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THE HOLY SPIRIT AND CHRISTIAN ORIGINSEssays in Honor of James D. G. Dunn
William B. Eerdmans Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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Chapter OneUnity and Diversity in New Testament Talk of the Spirit
From his Cambridge cradle to his Durham presidency of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, from Professor Moule's happy group ('school' is hardly the word) where even the geese felt like swans, to the Durham chair made awesome by the weight of his distinguished predecessor, Professor Barrett, our honorand has written and taught New Testament theology with an eye to the experiential dimension indicated by the subject of this Festschrift. His book which comes closest to being a New Testament theology is from his equally happy Nottingham period: Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (1977). It is dedicated to Charlie Moule and recalls the revered teacher's Birth of the New Testament (1962). Our shared love and appreciation of our aged teacher, and a shared fascination with a methodological essay of William Wrede and with the provocative contributions of Ernst Käsemann, pointed me back to that early Nottingham synthesis when reflecting on our all-too-sporadic thirty-odd year conversation about our shared aims and methods, and differing emphases. Our very different denominational backgrounds and personalexperiences (not least with respect to the Spirit) will at least add to the diversity of this volume and confirm that the unity which the Spirit gives is still a sheer miracle.
Like most of Jimmy Dunn's work, this admirable book is historical and exegetical, but inspired by theological questioning and rich with theological consequences. That is enough to classify it as 'New Testament theology' even if it is not, and does not claim to be, a New Testament theology. The subtitle, 'An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity', implies historical and descriptive but also conceptual work. What is described is bound to have theological implications for any Protestant preacher guided, inspired, and in some sense 'normed' by Scripture, though what these might be is far from clear. As a biblical theologian Dr. Dunn includes 'a few remarks at the close of several chapters relating the conclusions to the present day' (p. xi). He has 'outlined some of the corollaries for our understanding of "the Authority of the New Testament" in the final section' (p. xi) entitled 'Has the Canon a Continuing Function?' But the New Testament scholar's primary task is to understand first-century historical reality, and in the 1970s it still seemed necessary almost to apologize ('I have taken the liberty') for these 'few' hermeneutical 'remarks'.
In fact the book owes its origin and much of its importance to the significance of its topic for Christian theological use of Scripture. The issues had been sharply profiled over the previous thirty years by Ernst Käsemann, whose pervasive influence throughout this book is evident in its insistence on the theological diversity to be found in the New Testament, and in the phrase 'the canon within the canon', in the dubious use of the categories 'apocalyptic', 'enthusiasm', and 'early catholicism', and in the somewhat uncritical reception of Walter Bauer's stimulating work, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934, Eng. trans. 1971).
Like Käsemann, Dunn asked how 'the New Testament functions as a "canon", as a criterion for orthodoxy, as a norm for Christians of later generations' (p. 374), and while he admits that 'these are questions which require a much fuller discussion' (p. 374), he goes on to indicate some of the relevance of his own historical study to that theological question.
Also like Käsemann, Dunn finds a unifying christological centre to the New Testament and rightly insists that this implies limits to acceptable diversity. But unlike Käsemann and earlier discussions of the Bible as a norm and criterion, Dunn can celebrate the diversity: the New Testament 'canonizes the diversity of Christianity' (p. 376), and 'to recognize the canon of the New Testament is to affirm the diversity of Christianity' (p. 377). What for a relatively orthodox Protestant and dialectical theologian like Käsemann was a problem has become for a relatively liberal Protestant a matter for rejoicing. The sceptical critic was a quite conservative theologian; the more conservative critic is amore liberal theologian.
Dunn's liberal delight in diversity is striking because that is not usually combined with the use of Scripture as a doctrinal norm, whereas Dunn recognizes and begins to define the importance of the New Testament for Christian doctrinal identity. The reason why its 'unity' is important to most Christians, and why Käsemann was worried by what historical research had uncovered, was that conflicting theologies seemed to prevent the New Testament from constituting a doctrinal norm. His own solution of making his 'canon within the canon' the norm is picked up by Dunn and taken in a rather different direction.
