Public Lecture by John Behr on Irenaeus and Divine Simplicity

Behr LectureWhile there is now no more room available for attending the colloquium, the lecture presented by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr is still free and open to the public. His lecture is entitled “Synchronic and Diachronic Harmony: Irenaeus on Divine Simplicity.” If you do plan on attending, we ask that you please contact us and let us know. We hope to see you there!

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Review of Matthew Commentaries by Ulrich Luz

Luz MatthewLuz, Ulrich. Matthew 1–7: A Commentary. Translated by James E. Crouch. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007. 472 pp. $75.

Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 8–20: A Commentary. Translated by James E. Crouch. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001. 646 pp. $85.

Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 21–28: A Commentary. Translated by James E. Crouch. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress , 2005. 726 pp. $90.

When it comes to “go-to commentaries” for Matthean studies, few scholars will deny that the commentary set by Ulrich Luz is a frontrunner. This three volume set, written by the renowned Matthean scholar Ulrich Luz and translated from German into English by James E. Crouch provides an in-depth, scholarly treatment of Matthew that is indispensable to anyone wanting to get a solid grasp of the first gospel.

Ulrich Luz (Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Bern in Switzerland) has offered many rich contributions to Matthean studies for several years. His key works available in English include Studies in Matthew (2005), The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew (1995), and Matthew in History: Interpretation, Influence, and Effects (1994). But his magnum opus is certainly this three volume commentary on Matthew. It is an English translation from his four volume German commentary on Matthew (1985 – 2002) published in the Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament series.

As part of the Hermeneia series published by Fortress Press, these commentaries certainly live up to the high level of academic excellence we have come to expect from the series, which is known for its keen attention to historical backgrounds, textual criticism, and history of interpretation. Luz’s commentary set, alongside other critical commentaries in the Hermeneia series, is aimed at “the serious student of the Bible” and as such provides benefits not only to scholars but also to educated pastors and laypersons interested in an in-depth study of the text.

Luz’s commentaries reflect his years of study and reflection on the first gospel and demonstrate Luz’s solid grasp of both the broad contours and specific details of the book. Its strengths include its careful engagement with the text, close attention to historical backgrounds, survey of important relevant literature, careful attention to the contribution of various ecclesiastical traditions (early church, Protestant, Catholic, etc.), and a keen focus on the gospel’s history of interpretation.

The commentaries as a whole are well-organized, smoothly written and translated, and easy to use. In the vast amount of introductory information (88 pages) at the beginning, a trademark of the Hermeneia series, Luz presents a thorough overview of Matthew’s structure, characteristics, genre, purpose, style, sources, authorship, historical setting, theology and other pertinent matters. Assuming the two-source theory, Luz also includes here two helpful lists: one of “Matthew’s Preferred Vocabulary (consisting of words that are redactionally significant) and another of “Avoided Words in Matthew” (consisting of words in Mark that tend to be avoided in Matthew). This section is rich with important information on Matthew and is well worth a careful read.

The actual commentary on the text is divided up by pericope, proceeding from the beginning to the end of Matthew. The material is laid out in double columns with clear headings and subheadings, making the commentary easy to read or just simply scan for pertinent information. The section for each pericope begins with a bibliography containing important publications for that particular passage and thanks to Luz’s German nationality, is sure to include several of the key German works (although English, French, Italian and Spanish works are included as well). Although the bibliography does not attempt to be exhaustive, it offers an important starting place for research. After that follows Luz’s translation of the text and exposition, with the main text of commentary in regular font and material on details in the text or tangential issues in a smaller font. Not the least of valuable features are the extensive footnotes, which are full of pertinent biblical and extra-biblical references, additional background information, and more bibliographic information.

As for hermeneutical method, while being primarily historical-critical, Luz affirms that he is not “bound to a single methodological approach” (1:xvii) but attempts to integrate various approaches, with attention to literary criticism and sociological and reader-oriented exegeses. Luz gives significant attention to the history of a text’s interpretation as well as its influence (Wirkungsgeschichte) which he understands as “consisting of all the reflections on and receptions and actualizations of the gospel in new historical situations” (1:xvii). This approach is the hallmark of Luz’s work, and flows, in part, from his fundamental hermeneutical convictions that texts “do not simply have a fixed, closed meaning; they are full of possibilities” (64). In this regard Luz emphasizes the “openness of the texts” for certain key passages like the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer (1:190, 314), and so an analysis of the history of the texts’ effects are helpful for determining their meaning for today. Luz does not limit his overview to literary works, but also includes how certain themes were portrayed in the arts. For example, in regard to Matthew’s passion narrative, the commentary contains a section on how the passion has been portrayed in art, music and drama.

