Monday, June 27, 2016

My Experience Thus Far As an MTS Student at Duke Divinity School

I was told (warned) of Duke's "liberalism" by many trusted friends and pastors every time I first informed them that I was applying to Duke with the intention of attending there. Now, these friends and pastors (and pastors who were friends) are conservative evangelicals whom I respect, but they also went to very, very conservative schools. For them, liberalism is ordaining women. It's a lot more than that, but that is the beginning of it.

I've also had a lot of conservative friends ask me about how my experience thus far has been at Duke. These friends are less theologically inclined than the previous group. These, like many conservative evangelicals, have a problem with equating political with theological tendencies (i.e., liberal Christians vote liberally, conservative Christians vote conservatively). They find it difficult to conceive that a school whose professors tend to be very liberal, often socialists, occasionally marxists, could have a divinity school that can supply a quality education. I can't speak for the politics of my professors at DDS since I don't know the politics of any of my professors at DDS, but I can say that my education so far has been excellent (apart from a few classes that I didn't pick).

Are there (very) liberal professors at Duke? Yes. Are there conservative(ish) professors at Duke? Yes. Do you have to take the very liberal professor? No, probably not. Should you take the very liberal professor if you're a conservative? Maybe so. The difference between a divinity school and a seminary is that it's in a university setting. Now, functionally there is little difference; there's just a few more perquisites. But I'm emphasizing the distinction here for a reason. The word university implies a diversity of ideas in a unified location or institution. What makes a university so great is the diversity of belief, knowledge, tradition, etc. What makes DDS great is, likewise, its diversity. It is simply an ecumenical institution. I think every major Christian tradition is represented by the student body. And, besides studying alongside students from conservative to very, very liberal Christian denominations, the faculty is equally diverse– in belief, practice, and denomination. It is a great place to get a very large range of belief. But it is also a great place to figure out which area of Christianity you find yourself most comfortable with. If you're conservative and you think you're getting enough of the liberal point of view from your peers, you can take the more conservative professors (even though many of those who are liberal-leaning still won't force what they believe on you; or if they do, most of them won't penalize you for it). If you are liberal and wish to take more conservative or more liberal professors, you can make that decision. It's a great thing having a diverse faculty.

I can tell you the one major thing I've learned since I've been at duke: read the biblical text closely. In my classes with Kavin Rowe and Ross Wagner, all (or, at least, a whole lot) of my homework has been reading the biblical text closely, looking for what the text wants the reader to see, finding the connections in the narratives, finding the nuanced intertextual echoes and allusions. That is truly an acquired skill and not something that comes naturally. It is detailed attention to the text and it will take many more years to perfect (if ever). This experience has been deeply rewarding so far. I can't wait to see what's coming up this next year.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Beale and Hays

G. K. Beale
Richard B. Hays

Greg Beale and Richard Hays do similar work in the area of biblical studies that has been booming over the last 20 years. Both are concerned with the study of the Old Testament in the New. Beale and Hays also agree on a very important issue within this area, namely that the exegetical methods of the New Testament authors is one which we can utilize and learn from in our own study of the Old Testament. Hays put poignantly it in one place: to deny the authority of the apostles' exegetical methods is to deny the authority of their interpretation. (That's a paraphrase, and I'm pretty sure it comes from Hays. I would have to check to make sure, but I'm away from my Hays books at the moment.) So both appreciate the New Testament's use of the Old. They come at the issue, however, from two very different angles.

Beale is very concerned with retaining the original sense of the text. To a fault, in my opinion. Because there are scholars (unlike Hays) who admit that the NT writers abandoned/disregarded the original sense of the text, who accept the application of their interpretation, and who, nevertheless, deny the authority of the interpretive methods (in other words, because some scholars exist who say that the New Testament is authoritative and valid, but their exegetical methods of appropriating the OT in the NT is not something that we should reproduce because we now recognize the original context of the OT), Beale wishes to push back against the possibility that the New Testament writers disregarded the context of the OT texts in their application of it. But Beale, along with Hays, affirms that affirming the NT authors' methods of using/reading the OT as authoritative and legitimate is as integral to New Testament exegesis and theology as is recognizing the OT allusion, quotation, echo, etc. Like I paraphrased above, they believe that to deny the legitimacy of the NT's use of the OT is to deny the authority of their interpretation of it. So, for Beale, the answer is to argue that the NT authors did not (ever) in fact disregard the OT's original context in their application of it. The Old Testament authors, he argues, must have had some knowledge of what they were writing in addition to their immediate context (e.g., Isa 7:14 actually refers to Hezekiah and Jesus). So Hosea, in writing "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son," knew that he was prophesying that a few hundred years later Jesus and his family would be forced to escape down to Egypt from Herod. While, I suppose, this is possible, it seems unlikely, and it's only argued to preserve the original intent of the text. (As an aspiring narrative critic, which criticism historically has been influenced by the New Critics, I find this to fall headlong into the Intentional Fallacy.)

