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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Another response to Danny

Danny Deinde has some final thoughts on Why Christianity Happened. Here is his big question in a nutshell:

James Crossley, tell me why Acts didn't play a large role in your work and do you think Acts has any value in the (socio)historical reconstruction of the rise of early Christianity? I look forward to your answer.

And here are the details:

Notable by its absence through Crossley's book is the book of Acts, so it is the question I would like to pose to Crossley (he'll probably answer on his blog). Crossley barely even touches on Acts and it seemed clear from its absence in the discussion that Crossley doesn't highly value it in a reconstruction of the rise of early Christianity. Is this methodologically sound? I realize that many Lukan scholars say Luke toned down the problems and presented a harmonious movement, but that knowledge can help us "look behind" the text, no? If we are trying to reconstruct the earliest days of the Jesus movement, there is no writing on the subject closer than the book of Acts. In some cases in the book, I think the arguments would have been strengthened by a critical socio-historical reading of Acts.

Actually, I take a relatively conservative approach to Acts. The reason I don't discuss it in detail is because I already did in The Date of Mark's Gospel. In many ways Why Christianity Happened is the socio-historical side of the argument about law and chronology presented throughout The Date of Mark's Gospel. I used Acts and the Pauline letters to establish a chronology focusing on law observance. The question of Why Christianity Happened was to explain how we get from Jesus to gentile Christianity in terms of observance to non-observance so there was no need to repeat all this (I mention the key outline of law/chronology in the Intro or something to WCH). The Acts bits I add in Why Christianity Happened involve god-fearers (and I make some fairly conservative comments on Acts in chapter 5 of WCH) and households.

The reason it seems absent, in my humble estimation, is that the "sociological model" utilized by Crossley is more gradual and slow shifts, i.e. from law-observant to non-law observant. But Acts portrays it rather differently. It happens like one gargantuan slap in the face--the conversion of Cornelius.

Ah, there I would be less conservative (at last, eh?). Yes, Acts presents it that way but there are problems with the vision, not only in terms of tradition-history, but also in terms of chronology: it seems Luke has no real clue as to precisely when it happened and given Luke's obvious chronological interests presumably he did not know.

but certainly the Acts account isn't immune to sociological critique. In the instance of Cornelius, I think the sociological research done on ecstatic speech may play no small part in understanding why Peter believed the Spirit accepted uncircumcised Gentiles.

Quite possibly, yes. But I don't think it was vision to Peter then gentile mission without law happens. If Peter's vision did happen (certainly plausible, even if Acts has well and truly written it up - I gave some arguments on this in The Date of Mark's Gospel) then I suspect it would be more in the context of non-observance already being one feature of earliest Christianity and the vision allowing Peter to accept this. A vision was a pretty good option given the problematic nature of scripture being very clear about Jews and food laws.

An important p.s.- I would like the readers of deinde to pray for James Crossley. As many know, he will be debating the resurrection with William Lane Craig. Craig is the man in debates--and the resurrection really did happen!-- so James Crossley is going to get his pants pulled down. Just pray with me that his drawers won't come down too! ;-)

Now that will encourage people to pray for the exact opposite of that last sentence.


Anonymous Jim said...

I'm a bit disturbed by Danny's parting observation....


February 01, 2007


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