About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Friday, 31 January 2014

So heavenly-minded that you are no earthly use?

Here is C. S. Lewis, that wise old bird of Christian Platonism:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither
Mere Christianity, 116–17.
Quite so!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Rambling Thoughts on Joshua and Biblical Inspiration

I have just been reading a very good book on different delineations of the Promised Land in different biblical texts — All the Boundaries of the Land by Nili Wazana (Eisenbrauns, 2013). Anyway, this morning I was reading about the allocation of tribal allotments in the second half of Joshua. The book argued pretty convincingly that the tribal allotments were put together from diverse sources and synthesized into a new literary whole. Some of these originals were likely boundary lists drawn up by rulers for the purposes of taxation. In their new location they serve a different function.

This raises a question that could be raised in many ways from many different texts, namely, what are the implications of this for the doctrine of Scripture?

The synagogue and the church have historically considered the book of Joshua to be part of inspired Scripture. But, of course, this does not require us to believe that God dictated it nor that it did not have a complex pre-history. Many biblical books may have rather complicated journeys towards the final form that we know today. And it is the canonical form that is regarded as Scripture, not previous versions of it nor the sources that may have been used to write it.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, a boundary list used by a king for taxation was reused in the book of Joshua as part of the tribal allotments. Was that taxation document inspired by God? Was it inerrant? Was it Scripture? The answer is no to all three questions. But then it is picked up and reused by the author of Joshua. The text was adopted, adapted, and reappropriated by the author of Joshua for his own purposes. His new use of it confers a new meaning and status on it.

But even the author of Joshua was not intentionally writing Scripture (Joshua was not considered "Scripture" until quite some while after it was written) and quite likely was not conscious of being "inspired" in the way that a biblical prophet such as Ezekiel may have been. However, Israel and subsequently the church came to recognize the hand of God in the composition of this text and to see it as a site of ongoing divine encounter between God and his people. This recognition was not understood as conferring inspiration on the text but as recognizing it retrospectively in light of the experience of the community with the text over sustained periods of time.

What is recognized by the church and synagogue? That the new text is in some way inspired by God? Yes, though I stress "in some way" because inspiration worked in very different ways for a text like Proverbs, say, than it did for a text like Revelation. In some ways to speak of Joshua as "inspired" is to use an analogy drawn from prophetic and apocalyptic literature and to stretch it into a new shape.

It may also be helpful to think of God's relation to Joshua in the way that the author of Joshua used the king's taxation document. Through the medium of the community of God, God picks up Joshua, adopts it and reappropriates it by adapting it (by means of placing it in new interpretative contexts within the canon and within the life of the community). The synagogue and the church do not consider Joshua as Holy Scripture on its own, in isolation from the rest of the Bible. It is Scripture only when read in the context of the canon and in the context of the community of God. Likewise, it is authoritative only when engaged with in such contexts. It is not a stand-alone authoritative text! Removed from the right reading contexts it is not Scripture at all, even if we think that God was at work behind the scenes in its composition.

This is a rambling thought and I'll shut up and get back to work.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Great blog post on atheism's straw-man version of God

Here is a VERY good blog post by Oliver Burkeman at The Guardian on David Bentley Hart's new book — The Experience of God (Yale University Press, 2013). Burkeman writes as one sympathetic to atheism but who thinks that most atheist attacks on God are attacks on a straw-man version of God rather than the God that informed believers have believed in. He recommends Hart's book as an antidote. If atheists wish to attack belief in God then this is the issue they need to grapple with. Absolutely. This is very wise comment. I too am fed up with people claiming that belief in God is dumb and then it turns out that what they mean by belief in God is not what I mean. When someone now tells me that they do not believe in God my first instinct is to ask "what exactly is it that you think you don't believe in?" I no longer take it for granted that we are speaking about the same topic.

I won't repeat the content of this blog post — it can speak for itself.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Something new I learned about the Lord's Prayer

At ETS I was chatting with Jonathan Pennington about the Lord's prayer. He pointed out something fairly obvious when you look at the text in Greek (which I had not bothered to do until after the conversation) but that I had never noticed.

I had always encountered the prayer in traditional renderings with traditional patterns of speaking it. According to those patterns the prayer opens with two thoughts

1. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name

2. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

I always took "on earth as it is in heaven" to qualify both "your kingdom come" and "your will be done." However, the revelation for dim-old-me was that it also qualifies "hallowed be your name."

The prayer is three requests that all run in parallel

Your name be hallowed [on earth as it is in heaven]

Your Kingdom come [on earth as it is in heaven]

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

I had missed this insight because:

(a) the traditional English translations obscure the parallelism by having a different word order in the first request from the second and third. (In Greek all three are parallel.)

(b) the rhythm of the traditional English performance of the Lord's prayer makes a clear distinction between the first request and the next two. (Just say it to yourself and you'll see what I mean.)

I thought that this was quite interesting.

It is also always worth reminding ourselves that "hallowed be your name" is a request that God cause his name to be hallowed and not, as I saw on one recent attempt to put the prayer in contemporary language, the equivalent of "Praise your name!"