Sunday, March 29, 2020

Introduction to 1 Thessalonians

I did explanatory notes on 1 Thessalonians about 12 years ago, but I didn't do an introduction. Thought I would write the introduction.
1. First Thessalonians is one of those few books in the Bible whose historical origins are a matter of widespread agreement. The first few chapters of the letter give a clear sense of its origins in a way that fits fairly neatly into the story of Acts. They suggest that the apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians while he was at Corinth somewhere around AD50 or 51.

The author is Paul. Over the years, there has been no real doubt of this likelihood. The audience are the Thessalonians. Acts tells us that Paul founded this church on his second missionary journey. He was not able to stay there long, perhaps less than two months, before he was forced to leave the city. [1]

Thessalonica was a large ancient city, the Roman capital of the region of Macedon. It was located on the Egnatian Way, the primary Roman road that continued on west toward Rome itself. Paul's interest in the city reflects his general mission philosophy to target large urban centers.

From the letter we can infer that the church there was primarily Gentile, non-Jewish in composition. They had "turned from idols to serve the living God" (1 Thess. 1:9). The fact that Paul refers to the church in the singular suggests that it primarily consisted of one house church and that all the believers in the city could likely fit in one large house. The church thus was probably forty people or less in size.

2. Paul's time in Corinth is perhaps the most datable moment in his ministry. The book of Acts mentions an encounter he had there with the proconsul Gallio, and Gallio's time in Corinth can be dated with some accuracy to 51-52AD. Since Gallio may not have finished his full time as proconsul, and since he came near the end of Paul's time there, we can suggest that Paul may have written 1 Thessalonians around the year AD50.

Acts gives us a picture of Paul moving from Thessalonica to Berea to Athens to Corinth. 1 Thessalonians confirms that Paul went to Athens at some point after being in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:3). In 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul indicates that he, Silas, and Timothy had arrived at some point in Athens after they had left Thessalonica. Paul and Silas send Timothy back to the city to check on their progress in faith.

Then Timothy returns to them. Although it is possible Paul and Silas were still in Athens when Timothy returned, 3:3 sounds more like they had moved on. Acts 17 gives us the impression that Paul did not stay long there or at least did not have a substantial ministry in the city. [2] For this reason, it seems likely that Paul was in Corinth when Timothy returned and thus that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth.

3. Paul writes 1 Thessalonians in response. Many, perhaps most scholars would consider 1 Thessalonians to be the first of Paul's writings. [3] In this letter we are thus perhaps seeing the beginning of Paul's letter writing as a ministry tool. Paul preferred to minister in person. His letters were a practical substitute for his presence.

There is thus a sense in which Paul's letters are filling in the gaps of the ministries he started when he was present. We are thus only indirectly getting the heart of his preaching. We are more getting the edges, the "clean up" of remaining issues. This is not entirely the case, but it is an important factor to keep in mind.

In the case of the Thessalonians, the primary issues that remained with the Thessalonian church had to do with eschatology--matters regarding the "end times," the "last days." Here we refer to the return of Christ from heaven to judge the world and set up the kingdom of God on earth. Paul's preaching on such things had presumably focused on the return of Christ to set up God's kingdom.

He does not seem to have spent as much time talking about the resurrection. Judging from 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, the once pagan congregation either had little sense of life after death. At the very least, they did not think those who died would be part of Jesus' coming kingdom on earth.

It is interesting that Paul only discusses the dead "in Christ." In other words, he is not obviously discussing the dead saints of the Old Testament. Indeed, in his writings Paul is almost entirely silent about the fate of any group of the dead except those who have died in Christ.

4. Timothy would seem to be the carrier of the letter. We can imagine that he took it back from Corinth to Thessalonica. We can imagine that he read the letter aloud to the assembly and fielded any questions they might have. We remember that most people in the ancient world were illiterate, so they would not have been able to take home a copy to read at home. They would have likely heard it read enough times in their house church until they had its content firmly in mind.

[1] Philippians 4:16 indicates that he was there long enough to receive support at least twice from the church at Philippi. We balance this comment with the three sabbaths that Acts 17:2 mentions and conclude that Paul was not in Thessalonica long but likely more than two weeks. Somewhere in between one and two months seems likely.

[2] 1 Thessalonians gives us a slightly different impression of events. In Acts, Paul leaves Silas and Timothy at Berea and does not see them again until Corinth (Acts 17:14; 18:5). However, 1 Thessalonians indicates that all three were in Athens, and that it was only Timothy who was separated from Paul. There may be some way to fit these accounts together, but such speculation probably is not helpful, especially since ancient history writing was more flexible than modern historiography. Clearly Paul's account, as the first-hand witness, should be given emphasis.

