Random musings on life, the universe and nothing in particular...
Friday, December 31, 2004
Just wanted to share with you...
As I write this post I have a large tissue box on one side of me and a bin on the other. The contents of the former are rapidly being transferred to the latter. There has been a particularly nasty cold doing the rounds in our family over the last few days. Peter had it over Christmas and decided to share it with Purnendu and me. Mark also seems to be coming down with it. I have been struggling with it for the last few days. It feels as if all of the workers in the 'brain' department of my head have moved to the 'mucus' department. Yuk.
Last night I watched the extended version of the Return of the King for the first time with Jonney and Monika, Paul, Mark and Peter. We should be watching it through again some time in the next couple of weeks. I did enjoy some of the added scenes. It was good to have Saruman put back into the third film. However, the scene is far from faithful to the book, which irritated me. I may not be as much of a Tolkien purist, but serious departures from the book do get on my nerves.
This evening we will be having a time of prayer, fellowship and fun as a church, as we usually do. I should also have my own room back for a night, which is a blessing. I have been staying in Peter's room for the last few nights and this morning I observed that Peter had posted a long and detailed notice on his door about the manner in which his Lego and clutter was to be treated. It made very clear that temporary residents in the room, such as Mark and I, were barely tolerated.
My granny is still with us, although she has been worsening. We never expected her to see in the New Year, although it now seems quite possible that she will. Please continue to pray for her.
We had a very special time at Christmas. In a strange way, my granny's condition brought a reality to our celebrations that actually served to give us a far more memorable time. Peter has already posted about our Christmas on his blog. He mentioned the fact that we had a good snowfall (I can't remember the last time that we had a real white Christmas), but he missed much of the fun. After a second epic snowball fight, a group of us got together and built a huge snow Sphinx, well over eight feet high. Some of the bigger snowballs that were used to construct him took four people or more to push. It took a few hours' work to make, but it was incredibly fun. Late the next morning it was torn down, which didn't surprise me, considering the area in which we live.
Much of the last few days has been spent following the news online. The news of the election in Ukraine and the frustrating end to the English cricket team's run of victories has been totally overshadowed by the unfolding tsunami disaster. It is hard to know how to react to such an event. The sovereignty of God is one of the greatest comforts at a time like this. For those of you who might have been wondering, from what he can gather, none of Purnendu's family were killed in the tragedy, although they live close to affected areas.
God gave circumcision to Abraham in Genesis 17. In Genesis 18 the destroying angel met him. Sodom was destroyed and Lot was exodus-ed (just look at all the exodus imagery) immediately afterwards. Later, Abraham circumcises Isaac. God calls Abraham to sacrifice his firstborn son (cf. Hebrews 11:17). He is stopped by the destroying angel/Angel of the Lord. In a sense, Abraham received Isaac back from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). [It is important to observe that resurrection and Exodus belong together (compare Isaiah 63:11-12 and Hebrews 13:20, for example).] In these two cases we see circumcision followed by judgment and salvation involving the Angel of the Lord. There is a discordant version of this theme in Genesis 34, where Simeon and Levi take on the role of the destroying angel and destroy people who have just been circumcised. [In passing, the role of the Angel of the Lord in the Pentateuchal narrative does not seem to receive enough attention.]
In Exodus 4, Moses and his family return from Moses’ encounter with God and God meets them (presumably as the Angel of the Lord) and tries to kill Gershom (Ex. 4:24 — I have been persuaded by James Jordan that it is Gershom that God is trying to kill and not Moses). Zipporah circumcises Gershom and averts destruction, using Gershom’s foreskin to smear blood on his legs (most translations interpret her action as throwing the foreskin at the feet of Moses, which Jordan convincingly argues is wrong). This is an introduction of the theme of the blood on the doorposts, as the legs are compared to pillars in biblical symbolism (Song 5:15). It serves to connect circumcision to Passover.
God gives the Passover to the children of Israel. The Passover is very much tied to the rite of circumcision; the blood of Passover can be paralleled with the blood of circumcision and it is paralleled in a number of Rabbinical texts. The destroying Angel comes. The Angel destroys the Egyptian firstborn and Israel is exodus-ed.
In Joshua 5:1-12 God gets Joshua to circumcise the children of Israel and they celebrate the Passover. Immediately following this, the Commander of the Army of the Lord appears to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15). In the following chapter Jericho is destroyed (there is also a recapitulation of the Passover theme in the story of Rahab). In some sense the conquest of the Land comes after the Exodus, in other senses it is a replaying of the Exodus. Intertwined with all of these narratives is the role of the firstborn. Israel is under a death threat that is particularly directed against the firstborn son. We see this in the story of Abraham and Isaac, in the story of Gershom and Zipporah and in the story of the Exodus.
