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Scripture on the Edge of God

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Scripture on the Edge of God

Ephraim Radner

Nothing could be more gratifying and humbling to me than the discussion of Time and the Word offered by this symposium of deeply perceptive and faithful theologians. I am enormously grateful. The breadth of discussion makes my own response challenging. At the outset I will simply offer my genuine thanks for whatever praise has been offered. But for what follows, I will turn to the questions and sometimes clear critiques my colleagues have helpfully laid out. There is a common thread among these, that is, a concern about over-loading the divine nature of Scripture, such that, on the one hand Scripture may seem to take the place of God or on the other, that it may seem to swallow up the distinct singularities of historical existence—creation, events, individuals, persons. I will try to address this under several general headings.

An Experiment

I want to admit up front that many of the specifics related to the general concern just mentioned derive from my own lack of clear understanding about the matters Time and Word addressed! This is due to my own intellectual limitations, no doubt, but also to the fact that the book as a whole was an experiment, one in which I was trying to work something out, without yet knowing where it would end up, or quite seizing the implications of what I was doing. I will explain the particular experiment below, but first I want to make an apology, both in the sense of defense as well as asking for pardon.

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Remembering My Teacher Robert W. Jenson

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Remembering My Teacher Robert W. Jenson

Rev. Gregory P. Fryer

I met Robert and Blanche Jenson during my first week at seminary, back in 1980 at the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. The Seminary hosted a supper in the refectory for faculty and new students, and I found myself seated at a table with the Jensons. I mentioned to Jenson that I had read his recent book back then, Visible Words.1 Jenson asked me whether I understood it. I answered that no, I had not. Jenson broke into a big smile and seemed to have affection for me ever since.

Theologians and clergy across the land might study and be grateful for Jenson’s theology. But unless you have worshiped with him, you might not understand the essential link for him between theology and the liturgy.

I have heard two descriptions of how bishops were selected in the early church. Both descriptions sound great to me. According to one description, the bishop was simply the best preacher and theologian around. According to the other, the bishop was the one who composed the most fitting and powerful Eucharistic prayers. On either of these descriptions, Robert W. Jenson would have been a great bishop. In fact, in my mind, he would have been a great Pope!

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Keeping Time

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Keeping Time

Human Finitude and Figural Interpretation

Daniel J. Treier

The question of how figural reading relates to human finitude arises from the nearly contemporaneous appearance of two dazzling books from Ephraim Radner—Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures and A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life.1 The intuition explored here is that these books do not entirely cohere in their approaches to time, their common theme. Perhaps, even if this intuition is misguided, exploring it will draw further attention to neglected territory.

Radner uniquely combines existential passion, pastoral experience, and deep learning. These books cover a breathtaking amount of biblical, historical, conceptual, and cultural territory. While Radner is not afraid to speak directly about the churchly problems, he also listens carefully. So I am grateful for the chance to explore these distinctively Anglican pathways, even if I must doggedly make my way back to a Presbyterian home.

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You Shall Love the Lord with All Your Mind

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You Shall Love the Lord with All Your Mind

Blanche Jenson

1953

We sat in Solomon, his 1939 Packard, engaged in serious debate. Should the Lutherans join the World Council of Churches? I chose the affirmative. He firmly argued the negative. He became an ecumenical theologian.

We sat eating lunch in Dinky Town talking theology. He said, “You know only the froth on the beer.” How right he was.

1954

We sat on the bank of the Mississippi River eating pizza. A decision was made. We would spend the rest of our lives doing theology together. And so we have.

2017

It is Advent. I sit at my grandparents’ table opposite an empty chair. Our conversation has been interrupted. But I am blessed with his words: books, essays, lectures, sermons, verses, and all the memories attached to them.

Above the mantel in his study hangs an embroidered command (a gift from a student): YOU SHALL THE LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Although Jens chose to follow his father into the ministry, he knew his gift was not his father’s: the common touch. His gift was thinking and, he soon learned, also teaching. The seminary assigned him not to a parish but to campus ministry at the University of Minnesota for internship. That is where our life together began.