[3] Galatians is the principle alternative.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Is COVID-19 God's Judgment?

1. Whenever there is a disaster, it is natural for us to ask why, especially when we believe in a God whose has a defining characteristic of love. We find the same question in the Bible in more than one place. In Luke 13, Jesus addresses some Galileans that Pilate had killed and some people who had a tower fall on them in Siloam (Luke 13:1-5). Was it a punishment for their sin? What about the young man who had been born blind? Had his parents sinned or had he sinned to bring it on (John 9:2)?

The Bible does indicate that events can be a consequence of sin. Israel loses a battle with Ai because of Achan's sin (Joshua 7). The northern and southern kingdoms both meet their demise as a consequence of their sin (2 Kings 17, 24:3). And it is not just the Old Testament. Ananias and Sapphira die in Acts 5 as a result of their sin, and need we merely mention the book of Revelation.

2. It is important to have a "whole Bible" theology of such questions. Once we begin to read the Bible in context, we realize that we get different angles on these questions from different books. I have hypothesized often that there is a growing precision on some subjects in the course of the Bible. The afterlife seems to be an example of this dynamic.

Another example is what we might call Deuteronomistic theology. Deuteronomistic theology gives us a basic principle--obedience to God leads to blessing, disobedience leads to disaster. However, Deuteronomy and the historical books that follow it (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) only look at this question from the standpoint of this life. Those who teach a prosperity gospel tend to focus on these parts of the Bible while ignoring others.

However, it is clear that not all suffering is a consequence of sin and disobedience. Jesus denies it in John 9 mentioned above. Indeed, Isaiah 53 and Jesus himself illustrate that a righteous person can be persecuted unjustly. Ecclesiastes is rife with the sense that, from all appearances, it often looks like the wicked sometimes prosper and the "good die young."

Ironically, the most righteous king in 2 Kings, Josiah, dies prematurely in battle. The most evil king of Judah, Manasseh, has a long and prosperous reign and dies peacefully in bed. The situation deeply troubled many at the time. The generation that went into captivity felt like they were being punished for the sins of their parents' generation.

Psalm 44:17 captures this lament well: "All this came upon us although we had not forgotten you. We had not been false to your covenant." There was a saying that circulated around Israel: "Our fathers ate sour grapes, but it is our teeth that hurt" (Jer. 31:29; Ezek. 18:2). God says he is going to change the policy. From now on it will be the person who does the sin who will die, not their children or grandchildren (Ezek 18:4).

2. Here is a good illustration of growing precision within the pages of the Old Testament. "God has no grandchildren"--our eternal fate is a matter of our individual relationship to God, not that of our parents. It goes the other way as well--our eternal judgment is not a matter of our parents either.

There are still consequences to sin in this life, of course. If a mother takes drugs while pregnant, God may not intervene to protect the unborn child from the consequences. The child of an alcoholic parent may still have to deal with the psychological consequences of growing up in that environment.

The book of Job brings out the complexity of the situation. Job suffers even though he has not sinned. He never finds out why in the pages of the book. God comes to him at the end and basically tells him that understanding the situation is above his pay grade. Here is the final answer to the problem of suffering. God is in control. God is good and knows what is happening. We will never fully understand. We must simply have faith that "the judge of all the earth will do what is right" (Gen. 18:25).

Of course we know that Satan has made a wager with God from Job 1-2. Job never finds this out. In my Wesleyan theology, this is a good example of the fact that much of the suffering that happens in the world is a matter of God's permissive will rather than his directive will. That is to say, God does not directly order everything that happens.

God is sovereign. Nothing happens without God's permission. God is in control. God signs off on everything. But God gives some degree of freedom to the creation. God gives some degree of freedom to humanity and to the natural order. God knows what will happen, but he does not dictate everything that will happen.

There is of course a competing view, the idea that "everything happens for a reason." There is the Calvinist view that God specifically directs everything that happens. In my view, this makes God the author of evil. It makes the statement that God is love meaningless.

3. An important observation here is that the understanding of Satan is not present in the earliest parts of the Old Testament. Satan only appears in Job 1-2, 1 Chronicles 21, and Zechariah 3. It is common to think of Job as one of the earliest books of the Old Testament but in my view this is the common confusion of the subject matter of a book with the circumstances of its writing.

This is another example of growing precision in understanding as we move through the Bible. The earliest parts of the Bible simply ascribe all spiritual activity to God. This is not untrue, since God approves of everything that happens.