After the Exodus, the Levites take the place of the firstborn in Israel. They are given a dedicated status and serve as holy warriors. They protect Israel from the presence of the Angel of the Lord in various ways. They make atonement by dealing with the blood-guiltiness of the people in judgment and sacrifice. They stand guard at the temple with weapons, like the angels at the entrance to Eden. They are the ones who slay their brethren for the Lord (Exodus 32) in an attempt to avert judgment. Phineas takes the role of avenging angel in Numbers 25 and is rewarded with an everlasting priesthood, because he has ‘made atonement for the children of Israel’ (v.13).
The Levites are a protective hedge around Israel (Numbers 1:53; 8:19). It is their task to ensure that Israel is kept safe from the threat of plague and death that hovers over her (Numbers 18:5). Their presence within the congregation preserves the congregation from God’s judgment (e.g. Numbers 16:41-50). The Levites play the role of avengers of blood by putting to death the guilty parties on the occasions of national apostasy. By so doing they preserve the land from the pollution of blood.
After the Levites take the dedicated status of the firstborn the key places of refuge become the cities of refuge (all Levite cities) rather than the houses of the firstborn. Deliverance from the cities of refuge awaited the death of the High Priest, who was the firstborn par excellence. We see that Aaron the High Priest had to die before Israel could enter into the Promised Land.
At times of war the Angel of the Lord comes into the camp and each fighting Israelite shares for a while the dedicated status of the ‘standing army’ of holy warriors — the Levites (see, for example, Deuteronomy 23:9-14 and 2 Samuel 11:6-13). At such times every man who was mustered was required to provide a ransom for his life (Exodus 30:12).
In Genesis 22 Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah when he is stopped by the Angel of the Lord. In 2 Samuel 24 David musters the troops in a sinful manner and the Angel of the Lord comes into the camp and brings plague. The plague is stopped on Mount Moriah (the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite) and the Angel of the Lord’s hand is restrained over Jerusalem. The temple is later built on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Chronicles 3:1). The temple becomes the greatest of the ‘protective hedges’ around Israel.
The need for the ‘protective hedges’ that surrounded Israel was due to God’s presence and activity in her midst in the Angel who bore the divine name (Exodus 23:21). The Angel (the Angel of God’s Presence — Isaiah 63:9) was the Angel of vengeance and it was only within His special presence that circumcision and other such things became particularly important. This is why circumcision had to take place before entering the Land, for example. However, as James Jordan has pointed out, there was nothing necessarily wrong with not practicing circumcision while outside of the Land.
Circumcision, the structures of the Law and the Temple order were designed to, among other things, preserve Israel from the wrath of the Angel of the Lord in her dedicated status as God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22). I believe that the portions of the OT narrative that I have outlined above lend weight to the idea that these things were regarded as ‘protective hedges’ around Israel, preserving Israel from the wrath of the Angel of the Lord. The presence of the Angel of the Lord was usually only especially known within the camp of Israel and so circumcision was not really necessary outside of Israel. However, when the Angel of God’s Presence came upon a nation, the nation could only be saved by taking refuge with the firstborn of God.
Circumcision and celebration of the Passover were not necessary in order to be a genuine God-fearer. However, circumcision was necessary if one was to share Israel’s dedicated status with the Angel of God’s Presence in her midst. Israel’s status as God’s firstborn son meant that Israel faced a death threat and could only be preserved by means of ‘protective hedges’ and by Levites and others taking the place of the firstborn sons.
When Christ comes, He takes on the dedicated status as the great Holy Warrior. He refuses to drink wine prior to His crucifixion (the Nazirite vow is associated with the status of holy warriors) and the price of a slave is paid into the temple treasury for Him. He takes the place of Israel as the firstborn and dies under the death threat. I think that the darkness at the crucifixion should alert us to this. [There might also be some significance, in terms of doorpost imagery, to the tearing of the temple curtain. Perhaps someone else would like to give some thoughts on this.] When Christ speaks of giving His life ‘as a ransom for many’ we should think of the manner in which the lives of the Levites were dedicated to God in exchange for the lives of the firstborn of Israel. Christ gives His life for Israel. The burden of circumcision falls to Him.
