Is this really a solid objection to Christian regard for ancient Scripture? No, for at least three reasons:

1) It is simply not the case that everyone prior to Columbus (or take your pick of any other figure) thought the earth was flat. Plato, in the Timaeus, considers that it is round, Aristotle in On the Heavens, considers that it is round. Aquinas, in the Summa, considers it well known that the earth is round. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone in antiquity who thought the earth was flat.

2) The Bible makes no comment on the topic

3) The logic of this objection is not very weighty: if certain ancient people had some largely unspoken assumptions that later turned out to be false (e.g. that all swans were white), why would that therefore mean that key topics they actually did speak passionately about were also false? Imagine that in 500 years, people are looking back at the year 2015, and casting everything we believe as spurious, simply because we don’t yet know that disembodied travel is a scientific possibility (obviously I made that up). Wouldn’t that make you feel a little indignant? If the point of the clichéd saying is simply that some beliefs from the past have proven to be wrong, who wouldn’t agree with that? We are in tomorrow’s past, and some of our beliefs will also turn out to be wrong. That’s the nature of human finitude. But the Christian claim is that in the midst of human finitude, God has spoken.

I become very pleased when I see any of the following words in print:

  • Wherewithal 
  • Inasmuch 
  • Insofar
  • Notwithstanding 
  • Nevertheless 

And if I ever get to use them I feel positively Germanic in my efficiency 😄

I’m finally reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics. I’m only halfway through, but I must say I’m not very impressed with his understanding of the history of the discipline. His survey, which is mostly based on secondary sources, views history as constantly eclipsing the gospel, and subjecting the idea of divinely given mediated discourse to ‘constant attack’ (136). Rather than focusing on what figures such as Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Ricoeur positively contribute to our appreciation of the conditions of human understanding, he evaluates each figure against certain standards of ‘evangelical hermeneutics’ and finds them wanting. In doing so, he sometimes seems to represent these figures unfairly.

Is it really true, for example, that ‘Gadamer regards the distance between the reader and the text as something that inhibits understanding’ (135)? In fact, Gadamer says this (Truth and Method, 264-5):

Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged, because it separates, but it is actually the supportive ground of process in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome… In fact the important thing is to recognise the distance in time as a positive and productive possibility of understanding. It is not a yawning abyss, but is filled with the continuity of customs and traditions, in the light of which all that is handed down presents itself to us.

Is it really Ricoeur’s special burden ‘to understand the meaning and the reference of the text itself without being bound by authorial intent or the original context of the text’? Has he really therefore ‘failed to escape a crippling subjectivity’ (135)? Surely Ricoeur is rather recognising that in reading word-signs, the reader is neither an exalted and objective master of the text, nor purely a humiliated slave to their own conditioning, but a self-reflecting subject, who is able to perceive their own locatedness in encountering the other. In his own account of his approach to preached Scripture, Ricoeur does not rejoice in being free of the author; rather he emphasises his consciousness of his own orientation as a hearer (Naming God, 215):

it is in terms of a certain presupposition that I stand in the position of a listener to Christian preaching. I assume that this speaking is meaningful, that it is worthy of consideration, and that examining it may accompany and guide the transfer from the text to life where it will verify itself fully.

Of course, these figures are not right about everything, but I find myself unsatisfied with this approach of presenting interlocutors as ‘eclipsers of the gospel’ rather than straining to hear their fruitful contributions in all their nuance.

Just booked my flights for SBL Atlanta in November. Looks like I’ll be participating in some great stuff.

This will be my first time to the U.S., so between now and November I’ll prepare by eating nothing but hot dogs and apple pies. Oh and I’ll say that things are “neat.” Anything else I should know?

Today my copy of Anthony Thiselton’s new A Lifetime in the Church and the University arrived. I’ve had a quick flip through, and it looks very readable and interesting. Of course, I flipped to the stage at which I first met him…

Thiselton quote

This was indeed an uncertain time. A week before I was due to travel with my family to the UK, with much of our stuff already sent ahead, I received an urgent call from the University of Nottingham, saying that Thiselton, who was due to be my supervisor, had had a very serious stroke. It was uncertain if or when he would recover. They asked me whether I still wanted to travel to England and embark on my PhD. I replied that I was committed to doing it. I told the Department of Theology that I would go ahead and get started myself, and if it turned out that I needed to be given a different supervisor, so be it. In the mean time, we and others prayed for Thiselton’s recovery.

So I went ahead and got stuck into my research in Nottingham, and after a couple of months or so, I met Professor Thiselton, who preferred that I just call him Anthony (at that time he was transitioning from ‘Tony’ to ‘Anthony’). He was a warm Christian man, not at all the inaccessible scholar I had half expected. He and his wife Rosemary kindly gave my family some children’s toys, and Anthony insisted that he would supervise my research, despite those medical bureaucrats! It turned out to be a great supervisor-student relationship, and I’m grateful for his continued contact and interest in my work.

I hated maths at school – both in primary school and high school. I just couldn’t understand it. It seemed pointless and impenetrable – just a bunch of numbers. So I quit maths as soon as I was able to do so in high school – I went out of my way to do extra science, just so I could get out of maths.

But maybe if my teacher had been Plato’s Socrates, my experience would have been different. I was just listening to him talk about geometry to a slave in the dialogue Meno. I’ve heard the passage before, but this time I decided to work through the geometrical issue with Socrates as he talked it through. It turned out to be interesting and elegant (even if basic): he didn’t just give me a formula or use jargon; he allowed me (and the slave) to try to work out a concrete issue – how to make a square that’s twice the volume of another square… here’s what I drew:

Meno square

Isn’t that elegant? I know people probably do this in primary school, but due to my utter hatred for numbers, I’ve never taken it in.

But there are a number of other points at which Socrates puts things more interestingly and elegantly than maths teachers – like when he points out that four thirds is one third of one more than one, and it’s also two thirds of two less than two. See? Elegant and interesting. My favourite bit is when (in the Phaedo) he problematizes 1+1=2: Which of the 1s became 2? Or did both disappear and become replaced with the 2? And how is it that if you split one of those 1s in half, you would also get 2? Intriguing! If only mathematics had been approached philosophically, I might have become interested!

The year before last I came up with a four word summary of the narrative of 1-2 Samuel for my kids:

  • Samuel (1S1-8)
  • Saul (1S9-31
  • Success [for David] (2S1-10)
  • Sin [for David] (2S11-24)

It came complete with actions.

Then at a session today, Gary Miller provided a four point summary of 1-2 Kings:

  • Solomon (1K1-11)
  • Split Kingdom (1K12-16)
  • Elijah & Elisha (1K17-2K13)
  • Destruction and Exile (2K14-26)

The major shortcoming of this summary, of course, is that they don’t all start with ‘s.’ So, here we have an 8 word summary of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, with each word starting with s…

  • Samuel
  • Saul
  • Success
  • Sin
  • Solomon
  • Split
  • Spokesmen
  • Spoil

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