But it is not as precise as an awareness of Satan. Does God really directly send evil spirits on King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14)? Does God directly command that a person be born blind or deaf (Exod. 4:11)? These are true but imprecise statements. God signs off on everything that happens. But we now know that Satan is often the more direct instigator.

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in comparing 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1 The first says that God tempted David to sin. The second says that Satan did it. If we have no sense of a developing precision in understanding, these two passages will certainly seem to contradict each other. In the end, James gives us the final word: "Let no one say when tempted that God is tempting me. For God is not tempted with evil nor does he tempt anyone" (Jas. 1:13).

4. All of that is background to the question at hand. Is COVID-19 God's judgment in some way?

We can say with certainty that God has allowed COVID-19 to happen. God is in control. But we cannot say with any certainty whether God is judging certain people. That is above our pay grade. We have an urge to speculate on such questions, but Job tells us we must trust that God is in control and resist matters that are beyond our understanding. We are not competent to fish for Leviathan with a fish hook (Job 41:1)!

We can say that Christians will die. Indeed, some American Christians have been very resistant to believe in the current crisis. What if they had died in higher numbers as a result? Even if that had happened, Job would implore us not to conclude that such an eventuality would have been God's judgment on us in some way.

We can conclude that God has and will likely allow people to experience the consequences of their choices. We do not know the intentions or detailed actions of the Chinese government. But God has allowed China and the world to experience the consequences. I do not know whether the United States has mishandled the lead up to the crisis here. But God may very well let the rest of us experience the consequences.

In all this I remember that death is not so powerful in the face of Christ. Death has no victory over us! In my own journey with the problem of evil and suffering, a key conclusion has been that I give too much credit to death and suffering, as if they are a big deal.

God is a big deal. I am only a big deal because God loves me. My death is only a big deal because I am one of the sparrows God watches over.

So I will take precautions. I will be vigilant. I will heed the advice of experts. I will pray for my leaders. I will pray for others.

But in the end, "The LORD is with me. I will not be afraid what a mortal [or a virus] might do to me."

Sunday, March 01, 2020

What's a heresy?

Someone recently asked what a heresy was. Here is my answer.
1. First, heresy has to do with the beliefs of our head. In that sense:
  • Heresy is not about ethics. The Church in its earliest centuries did not largely fight over ethics but over beliefs. In that sense, it can be wrong do do something but it is not heresy to do something.
  • Heresy is not about salvation. God judges us according to our "heart," that is, our faith in him. Our decisions and actions flow from our heart toward God. Out of the heart thus comes forth sin and death. God does not judge us according to our beliefs except insofar as our beliefs are an expression of our hearts. This is the direction with which God is ultimately concerned--heart to action, heart to belief (not belief to action, not action in itself).
2. Heresy, properly so called, has to do with deviance from the ecumenical creeds (and thus dogmas) of Christendom.
  • Deviation with regard to the Trinity.
  • Deviation with regard to the resurrection.
  • Note that such heresies only became heresies after the ecumenical councils that finally brought those debates to conclusion. The author of Ecclesiastes was not a heretic for not understanding the fullness of life after death. Arius was not a heretic until after 381, after his death, when the Nicene Creed was finalized.
3. There are informal heresies, which approach heresies because they relate to the general consensus of the church (and thus to doctrines) but which are not addressed in the creeds.
  •  Open theism denies the absolute foreknowledge of God. This a "heresy light" because Christians everywhere have long affirmed the full foreknowledge of God. But the issue is not addressed in the creeds.
  • The inspiration of Scripture is the common belief of Christendom, but it has never been affirmed in an ecumenical creed nor has its precise nature ever been spelled out by the Church at large.
  • The belief that homosexual practice is acceptable in a monogamous relationship falls outside the consensus of Christianity throughout the ages. While the practice is a question of orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy, the belief stands outside the consensus of the Church.
4. Deviation from the particular beliefs of one's church or one's tradition stands outside debates over heresy, although it does relate to one's participation in a particular Christian community.
  • One's position on the nature of predestination, individual will, or eternal security
  • One's position on particular atonement theories or a teaching like eternal security.
  • One's position on the inerrancy of Scripture
5. There is a host of issues where one may have Christian convictions on an issue. This is where you believe God has bound you to a particular perspective and practice, but you do not see them as binding on others.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Discerning God's Will for Action

Here is the outline of a presentation I gave February 20 to a leadership development group of pastors in Western New York.
Discernment: To Go or Stay

