Online Interview on Creation and Violence in the Old Testament (and a Few Other Topics)

I’ve just completed (this afternoon) the online interview I mentioned in a previous post on the topic of creation and violence in the Old Testament. Bill Brown (of Columbia Theological Seminary) and I were interviewed by Matt Lynch of the Westminster Theological Centre in the UK.

Bill Brown is so eloquent (in both print and in person) that he sometimes makes me feel a bit tongue tied. But it was a lot of fun and we discussed topics such as Genesis 1 and the goodness of creation, violence as a perversion of the imago Dei, the Flood as a response to human violence, God’s role in prophetic judgment, etc.

In fact, we ranged quite a bit beyond the advertized topic of creation and violence in the Old Testament.

Brown was asked about the role of “wonder” as a key to the wisdom literature in connection his new book, Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature (Eerdmans, 2014). And I got to respond to questions about eschatology, in connection with my new book A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014).

The interview is available on online for those who missed it but still want to watch it.

Herod as Pharaoh? My Talk for the Upcoming Rochester Preaching Conference (May 21, 2015)

On Thursday, May 21, I’ll be speaking at a conference called “From Interpretation to Preaching.”

My presentation will address Matthew’s use of Old Testament quotations/ citations in the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2). There are four, five, or six citations, depending how you count them.

In chapter 1 Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 (the Immanuel prophecy), while chapter 2 contains quotes from Micah 5:2 (with an addition from 2 Samuel 5:2), Hosea 11:1, and Jeremiah 31:15 (plus a closing citation of “the prophets,” but there is no agreement what the OT reference is).

What Is Matthew Doing with the Old Testament?

As an Old Testament scholar, I’m interested in what Matthew is doing with these texts. Are they functioning simply as “proof texts,” or is there some exegetical strategy to their use?

Another, more theological, question is whether the infancy narratives in Matthew are simply a set of “feel-good” stories for the Christmas season; or do they have some intrinsic connection to the thrust of his Gospel? And if so, what might that be?

The title of my talk is “Herod as Pharaoh.”

Herod, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar

The connection to Pharaoh comes from Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (which focuses on the exodus from Egypt). But I could just as easily have called the talk “Herod as Nebuchadnezzar” in connection with his use of Jeremiah 31:15 (which addresses the Babylonian exile).

Herod and David

There is also a link to David (as the shepherd of Israel) from the bit of 2 Samuel 5:2 that Matthew includes in the Micah 5 quote. But this is not an idealized David; the context indicates this is a David who is remarkably like Herod (and Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar).

The connection becomes clear from investigating each of the OT quotes in context. Not only do all the quotes address the crisis of ancient Israel in various sociopolitical contexts, but the context of the three prophetic quotes in Matthew 2 revolves around God bringing Israel back from exile and binding up their wounds.

Jesus as an Alternative “Son of David”

Matthew 1-2 is setting up Jesus, “the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1) as a different kind of leader for Israel after their time of extended exile. Unlike Herod, and even David (both of whom have certain affinities to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar), this Messiah doesn’t slaughter or oppress helpless Israelites, but rather tends them as a true shepherd (and ultimately suffers with them).

Matthew’s infancy narratives thus constitute a significant challenge to the leadership of first-century Israel.

So the subtitle of my talk is: “Matthew’s Subversive Use of Old Testament Quotations in the Infancy Narratives.”

Implications for Preaching

The introduction of Jesus in Matthew 1-2 has significant implications for us today, including for preaching that aims to get beyond pious platitudes. Indeed, Matthew’s vision of Jesus, the true “son of David,” generates a serious ethical challenge for the nature of leadership in the church and the wider society.

Esau McCaulley on Paul and the Law in Galatians

After my presentation, we will be hearing from Rev. Esau McCaulley (PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews), who will be joining the faculty of Northeastern Seminary in July 2015.

His talk is entitled “Preaching Paul and the Law in Galatians”; this is how he describes his focus:

“Everyone who preaches from Paul’s letters must eventually talk about the Law. This session will show how recovering the narrative of Israel’s history that informed Paul’s understanding of the Law can bring nuance and vigor to our preaching about the relationship between faith, Law, and the reign of the Messiah.”

For more information on Esau’s talk, see his expanded explanation here.

Second Annual Rochester Preaching Conference

Rev. McCaulley and I will be giving our presentations at the second annual preaching conference sponsored by the Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools.

The three Schools are Northeastern Seminary (where I currently teach), Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (where I used to teach), and St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry (where my church used to meet, until just recently). So I’ve got a connection to all three institutions.

Last year’s conference was held at Northeastern Seminary and the speaker was the president of Colgate Rochester, Dr. Marvin McMickle. In 2016 the conference will be held at Colgate Rochester and the speaker(s) will be come from St. Bernard’s.

This year’s preaching conference will take place at St. Bernard’s, with a focus on the value of serious biblical exegesis for good preaching (hence the title: “From Interpretation to Preaching”).

So this conference is not meant to be an introduction to preaching; rather, it is for those who want to dig deeper into Scripture, in order to reinvigorate their preaching. And you don’t even have to be a preacher to attend.

You can register for the 2015 Rochester preaching conference here.

This blog is also posted on the Northeastern Seminary website.


Recent Book Reviews of A New Heaven and a New Earth

In the past couple of weeks I’ve become aware of some recent reviews of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).

Matthew Forrest Lowe On-line Review

The first review is by Matthew Forrest Lowe, which is posted both on NetGalley and on his own website, Lonely Vocations.

