I know that a number of Australian and UCA friends now read this blog from time to time. So for them, and for others, here is a typically honest Christmas Greeting from Al Macrae, President of the Uniting Church in Australia (and a mate).
I loved this little taxonomy of the way in which different parts of the Church understand the nature of revelation which in turn shapes their relation to history and tradition:
"For conservative minds ... revelation is doctrine formulated as far as possible in clear-cut propositional statement grounded either in an inerrantly inspired Bible, inerrantly interpreted by men of the Spirit who show themselves to be so by their assertion of biblical inerrancy, or in an unfailing organ of teaching authority, a magisterium ... whose rulings through the centuries can be conveniently gathered in a canonist's handbook, and whose verdicts are really all one needs to know."
"A less hard concept of revelation would speak of scripture and the consensus of the faithful, expressed through the formative councils such as Nicaea and Chalcedon, the definitions of which 'witness' to a divine self-disclosure in Christ for the redemption of humanity. ... It remains a presupposition that a criterion of truth in the Church is consonance with scripture and ancient tradition or at least an absence of evident dissonance."
"An altogether softer evaluation of revelation would see it as a divinely inspired, immanent enhancement of the natural consciousness of the Christian community, enabling it to cut free from the shackles of the past and from the habits of religious convention. Thereby the Church is an agency of creative independence, whether by charismatic renewal or by jettisoning the ways of the past. The criterion of fidelity to the historical foundations of the faith, and to the formative decisions of the age when Christianity was, so to speak, deciding to be Christianity in the ordinarily recognizable form, becomes hardly more than marginal. The crucial test is that Christians should not be ludicrously at loggerheads with the self-evident assumptions of their secular contemporaries who, after all, are also God's creation living in God's world and are likely to have things to teach those who allow their faith to shut them into a cultural ghetto."
Chadwick, Henry. "Making and Remaking in the Ministry of the Church." in The Making and Remaking of Christian Doctrine: Essays in Honour of Maurice Wiles. Edited by Sarah Coakley and David Pailin. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993. pp.23-24.
Readers of this blog probably get a good idea of which of these three mini-portraits best summarizes my own view.
The Melbourne College of Divinity celebrates its centenary in 2010. Details of a special centenary conference are now becoming available. The conference will be connected with other conferences happening at the same time. I have been invited to give a paper (initial thoughts are to explore something relating to the nature of 'Secular Hermeneutics' with special reference to Barth and Bonhoeffer, but we shall see.)
Anyway, here are the details:
The Future of Religionin Australian Society
July 4th-7th 2010
Trinity College Melbourne
vLeading international and local scholars
will participate in the conference
vA seminal event in theological
reflection in Australia, providing valuable insights for theological and
academic institutions in Australia and overseas.
vOrganised in association with the Australian
and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools conference July 7th-
9th, and the Australian Catholic Biblical Association and Fellowship
of Biblical Studies conferences July 9th- 10th.
·The Future of Religion in Australia: past, present and
·Religion of the Land
·Religion: Challenges of Pluralism
·Ethics and Social Justice
Word in the World
and Culture/ the Arts
A special Centenary edition of “Pacifica” will be launched at
In a sense there is little need for me to summarize this important session at SBL. Andy Rowell provides the audio of the session here and lists some reviews of the book here. The details of those who responded etc can be gleaned from those sources. So what follows are my reflections not so much on the book (which I am still planning to discuss more fully here) but on the Review Panel itself (note: I had to sneak out part way through in order to sing Happy Birthday to my youngest daughter over the phone - if there is something I missed, I am sure others will let me know).
1. It was a good session. I am growing a little suspicious of the number of 'book review' sessions at SBL, suspecting that they may be driven as much by marketing considerations as by scholarly/academic criteria. But in this case, the importance of Campbell's book was self-evident long before the meeting, and the session devoted to its review lived up to expectations, not least because Campbell himself is a consummate rhetorician.
2. Mike Gorman's response, admirably accompanied by operatic arias from the next room, was predictable, but none the worse for that. Gorman forecasted his criticisms of the book in his blog posts here and here. In short, he doesn't see why we need to read Romans 1-3 as an ironic, satirical, speech-in-character portrayal of the view of Paul's opponents/ 'The Teacher' for the rest of Campbell's insights to be valid.
3. Douglas Moo's response was also predictable, but from my own point of view, in a less satisfactory manner. Echoing a number of Gorman's points, he then tried to engage Campbell at the level of exegetical detail, not least surrounding the interpretation of the key terms in Romans 3.21-26. For me this was less successful because I agree with Campbell's take on e.g. Paul's righteousness language, pistis Christou, view of the atonement, use of OT etc etc. I naturally am inclined to think that Campbell has the better of the arguments at precisely these points.
4. Moo's response set up that of Alan Torrance perfectly. For me, Torrance's performance was the highlight of the show: a dogmatician teaching biblical scholars a thing or two about hermeneutics. Torrance made what, to my mind, was a petty devastating case for understanding the western forms of justification theory as (a) shaped by the developing judicial and contractual accounts of human relations in post-biblical western society and (b) therefore having a deleterious effect on the history of a western theological tradition that in turn served to legitimate the worst aspects of the culture in which it was embedded (not least its endemic violence). To me it felt a bit like Obama giving his inauguration speech with Bush sitting right there in front of him. Torrance seemed to be saying to Moo (not personally, but as a representative of the traditional mode of interpretation) 'you think that what you are doing is (a) self-evidently right and (b) ethically innocuous - well think again'. Anyone who has read the preface to Campbell's book will know that the anxiety of influence here is complex, and that Campbell's initial re-assessment of Paul was prompted by reading Torrance's assessment of the effects of federal calvinism. Anyway, I thought that Torrance was the star of the show.
5. Campbell's response to these three was rigorous, humorous and, to the extent that he located his reading of Romans 1-3 in a broader literary and social context of satire and lampooning, illuminating. However, I am left with two questions, both of which lead me to think further about whether Chris Tilling is right when he suggests that 'I don't think anyone provided a clear refutation of his exegetical claims – at least in the session'. Maybe not a clear refutation - but for me the conviction needs to come in the following areas. First, the suggestion made by Gorman and Tom Wright (and apparently Richard Hays, see the comments to Chris's post) in a question to the effect that Romans 1-3 can represent Paul's view without making it into a soteriological or epistemological 'foundation' seems to me to be more economical an explanation that the suggestion that it is, in part, not least 1.18-32, a speech-in-character. Secondly, at this stage I am less than convinced that Jerusalem stands behind Rome as the key exigence for the letter. I haven't got there yet in the book, but is 'The Teacher' ever named? Is it James? Peter? Final decisions must await complete engagement with the book, but at the moment these are my two areas of questioning.
What is undoubtedly true is that somehow the insights from this book that generate some degree of consensus now needs to be proclaimed from the rooftops: not just what an apocalyptic Paul looks like, but most importantly (as Torrance showed us) why this stuff matters.