1. Two Personalities/Biases I've seen:
  • Wait, don't act until the Lord tells you what to do. 
  • Move forward and the Lord will stop you if you go in the wrong direction.
Scriptures to support both:
  • "Wait on the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait, I say, on the Lord." Ps 27:14
  • "You will hear a voice behind you when you turn to the right or the left" (Isa 30:21)
One instance when we are probably hearing God is when we are impressed in a different direction than our natural tendencies.
2. I shared my process in coming to Houghton.
  • I had an impression of a change coming. It was both a push and a pull.
  • Outside factors included an empty nest, a sense that I was not as aligned with the direction of my situation as I used to be.
  • Inside was a sense that I either needed to return to teaching or move into more advanced leadership.
  • Doors opened.
  • There were a striking number of benefits to walking through the door.
  • I had an unusual peace about it.
3. There is not one answer for every situation.
  • Sometimes we have to wait because there is nothing we can do but pray. (Of course we should always be praying. We should always sit with a choice in silence before the Lord.)
  • Sometimes God wants us to wait on him when we could act but it is not his will.
  • Sometimes God makes it clear what we are to do and when we are to do it.
  • Sometimes we need to step out in faith without knowing for sure where we are going.
4. Impressions by Martin Wells Knapp
  • Scripture - "Impressions from above are always in harmony with the teachings of the Word."
  • conscience - Does the impression cohere with our core Christian values (love God, love neighbor)? (I have modified Knapp here)
  • providence - "If a leading is of God, the way will always open for it."
  • reason - God's leading usually makes sense.
5. An impression can begin with an outside push or a pull.
  • Your situation can get rough (a push).
  • Your situation can change in a way that requires choices.
  • A door can open and a new possibility present itself (a pull).
  • There's a time to stick it out. There is a time to shake the dust off your feet.
  • There can also be a time when you are ready to continue, but your influence is spent. You may want to stay but it would benefit the situation for someone else to take over.
  • There's a time to step out in faith. There's a time to wait for a door to open.
6. An impression can begin with something inside.
  • A "holy discontent" (but beware a personality always looking for greener grass)
  • A person can have a sense of release or a sense of ongoing burden.
  • God often gives us choices, gives us a say in what to choose. There isn't always just one will of God.
  • God interacts with our choices. He sometimes "changes his mind about judgment" (Jonah). He gives Hezekiah an extra 15 years. Sometimes he turns toward the negative (Saul, destruction of Jerusalem). 
7. Making decisions
  • An impression - peace? discontent? excitement? a possible word from the Lord?
  • What does Scripture and my conscience say? 
  • What doors are open and closed?
  • What are the pros and cons (reason)? Does it make sense?
  • What do others say, whose wisdom I recognize? Don't ignore the prophets you don't like!
  • Listen to the voice behind you.
8. A prayer
Lord, grant me the peace to wait on you when I cannot or should not act…
Lord, grant me the courage to act when it is time, even if I am uncertain of the direction…
Lord, grant me the wisdom to know the difference!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Through the Bible - The Book of Acts

Last year (2019) in March, I began a series on YouTube and Patreon called "Through the Bible in Ten Years." From March to the end of July, I did both video and podcast "Explanatory Notes" on the Gospel of Mark.

Beginning then on August 4, I began doing Explanatory Notes on the Book of Acts. Here are the links to the videos and podcasts in this series.

2.1 Introduction to Acts
2.2 Acts 1
2.3 Acts 2
2.4 Acts 3
2.5 Acts 4
2.6 Acts 5
2.7 Acts 6
2.8 Acts 7
2.9 Acts 8
2.10 Acts 9
2.11 Acts 10
2.12 Acts 11
2.13 Acts 12
2.14 Acts 13
2.15 Acts 14
2.16 Acts 15
7.2 Sidetrip to Galatians 1
7.3 Sidetrip to Galatians 2
2.17 Acts 16
2.18 Acts 17

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Finis - and the rest

previous post
1. I have now blogged through the first thirty years of my life in great detail. My memories are now eternal. I feel like I now need to divert the extra space of my attention to other things that have been crying out to me. I also have already blogged extensively about my remaining years.

As I was getting ready to depart Indiana Wesleyan last year, I blogged through my time there. That series started with the year 1996-97, when I was looking for a teaching position. There are more things to be remembered of a personal nature and I may return to fill those in at some point.

