Thoughts on ETS and SBL

Posted By on November 26, 2010

Well, the annual meetings are history. I’m glad, too. I don’t do much traveling since I can’t say I enjoy it much. But it’s nice to connect with scholar-friends I see only once a year and to hear (for the most part) some interesting papers. Now for some random thoughts and recollections.

ETS (Evangelical Theological Society)

1. N.T. Wright was sort of a focal point this year at ETS, due to the conference emphasis (“Justification”). Wright spoke during a plenary session, and pretty much took his critics head on (the lecture was punctuated with a number of “I’ve been accused of this, but here’s what I think” statements). That was good. I haven’t been too excited about the whole clash, since for me Wright has merely been openly giving his take on a very difficult issue: what is the relationshipp between faith and works.  If you don’t think that’s difficult, you cannot count yourself as a Bible student or even a close reader of the text. Wright of course is taking the problem back to the Jewish context contemporary with Paul and the apostles. For me, the real line which need not be crossed is the idea that our works *earn* us the grace of God in some way. I don’t see Wright affirming human merit as part of justification and salvation. My view (not original with me) is that “works are essential for salvation but they are not the meritorious cause in any way.” It’s a combining of Paul and James: “For by grace are you saved through faith without works is dead.” They are both writing in the NT, so both need to be taken seriously. This might be a useful thread for those who are still wondering what the debate is, but I don’t want to get absorbed into Wright and his opponents.

2. I was struck by how many papers there were (I’d bet double digits) at ETS that were critical of a penal substitution view of the atonement. This is the view of the atonement most lay people have (ask yourself why Jesus came and died — most would say “to die for my sin and provide salvation”). For sure that is *one* important reason, but there are problems with saying that this is the only important reason. The atonement is actually more nuanced than this — and then there is the problem of people being acceptable to God / being forgiven in the OT (a) without blood and (b) before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Another prickly issue that many people have never really examined. As are result, this might make a good discussion as well.

3. The papers in the section I organize and maintain (“Israelite Religions”) went well. We averaged in the mid 30s for attendance. I gave one entitled “What is an elohim?” that I will post a link to in my next post on the Naked Bible (for reasons that will become apparent). The rest of the session featured a paper on the gods of the nations in OT theology, bloodless atonement in the OT, and a critique of Simo Parpola’s idea that Assyrian religion could be viewed as monotheistic.

4. Outside my own section I enjoyed Randall Buth’s session on Greek immersion (as a learning technique) and the extremely positive response to Steve Runge’s new Discourse Grammar of the Greek NT. If you are a student of NT Greek, this is the next thing that will rock the Greek grammar world. Steve is a colleague of mine at Logos, but that isn’t the reason for my words. Steve’s session at ETS was nothing less than a shock wave for the people who care about this sort of thing. The grammar has already been in use at a couple of schools, and Dan Wallace wrote the forward. Get the grammar and get in on the discussion on the ground floor.

SBL (Society of Biblical Literature)

I didn’t go to many sessions at SBL due to meetings and booth time. The one on educational technology wasn’t interesting this year since I was acquainted with all the technologies they discussed. I did attend the entire section on Jewish monotheism, primarily because I had promised one of the speakers (Daniel McClellan of Trinity Western University) that I would come to hear his paper, and because Larry Hurtado was presenting. (Larry is a very big name in New Testament studies – put his name into Amazon and you’ll discover why). Larry and I have corresponded a bit over the last few years. He has read my dissertation twice since it directly relates to the issue of Jesus as God / high Christology. He quoted my work 5-6 times in his paper (all very favorably) and told the packed room that it was an “impressive” piece of work. It was gratifying not only to have someone of Larry’s stature paying attention, but to also say what he said in a room full of people who care about this stuff. I also found in the Q&A that others had read my article on divine plurality and monotheism (which answered all the questions that were asked in Q&A – I heard nothing new there).

I’m taking this experience as a kick in the pants (and some of Larry’s emails qualify as well!) to start working on the dissertation again with an end toward getting it published. Larry wasn’t the only one who asked me why it isn’t published. I just haven’t had the time (and I’m one of those people who can account for every half hour of every day). But the real reason for the time constraint is that most of what I do is aimed at the lay person (at work and on my own). I’m a strong believer that scholars should serve the public interest. This blog is an example. But some of that needs to change. It would take me at least two years of putting an hour or so a day into it to get it to what I want it to be. I’m nearing the completion of two book manuscripts (both aimed at the lay person), so those take priority in the immediate future. Not sure how a dissertation revision will be possible, but I feel a real urgency to start devoting more time to scholarly writing, which will mean less time for other things. I managed to crank out 4 articles this year (two aimed at non-specialists), but the balance needs to shift in my mind. It may alter what I do online with MEMRA. I just have to put some thought into it. One thing I won’t stop is blogging, though frequency may change. Just rambling now! (But you get the drift).

