About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Galatians 4:10 Jewish or Pagan calendar?

In Galatians 4:10. Paul rebukes the Galatians: 'you observe days and months and seasons and years'.

I had always taken these to be a reference to the Jewish calendar until a couple of years back when I read an article by Mark Nanos challenging that ("A Torah Observant Paul?"). Nanos argued that Paul was referring to the pagan calendar. I was very intrigued but not persuaded.

I have just read an argument from Justin Hardin (Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) which argues the same thing (Galatians and the Imperial Cult. Mohr Siebek, 2008) but at greater length. Hardin's position, in a nutshell (and without the argumentation), is this:

Paul's Galatian converts were ex-pagans and the imperial cult was a major part of their previous life. Indeed observing the calendar of the imperial cult was a civic duty. To abstain from participation would have seriously disrupted relationships with family, friends, business associates, club members and civic authorities.

But Paul's converts were also not converts to Judaism. Whilst the Jewish community might have recognized them as having the guest status in the synagogue of a God-fearer this status would not exempt them from the duty of observing the imperial cult. And the synagogue communities would not have recognized them as having full covenant membership (I have mixed a bit of Nanos in with Hardin here).

So the converts were in social-limbo and under considerable pressure as a result. Into this context come 'the agitators' who argue that the Galatians must fully convert to Judaism to be full members of the community of God.

The Galatians felt forced to choose between two routes to reduce the marginality of their dissonant status:
(a) convert to Judaism, or
(b) observe the calendar of the imperial cult

Some were considering the former route (and 4:21-5:6 addresses this group).
Many had already gone back to observing the events of the imperial cult (alongside their faith in Christ). They had turned to 'another gospel' (the gospel of Caesar) (1:6-7).

Paul calls them to resist both a return to pagan observances and conversion to Judaism. He points to a Third Way - a new identity in Christ and the way of the cross that accompanies it.

So 4:8-10 is an appeal to the Galatians not to go back to the observance of the imperial cult. This, he argues, would be to return to the slavery to those who are by nature not gods (i.e., the emperor-seen-as-a-deity). Do you want to be their slaves again (4:9)?

Israel, God's child, knew what it was to be a slave to pagan rulers in Egypt (an heir but unable to inherit the promises) (4:1-3) (following J.M. Scott's interpretation). God sent his Son to enable Israel to come into its inheritance by redeeming it from the curse of the Law (not from the Law itself. 4:4-5 following Todd Wilson's interpretation). You guys, says Paul, are sons and heirs along with Israel (4:6-7) so why on earth do you wish to turn back to your former pagan slave masters (4:8-10)?

There is only one Lord (Christ not Caesar)

There is only one gospel (Christ's not Caesars)

Interesting, eh? I'm still pondering it but I am inclined to accept this take on things. In part bacause it makes more sense to me than traditional readings of Galatians which see Paul as very hostile to the Jewish Law and calendar (equating it with paganism and idolatry). Whilst I can see how the text might be read that way I find it very hard to imagine Paul taking such a view. So interpretations which do not have Paul doing so have the edge.

Isaiah and Justification by Faith - quick question

Here is a question that poppsed into my head the other day. I have not looked into it at all and it might be utterly daft but I will ask it anyway.

Given that the trial motif looms large in Isa 40-55 and given that Isa 40-55 strongly influenced Paul's theology, might the trial motif in Isa 40-55 link in any way to Paul's theology of justification by faith? Is it background for the trial in which Paul's justification language finds its home?

Friday, 27 February 2009

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A Quick Thought on the Image of God

The idea of the image of God has a rich heritage in the Christian tradition. Typically we look for some feature of humanity that is unique and say, "This special feature is the image of God." Soul? Rationality? Imagination? Creativity? Language? The ability to use tools? The problem is that it is hard to find a specific feature that is absolutely unique to humans (for all of the aforementioned qualities one can find other animals that exhibit them to some degree or other). I am not for one moment suggesting that humans do not possess these features in a unique combination and to an unprecidented degree. My point is simply that boiling the image of God down to some aspect intrinsic to human nature is not unproblematic.

In Genesis the divine image is connected to human rule over creation. It is a divine calling and mission - to image God in creation.

What if we thought of God as more to do with divine calling and commission rather than inante human qualities? It is rooted in God's will and God's command rather than biology.

In this case the capacities of human nature are simply what enables us to image God (a God who thinks and speaks and acts) but in and of themselves they do not constitute 'the image'.

This opens up a way to think of there possibly being a real moment in the story of human evolution when humanity became in the image of God. It would be the moment of divine commission. On this account there is no need for the fruitless (?) search for a moment in the evolution of human biology when something 'magical' happened and 'in the twkinkling of an eye we were changed'. We don't need a point of ensoulment or anything of the sort to speak meaningfully of a moment when humans became in the image of God (if we wish to have such a moment)

Friday, 13 February 2009

A Poem about the Gerasene Swine

Here is a poem by Michael Willett Newheart from his book "My Name is Legion": The Story and Soul of the Gerasene Demoniac. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004. It is a study of Mark's version of the story using narrative criticism and psychological criticism. It also includes some poems. Here is one (NOTE: I cannot get the words to be spaced in the way that they should so you'll have to buy the book to see exactly what the poem should look like on the page)

gerasene pigs (mark 5:11-13)
oink oink oink

oink oink




glub glub glub

glub glub


(c) Michael Willet Newheart, 21st June 2002

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Possession and Exorcism - multi-disciplinary studies

I am currently writing the introduction to a book that I am co-editing with William Kay of multi-disciplinary studies on exorcism (none written by me). It is called

Exorcism and Deliverance: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives.
Edited by William K. Kay and Robin A. Parry. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009 (d.v.)