Beale does good work, and I don't want to diminish that fact– as if I were influential or intelligent enough to do such a thing! But I think this is how Hays' approach is superior to Beale's. Hays is not afraid to admit that the New Testament writers' application of the OT does not, at times, fit its original context. (Some call this doing violence to the OT texts, although I'm convinced not that's an appropriate way to speak about it.) Instead of reading forwards, Hays argues that the NT writers read backwards. That is, instead of reading the OT and finding in it predictions of Christ (reading forwards), Hays suggests that the NT writers read out of the OT prefigurations of Christ. Not predictions; prefigurations. He calls the NT's method of interpretation a figural one. About these sorts of figural readings, he says this: "Figural readings do not annihilate the earlier pole of the figural correspondence; to the contrary, they affirm its reality and find in it a significance beyond that which anyone could previously have grasped" (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 14). Figural interpretation does not, says Hays, disregard the original context. It also does not reject the original context. Rather, figural interpretation accepts the original interpretation but finds in it a meaning that no one (including the one who wrote it) could have imagined before some sort of revelatory event. In this case, that revelatory event is the life, death, and resurrection. After such an event, it is now impossible to read the text (exclusively) the same way ever again. Part of the revelatory significance of Christ is that the Old Testament is now shown to speak more clearly of Christ's identity. God's intentions in creation, in electing Israel, in everything that is written in the OT are understood in a genuinely new, different, and unexpected (!) light. The revelation of Christ transforms our way of thinking in such a way that we truly see the original message of the OT and accept it and understand the new significance of the text as we interpret it figurally.

Some may argue that if one believes, as Hays does, that the original context of (some of) the OT passages cited in the NT is something other than how the NT uses them, the NT authors are practicing eisegesis. They are, according to Hays, some might object, reading the Christian message into the Old Testament. But Hays is saying the opposite. Hays is saying that, because of the new revelatory significance, the NT authors are reading from the Old Testament a new significant interpretation, not reading a new interpretation into the New Testament.

Anyway, there's a very brief description of the differences between Hays and Beale, even though they end up saying very similar things about how we should read the Old Testament.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hays, Rowe, and Christology in Biblical Scholarship

This blog post is going to be extra brief in order to make a quick observation about Christology in biblical scholarship today and not waste anyone's time.

If you've been reading lately, you know that, besides being a huge Richard Hays fan, I'm reading his recently released magnum opus, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. This is a book that will take years to digest fully– if ever. In this book, along with his Reading Backwards, Hays makes some startling claims about Markan Christology, as well as the Christology of the other three Gospels. He utilizes Mark's secrecy motif as the lens by which we can make sense of the subtlety of Mark's use of the OT and its application to Jesus. It is only those, Hays repeatedly reiterates, with ears to hear that can hear the hints toward Jesus' true identity. Jesus' true identity according to Mark, says Hays, is the embodiment of the God of Israel. He says, in fact, "both the God of Israel and a human being not simply identical with the God of Israel." Joel Marcus has argued similar claims in his magisterial commentary (in which he maintains that Mark held a kind of shaky adoptionist Christology) and in his Way of the Lord, but Hays intentionally makes them more intense. Whereas one will find Marcus writing things like "godlike Jesus," "Jesus shows himself to be godlike,""Jesus' consoling, empowering words also reinforce the connection... between him and the OT God," and "the overwhelming impact made by our narrative is an impression of Jesus' divinity" (see his commentary on Mark for these quotes), Hays intentionally heightens them by saying that Mark repeatedly uses OT imagery to form a picture of Jesus' humanly divine identity as the God of Israel– though somehow distinct from the God of Israel. Here the theologian with a penchant for trinitarian theology will begin to salivate. The primary texts Hays uses to show a Markan differentiation are not those which Marcus uses; rather, Hays appeals to the son/Father distinction throughout the Gospel.