The Law was incapable of bringing about the promised inheritance. However, it was necessary in order to provide a structure of refuge for Israel in its dedicated status as God’s firstborn son. Were it not for the ‘protective hedges’ of the Law the Holy War against Sin could not have taken place without destroying God’s people in the process. The efficacy of the Law, however, is not intrinsic and is only truly understood when Christ’s blood has been set forth. Now that the Firstborn has died and risen again, ‘protective hedges’ are not needed in the same way.
Christ takes on Israel’s dedicated status and dies as the firstborn son. Christ is the sin-offering that leads to Israel’s freedom from the structures of refuge that the Law provides. When Christ comes the old covenant ‘protective hedges’ can be taken down and the people of God can enter into liberty. This is only because the vengeance has been dealt with and the people of God have been exodus-ed from the whole blood-guilty realm of Sin that provoked the Angel’s wrath. The Land has now been cleansed and the Jews can return from the system of refuge that the Law provided now that the death of the High Priest is proclaimed in the eating of bread and drinking of wine. To return to the Law is to become locked up again, to return to a now-powerless refuge in the realm of Sin and Death.
We are the Church of the firstborn (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 12:23). Jesus Christ is the firstborn Son in our midst and we are sons in Him. He now serves both as the true Heir and we are secure in Him against all the coming wrath, because the coming wrath has already fallen on Him. I wonder whether more stress on this theme of the Law as a structure of refuge and a ‘protective hedge’ might serve to add balance to the focus on the ‘works of the Law’ as ‘boundary markers’. To seek to be justified by the works of the Law may have involved, for some, the belief that taking refuge within the protective hedges of the Law and temple system was in some sense necessary if one was to escape eschatological wrath. The scope of the eschatological wrath would force people into one camp or the other (following the analogy of the first Exodus or the case of Rahab) — either one must be circumcised and join the people within the refuge structure of the Law, or one must suffer wrath outside. However, following the death of Christ, Christians can safely take up their stand outside of the camp.
The Judaizers failed to appreciate that the old structures of refuge were to be torn down after the death and resurrection of Christ and that the inheritance could be freely entered into. Instead they brought people into bondage to a system that no longer provided real refuge against coming judgment, but was itself marked out for destruction in AD70. Israel was guilty and the death sentence passed by the Law itself was soon going to fall.
Of course, this is an extremely sketchy picture, but I think that there is something to it. I would appreciate hearing other people’s comments.
There are still some who claim that Wright denies the Virgin Birth. The following quotation comes from the SWRB site:—
Here is some interesting information about N.T. Wright's belief (or, rather, lack thereof) concerning the virgin birth:
 These are not the only questionable areas in the theology of new perspective advocates. Wright, for example, does not come out and say he believes in the virgin birth of Christ but that it is a possibility and that the New Testament authors believed it: "What if we find that, very early within the movement that grew up around [Christ], there arose two independent sources claiming that he had been conceived without a human father? Faced with all of this, a belief in this God, and this Jesus, may compel us to hold open the possibility that this account of his conception might just be true" (Wright, Who Was Jesus?, p. 83). He also states, "One of the best possible answers is that [Matthew and Luke] very firmly believed it to be true" (Wright, Who Was Jesus?, p. 84).
- From footnote 58 at: The New Perspective on Paul: Calvin and N. T. Wright by J. V. Fesko
A number of other people have insinuated that Wright is somehow unorthodox on these issues, but never come out with any clear accusation. For those who want proof that N.T. Wright firmly believes in the Virgin Birth and comes out directly and says it, I strongly recommend that they read the following articles and interviews:—
Scholars wage friendly battle over facts of Jesus (see towards the end of the article, in the question and answer section, where Wright explicitly acknowledges his belief in the Virgin Birth)
Is the Virgin Birth Credible or is the Story Based on Ancient Mythology?God's Way of Acting
Other people have claimed that Wright downplays the incarnation. This also strikes me as bizarre. Wright has strongly argued against other scholars for incarnational theology in Philippians 2, for example, and has defended the truth of the incarnation on a number of occasions. He does indeed argue against an overemphasis on incarnation (e.g. The Climax of the Covenant, p.91), claiming that exalting the incarnation ‘to the exclusion or at least the downplaying of the cross and resurrection, pulls Paul’s theology badly out of shape.’ However, I trust that we would all agree with this.
It seems to me that there are a number of Reformed thinkers who, although they have little time to seriously and charitably engage with what Wright has actually said, find him very useful (and even necessary) as a theological scapegoat. The charges of Wright's hostile Reformed critics are ignorantly parroted and order is restored within the city of the Reformed faith as he is repeatedly thrust outside of the camp. I am increasingly convinced that many parts of the Reformed community rely for their continued existence upon such scapegoats (Karl Barth springs to mind as another example). [Of course, the fact that such people are scapegoats does not prove that their theology is to be recommended. However, it does prove that something is seriously wrong in many Reformed churches.]
