2017 Bonhoeffer Conference: Applying Bonhoeffer’s Worldly Christianity in Practice

I am speaking later this year as part of an excellent line of speakers at a Day Conference in Sydney on 6th December.:

“With him I believe”
Keith Clements on Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Patriot and Ecumenist

Keith Clements is acknowledged to be one of the leading living interpreters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and theology. This paper will explore two of the major themes of Clements’ work on Bonhoeffer—ecumenism and the nature of patriotism—with a view to elucidating these aspects of Bonhoeffer’s theological work.







Paul and the Question of Sexual Orientation: A Story and Reflection

Below you will find a link to a piece I wrote in that most obscure of academic genres: the response to a response to an article. For those who haven’t been following developments here in Australia, the issue of Marriage Equality is on the political agenda, but via the deeply unsatisfactory medium of a proposed postal survey to secure a clear sense of the opinions of all Australians. This has led to some more, and much more less helpful public debate about marriage, same-sex relationships, homosexuality and, for that small portion of the Australian population who give two hoots about it, the Bible.

My colleague Robyn Whitaker composed a brief article on the Bible and same-sex relations. In the process, she asked me for a quotation that she could use in summarising my view of one of the relevant texts: Romans 1:28–28. This is what I said:

“Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.”

The article, originally written for The Conversation, was then syndicated by the ABC and so received substantial circulation. In response to the article as a whole, and especially to the claim made by Whitaker and supported by me, that Romans 1 is not really about orientation, Lionel Windsor composed a response piece (theoretically directed at articles by Whitaker and Amy Jill Levine, but really focused almost exclusively on the former) pointing out that Bill Loader’s recent and well-received work on Romans 1 argues that Paul did understand that there could be something akin to sexual orientation, and that he condemned it anyway. In the ABC version of that piece my quotation wasn’t mentioned, although I now note that my initial hunch as to why is confirmed by the original version of Windsor’s article on the ‘Thinking of God’ website. Windsor goes on to consider the way in which his account of Paul’s gospel makes sense of Paul’s rhetoric in Romans 1.

My response can be found here. It isn’t the easiest read, perhaps, if the nuances of the debate aren’t familiar to you. But the intention was to challenge to some extent Windsor’s reading of Loader, and offer an alternative account of the way that we connect Paul’s theology (his ‘big idea’) to his ethics.

A couple of things have occurred to me in the process of stepping into this debate:

The first is that I have yet to receive a single challenging, questioning, accusatory, or intemperate email about what I wrote; in contrast to Whitaker, whose position on the biblical texts I explicitly support. Within a day of her article appearing she received numerous emails questioning not only her views, but her authority to express them, and the validity of her Christian faith and academic credentials. Of course it may simply be that my persuasive skills are such that those who have told Robyn she is going to hell have all changed their minds and will be voting ‘Yes’ in the forthcoming survey. But somehow I doubt it. It could simply be that my article has dropped into the abyss of online comment on this issue and that very few people have read it. But there are other possible explanations. The first is the likelihood that as a middle aged, cis-gendered, white, straight male I am benefitting from all of the unspoken forms of insulation and protection that are afforded me. Certainly at least one person has taken the time to wrte to Robyn and attack her for what is stated in the quotation from me.

The second possible explanation is that, in composing a slightly technical response to a response to an article, I left my own position on the issue unclear. So let me be clear, for what it is worth. I support the position that has been carefully articulated by others: by Robyn, by Bill Loader himself (whose work, like Robyn’s, is marked by the admirable qualities of exegetical care and hermeneutical honesty); by my own Pastor Simon Holt. I am not an Australian citizen, but if I were I would be voting ‘Yes’ in the forthcoming survey. I support a change in the legislation to enable marriage between people of the same sex, and I see no biblical or theological warrant for denying its legitimacy.

Accordance Seminars in Melbourne

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I have been an Accordance customer now for almost 17 years, and I couldn’t do my work without it. For those who don’t know what I am talking about, Accordance is the premier Biblical Studies software (IMHO) currently available. I add modules every year or so, and the quality and precision of the work that goes in to making original language texts and resources available is impeccable.