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On Radner’s Time and the Word

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On Radner’s Time and the Word

Paul J. Griffiths

I’m grateful to have been asked to contribute to this symposium on Ephraim Radner’s book, Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures. It’s a real book, by which I mean that it’s the written deposit of concentrated thought about a set of questions as if it were important to approach and answer them rightly. It’s something more than journeyman academic work, and something more, too, than the work of someone who cares for the church and wishes to serve her. It has the unusual virtue of combining wide learning, intellectual passion, and devotion to Christ and his church. In reading it, it seemed to me that I was faced with a mind at work on something that matters. That is rare, and good; I’m grateful to Radner for it.

So, what is the book about? It offers an elucidation and defense of figural reading, exegesis, and preaching of Christian Scripture, together with examples of these activities being performed, and some instruction in how to perform them better. Radner acknowledges that the last forty years or so has seen a massive recovery of interest in figural reading and interpretation of Scripture in the anglophone Christian world; but he also writes that this kind of reading is still under-theorized or badly theorized, and therefore in need of further elucidation and defense. What does he mean by “figural reading”? Here are two instances, among many, of brief attempts on his part to say: “Scripture in particular is . . . the gift of an omnipotent God who has so construed the world and ordered the words of the Bible, that the latter may function broadly in an inter-signifying role to navigate through the former in the direction of salvation’s grasp” (157–58). And: “[F]igural reading is the temporal explication, through the juxtaposition of her multiple texts, of Scripture’s divine ‘allness’” (210). The idea is that the text of Scripture is intended by God to be a text capable of signifying, and being read to signify, everything: all that there is, and everything that has happened and will happen. So reading it is figural reading, and it is reading that assumes a deep and serious claim about the text, the Lord, and what is neither the text nor the Lord.

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The Figures and Names of Our God

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The Figures and Names of Our God

Collin Cornell

Ephraim Radner’s Time and the Word is a theodicy. Or perhaps better, it is a work of preparation for a theodicy. In many quarters, the contemporary Christian church is, as Radner sees it, benighted: it suffers in the dark, enigmatically and without insight into the meaning of its travails in the eyes of God. It cannot articulate its God-given vocation. Worse yet, the church’s leaders and teachers are accomplices to its self-obscurity. Their intellectual vision of the Bible hamstrings its capacity to illuminate the church’s place and purpose within God’s will for the world. To this sad situation—especially in its latter, intellectual aspect—Time and the Word offers a response: a teeming manifesto for a fundamentally different vision of the Bible, one that will allow the church to experience “wonder and joy at having light break through [its] obscurity” (p. 205).

As such, it is not enough to say that Radner proposes a different approach to the Bible. Academic approaches to the Bible for the most part keep the same object—the same summit—in view. They map different routes and provide various vantages, but their metaphysical terrain remains fixed and identifiable: they assume the Bible as one among other human artifacts, a product of time and historical circumstance like all creatures here below. The Bible at the center of Radner’s project is, on the other hand, a wholly other metaphysical entity from the object upon which modern critical methods purport to operate. In this regard, Time and the Word may go beyond much of what the recent movement for “theological interpretation of scripture” intends. Radner shares concerns with the theologians and biblical scholars pursuing this agenda, and I imagine his book will receive its warmest welcome among them. But it is my impression that many theological interpreters leave the metaphysical scaffolding of historical criticism intact in a way that Time and the Word does not. So, too, in spite of the inspiration Radner draws from scholars of ressourcement, Time and the Word aims for something more than a retrieval of past biblical commentary. Radner is deeply grounded in patristic and medieval modes of Bible study, but he does not seek to describe or repristinate them. No: Time and the Word is a theodicy—or a work of preparation thereunto. It lodges a strong, constructive explanation for the ways of God with the world, and the Word of God that is their very heart.

