“A Uniquely Fascinating Science”

71wiJCVrghLA warning from Karl Barth on forgetting the real purpose of theology:

The first thing to be said about the character of theological work as service is that it cannot be pursued for its own sake, in the manner of “art for art’s sake.” Whoever is seriously engaged in theological work knows that such a temptation lurks in many corners. Theology, especially in its form as dogmatics, is a uniquely fascinating science, since its beauty irresistibly elicits the display of intellectual architectonics. As inquiry into both the bright and the dim, or dust, figures and events of Church history, theology is at every point highly exciting, even from a purely secular point of view. And as exegesis, it is equally exciting because of the way in which it calls in equal measure for both minute attention and bold imagination.

The service of God and the service of man are the meaning, horizon, and goal of theological work.

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, pp. 185-6

 

Review: The Climax of the Covenant

The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology by N.T. Wright71ibzgv4n-L

The Frame for Wright’s Canvas

The Climax of the Covenant is a collection of papers regarding Paul’s theology from early in Wright’s career, slightly edited and organized into their present form. They consist of detailed exegesis of some key Pauline texts regarding his Christology, his view of the Law, and his theology of the Covenant.

The first section of the book, on Paul’s Christology, deepened my understanding of who Jesus Christ is, and caused me to worship deeply. He goes deep into 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 5, Philemon 6, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, and 1 Corinthians 8. Along the way, he explains the various interpretations (and history of interpretations), and interacts with them, before positing his own. There is quite a bit of Greek, in the typeset, as well as the discussions of grammar and vocabulary. Anyone who questions Wright’s view of “the deity of Christ” hasn’t read this book yet. His Christology is of the highest strain.

The middle section deals with the Law in Galatians 3, 2 Corinthians 3, and Romans 7-8. All throughout, he cross-references every section of the Old Testament, constructing a framework in which the whole picture fits together. Over and over and over again I had my Bible out, looking up references in Deuteronomy, or Isaiah, or the Psalms, and seeing how Paul used those references in his own theology.

The climax of the book is his chapter on Romans 9-11, which he takes section by section, while building on his previous chapters on Romans 7-8, and referencing even earlier chapters (1-6). I have underlines and notes on almost every single page of this chapter. I had my English and Greek Bibles on the table, tracking along, and loving every minute of it.

This is a book that may restructure your entire hermeneutic, your understanding of the big story of the Bible. I found it to be the perfect companion to The New Testament and the People of God. Where NTPG is the huge canvas of history and theology and story and worldview, CC is the deep exegetical analysis of the words and phrases of the Bible. It is the exegetical frame on which that big canvas is stretched. I found myself rereading sections in NTPG after CC and getting things in light of the exegesis that I didn’t grasp the first time around. If you’ve ever listened to Wright lecture and heard him say “fine, let’s do the exegesis”, it’s more than rhetoric — it’s an invitation onto Wright’s home court.

Wright’s big picture of the Story of the Bible is incredibly refreshing, stimulating, and compelling, both in its sweeping portrayal of the forest, and in its detailed analysis of the twigs. I recommend it highly.

“How sternly God will judge our lethargy and ingratitude!”

Martin Luther on learning Greek and Hebrew:

Since it becomes Christians then to make good use of the Holy Scriptures as their one and only book and it is a sin and a shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God, it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor–yes, almost without any labor at all–can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame! Yes, how sternly God will judge our lethargy and ingratitude!

“To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools,” quoted in Basics of Biblical Hebrewby Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt, p. 121

How much more is this true in the 21st century, with 3 different Hebrew lexicons on my shelf, half a dozen Greek grammars, computer software, parsing guides. How happy Luther would have been if he had had our opportunity.

Let us not be indolent in this matter.

Review: The Minister and His Greek New Testament

The Minister and His Greek New Testament: by A.T. Robertson

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“There is no theologian who is not first a grammarian.”

This book is a collection of twelve essays about the subject of New Testament Greek. There is a wide variety in these essays. The most famous essay forms title of the collection. It is both an admonishment and an encouragement for ministers to dig into the original language of the New Testament.

The preacher cannot excuse himself for his neglect of Greek with the plea that the English is plain enough to teach one the way of life… We shall have many more [English translations]. They will all have special merit, and they will all fail to bring out all that is in the Greek. One needs to read these translations, the more the better. Each will supplement the others. But, when he has read them all, there will remain a large and rich untranslatable element that the preacher ought to know. (p. 18-19)

He is no theologian who is not first a grammarian. (22)

If the blind guide leads the blind, they will both fall in to the ditch. One simply has to know his parts of speech if he is to keep out of the ditch, and avoid dragging his followers after him. Schisms have arisen around misinterpretations of single words. Grammar is a means of grace. (21)

“Grammar and Preaching” is also in a similar vein.

Several other essays deal with very specific textual issues: “Notes on a Specimen Papyrus of the First Century A.D.,” “The Use of ‘huper’ in Business Documents in the Papyri,” “The Greek Article and the Deity of Christ,” “The New Testament Use of ‘me’ With Hesitent Questions in the Indicative Mode,” and “The Grammar of the Apocalypse of John.” These were interesting, but of limited application.

He gives a survey of of what you’ll find as you dig deeper in “Pictures in Prepositions,” and “Sermons in Greek Tenses,” in which every preposition and every verb tense is illustrated, and you get a taste for the rich meaning found in these specific bits of grammar.

Finally, three essays are more biographical in nature. John Brown of Haddington is famous for having taught himself Greek out on the mountains watching sheep. Robertson concludes:

It is a romantic story that puts to rout all the flimsy excuses of preachers to-day who excuse themselves for ignorance of the Greek New Testament or for indifference and neglect after learning how to read it… The example of John Brown of Haddington ought to bring the blush of shame to every minister who lets his Greek New Testament lie unopened on his desk or who is too careless to consult the lexicon and the grammar that he may enrich his mind and refresh his soul with the rich stores in the Greek that no translation can open to him. Difficulties reveal heroes and cowards. Every war does precisely that. The Greek New Testament is a standing challenge to every preacher in the world. (108)

Erasmus gets a couple of pages, and then the collection concludes with “Broadus as Scholar and Preacher.” This was a very enjoyable short biography of Broadus, who was Robertson’s own teacher. Robertson compares him with others:

Broadus was more like Spurgeon and Maclaren than any of the others. He lacked Spurgeon’s intensity of experience in a continued pastorate, but he surpassed Spurgeon in Biblical learning and general culture. Broadus had the homely wit of Spurgeon and the scholarship of [Alexander] Maclaren with all of Maclaren’s charm. (139)

One is reminded of more recent Pastor/Scholars, and his example is very inspiring. Robertson also edited The Life and letters of John Broadus. It is always a delight to read a student’s admiring recollection of his teacher, especially a student such as Robertson!

In all, I recommend this collection of essays. As others have said, it is a great inspiration to dig into the original language of the New Testament, both by direct argument, and by biographical example. Every preacher or teacher should read this through.