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12 Responses to “Thoughts on ETS and SBL”

  1. blop2008 says:

    ETS (Evangelical Theological Society)

    “It’s a combining of Paul and James: “For by grace are you saved through faith without works is dead.” They are both writing in the NT, so both need to be taken seriously.”

    —Why such a combination? The common understanding that both Paul and James aren’t using the word faith in the same sense in those passages isn’t reasonable? Even in the Harper’s Bible dictionary or the New Bible Dictionary, the word faith is used in different ways by the NT redactors. Why conclude that Paul and James are using the same sense and nuance of the word and combine them together? I see two different contexts, and thus two different usages of the word faith (for Jude, the faith refers to the body of Christian cardinal teachings), why perceive a contradiction and combine them in this way?

    “The atonement is actually more nuanced than this — and then there is the problem of people being acceptable to God / being forgiven in the OT (a) without blood and (b) before Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

    —But Mike, didn’t Jesus death fulfill the atonement for all ages? God is outside the time domain, wheter past or future, why is this a matter? Im sure there are minutiaes I never caught that Im not aware of.

    SBL (Society of Biblical Literature)

    “He quoted my work 5-6 times in his paper (all very favorably) and told the packed room that it was an “impressive” piece of work.”

    —Which paper is it?

    • MSH says:

      Both James and Paul need to be taken seriously and an be reconciled (that’s all I’m saying – the debate is over just how that works).

      Yes, Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world – so why is it that Israelites had to wait until the 8th century BC to have anything in the OT connecting a blood sacrifice with the messiah (Isaiah 53 – and even that is a bit cryptic – easy for us to see post-Jesus, but even Peter didn’t put Jesus together with that passage). And (also) why extend atonement to anyone at any time that didn’t involve blood (we may discuss a paper on this in the new divine council discussion group).

      Hurtado was quoting my dissertation.

  2. Kathy says:

    I appreciate your view about “scholars should serve the public interest”, and most of your work “is aimed at the lay person”. I feel my understanding and belief of Scripture are on a firmer foundation as a result of studying your material.

    I have, for the past year been plowing through Douglas Campbell’s book “The Deliverance of God”; I look at his argument as being foundational for me. However, it would be nice if that material could be re-worked for the lay person. I think I spent equal amounts of time in the dictionary as I have reading the book just so I could comprehend what was written.

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness to the lay person.

  3. tom bionic says:

    MSH.

    I’ve been down with the wintertime viral funk thats been going around. Good to see you survived.
    I’m interested (close to very interested actually! ) about the other reasons for Jesus’ atonement with which you speak about.
    Can you provide a link to something that outlines some of what your talking about earlier. I’ve had my brain dwelling alot on Jesus, the man, his character, his othercenteredness, alot lately. I’m even sort of doing a directed self study on Jesus and His “style” and how to apply it to my own life right now. Anything new angles about the death of our savior would really be greatly appreciated.

    thanks!

    • MSH says:

      I haven’t posted on the atonement, so nothing to pass on (not sure what else you’d mean). Get well!!

      • tom bionic says:

        Let me see if I can speak more clearly.

        in the above article you said
        “I was struck by how many papers there were (I’d bet double digits) at ETS that were critical of a penal substitution view of the atonement. This is the view of the atonement most lay people have (ask yourself why Jesus came and died — most would say “to die for my sin and provide salvation”). For sure that is *one* important reason, but there are problems with saying that this is the only important reason. The atonement is actually more nuanced than this — and then there is the problem of people being acceptable to God / being forgiven in the OT (a) without blood and (b) before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Another prickly issue that many people have never really examined.”

        Is there a place that I can go to see what some of the other reasons are? I ask because you seem to sound like you know that the other issues are, and at this point I can only guess at them. Based on my understanding of your divine council writings, the atonement has potentially important implications to that.

        • MSH says:

          Email me for some items. My view of the atonement is penal substitution but not only penal substitution. In the bigger picture, God wants a relationship with humankind. He provides means for that other than penal substitution in the OT (for example, Gentiles who follow Yahweh but who live elsewhere, with no access to the temple; Jews removed from Jerusalem or living after the temple was destroyed, etc.).

  4. Greg Smith says:

    I also appreciate your view about serving the public interest. Finishing the first module at Memra was fantastic. I am looking forward to the next. I hope your scholarly pursuits don’t curtail that too much.

    I purchased a copy of your dissertation and will be reading it over Christmas when I have some vacation time. Greatly looking forward to it.

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