Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Just How Basic Is the Textual Theme of James?

These are serious time for your friendly neighborhood seminary students. We're in "reading week," and next week is finals week. I have just written my last seminary paper, and let me tell you, it feels incredible. Fellow seminarians, if you're wondering if finishing seminary really is all cracked up to be, consider this a news flash from me to you: it is. Riotous celebrating aside, here is an excerpt from my last seminary paper, an exegetical and theological look at the theme of James. My thesis is, to my knowledge, somewhat original, and I think that the paper is an interesting read. Email me at owendstrachan [at] yahoo.com if you want to read the whole thing.

"The book of James has long presented a battleground on which scholars have fought to determine what exactly the book means and whether James has a coherent message. Recent interpretation by scholars proves particularly interesting. Speaking generally, one finds that it breaks down into three schools: one group says that James has no message, another group emphasizes that James has a message, but that it is very basic and obedience-oriented, and a third argues that the letter deals with the rather focused theme of double-mindedness.

Though the first two schools have spoken loudly and have been received broadly, it is the purpose of this paper to argue that the book of James is written according to a clear, textured argument. James reveals that the community to whom he writes is filled with double-minded people who profess faith but fail to practice it consistently. His purpose in writing, then, is to expose this double-mindedness through numerous examples and illustrations and then to call for the salvation of these people, whose professed faith ultimately ends up being no faith at all.

This argument is based in the idea that James’s chief protagonist in this book is the dipsuchos, “double-minded man,” as introduced in 1:6-8. Of course, James is writing to this troubled soul even as he addresses the believing church body. He directly addresses the divided person but does so in the midst of a letter that is directed to true believers. James is thus seeking the salvation of some in the church who claim to possess a living faith but who in actuality possess a dead faith. The body of James’s letter includes the majority of this content, and his calls to salvation in 4:8 and especially 5:19-20 offer a fitting conclusion to the letter. Despite the fact that the body of the letter is less structured, and thus cannot be neatly grouped by theme, common themes of identity, action, and speech will emerge, revealing the double-minded man to be one who honestly thinks he is a Christian, but who in thought, word, and deed acts for himself and lives like the world, ultimately showing his profession to be just that: a mere profession, one that carries with it a sentence of eternal death."

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