zahl said...

I'll chime in on my own views vis-a-vis the New Perpective on Paul, using an excerpt from an essay I have recently written on Paul's understanding of "why Jesus had to die" according to the book of Romans. It doesn't directly apply, but I think the criticisms are worth noting. My own personal interest lies in dealing with the ministerial implications of the NP. (see also my comments on Richard Hays, listed earlier in this blog):

He (Paul) posits that, as far as the law is concerned, looks can be deceiving, in that the Law appears to draw attention to the God who prescribed it, while, in effect, it serves largely to magnify the human forsaking of that which is required by its standard, once again drawing out the universal fallen-ness of humanity apart from Christ’s righteousness as an enveloping testament. The climax comes in Chapter 8 where the final eschatological “statistics” are summarized, that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), and the work being done by God upon humanity is indeed an intervening effort that moves from the top down, rather than from the bottom up, for to do that would nullify the implications of a justification done for humans apart from their undeserving status; it would undermine the love of God that is only found in this particular Gospel for sinners.
It is a strange scene, one where man is incapable of choosing God in a manner that is sufficiently righteous, yet is held accountable justly for not being righteous, and therefore deserving of wrath, as though he were able to choose; a total catch-22. But from the vantage point of this predicament, the significance of Christ’s death is appreciable in a way that uniquely spells freedom from wrath. Imagine a drowning man who cannot swim. He is thrown a life preserver. The grabbing of that life preserver is not so much a choice as a reflex, much in the same way that Paul argues Christ’s significance for all mankind in the Letter to the Romans.
When this message is lost, or misconstrued, when the primary focus comes down to a Second Temple Judaic context, rather than an human ontological context, the profundity and radical nature of this counterintuitive, faith-over-performance paradigm is slighted. God’s grace becomes a thing of one-time significance for the believer, but then quickly moves on to a paradigm of give-and-take before a Lord who’s Gospel serves no further purpose in the life the believer. Law is plugged back into every equation, based on the assumption that ontology changes at the point of conversion in such a way that a kind of semi-Pelagian approach to God can then permeate the religious scene. Where the action of God is so explicitly highlighted in the above noted climax of Romans 8, this wrong approach disengages from this all-significant description of the Lord who saves. The New Perspective posits that Judaism indeed knows of God’s grace, but not in a total sense that Paul suggests (i.e., after the point of initial conversion). The implications on ministry are not to be underestimated. If God’s grace as found at the point of conversion is not assumed to also be the all-encompassing doctrine for the Christian believer from that point onward, then Christianity indeed turns into a form of semi-Pelagian interaction with the God that the New Perspective assumes. Christianity has no cooperative element in the traditional Anglican theology described in the 39 Articles. Obviously not at the point of conversion, but also (and importantly) never thereafter either. The New Perspective misses this, and exegetical focus on Second Temple Judaism tends to fall victim to the assumption that Christianity assumes a free will after the point of conversion. But it does not. As a result, exegetical research can indeed serve ministry, further expanding the understanding and depth of this great insight found in God through Christ, but not as some kind of bland (i.e., ethical), inaccessible (i.e., confined to a time not our own), and un-Christian (i.e., where a semi-Pelagian Christian life is posited) substitute. Westerholm points this out beautifully:
As I see things, the critics (i.e., New Perspective on Paul) have rightly defined the occasion that elicited the formulation of Paul's doctrine and have reminded us of its first-century social and strategic significance; the "Lutherans," for their part, rightly captured Paul's rationale and basic point. For those (like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley) bent on applying Paul's words to contemporary situations, it is the point rather than the historical occasion of the formulation that is crucial” (p. 445).

His point? Well, the New Perspective is helpful (i.e., not useless), but trumped in any ministerial context by a Lutheran understanding of justification, where the Bible carries a/the message timeless, and universal. Would that we could avoid trying to make orange juice from lemons!

JDK said...

John Zahl,
you are not only a friend, but a fellow worthy of the fight. . .

as ever,

Anonymous said...


