A New Kind of Apologetics: Christian Renaissance

News on the Christian Renaissance Apologia Conference coming up on April 12–13:

I’ve mentioned this apologetics conference a couple of times on this site, but I thought I’d give a lot more information on it this go-around.

First, a word about Christian Renaissance. This is a new concept in apologetics. In fact, it’s much more than apologetics. In odd-numbered years, the Christian Renaissance will be hosting an apologetics conference (called Apologia); in even-numbered years CR will be hosting a right-brain creativity conference/session/get-away/whatever. That’s called Poiema.

What makes Christian Renaissance new are two things.

First, it’s apologetics geared toward the postmodern world. Without sacrificing the important content that modernist apologetics has contributed, CR wants to build on thats but also go in a slightly different direction. CR recognizes that we are firmly entrenched (as much as can be) in a postmodern world. This means that the  worldviews of people in Europe and America especially focus on authenticity more than truth, a holistic view of humanity as opposed to a view that elevates the mind above all else, a strong desire for community including community service, social justice more than proclamation of truth, a relativistic view of truth, ambiguity and uncertainty over neatly packaged and dogmatic claims. There is much in postmodernism that should resonate with Christians; there are some things that should not. Postmoderns seek community but tend to have little clue how to accomplish it. Postmoderns tend to view all truth as relative. And although evangelicals cannot hold to this, we should recognize that even absolute truth is not always accessible absolutely. This means that a measure of humility (rather than triumphalism) will be a key characteristic of these conferences. Christian Renaissance: Apologia is intended to showcase top-notch scholars, front-line thinkers in their fields, who also know how to communicate well. They are not the sorts of people who shy away from the tough questions, but recognize that evangelical Christianity has some answers, but by no means has all the answers. They are not dogmatic where dogma is not warranted. And they recognize that the question people are asking about the Christian faith today is not so much, Is it true? as much as Does it work?

Second, Christian Renaissance has a non-apologetics component known as Poiema. Poiema is the Greek word for poem or creation (with the accent on the truly imaginative aspects of creation). Christian Renaissance: Poiema, the even-yeared conference/symposium/??, focuses on the right-brain thinkers, the artisans, artists, actors, writers, littérateurs, creative problem-solvers, musicians, and the like. Those who will launch the inaugural event in 2014 have been given a tabula rasa: they can do anything that they see as that which helps to bring prominence back to those who are right-brainers, those who have been slowly disenfranchised in the American evangelical church. These two branches of Christian Renaissance unite the left-brain and right-brain thinkers in a way that has not been done in a long, long time. Stay tuned!

Now, back to the inaugural Christian Renaissance: Apologia Conference. The speakers are well-respected scholars (not just apologists) who are doing cutting-edge work in their respective disciplines. All of them have published extensively in academic spheres. Their work is peer-reviewed by the best scholars in their guild. And they all are excellent speakers who know how to communicate with people who have little to no theological training.

The theme of this inaugural conference is “Skeptics and the Savior: Did the Word Really Become Flesh?” The evidence for the person of Jesus Christ, accenting his divine nature, will be examined from Qumran to Constantine. The lectures and lecturers are as follows:

Darrell Bock: The Gospels: Recording before There Was Recording

Craig Evans: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christology

Gary Habermas: A Resurrection Time-Line: Linking our Earliest Sources to the Earliest Witnesses

Daniel B. Wallace: Did Constantine Invent the Deity of Christ?

The conference kicks off at 7 PM on Friday, April 12, at the Hope Center (2001 West Plano Parkway) in Plano, Texas. Wallace will give the opening lecture, with time for Q&A afterwards. Snacks will be provided that evening. There will be TWO book-signings. Saturday morning a continental breakfast will be served, and the conference will begin at 9 AM. A delicious catered lunch will be provided, too. The conference on Saturday will include the other three speakers, with Q&A for each of them. Michael Patton of Credo House will be the emcee. Throughout the conference, attendees will be able to send in their questions (probably by cell phone text), and a panel discussion in which these questions are aired will conclude the conference. It gets over at 4 PM on Saturday.

But that’s not all! There will be a special and spectacular dinner with the scholars Saturday evening for those who wish to rub shoulders with them in a more intimate setting. We will be meeting at Chamberlain’s Steak House in Dallas–one of the finest steak houses in the Metroplex. I can’t tell you all that will be involved in this, but I can tell you that it will be well worth it. The meal is partially subsidized.

