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Because the sermon on the mount (hereafter SM) has received as much attention as any text in all of world literature, informed attempts to interpret it should in some way come to terms with the history of the discussion. For this reason we shall commence by examining several traditional approaches to the SM. We fully recognise that ‘a history of the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount throughout the past two millennia would virtually amount to an introduction to the entire development of Christian theology and ethics’ — a fact which means that our own review is of necessity brief and piecemeal. Nonetheless, the following few pages do suffice to reveal certain important tendencies in exegetical history. Among them, and of first importance for our concerns, is the unfortunate habit of viewing the SM in isolation. Interpreters have again and again failed to take seriously the broader, literary context of Mt. 5–7 and have instead interpreted the chapters as though they were complete unto themselves, as though they constituted a book instead of a portion of a book. The considerable hermeneutical consequences have, on the whole, led away from the intent of the evangelist (our primary concern herein). It is our contention that any credible interpretation of Mt. 5–7 must constantly keep an eye on Mt. 1–4 and Mt. 9–28, for the part (the SM) draws its true meaning only from the whole (Matthew's Gospel). Put otherwise, the proper interpretation of the SM must be at one with the proper interpretation of the First Gospel in its entirety.
Confrontation with our culture has recently been put on the agenda by Lesslie Newbigin, in Beyond 1984 and Foolishness to the Greeks. Broadly speaking his position theology has sold out to Western culture, and the opposing perceptions of the Gospel need to be reclaimed and affirmed against prevailing assumptions.
There is no particular problem with using ‘metaphorical’ language where God is concerned. In Metaphorical Theology Sallie McFague offers a lengthy analysis to show us that metaphorical language is legitimate for theological discourse. This should come as no surprise to anyone except positivists or other stringent empiricists who accept nothing but direct evidence for any discourse. Traditional theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, have long held that no discussion of God directly qualifies divinity. Mystics, as McFague acknowledges, have in fact been shocked at the idea of speaking about God directly. What, then, is McFague's point in reminding us of the necessary indirection of all speaking about God? She is attempting to curb the increasing agnosticism, if not skepticism, among contemporary theologians, by speaking to what she considers to be ‘the contemporary sensibility’.
The hypothesis advanced in this paper is that Mark applies the motif of secrecy to the understanding of the parables in order to alter their eschatological reference. When Mark interprets the parables explicitly, he does so in such away as to support the overall imminent apocalyptic stance of his gospel. Our point of departure is Mark 4.10–12, one of the most contentious elements in the New Testament, which remains today a challenging crux for scholars. The text runs (RSV):
And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in
parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should
turn again and be forgiven,’
Gen. 15.6 clearly stood as a pivotal scriptural foundation in St Paul's effort to define Christian identity. Paul sought to formulate that definition in Gal. 3 and Rom. 4 in terms of the Jewish understanding of divine election of Israel. The crux of his argument focused on including Gentiles in God's convenantal election. By his reinterpretation of Gen. 15.6 Paul showed that judaism of his day had wrongly excluded non-Jews from the Abrahamic promises.
Nicodemus is the hero of many a Trinity Sunday sermon.2 The leader of the Jews, the master of Israel, comes humbly to Jesus, by night to the Light of the World. He does not believe much (like the preacher perhaps), but he has the heart of the matter, ‘We know that thou art a teacher come from God’. Jesus teaches him the profound truth of man's need for rebirth, and he is converted. He stands up for his faith pluckily against the hostility of his peers — ‘Does our Lawjudge a man…?’; and in the end it is he who buries Jesus, with a royal anointment of a hundred litres of myrrh.
To suggest that authentic Christianity is an insurrectionary faith, a standing provocation to the conventional values of society is, on the face of it, to invite derision. Yet the ferocity with which the first Christians were persecuted was in no small part due to their subversive teachings and practices which gave women, slaves and artisans ideas above their station. This subversive dimension may often have been forgotten. It can hardly have been very evident to the inhabitants of Wittenberg in 1515, for example, yet within a decade Germany was to be embroiled in an unprecedented crisis of authority, one which led not only to turmoil in the world of student and scholar and cleric, but to the greatest social upheaval prior to the French Revolution, to the uffrur we know as the Peasants' War.