Of course Dunn is right to identify (with Käsemann) and to celebrate (without him) the diversity of early Christianity. We are all theological pluralists now. Paths explored by liberal Protestants have been widely followed, and not even orthodox Anglicans claim that their true-to-Scripture theology is that of the whole Bible. We may further agree that some defences of 'orthodoxy' have been, and still are, unsustainable. Historical study is genuinely liberating and has broken up the older definitions of orthodoxy, however important it remains for Christians to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic forms of their faith and its institutions.
Dunn believes that the canon sets limits to legitimate diversity (p. 378). Christians must acknowledge Jesus to be human (no problem) and exalted (rather less straightforward). Whether that is sufficient definition to preserve Christian identity may be doubted, and Dunn echoes Schleiermacher's account of the essence of Christianity, where 'everything is related to the redemption accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth'. His christological centre relates to other essential elements in early Christian belief and practice, including Spirit (p. 370). These wider ramifications of his 'unifying centre' qualify the 'minimal unity' (p. 374) implied by some of his formulations. The New Testament writers would not have accepted that their distinctive reference to Jesus crucified and risen would without elaboration suffice to define their unity of faith, and neither would any competent theologian before the eighteenth century, if then. Brief summaries (the creed or rule of faith or essence of Christianity) are helpful in guiding Christian interpretations of Scripture; they do not replace it as a norm of Christian faith and theology. That remains Scripture, however difficult it is to make appeals to Scripture persuasive when its interpretation is contested. Those who insist on the New Testament canon, read in a correct relationship to the Old, as a norm (as well as a source) of Christian faith and theology are claiming to share a common faith with all the New Testament writers, however variously that was and is articulated. Whether a common faith, still held by most Christians today, can be perceived behind or within the historical and theological diversity persuasively described by Dunn, is the conceptual question this essay seeks to address by reference to the different ways New Testament writers talk of the (Holy) Spirit. My conclusion will be that the blunt affirmation of the Nicene Creed, prior to the Constantinopolitan elaborations, is something that all the New Testament writers were agreed on: we believe in the Holy Spirit. The theological elaborations are (for reasons to be clarified) not the place to look.
Schleiermacher's 'essence of Christianity' was not an account of what united the New Testament writers, neither did he intend his formula to function as a norm identifying authentic Christianity. It was drawn from Christian history, especially the New Testament origins, and guided the historical and Christian reading of Scripture and tradition which he called 'historical theology'. Describing the unity of Scripture in terms of a lowest common doctrinal denominator and using this as a norm would be to underestimate the unity of faith which Christians frequently acknowledge despite their institutional, liturgical, and even some of their doctrinal divisions.
Among the summaries of Christianity which describe the New Testament writers' and their successors' views of the essential subject matter of Christian Scripture and so guide its interpretation, Schillebeeckx's 'salvation from God in Jesus' is better than most because God, the God of Israel identified by the Old Testament, is fundamental, and salvation is what God in Jesus is all about. Unlike Schleiermacher, Dunn stresses neither 'redemption' nor 'the Redeemer', and his few references to 'salvation' and 'the Saviour' say less than a New Testament theology would, but the challenge of his book (which was 'intended to be provocative', p. 6) lies less in the doctrines deselected, and more in the way he characterizes the unity he recognizes in the New Testament. As a historian he is rightly conscious of the diversity of theological expression in early Christianity. As a Christian theologian he is rightly interested in the underlying unity. The danger of coupling these terms is that of suggesting that they are to be found on the same level. Looking for the unity on the theological plane where diversity has been emphasized encourages the minimalist approach to unity favoured by some ecumenical politicians.
