Chris Tilling (2/06)

Blogger of the Month for February 2006

Jim West Interviews Chris Tilling

Editorial Note: Chris Tilling is the author of the weblog Chrisendom athttp://www.christilling.de/blog/ctblog.html.

BB:What are you doing in Germany? Where are you from originally?

CT:I was actually born in South Africa, but my parents are both English and we moved back to England shortly after my first birthday. I grew up in the London / Surrey suburbs, and I’m British through and through, right down to the Tetley’s Tea bags, black humour and Stilton Cheese. And living in Germany has only made me more determined to be as British as possible.

I came to Germany first in 2001. Max Turner, my soon-to-become supervisor, suggested that I could go to Germany for a while to ‘learn the lingo’ for my studies, and a friend of mine had contacts with people in a village just outside of Tübingen. During my stay, however, I met a totally gorgeous, young, long blond haired German trainee teacher by the name of Anja, and all of a sudden I couldn’t give a monkeys about learning German. Instead, I set to work on winning her heart — a task in which I succeeded and for which I remain for ever grateful. After the summer had ended I was glad of course to find a base in this village to which I could return, not only to develop my relationship with Anja, but also — well, does it need to be spelt out? Tübingen! A while passed and we got married, I moved my life to our flat just outside the great theological city, and we have been happily living here for about 3 or 4 years now.

As for my research, partly inspired by such scholars as Richard Bauckham, Mehrdad Fatehi (cf. his WUNT title), Larry Hurtado, James Dunn, William Horbury, Wolfgang Schrage etc., I have developed a new approach to the debate concerning whether Paul’s Christology should be called ‘divine’ or not. To be honest, I feel very blessed to be writing and researching on such a fascinating and important subject, especially as I feel I really have something to contribute.

BB:Why is it that you decided to edit a weblog?

CT:I think it was my friend Simon who introduced the idea to me, and it seemed a good way to keep in touch with him and others in England whom I had left when I moved to Germany. After my first few efforts I started posting more on biblically and theologically related themes, not for any other reason than simply because theology is my passion, my hobby, and not just my research.

BB:What is the overarching theme of your blog? Formerly it was named Brainpoo – but that didn’t really indicate the substance of your efforts. Has the name change helped readers know more precisely what you are about?

CT:I’m glad you say that the name Brainpoo ‘didn’t really indicate the substance of your efforts’!

Given my then growing association with other biblioblogs I felt that a title that mentioned a bodily function was probably best dropped, but it all seemed like a hassle to make the alterations as, being the man of great foresight that I am, I’d managed to put the word ‘brainpoo’ in my html address not just once, but twice! The number of visitors was doubling every month, and I was feeling more and more embarrassed by the name.

In the end I decided to bite-the-bullet, and many of my readers came up with good name-change suggestions (e.g. ‘Fundies Anonymous’, ‘Tübinger’, ‘Idiot with Keyboard’ etc.). I finally chose ‘Chrisendom’ because it hints that my blog is related, though sometimes in a light-hearted way, to Christian themes. Apart from that, it shows that my focus won’t only be theological, ecclesiological or exegetical, but will also include those things I simply want to post at the spur of the moment, biblical or not. It is Chrisendom after all, not Christendom. Hence, every now and then, I’ll post something on chess, ‘cosmology’ etc. Finally, as one reader pointed out, one nice touch is that the chosen name ‘borders on sacrilege’. ‘Nice.’, he said, ‘You might be spared hell because you didn’t use Chrisology, but just barely’! All this means that the overarching theme of Chrisendom relates mostly to theological and biblical topics (particularly the Apostle Paul given my research), but will still occasionally consider other topics – hopefully sometimes with some humour.

BB:What is it about blogging as a phenomenon that excites you?