The review begins by saying:

I’m always impressed by Richard Middleton’s work, and this book is no exception. It’s a difficult trick to write about eschatology without losing sight of the larger narrative of biblical theology, but Middleton pulls it off! He begins by showing how the book’s concern fits within his story, noting his concern “to make the Bible’s vision for the redemption of creation available to a wide audience” (16) — many of whom might struggle with some of the same questions that he’s wrestled with throughout his theological life.

While Matt largely agrees with the emphasis of the book (and he includes an excellent summary if its argument), he raises two important questions. The first concerns my understanding of sin throughout the book (which he would like more clarity on); the second concerns my interpretation of the intermediate state in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (he cites Walter Grundmann’s alternative interpretation in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).

These are legitimate questions and I look forward to addressing them (and much more) when Matt presents his extended version of this review in Ottawa in a few weeks.

Book Review Panel at the CETA Meeting on May 31, 2015

Matt is on the executive committee of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA) and he will be presenting his review as part of a book review panel on A New Heaven and a New Earth, at the annual meeting of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association on May 31, 2015.

While the formal CETA meeting will be held during the day (8:30 AM — 4:30 PM) at the University of Ottawa as part of the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the panel discussion will take place at Sunnyside Wesleyan Church at 7:00 PM.

In fact, Matt is organizing the review panel. Besides Matt, there will be reviews by Brian Walsh (with whom I’ve written two books) and Janet Warren (whose review will appear in the Canadian Theological Review, the journal sponsored by CETA). I will respond to the three reviews and we will have a time of open discussion with the audience.

If you are around, I hope you can join us.

Midwest Book Review

The second review of A New Heaven and a New Earth is a short note in the Midwest Book Review. My publisher, Baker Academic, posted the following excerpt from the review on their website:

Enhanced with the inclusion of an informative introduction, figures and tables, an appendix (Whatever Happened to the New Earth?); a thirty page Subject Index; and a fifteen page Scripture Index, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology is a model of Biblical scholarship making it very instructive reading and highly recommended for personal, seminary, community and academic library Christian Studies collections.

You can read the entire review here in the Midwest Book Review, listed under “Christian Studies.” 

James Howell in the Christian Century

The third recent review is a longer piece by James C. Howell in the Christian Century. This is the excerpt Baker Academic posted on their website:

A thoughtful, thorough, and well-written book on biblical eschatology. . . . Middleton’s message concerns, secondarily, Christians’ fixation on the rapture and, primarily, virtually all of Christian preaching and teaching that eviscerates the richness of the Bible’s eschatology, offering nothing more than the chance to go to heaven after we die and this world has ended. . . . Middleton eloquently lifts up what is entirely plain if you pay attention: ‘the Bible consistently anticipates the redemption of the entire created order.’ Guiding us on a dazzling tour through the broad range of relevant texts, he makes clear the Bible’s emphasis on the material order–on culture, bodies, and buildings–and shows that the Creator’s purpose isn’t for creation to be swept away, but for it to be entirely redeemed.

This one is a somewhat strange review. It is mostly positive, but the reviewer raises all sorts of questions about things in the book, some of which are actually answered in the book (did he read it carefully?) and some of which are on minor points that I didn’t stress, but that he somehow thought were important. And once or twice he just plain misinterpreted what I was saying (like on the nature of final judgment or on taking eschatological imagery literally).

But, that’s par for the course as far as book reviews go (there have been much greater misreadings of things I wrote in reviews of my earlier books). And, as they say, any publicity is good publicity! (And the Christian Century is a widely read periodical.)

Rodney Clapp in the Christian Century

Interestingly, Rodney Clapp, the editor who originally contracted me for the eschatology book (but now works for a different publisher), wrote an earlier piece for the Christian Century on trends in holisitic eschatology (entitled “Life after Life after Death”), in which he mentioned the book I was working on a couple of years before it was published.

At one point in the article, he addresses recent books on the subject:

Premier among them is N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Rob Bell’s bestseller Love Wins follows Wright in putting the post-mortem emphasis on resurrected bodies in the context of a new heaven and a new earth. More recently Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett, in Salvation Means Creation Healed, make an extended argument that salvation focuses not just on souls and not just on people, but presents the hope of a transformed and new earth. Meanwhile, biblical scholar Richard Middleton is at work on a book that will closely examine the major biblical texts and argue for the eschatological hope of a new heaven and a new earth.

You can read the entire article here.

Rodney Clapp on the Running Heads Website

A few months ago Rodney followed this up with a more extended online review of A New Heaven and a New Earth; he posted it on the editorial website for Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications, called “Running Heads” (Rodney is chief editor for Cascade Books).

These are the opening and closing sections of the review:

Some years ago, when I was an editor with Brazos/Baker Academic, I acquired a project that has just now come to fruition. That book is J. Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic). Richard’s work is a sweeping—and exegetically detailed—survey of the argument that the earth is not to be left behind at the end of history as we know it. Instead, God will transform the “old” heavens (which are a creation of God themselves) and earth, because all creation is a part of God’s salvific work through Israel and Jesus Christ.

. . . . . . .

Of course, it remains to be seen if the holistic eschatological perspective will spread through the entire church and become dominant. I hope it will. If it does, Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth will surely be seen as a key text in that shift.

At the end of the reivew, Howard Snyder (one of the authors Rodney mentioned in his earlier article) posted a comment in response, saying that he was using my book in one of his courses at Asbury Seminary.

You can read the entire review (and the response comment) here.