So here are the key personal points of the years 1996-2009:
  • Hired in 1997 by IWU to teach philosophy for a year
  • Continued on in 1998, first to teach philosophy but then as professor of New Testament
  • Married in 1998 to Angie with daughters Stefanie and Stacy - trips that year to England, Scotland, and Greece (for honeymoon)
  • Son Thomas born in 1999.
  • Daughter Sophie born in 2000.
  • Family trip to England, Scotland, and Paris in summer 2001, before 9-11
  • Angie's mom died in 2003. We had just returned from a cruise to celebrate five years of marriage.
  • Fulbright sabbatical to Tübingen in 2004. We lived in Bühl. Fulbright trip to Berlin. Methodistische Gemeinde (Iraq War)
  • Angie's father lived with us in Bühl the first half of the trip (bakery; Sportheim; gymnasium, stupid light). My parents came over. We went to Munich and visited Dachau again. My parents and I drove north to Nuremberg. Went through Oberammergau, drove to Neuschwanstein. They went to see the Grunewald altarpiece in Isenheim while I watched Tom.
  • Family trip to Milan as the basecamp (Last Supper by da Vinci), with trips to Venice and down to Florence (fantastic carbonara). Angie's dad went home. We spent a week in Mougins, France (pesky train porter)
  • Trips by Wilbur to Israel and Greece
  • Books published, papers presented
2. In 2009, Wesley Seminary was founded. These were incredible years of learning and creating. I have already self-published my thoughts on my six years as Dean. Again, that piece did not focus on my personal life:
  • Stefanie graduated from high school in 2010, went to Indiana University. Her quinceñera was in 2006.
  • Stacy graduated in 2011, also went to IU. Her quinceñera was in 2008.
  • Another Fulbright in 2011 to Munich, with Knut Backhaus as host. Fulbright orientation was in Göttingen, after which we went on up to Berlin. 
  • We took trips to Rome, Pisa, Venice, and Florence again (as basecamp). We went to Vienna and on to Budapest, as well as Prague in the Czech Republic. Angie wanted to visit a Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber as our departure approached. 
  • Stefanie, her friend Spencer, and Stacy came over for Christmas. We visited Tübingen and Bühl again, having supper with the Bisingers. 
  • My father died within a couple months of our return in 2012. This probably marks the end of the first half of my life.
  • Books and papers presented
3. At the beginning of 2015, I felt like it was time to let the seminary faculty create the seminary of their own choosing. I returned to teaching undergraduate New Testament on the undergraduate side in the fall of 2015. Here is the general flow of the last five years of my life:
  • Taught for the undergraduate School of Theology and Ministry 2015-2016. A year of self-discovery.
  • From 2016-2019 I became first the Interim and then the full Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry. These were definitely years of learning as I felt like my intuitions would have taken IWU in different directions than it was going.
  • Tom graduated from high school in 2018, got a full tuition ROTC scholarship for three years to Purdue.
  • Sophie graduated from high school in 2019, went to Pepperdine University.
  • In 2019 I felt like a change was approaching, either to go back to teaching or to move into a more significant leadership position. Houghton College stepped into that space.
  • Since August 15, 2019 I have been Vice President of Planning and Innovation at Houghton. Exciting times!

Durham - Final Year 14

previous post
93. My last year in Durham focused of course on my dissertation. I wrote the last chapter on the heavenly tabernacle, the aspect of Hebrews I found most intriguing. It involved some minute exegetical work on Hebrews 8-10. I had a big stack of books from the library next to my computer for footnotes.

I seem to remember Rachel Leonard saying that footnotes were pointless. She was doing psychology, so the footnotes did nothing but credit sources. However, in biblical studies the footnotes can be some of the most interesting side notes. In them we spar with our opponents and make interesting tangents. Of course many of them are mere catalogs.

I called some footnote work "footnote chasing." The footnotes helped me know who all the significant players were and what the significant positions were. A footnote in one book led to another book with its own footnotes, which led to other books.

Some scholars seem always to know what books have just come out. I'm not sure how they do it. Bill Patrick was that way. Dave Smith is that way. I know others like that, Brian Small, Scott Mackie. I always felt like I was behind on this one. I would use the library at Notre Dame or the book hall at the Society of Biblical Literature to try to catch up.

94. I did two appendices. One over-viewed the story world of Hebrews as a whole, the other tried to infer aspects of Hebrews' background from the work I had done.

I was struck by how short the first appendix was. It reflects an insight I have gained over the years. In the last few years, Indiana Wesleyan added a theology course to its general education requirements. However, I'm not sure if it really does what its framers thought it would. Much of theology does not directly impact Christian life. It may not make a person love God or their neighbor more.

