October 23, 2012

My buddy Chris Skinner has written a book introducing the study of the Gospel of Thomas and CBD has discounted copies for a limited quantity.
Now, I kind of think it is funny CBD had it listed as “What Are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? – Slightly Imperfect”
Ha ha ha ha! Yes, the Gospel of Thomas is “slightly” imperfect…

March 1, 2012

Have you ever wondered, What are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? My buddy Chris Skinner can answer that question – and he has! In the Paulist Press WATSA series, his new book is due in May and can be pre-ordered for a very nice deal on Amazon ($6.40). Check it out! Congrats, Chris!

January 21, 2014

watsonRecently I had the delightful opportunity to have a long chat with Professor Francis Watson (Durham University) about his stimulating new book, Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective. I would like to share that conversation with you through mostly summary with occasional quotes from particular statements Professor Watson (FW) made that I found especially rewarding or interesting.

The Beginning of the Journey towards Gospel Writing

We started off our conversation with my question how did you come to be interested in the subject matter of the Synoptic Problem and the composition of the gospels? FW explained that, even as a student new to the Greek New Testament, he fell in love with Albert Huck’s Greek synopsis and found issues related to the interrelationship between the gospels fascinating.

Fast-forward to FW’s years in Aberdeen, and he inherited a course on the gospels taught to first-year students. FW made it a point to include the study of, not only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but also some of the non-canonical gospels. FW found that students welcomed engagement with these texts. He also mentioned his interest in Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q and how it prompted him to look at the Synoptics carefully and see how Luke may have worked from Matthew.

While FW has been publishing a lot in Pauline studies in recent years, he has regularly published in the area of gospels studies and the canonical approach to biblical interpretation.

Thinking about ThinkingGW

Given that FW has been ruminating on this subject in publications for a number of years, I asked him if he has changed his mind on any important matters. In the main, he assured me he hadn’t, but I was intrigued by his whole approach to the maturity of thought and scholarly circumspection.

“I am sure there are individual points where I have changed my mind, but it is hard to differentiate between changing one’s mind and just one’s thought developing as one thinks about things more and acquires new knowledge and understanding in new areas.”

(I found this a salutary point in view of questions about whether St. Paul “changed his mind” or “developed.” This way of looking at it, which FW has articulated, seems quite normal and human, and even necessary and rich. Perhaps so also for Paul.)

“Is Q Still a Hypothesis?”

I fondly remember an occasion, in my time as a Ph.D. student at Durham, when FW gave a richly-rewarding paper to the NT seminar called “Is Q Still a Hypothesis?” In Gospel Writing, FW argues that Q is not the best way to answer the Synoptic Problem despite its position as the default theory in many circles. I asked FW if there were other like-minded scholars who are doubtful of Q. He reminded me of a collection of essays edited by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin called Questioning Q. However, he noted that, even though there are a number of scholars critical of Q, they do not all agree on the better hypothesis. This led me to my next question:

If not Q, then What?

Gospel Writing develops very carefully FW’s own theory, but he was kind enough to explain to me the key points.

First, he told me, it is not enough to limit one’s material only to Matthew, Mark, and Luke when trying to sort out the early work of “gospel writing.”

“my basic assumption is that material related to Jesus, and specifically sayings attributed to Jesus get written down from quite an early stage.”

FW admitted that this is a point in favor of Q (the theory of an early piece of writing not in story-form), but FW appeals to the Gospel of Thomas as a “late example of what would have been an early primitive Christian genre of a ‘sayings collection’” – indeed, he added, “simple, non-literary sayings collections are one of the roots of the developing gospel tradition.”

A second point FW made was that, then, Mark is not really the first attempt to put the Jesus tradition into writing. Thirdly, Matthew, then, is a further interpretive project building from, but even seeking to replace, Mark.  Thus, Matthew serves, FW stated, “as a rival attempt at a revised, expanded, second-edition of the text.”

FW recognized that the language of “rivalry” could sound combative, but he explained that authorial names do not get firmly attached to the gospels until the mid-second century or so. In the first century, gospel writing appears to have been an anonymous activity. Thus, when readers/auditors encountered Matthew, FW is not sure whether it would have been understood as an entirely separate work from Mark, or some kind of expansion. What we see in the first century is not a clear intent for known authors to publish individual books, but, rather, all signs point to a more “fluid and ongoing process of gospel writing.”