CT:I feel that blogging is what I always wanted the internet to be in the first place. Before blogs we had hampsterdance.com, but now: immediate access to up-to-date, hot-off-the-press theologically and biblically related information and discussion. In addition to that, I suppose I’m attracted to blogging simply because my own faith is constantly seeking understanding, and the chance to then exchange and test ideas and learn from those who know a good deal more than myself can be highly enjoyable and educational. Of course, before blogs there were a number of academically related forums, but they always tended to be a tad too impersonal for my taste; I like the fact that each blog reflects something of its editor.

At a personal level, doctoral research can sometimes be a lonesome business. Writing, reading and commenting on blogs can be like having a break from the office — wandering down the hall and finding a room full of intelligent people keen on conversation about topics that fascinate!

At its best, blogging is an outlet for meaningful and even (theologically) reforming dialogue.

BB:And what is it about blogging that troubles you?

CT:Well, at its worst, it’s a way for snake-handling Kansas City Fundies, among others, to pat each other on the back and feel affirmed about writing, promoting and believing utter twaddle. But, I suppose, I may be the next man’s snake-handler, so its only a gripe and not meant as a complaint of real substance. But there are some bizarre and scary ’sub-cultures’ developing in Blogdom, especially in some religious circles. Of course, blogging as a medium can sometimes hinder discussion, especially as we keep being told that communication is something like 80% non-verbal. And sometimes it’s clear that some struggle to say what they really want just with text. But I haven’t found this to be a real problem. Occasionally, especially when the research starts to get a tad boring, I guess blogging can be a source of temptation to waste a lot of time, but apart from these things, very little bothers me if I’m honest.

BB:Why aren’t there as many German biblical scholars and theologians blogging as there seem to be American and British and Australian? Or do we just not know of them?

CT:I must admit that I don’t know why blogging isn’t as popular here yet. ‘Yet’, is probably the key word. I’ve tried encouraging theologian friends of mine in Tübingen to get started, but so far without any success. I’ll be sure to let everyone know if any decide to join the flock.

BB:Are there German blogs in the fields of Bible or Theology that you can recommend to us?

CT:To be frank, I don’t really frequent German speaking Bible/Theology blogs. I’ve only just recently discovered Commentarium Catholicum (http://catholica.blogspot.com/) which I liked, and of course there is Das Bibel-Blog (http://bibel.blogg.de/) which links to a few more. It may be just me, but I get the feeling that German Catholics are a bit more into the blogging scene than the Protestants. While not a blog, a good German religious website is jesus.de which caters for all manner of theological traditions, is quick with up-to-date religious related news, and has a decent debate forum too.

BB:We’d like to change direction for a moment and ask you some more personal sorts of questions. First, does your wife read your blog?

CT:Mostly she reads it, yes, and has even left a comment on a few! However, it depends. If I’ve written on something amusing like Flat-Earth creationism, the copulating habits of the mantis, Barth updated, Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition and Tom Wright’s trip to the pit etc., then she definitely will, yes. She also will if it is a thought-provoking yet accessible post, like those on Küng. However, if I’ve written on something entirely technical, e.g. a translation problem related to a Greek genitive, then understandably she won’t. Of course, the fact that she reads some of my blogging has its negative and positive aspects: the old ‘Chinese burn’ line, and the ’sell her to Arabs for a bit of extra cash to buy Church Dogmatics’ idea has gotten me into a bit of trouble — Thankfully, however, I have the most wonderful and understanding wife a man could hope for, so she quickly forgives me!

BB:Do you think that faith (or the lack thereof) is a boon or a bane to biblical exegesis?

CT:It’s difficult for me to answer this question as I have only ever had faith in doing biblical exegesis. Before I was a Christian, had someone said ‘biblical exegesis’ to me, I would have said ‘bless you’ and offered them a tissue. I can at least say that faith has certainly energised my own exegesis — at least, that is, when it was freed from the prison of Fundamentalism. Now it is not merely a task or a labour, but my hobby, a real pleasure — mostly. Unless we start talking about genitives.

BB:Or, to put it a bit differently, is presuppositionless exegesis possible?