Well, I got thoughts on that latest post. First of all, I hope you don't mind my haphazardly commenting on your posts when I don't even know you. You seem cool, and I like the blog.

Anyway, good thoughts, and I appreciate the look at the pastoral implications. I also think that Paul was looking at the pastoral implications, but there is one wrinkle that I believe you miss, the implications of which are very important.

One of the fundamental mistakes many traditional commentators have made in reading Romans is understanding it to be about justification for the individual. This comes from underestimaing just how pastoral and occasional the letter is. By occasional, I mean that Paul was not writing Romans to say, "I don't know you guys very well, so I am going to write you a general theological work, focusing on justification, which is most important because it can keep each and every one of you out of hell." Many recent readings of Paul have recognized that he was in fact writing a pastoral letter, a letter that was dealing with particular issues in the Roman ekklesia/community/kehila.

That being said, I think your mistake is in reading Paul as 1) writing a general "theological treatise" that is separated from the events on the ground (less pastoral, not more); and 2) as writing primarily about individuals. Romans is mostly talking about interactions between the Gentile Jesus followers and the Jewish community, which was mostly made up of non-Jesus-followers. Do we really think Romans 9 is talking about chosenness/rejection for individuals? It is clearly ecclesiological.

Law gets a bad rap in your reading of Paul. Because he is writing to a mostly Gentile audience, he is talking about Torah in its role of distinguishing Jew and Gentile, and he firmly believes that Gentiles should not (with some exceptions) convert to Judaism as proselytes and obligate themselves to Torah. He himself keeps Torah out of obligation (or is the Paul of Acts 15 and 21 a deceptive weasel?).

Understanding Paul as writing about how two communities need to relate is a major, major paradigm shift. Any talk of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism is suddenly not helpful. You write about "God’s grace as found at the point of conversion" as an "all-encompassing doctrine." I agree with you on that. But I don't think what you describe as your problems with the New Perspective necessarily follow from some of their readings of Paul.

We find ourselves talking about "the moment of conversion" and "justification," which I think may be important, but are red herrings when it comes to understanding Paul's writings. Not only Romans, but Galatians and Ephesians are about inter- and intra-communal relations. A real, fleshed-out argument on this can't be done in the context of this comment, but I cannot recommend highly enough a few books: Harink's Paul Among the Postliberals and Nanos's The Mystery of Romans and The Irony of Galatians.

Dave said...

Sorry, that last post wasn't supposed to show up as anonymous. I confess, it was me.

JDK said...

thanks for the incredibly concise and articulate explanation of the prevailing academic sentiment surrounding the reading of Romans. If you had been writing my NT 360 paper on the "message of Romans,' I'm sure you would have done better than I did!

I have a question for you, then some futher observations. .

you said:

Romans is understanding it to be about justification for the individual. This comes from underestimaing just how pastoral and occasional the letter is.

I take it that when you read the word "pastoral" you are taking it in an ecclesiological sense? For me (and I daresay John) when using the word "pastoral" I mean that which affects the particular individual over whom I've been given charge for "care of their souls". . . I guess "pastoral" could mean simply those practical ecclesiological questions dealing with the office of pastor (ie. . "Pastor," are we singing Hymn #345 or #567?). . . In fact, mabye that disagreement over the understanding of "pastoral" is indemic to our entire disagreement!

That being said, there are those of us who are not ready to jettison the "traditional reading" of Romans based upon admittely circumspect and debatable scholarship. I haven't read any of Harnick's books, but if you want to get at the root of what the NPP on Paul is saying you have to go back to E.P Sanders, James Dunn, Stendhall, N.T Wright and the like. Even though these commentators have presented a thoroughly sophisticated case, it has come far short of completely overthrowing the "traditional" reading.

One of the major obstacles for the NPP is dealing with the Cross. If, as has been stated by Sanders, that Paul preached Christianity, "because it wasn't Judaism" then that implies that inherent in Judiasm was an adequate treatment of the universal existential human angst over having transgressed the "holy, perfect and good" Law of God.