Arguably, orthopraxy ("right practice") is of far more immediate and eternal importance than orthodoxy ("right belief"). [1] And the two aren't always closely connected. This is what I discovered with the story world of Hebrews. The same underlying story not only could have been discoursed in multiple ways. The same story could be argued from in many ways. The story itself potentially gives rise to many different realities. [2]

For this reason, a course on ethics--which was in harmony and dialog with theology and Scripture--would be much more powerful for students than one focused on theological ideas. And it would be very controversial. There are Christians who believe the right things who would view the current political situation in diametrically opposing ways. We return again to the Platonic fallacy. Right belief does not clearly lead to right action. Rather, humans tend to retrofit their ideas to fit their sense of action. Ideas are often "epiphenomena" of our social worlds. [3]

When I edited the dissertation into a monograph, I felt the need to add another chapter on the rhetorical strategy of Hebrews. Without a sense of the rhetorical situation arguing from the story, the story lies pretty facile and polyvalent. The substance of meaning comes as the story is discoursed.

The appendix on the background of Hebrews was indulgent. Narrative criticism brackets questions of historical background. But of course I was not exactly practicing narrative criticism. I was only using some of its tools. Still, I had tried to be exegetically disciplined in the study, not speculating on the key questions of background. Part of the introduction suggested that a disciplined approach that did not fill in gaps might result in an interpretation that would eventually help with background.

95. I discovered Craig Koester's The Dwelling of God in my final year. It had come out some seven years earlier. For a little bit, I was afraid he had already carved out the positions I was taking in my dissertation. It is of course death to find that you are not in fact doing something original. My narrative approach would have made it ok anyway. As I read through the work I found enough light between the two of us anyway.

I largely see the tabernacle in Hebrews as a metaphorical way of referring to the highest heaven where God dwells. I do not think Hebrews actually envisages an actual structure in heaven. I argue that Hebrews never pictures there being an outer room to the heavenly sanctuary. At best, one might consider the lower skies the outer room of a cosmological sanctuary but Hebrews never explicitly says this either.

96. Dunn's commentary on Colossians and Philemon came out in the spring of 1996. I can't remember if we spent a whole semester on Colossians, but I do remember us discussing Colossians 2 extensively. Dunn took the position that "worship of angels" in 2:18 did not refer to worshipping angels but to worshipping with angels. James McGrath and B. J. Oropeza were also there my final year.

In the spring, I think the research seminar looked at the Dead Sea Scrolls. Florentino Garcia's The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated came out early 1996. The whole Dead Sea corpus had only really come out around 1991. They had been hoarded since the 1940s by scholars who had divided the spoils and hoped to publish everything they could on their little fragment. But in 1991, the Biblical Archaeology Society published two volumes of photographs of the scrolls, mysteriously obtained by Robert Eisenman. The game was over.

I got into an argument with someone visiting John's over the Dead Sea Scrolls. She was convinced that the Roman Catholic Church had been hiding them because they proved that Jesus wasn't the messiah. It was completely ludicrous. But she wasn't having it. I think it was the first time I ever really lost my cool in a discussion.

91. I applied to teach at a college in southern England. I actually skipped coming home in the summer to interview. I missed a major family gathering honoring my parents in the lead up to their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

It was a bad decision. In those days, I sometimes felt like I made the wrong decisions when faced with two alternatives. I didn't get the job. It was a catholic college that ended up closing a couple years later anyway. Then over Christmas I skipped out on an interview that I might otherwise have got. It was in Manchester, seems like it was the Nazarene Theological College.

So I went to one I should have skipped and skipped one I should have gone to. My daughter Sophie reminds me that if I had stayed in England, she would never have been born. So there's the paradox of life. Good things can come out of bad choices. That doesn't make the choices good. But God can redeem anything.

92. The summer before my final year, Principal David Day had the idea of a dictionary of theological figures of sorts. I was to write four entrees: Nietzsche, Feuerbach, and two others I don't remember. So after returning from Germany, I spent the end of the summer reading through a good deal of Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, Ecce Homo, and others. As far as I know, the dictionary was never published.

93. I remember three major trips my last year. I've already mentioned the trip to Ireland with David Fox and Rachel Leonard in early 1996. Neil Evans graciously drove around Scotland with me. We went all the way to the tip of Scotland at John O'Groats. We briefly touched on St. Andrews and Aberdeen. We hit Inverness and came down the west side to Fort William, passing Loch Ness on the way.

I also met up with my old friend Todd Thompson at Sheffield. He was trying to do the same thing in philosophy that I did with New Testament. We headed south to Stonehenge and down as far as Cheddar. I had hoped to get to Cornwall, but it was just too far.