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The Christomorphic Shaping of Time in Radner’s Time and the Word

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The Christomorphic Shaping of Time in Radner’s Time and the Word

Don Collett

Like many of his other books, Radner’s Time and the Word offers the reader a wide-ranging theological and historical analysis of a set of related issues. For this reason alone, a comprehensive interaction with the book’s content presents a daunting task for any reviewer. Taking a cue from the early church, it may be more helpful to focus on the basic hypothesis of the work. When the fathers spoke of Scripture’s hypothesis, they had in view the question of Scripture’s unifying reality, the question of that which ties together the entire fabric of Scripture. To ask about Scripture’s hypothesis, then, is to ask what Scripture is all about. To ask about the hypothesis of Time and the Word, then, is to ask what it is all about.

The book’s interaction with different ways of understanding what we mean by “time,” especially the view of time at work in what Radner styles “historicist metaphysics,” might lead one to conclude that its hypothesis consists in making the case for a biblical view of time. As an abbreviated judgment regarding the book’s hypothesis, that conclusion would not be wholly mistaken. It is just here, however, that the book’s subtitle—Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures—helps refine that judgment. In brief, what the book is all about is the case for a figural reading of the two-testament Christian Bible. But as it turns out, the case for such a reading rests upon our understanding of time, and that in turn rests upon our understanding of creation and its relation to God. The way in which this case is made, as well as some of the questions it raises, will be addressed at a later point. For the time being, a more descriptive approach to the book’s understanding of time is called for, which I have tried to capture in the title of this essay: “The Christomorphic Shaping of Time in Radner’s Time and the Word.” Such a title implies the basic issue at stake in Christian figural reading, namely, given time’s prior origin in creation, how can we conceive of time as something shaped by the historical form (morphē) of Christ’s life? Put differently, if time is given with creation, and creation precedes Christ’s incarnation in time, then how can one properly speak of the Christomorphic shaping of time? The very idea smacks of anachronism, that “sin of sins” it is the calling of every good and responsible historian to avoid.

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A Personal Tribute to Robert William Jenson (1930–2017)

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A Personal Tribute to Robert William Jenson (1930–2017)

Carl E. Braaten

My best friend, Robert Jenson, died September 5, 2017. His friends call him Jens. He is widely acclaimed as the most creative American systematic theologian of all time. It was my incredible privilege to work side by side with Jens for the last sixty years. We coauthored and coedited eighteen books. Together we founded and edited two theological journals, first, Dialog: A Journal of Theology, and second, Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology. In 1991, we founded and directed the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology in Northfield, Minnesota, the publisher of Pro Ecclesia.

When I heard that Jens had passed away, I commented to a friend that “they don’t make theologians like him anymore.” Jens took no shortcuts on the way to becoming a complete theologian of the church. He was a classics major in college and also studied philosophy, a discipline Thomas Aquinas called the “handmaid of theology.” He became proficient in the biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, as well as in Latin and German. Jens knew that it is impossible to be a modern Christian theologian worth his salt without a working knowledge of at least those four languages. The modern theological curriculum was traditionally divided into four departments—biblical, historical, doctrinal, and practical. A quick survey of Jenson’s bibliography shows that Jens wrote books and articles in every area of theology.

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The Decalogue as the Law of ChrisT

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The Decalogue as the Law of ChrisT

Gilbert Meilaender

The Church lives by the “fathers” of Israel, by the fellowship of the spirit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, David and Elijah. . . . These fathers of Israel, and they alone, ought in strict justice to be called the “fathers of the Church.”

