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.

ANZATS Conference 2017: Barth on Romans 11

roemerbrief2-787x10241Back last year I was approached to see if I wanted to offer a paper to the Barth Studies stream of this year’s ANZATS Conference in Adelaide. The chosen theme was ‘Reading Romans with Karl Barth’. Last week I head that the proposal has been accepted which means that I will need to be spending some time in a different section of the Dalton McCaughey Library than usual. Here is the proposed abstract:

God Revealed and Hidden: Barth’s Exegesis of Romans 11:33–36

Responding to the call for papers that explore the theme of ‘Reading Romans with Barth’, this paper considers the climax of Paul’s theological exposition in Romans: the doxology of Romans 11:33–36. In the 2nd edition of the Römerbrief Barth makes explicit the summative importance of this passage in relation to the central theme of Romans: ‘that in Christ Jesus the Deus absconditus is as such the Deus revelatus’. As such, the passage forms an inclusio with Rom 1:16–17 and proclaims God to be the God of victory and of mercy ‘in this hiddenness’. Taking Barth’s exposition in the commentary as a starting point, I explicitly connect his exegetical treatment to the more explicitly dogmatic considerations of CD I.2 and the doctrine of revelation. The paper then considers how Barth’s insight into the relation between revelation and mystery, forged in the context of post WW1 German theology, coheres backwards and forwards in time with other deeply contextual theological accounts. Looking back, I consider Paul’s situational rhetoric in the argument of Romans and the role of 11:33–36 to his account of salvation history directed at conflicts in the Roman house churches. Moving forwards, I note the close connection to Katherine Sonderegger’s recent treatment of divine omnipresence in Part II of her Systematic Theology, an explicitly dogmatic treatment that is both exegetical in shape and contextual in orientation.

The Strange Dearth of Galaterbrief Commentaries

I am just completing an essay on Galatians. As usual, I have turned to take a look at what German commentaries say about the texts I am exploring (Gal 2:19–21; 5:13–14; 6:2 if you must know), but there is a strange dearth of recent German language commentary writing on Galatians. For 2 Corinthians there is Windisch  (KEK, older but essential), Wolff (THNT), Schmeller (EKK), Gräßer (OTKNT), Klaiber (BotNT), and Klauck (NeueEchter). But with Galatians there is no EKK volume, Mußner (Herder), Vouga (Handkommentar) and Schlier (KEK) are fine but none of these would be classed as major works. Interestingly, those by Mußner and Schlier are both by Roman-Catholics.

Am I missing something? Are there German language commentaries on Galatians that I should be consulting?

Trump: Respect or Resistance

The comments below were written last week by me and my friend and colleague Robyn Whitaker from Trinity College Theological School. It is a response piece, taking up an article by The Age‘s former religion editor Barney Zwartz, now of the Centre for Public Christianity. You can read that article hereThe Age didn’t publish our response, so I am posting it here. Much more could be said, of course, not least in light of the events of the past weekend.

Donald Trump: Respect or Resistance?

In Tuesday’s Age Barney Zwartz argued that his Christian faith instructed him to pray for President Trump and to trust God’s sovereign purposes. It is not that simple. We share his view that Trump is ‘manifestly unfit for office’ and we are also convinced that handwringing is not the appropriate response to his election and occupancy of White House. We too are committed to praying for the US President and for all those who lead and exercise authority. However, we disagree vehemently with the suggestion that prayer, honour, and respect are the most important things for Christians, or anyone for that matter, to focus on at this time.

Zwartz lands on a selection of texts from the Christian Bible that promote the values of honour and respect in relation to those in political authority. This is not the only, or even the primary, way in which such issues are understood in the biblical tradition. In these texts attitudes towards political authority run across a spectrum ranging from accommodation (pray for the king etc.) through prophetic critique (naming injustice and speaking truth to power), to the encouragement of various forms of active resistance to oppressive and unjust political regimes. Much of the Old Testament is taken up with the witness of Israel’s prophets that challenge kings, rulers and their unjust regimes; from Moses, through Elijah, to Amos and Micah. This critique continues in the teaching of Jesus, who envisages an alternative kingdom, marked by love of neighbour, compassion for the poor, and the creation of alternative forms of community that were profoundly different from those envisaged by the ruling orders of his day. Jesus was executed by a State known for its concern for centralised control, ideological manipulation, and rule through military power.

While some parts of the early Christian movement sought to protect vulnerable communities by offering advice equivalent to that offered by Zwartz, other Christians sought to confront imperial power through words and action, challenging its captivity to economic injustice, systemic violence, and neglect of the marginalised. Nowhere is that critique more pointed than in the Bible’s last book, Revelation, which unveils the ugly side of political power, bears witness to the suffering caused by unjust and oppressive rulers, and calls Christian disciples to resist it. Revelation may yet become a necessary text for contemporary Christian responses in the Trump era. This vision of the demands of Christian discipleship has shaped the theology, spirituality and action of key figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement.

Historically, the Book of Revelation and the prophetic traditions we have described were important texts for black churches in their resistance to apartheid. The texts quoted by Zwartz were, along with others, often used by the white majority churches and the apartheid regime to encourage conformity and subservience to a distorted and oppressive form of political power. To appeal to them now is to neglect the necessary response to Trump and his agenda. Our responsibility is to speak the truth, build community, and resist, even at cost.

Robyn Whitaker is Bromby Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Trinity College, Parkville

Sean Winter is Associate Professor of New Testament at Pilgrim Theological College, Parkville

Both teach within the University of Divinity in Melbourne.