I remember thinking about the soul sometime that year. For the next few years, it seems like a lot of people were discussing the contrast between Christian resurrection belief and the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul. They are not the same. Resurrection is about the transformation and/or re-creation of our bodies for the kingdom of God. Immortality of the soul is not the primary mode of afterlife belief in the New Testament, although it is not incompatible with New Testament belief.

My question was this. If resurrection does not involve a soul, then how is it different from cloning a person and giving the clone the memories and personality of the original person. Where is the continuity of personhood? A computer might have all my memories and personality, but would that make it me? The convenience of belief in the soul provides continuity of personhood.

There's plenty of discontinuity even in our own lives. "Each man in his time plays many roles." There is some continuity of the person who grew up in Wilton Manors, but a lot has certainly changed. Am I the same person in the morning who went to sleep. "Sleep is a kind of dying." [4]

94. I had my dissertation done by the beginning of summer, 1996. I had missed the deadline for submission to graduate in August, so my parents and I flew back for the December graduation. We had lunch with Dunn thereafter in a restaurant this side of the Silver Street Bridge.

Before I left in the summer, Frances Young was my external examiner and Loren Stuckenbruck my internal. They passed me with only a few grammatical pointers. She did have some questions about my hermeneutics. I don't think she and Jimmy were exactly on the same page hermeneutically.

I don't remember on exactly what, but she did push quite hard on some issue. I thought I was going to have to do major revisions. I finally conceded and said something like, "I will have to look into that." Then she eased off and said, "I want you to know that we are pretty positive about your dissertation." So that was nice. It's not a "viva" unless you sweat a little, I guess.

I had hoped to have a teaching job lined up for the next year. I figured that, if I could get an interview, I would be able to move them in my direction. But I didn't even get an interview in the US. Seems like I applied to several. I remember the University of Louisiana being one of them. I wondered if I would have more contacts in the US if I had studied at a US school.

I often thought to myself in those days, "Everyone's happy to take your money but then it all dries up when you want a job." I was looking for a teaching job at a research institution. It was not to be.

[1] Ortho-volition is of the most eternal importance. With regard to the primary of choices over beliefs per se, Kierkegaard put it well: "What I really need is to become clear in my own mind what I must do, not what I must know… except in so far as a knowing must precede every action." It is amazingly possible to believe all the right theological ideas in general and yet do atrocious things.

[2] The underlying Christian story behind the New Testament is largely the same. What makes the theologies and ethics of the New Testament authors distinct is how they argue from that story. Indeed, this was one of the key insights of Richard Hays' work on Galatians--Paul and his opponents were largely arguing over the interpretation of the same story.

At some point the historical story lies in some relation to the theological story. The relationship could be close or tangential. For Bultmann, the historical Jesus was tangential to the theological story beneath the New Testament. For me, of course, it is much more closely related.

[3] An "epiphenomenon" is something that is a by-product of something, rather than part of its substance. Might we say that the beauty of a rainbow is not part of the substance of rainbow creation but we enjoy it all the same.

[4] At some point I had the fun thought of how eternal security could work. All God would need to do is resurrect a person at a point before he or she fell away.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Tübingen - Trips 13

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89. I was able to do a few trips while I was in Germany to finish out the days on my Eurail pass. I drove with someone, I think Reinhard, to the Bodensee for a day (Lake Constance). On the way we passed by the castle Hohenzollern.

Over the years, I have had a hard time getting my head around the way Germany has been structured politically. My main stumbling block was in fact thinking of this region as being "Germany" in the first place. Germany really was not an entity until 1871 when the Hohenzollern family became monarchs, and even then it wasn't exactly the same region as today. Before then, this region was a collection of little territories, little kingdoms of a sort. They were all German, but they weren't Germany.

You see castles all over Germany. These were all domains of various sizes, fiefdoms, all under the Holy Roman Empire, mostly the Hapsburgs in what we would call Austria today. Napoleon's conquest ended the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. These were more independent than the states we have today in the US. So there is a lot of local flavor, especially in those areas like Bavaria that were once their own kingdom.

I'm pretty sure I took a train out to Vienna. Quite a Ken thing to do. Vienna is way on the east side of Austria. I didn't spend the night. I basically rode all day on a train so I could spend just a few hours at the palace in Vienna. Even then, I found the Baroque colors of gaudy yellow and puke green unpleasant. I didn't even get off at Salzburg. It did look pretty from the train.

