Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Michael Bird

This is the first in a new series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: G'day and welcome, Michael. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MB: Guy, basically I am an expat Australian who teaches New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. I was born in Germany, moved to Australia from the UK when I was two, grew up in a non-Christian home, and spent 13 years in the Australian Army as a paratrooper/intelligence operator. I did my theological studies at the Queensland Baptist College of Ministries and my doctoral work at the University of Queensland. I am a Baptist by orientation, Reformed by conviction, and Evangelical in passion.
GD: Your blog is called "Euangelion", what made you start blogging?
MB: I saw the success of Mark Goodacre's blog "NT Gateway" and thought it would be nice to have a voice in the continuing conversation. It is also a great way to think out aloud, disseminate your ideas, share your findings day-to-day, publicise what you're writing, and keep abreast of what is going on, almost like a real-time link to what is happening in biblical studies.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
MB: Making friends across the world, the encouragement I receive from people who resonate with what I'm writing about, and the critical interaction with others who are interested in biblical studies.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
MB: It can be a time waster, you need to be sensitive when you talk about denominational politics or critique the work of other scholars. When I write critiques or offer comments on something/someone, I write as if I'm writing it to the person/institution I'm talking about.
GD: Christian blogging can sometimes be a bit bad tempered. We do need to show a bit of love and consideration in cyberspace. Now, why does world of theoblogs seem to be dominated by Aussies?
MB: Because we are just so damned good! It's like cricket - we are the best - and that is that. Honestly, I think it is coincidental. It just so happens that there are a number of fine theo/biblio bloggers around. My claim to fame will probably be that I was the guy who asked Ben Myers, "You ever considered starting a blog?"
GD: So, we have you to thank for that! You recently published a book entitled, The Saving Righteousness of God. One of your aims is to synthesise the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification with the new perspective on Paul. What does Reformed theology have to learn from the NPP?
MB: Paul's doctrine of righteousness actually has a lot to do with the unity of Jews and Gentiles in one body. While "righteousness" is often relational, vertical, and forensic; it is also sociological and ecclesiological. Sadly, those of us in the Reformed camp have over emphasized the ordo salutis at the expense of a historia salutis. It was in reading Gal. 3.11-14 that made this a reality for me and I had to say that, "Those NPP guys, might actually be onto something". Although, for many other reasons, I cannot buy into the whole package of Wright, Dunn, and Sanders.
GD: You also devote a chapter to the relationship between the resurrection of Christ and justification, drawing on the insights of Richard Gaffin and Mark Seifrid. I welcome that because the theological significance resurrection of Christ is often neglected in Reformed theology. Doesn't it just bug you that in the standard Dogmatics, discussion shifts from the cross directly to consideration of the application of redemption as if we could be saved by a dead Jesus?
MB: You hit the nail on the head! This is exactly what Gaffin was talking about in the late 70s and I only wish that more had followed him. If you start making the resurrection and union with Christ more central to your story of salvation (as Paul, John, and Luke do) then some of the standard conceptions of salvation break down. For instance, do we think of justification as the imputation of Christ's active obedience from the cross to us, or do we see ourselves as participating in his vindication by being united to him in his resurrection? This is what I'm wrestling with. I don't want to repudiate the Reformed heritage (I cherish it deeply), but I want a soteriology that is robustly biblical. In fact, in the Australian Evangelical Anglican tradition, the works of D.B. Knox and Leon Morris have asked very similar questions to the one's I'm asking!
GD: Have you seen Cornelis Venema's The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (here)? If so, what did you think?
MB: No I haven't. Venema mentions my work in an essay elsewhere that I've seen by him and I don't think he quite understood what I was doing. What I will also say, is that if you're going to anathematize Wright (as some Reformed folk in America have a propensity to do), then you better be willing to do the same to Zwingli, Bucer, and Bullinger as well, because I can plot similarities between them and Wright on many points (not that I'm saying that they are strictly identical or anything).