Barth and Wright, as scapegoats, somehow have to be inside the camp in order to be thrust out. Certain Reformed communities maintain their identity by deciding the complex liminal inside-outside identity of such scapegoats one way or another in order to maintain and restore ecclesiastical order. Without such scapegoats the reassuring boundaries of conceptual order would be harder to establish and maintain. For many, Reformed identity has been defined by the continual reassurances of order that are established by thrusting Roman Catholics, Arminians, Neo-Orthodox, advocates of the NPP and Federal Visionists outside of the camp. The Reformed movement, in such quarters, has founded itself on clear binary oppositions and we should not be surprised that it reacts so strongly against theological movements that think in terms of a far more permeable, open or pluriform Reformed identity.
The refusal of some Reformed thinkers to scapegoat people like Wright and parrot the false accusations that have been levelled against him, jeopardizes the whole Reformed ecclesiastical order in the eyes of some other Reformed thinkers. Wright must be decided either inside or outside, indeterminacy is not an option. It seems to me that postmodern theology may be less inclined to scapegoat as it is more content to live with undecidables. Perhaps.
N.T. Wright on The Da Vinci Code. These comments come from Wright's Christmas message in the Northern Echo. Does anyone know where one could get the complete article (Kevin or Jeff...)?
Update: It looks like this is the article.
I’ve not read a great deal of Radical Orthodoxy. I think that Milbank’s protest against the sociologization of Christian theology was absolutely justified, spot on, and it needed somebody with that ability and depth to say it at such length and with such detailed analysis that it would actually be heard. If it had been a 150 page book, people would not have even noticed it.
There are two obvious problems with Radical Orthodoxy, one its proponents have made a virtue of dense prose. People sometimes accuse the Archbishop of Canterbury of writing densely, and of course he was the teacher of some of the Radical Orthodox, including Milbank, but they have gone even further down that route. And it is almost as though if they said it in plain English - do they have the oomph to say it in plain English and be heard? And they probably do, but it would nice to see it. As a result a lot of people simply don’t know what’s going on. The second thing is, that in their attempted repristination of the Medieval tradition – which in all sorts of ways is something that we’ve got to do – they don’t know what to do with the Bible. And a would-be Christian theology which really does seem a bit puzzled with to do with the Bible, I think there’s a warning light going on there. It’s early days, yet, but it will be fun to see how that plays out.
I haven't posted anything of great significance for some time now. The last few months have been extremely lean periods, blogging wise. I had considered going into an official blogging hibernation this winter, but in the end decided against it. As things have transpired my blogging has been quite insubstantial and relatively infrequent; I might as well have taken the winter off.
I have been able to get a bit more reading done over the last few days, mostly by my granny's bedside. I am re-reading a number of books and trying to get back into a number of books that I never got around to finishing when I started reading them in the past. I used to feel compelled to read every book through from cover to cover, but seldom feel the same way any more. Of course, there are some books that simply must be read this way, but many books that I read are simply telling me things I have already read elsewhere on numerous occasions. I need a good reason to do anything more than skim some of these sections.
I often skim read a book in about an hour to get a feel of its general argument and then read it again (or certain sections of it) in more depth. If it is a particularly good book I will make occasional notes in the margins and engage in copious underlining.
I read James Jordan's Primeval Saints a couple of days ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. As is the case with all of Jordan's books, Primeval Saints was replete with scintillating biblical insights. The more that I study my Bible, the less tenuous many of Jordan's readings seem to be. I remember being unimpressed on my first encounters with Jordan's work a few years ago. I felt that his exegesis was far too fanciful. Of course, at that stage I was very much in favour of closed 'scientific' readings of the biblical text and Jordan's use of Scripture introduced an ambiguity into the text of Scripture that could not be properly contained by my tight hermeneutical rules.
I have also nearly finished reading Tom Holland's new book Contours of Pauline Theology. Tom Holland is an evangelical Pauline scholar who seeks to interact with the thought of NPP authors such as N.T. Wright, for example. Holland seeks to interpret Paul in a manner that takes seriously Paul's Jewish roots. He repeatedly challenges readings of Paul that are individualistic and fail to do justice to the 'corporate' character of Paul's thought. Holland occasionally gives refreshing and illuminating readings of Paul, but his work suffers from a significant number of serious flaws. In particular, the manner in which Holland employs the 'New Exodus motif' is troubling. This one motif dominates almost to the extent of its becoming an all-controlling model into which all texts are shoehorned. Dr. Peter Head's description of the book as 'challenging, unsettling and infuriating' is perfect.
