Some Thoughts on James D. G. Dunn’s Bias

On page 228-229 of Beginning from Jerusalem, James D. G. Dunn agrees with Hurtado that “devotion” (Dunn puts the word in quotations) to Christ was evident from the earliest days, but Dunn questions whether such “devotion” may be characterized as “worship.” Dunn supports this view by his insistence that there was little theological reflection evident in the earliest christology and that statements usually interpreted as such are simply expression of enthusiasm without due reflection. Dunn acknowledges that such statements launched a trajectory toward such a high view of Christ espoused later but that the evidence is not enough to support a view more definitive than this.
In saying this, one wonders if Dunn is not revealing his presuppositions. I have it from a source that I trust that Dunn is not opposed to Revelation and that his being published by Eerdman’s is proof of his evangelical credentials, but such statements seem, on the surface at least, to imply an anti-supernatural bias which leads him to dismiss expressions of worship in favor of a view that embraces a development of theology that leaves no room for revelation.
Dunn’s insistence in n. 294 (229) that Hurtado needs to clarify terms like “cultic devotion” and “worship” is good advice for Dunn, as well. While Dunn provides a definition of “worship,” it is so vague as to be of little help in determining exactly what Dunn is objecting to.
Dunn cites approvingly Weiss’ conviction that the earliest disciples prayed to Jesus (228, n. 290), which would itself constitute an act of worship, yet Weiss and Dunn both see this simply as one more step toward the development of Christianity as was later realized in the world.
Both Dunn and Weiss ignore Hurtado’s claim that such devotion arose very soon (in the first two decades) of the faith and that such devotion and mythologizing takes at least a generation to solidify.
Dunn also overlooks that acts of worship and devotion offered to Jesus during his earthly ministry such as praying to him, singing hymns to him (something Dunn mentioned on 220), and seeing devotion to Jesus and service to Jesus as being on the same level as worship and service of God himself.
I also wondered about Dunn’s bias re: supernatural revelation in his section on Jesus as Lord. On p. 221 Dunn indicates that it is unlikely that the use of “Lord” to refer to Jesus, at least in the initial stages, indicates any deep or sustained reflection, though it opened up a current of thought that later resulted in such a view.
Dunn overlooks the connections drawn by the Evangelists Matthew and Mark between Lord and Yahweh (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3) along with Paul’s connections as well (Rom. 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 1:2, 31; 2:2, 8, 16; 4:4; 5:4; 7:17; 7:32-35; 10:21; 16:22-23; Phil. 2:9-11).
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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Biblical Theology, New Testament Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some Thoughts on James D. G. Dunn’s Bias

  1. I'VE NEVER LIKED DUNN, AS A WRITER OR THEOLOGIAN. IN MANY WAYS HE'S IN THE SAME GROUP AS N.T. WRIGHT, BUT TOM IS MUCH MORE EVANGELICAL IN MY OPINION.

  2. Interesting. I've thought the exact opposite. Except that Wright is a more engaging writer than Dunn.

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