GD: Venema certainly doesn't anathematise Wright, or anyone else for that matter. He acknowledges that Reformed theology has something to learn from NPP thinking. Maybe you should give his book a read, I'm sure you'll find it helpful. Moving on, do you think that Kevin Vanhoozer's theodramatic proposals have the potential to refresh systematic theology?
MB: I do. I think Vanhoozer is the hootinest evangelical theologian in town at the moment. Everyone doing a Ph.D in a postmodern religious studies department MUST read his book: Is there a meaning in this text?
GD: "Hootinest"? Why is it that the mere mention of Vanhoozer makes people use freaky words? Right, you are a hydro-immersionist Baptist, yes? Why is it that so many top evangelical theologians have been Presbyterians? Are Baptist theologians inept, indolent or just unfairly overlooked?
MB: What the firecracker ...? You looking for a fight boy? Well, I think Millard Erickson, Stan Grenz, and Henri Blocher are fairly decent Baptist Theologians even if they do not command large schools of followers. A generation of Baptists used Erickson's textbook and Grenz was one of the first guys to really have a crack at doing theology in dialogue with postmodernism. Presbyterian theologians, as far as I can tell, have nothing else to say other than offering a commentary on Barth! I think the biggest problem is that American and British Baptists tend to be very introspective (i.e. focus on Baptist issues) and sometimes want to spend more effort fighting the cultural wars than doing theology per se. I think European Baptist Theologians (Miroslav Volf ???) and others are astute and it would be good to hear more from them.
GD: I'm a Baptist myself and I certainly wouldn't want to pick a fight with an ex-para! But now I've got you in combative mode, Biblical inerrancy was recently voted the worst ever theological invention (here). Do you agree with that estimation?
MB: No. I think the doctrine of Mary as co-redemptrix is my pet dislike, that and the pre-tribulation rapture (apologies to my Catholic and Dispensational friends). If I have to choose between inerrancy and errancy, I will always choose inerrancy. Otherwise you are faced with the problem of why should I believe anything the Bible says about, for instance, homosexuality. But the problem with inerrancy is that it tries to repel the modernist attack on supernatural religion by using the weapons of philosophical rationalism. If you pursue the inerrancy of the autographa to its logical conclusion, I think you will either end up going down the route of Bart Ehrman (errant manuscripts = errant originals) or Textus Receptus route (there has always been one line of truly inspired texts). What is more, neither Warfield nor Henry would make inerrancy the centre of the theological galaxy as many of their progeny do. To use the phrase of my boss, Andrew McGowan, there is a European alternative to inerrancy that is contained in the writings of Orr, Bavinck, and Kuyper.
GD: Thanks for that. There aren't that many theo/biblio-bloggers who will speak up for inerrancy. Now, I read on your blog profile that you like the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber. That's Aussie irony, right? Tell us your real top three songs or pieces of music.
MB: No, I really like Andrew Lloyd Weber! I'll go for my top three musicals: Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and A Little Night Music
GD: You really like Lloyd Weber? That's very sad. Moving swiftly on, who was the most influential figure in your theological development?
MB: Probably my theology professor Rev. Jim Gibson now Pastor at Salisbury Baptist Church in Brisbane, but also (in NT studies) Rev. Dr. Jeff Pugh now of the Bible College of Victoria
GD: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?
MB: That is hard. The challenges facing evangelicals in Hong Kong are different from those in Atlanta or Birmingham. I think affluence and middle-classness is killing evangelicalism in the West. Syncretism is a real problem in Africa in some places. Prosperity doctrine is problematic in Asia. But, to be brief, the challenge is as it always will be: to be in the world but not of the world, to contextualize the gospel without compromising the content of what is preached.
GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....
MB: Theology? I'm sorry, I don't understand. You mean, me, read something besides biblical studies. I'm not with you? (I had a break and emailed Ben Myers and he's explained your question to me!). In terms of theological books, the best thing I've read in the last couple of years was Barth's introduction to Evangelical Theology. I also enjoyed (but did not like) Kevin Giles' book, "Jesus and the Father".
GD: If you have to ask Ben Myres for advice on theology, it's no wonder that you picked something by Barth! Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
MB: I read a lot of blogs. The main one's are NT Gateway, Jim West, Jesus Creed, Faith and Theology, Blogging Parson, April DeConick, Chrisendom, Stuff of the Earth and others as I get time.
GD: Well, thanks for that mate, fair dinkum, it's been nice talking to you.
Who will be next to grace the hot seat? Your guess is (almost) as good as mine.