It seems like the parable of the Prodigal son, preached vehemently and with feeling, could have sufficed to expose the supposed real problem of Jewish ethnocentricity and Gentile inclusion. Why did God incarnate have to die? Couldn't there have been another way if the message was simply, "Jews, deal with it, the Gentiles are in."

The New Perspective does not deal adequately with the questions of sin, judgement and God's wrath. It does not adequately deal with the torments of the anguished consciences of those who stand rightly judged.

There is a serious disconnect between contemporary scholarship and the real issues brought up around the time of the Reformation. Luther has been incorrectly read and his issues of the meaning of the Law, the absolution of sinners and the theolgy of the cross have been completely neglected by this school. They focus solely on luther's problem's with late-midevial Catholic soteriology without realizing that what the Reformation rediscovered was much more profound than even Luther realized at the outset.

Your insights are helpful, but it may benifit you to supplement your reading with some of the contemporary writers who still have problems with reading Paul in light of the New Perspective.

Dave said...


Certainly jettisoning all aspects of traditional readings of Paul would probably be a bit extreme. But rejecting the newer readings is (at least) equally problematic. Any book recommendations you can give me for learning more about these criticisms of some of the more recent studies in NT would be appreciated.

I have been using pastoral in a more communal sense, and I was intending to infer that dealing with individuals is not the way to be pastoral. Clearly the communities that Paul was writing to in Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians had a problem with understanding how they fit to the Jewish community. (As an aside, I would say the most of the Christian world still has this problem.) I believe it is generally agreed that the Gentile churches were at first among "God-fearers" who were peripherally connected to or associated with Jewish communities in the Diaspora. As these communities grew and gained cohesion, there were obviously tensions with the larger Jewish community. Judaism was a recognized religion by the Empire and Christianity was not yet seen as a separate religion. So Paul has to deal with issues on the ground (which is why I used the term pastoral): hospitality, how to handle sacred holidays, food, don't make your neighbor stumble, etc. Different parts of the "body of Messiah" probably referred to these conflicts. He writes about predestination in Ephesians and election in Romans, so the non-Jews could see how they fit into the people (Jews) who already were elect. I tend to find Nanos' argument convincing that the "weak" and the "strong" actually refer to the unbelieving Jews and the Gentile Christians, respectively, contra the usual view that the "weak" were Jewish Christians maintaining their Torah-based practices that were "passe." These writings are pastoral in that they are dealing with issues on the ground dealing with communal living. As you say, Paul had been given "charge for 'care of their souls'"--but Paul was writing to a community, not just to an individual. And these days, most people in the First World don't think in communal terms, which is part of the interpretive distance. Perhaps I am using the word "pastoral" wrong--but you get the idea.

I don't know much about how Luther has been correctly or incorrectly read, but it seems that your points have merit. And though I am not as well-read on this stuff as I should be, I think of Sanders and Dunn more as historians, while N.T. Wright is more of a theologian. Many of Sanders' insights on the context don't necessarily have to have the theological implications you mentioned. But I do think that the places Harink and Kinzer have gone with the insights of the New Perspective in their recent books are of tremendous importance.

John Zahl said...

As far as the NP is concerned, many in contemporary scholarship would consider it a dead horse. The only problem is that the dead horse has been served up (as it was dying) to the world's ministers-in-training for the past thirty-five years. They have in turn been nice enough to dish out this material to their congregations. Ministers find themselves like the pastor in Kansas who Richard Hays writes about (who I quote earlier in my blog), wondering "How do I preach Romans? There isn't a Jew for one-hundred miles". (Who can blame a pastor for wanting to sound authoritative based on what they learned in seminary?). I'm sypmathetic.

