Sunday, June 30, 2013

Andrew Perriman and Regenerate Scholarship: Who is Jesus?

The narrative-historical approach to the New Testament attempts to understand how things appeared from the historical perspective of Jesus and his followers. This is an ante-orthodox perspective, not necessarily an anti-orthodox perspective. The theological content of the New Testament is taken to be the product of a narrative told essentially within the context of, and according to the terms of, second temple Judaism. This inevitably, I think, brings into the foreground the story of how the Jesus born to Mary and Joseph or the Jesus baptized by John came to be acknowledged as judge and ruler of the nations, to the glory of the God of Israel—a story which is largely eclipsed under later orthodoxy. To the extent that Jesus is secondarily associated with the word or wisdom of God, with the process of creation, perhaps even identified with the creator, this still needs to be understood in the light of Jewish word/wisdom categories and in relation to the Jewish apocalyptic narrative. We do not understand the New Testament better by dressing it up in the clothing of a post-Jewish orthodoxy.

This will be my final interaction with Perriman’s rules, with perhaps a follow-up summary of my observations of the overall approach of narrative-historical hermeneutics.

Perriman makes this interesting claim:
This is an ante-orthodox perspective, not necessarily an anti-orthodox perspective. The theological content of the New Testament is taken to be the product of a narrative told essentially within the context of, and according to the terms of, second temple Judaism.
First and foremost, while this claim sounds nice, it really falls flat as soon as one reads it. The truth is that the narrative-historical approach is a response to orthodoxy. It is a reaction against orthodoxy. It contends that orthodoxy is and always has been wrong. If Andrew is right, then error enveloped the Church immediately, eclipsed truth for some 2,000 years, and only now are we in the process of recovering it. The burden of proof remains on Andrew. Rather than argue his case, Perriman seems to simply string a bunch of sentences together in the name of argument. A quick read of his paragraph above makes my point.

For good measure, Andrew tells us that narrative-historical interpretation is not “anti-orthodox.” Yet, on just about every significant orthodox doctrine, his approach falls short. For example, orthodoxy insists on the public confession of the divinity of Christ. Andrew has repeatedly refused to make this confession. The refusal to confess Jesus as God of very God is anti-orthodox. Moreover, if Jesus is not God, the doctrine of the trinity collapses. The doctrine of the trinity is as orthodox a doctrine as one can find. The denial of the triune God is an unorthodox, anti-orthodox, and heretical view. Andrew’s claims in this respect seem more like those that a used car salesman would make to get you to buy the hunk of junk he is selling. I offer no apologies for criticizing unbelieving scholarship that seeks to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. It is unregenerate, unbelieving scholarship at its foundation. One of the greatest, yet most ignored problems in biblical studies is the presence of unbelieving scholarship. It is fascinating to me how so many sound scholars refuse to speak out about the utter folly of placing God’s special revelation into the hands of men who are intellectually hostile to God by their very nature. Pardon this digression, but the idea that regeneration is irrelevant to sound biblical scholarship can only be viewed as high treason against the God of Scripture.

The theological content of the New Testament is taken to be the product of a narrative told essentially within the context of, and according to the terms of, second temple Judaism.
We have no disputes with this sentence at face value. It is the speculative and high conjectural conclusions that Perriman makes on the basis of this statement. Andrew repeatedly overstates the unity of theology in second temple Judaism. His optimism is this regard cannot possible be grounded in any historically objective evidence. We know that the level of disagreement and theological division during this era was high. Perriman ignores this fact, in a very misleading way, painting a picture of terrific harmony. Such harmony is a figment of Perriman’s imagination. It simply did not exist.

This inevitably, I think, brings into the foreground the story of how the Jesus born to Mary and Joseph or the Jesus baptized by John came to be acknowledged as judge and ruler of the nations, to the glory of the God of Israel—a story which is largely eclipsed under later orthodoxy.
One must ask, “acknowledged by whom?” Andrew posits that Jesus’ rise to lordship should only be understood through the naturalistic framework offered by the terms and context of second temple Judaism. But wasn’t it these very Jews who antagonistically murdered the Son of God? And aren’t these the same Jews whom God had hid the truths of the gospel from to begin with? Andrew continues to make God out to be the God of Israel, refusing to acknowledge that God is not just the God of Israel, He is the God of humanity. In fact, the term “God of Israel” never appears in the NT. Romans 3:29 abolishes forever the idea that God is the God of the Jews, or the God of Israel. He is also the God of the Gentiles, of the nations.
I am not for a minute postulating that we throw away sound scholarship. What I am suggesting is that we distinguish between good scholarship and the often foolish and misleading conclusions of the unbelievers in back of that scholarship. Biblical scholarship belongs to the Church, not the academy. The path from Christian to Christian scholar runs through the local Church in general and through the local elders in particular. If a man has not come to know Christ, shows little evidence of Christian faith, and refuses to publicly confess with the Church those core values and beliefs that by definition make a Christian a Christian, then there is no place for that person in any field dealing with biblical scholarship. It really is that simple.

To the extent that Jesus is secondarily associated with the word or wisdom of God, with the process of creation, perhaps even identified with the creator, this still needs to be understood in the light of Jewish word/wisdom categories and in relation to the Jewish apocalyptic narrative. We do not understand the New Testament better by dressing it up in the clothing of a post-Jewish orthodoxy.
Perriman continues to insist that John’s perspective of the logos was in lockstep with Philo. But as Carson points out, that Philo’s logos has no distinct personality, and does not itself become incarnate. Logos for Philo can refer to the ideal man, the primal man, from which all empirical human beings derive. [Carson, PNTC, John 115] The Stoics understood logos to be that rational principle by which everything else exists. There is no god but logos. The proper OT connection with the NT logos is the Hebrew word dabar, not hokmah. The lack of wisdom terminology in John’s writings would testify against the idea that John is concerned to present Jesus as the personification of wisdom or wisdom incarnate. To assert that Jesus being presented as God incarnate, or identified as the creator is somehow secondary in the NT smacks of theological bias from the start. A simple reading of the NT shouts to us about the God-Man, the One who has descended into the lower parts of the earth to redeem His people, to save His people from their sins is not a secondary message, but the heartbeat of the NT gospel.

Goldsworthy sums it up well, “The biblical doctrine of interpretation, then, includes the epistemological dimension and the significance of the noetic effects of human sin (Rom. 1:18-32). He goes on to say, Christian theism maintains that what we think of the Word incarnate will affect what we think of the OT prophets. “In other words, the hermeneutical question about the whole Bible correlates with the question, “What do you think of Christ?” [Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics] It is precisely here that Perriman runs off track. Perriman argues we must interpret the Christ event through the lens of second temple Judaism and how they understood the OT prophets. But this is exactly backwards according to Christian theism. We must read the prophets in the extra light of God that shines upon us through the NT Scriptures. Moreover, what Andrew does with Jesus, his refusal to publicly confess his divinity for instance, determines more than anything else what he will do with Scripture. Perriman wants his audience to believe that he has arrived at his understanding of Jesus through an objective, blood, sweat, and tears approach to exegesis. However, the truth is that he has approached the text with a view of Jesus already projected, and from that starting point, he has reshaped the text to suit his own projection.

The final product is a Jesus who is far reduced from that which Scripture describes. Perriman’s Jesus is not divine, He is not the Creator of all that is, He does not hold all things together by the word of His power. He was a man, nothing more, nothing less, whom God has not made out to be a very special man. It remains to be sin if Perriman thinks Jesus sinned, or had a sin nature. But that is a discussion for another time, perhaps.
Who do you say that Jesus is? Be careful, your answer has eternal consequences.

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