Saturday, 25 July 2009

What does saving faith do?

Not sure that I can keep a discussion going as long as the last one, but here goes. If you had one shot at saying something about “saving faith,” particularly about its effect, what would it be? The reason I ask is that there is only one passage in the NT which brings those two words together. In fact there’s only one adjectival use of the word soterios “saving.” No peeking at a concordance now, but it would be very useful to come up with our answers, then compare them with the Bible’s. I’ll give you a couple of days to think about it. 

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Is Baptism a Gospel Issue?

I once heard a pastor say that he would not be encouraging a “new convert” to be baptised, since baptism is not a “gospel issue” and he could not add anything to what was presented when he “received Christ” (Col. 2:6). This post flows on from a previous one and the discussion there on how we understand  “the gospel”. I can readily assent to baptism not being a matter which should hinder fellowship when we come to different conclusions about the Biblical evidence. But that is not the same as saying it is not an outworking of the gospel. Yes, Paul, to make a point in the context of a church dispute, can say that he was commissioned “not to baptise, but to proclaim the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17). But to take this as a warrant for indifference to the NT’s mode of identification with Christ would be to outrun the evidence (Paul was baptised and did in fact baptise others, as well as writing on the subject as the occasion suggested). It is baptism which seals our union with Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12) and our incorporation through the Spirit into the one body (1 Cor. 12:13).

Baptism is the initial faith response expected in the discipling task which Jesus entrusted to his followers (Matt. 28:19). Consequently, baptism is right at the forefront of Peter’s proclamation of the gospel on the day of Pentecost. “Repent and be baptised” is his summary of the response he calls for to his message (Acts 2:38). Peter is even bold enough to express the thought that it is baptism which (rightly understood) “saves us” (1 Pet. 3:21). Baptism is the immediate response to Philip’s gospelling (Acts 8:12). In fact, as I read the account of the growth of the early church, I am struck by the constant note of the urgency of baptism; it is not something which should be denied or delayed to any who wish to identify with the Messiah and his new community. This is how the community recognises those who share their faith, those who are joined in a common bond of commitment to him and to one another. Baptism figures in a key list of core unifying principles: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).

When we abandon baptism, we substitute other more individualistic and subjective forms of recognition and exclusion. We undermine the unity on which the NT places such a high value. We subvert the gospel.


Thursday, 9 July 2009

Useful Resource for OT Background

As my students will know, I am frequently drawing attention to the context within which the Old Testament was written, particularly its literary context. The genres, the imagery, the idioms, even the vocabulary of OT narrative, poetry and prophecy need to be considered in the light of Egyptian, Mesopotamian and other Western Asian and Meditterranean sources. For decades the most accessible compilation of relevant documents was J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET). More recently, the 3 vol. Context of Scripture (COS), ed. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (which I have electronically in a searchable form): has more recently provided a more up-to-date and more comprehensive collection, with helpful Bible index. What has been lacking is an index from COS to ANET, for the newer anthology doesn’t make the older redundant (not everything is reproduced in COS for a start). This is now remedied by this useful online COS/ANET index.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

AACC - Queensland Theological College Conference - AACC 2010 definitely worth diarising

I was with John Davies at the AACC this week and I heartily agree that it was a worthwhile week. I am planning to return next year.
Most of the sessions were excellent - but for me there were three highlights, all because of their direct practical relevance to my own ministry and life.
First, there was Richard Bauckham's three plenary sessions on the Gospels as Testimony (a summary of his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and then further reflections in the light of critical responses). As a Christian, I found Richard's exploration of the nature of Ancient biography (or 'testimony') very fortifying: I definitely need to get the book and digest his case more thoroughly.
Next there was Greg Clarke's (of Sydney's Centre for Public Christianity) 'after' dinner speech, Taming Your Tongue in Academia. As a teacher at PTC, I was challenged to renew efforts to make my speech and silence at PTC true ministry. I hope this gets published somewhere as it will be worth chewing over more.
Finally, I really 'enjoyed' (if that is the word for it - Ezekiel 16 is very difficult material) seeing Andrew Sloane (who teaches OT and Systematics at Morling College) in full flight as he considered The office of the prophets: Ezekiel 16 in the pulpit. Apart from the excellent content in this paper, Andrew challenged me in three ways. First, to keep on using my Hebrew (his study of Ezekiel 16 just would not have been possible without access to the Masoretic Text as the English versions all excessively sanitise Ezekiel's rhetoric to make it 'readable in Church'). Second, the value of passion in the academy. Andrew is a wonderful communicator and passion is at the heart of his style. This seems very apt for a paper about God's holy passion for an Israel whose very unholy passion had so disgusted God. It seems the sleeve of an academic gown is not such a bad place to wear your heart after all. Thirdly, his paper was pastorally accessible and had immediate practical value for the ordinary preacher. This is something I must work harder at in my papers as I develop my own style in writing and delivering conference papers in coming years.
Two minor beefs about the conference. First I find it objectionable that St Lucia, and QTC are so much prettier than Burwood. What a wonderful site for a theological college!
Second: how does 'Annual Australasian Conference for the Academy and the Church' produce the initials 'AACC'? This drove me just a little bit crazy all week!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

AACC Conference in Brisbane

This post comes from Brisbane where a couple of us from the PTC staff in Sydney are giving papers this week at the grandly titled Annual Australasian Christian Conference for the Academy and the Church. The “Annual” bit is somewhat prophetic, this being the first. It is good to see some increasing opportunities for those teaching Biblical studies (they even let theologians and other Christian scholars into this one) having an opportunity in the antipodes for professional exchange of ideas and stimulus to scholarship and research as well as ministry focused sessions. The keynote speakers at this conference are Richard Bauckham and David Baker. I testify to the fact that I am an eyewitness to Richard’s presentations on the Gospels (and rather daunted by having him in the front row of my NT presentation!) David Baker is speaking about the portrayal of women in the OT and in the background literature.

My paper was on the Greeks who desired to see Jesus in John 12. I ask the question, are these Greeks (unwittingly) following a script laid down for them in the OT and fulfilling second temple expectations? Can we narrow down the text or texts which provide the substructure to John’s narrative? Why does their appearance have such a profound effect upon Jesus? Does this pericope shed light on the Gospel as a whole?