Meanwhile the train has moved on in scholarship. There are many different angles with which critics have approached the NP. Brevard Child's is one, dealing with canonicity, and the idea that understanding a writer's intention (i.e., Paul's) is far from understanding God's intention for people through a written word that he has apprehended. I hear that the whole movement has been dismissed in a big way up in Aberdeen. In Canada, we find Westerholm. His book "Perspectives on Paul" has recently been updated and is excellent. He, like myself isn't willing to throw the "second-temple-context-baby" out with the bath water, but thinks the NP approach places cart before the horse. On from that, I hear that even in Germany, a very systematic criticism of the NP has been written by a guy with the surname AveMaria (seriously!). I think A. McGrath's total avoidance of the matter, despite his having written on every other element of Christian thinking under the sun, also speaks volumes about his own opinions on the NP, though that's conjecture, conjecture from the point of view of one studying with him at this very moment, for what that's worth. I should probably just ask, but, when he starts talking about theology, it's actually interesting, and I find myself no longer ranting and raving, or even thinking aobut the New Perspective, unlike in most of my classes.

Then there is my father, who has been telling me the problems with the New Perspective for most of my life. He studied with Dunn and Sanders both! He has done the scholarly work on the matter, but most of the background detail is in German, in his doctoral dissertation, or related to his readings of some guy named Billerback (sp?) who nobody in theology wants to touch with a ten-foot pole, though Dad did. People in scholarship, though they usually hate dad's conclusion, always respect his academic prowess and immensely intimidating brain power, when it comes to the comprehension and digestion of intellectual contet. I just plain grosses me out though, and makes me wish I had more of his genes. THough it's a silly thought, I bet Dad has a higher IQ than anyone in contemporary New Perspective Scholarship. I don't think you could say the same about some of Germany's studs however, or, for that matter, any old LCMS minister in the STates. Those guys are smarter than anyone, know the bible better than anyone, and talk about jesus more in church than anyone!

Anyway, Dad wrote an article in Themelios a few years back, and delivered lectures at Tyndale house, Cambridge, and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford on the matter. Then he published "The First Christian" which again tackles the issue in a way that un-fairly earned him the title "anti-semite".
Also, worth noting, is the trend in current scholarship toward something called (supposed) "biblical theology" and also the notion that preaching is to be "expository". Both movements epitomize the NP as it plays out in ministry, and it's basically like holding a dead fish in your hand while you preach. Believe it or not, there was a time when preaching was not boring, though it was also not expository. These days, the "biblically theological" goal is to somehow safe-guard the bible from heresy through a bunch of tedious cross-referencing between biblically obscure passages for an hour and then the preacher sits down. Tell me the sermon isn't mostly dead. I pity the poor parishoner. It all comes down to the unanimous elevating of N.T. Wright, and Karl Barth as being the only theologians who pull any respectable weight in conservative scholarship. It's a myopic picture of the many minds to be contended with in the realms of systematic theology. The assumption is that a person cannot consider themselves to be conservative as a Christian scholar unless they buy into these particular scholarly (and more and more removed from the realms of human interaction with the bible) trends. But there are conservative alternatives to Wright and Barth!

I find it so disappointing (i.e., not encouraging) that Christians today know so gosh-darn much about Second-Temple Judaism, and yet so little about the implications of the Gospel on a human life, its radical nature, and the counter-cultural implications it has on the way humans think about everything (e.g., say, where free will and "choice" is concerned,...especially underline where the will is concerned).

Why do you think revival is happening in England only on the charismatic front? Because, when a Gospel dies, an experience of the HS is the only thing to be found of any captivating interest in church. I respect it, but I predict the numbers will drop in the C of E in the next ten years if the Gospel does not find its rightful place in the pulpit again. It sounds good and right to say church is all about prayer, but it's a wrong answer to the human predictament of sin. Basically the(right) understanding of sin as total depravity has been lost from the contemporary church scene. To the extent that it has been, churches start pole-vaulting over calvary, where, after the reality of sin, prodding its ugly reemergant head into Christian lives once again, develops, thereby crushing any notion of infused righteousness for the believer, people start to leave, confused, after attempts at reasserting the willl based on law-like thinking fail. Church becomes ethics. How much of church life do people think is to be comprised of ethical teaching? Answer: Too Many! You know who gets this stuff? Alcoholics Anonymous. The sermon is well alive in AA meetings from here to Timbuktu. We need not jump into the past in order to have our faces rocked by Jesus! If we do, we are in danger of ending up like lame, dithering, insensitive, and self-imporant scholars. If that's sanctification, like some South Korean church teaching, defended by ideas of prayer, or some notion of accountability-that-produces-change, I don't want any. Give me hell. Oh, but wait, love can change a heart hell-bent on destruction? How? You won't find out in many churches any more!