Often criticized in this commentary set is Luz’s approach to the text which commonly dismisses the historicity of miraculous events. The virgin birth, for example, is considered by Luz as historically improbable (although he sees the story itself as having benefit for pointing to God’s real actions in Jesus Christ). However, this aspect in no way overwhelms the commentaries and one can certainly still hold a conservative viewpoint on Scripture and the events of the Christ narrative and yet gain much from Luz’s work.

While other commentaries may give a bit more detailed exegesis of the text, the exegesis in this commentary is careful and illuminating. Furthermore, the attention to the history of interpretation and influence of texts is unmatched among Matthew commentaries and provides several key insights. This set is well worth the investment, and, as it has already in the past, will continue to be a stand-by in Matthean studies for many years to come.

Special thanks to Fortress Press for providing these review copies.

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Colloquium on Divine Simplicity—REVISED SCHEDULE

On March 19–20, The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, Wheaton College will be hosting a colloquium co-sponsored by The Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy and Doctrine, University of St. Mary of the Lake on divine simplicity.

(There is no more space available for attending the colloquium. However, we ask that if you are planning on attending the public lecture by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr to please contact us and let us know.)
NOTE: Space is limited. Priority is given to colleagues and Wheaton College students (doctoral, MA, and undergraduate). If you are interested in attending, please contact us by Monday, March 2nd.

Thursday, March 19th
9:00–11:00am

  • Michel R. Barnes (Marquette University), “The Protology of the Christian Doctrine of Divine Simplicity.”
  • Paul L. Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas), “Plotinus on Divine Simplicity.”
  • Brian E. Daley (University of Notre Dame), “Dyothelite Christology and Divine Simplicity.”

11:00–11:30am Coffee Break

11:30am–1:00pm

  • David J. Luy (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), “Simplicity and Language: Bonaventure’s Semiotic Asymptoticism.”
  • Danielle Nussberger (Marquette University), “Simplicity and Tri-unity: Divine Self- Gift in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theo-Drama.”

1:00–2:30pm Lunch

2:30–4:30pm

  • D. Stephen Long (Marquette University), “The Perfectly Simple Triune God: Aquinas and His Legacy.”
  • Matthew Levering (University of St. Mary of the Lake), “Divine Simplicity and the Divine Ideas: Aquinas on Creation.”
  • Marcus Plested (Marquette University), “Divine Simplicity According to Saint Gregory Palamas.”

7:30–9:00pm Public Lecture by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary), “Synchronic and Diachronic Harmony: St. Irenaeus on Divine Simplicity.”

Friday, March 20th
9:00–11:00am

  • Lewis Ayres (Durham University), “What Is Divine Simplicity For? Strategies of Argument in Evagrius and Gregory of Nyssa.”
  • Andrew Radde-Gallwitz (University of Notre Dame), “Simplicity and Trinity in Gregory of Nyssa.”
  • George Kalantzis (Wheaton College), “Nature, Simplicity, Tentability in the Debate Between Nestorius and Cyril.”

11:30am–1:00pm Lunch

1:00–3:00pm

  • Thomas H. McCall (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), “Divine Freedom, Plain and Simple.”
  • Kevin Hector (University of Chicago Divinity School), “A Model of Simplicity: The Utter Undividedness of Jesus.”
  • Keith Johnson (Wheaton College), “Karl Barth and the Purification of Divine Simplicity.”
  • Oliver D. Crisp (Fuller Theological Seminary), “A Parsimonious Model of Divine Simlicity” [in abstentia—paper to be distributed at the colloquium].
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Review: ‘One with Christ’ by Marcus Johnson

Johnson, Marcus Peter. One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Aone with Christfter years of relative neglect, in the past century, the theme of union with Christ has begun to reclaim its important place at the heart of soteriology. In recent years, a number of biblical, systematic, and historical theologians have contributed to the revival of union with Christ, yet strangely, the trickle-down effect has been modest at best in the church, especially among evangelicals, where justification often sits in an otherwise soteriological void that sometimes incorporates a version of sanctification-lite (e.g., those who have been declared righteous will surely bear the appropriate fruit of redemption). Indeed, among the church populace at large, talk of benefits of Christ apart from justification and sanctification are often altogether lacking. Continue reading

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Review of Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not

McKnight, Scot and Joseph B. Modica, eds. Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2013. 224 pp. $18.

While trends in biblical studies come and go, some leave a lasting impression, making their mark on scholarship in such a way that they transform the landscape of biblical interpretation. Empire criticism is one such trend. The recent work edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies sets out to examine this trend with a keen eye for determining its validity within NT interpretation.