Hays doesn't say much more than Rowe when it comes to Jesus' identity in Luke. In fact, technically he says less, since the Luke sections of Echoes in the Gospels and Reading Backwards are shorter than Rowe's book on Luke's Christology, Early Narrative Christology. Rowe traces Luke's use of the word κύριος (kyrios) as it is applied to Jesus throughout the Gospel. He concludes that Luke's use of κύριος suggests that Jesus' identity is equivalent to the God of Israel. He argues this simply by reading closely and being attentive both to the narrative of Luke's Gospel and its use of intertextual allusions/echoes.

Both Hays and Rowe are brilliant, top scholars in the field of biblical studies. Neither of them is a staunch conservative or a fundamentalist, and yet both claim that these synoptic Gospels have a far higher Christology than has been pandered to us for years. The key, it seems, to understanding the synoptics' high Christology is two-fold: 1) strict attention to narrative and story and 2) a willingness to take seriously the original context and application of the Old Testament texts in the narrative. Focusing on the hypothetical original form of the dominical saying, teaching, apophthegm, miracle story, etc. or tradition as received and redacted seems to produce a lower Christological evaluation of the Gospels. Focusing on the final form of the text (which, I shouldn't need to point out, is the only thing we have) and attention to the real text to which they refer produces very different results. It's interesting that earlier narrative critics' evaluations of the Christology of the synoptics often result in a "lower" Christology. Kingsbury's comes to mind immediately. (I'm reading Malbon's in a couple weeks; I'll probably upload a review then. Although I also recognize this low/high differentiation is problematic, I'm not going to stop using the term.) It's amazing that this level of respected biblical scholarship is getting a voice and saying what most historical, form, and redaction critics would probably have found shocking at best.

Anyway, I don't have many reflections to add. I just want to observe that some extremely well respected scholars are saying some things that contradict very much of what I've read in the field... and I love it. Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Additional Reading This Summer

In addition to the reading list I provided a few weeks ago,  I'm adding a few essays by Bultmann and others in German to translate and develop my German skills. I'm also adding this book by Elizabeth Shively, whose essay on Satan in Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark was extraordinary.

It's on the Beelzebul controversy in Mark and I can't wait to dig in. I'll post a review once I do. For now I'm finishing up Hay's Echoes in the Gospels and will have a review up in a couple days. I don't think that this is a book I'm going to have digested in only a week. It'll probably take a lifetime. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to Shively's book! I'll probably read it within the next two weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Brief Review of "In the Company of Jesus"

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon is a monster of a scholar. Her work in the field of narrative criticism is as fundamental to the field as, e.g., David Rhoads, Alan Culpepper, or Joanna Dewey. Her particular expertise is character studies. That is where this book comes in. It is a collection of various essays all previously published elsewhere as journal articles or book chapters. Her first essay, "How Does the Story Mean," a methodological essay on narrative criticism and how to use narrative criticism to study characters, has been published at least one other time (and I think it has actually been published another time too)– and rightly so; it is a very influential article, a great introduction to narrative criticism, and important for the methodology of the rest of the volume. I think the best essay in the volume was chapter 2's "Fallible Followers," in which Malbon argues that the followers of Jesus are not all bad, as some redaction critics have argued (e.g., Kelber), but are fallible followers, an incentive for the audience to reflect on their own lives as followers of Christ, to be encouraged about their life as Christ-followers, and to strive to be better for it– this theme is continued in the following chapter with other characters and this next chapter largely serves as a part-two to chapter 2. I do not have space or time to summarize many more chapters, but I will recommend a couple more with some comments. The chapter on the disciples ("Texts and Context") is also excellent. Malbon's primary concern in this chapter is to be in conversation with Kelber's difficult and interdisciplinary Oral and Written Gospel. It is very stimulating, but it's best to read Kelber's work first if one wishes not to get lost very quickly. "The Jewish Leaders" was also a fantastic chapter. It deserves more than a couple sentences to describe it, but that's all I have time for. Throughout the essay, she relies heavily on Cook and Weeden (both redaction critics) and largely agrees with their assessments, which brings up the question whether narrative criticism really had much to add to that particular conversation; I'll leave that for the reader of the volume to decide. The most peculiar chapter was the one on the poor widow ("The Poor Widow in Mark"), in which Malbon writes for 23 pages on a character whose entire story consists of 4 verses (Mk 12:41-44). What's most useful here is seeing how she went about studying the character, not so much her study of the character itself, although that too was interesting.