—Karl Barth1

It is obvious that the Decalogue (the “ten words”) has played a central role in the church’s understanding of how Christians should live. In their confessions, in their preaching, and perhaps especially in their catechetical instruction, churches have used the Decalogue as a framework for understanding the will of God for our lives. Jesus himself seems to regard the commandments of the Decalogue as an articulation of the goodness God requires (e.g., Luke 18:18–20). And in Galatians (4:13) St. Paul draws these “ten words” into one, writing, “The whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” A similar passage in Romans (13:8–10) indicates clearly that the commandments Paul is drawing together in this one are those of the Decalogue.2 Would, however, that things were really this clear and simple. Readers of St. Paul will know better than to suppose that it is.

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The Concept of Newness in Eschatology

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The Concept of Newness in Eschatology

Joshua Wise

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

—Rev. 1:81

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

—Rev. 21:5

The tension of the “new” and the “old” in eschatological studies is, of course, the locus of most of the disagreement that takes place in the field. We can identify this tension as the tension of the natural and the supernatural, nature and grace. Repeatedly visions of the coming age are criticized for their overemphasis of one of these factors, while leaving the other behind. N. T. Wright, one of the most prolific voices contributing to eschatology in the last twenty years, has been critiqued by some2 for his overemphasis on the continuity between this age and the coming age. Alternatively, and with a much longer history, St. Thomas Aquinas’s picture of a world in which the heavens have stopped, there are no plants or animals other than humans, and we merely contemplate the Lord with our minds,3 leaves behind the continuity of this and the next age in a way that is deeply dissatisfying for many.4

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Thinking about Christ and Scripture with and beyond Time and the Word

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Thinking about Christ and Scripture with and beyond Time and the Word

R. David Nelson

I

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to Ephraim Radner’s important and challenging book, Time and the Word, a difficult essay that requires, but also rewards, patient and repeated reading. Radner’s ambitious proposal for the recovery of a figural approach to reading and interpreting Christian Scripture defies conventional “critical” modes of exegesis and is replete with implications for dogmatics, lectionary use and liturgics, and preaching. With the metaphysics undergirding this program, Radner endeavors to resolve perennially thorny problems at the intersection of the doctrine of God, Christology, and the ontology of Scripture. Time and the Word is neither a methodological guide to the practice of figural exegesis nor a survey of how figuration has developed in the history of biblical interpretation, though it does contain reflections along both of these tracks. The book, rather, advances a robust theology of figuration, focusing on the relation between Scripture, God, and time.

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Scriptural Completion in the Infancy Gospel of James

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Scriptural Completion in the Infancy Gospel of James

Markus Bockmuehl

Every authoritative text—perhaps any significant text—involves its hearers and readers in a process of engagement that invites or even requires the filling of gaps or breaks in what is written.1

In communities committed to canons of Holy Scripture, this engagement may at times appear to outsiders as little more than rationalization—the exposition of a static document in the service of a concern for authorized meaning. Closer observation, however, tends instead to uncover a complex, historically self-renewing process of relating text to intertext; of nuancing the tensions and suspensions of law and poetry and prophecy differentially; of continually rereading multiple senses of the text in light of each other; of the interplay of memory, retrieval, and aggiornamento within an interpreter’s living community of praxis, study, and worship.

At the same time, this process sometimes gives rise to a further stage of engagement with authoritative texts, more liminal and yet in other respects more generative than the picture just described. The very genesis of the scriptural texts themselves bears witness to a dynamic process of reception, appreciation, and transmission. In so doing, the sacred page gives rise to new, epiphenomenal text that may either become an integral part of the emerging scriptural voice or alternatively attain an independent authority of its own as a metatext that nevertheless remains associated in some sense with the generative personality of a Moses or an Ezra, a Paul or a John. This process has long been of interest to students of inter-textual and inner-biblical interpretation, of reception history and effective history, in both the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

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Transfiguring Doubt: A Retrieval from Augustine’s Meta-Apologetic in De Trinitate

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Transfiguring Doubt: A Retrieval from Augustine’s Meta-Apologetic in De Trinitate