As defined by McKnight and Modica, empire criticism “refers to developing an eye and ear for the presence of Rome and the worship of the emperor in the lines and between the lines of New Testament writings” (16). They go on to say that this approach “asks us to listen closer to the sounds of the empire and the sounds of challenging empire at work in the pages of the New Testament” (17). As the editors affirm, if this approach is right, it is “breathtaking in its implications” (17). However, they themselves find enough wrong in empire criticism to take some of the “air” out of this approach, attempting to make it a little less breathtaking than it may seem.

Bookended by an introduction and conclusion written by McKnight and Modica, the middle is filled with a collection of ten essays written by various authors. Two introductory essays set the stage for the discussion. Chapter one by David Nystrom offers a basic but helpful overview of the Roman world at the time of the New Testament, explaining the ideology of the Roman empire and offering a brief explanation of the Roman imperial cult. Judith A Diehl continues this general overview and also surveys the contours of the modern debate on this issue. The remaining chapters cover various sections of scripture, exploring what empire critics are saying about particular texts and analyzing whether these assertions hold. These include Matthew (Joel Willitts), Luke (Dean Pinter), John (Christopher W. Skinner), Acts (Drew J. Strait), Romans (Michael F. Bird), Philippians (Lynn H. Cohick), Colossians/Philemon (Allan R. Bevere), and Revelation (Dwight D. Sheets). The book ends with a brief concluding chapter by the editors in which they summarize the findings and make their own position clear on this issue.

The reader should be aware that this book sets out to put empire criticism “to the test” (21) and debunk many of its tenets. Although the editors claim they are attempting to “strike a balance between a postcolonial reading of the NT and one that recognizes the contributions of such a reading” (212), this is certainly not a “balanced approach” type of book to be put in the same category as Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series or InterVarsity’s Multiview Books. This book clearly has an angle. While the editors make the claim that “We did not ask them [the authors] to take a negative or a positive stance . . . We leave it to our readers to judge for themselves” (21), this statement is made after several pages of their own criticisms of the approach. And, of course, the writers were hand-selected by the editors. You certainly will not find in this volume the likes of N. T. Wright, Richard Horsley, or Warren Carter. As for the main assertion of the book, that is made clear as well: empire criticism is “the dog that didn’t bark” (13). This is essentially because, in the view of the editors, “there is a surprisingly small place in the NT writer’s attention for denunciations of Caesar, explicit or otherwise” (13).

As long as one is approaching the book with this in mind, they will find much to commend and appreciate. First, the two introductory chapters provide a very helpful onramp to the field of empire criticism and would be especially helpful for those just becoming familiar with the topic. Second, its layout as a collection of essays as opposed to being written by a single author allows the texts to be addressed by their respective experts. Each writer did indeed seem well-acquainted not only with the texts at hand but also with the arguments of empire criticism for those particular texts. Third, overall the writers and editors bring forward some very wise and important cautionary exhortations on both how empire criticism can get carried away as well as how NT scholars might themselves get carried away as they apply aspects of this critical method in their own research.

One criticism I have with the book is that it seems like there is quite a bit of ink spilled to argue predominantly over the word “predominantly.” It is repeatedly stated that the NT writers were “somewhat” interested in opposing the sovereign rule of the Empire (at least in relation to Christians’ allegiance to the true Lord, Jesus Christ), but not “predominantly” or “primarily.” However, all those who employ empire criticism do not always assert that the “predominant” interest of the NT writers centers on imperial themes; to the contrary, some see it as one among other central themes in the text. In this respect, the editors could be faulted for setting up a straw man argument. And while the book may do well to knock down these straw men (or women) who overdose on empire criticism, it does not give due credence to those who have applauded, promoted, and employed this criticism as a very helpful tool while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground by acknowledging much more than imperial themes. While it is certainly possible to take this trend too far or apply it in unwarranted directions, its value for NT studies has been immense; while some of the essay writers acknowledge its value, the book certainly might have given this method a little more credit for its valuable contributions.