At this stage I will confess that I know Dr. Holland personally and have heard him lecture on many of these issues in the past. I have also talked at great length to a number of his PhD students and have ended up feeling profoundly frustrated with the manner in which the text of Scripture is frequently distorted by Holland's so-called 'corporate principle'. My own theological understanding has been profoundly shaped by this dialogue. I may well have brought too much of the frustration that I experienced when talking with Holland's disciples to my reading of this book. To some degree, however, I believe that my prior interaction with Holland and his students does grant me a richer context for my act of reading than most would possess. The fact that I know Dr. Holland to be a very warm man with a deep pastoral heart also colours my reading. For these reasons I feel that my biased reading is not without its merit.
I might well post a lengthy review of Holland's book in a future post.
Other books that I am reading include N.T. Wright's Paul For Everyone: Romans Part II and Michel Foucault's The Order of Things. I have also just started reading The Deptford Trilogy on Paul Baxter's recommendation of Robertson Davies' work.
Peter is getting me a copy of James Smith's Introducing Radical Orthodoxy for Christmas, which I cannot wait to get my teeth into. Unfortunately my mind just can't cope with anything too deep at the moment; I have had very little sleep this week (one night I didn't have any at all) and my mind is not really fit for thinking.
My granny is dying of terminal cancer. We do not expect her to last until the end of the week. I will be going with my mother to sit by her bedside from 2:30am until the morning. Please pray that she will know our Lord's presence with her as she faces the last enemy.
Mark is hoping to come back from Coventry tomorrow afternoon. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to return this evening. At the moment my bedroom is being used by my uncle and so I do not have much access to my computer. If you have e-mailed me, you may not receive a response for a few days.
James Jordan (see the comments to this post) and others have said this before, but it bears repeating and Leithart puts it well.
For many Protestants, first-century Judaizers are seen mainly as advocates of works-righteousness, late medieval Catholics before their time. Though ideas of meritorious righteousness were circulating in first-century Judaism (see Phil. 3:1-11), the basic thrust of Judaizers lay elsewhere. A Judaizer might be a perfectly sound Lutheran, might believe that Jesus was the eternal Son incarnate, and might believe that salvation was through the cross. What the Judaizer would not admit was that the cross and resurrection marked the beginning of a new world, a world radically different from that died on Golgotha (see Gal. 1:3-4; 5:11-16). Yes, the Judaizer would say, Jesus was the Messiah, crucified for the sins of the world; but still, we must keep Torah, avoid contamination from Gentiles, be careful about who is sitting next to us at meals, and practice circumcision. Judaizers denied the present reality of the new creation. Judaizing denied that the gospel is an eschatological message, that it is a message about an ending and a beginning.
Paul does not often speak of the coming 'reign' of those belong to Jesus (a theme we come across in other early Christian texts such as Revelation 20.4, 6; 22.5). But here, as for instance in 1 Corinthians 6.2, it is quite clear. The 'kingdom of God', that is, God's sovereign and saving rule over the world, is presently exercised through the risen Lord Jesus. But it will be exercised in the future, so it seems, through the fully redeemed human beings, those marked out in the present by God's gift of the status of 'being in the right', of covenant membership. [Paul For Everyone: Romans Part 1, p.92]
Wright has spilt a lot of ink on the subject of the Millennium, whilst never really engaging with many of the questions that are raised about it. Even when commenting on Revelation 20 in The Resurrection of the Son of God he manages to avoid really addressing the 'millennium question' ('whether this takes place in a 'millennium' more or less coterminous with the time of the church, or in a literal thousand-year period yet to come, does not at present concern us...'). When asked the 'millennium question' from the Wrightsaid list he says that, given the choice between 'post' and 'pre', he would be 'post', although he doesn't particularly consider himself to be 'post'. Even on the subject of the dating of Revelation Wright is vague, saying that he believes that it was written sometime in the last third of the first century. That could be before or after the Fall of Jerusalem.
The passage I have quoted above seems to reveal a bit more about Wright's own position. Whilst he could be suggesting that Revelation 20:4 is merely future from Paul's perspective, he seems to be going further than that and suggesting that it is future from our perspective too.
I'm sure that there is some passage in his writings where Wright has really been forthcoming on this question and I have just forgotten about it. If anyone could help me on this, I would very much appreciate it. Otherwise I will just have to wait until February 2005. However, there is still a chance that Wright will continue to hold his millennial cards close to his chest.