Videos: Jesus in the Gospels (and Paul)

Back in May of last year  I was asked to record some conversations with Darren Wright, exploring the ways that each of the Gospels characterises Jesus in the narrative. But we couldn’t resist also having a chat about the role that the figure of Jesus plays in the Pauline letters.

The conversations were entirely unscripted, and so are more than a little rough around the edges. But Darren has made a good job of editing them to the point where there are some sections that seem to make quite good sense. They are intended to be discussion starters for church groups, not technical discussions of the scholarly issues, although I note with pleasure that I talk at one point about the importance of the category of the idealised human figure (I think the Matthew video), in ways that are broadly consistent with the recent important work by Daniel Kirk (who visited Melbourne last year but whose book, A Man Attested by God, had not yet appeared.)

The videos can be found here.



The Impact of Jesus of Nazareth: 2017 Conference

Over the break details have come through of a conference planned for 28–29 September 2017, hosted by the Sydney College of Divinity and the Catholic Institute of Sydney.



The Call for Papers is deliberately open, with the possibility of a published volume as an outcome of the conference. I am toying with a paper proposal that considers the methodological shifts in historical Jesus studies in recent years. Details of the conference theme and CfP are below.


On Commentaries and Plagiarism

The work of writing a commentary on a New Testament text includes, almost by definition, the tasks of learning from and engaging with the insights of those who have done that work before you. Commentaries cite other commentaries. Sometimes they do so explicitly, and sometimes the connecting threads between one scholar’s work and that of a predecessor operates at the level of information, insight, and implicit influence (anxious or otherwise).

When we teach students how to make use of secondary literature in their own work there are some basic guidelines that ensure that the kind of borrowing described above doesn’t fall into the category of academic misconduct or, more directly, plagiarism. State things in your own words; don’t quote word for word from someone else without quotation marks and supporting reference; check references and sources referred to; and don’t think that just because you have changed one or two words in a sentence you have escaped the problem of potential plagiarism.

In news today, Eerdmans has notified the scholarly community that it is pulping and removing from its list all copies of three New Testament commentaries written by Peter O’Brien. It seems that O’Brien’s 2010 commentary on Hebrews was found to have significant problems in its use of sources and ‘runs afoul of commonly accepted standards with regard to the utilization and documentation of secondary sources’. The company, to its credit, also investigated O’Brien’s other commentaries: on Philippians (1991) and Ephesians (1999) and found these to be ‘less pervasively flawed but still untenable’. The full statement can be found here.

I have been using on a regular basis O’Brien’s work on Philippians since it was published, and hadn’t noticed anything untoward. But this morning, I thought I would run a very quick experiment to get a sense of the nature of the problem. I chose the commentary on the opening verses of Philippians 1:1–2 and read O’Brien’s comments. I then thought to myself ‘what commentary might an evangelical New Testament scholar make good use of in the course of his research and writing?’. The answer, of course, is F. F. Bruce’s 1983/1989 commentary in the New International Biblical Commentary series. The results are interesting.

Here is O’Brien on Paul’s use of the term doulos in the letter prescript.

In the LXX the term δοῦλος often referred to someone whom God used for a special ministry or through whom he spoke, such as Moses (Ne. 10:29), Joshua (Jos. 24:29), David (Ps. 89:20 [LXX 88:21]), and Jonah (2 Ki. [4 Kgdms.) 14:25, each of whom is called ‘a servant (δοῦλος) of the Lord’…But it is more likely that the readers would have understood the Greek term in its common sense of ‘slaves’. Although Paul did regard it as a high honour indeed to be a ‘slave of Christ’, he implied by his choice of the word δοῦλοι that both he and Timothy were totally at the disposal of their Master.

Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians (NIGNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 45.

And here is Bruce (identical words are in bold, points where rewording seems to have occurred is in italics with the exception of abbreviations which have been changed to fit house style):

…the Greek word (doulos) is used in the LXX (the Greek version of the Old Testament) of someone whom God uses for a special ministry or through whom he speaks, like Moses (Neh. 10:29), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), David (Ps. 89:20 [LXX 88:21]), and Jonah (2 Ki. [4 Kingdoms) 14:25, each of whom is calledthe servant(Gk. doulos) of the LORD‘…The readers of Paul’s letters, however, would more readily have taken him to mean that he was a ‘slave’ of Christ in the humble sense that word normally had among them. No doubt Paul did esteem it a high honour to be the servant of Christ, but he implied by his choice of the word meaning ‘slave’ that he was totally at the disposal of their Master.

F. F. Bruce, Philippians (NIBC; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1989 [1983), 26.

Now, one example does not a plagiarism case make. O’ Brien does reference Bruce in a footnote alongside several other scholars and commentators as someone who supports the reading of δοῦλος as a term connoting humility. But there would be no way of knowing from this that Bruce was the specific source of actual wording. The Philippians commentary is, apparently, less problematic in this regard than the more recent commentary on Hebrews. Furthermore, O’Brien himself has given an unreserved apology. But the kind of relationship between his work and that of others implied by the small example above is clearly problematic and, if relatively consistent, would in my view fall into the category of academic misconduct if such were discovered in an essay or PhD thesis. The remaining issue will be what ought to happen to the various copies of these works that are still available to students in university and seminary libraries. The enduring reminder to all of us is to take the utmost care and show the utmost respect in our use of the work of others.