In the next post we continue the dialogue, focusing especially on this idea of gospel writing as interpretation and re-interpretation, as well as the benefits of the plurality of the fourfold gospel collection in the New Testament.

November 14, 2013

I had a dream one night that I had book contracts to  write both a systematic theology textbook and also a commentary on Romans (two of the most serious challenges a Christian scholar might face in his or her career). I turned and looked in the mirror and saw red hair – for I had become Michael F. Bird.

No, not really. But I am delighted there are people in the world like Mike who feel comfortable in the Biblical Studies world as well as the theology world. And I am honored to have Zondervan send me his Evangelical Theology to review.

By now there are several reviews finished or started on the web, so I won’t try to be comprehensive here. The bottom line for me is that this is the first thing I would mention to anyone who asked me to recommend a systematic theology. When I was in seminary, I found the pick of systematic theologies woefully inadequate and they talked about theology in such stale and confusing ways. Mike’s approach is clear and engaging, and offers the best reflections from Biblical Studies and systematic (and historical and cultural) theology.

You may already know that the way Mike approaches an “Evangelical Theology” is by focusing on the “Evangel,” the Gospel. Here is his definition:

The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit (52).

This is a wonderful way to proceed with a systematic theology. I am not sure it is infused in every part of the theology, but it is there enough to make it distinctive. Bravo!

Truth be told, I did not read every single word of the book of 900+ pages, but I read bits that were most interesting to me. From the portions I read (and a glance at the indexes), I noted that the greatest influences on Mike evident in the work are: Augustine, Barth, Calvin, Millard Erickson, Michael Horton, Thomas Schreiner, Kevin Vanhoozer, and (last but not least) N.T. Wright.

How shall we proceed with my own reflections? I thought it appropriate to refer to what I thought was Groovy and Not-So-Groovy.

Groovy

1. The book is just a lot of fun. I laughed. I cried (at his Calvinism). I ate popcorn. I said a prayer. I fell asleep. It fell on me.

Seriously, though, it is a very engaging textbook with great excurses and charts. The outline is clear and the topics flow very smoothly. It would be easy to organize a course around the book sections.

2. Mike’s discussion about his “doctrine of Scripture”:

“In my thinking, a doctrine of Scripture should not be a locus of its own. Such a doctrine stands somewhere between ecclesiology and pneumatology, or between church and Spirit, in terms of its appropriate place in a Christian theology” (196)

3. Mike offers a very groovy summary of Richard Hays’ reasons why we need “apocalyptic eschatology” (241-243).

4. Mike has a discussion of “cool internet resources” (291)

5. Mike quotes Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (301)

6. Mike argues that Jesus is a theologian. He also says that the epistles, Acts, and Revelation could be called the “Jesus Festschrift” (381)

7. Mike’s discussion of models of atonement is the best I have seen. See the handy charts on 410 and also 421. Every time I teach on the atonement I will appeal to this.

8. I love Mike’s explanation of the Christological heresy of the Monophysites: “two natures in a blender Christology” (483).

9. Mike’s work on ecclesiology is reason enough to get the book. He presses for the evangelical world to have a strong sense of the church’s identity and mission.

Not-So-Groovy

1. Perhaps the biggest concern I have with Mike’s textbook is that I couldn’t quite see where “ethics” and “redemptive living” fit into his framework. There is no specific category for it. Something like ethics gets into his order of salvation vis-a-vis regeneration and sanctification, but this can come off as very individualistic. His discussion of the life and mission of the church is better on the concern for the life lived, but it did not come across as distinctive of a Gospel theology.

2. In relationship to the above, I was not that excited about his short discussion of the final judgment of believers. He takes a Schreiner-ian stance, I think: “Good works demonstrate the necessary evidences of a saving faith in the Savior” (303), where works are demonstrations of faith. But, if this is so, why not judge the “faith,” why judge the works at all (especially if God knows our hearts)? Perhaps this is explained by his statement that judgment will determine “how successfully believers have cooperated with his grace of renewal” (303). I think this gets closer to a helpful answer, but, again, it can come across as very individualistic (as if renewal and sanctification is about me and Jesus) – what about the Christian and the Church’s worldwide mission? Are we not held accountable because the world needs our works? I wish Mike had done a better job wedding his judgment-theology with his robust ecclesiology.