Clifton Stringer

Part I. Apologetic Contexts

1.1. Necessary Uncertainty?

In 2011, the late journalist Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) debated John Haldane at Oxford on questions related to God, faith, and public policy. Hitchens began his opening statement by describing a curious fact about the death of American President Abraham Lincoln, as Lincoln expired in a room in Petersen House not far from Pennsylvania Avenue. Hitchens:

We still don’t know, when his cabinet gathered around him and saw him die . . . either [his cabinet member Stanton or Herndon] said, “Now he’s with the angels” or “Now he’s with the ages.” We still don’t know [which was said]. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. There were eyewitnesses, literate men, practically contemporaries of ours. They were in the age of print, in the age of photography, and yet nobody knows which thing Stanton or Herndon said.

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A Spirituality of the Word: The Medieval Roots of Traditional Anglican Worship

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A Spirituality of the Word: The Medieval Roots of Traditional Anglican Worship

Jesse D. Billett

Jesse D. Billett, Trinity College, University of Toronto, 6 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1H8. Email: jesse.billett@utoronto.ca

The title of this paper1 is perhaps not one that would have been chosen by the priest and scholar in whose memory it is offered. Fr. Robert Darwin Crouse (1930–2011), Professor of Classics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and several times Visiting Professor of Patrology at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, was indeed deeply learned in the history and theology of the Middle Ages, that is, the millennium following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West (conventionally dated ca. 500–1500). But I imagine that he would be disappointed that I was not going to show how Anglican liturgical spirituality could be traced right back to the Fathers of the early Christian centuries. No doubt that could be done. But the Middle Ages made their own distinctive contribution to Anglican worship that invites our attention. This paper addresses just one aspect of Anglican worship, the Divine Office, the daily services of Mattins and Evensong. The Divine Office has arguably been more important for Anglicans than it has been for any other Christian denomination. Until very recently, the offices of Mattins and Evensong, not the Eucharist, were for Anglicans the principal act of Sunday worship. And from the time of the Reformation the daily offices were proposed not just as a clerical or monastic discipline (as, for example, in the Roman communion), but as the joint prayer of the whole worshipping community, lay and ordained.

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The Sacramentality of the Church in Dumitru Stăniloae’s Theology

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The Sacramentality of the Church in Dumitru Stăniloae’s Theology

Viorel Coman

The question of the Church’s sacramental nature has received significant attention in the bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogues over the last six decades. As Emmanuel Clapsis noted, the question itself was raised “because for some Christian churches and ecumenists (primarily Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians) the Church is the sacrament of God’s presence in the world, while others (especially Protestant theologians) believe that while Christ is the sacrament of God’s grace in the world, the Church must not be called a sacrament. The Church is only a privileged instrument of God’s grace that leads to the unity in the Church of the whole world with Christ.”1 As was expected, the 1982 Munich document issued by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church found therefore no difficulty in affirming the Church’s sacramental role: “The Church manifests what it is, the sacrament of the Trinitarian koinonia, the ‘dwelling of God with men’ (cf. Rev. 21:4).”2 When it comes to Protestant theologians, their reluctance to adopt the language of the sacramentality of the Church springs from their conviction that such an understanding of the ekklesia leads to triumphalism, obscures the distinction between Christ and the Church, and overlooks the sinfulness of those who make up the Church. In spite of that, a certain level of consensus on the theme of the Church’s sacramentality has been reached so far in the reports of the WCC Faith and Order Commission (Uppsala 1968; Accra 1974; Bangalore 1977; Chantilly 1985),3 as well as in the bilateral dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches issued from the Reformation: “Towards a Common Understanding of the Church” § 94–113 (Reformed–Roman Catholic Dialogue, 1984–1990);4 “Church and Justification” § 118–134 (Lutheran–Roman Catholic Dialogue, 1993).5 The 2013 Faith and Order convergence text “The Church: Towards a Common Vision” § 25–27 constitutes another important example in this regard.6 However, the topic of the Church’s sacramental role needs further reflection, for it remains still an unresolved theological issue in the ecumenical discussions.

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