The call to ministry is often mistaken as a call to study N.T. Wright, Barth, and (on the other awful side of things) The Emerging Church. The call to ministry is not really a call to seminary though, now is it?

I'm all over the map, I know, and not really answering your specific claims, but I hope you'll come check out my church in ten years. We'll be raising the roof, in a seemingly radical, very normal (in the old-school evangelical sense) dependable church way. My goal is lots of tears, lots of laughter, and lots of grace-for-sin, (which is just self scepticism, leading to God optimism).

Do you really want to got to the churches where N. T. Wright has had influence? I look around, and I think, "Wow, we all think we've got the secret to building successful, god-fearing churches. 99% of us at Wycliffe think it's either about ethics, expository preaching, and exegetical prowess (i.e., NT Wright), ...but then there's me, and I don't think it has to do with any of that stuff. Either I'm right or they are, but the stats in the C of E vis-a-vis church growth don't reflect strong odds for the majority of vicars-in-training. The fact that my views reflect the seeming minority is actually quite comforting. Where do you end up if you, say, just completely (unfairly) throw out the New Perspective, and Barth, and thinking about Emerging Church and Fresh Expressions, while still adhering to an evangelical and conservative label? I think the answer is "on very solid ground indeed". As for me and mine,...

I wish we could just shoot the shizza over a park bench, after watching Waiting for Guffman. My sympathies, please don't misunderstand, are always with Christians before non-Christians, and I really believe I have more in common with any of the world's believers than I do with any non-Christian. These matters interest me as a minister in training obviously in matters of church life, and not so much, salvation. There is a joy-filled, long-suffering Christian life to be had.

Dave said...


You know, I think you and I have much in common. I think your thoughts and priorities are good stuff all around.

You're obviously influenced by your dad, as I am by mine. And I couldn't care less about the cluster of scholars and ideas that make up "New Perspectives," other than that it was an important development, and in much of the Christian world, it hasn't really caught on yet. You have clearly been surrounded by well-educated Anglican priests most of your life. I can tell you that Texas is a different story.

But I reject your apparent assumptions that you can't read the Bible using historical-critical methods and be "spirit-filled"; Or that identifying what Paul really thought doesn't matter; or that (though you didn't straight-up say this) that a theology of Israel is not paramount. Simply put, just because you are intimately aware of a group's flaws doesn't mean they have nothing to say. And the most intelligent people are often reactionary, and sometimes dead wrong.

Perhaps we will continue this discussion on the aforementioned park bench. Peace.

John Zahl said...

Yeah, I'm a bit too existential in my emphases, you're right. I don't wish to throw out the NP entirely, and find studying the stuff helpful, to an extent, though not convincingly in the sense that my understanding of preaching the Bible has not altered a lick after a year and a half of seminary. I like to know what on earth the Bible is talking about as much as the next guy, but I think the presuposition is justification rather than second temple judaism, and that the exegesis serves the former, and not the other way around. Justification = ulitimate. Context = penultimate. Also, the B. Child's argument is not really mine, but rather an example of a criticism of the NP. I take much more kindly to Westerholm, for example, though most kindly to my dad, who is indeed interested in the historical Jesus. Lastly, while I see your point about reaction, I don't think I'm the reactionary one. My ideas are in no way new, or novel, but rather, simply traditional, and, because they are Christian, radical or counter-cultural/counter-intuitive. But the New Perspective is the reactionary trend! Spawned in wake of a Holocaust that Barth was nice enough to blame on Luther. The reaction is to the holocaust on one side, and, in its legalism (think Calvin/Wesley, ethical emphases), to the liberal antinomian tendencies that now define ECUSA on the other. I find it refreshing, not surprisingly, to read about the English Reformation, or to sit in the old R1 service out of the BCP, where I am reminded of how boringly unoriginal my thinking about church-based theology is.