The volume is a great little volume. (And I do mean little volume!) The biggest problem with the volume is the size (it's really, really small (like probably 5x8"), which creates another problem: the margins are far too small to take notes– and this is a volume in which you'll want to take many notes. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book. Stimulating. Challenging. Entertaining. Devotional. This book does it all. I hope this review was helpful.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Brief Review of "Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark"

*This is a very brief review of the brilliant volume edited by my friend Chris.

Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark is an excellent volume edited by Christopher W. Skinner and Matthew Ryan Hauge. I don't have time to discuss every essay, nor would I wish to. I will, however, discuss a few of the best essays. Each essay is remarkable enough to read. In my opinion, the best (i.e., my favorite) of these are Skinner's, Hauge's, and Shively's. Malbon's gets an honorable mention. She is probably the most prolific scholar on character studies in Mark. Her little book In the Company of Jesus is extraordinarily excellent. As Chris says in the opening essay, everyone who contributed to this volume stands on her shoulders. Nevertheless, I think these three to be the best. Skinner traces the history of Markan character studies from Wrede's Messianic Secret to the recent developments in performance criticism, which Skinner notes is the natural next step in the evolution of narrative criticism. Skinner clearly knows the secondary literature intimately. Like his essay in his other edited volume, Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect, he traces the natural development of historical to form to redaction to narrative criticism. It's wonderfully helpful and deeply informative. Hauge's essay discusses the creation of the person in ancient narrative. I don't want to spend too much time discussing this essay. Let's just say it's a very historical study, but also very worth one's time. I love methodological essays like this. This, along with Stephen Moore's essay in MaS: Retrospect and Prospect, are extremely important narrative critical methodological essays. Shively's essay was my favorite. It is the most original of all the essays (I think) and it has inspired research for my thesis. This essay is about the characterization of Satan in Mark's Gospel. Nearly the first half of the essay is devoted to method, which is fine– I do love methodological discussion. But there's so much more to be said! Which is why I want to write my thesis on it. It is the most unique of the essays because it delves into the problem of the characterization of the non-human (again, Moore's essay could come in handy here). I can't wait to see where my research on the subject takes me. But Shively's basic contention is that the ambiguity of the temptation narrative suggests that Jesus' temptations actually continue throughout the whole Gospel and so Shively traces Satanic characterization from there, despite the fact that Satan's name is only mentioned four times throughout the Gospel. This is such a wonderful essay and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Well that's all I've got for now. I give the volume a solid 9/10. The only drawback is the typos that occur throughout the volume. The hardcover is worse for this than the softcover, but the softcover actually has a typo on the spine of the book (it says "the Gospel of Marm"?). I don't know how this happened, since it was correct on the hardcover. Weird. Anyway, occasionally the typos are pretty bad. But the quality of the essays and the strength of the book as a whole is worth the price and the small frustration that accompanies the typos. I hope this review was helpful.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Notice: Handbook on Revelation

Fun News:

Baylor University Press has come out with the newest addition to their wonderful little series Handbook on the Greek New Testament. This time it's revelation. I don't have my hands on this guy just yet. I don't know when I will. Hopefully soon. But this series has been immensely helpful in explaining strange constructions, discussing the different functions of the genitive and the dative, providing a new and original translation (and one that's often dynamic and functional!), etc., etc. If you can spare the cash, I would recommend it just on the basis of the great quality of the others thus far. Beale's NIGTC commentary is great for language stuff, but you have to sift through an awful lot to get there. I'm sure this one will come in very handy.

*Update: The volume on Philippians is due to appear shortly. The same said above applies equally to this volume, although I suspect this one will be far shorter.

Search This Blog