Another criticism I have of this work is that several writers seem to pit allusions to Rome in NT texts over and against the “Jewish” nature of these allusions, creating a rigid “Rome vs. Judaism” dichotomy that is perhaps unwarranted. While it may be a proclivity of some empire critics to diminish the Jewishness of certain texts in favor of an appeal to Roman imperial themes, it is erroneous to say that this is true across the board (i.e. N.T. Wright is a classic example of someone who has aptly drawn attention to both). Furthermore, it is practically impossible to dissect these two. In fact, many Jewish concepts present in the NT were forged in the midst of oppression and subjugation by foreign rulers and imperial powers within the nation’s history. To say, then, that specific concepts point only to Jewish ideology and have little to do with imperialism is perhaps setting up an unwarranted antithesis. Imperialism is an important thread in the fabric of Jewish ideology and history. Moreover, from the very beginning of the Jewish scriptures, Yahweh’s authority and power over earthly kingdoms and their direct opposition to God’s people is a prevalent theme, many of those kingdoms being mentioned explicitly by name. The NT simply carries on this same polemic against these powers; only in its case, the specific expression of these earthly kingdoms is found in the current imperial power: Rome. Acknowledging those imperial themes may, in fact, give due credence to the continuity between the testaments and the overall Kingdom theology that unites them.

Criticisms aside, I find myself sympathetic to the goals of the editors in cautioning scholars regarding the extremes and pitfalls of empire criticism and am glad such a work has found its place within the literature on this topic. It is a valuable tool in the hands of those who desire to make their own informed judgment on this important trend within NT studies.

This book can be purchased through IVP Academic. I am grateful to them for providing this review copy. 

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Colloquium on Divine Simplicity

On March 19–20, The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, Wheaton College will be hosting a colloquium co-sponsored by The Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy and Doctrine, University of St. Mary of the Lake on divine simplicity.

NOTE: Space is limited. Priority is given to colleagues and Wheaton College students (doctoral, MA, and undergraduate). If you are interested, please contact us to see if space is available.

Here is the tentative schedule:

Thursday, March 19th
9:00–11:00am

  • Michel R. Barnes (Marquette University), “The Protology of the Christian Doctrine of Divine Simplicity.”
  • Paul L. Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas), “Plotinus on Divine Simplicity.”
  • Brian E. Daley (University of Notre Dame), “Dyothelite Christology and Divine Simplicity.”

11:00–11:30am Coffee Break

11:30am–1:00pm

  • Danielle Nussberger (Marquette University), “Simplicity and Tri-unity: Divine Self- Gift in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theo-Drama.”

1:00–2:30pm Lunch

2:30–4:30pm

  • D. Stephen Long (Marquette University), “The Perfectly Simple Triune God: Aquinas and His Legacy.”
  • Matthew Levering (University of St. Mary of the Lake), “Divine Simplicity and the Divine Ideas: Aquinas on Creation.”
  • Marcus Plested (Marquette University), “Divine Simplicity According to Saint Gregory Palamas.”

7:00–8:30pm Public Lecture by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary), “Synchronic and Diachronic Harmony: St. Irenaeus on Divine Simplicity.”

Friday, March 20th
9:00–11:00am

  • Lewis Ayres (Durham University), “What Is Divine Simplicity For? Strategies of Argument in Evagrius and Gregory of Nyssa.”
  • Andrew Radde-Gallwitz (University of Notre Dame), “Simplicity and Trinity in Gregory of Nyssa.”
  • George Kalantzis (Wheaton College), “Nature, Simplicity, Tentability in the Debate Between Nestorius and Cyril.”

11:30am–1:00pm Lunch

1:00–3:00pm

  • Thomas H. McCall (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), “Divine Freedom, Plain and Simple.”
  • Kevin Hector (University of Chicago Divinity School), “A Model of Simplicity: The Utter Undividedness of Jesus.”
  • Keith Johnson (Wheaton College), “Karl Barth and the Purification of Divine Simplicity.”
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Congratulations to Jonathan Hoglund!

Jon_Hoglund.55f6b760fd1a3622f141938e58d2763316Congratulations to Jonathan Hoglund for successfully defending his dissertation on October 10, 2014. His dissertation, “Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call,” seeks to present a dogmatic account of effectual calling. Jon argues that in addition to the classic Reformed articulations of the doctrine, the effectual call is properly located in communicative categories. The result is that the effectual call is understood as an act of Triune rhetoric in which God the Father appropriates human witness to Christ the Son in order to convince and transform a particular person by overcoming, through the presence of God the Spirit, their sinful inclination, so that the person loves Christ in the gospel and responds in faith.

Jon was guided in his work by his advisor, Kevin Vanhoozer. His second reader was Daniel Treier and his external reader was J. V. Fesko.

IMG_9415Jonathan has a BA in Biblical Exegesis from the Masters College and has completed MA programs at Wheaton College in both Exegesis and Theology. Between these he served as lecturer and academic dean at Kremenchuk Bible College in Ukraine through SEND International. He seeks to strengthen theological education for the global church and is currently preparing to go to Vietnam with his wife and three children with Training Leaders International to strengthen the church by modeling passionate study of Scripture, patient listening to the Christian theological tradition, and rigorous thinking about contemporary questions.

Congratulations Jon!

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