In 1974 the American Roman Catholic theologian Avery Dulles published an instructive and successful book called Models of the Church, the heart of which considers the church as institution, as mystical communion, as sacrament, as herald, and as servant. It includes a chapter on ‘The church and revelation’, later expanded as a further book called Models of Revelation; but at that point difficulties surely arise. The notion of models as Dulles applies it to the church enables him to take account of the fact that the church is a concrete objective reality, yet one whose nature is complex and difficult to encapsulate. Images which emerge from Bible and tradition, such as the ones Dulles studies, can be applied with a degree of analytical rigour to the church, with illuminating results. Some of these images may be better described as metaphors. They take actual entities such as a herald and use them to cast light on the nature of the church by analogy; they are less systematically developed than models and are more consistently capable of operating at other levels as well as the intellectual (though in theology, at least, models also commonly carry strong emotional associations and thus may profoundly influence attitudes as well as shape conceptual thinking). Some of the images are models in a stricter meaning of the word; they do not in themselves exist in the same sense as the church does, but as constructs they enable us to grasp aspects of the significance of the church conceptually.
If the Calvinism of America's Puritan forefathers is anything in relation to a belief in universal salvation, it is its opposite. The Calvinist's belief that Christ's atonement is restricted to effecting the salvation of a limited number of preordained saints is about as far as one can go in the opposite direction from universalism and still retain an aspect of grace and redemption for humanity. But in this essay I will argue that there was a direct link between the Puritan Calvinism of 17th century New England and the widespread movement toward universalism within New England churches in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The problem of creation, which has largely disappeared from contemporary scientific discourse, was central to the scientific revolution. What modern scientists recognise as the only relevant relation – that between the knower and the known, man and nature — was understood three centuries ago as secondary to God's relation to the created order and his relation to created minds. For most early modern natural philosophers, both the manner in which and the degree to which the universe could be understood depended on how God had acted in creating it, how he continued to act in sustaining it, and how he had made the human mind — profound theological questions indeed. Over the centuries Christian thinkers, though reaching a consensus on the reality and goodness of the creation, have differed widely on the precise nature of created minds and the created order. The spectrum of views manifests an underlying dialectic between God's unconstrained will, which utterly transcends human comprehension, and God's orderly intellect, which serves as the model for the human mind. Often this has been expressed in terms of the distinction between God's absolute power to do whateverases and God's ordinary power to uphold the creation in an orderly and faithful manner. Individual thinkers typically acknowledge that God has both will and reason, both absolute and ordinary power, but usually emphasize one over the other.
The notion of a post-mortem disembodied existence of the soul followed by resurrection on the last day has been part of traditional Christian theology for centuries. Though some modern theologians are unhappy with this doctrine and have tried to re-interpret it or reject it altogether, it cannot be denied that traditional Christian theology has always taught this. This view was held by many of the Church Fathers and by the Reformers. Today it is still the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant Churches.
In c.lO6 AD Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was being led through the province of Asia to Rome and to martyrdom. As he went, he wrote letters to a number of the Asian Christian churches on the Aegean coastline. His aim was to ensure the cohesion of these local communities by encouraging their maintenance of purity in practice and in idea. To this end his letters stressed a strongly constituted, centralised ecclesiastical authority, whose sphere of activity was delimited by a clear boundary between the church and the world.
In 1929, after many years of consultation and compromise, the two largest Presbyterian denominations in Scotland — the established Church of Scotland and the voluntary United Free Church — were united. The Union was an impressive achievement, marking the end of the bitter divisions of eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterianism. In particular, it represented the healing of the wounds of the Disruption of 1843, when the national Church of Scotland had been broken up as a result of conflicts between Church and State over patronage and the Church's spiritual independence. With the Union of 1929, the leaders of Scottish Presbyterianism, and especially John White of Glasgow's Barony Church, succeeded not only in uniting the major Presbyterian Churches, but also in establishing a cooperative relationship between Church and State. The Church of Scotland, itseemed, was again in a position to assert national leadership.
