Tag Archives: Theology

The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible

I no longer find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Pasadena, rather I find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Jerusalem. So why am I here? To engage with a similar sort of project that the AT project is engaged with at Fuller Seminary; I am here to think through the relationship between Scripture, analytic philosophy, and the life of faith.

Jerusalem

On June 12th-23rd a group of Christian and Jewish scholars whose expertise range from biblical studies, to political philosophy, to analytic theology gathered to discuss Yoram Hazony’s book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.

In this book Hazony contends that western culture has made a major mistake in not seeing the Hebrew Bible as a significant philosophical work. Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Plotinus’s Enneads are all part of the Western philosophical cannon, but why isn’t the Hebrew bible? Hazony argues the reason this is so is because the Hebrew Bible has been deemed a “work of revelation” as opposed to a “work of reason.”

 

YSSAccording to Hazony the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures are “in fact closer to being works of reason than anything else.” (Hazony, 3) He laments the fact that Western culture, due to Christian influence, has read the reason-revelation-dichotomy into the Hebrew scriptures. This dichotomy, in turn, has affected the standing of Hebrew Scriptures within public spheres. By turning back to conceiving the Hebrew Scriptures as a work of reason, Hazony hopes to restore its standing in public dialogue. Not only does Hazony argue that the Hebrew Scriptures are works of reason, rather he argues that “Hebrew Scriptures can (and should) be read as works of philosophy, with an aim to discovering what they have to say to the broader discourse concerning the nature of the world and the just life for man.” (4)

Hazony’s attempt at constructing a philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures has two major parts, which respectively, make up the structure of his work as an introduction to the philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. First, Hazony provides a methodological framework by which we can begin to read the Hebrew Scriptures as works of philosophy. He then proceeds to provide some examples of how the authors of scripture were engaging philosophical discourse. This latter part addresses topics like metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy. In addressing such topics, he provides plenty of fodder for further reflection by philosophers and analytic theologians.

Dome of the Rock

Over the next few days I hope to write a bit more about the sort of project Hazony is engaged in, so you can expect a few blogs either on the ideas in the book, or ideas that have come out of this workshop and the conference following the workshop.

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Theology as Discipleship

Theology is irrelevant to our life as Christians.

At least that’s what many evangelicals tend to believe. There is this thought that runs through much of evangelicalism that theology is either irrelevant because we should be focusing on practical things. There is also another line of thought that seems to believe that theology is dangerous because it is divisive, and has the potential to confuse people about God. Keith Johnson in Theology as Discipleship argues that neither of these are the case. In fact, theology is vitally relevant to our lives as Christians and it actually has the ability to help us grow in Christ. Or as he himself puts it:

The traditional goal of Christian theology is to develop a better understanding of God so that we can think and speak rightly about God within the context of a life governed by our faith in Christ and our discipleship to him in community with other Christians. (34)

Keith Johnson writes theology in a truly “gospel-centered” manner. By Gospel centered I don’t mean what people typically mean by “gospel centered,” I mean a fully rounded out gospel which places union with Christ at the center.

Johnson begins by explaining where theology went “wrong” (i.e. anti-intellectualized & over-academia-ized). He then explains what it means to do theology from the standpoint of our union with Christ. Part of theology’s purpose is to help us to know Christ and grow in our understanding of our union with Him. The way this happens is through the use of Scripture and the hearing of God’s word. As we listen to scripture and hear God speak our mind, our thoughts, and out theology becomes conformed to the mind of Christ.

This short book is super helpful and I would encourage anyone that is interested in studying theology to pick it up. I would especially encourage anyone who is going to bible college or seminary to read it before they dive into the study of theology. The fact that he includes explicit sections of exegesis in each chapter is a breath of fresh air, and it’s a great way of modeling how to do theology. His final chapter, “Theology in Christ” is another highlight of his book. In it he lays out 9 thesis for what it means to do theology as discipleship.

Overall this is a great little book which reorients theology around its true purpose, growing in Christ and serving the church.

 Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

Analytic Theology at St. Andrews

Recently it was announced that St. Andrews University (thanks to the Templeteon Foundation) would be joining Fuller Seminary in kicking off a program in Analytic Theology….

Some of the biggest issues facing humanity will form the basis of study at a new international institute to be based at the University of St Andrews.

The Logos Institute, which takes its name from the Greek meaning ‘word’ or ‘study’ but which is also used in John’s Gospel with reference to the incarnation, will be a centre for excellence in the study of analytic and exegetical theology.

The range of questions it will consider concern the existence and nature of God, God’s relationship to time, the nature of the person and the conceptual and social challenges confronting religious belief. The latter will include interdisciplinary analysis of the challenges of religious hostility, sectarianism and, indeed, terrorism.

The institute is being launched by a £1.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation which supports research relating to the major questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.

The work of the institute is founded in the collaboration of father and son academics Alan Torrance (pictured), professor of systematic theology at St Mary’s College of the University of St Andrews, and Dr Andrew Torrance of the University’s School of Divinity.

Alan applied to the Templeton Foundation for funding to launch an institute for analytic and exegetical theology to be based at St Andrews and, separately, Andrew applied for funding to expand his work on communication with schools and churches, for which he had earlier received a grant of over £500,000.

The Foundation decided to roll the two applications together to launch the Logos Institute.