Anyway, all of which is an introduction to the fact that some of the Accordance staff will be in Melbourne during September, and will be offering training events across Queensland, NSW and here in Melbourne. The Melbourne details are:

Saturday 16 September 2017 Note that this date has now been changed to Saturday 23rd  September

9am to 4pm
Room: Adam Lecture Theatre
170 The Avenue, Parkville, Victoria
Friday 22 September 2017
10am to 1pm
“Accordance in Biblical Studies”
Whitley College
Room: Pending
271 Royal Parade, Parksville, Victoria
Map & Directions
To register, send an email to seminars@accordancebible.com. Please reference the name of the seminar location you wish to attend. You can also use this address for any questions about the seminars.

David Bentley Hart’s Translation of the New Testament

a6d5fbb1c9109c7fd92f5a00c8baba99This may not be news to anyone else, but today I discovered that Yale University Press are about to publish a new translation of the New Testament by David Bentley Hart, the noted essayist and theologian whose work usually stands pretty squarely in the love-it-or-hate-it category. Here is the publisher’s description:

David Bentley Hart undertook this new translation of the New Testament in the spirit of “etsi doctrina non daretur,” “as if doctrine is not given.” Reproducing the texts’ often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts’ impenetrability and unfinished quality while awakening readers to an uncanniness that often lies hidden beneath doctrinal layers.

The early Christians’ sometimes raw, astonished, and halting prose challenges the idea that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are. Hart reminds us that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. “To live as the New Testament language requires,” he writes, “Christians would have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world. And we surely cannot do that, can we?”

The last sentence of that description is unpacked in detail by Bentley Hart in an essay here, which gives a small example of the translation (of James 5:1–6). It includes the following:

I do not mean merely that most of us find the moral requirements laid out in Christian scripture a little onerous, though of course we do. Therein lies the deep comfort provided by the magisterial Protestant fantasy that the apostle Paul inveighed against something called “works-righteousness” in favor of a purely extrinsic “justification” by grace—which, alas, he did not…Rather, I mean that most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.

University of Divinity Research Day

Next Wednesday (June 7th) sees the annual showcase for research happening across the various Colleges and Centres of the University of Divinity. I am giving one of the plenary papers. Title and abstract are as follows:

“The Effects of the Historical Jesus: Table-Fellowship as Test Case”

In this paper I survey recent methodological developments in historical Jesus studies, assessing the historiographical, theological, and practical benefits of the ‘turn to memory’ in recent scholarship (the work of Schröter, Dunn, Allison, Keith, Le Donne, Rodriguez). These developments can be summarized as a shift away from the notion of access to the historical Jesus by means of a ‘quest’, towards an approach to the historical Jesus through consideration of the ‘effects’ of his life and teaching. These methodological observations will then be illustrated and tested through consideration of one aspect of the tradition: the importance of memories of Jesus ‘at table’. Rather than searching for relative levels of ‘authenticity’ in the gospel traditions relating to table-fellowship, attention will be given to the weight and shape of the early Christian movement’s memories. It will be suggested that presence of such memories in the Jesus tradition and emerging Jesus movement (the ‘effects’) can only be explained on the basis of characteristic and meaningful incidents (the ‘events’) to which we have no direct access, but about which we must responsibly speculate. I engage in such speculation by proposing three trajectories that emerge out of originating events in the ministry of Jesus at table: towards inclusion, ritualization, and transformation. I conclude by arguing that contemporary forms of Christian community and discipleship should continue to manifest these ‘effects of the historical Jesus’.

There are number of other good looking papers in the biblical studies area (or related) including:

Chris Monaghan, Synoptic Studies: Where to from here?

