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Book Review: Matthean Sets of Parables by Peter Yaw Oppong-Kumi

I have just completed writing a brief “Book Note” for Religious Studies Review on Oppong-Kumi’s published Tübingen dissertation, Matthean Sets of Parables. The (not-yet-published) RSR review is necessarily very short (250 words) and can never do justice to a 400+ page book that has much to offer. So, I’m recording here a few reflections as well.

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Creative Walking

This past week I had the joyous opportunity to teach a brand new course to our class of new PhD and ThM students at Southern. The class is entitled, “Foundations for Theological Study” and it focuses on issues of faith and scholarship and Christian epistemology. I’ll soon be posting various reflections on the textbooks I use for this class.

For now I want to mention just one small part of the best book from the class, A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Method. Sertillanges, in a robust Thomistic way, emphasizes the necessarily embodiedness of our lives, including our lives as scholars and thinkers. As a result he offers a very thoughtful view of how to maintain balance in all of living, including the importance of periodic physical activity.

Along these lines my assistant found these helpful articles Continue reading

New TIS book forthcoming from Allen and Swain

Now this is a book that I am pumped up about! Michael Allen and Scott Swain are two very bright youngish evangelical theologians and this new book of theirs, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, promises much.

Here is the info from Baker’s website:


Can Christians and churches be both catholic and Reformed? In this volume, two accomplished young theologians argue that to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity rather than away from it. Their manifesto for a catholic and Reformed approach to dogmatics seeks theological renewal through retrieval of the rich resources of the historic Christian tradition. The book provides a survey of recent approaches toward theological retrieval and offers a renewed exploration of the doctrine of sola scriptura. It includes a substantive afterword by J. Todd Billings.

Introduction: Renewal through Retrieval
1. Learning Theology in the School of Christ: The Principles of Theology and the Promise of Retrieval
2. Retrieving Sola Scriptura, Part One: The Catholic Context of Sola Scriptura
3. Retrieving Sola Scriptura, Part Two: Biblical Traditioning
4. A Ruled Reading Reformed: The Role of the Church’s Confession in Biblical Interpretation
5. In Defense of Proof Texting
Afterword: Rediscovering the Catholic-Reformed Tradition for Today: A Biblical Christ-Centered Vision for Church Renewal by J. Todd Billings


New T&T Clark book and Intra-canonical Reading

Some day I hope to do a major project that explores how texts within the canon speak with other in dialogue — a kind of intra-canonical theological reading that moves beyond merely intertextual studies that seek to prove literary dependence. An example of this kind of intra-canonical dialogical would be exploring how the Gospel of Matthew and John’s Revelation together speak theologically, independent of any kind of arguments for their literary or historical dependence.

In light of my recurrent reflections on this idea, I was excited today to see the announcement of a new book exploring the relations of the Catholic Epistles and the Jesus Traditions. I don’t anticipate that this book is doing what I’m suggesting methodologically, but it looks to have some good essays exploring potential intra-canonical connections.

BOOK: James, 1&2 Peter, and Early Jesus Traditions, edited by Alicia Batten and John Kloppenberg


PART A: The Letter of James and Jesus Traditions
1. Q and James: A Source-Critical Conundrum
Paul Foster
2. Wholeness in James and the Q Source
Patrick J. Hartin
3. The Audience of James and the Sayings of Jesus
Dale C. Allison, Jr.
4. The Urbanization of Jesus Traditions in James
Alicia J. Batten
5. Stoicism, Social Stratification, and the Q Tradition in James: A Suggestion about James’ Audience
David A. Kaden

PART B: First and Second Peter and Jesus Traditions
6. Jesus Remembered in 1 Peter? Early Jesus Traditions, Isaiah 53, and 1 Pet 2.21-25
David G. Horrell
7. Early Jesus Tradition in 1 Peter 3.18-22
Duane F. Watson
8. The Gospels of Matthew and John in the Second Letter of Peter
Terrance Callan
9. The Testimony of Peter: 2 Peter and the Gospel Traditions
Gene L. Green
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John Frame on variety of misunderstandings of Holy Scripture

In his published lectures, Perspectives on the Word of God, John Frame has a lucid little discussion of the three (!) different media through which God speaks/communicates:

  1. Event-Media — nature and general history; redemptive history; miracles
  2. Word-Media — the divine voice; God’s word through the prophets and apostles; God’s written word; preaching
  3. Person-Media — the human constitution; the example of Christian leaders; the presence of God himself

This is a helpful and balanced (tri-)perspective of how God communicates his Word with unity.