3. I found the discussion of hell to be too systematic. Imagine my surprise when Mike starts talking about two separate sheols in the OT, one for saints and one for the wicked; and then later in salvation history the saints go with Jesus and the bad sheol gets dumped into hell. Don’t get me wrong, this is the kind of thing systematicians do (so Mike’s discussion may be par for the course), but I just don’t see how it can be worked out in that way with that level of detail (and a timeline with pictures!). Also, you might not be surprised that Mike defends a traditional view of eternal damnation in hell for the wicked, but I was not satisfied with his short dismissal of annihilationism, and I wish he had brought in C.S. Lewis’ mature and rewarding thoughts on the language of the “eternality” of hell that comes from The Problem of Pain. I know you can’t expect a theologian to talk about everything, but — for me — Lewis’ approach ties up a lot of philosophical and moral loose ends. (Also, Mike – leave Rob Bell out of the book; in five years when this textbook is being used regularly across the world students are going to read your book and ask “Who’s Rob Bell?”)

Last Word

Please don’t take my few negative comments as the last word. My last word is that this is a better read than any other theology textbook I have read. Mike is humble, clear, entertaining, balanced, and studied. He is thoroughly evangelical, but cites and works with anyone that offers something useful (like Moltmann). If someone asked me if Mike’s Evangelical Theology was groovy or not-groovy, I publicly state now that I dubbeth it groovy – indeed.

December 7, 2012

I have, sitting on my desk, about 25 new books that I got at SBL and elsewhere – can’t wait to be done with finals grading and kick back with a good book (or 2 or 20) during the Christmas break. I would like to spotlight or review each and every one eventually, but for now I would like the mention five new and interesting books on Jesus and the Gospels.
The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (Helen Bond, Continuum). I am about halfway through this book and it is a very engaging work. Sometimes Jesus books are tedious and stale. Bond writes in a very attractive style. She gives just the right amount of information and divides up the short book (194 pp.) into 13 chapters. She is neither a pious optimist, defending everything the Evangelists recount about Jesus point-by-point; nor is she a thoroughgoing skeptic, trying to deconstruct the Christ of faith and propose her own revised Jesus of Nazareth. She clearly has a deep appreciation for her own Doktorvater James Dunn and appears to be basically on-board with the Third Quest. I will have some critical comments about this book in a later post, but I want to make it clear that anyone interested in the “Historical Jesus” would find this book an extremely cogent and illuminating “state of the discussion.”

Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera (eds. C.W. Skinner and K.R. Iverson, SBL). While Festschriften tend to be “hit or miss” in terms of how insightful they are, there have been several as of late that have been “keepers.” I especially like when FSs truly engage with the honoree by focusing on a particular subject where the honoree made his or her mark. This is absolutely the case of this FS as it looks at this unity/diversity dialectic in NT theology, a hallmark of Matera’s work. The Synoptics are given special attention in the first half of the FS (“Unity and Diversity in the Gospels”), with eminent contributors such as Francis Moloney, Jack Kingsbury, John Donahue, Paul Achtemeier, William Kurz, and John Meier.I am particularly interested in Donahue’s essay: “The Lure of Wealth: Does Mark Have  Social Gospel?” (71-94).
Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel and Early Christianity: Studies in Memory of Graham N. Stanton (eds. D.M. Gurtner, J. Willitts, and R.A. Burridge; T & T Clark). Speaking of Festschriften! Here is another one, this time for the late Graham Stanton. While I did not have the privilege of ever meeting Prof. Stanton, he was known through the UK as a true gentlemen, the kind of scholar and all-around gracious fellow that most students desire to emulate. Contributors in this FS (almost all focusing on Matthew) include Richard Burridge, Scot McKnight, James Dunn, Don Hagner, Craig Evans, Chris Tuckett, and David Catchpole (among a few others). What a fantastic memorial and tribute! The one problem is that this FS retails for $120, while the Matera FS sells for $50! Cost, in either of these cases, does not reflect quality! It is simply the way publishing works (sadly).
Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and theological Introduction (Jonathan Pennington, Baker). I just finished reading this book rather recently and I must say that it is extremely well written and a very fresh theological perspective on the hermeneutics of the Gospels. Like a good dialogue partner, I found myself at times nodding in agreement with Pennington, at other times scratching my head in confusion, and even still wanting to throw the book across the room out of frustration and disagreement! That is a good thing! He’s making me think! I talked with Pennington at SBL and congratulated him on the book. I told him, quite directly, that I was surprised that a profess at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had the [shall we say ‘guts’] to push some of the buttons that he does in the book. One can even get a sense for this “button-pushing” in Thomas Schreiner’s tempered back-cover endorsement where he says “While I don’t agree with everything Pennington says…” I never thought of myself as the “conservative” while reading a book by a SBTS prof, but, sure enough, I was! Thanks Jonathan for your boldness. I will have a series of blog posts on this excellent book, underscoring, not the Good/Bad/Ugly, but the Great, the Good, and the So-So.
Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (eds. C. Keith and A. Le Donne; T & T Clark). Last, but not least, I got in the post yesterday this very attractive volume that relates to a conference held earlier this year. James McGrath has a nice “round-up” of how that conference went. Together, the contributors attempt to bury the “criteria-movement” of HJ research in the ground. By many people’s accounts, this is an important “snapshot” in the history of NT scholarship where we see the progression towards a consensus that the choppy and marble-pitching approach to the study of the Gospels historically is a dead end. The “quest” will, no doubt, still go on for the foreseeable future (sorry Scot!), but memory studies and oral culture habits seem to be paving the way. More to come…

March 21, 2020

This blog series spotlights 50 NT scholars and their research. The goal of this series is to introduce readers to a wider circle of scholarship than they have encountered. The majority of people on this list are early or mid-career NT scholars who are doing great research and writing. 

Introducing

Christopher W. Skinner

Associate Professor of New Testament & Early Christianity

Graduate Program Director 

Loyola University Chicago

 

Explain why you love teaching and/or writing, and why it brings you vocational satisfaction.

I like to tell my students, “I love ideas and I love people, and I consider myself one of the most fortunate individuals in the world because I get to spend each day working with both.” Both within and outside the classroom, I see myself as someone who is doing much more than merely disseminating ideas or lecturing about topics in my discipline. I regard my work as one small part of the larger project of forming whole humans (in the Jesuit tradition, this is known as “cura personalis”). Also, while working with students is an intoxicating way to spend my days, I am the type of person who needs to write in order to process the world around me. Given my gifts, abilities, and natural inclinations, I simply cannot envision a better career than researching and writing about the things I love and then being able to impart that passion to my students.

What is one “big idea,” emphasis, or theme in your scholarship that you hope impacts the way students and scholars read and understand the NT?

At the center of my research and teaching is the desire for literary and historical methodologies to inform one another meaningfully. I want students to learn to ask good historical questions while also becoming astute readers of ancient texts in their final forms. Not everyone is able to do both of these things well. I want my students to realize that there is a natural but often neglected symbiosis between the two, and then I want them to work toward developing both skill sets. This is something I have tried to model for my students in my own writing (or at least I *hope* I have).

Who is your academic hero and why?

In the early days of graduate school, I learned a great deal from the work of Raymond Brown. His work on the Fourth Gospel is one of the things that inspired me to pursue research in Johannine studies in the first place. I have also benefitted greatly from the work of Elizabeth Struthers Malbon. Her work on Mark, especially in narrative criticism and characterization, is what sparked my interest in Mark. However, I would have to say that my Doktorvater, Frank Moloney, is my true academic “hero.” Having known him for the better part of 19 years now, I have come to regard him as the type of teacher, scholar, and human I aspire to be. He is exceptionally well-read, fluent in multiple languages (including Italian, French, and German), fair to a fault, pastoral in all the best senses of the term, and unfailingly kind. I consider it one of the real blessings of my vocational life to have been both his student and his friend.

Name a few academic books that were formative for you as a student.

