Monday, September 28, 2009

André Munzinger: Discernment and Identity Formation

Discerning the Spirits: Theological and Ethical Hermeneutics in Paul. By André Munzinger: Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 140. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, xv + 239 pp., $101.00, cloth.

Discerning the Spirits is a revision of André Munzinger’s 2004 doctoral thesis presented to Brunel University and the London School of Theology under the supervision of Max Turner, which argues that, for Paul ‘spiritual discernment…was dependent on a liberated perception of reality and mature self-understanding’ (xiii). Munzinger teaches at the Institute of Protestant Theology at the University of Köln and argues further that ‘discernment’ is ‘the nerve centre of Pauline thinking’ and functions as a ‘translation of the Christ-event into the particulars of everyday life’ (18). To substantiate his claim his work is divided into four parts. Part 1 (ch. 1) presents a study of discernment that is rightly expanded beyond a mere lexical analysis of diakrinō and dokimazō to include other words related to cognition. Part 2 (chs. 2-4) establishes that which is to be assessed, this includes an analysis of the ‘renewed mind’ (Rom 12:1), the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16), and Paul’s general epistemic framework, which Munzinger describes as ‘existential theologising’ (98, emphasis original). Part 3 (chs. 5-6) contextualizes the concept of discernment in Jewish and Greco-Roman literary sources and then argues that the agency of the Spirit results in transformed cognitive processes, ‘leading to a more authentic perception of both the self and others’ (160). Part 4 (ch. 7) summarizes his findings related to the role of the ‘mind of Christ’ and its ‘constitutive role in constructing and verifying meaning’ (191); and delineates contemporary theological and ethical implications of his study on transformed cognitive processes (194-96).

Munzinger has provided a helpful study on the interaction of the agency of the Spirit with existing cognitive processes which result in ‘transformed’ decision-making (188). The integrative concept of the ‘renewed mind’ which is equated with the ‘mind of Christ’ or ‘the mindset of the Spirit’; however, appears to function in an overly-individualistic manner and Munzinger’s construct may be critiqued for over-looking the communal aspects of the agency of the Spirit with regard to decision-making (35). In the context of 1 Cor 2:9-3:4 corporate epistemic issues are Paul’s concern and Munzinger’s one paragraph defense of his individualistic approach fails to convince (185-86). Besides, enfolding the communal orientation of Paul into an anachronistic individualistic orientation, Munzinger does not fully address the difference between the ‘renewed mind’ in Rom 12:2 and the ‘mind of Christ’ in 1 Cor 2:16. Specifically, the agency of the Spirit is not evident in Rom 12:2 and Munzinger’s allusion to Rom 8 (147 n. 32) to support his contention for the presence of the Spirit is not argued but simply asserted. Thus, this reviewer is not convinced that the ‘renewed mind’ of Rom 12:2 and the ‘mind of Christ’ in 1 Cor 2:16 are addressing the same cognitive processes.

Munzinger follows a universalistic approach to social identity and understands an ‘egalitarian’ impulse in Paul’s identity forming agenda (176). It is difficult to understand how Paul could be arguing for ‘love’ as that which ‘can level the differences of race, status, and gender’ when in 1 Cor 7:20 he actually argues that each person is to remain in the state in which they were ‘called’. Further, the transformed cognitive processes that Munzinger envisions actually may be employed for the construction of communal identity in the context of difference. William S. Campbell in Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity, argues that unity does not relegate difference (1 Cor 7:20; 12:12-13) but embraces ‘diversity not as a remaining vestige of human sinfulness, but as something perfectly in accord with the mind of Christ’ (94). These two minor issues aside, Munzinger’s volume provides useful information for those interested in Paul’s conception of discernment, pneumatology, or his approach to identity formation within the early Christ-movement. It is an excellent example of cross-disciplinary research providing both theological and ethical insights into the thinking of the Apostle Paul on this important ecclesiological and anthropological topic.

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