The new institute, which will open in the summer of 2016, builds on existing resources at the University of St Andrews.

These resources will be complemented by the appointment to part-time positions of four leading international thinkers and a further full-time, senior appointment. In addition, there will be research fellowships, six PhD scholarships and a new Masters programme as well as a series of public lectures, a blog, a website, podcasts etc.

Professor Alan Torrance said:

“The impetus for the new institute is the remarkable sea-change that has taken place in philosophy. Over the last three decades, a sizeable proportion of academic research in philosophy has been directed toward questions bearing on the existence of God. This renewed interest has resulted in major advances in the field and a wealth of published research. It is in the light of these significant developments that ‘analytic theology’ has emerged. The Institute will bring this new generation of theological research into conversation with the world-class expertise we have here in biblical studies, philosophy, psychology and international relations.

“Our primary concern will be to explore the immense explanatory power of Christian theism and its relevance for how we understand the ultimate significance of human life. We shall be doing this in dialogue with exciting, new developments in contemporary Biblical scholarship.

“One of the key research topics will be the nature of forgiveness and what this central Christian notion might mean for how we approach religious enmity, sectarianism and, indeed, terrorism.”

Dr Andrew Torrance said:

“At its best, the task of theology gathers together and engages a diverse range of perspectives. Not only does it draw on the insights of biblical scholarship and philosophy, it also draws on the insights of the natural and social sciences. Further, it seeks to be attentive to the religious communities that have devoted themselves to pursuing a knowledge of God.
“Such a diverse conversation is not easy, however. For constructive conversation to take place, those at the table need to share the same language, and this requires conceptual clarity and discipline. Theology’s task in this regard stands to be resourced richly by analytic philosophy and the clarity it generates.”

Professor N.T. Wright, School of Divinity at St Andrews, added:

“There are few places in the world where a project this daring and creative could even be imagined; fewer still where it could be brought to birth. St Andrews is just the place for this remarkable venture, and I look forward eagerly to sharing in it.”

Among those who will be lecturing at the institute as part-time faculty are the US-based British theologian Oliver Crisp, American, analytic philosophers Michael Rea and Peter Van Inwagen and American philosopher and theologian, C Stephen Evans.

Other aspects of the Institute’s work will involve programmes for schools and churches, lectures and a UK-wide competition resulting in a full scholarship.

You can find more information on the St. Andrews Divinity website.

“Only Two Things are Needed” – The Dogmatic Theology of Karl Barth

How does one go about doing theology? What sort of tools are needed? A bible, some books, a library, maybe a good search engine like google or Wikipedia (just joking there). Karl Barth gives us an answer to this question –

What do you need to do theology?

According to Barth, dogmatic theology is a part of the work of human knowledge. Because it is a part of the work of human knowledge it demands some things that all fields of human knowledge demand:

1-“It naturally demands the intellectual faculties of attentiveness and concentration, of understanding and appraisal.” (CD 1.1 Section 1.3)

Yes it demands, intellectual rigor, with all the things involved in that. The dogmatic theologian must utilize his intellectual faculties and give himself entirely to this serious task. However this work of human knowledge is quite unlike other ways of acquiring and outlining human knowledge, e.g. physics, biology, history. Here is what makes dogmatic theology unique:

2-“Over and above this (i.e. intellectual rigor), however, it demands Christian faith.” (CD 1.1 Section 1.3)

This is because Christian theology is the work for the Christian church. As Barth says, there is no possibility for Christian theology outside of the Church. Ultimately Christian theology boils down to our talk about God as mediated through our knowledge of him in Christ. How can one talk about God without knowing Christ? To do so would be, as Barth says, “irrelevant and meaningless…. Even in the case of the most exact technical imitation of what the Church does (or says)… it would be idle speculation without any content of knowledge.”

Sarah Coakley on the Task of Theology

This quote was too good not to share, however it was too long for twitter…..

Here is what Sarah Coakley says about the task of theology:

Theology involves not merely the metaphysical task of adumbrating a vision of God, the world, and humanity, but simultaneously the epistemological task of cleansing, reordering, and redirecting the apparatuses of one’s own thinking, desiring, and seeing. (GSS 20)

In other words, theology’s task is not only to describe, its task is also to shape us. Theology is not simply information, theology is formation.

What is Evangelical Theology?

I am pre-ordering Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology because it looks really interesting, and because I really think he is on to something. I firmly believe, correct me if I am wrong, all of our systematic theology should begin with God’s ultimate revelation of himself: Jesus Christ. I believe that systematic theology should be Christological. It should begin and end with the person and work of Christ (which are, by the way, inseparable). Christ is the gospel, Christ is the “Evangel.” Having said that I wonder whether Bird’s book will be evangelical in that sense, or whether it will be evangelical in the “gospel-centered” (i.e. a reduction of the gospel to justification by faith + penal substitution) sense.

I have seen several blogs coming from “Gospel-Centered” people claiming that this is a truly gospel centered systematic theology, what I want to know is: “what ‘gospel’ Bird will be using as the lens through which he does theology?”

Note: I have no qualms with “Gospel-Centered” theology, I consider myself “gospel-centered” but I refuse to reduce the gospel to the doctrine of justification by faith or penal substitution, which is what so many people tend to do. Maybe its better to call myself “Person and Work of Christ-Centered.” But then again that doesn’t have a nice ring to it.