From the Dean

News items, published articles, and reading recommendations from Dean Timothy George




The One Really Interesting Story

By Timothy George
May 30, 2016

The Christian Church confesses that [what the world calls]“myth” is history itself. She recognizes herself by this myth, she recognizes her life, her true reality. She is the witness of witnesses, she recognizes through the Holy Spirit that this is the one really interesting story. Then she turns back the historians’ weapon: She says to them: What you call “myth,” that is history! She will also add: What you call history, that is a myth! A myth, a made-up history, that fancies the fate of man as depending on his earthly vicissitudes, a myth, a made-up history, that confuses the immediate success of a cause with its truth, and so on.
—Karl Barth

The Book of Acts opens with two events of great salvation-historical importance: the going up of Jesus from earth into heaven (the Ascension), and the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples (Pentecost). Both events are commemorated by Christians in this season of the year. Jesus’s resurrection from the dead inaugurated God’s new beginning, which the New Testament calls “the last days.” In Jesus Christ, the future has invaded the present, and Christians are those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Jesus’s Ascension into heaven does not mean that he is absent from his followers, but rather that he is present to them in another form.

Before Jesus died, he said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). From Pentecost on, the Spirit of God, who is also called the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ, would come to live in everyone who repented of their sins and believed in Jesus. Many Christians describe their new relationships with God as having Jesus in their hearts. “You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, ‘Papa! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6, The Message). Truly to know God in this way is the greatest thing that can happen in anyone’s life. The Bible says it is like being born again, or raised from the dead, or coming out of the deepest darkness into the light of day. But none of this would be possible without the witness and work of the Holy Spirit, who not only makes us aware of our need for God and puts us into a right relationship with the Father through the Son, but also fills us and empowers us to walk with Christ every day and to grow in our love for him and for one another.

What we are talking about here is not a matter of self-improvement, of turning over a new leaf. Nor is it a question of having some ecstatic mystical experience. The saving knowledge of God is unattainable by human effort. That is why justification, our being declared right before God, is by faith alone, not on the basis of any good works or personal merit we can claim. As a hymn by Augustus M. Toplady puts it, “In my hands no price I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” Salvation is based solely on what God has once and for all done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What Christ has done for us, though, must be appropriated personally through our turning away from sin (repentance) and our turning in reliant trust to the Savior himself (faith). John Calvin, a great teacher of the church, put it this way: “As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us” (Institutes 3.1.1.). Read the rest at First Things.

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Posted by Kristen Padilla at Monday, May 30, 2016
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The Dean Recommends: Died - Kenneth Bailey, the Scholar Who Made Jesus Middle Eastern Again

By Kate Shellnut
May 25, 2016

Kenneth E. Bailey, the scholar who introduced evangelicals to Middle Eastern culture and history, died Monday at age 85.

Bailey gave Western readers “the eyes to see” the deeper significance of Jesus’ life and stories by placing them in the cultural context of the Middle East, publishing books like Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, a 2012 CT Book Awards winner.

Bailey was the “premier cultural interpreter of the life of Jesus,” according to Wheaton College New Testament professor Gary Burge. Bailey’s insights stemmed from his own childhood in Egypt and a 40-year career studying and teaching in Egypt, Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon.

“He told the parables of Jesus to peasants from Morocco to Pakistan, and their insight helped him (and so us) gain new understanding that would be available no other way,” wrote Andy Le Peau, his editor at InterVarsity Press. “Being fluent in many ancient languages also gave him a remarkable perspective on the New Testament that few others could match.” Read the rest at Christianity Today.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Friday, May 27, 2016
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A Tribute to John Webster

By Mark S. Gignilliat
May 26, 2016

I learned this morning of John Webster’s untimely death. I guess death is never timely from a certain vantage point, yet always so from another. Webster’s passing is a momentous loss to the world of academic theology. As with many others, I lament the silencing of his earthly voice because I found my theological outlook so shaped by it. “John Webster has turned his attention and affection backward from Barth to the Protestant scholastic John Owen to Thomas Aquinas? Perhaps I need to rethink matters.” Such thought processes were not uncommon for me in the following of Webster’s theological trajectories and movements.

If Webster wrote it, then I wanted to read it. For over a decade now, I’ve regularly assigned to our students his slim but substantial volume Holy Scripture. I have done so for two reasons. One, I wanted students to see a first rate, constructive theological mind at work. Two, I thought it important for students to locate their confession and understanding of the Bible within a Trinitarian frame of reasoning. To my mind, no theologian of our time has articulated such an account better than John Webster. I thought the best of his work was yet to come. But that’s what I thought.

I owe John Webster a great deal. He agreed to publish my second book on Barth’s theological interpretation of Isaiah and proved a gracious and encouraging conversation partner throughout the project. I also feel eternally indebted to Webster because of his deep probing and pressing into the relationship between Scripture and Theology. While many involved in the theological interpretation movement continue endless hermeneutical debates, Webster provided a reading strategy for Holy Scripture that was consonant with an ordered and dogmatic account of Scripture’s nature and role. Such simple yet profound statements as, “and he [Jesus] is before all things” (Col. 1:17) became robust interpretive commitments to the Trinitarian subject matter of all Scripture, Old and New Testaments. I am grateful for the theological tools Webster leaves behind because they carry with them endless potential for a close reading strategy of the biblical text, a strategy that remains uncomfortable with endless hermeneutical chatter without the hard work of engaging the Bible itself. For as Webster seemed never to tire of saying, theology is exegesis.

I do have two memories worth sharing about Professor Webster. His humility could catch you off guard, but it was not affected. At a theological roundtable in St. Andrews, back in my student days, a presenter was speaking of the relationship between exegesis and the imagination. It was a good paper, but I noticed Professor Webster playing with a paper clip during the entire presentation. Afterward in the discussion, the fellow sitting next to Webster said, I think John has something to say. He had called Webster out, even though it was obvious he did not want to say anything. Sheepishly, Professor Webster said, “I think Calvin would call that use of the imagination idolatry.” Well, that changed the tenor of the conversation.

At the same conference, Webster presented a paper on a dogmatic understanding of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture. It was the kind of paper we expected from Webster: clear in prose, simple in presentation, substantially penetrative, and demanding on the intellectual faculties of the hearers. When finished, a noted biblical scholar in the room asked, “Well, John, if Scripture is clear then what am I doing as a Bible scholar?” [Now, this is beyond the point of the story, but the scholar misunderstood that the clarity of Scripture is a claim about the Spirit’s ability to utilize Scripture salvifically for those who read and hear. It is not a claim that the entire Bible is immanently accessible to the unlearned. Augustine claims as much in his De Doctrina. But back to the story.] Webster looked puzzled. With no hint of irony or sarcasm in his voice he responded, “Well, I hope you are doing what every Christian does when reading Holy Scripture, listening for the Word of God.” Despite the chuckles throughout the room, the force of the response left its mark. At least it did on me. I’ll never forget that moment because in it, I heard the call of God on my own life reinforced. Engendering of love of God by reasoned and affectionate attention to Holy Scripture. Is there a higher calling in this transitory life? I do not think so.

I did not know John Webster very well. We didn’t exchange Christmas cards or look for one another at professional conferences. We were not friends, though he was always friendly and approachable. But he shaped my approach to Scripture and theology in more ways than I know. I was hoping for more, but I will remain grateful for what I have.


Mark S. Gignilliat is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School.

 

 

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Thursday, May 26, 2016
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