We have chapters by biblical scholars (OT and NT), theologians, historians (with a study on the patristic period and another on 20th C), a global Christianity guy (with a chapter on exorcism in Africa, Asia and South America), an anthropologist, a psychologist, a philosopher, a cultural studies person (looking at possession and exorcism in pop culture since the 1970s). We have three theologians - one from Africa who thinks that demons are evil spirits and one from London who thinks along Walter Wink kind of lines. Then we have a practical theologians pondering issues of praxis.

It is fascinating stuff but I have the job of writing the introduction and it is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to write.

The basic idea behind the book is that Christians are wise to consider the light shed on exorcism by a range of disciplines. We have a lot to learn from historians, anthropologists, psychologists, neurologists, etc, etc. But the issue of exactly what we can learn is not all that clear. It does depend on where one comes down on certain fundamental questions on the ontology of the demoninc.

For instance, if you think that a demon is a non-physical personal centre of consciousness (the trad Christian view) then you may not be overly sympathetic to psychological accounts, most of which start from the assumption that whatever is causing the possession it is not an actual demon. But if you were more of a Walter Wink kind of person then you may wish to incorporate some of that psychological stuff into your theological account.

(That said, trad Christians may say that the psychological accounts explain some experiences perfectly well because some 'possessions' are only apparent possessions and not real possessions. However, there remain some hard core cases for which the psychological accounts simply do not work. Of course, one problem here is the diagnostic one. How can you tell if John is really possessed or simply seems to be possessed if the symptoms can appear so similar?)

In fact there are so many issues and so many options on all this interdisciplinary stuff that I'm thinking "Man Alive! I have bitten off far more than I can chew on this one!"

So pray for clarity of thought because I really need it! (But, as I said, it is really fascinating)

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Talking Dog joke

A guy was driving around Dublin when he saw a sign in front of a house, ‘Talking Dog for Sale.’
He rang the bell and the owner told him the dog was in the backyard. The guy went into the backyard and saw a Labrador sitting there.

‘You talk?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ the Lab replied.

‘So, what’s the story?’

The Lab looked up and said, ‘Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the Garda about my gift, and in no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running.’

‘But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a load of puppies, and now I’m just retired.’
The guy was amazed. He goes back in and asked the owner what he wanted for the dog.

‘Ten euros.’ the man said.

‘Ten euros? This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?’

‘Because he’s a liar. He never did any of those things.’

(Joke from Grove Books)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Insult People Like Shakespeare

Well - not very theological but great fun. If you'd like to insult people like Shakespeare then click this link and have fun


Awesome tool! Here is a tempting taster for you
"Thou warped spur-galled boar-pig!"
"[Thou art] a fusty nut with no kernel!"
"Thou vain unchin-snouted wagtail"

Monday, 2 February 2009

David Attenborough - Please stick to biology

I love David Attenborough. I think any Brits who have watched his fantastic nature documentaries over the past few decades cannot help but have a soft spot for him.

Well - 2009 being Darwin's big year has inspired David Attenborough to pin his colours to the mast and
(a) praise Darwin to the sky (no surprise there!)
(b) and, in the process, bash Christianity.

I don't mind DA celebrating Darwin. Indeed, it is entirely appropriate! And at least he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the natural world. (a minor qualification: Attenborough's rhetoric in praising Darwin's theory does seem to claim for for it than is reasonable - apparently the theory answers all of life's questions! Wow! Great rhetoric but, in actual fact, a gross overstatement).

Why does Attenborough find Christianity problematic? Well, he was not brought up as a theist and has never believed in God. So I suppose that socialization plays a big role. However, the reasons that he gives are

(i) Darwin removes the need for God so faith in God is made redundant
(ii) Christianity (working from the 'dominion' theme in the book of Genesis) is to blame for the devastation of the planet

All those theologians, philosophers and scientists who have time and time again refuted the simplistic argument that moves from the claim that 'Darwinism is true' to the claim that 'atheism is true' must be getting a tad fed up. Has Attenborough not read them? Or does he think that they are wrong? If so, it would be nice to see this argument. Instead we have assertions. One problem is that most people - who know less than Attenborough about theology - will just assume that the great man knows what he is talking about. And so the popular myths are perpetuated!

I just think it is a great shame when such a respected man speaks with such authority about something he does not know about. He fails to appreciate the relationship between his atheism and his Darwinism. He seems to think that the latter provides solid evidence for the former, when in fact it is merely compatible with it.

And Attenborough understanding of the implications of Genesis 1 for the environment (article in The Independent 31st Jan 09) is based on ignorance of Christian history and Christian theology. One cannot help but suspect that he simply read something once (Lynn White Jr?) which argued that the Bible was to blame for the environmental crisis, and just assumed that it was indeed so. But again - no argument is provided. Simply an authoritative assertion. You could imagine the consternation amongst scientists if a theologian read a single scientific article and felt that it qualfied them to make bold assertions on scientific issues!

My plea to David Attenborough to celebrate Darwin's genius with passion, to be an atheist if he wishes, but not to make claims about Christianity which are based on ignorance.