Ched said...

This is a good interview.

Guy Davies said...


Anonymous said...

Now I'm not a professional theologian, and I appreciate Michael Birds agreement with inerrancy over errancy but I'm not sure I'm understanding him when he writes this,

"But the problem with inerrancy is that it tries to repel the modernist attack on supernatural religion by using the weapons of philosophical rationalism. If you pursue the inerrancy of the autographa to its logical conclusion, I think you will either end up going down the route of Bart Ehrman (errant manuscripts = errant originals) or Textus Receptus route (there has always been one line of truly inspired texts)."

What is the inerrancy we are talking about here? Surely the conservative, reformed doctrine of inerrancy claims and only claims that the words written on the medium by the original writer were indeed the Word of God and were therefore by definition inerrant because surely (please!) evangelicals in general are not jettisoning the idea that God is holy and pure and perfect? All scripture is theopneustos is it not? So if it is God breathed it is inerrant?

Given this definition of inerrancy, how (genuine question) does it have any logical conclusions other than that we have a God who is worth trusting and a Bible that can/has with study and research be brought ever closer to the original? Surely to argue from a basis of the Scriptures being God-breathed is not an argument from philosophical rationalism but rather a grammatical, historical and theological argument?

I checked out the website you linked to re: the survey and read it with utter and complete dismay. Inerrancy is idolatry? Inerrancy is heresy? If this is where professional theologians are going we're in real trouble.


Guy Davies said...


I agree with your approach to inerrancy & share your concerns about that poll. I would be interested to see what Michael might say in response to your comments.

Michael F. Bird said...

1. I am not among a cohort of post-conservative scholars who regard inerrancy as passe and hack on it to show that I am progressive in my thinking.
2. The inference you make, inspired therefore inerrant (ala Carl Henry), is a reasonable one, but not a necessary one.
3. What is the point of having inerrant autographs if you have errant manuscripts? What about THIS Bible I have in my hand NOW? What language do we use to describe it?
4. James Orr, a contributor to the "Fundamentals" called Warfield's approach "suicidal" in that he placed all his bets on his ability to disprove that the Bible contained any errors. Whereas another approach is to see the veracity of the Scripture as anchored in the faithfulness of God to his Word and not inerrancy.
5. While supportive and sympathetic to inerrancy in principle, I think it over reaches and makes itself vulnerable at several points.

Ross said...

I really enjoy Michael's blog and came across this interview with him from his reference there. Thanks for it! It is always good to get the human side of someone. I still like Joseph among the Lloyd-Weber canon.

In the interview, I especially liked this reply:

'That is hard. The challenges facing evangelicals in Hong Kong are different from those in Atlanta or Birmingham.'

I'm in Hong Kong - tell me about it!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding, if you have time could you answer a few more queries.

With regard to your points.

1. I appreciate that, that was clear from the interview.

2. You say the inference I make, inspired therefore inerrant, is a reasonable one, but not a necessary one. Given the high reverence of Christ for the Scriptures (above that of the Pharisees), given the descriptions of the “process” of inspiration as being a bearing along of the writers, given that Paul commends the early Christians for receiving even his preaching not merely as the word of man but “as it really is” the word of God, and given Daniel Wallace’s labours on 2 Timothy 3:16,17 and the predicative nature of the text, how is inspiration = inerrancy not a necessary inference if God is perfect in all His ways and Truth itself? Can you explain?

I would have thought that the nature of God himself necessitates inerrancy in the original writings because he bore the writers along, because the resultant writings (all Scripture) are God breathed and because, if Paul’s preaching was the word of God and to be received as such, surely his writings are at least so.

Again I’m not being rhetorical, I genuinely want to understand this. What makes this inference reasonable but not necessary? I think my inference is indeed reasonable, but more than that it is necessary because only that inference is faithful to the Scriptural data on the nature of Scripture and especially to the nature of God. Bruce Metzger takes a similar view because he cannot it seems see inerrancy as a biblical doctrine. I simply cannot see how we can view the original autographs as anything other than inerrant given God’s nature.

3. I’m really not too concerned as to the point of even having inerrant autographs other than to observe that to my mind it is critical to say that God’s nature demands inerrancy of the autographs, what the point of it all was I’m not sure I can answer. Is my understanding of God’s motives and purposes really a factor in whether I accept a doctrine or not, or whether it is a necessary doctrine or not? Surely the interpretive principles of Romans 9 come into play here, our ability to understand the ways of God are limited sometimes and I would place the doctrine of the purpose of inerrancy in that field of doctrine that must be received without reference to our understanding of purpose at all….Who am I?

As to the current bibles in our hand I would describe them as substantially inerrant, I don’t know if that is a theological term or not, but what I mean by it is that since the bible as written by the original writers is inerrant, then the bibles in our hands are inerrant to the extent that they are faithful transmissions of those original autographs. Textual Criticism and historical analysis have shown that the agreement between the extant mss. is so widespread that while I doubt we can ever claim inerrancy that what we have in a faithful formally equivalent translation is a substantially inerrant text, that is it is substantially that word breathed out by God to the writers and that word written by them as they were borne along by the Spirit.

That’s long enough for now! I’ll maybe return to the other two later.

Please be sure that I am not trying to be flippant in anything I have written. I think this is an important subject and I desire to be more clear on it. That said it is a secondary issue in that it is faith in Christ that saves.


Alan said...

substantially inerrant - I have never read that before but I rather like it.

A very clever friend once compared it to a bag of sugar. A bag of sugar weighs a kilogram. Reliably. Dependably. Always.

The people who run the factories are very careful to make sure that a bag of sugar always weighs a kilogram. If I need to weigh something against a kilogram, I'd always choose a bag of sugar.

Somewhere (who knows where?) there is THE kilogram. The absolute inerrant standard. I am sure that it is a totally dependable kilogram.

But my bag of sugar is to all intents and purposes a kilogram. And in fact to me it is just as good. More so, because I have it !

Guy Davies said...

Sweet analogy, Alan!