Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Childs on Canon - the purpose of his book

Childs begins his book by surveying recent Pauline scholarship and how rarely (if ever) the subject of canon is ever raised. This is understandable from the perspective that sees ‘canon’ a later construct used by the church to signify a set of writings as authoritative. Of what consuequence could their decision have for the task of understanding Paul.

However, as Childs points out to speak of a Pauline theology is to presuppose a Pauline corpus. Once we begin to speak in these terms we have started using canonical language. To speak of ‘a “Pauline corpus” is to enter into

‘the arena of how the historical letters were received, treasured, and shaped, which is of course a canonical question. Can one really search for a Pauline theology when the voices of those are missing who preserved his letters explicitly for an ongoing theological function within the early communities of Christian faith?' (p.3)

As such:

'The purpose of this monograph is therefore to explore the exegetical and hermeneutical implications of canon for understanding within the context of the church' (p3.)

In other words this is primarily a book about how the concept of the canon informs our reading of Paul.

Canon - an introductory note

As I begin working through Childs’ book on the canon and Paul, I wanted to point out that many of these posts will be simple reporting of the contents of the book. At points - probably much later on - I will try and do some evaluation but for the most part the early posts will be seeking to reproduce Childs’ argument. And here lies one of the dangers of blogging - especially in mini posts like this. So, please take note that in seeking to reproduce Childs’ argument (much of which I imagine I will agree with), I am not automatically signalling agreement with everything.


The issue of canon is a vital one for our doctrine of Scripture. Why should we regard certain writings as normative, indeed as the Word of God? What exactly is it that makes these particualar writings special? I think this is a question that will become more acute in the years to come as it touches on many of our contemporary debates. So, take homosexual practice. Why should Christians regard 1 Timothy 1:10 (for example) as normative and not the writings and experiences of modern Christians who want to affirm belief in Christ and homosexual practice? Isn't the authority of 1 Timothy merely derived from the decsisions of the early church - weak, flawed men as much as any generation? Or even if we say that it may have been authoritative for that generation, why should it continue to remain authoritative when times and people have changed so much.

Over the next few months I am hoping to make some posts on the issue of canon. Many, I am guessing will flow from a book I have just started reading: The Church's Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus by Brevard S. Childs. Here is a quote to whet your appetite:

[I]n my opinion the widespread axiom of the New Testament guild that the subject of canon does not belong to critical New Testament study, but is a later activity of church history, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. [...] [This misunderstanding] serves to illustrate two dramatically opposed understandings of the task of biblical studies, and to demonstrate how high are the theological issues at stake.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

No time to exercise?

Just six minutes of intense exercise a week does as much to improve a person's fitness as a regime of six hours, a study says. Read the whole thing.

No time to read (II)?

An oldie but a goodie from John Stott:

An hour a day is the absolute minimum time for study which even the busiest pastors should be able to achieve. . . Many will achieve more. But the minimum would amount to this: every day at least one hour; every week one morning, afternoon or evening; every month a full day; every year a week.

No time to read?

From Brothers We are not Professionals, some encouragement to read from John Piper:

We think we don’t have time to read. We despair of reading anything spiritually rich and substantial because life seems to be lived in snatches. One of the most helpful discoveries I made is how much can be read in disciplined blocks of twenty minutes a day. Suppose that you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words. An average book has about 400 words to a page. So you could read about twelve and a half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. Assume that an average book is 250 pages long. This means you could read 15 books like that in one year. Or take a longer classic like John Calvin Institutes (fifteen hundred pages). At twenty minutes a day and 250 words a minute and six days a week, you could finish it in 25 weeks. Then Augustine’s The City of God and B.B. Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible could be finished before year’s end. This astonishing discovery freed me from the paralysis of not starting great, mind-shaping, heart-enriching books because I lacked enough big blocks of time. It turns out that I don’t need long periods of time in order to read three masterpieces in one year! I needed twenty minutes a day, six days a week.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Powerful preaching

After something of a hiatus (for a number of reasons - some ongoing), I came across and was struck by the following statement:

We must pose a question. Given the rejection of biblical inerrancy and the acceptance of historical-critical methods, what is the basis of the claim that something preachable is necessarily in the text? Why is a word of truth of God necessarily present in a passage of the Bible chosen by a lectionarist or by the preacher? [...] [W]hymeone who thinks that the Bible originated historically, contextually, and editorially, thus reflecting the human and even corrupted perspectives of its writers, think that any passage one happens to select must contain something in or about it that is proclaimable?
The quote is from Edward Parley (of the Divinity School of Vanderbuilt University) in an article entitled 'Preaching the Bible and Preaching the Gospel. (Theology Today, 51 (1994), p100). Clearly there are massive issues with it, and he implicitly draws lines which are incorrect (in the last sentence, for example, he posits a disjunction between divine inspiration and the reality of human authorship).

The issue to which I wish to draw attention, however, is in the first two sentences, where he asks the question about the 'rejection of inerrancy' and the presence of the 'word of truth or God' in the Scriptures. In the present climate where inerrancy is openly debated amongst bible-believing evangelicals, I wonder if Parley is actually making an insightful point. Al Mohler, in whose little pamphlet the above quote is found, states that Parley is 'taunt[ing] preachers who reject the inerrancy of the Scripture, but who continue to preach biblical texts.' (Preaching: The Centrality of Scripture, p.12). If we are to reject the inerrancy of Scripture, then isn't Parley, at one level, correct? Why preach from the Scriptures if they might contain error? It's a fair criticism.

Of course I realise that the inerrancy debate is a large and carefully nuanced one. But it's not one confined to the academy. For if the Bible is not inerrant, then surely our preaching would struggle to be declaratively powerful? If we're not certain that what the Bible says, God says, then what we say cannot honestly be held forth as divinely saving words to a suffering world.

Might God strengthen us this Christmas to hold to the unfailing infallible word, and to preach and proclaim it with all confidence and care.