Dr Dunn knows better than to succumb to that residue of an older biblical theology. He has learned from Bultmann and Käsemann to find the unity on another level, sometimes in Jesus, sometimes in the 'Christ event', rather than in particular christologies. What 'Christ event' means beyond identifying Jesus the risen Christ with Jesus of Nazareth and so referring to Christian proclamation needs clarifying. Bultmann's kerygmatic talk of revelation implied its reception in faith and life, but this is obscured when New Testament theology is seen as part of, and articulated on analogy with, the history of doctrine, as was common prior to Bultmann and has remained common where Bultmann's historical criticism has been assimilated but his understanding of theology only partly understood. The unity of the New Testament is found in its Sache, or essential content, the gospel, not in a doctrinal minimum. The gospel cannot be 'objectified', however necessary historical and theological language are to express, communicate, and define it doctrinally. Käsemann's canon within the canon, or norm effective in Scripture, like Luther's (and Bultmann's), consisted in the Christ proclaimed, Jesus crucified and risen, the gospel he thought best expressed by Paul's 'justification of the ungodly'. It did not consist in that or any other doctrinal topic as such.
The unity of the New Testament is a unity of faith which can be intuited by interpreting these texts critically and theologically. Only in the act of interpretation is the Sache of the New Testament understood sufficiently to permit judgments (provisional, in view of human fallibility) about the authenticity or otherwise of some Christian doctrinal, moral, or liturgical proposal. This is the business of a New Testament theology that aims to be Christian theology, done by interpreting Scripture. It was not the professional concern of William Wrede (n. 9), and Wrede's renunciation of theological interpretation of these texts has been legitimately followed by many biblical scholars. Legitimately, but not obligatorily, for there is more to biblical interpretation than historical scholarship. Historians of early Christian religion and theology can describe the diversity, but 'the unity in the New Testament' is as elusive as 'the unity that the Spirit gives' (Eph. 4.3, NEB). We may seek it by historical research and try to define it in doctrinal terms, but neither approach will grasp it. What can be said about it is inadequate, but some approaches are more fruitful than others. It is recognized in moments when the gospel subject-matter of Scripture is acknowledged, but it cannot be pinned down definitively. Doctrinal formulations such as the divinity of Christ are necessary and useful shorthand for teaching Christianity, but not substitutes for Scripture, and not themselves the norm defining authentic Christianity or constituting the unity of, or in, the New Testament.
Theological interpreters of Scripture make synthetic judgments about what is authentically Christian, and they do this in ongoing conversation with other competent readers of Scripture. Their interpretative acts are endlessly repeated, as in all reading of a classic text. These readers bring expectations and pre-understandings to the text. These may be challenged by the text, but they also affect how it is read. In the case of Christians' theological interpretations of their Scriptures, prior beliefs about the identity of God (which includes a self-understanding), about God's decisive saving revelation in Jesus' life and death and vindication (which again includes a self-understanding), and about the power and presence of God as Spirit, at work in the community and the world (likewise), all shape the readers' understanding of the subject matter or Sache of Scripture. We may sum this up by saying that they interpret the New Testament with an eye to the subsequent history of Christianity, in particular to how they as Christians (or reading from a Christian perspective) understand their Christianity today. The scholarship required to understand the New Testament is largely linguistic and historical, but the perspective from which it is read theologically is religious and specifically Christian. Whether or not these modern readers share the writers' convictions about God, this is the perspective from which the New Testament is understood theologically: as expressions of a Christian faith shared by millions today, not merely as sources for historical reconstructions of early Christianity and its beliefs and aspirations, whether these are described (inadequately) in doctrinal concepts or with Wrede's historical sensitivity.
Wrede answered his own question, 'What are we really looking for?' (p. 84), as follows: 'What was believed, thought, taught, hoped, required and striven for in the earliest period of Christianity' (p. 84). He contrasted that with 'what certain writings say about faith, doctrine, hope etc.' (p. 85). He was not contrasting history and theology, but what he thought was good and bad historical description. He objected to the doctrinal language found even in historically responsible New Testament theologies, that it 'makes doctrine out of what in itself is not doctrine' (p. 75).
The use of doctrinal language can be defended (as Wrede might have conceded) as an analytic tool.
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