Raymond E. Brown, Birth of the Messiah (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1999)

R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983)

Frank Matera, New Testament Christology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1999)

John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1 (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1991);


 Read Skinner’s Work

Skinner’s newest (forthcoming) work is a Festschrift (celebration-writing) in honor of Michael J. Gorman called Cruciform Scripture, coming Jan 2021 (co-edited with Gupta, Andy Johnson, and Drew Strait)

Johannine Ethics: The Moral World of the Gospel and Epistles of John (with Sherri Brown; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017)

Reading John (Cascade Companions; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015)

What are they Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? (Mahwah: Paulist, 2012)

 

Follow Skinner ONLINE

Portions of nearly everything Skinner has published can be found on my Academia.edu:

If you ran into me at SBL, and you didn’t want to talk about New Testament studies, what would you want to talk about?

I would most likely strike up a conversation about my three teenagers (they’re my world) or vintage guitar gear, especially Fender.

What is a research/writing project you are working on right now that you are excited about?

I am currently working on a monograph on Mark’s Christology with Baker Academic. I’m hoping it will see the light of day by early 2023.
January 22, 2014

I am very excited to announce that Chris Skinner and I are now teaming up here at the blog Crux Sola. As of today (Jan 22, 2014), he will be posting from here and I am looking forward to working with him: Watch out Mike and Joel and Anthony and Chris– there is a new “Brangelina” in town (did I just say that?).

Here is what Chris posted on his own (former!) blog:

I am happy to announce that as of today, Wednesday, January 22, 2014, I will be joining forces with Njiay Gupta over at Crux Sola. We have decided to combine our blogging powers in an effort to conquer the blogosphere and pursue worldwide domination! Actually, Nijay’s invitation to join his blog was laced with greater humility than that, but I’m currently having delusions of grandeur. :)

Nijay has been blogging since 2007 and his focus has largely been on issues related to the interpretation of the Pauline literature. Most of my blogging has been related to the Gospels, the historical Jesus, and early Christianity. Between the two of us, we hope to blog about the entire NT, Judaism during the time of Jesus and Paul, and Christianity during the first four centuries C.E.

In the four plus years that I have blogging here at PEJE IESOUS, the most frequently visited pages have been my interviews with scholars working on the Gospel of Thomas. All of these interviews will be moved to Crux Sola. You will find these under the tab, Chris’s Pages. So, if you have me (or Nijay) in your blogroll or you have linked to this blog on your webpage, please make note of the change. Also, if you have subscribed to this blog (which I greatly appreciate), please subscribe over there and continue to follow what I’m doing. This will be my last post here at PEJE IESOUS. I appreciate those of you who have paid attention to what I’ve been doing here for the past four years!

October 18, 2012

The latest Currents in Biblical Research is out (Oct 2012) and includes articles on the Septuagint and the Gospel of Thomas.

January 18, 2011

Firstly, check out NTS, which has some new articles by Kavin Rowe (on the Areopagus speech), M.Y. MacDonald (household codes), Udo Schnelle (order of the Johannine writings), and Simon Gathercole (Luke’s influence on the Gospel of Thomas).

Secondly, the new issue of Interpretation is about Liturgy and Easter with articles on Mark 16:1-8 through the centuries (C.E. Joynes) and Ulrich Luz on the resurrection of Jesus in art.

And, of course, Expository Times is always worth a glance!

October 26, 2009

I have mentioned before that, as I have a very long commute to work, I have been scouring itunes for good (free) courses to listen to.  I did stumble across a great find!

Dale Martin (Yale University) is on itunes with his Introduction to New Testament History and Literature course which is comprised of 26 lectures, each one ranging from 45 minutes to 51 minutes.

He seems to do a good job of covering a number of NT books, though it does not seem like he hits all of them (though I could be wrong).  He does get into some history of reception stuff towards the end (such as “medieval interpretations), and the formation (and formalization) of the church.  When he discusses the gospels, he includes a lecture on the gospel of Thomas.  He also spends about 6-7 lectures on Paul.

I have learned some important things from Martin’s work in the past, though I am certainly critical of some parts of his thinking and work.  This does seem like an interesting course with more than your typical NT survey stuff – provocative, but probably very insightful at times.

Check it out on itunes by going to your itunes store page and in the search window (top right) type in “Dale Martin” and you should find it.  Happy listening!

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