You are in Texas? I have only been there once, though I went to Waco, where I felt I might need to return one day to find a lovely Christian bride. They were all gorgeous and devout, if memory serves me right.

Where are you and how did you find this blog? Are you in San Antonio? bEst, JOhn

John Zahl said...

Dave, are you the guy I met at TESM who rolled in from the Advent?

John Zahl said...

For those reading this:

A day after writing the above, impulsive response to one of "Dave"'s comments, I regret it. My tone is awful and self-righteous. My comments about IQ are a disgrace and also a very silly argument. Though I could easily erase the remarks as king of this blog domain, I won't. I do believe many of the things I said, but, gosh, I hope not in the way that I said them. The scary thing about one of these blogs is actually getting to have your own voice. I want everything I write on this blog to be infallible, or, at least, if controversial, then well thought out, but, alas, I think such a goal is unattainable,...and good that it is! It forces me to my knees once again. As a preacher I will let the words rip, as is the calling. As a human I will also acknowledge my sin. Please forgive, readers. simul iustus et pecccator - stilll a mess, save the total comprehensive nature of the Gospel. Best, JOhn

Dave said...


I live in San Antonio. I'm a friend of e. twist, who forwarded this post to me in the first place. We probably haven't met, and I've not heard of TESM.

I have one thought on your post about NP being reactionary. I think to an extent you are right about that. It is regularly acknowledged that many Christian theologians profoundly altered their theology of Israel because of the Holocaust. Much of that can be called reaction.

But theology is necessarily informed by history. And perhaps some theologians, rather than reacting to a horrible event and blindly changing their theology, recognized that the Holocaust was largely a symptom of 1900 years of Christian supersessionist theology? You would probably challenge that claim. I'm not saying that Luther was responsible for it, because Christianity already had a long and established tradition of supersessionism and anti-Semitism. Luther and others only built on it. And certainly there were other factors in the Holocaust--Hitler wouldn't have called himself a Christian, and many Christians helped save Jews and others, but the damage had been done long before the Nazis came to power.

In fact, the post-Holocaust shift toward acknowledging the Jewish foundations of Christianity is quite symmetrical with the shift to alienate the Jews (including the Jesus-believing Jews) in the 2nd-4th centuries. Think: all of a sudden, because of rebellions in Judea, it's embarrassing to be associated with Jews. And Christianity among non-Jews was picking up steam. Eventually bishops would be hosted by the Emporer himself, and the Roman Empire would be a Christian entity! Can you imagine the joy of these bishops, and visualize them rushing to disassociate Christianity from its older brother (Judaism)! Jewish practice (i.e. fidelity to the covenant) among Jewish Christians was discouraged, then banned. Maybe NP is the seeds of the return (again) of the younger brother.

Anyway. Yes, many beautiful Christian girls in Texas. Though I won't be here much longer.


John Zahl said...

Thanks. Especially glad to hear about the girls. As far as the holocaust and influence on theology are concerned, Jurgen Moltmann's "The Crucified God" seriously rocks the house. It's worth asking whether or not the NP results in an understanding of Judaism that still leaves room for the Christian conversion of Jews? I don't think it does. Obviously, I'm not Holocaust-fan, nor am I a fan of Luther's awful letter about the Jews.

E. Twist is the man, and I'm hoping he'll find himself serving the Diocese of SC one day. A few of us have our hooks in him. Do you go to Christ Church? I hear wonderful things, and have even been privy to viewing some of the hilarious Youth Group video footage that Alison and Carter showed me. I think Christ Church has hands down the best afro wig on the planet!

Dave said...


I'll make a point to check out Moltmann. In terms of Christian conversion of the Jews, check out Mark Kinzer's Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People. I think you will find it challenging, and perhaps convincing.

I don't go to Christ Church, but I know some people there, and I am a Twist fan like yourself.

John Zahl said...

and I'll check out Kinzer. 100, JOhn