Frame goes on to note the potential imbalances that can occur by any group when one or more of these media are neglected or over-emphasized — the dangers of biblicism, historicism, and mysticism. There’s a powerful critique herein for every stripe of theologian:

“It is possible for an evangelical to be a ‘biblicist’ in the sense that he or she, purposely or not, tends to ignore event- and person-revelation; and we should be humble enough to accept such criticism, even from liberals, when it is rightly due. But it is also possible to be a ‘historicist,’ looking only at ‘event-revelation,’ and looking at it without the guidance of Scripture and the Spirit. Such a historicist will deny what Spirit-attested Scripture says about history. Or one may be a ‘mystic’ absorbed in the revelation given by the Spirit to our subjectivity, but ignoring Scripture and creation. But none of these positions — biblicism,  historicism, or cynicism — so understood, is biblically defensible.” (Perspectives, 34)

Frame’s Triads — His Perspective

Certainly one of the great theologians of our day is John Frame who has been reflecting deeply and writing longly for decades. (See, e.g., just a few of his books here, here, and here.)

You don’t have to read much Frame before you start to see everything is in three’s for him. I’ve read just enough Frame that his tri-perspectivalism (which I like a lot) on every point has begun to suck me into its trinitarian vortex — I start to see three’s in everything as well.

Therefore, it was interesting and delightful to run across these brief self-reflections about his propensity for three’s that Frame made in passing in a 1988 lecture (later published as Perspectives on the Word of God):

You may be thinking by now that these threefold distinctions are getting to be a little too schematic, too neat; I think so too, but I find them hard to avoid. Sometimes I think that I’m hooked into some mysterious trinitarian structure deep in Scripture; other times I think it’s just a useful pedagogical device. Perhaps it comes from sleeping through too many three point sermons as a child.” (Perspectives on the Word of God, p.20)

Parable-ized by Jesus and Lego

In conjunction with my student, friend, and SBTS Course Developer Extraordinaire, Brian Renshaw (check out his great blog) I have developed a new online course for SBTS on Jesus’ Parables. It is a class I have taught once or twice before on campus and now we have solidified it with short video lectures, readings, and assignments as an online class. It should run once per year.

One of the things I like about this class is the use of various film versions of parables as a way to examine both the Reception History / Wirkungsgeschichte of these parables, but also as interesting ways to get at their interpretation through a fresh retelling. The best re-tellings of the parables I’ve seen are those down by the Modern Parables group; very impressive and deeply moving at parts, especially their Good Samaritan and Prodigal Sons versions.

But there are also other fun re-tellings, such as this Lego one that Brian discovered for me for the class:

Lego Parable of the Wise & Foolish Builders.

SPOILER ALERT: Watch the video and then read on…

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Reflections on Teaching the History of Interpretation

I am wrapping up a very meaningful and productive week as a visiting professor at Southeastern in Wake Forest, NC. I have experienced a lot of peace while here and have enjoyed new and developing relationships with a wide variety of friends here, old and new.

Southeastern is a great place. I am very impressed with the rigor of the PhD program, the quality of the students in terms of ability and engagement, and the great ethos of the school over all — very irenic, thoughtful, and dialogical. I credit this to the president and the administrators down through the faculty.

Following are a number of reflections/impressions I have from this week of teaching a PhD seminar on “The History of the Interpretation of the Gospels.” This is the third time I have taught a Hist Interp class, once at the MDiv level and now twice as a PhD seminar. I am teaching it as a seminar again this Fall at Southern.

The following reflections are not in any particular order:

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Reading the Gospels Smithly

I’ve been teaching as a Visiting Professor this week at SEBTS in Wake Forest, NC. It has been a great delight to walk through the history of interpretation again with a bright group of PhD students and to connect with many old friends and make new ones.

Part of my academic opportunity here this week included the opportunity to present a paper for the PhD colloquium at the Center for Faith and Culture. I used this opportunity to pull together my thoughts on JKA Smith’s books, Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom and put them in dialogue with some of my own thoughts on the Gospels and theology in general. It was a great delight to prepare the paper and to present it to an eager audience of professors and students. I was pleased with the reception and there was good Q&A afterwards.

The session was recorded and will be posted in due time by SEBTS. I will likely also publish the paper in some format somewhere.

In the meanwhile, below is the outline in its most skeleton form:

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Memory Techniques in Medieval Christianity

In preparation for my lectures on medieval interpretation of the Gospels I just re-read Mary Carruthers’ fascinating essay, “Memory, Imagination, and the Interpretation of Scripture in the Middle Ages” (pp214-234 in the Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible).

Here is my summary of her argument (my comments in italics):

A common trope in antiquity was that of a learned person as a living library, making him- or herself into a mental chest of memorized texts that were then ready at hand as a reference or meditation tool. There are many famous examples including people like Didymus the Blind.

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Reading the Gospels WiselyFor the past ten years I have been working on the hermeneutical issues of what the Gospels are and how we are to read them. I'm thrilled to be finally done with this book!

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Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of MatthewThe theme of heaven and earth is a much-overlooked aspect of the Gospel of Matthew. In this work, rising scholar Jonathan Pennington articulates a fresh perspective on this key interpretive issue, challenging both the scholarly and popular understandings of the meaning of Matthew's phrase, "kingdom of heaven." Pennington argues that rather than being a reverent way of referring to God as is typically assumed, "heaven" in Matthew is part of a highly developed discourse of heaven and earth language.

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