CT:Well, like the next theologian who has been forced to down a hoard of ‘postmodern’ authors as an undergraduate, I’d have to say, no. And the picture of Dilthey’s ‘hermeneutical circle’ has forever lodged into my mind. If we use labels, I suppose I would be happily identified as a critical ‘critical realist’ (yes, two ‘criticals’!). Apart from the theoretical level, however, my own theological journey has shown me how powerful presupposition and perspective can be, both to distort and clarify. I can never jump out of my historical situatedness, and I believe the expectation for or assumption of absolute objectivity is just a dangerous mirage. However, when all of this is taken — and it sometimes sadly is — to justify a transparent apologetic strategy that seeks to ‘explain away’ problem texts or ‘defend the faith’, I think a good serving of logical positivism on toast for breakfast wouldn’t go amiss.

BB:When you complete your studies, what are your goals?

CT:Apart from being a good husband (and father?) and a passionately God-glorifying Christian, I plan to work in an academic institute teaching NT, and to bridge this with church ministry. Actually, my hope is to bring the two together (academia and church) in such a way that both can be benefited. As a ten to fifteen year plan, I also want to pursue the line of argumentation I am developing in my doctoral thesis in a work covering the entire early church period, not just Paul, and also to tease out certain implications of my thesis for other areas of Pauline study.

BB:Which blogs do you find most enjoyable?

CT:Hmm, it’s difficult to say, to be honest. There are so many fantastic blogs that my list would be a good deal longer than even my blogroll. And I’m discovering new ones all the time. Like the next blogger, I like those that are informative and thought-provoking, but I also appreciate straight-talk, but which nevertheless avoids taking itself too seriously. Being able to make a point without writing a 12 page essay is also important. My dearest friend Simon has his own blog (http://www.thelostmessage.blogspot.com/) which was part of the reason I started blogging in the first place. Besides, we have a long history together and the same brand of evil, twisted and depraved humour, so he’d need a mention. However, Ben Myers’ Faith and Theology was one of the first I found, and is still my favourite. My present fascination with things Karl Barth shaped is largely to be blamed on his posts. Then again, there is another who helped provoke me in a Brunner direction, but someone went and deleted his entire blog and changed its name to First Baptist Church of Petros — I could mention scores more, so I’ll stop before this gets out of hand. See my blog roll!

BB:Finally, tell readers something about yourself that they would find interesting or amusing. Jim Davila was a child actor on the Waltons. Have you done something similar or something amazing or something bizarre?

CT:Well, during my undergraduate studies in St Andrews I had an Old Testament / Dead Sea Scrolls lecturer who was a child actor on the Waltons.

Apart from that, I’m struggling to come up with something. I am no great football fan (for you Americans, that’s the game that involves, funnily enough, feet and a ball, i.e. soccer), but I was once given the chance to see England play live against Germany in Munich. And Germany are, well, the number one choice to beat apart from perhaps France. Honestly, few things could make an Englishman as pleased to be alive as to witness a win against Germany. I arrived at the stadium – the atmosphere was electrifying – and after a poor start, England went on to play a truly historic win, triumphing over the Germans 5 goals to 1. An absolute drubbing and I saw it all live!

There was, however, just one small problem: I could only get a ticket for the German stands — which, when England are scoring so many goals, spells ’serious predicament’. And so I was surrounded by hundreds of big, grunting, sausage eating, frustrated Germans getting ever more annoyed at their teams’ performance and the taunting of the English Fans. The desire to jump up and down with glee as each goal was scored was nicely balanced by the urge to avoid drawing attention to myself and end up having my face stamped on by a large herd of angry beer-filled Bavarians. A memorable experience.

BB:Thank you, Chris, for being willing to share with us your thoughts. Your blog is one of the most delightful of the biblioblogs and we look forward to more of the same excellent work.

CT:It was really an honour, and thank you very much for your kind words!

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