Together, Calvin's Geneva Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism had an exceptional influence on Karl Barth's theology. Barth seems neither to have learned these catechisms as a child nor taught them in his own confirmation classes as a pastor. But as a theologian, he later developed a particular and persistent interest in both.1
The modern scene in Christian theology is characterized by a number of very diverse movements from feminism and liberation theology to radical views on christology and the charismatic movement. For many to speak or write about the Trinity is neither realistic nor helpful. In more recent writings, however, there has been renewed interest in the doctrine of the Trinity and in its application to the spheres of the church and also of social and political concerns. Further, a variety of groups as well as individuals have been turning their attention to this central Christian doctrine which is basically attempting to say what we believe about God: Barth, Moltmann, Jungel, the Torrances, on the Protestant side and the Roman Catholics, Von Balthasar, Rahner, and Congar, as well as the Orthodox Lossky, Zraoulas and Meyendorff. Groups like C.E.C. the Conference of European Churches (The Reconciling Trinity), and the British Council of Churches B.C.C. (The Forgotten Trinity) and the Irish Theological Association (The Trinity and the Enlightenment)have all dealt in varied ways with this subject.
This essay originated as a contribution to the joint course on eucharistic theology and practice for St Mary's Seminary, Oscott, and The Queen's College in Birmingham. Its purpose was to highlight, in a context in which Roman Catholic, Methodist, United Reformed, and Church of England ordinands were considering divergent approaches to the eucharist, that many of the questions were faced by the Church of England internally because of its doctrinal breadth. The Eucharistic Prayers of The Alternative Service Book 1980, therefore, can almost be regarded as ‘agreed statements’, but in the setting of worship and as a means of worship, and so are worthy to be set alongside purely theological statements such as the Final Report of ARCIC 1 or the WCC document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry as a liturgical contribution to the continuing ecumenical debate.
Despite the risible misnomer of his book of miscellaneous essays, which, claiming to speak of ‘Jewish law to the Mishnah,’ discuss mere anecdotes and episodes in Jewish law in the first century with special reference to the Gospels, Professor Edward P. Sanders’ current account of his views should not be dismissed as the merely random thoughts of one who wanders beyond the boundaries of his field of first-hand knowledge. Holding Sanders to his claim that he knows something about what he calls ‘Jewish law,’ let us take seriously his conception of the Pharisees of the first century. Since, intending to persuade colleagues that his picture of, and apologia for, the Pharisees, not mine, accurately portray how things really were in the first century, Sanders devotes two of his five chapters to that subject, we turn forthwith to the contrasting results contained in his current book.
There are, for purposes of this paper, two remarkable facts about Christianity on the African Continent. The first is its antiquity. There seems to be every likelihood that it was as early as its very inception that Christianity, as part of its rapid sweep across the first century Graeco-Roman world, reached Africa as well. The New Testament contains a number of hints that suggest that places such as Ethiopia, Egypt (particularly Alexandria) and Cyrene could vie with each other for first position. In any case, by the second and third centuries, the African Church could boast of such great leaders and thinkers as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian; and a century later of the highly influential Augustine of Hippo. The significance and influence of these men extended well beyond Africa. After that, with the exception of Egypt and Ethiopia, there is a lacuna in our knowledge of Christianity in Africa. The next significant centuries are the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in respect of North, West and Central Africa, and the nineteenth century in respect of virtually the entire Continent. In short, Christianity is not a newcomer to the African Continent. Ups and downs of various kinds it has experienced here as it has done elsewhere; so also, in respect of a number of areas, major gaps affecting its continuous and unbroken existence down the centuries. Nevertheless, a newcomer to the Continent it is not.