Grant Buchanan, Identity and Human Agency in Galatians 5 & 6

Michael Golding, Indiscriminate, unreciprocated giving in Seneca and some implications for Paul’s approach to giving

Carolyn Alsen, Veiled Resistance: The Cognitive Dissonance of Vision in Genesis 38

Scott Kirkland, The Aesthetics of Politics: Barth’s Romans

Gerald O’Collins, The Scriptures as Inspiring; The Case of the New Testament

Deborah Guess, The quest for the geographical Jesus: an eco-theological critique of the priority of history

Amir Malek, A 12th Century Coptic Commentary on Genesis

The full programme is available here.


Day Conference with David Horrell: July 18th 2017

I have been working with colleagues at the Australian Catholic University to plan and participate in a day conference on ‘Culture, Ethnicity, and Religion in Early Christianity and Early Judaism’, to be held at ACU on July 18th 2017.

David is giving a paper entitled “Ethnicity, Race, Religion: Categories of Analysis and Contexts of Interpretation in the Study of Judaism and Early Christianity” with a response from Professor Mark Brett of Whitley College.

I will be giving a paper entitled “Intra-Jewish Polemic in Paul and Qumran: A Comparative Investigation”, and Emmanuel Nathan from ACU will be responding.

There will also be four short papers in the afternoon from NT PhD students and scholars here in Melbourne. The poster is below with details of registration etc.


Alan Kreider (1941–2017)

Krieder-AlanI heard today from his wife Eleanor that Alan Kreider passed away peacefully at 8.08 am on the 8th of May at home (the sign on the front of the Kreiders’ house reads ‘The Eighth Day’.

Alan was an outstanding historian of the early church with a PhD from Harvard in the English Reformation. He was a Mennonite, shaped by that tradition, deeply committed to the values of peacemaking and radical discipleship, and throughout his life was involved in serving the Mennonite church as a theological educator, leader, and missionary (bringing the gifts of his tradition to the wild, unevangelized territory of North London and the UK – a mission field if ever there was one). But to remember him as a Mennonite is to obscure the contribution that he and Ellie have made to the wider church. As a mentor, leader, speaker, teacher and writer, Alan engaged with and embraced the church in its full catholicity. He was as at home in convents and monasteries as he was in cell groups and conferences. His academic work, most specifically his final book on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, is a gift that crosses confessional boundaries.

But above all I will remember Alan as a friend. He arrived to take up leadership at the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College in Oxford just after I left to take up my first pastorate in Reading. But I soon became involved in the Thursday night table-group that met in Oxford weekly, and of which Alan and Ellie were indispensable members. The memories of common purpose, mutual commitment, deep listening and much, much laughter that marked the experience of that group shaped all who participated in it. Together, Alan and Ellie preached at our wedding, in the customary Kreider fashion in which each took it in turn to speak a sentence seamlessly emerging out of what the other had just said said. And when we were discerning important moves, first to Manchester and Northern Baptist College, where Alan and Ellie had also taught, and then to Australia, Alan was on hand to listen and to pose the important questions about vocation, and commitment, and what it meant to serve Christ through serving the church.

In an essay that I co-authored with Brian Haymes, published in a collection that celebrated and honoured Alan and Ellie’s legacy, we closed our discussion of friendship by citing and commenting on Bonhoeffer’s famous prison poem “The Friend”. It is with great thanks for Alan’s witness that we can now, in death, commend him into the peace of God that he embodied in life.

Far or near
in success or failure
the one recognizes in the other the true helper
toward freedom and humanity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Friend”.
Not only does Bonhoeffer write this poem in such a way as to connect human and divine friendship, but the prison location of its composition reminds us that friendship is deeply entangled with the cost of discipleship. Indeed, friendship, we suggest, is the form that discipleship takes in community as we live together in response to divine welcome and in obedience to the one who calls us friends. Alan and Ellie Kreider have embodied the “true helper toward humanity and freedom” for each other, for the two of us, and for all those who count them as friends.

Winter, Sean F. and Brian Haymes. “Friendship: Find Fellow Travellers,” Pages 117–124 in Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom: The Legacy of Alan and Eleanor Kreider. Edited by James R. Krabill and Stuart Murray. Harrionsburg VA: Herald, 2011., 123–124.