What does all this cost? And when do you need to sign up? For the conference proper, the tickets are $55 for an adult and $40 for students. The dinner on Saturday night is separate. That’s $100, and worth it! Room for only 60 people. Visit http://www.renaissanceconference.com for more info and to buy tickets. Tickets will be on sale through Wednesday, April 10. Because the caterers need to know how many meals to prepare, it’s best to sign up early. Seating is limited (especially at the Scholars Dinner), so reserve your place now and be a part of this historic event!

Paul and Justification by Faith: The Real Jewish Evidence

The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has argued that Paul didn’t really disagree with Judaism in terms of what it meant to be justified by God, but rather disagreed on whether Gentiles were included in that justification. NPPers have charged the ‘old perspective’ folks (viz., the Reformers) with misreading the Judaism of Paul’s day.

At the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Milwaukee last November, I heard a very stimulating paper by Preston Sprinkle (a recent PhD grad from Aberdeen) contesting this view. Entitled, “Way Outside the Box: Why Paul’s Doctrine of Justification Was Risky, Offensive, and Unparalleled in Early Judaism,” Sprinkle argued, like his title suggests, that “Paul’s assertion that ‘God justifies the wicked’ would have been seen as risky, offensive, and is actually unparalleled in the world of early Judaism—yes, even among the Dead Sea Scrolls.” What a bold statement! He backs it up with some impressive evidence, too.

The paper that Sprinkle read is part of his forthcoming book, Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study in Divine and Human Agency (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013).

Among his many points, Sprinkle notes that in the OT God did not justify wicked people, citing, inter alia, Exod 23.7 and Isa 5.23. In my class on the exegesis of Romans, which I have taught at Dallas Seminary for the past seven years, I have argued that these two texts are key to Paul’s thinking and that the Jews of his day would have realized this. Exodus 23.7 clearly involves legal language. It is this language which lies behind Paul’s points in Rom 3.23–24 and 4.4–5. In v. 7 we see δικαιόω used with ἀσεβής: ‘you shall not justify the ungodly for a bribe’ (οὐ δικαιώσεις τὸν ἀσεβῆ ἕνεκεν δώρων). This can only mean ‘you shall not declare innocent the ungodly for a bribe.’ Three things are significant here: (1) δικαιόω means, in this legal context, ‘declare righteous/innocent’; it does not mean ‘make righteous.’ (2) The person who might be declared innocent is in fact guilty (ἀσεβῆ), precisely the situation we have in Rom 3:23–24. (3) The word for bribe is δῶρον, a cognate of δωρεάν found in Rom 3:24. It would of course not do for Paul to say that God declares sinners righteous ‘for a bribe,’ so an appropriate substitute is needed—one that is a cognate of δῶρον, but does not use ἕνεκεν or imply anything except that God acts freely when he justifies sinners. δωρεάν is the accusative singular of δωρεά; as such, it is adverbial (always so in the NT) and means ‘freely.’ It is not insignificant that we again see in the LXX of Isa 5.23 the collocation of δικαιόω with ἀσεβής and δῶρον. And again, we see that δικαιόω must almost surely mean ‘declare innocent’ since the pronouncement is made on the ungodly who do not deserve it.

Sprinkle does not develop the points of contact between these two OT passages and Romans, but he does bring in other significant texts from Second Temple Judaism to show that the OT view has continuity into the time of Paul. In particular, he interacts with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among the texts he discusses are CD 1.18–21; 4.6–7 (the Damascus Document), 4QMMT 26–32 (the Halakhic Letter), and 1QS 10–11 (Community Rule). It is this latter passage that is sometimes seen as in line with Paul’s view of justification. Sprinkle gives a penetrating analysis of the text, noting major differences that have been overlooked. In particular, Paul focuses on initial justification while 1QS focuses on final justification. It is a point not to be missed. Sprinkle began the section on 1QS by asking, “does Qumran anywhere affirm that God’s initial declaration of righteousness is unilateral—based on no measure of human goodness, obedience, or godly potential?” He answers with a resounding no.

In the conclusion to Sprinkle’s paper he states plainly: “The assertion that ‘Paul’s doctrine has exactly the same shape as that of MMT’ or other documents from Qumran, as N.T. Wright thinks, simply cannot be sustained.”

It will be interesting to see the responses to Sprinkle’s forthcoming book. The debate will surely continue for some time. Meanwhile, N. T. Wright is busy producing yet another work on Paul’s understanding of justification (Paul and the Faithfulness of God). Whether evangelicals need to jettison the old perspective on Paul in toto, as if the Reformation got it all wrong as Wright seems to affirm, is still an open question for many. But Sprinkle’s treatment of the Jewish materials will surely have to be wrestled with. Perhaps Luther and the Reformers got it right after all.