Monday, January 10, 2005

AAPC - 2

Going into the AAPC, I had read and listened to a decent amount of N.T. Wright's material. I was far less familiar with the work of Dr. Richard Gaffin, distinguished professor at Westminster Seminary, so I'll need to obtain our copies of his conference lectures to fill in my spotty notes. As several have observed, there was a marked contrast between the two men's lecturing styles. Gaffin was not nearly as polished or animated as Bishop Wright. But this doesn't mean that he was a bad speaker, by any stretch. He very clearly had command of the material he was presenting, and his lecturing was often punctuated with a dab or two of dry humor. I concur with Doug Wilson's assessment of Gaffin's methodical approach and patient establishing of groundwork. I must confess that I initially wondered where he was going, but by the final lectures, it was apparent that all of Gaffin's foundational work was necessary to converge into some really cool stuff. I would be interested to see Gaffin in action in the classroom, with a whole semester at his disposal to lay foundations and then build magnificently upon them.

A few initial considerations from his opening lecture:

Gaffin stressed the need to see canonical literature as the controlling context for interpreting Paul. In retrospect, it would have been interesting to see him interact directly with Wright's copious use of non-canonical literature to establish the social and cultural context within which Paul wrote.

Gaffin noted that the problem of interpreting Paul is not a new one, citing the Apostle Peter's own comments in his second epistle about the difficulty of understanding him. He noted that these difficulties are inherent to the deeper content of Paul's writings. Yet, he also noted the fact of Paul's writing within specific contexts of personal relationships and situations. Gaffin (in agreement with Wright) observed that Paul's theology in his letters is non-formalized, precisely because he is addressing specific situations. He compared the apostle's writings to the visible portion of an iceberg, having much more below the surface than is apparent to the observer. Nevertheless, Gaffin stressed that we must not exaggerate the difficulty of interpreting Paul, either, for many of Paul's core concerns are clearly expressed.

Studies of Paul as theologian must be undertaken carefully. On the one hand, we cannot simply compare Paul the theologian to any other theologian, because of the uniqueness of his apostolic vocation. Gaffin notes that whereas our theologizing is Spirit-led, Paul's was Spirit-born. On the other hand, we are still at the same point in redemptive history as Paul -- looking back at the resurrection and anxiously awaiting the Lord's return.

Gaffin then discussed the interplay between Biblical and Systematic theology. He cautioned that systematics should be non-speculative. The hard work of exegesis informs systematizing. Additionally, Paul theology must be determined alongside the rest of the canon.

Dr. Gaffin then addressed his main question for his lectures: does Paul's theology have in mind an ordo salutis -- that is, in the general sense, does Paul concentrate on the ongoing application of redemption to individuals? Or does Paul focus on the history of salvation, with redemption seen in terms of something accomplished once for all (i.e., historia salutis)? Gaffin explained that Paul's emphasis on exercising faith in the present indicates a clear notion of an ordo. He introduced the theme of walking "by faith and not by sight" (a la 2 Corinthians 5:7), which would serve to link the redemption decisively accomplished by the crucifixion and resurrection with the application of that redemption to the believer. This theme would help shape and inform his remaining lectures.

As an aside, Gaffin closed his session with a remark about "Auburn fans," ostensibly referring to the Sugar Bowl being played that night -- though certainly with a double meaning, given the surroundings.

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