Author Archives: Mike Higton

Who am I? Part II

I’d been hoping to get going on Mark 1:1 this weekend, but I have left my black notebook at work. Without my black notebook, I am nothing… So instead, some more throat-clearing: a few words on my theological stance.

As I said in Who am I? Part I, I am a Christian and an academic theologian. But what kind of labels can be stuck to me without contravening the Trade Descriptions Act? At this point, I’m meant to say that I hate labels, and that they’re so misleading as to be worthless, and so divisive as to be immoral. But I can’t. I love labels. (You know those internet surveys you can do which will ask boxfuls of questions about your political stance or your computing habits or your sex life or your musical taste, and then spit out an answer telling you just what kind of person you are? I love them. I wonder whether all INTJs are like this?) Of course, this doesn’t mean that labels, taken at all seriously, aren’t so misleading as to be worthless, and so divisive as to be immoral…

So:

  • I’m an Anglican theologian;
  • who thinks of himself as credally orthodox, and who habitually says that the doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation are at the heart of his theology;
  • who can probably be identified from a mile off by cognoscenti as a student of David Ford;
  • who reads quite a bit of Karl Barth but isn’t Reformed enough to be a Barthian;
  • who finds himself agreeing more often than not with Rowan Williams;
  • who in theological terms is fairly (Anglo)Catholic, but not really in ‘churchmanship’ terms;
  • who could probably be called ‘postliberal’ a la Hans Frei, except that I don’t think I was ever a liberal;
  • who was brought up an evangelical, but by the most easily availble definitions probably doesn’t count as one any more;
  • who was also brought up a charismatic, but almost certainly doesn’t count as one any more;
  • who doesn’t have much time for doctrines of biblical inerrancy or infallibility, but who certainly does have time for doctrines of biblical authority, and the idea that the Bible is norma normans non normata (Google it, you’ll get some idea);
  • who – professional guild markers coming up – subscribes to Modern Theology and The International Journal of Systematic Theology.

If I have to pick one label, I like the phrase coined by Hans Frei to describe one of his teachers: ‘Generous orthodoxy’.

What’s in a name?

Kaì euthùs (καὶ εὐθὺς) can be translated as ‘and immediately…’, ‘and just then…’, ‘and straight away…’, and its rather breathless repetition punctuates Mark’s Gospel as his narrative tumbles from one incident to another. This seemed appropriate for a blog, somehow: ‘and now here’s another thing…’: a rapid update; a tumble of new thoughts and incidents. This blog will be no calm and ordered commentary, no overview: I will be chasing after Mark as he points to first this and then, immediately, that. Racing to catch up, and to make some kind of sense of the course he’s running.

The image in the background behind the title [of an earlier version of this blog] is of a page from the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, covering the first chapter of Mark. If you look carefully, you can see the ‘kaì euthùs’ from Mark 1:12 at the beginning of a line about half way up the visible portion of the second column. The earlier ‘kaì euthùs’ from 1:10 is lost in the blur above – but you can see a faint image of it (with its three final letters crammed in to fit the column) between each post in the blog.

Who am I?

My name is Mike Higton, and I’m –

See also “Who am I? Part II”

Welcome to KAI EUTHUS

There is only so much time I can spend tinkering with the graphics, fiddling with the display of Greek text, and generally prevaricating. It’s time to get this blog rolling – and, specifically, time to say something about what I think I’m doing here.

Whatever else it ends up containing, I envisage this blog arranged around a constant backbone: an eccentric, rambling, ruminative commentary upon the Gospel of Mark.

Let me explain.

I’m a Christian theologian – I lecture in theology at the University of Exeter in the Southwest of England. I specialise in modern theology, and in the interpretation and history of Christian doctrine; I am not any kind of New Testament specialist. However, a couple of years ago two things came together to push me towards beginning a careful reading of the Gospel of Mark.

On the one hand, I realised that, although I spent a lot of time talking about the centrality of the Gospel witness to Jesus of Nazareth for my theology and for my faith, I did not actually spend much of my intellectual energy on paying serious attention to that Gospel witness. I don’t want to breathe any extra life into that still-quacking canard that doctrinal or systematic theologians don’t read the Bible. That is not true of most of the ones I know – and I know quite a few by now. It was, however, the unfortunate case that I had personally been engaged in various projects which had placed discussion of biblical hermeneutics centre-stage, but had not allowed detailed discussion of actual biblical texts into the limelight. I was working on a book on Hans Frei, and could identify all too easily with these lines in the Preface to his Eclipse of Biblical Narrative:

This essay falls into the almost legendary category of analysis of analyses of the Bible in which not a single text is examined, not a single exegesis undertaken. Faced with certain puzzles that demanded historical, philosophical, and theological explanations, I tried to provide them as best I could; but there is no denying the odd result of a book about the Bible in which the Bible itself is never looked at.

On the other hand, I realised that a dividing wall in my mind had, over time, softly and silently vanished away, and that there was in principle no longer any gap for me between devotional and academic exploration of biblical texts. I found that, without having deliberately set off towards it, I had reached a point where it seemed obvious that a careful reading of a biblical text which was as academically rigorous as I could make it could and should also be deeply ‘self-involving’, personally and communally challenging – and that these two aspects were not in conflict, were not even independent, but could and should feed each other. In other words, I was no longer in a position of thinking that I needed to forge connections between the results of acedmic biblical study and a devotional and ecclesial use of the Bible: I no longer saw a gap that might need connections to be built across it.

That’s a rather abstract claim as it stands, but it will do for now as a signpost. I’ll try and explore some more of what it points to as I go along. That exploration will probably need to involve some explanation of the ‘Scriptural Reasoning’ movement which has ended up providing soil in which these ideas can grow – but I’ll leave that to one side for now.

I said that these things came together ‘a couple of years ago’. I have, since then, kept up slow and fitful jottings in a notebook, which have taken me from Mark 1:1 to 2:12. I’ve also written a couple of more formal pieces – you can find a draft of one of them here. I thought it was about time, however, to expose what I’d been doing to discussion and criticism, and to give myself some impetus to make my work on it less slow and fitful. This blog is the result – and we’ll see how well it does.

Getting this blog off the ground has been made possible by three different people. Zack Hubert provides the xml Greek feed which allows me to include the text of Mark in my posts, and was happy to let my friend Chris Goringe write a wonderful plugin to allow WordPress to display it all. And I have used Patricia Muller’s award-winning ‘Connections’ theme as the basis for the site’s styling – though I have made quite a few cosmetic changes along the way.