90. I went to the Black Forest with someone at one time to Bebenhausen, a cloister that had not been bombed in World War II. The region in general in which Tübingen is located is called Swabia. It's actually in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The Swabians, like the Bavarians to the east, had their own dialect of a sort. Alex Jensen (from Hamburg in the north) used to joke about not being able to understand the Swabians. They might say, "I muss schaffe gange" instead of "Ich muss gehen zum arbeiten."

I had a radio of some sort in the Kellar of the Michelhaus. I learned more fifties and sixties American music there than I had ever learned in the States. "Neckar Altradio" (Neckar is the river that runs across Tübingen).

I'm sure I visited Stuttgart on one or two occasions. There wasn't really much for me to do there other than eat. Nevertheless, it was the passing through point in and out of Tübingen.

91. Another very typical Ken trip was a one day turn around to Berlin. I only had one day to spare on my Eurail pass, so I left on the earliest train to Berlin of the day, around 4am. I arrived in Berlin around 11am. I walked from one end of Berlin to the other in about three hours. Then I ate and hopped on another train back to Tübingen, arriving about 10pm.

I took the subway all the way to the Fernsehturm on the east side and walked all the way back. The Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz is the television tower in east Berlin that you see in the first Jason Bourne movie. At that time, we were only six years out from the fall of the Berlin wall. Let me say again that the stark difference between bleak east Berlin and vibrant west Berlin was obvious.

I walked to the Bundesreich, which at that time was still not yet in use. Then there was the Brandenberger Tur which stood at the cusp of "no man's land." I had to go a little bit to the north to find a little chunk of the Berlin wall, since most of it had been demolished. On to the Victory Column in the middle of the Tiergarten. Yes, there were nude sunbathers there. [1]

Soon I was back at the Gedächtniskirche, the "church of remembrance." They left the bombed old church standing next to a not so attractive new cube church to remember WW2. This is not a remembrance like Civil War statues in the south seem to be. Civil War statues in the south seem to function as "we were right and shouldn't have lost" memorials. The Gedächtniskirche is a reminder of what happens when you let fascism and hate take over. It's a reminder never to let things like the Holocaust happen again.

Germany only had republican democracy for about fifteen years from 1918-1933, the Weimar Republic. Only after WW2 did representational democracy take hold. At the moment, Germany is one of the most successful democracies in the world. You can never take such things for granted of course. The temptation to protect your perceived herd at the expense of all others is always lying at the door. This herd mentality always threatens to overthrow an egalitarian society.

92. So my two months in Germany in 1995 came to an end. It was Tübingen to Stuttgart to Karlsruhe to Paris with a mess of luggage. A lovely overnight in Paris at the Hôtel Régyn. Eurostar at Gare du Nord to Waterloo Station London, sitting next to the older Russian woman I mentioned earlier. Kings Cross to Durham.

[1] Nude bathing was certainly something different to see in Germany. There was nothing really sensual to the nude sunbathers in Berlin as far as I could tell. Let's just say there weren't any models sunbathing in the park.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Tübingen - Dissertation 12

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86. I believe I wrote the chapter of my dissertation on dualism in Hebrews while I was in Germany. It is not the best chapter. I had a sneaking suspicion that there was a deeper background understanding of the Greco-Roman world that I was missing and that I was being reductionistic.

On the other hand, I often had that feeling when I shouldn't have. In my first few years at IWU I had a chance conversation with Greg Sterling in the stacks of the Notre Dame Hesburgh library. I asked him whether he knew some great resources on this very question. I had read some of the ones he mentioned in my first year in England. I left the conversation feeling like I was more on top of things than I feared.

When I returned to Tübingen on sabbatical in 2004, I would extensively use the Theologicum, the fantastic theological library of the university. I don't remember using it quite as much my first time there. The library of Durham somehow did not seem to have as much, and often when I wanted a book there, it seemed to be checked out.

One of the big questions was whether Hebrews pictured the full removal of the created realm in Hebrews 12:27. I had read something in Thompson's Beginnings that gave me that inkling and it seemed to fit with the overall pattern of dualism I was observing. This was a dualism not so much between matter and non-matter but between that which is created and the heavenly realm that is not created.

However, these were the days before I had really explored the topic of creation ex nihilo. When I later worked on Philo and other projects, I would more fully realize that this idea did not really become solidified in Jewish and Christian thinking until around AD200. [1] I remember that, when I taught for Notre Dame in my early days at IWU, I was thinking that 2 Maccabees 7:28 was the first instance of ex nihilo belief.

But what I came to understand is that I was reading verses like Gen. 1:1-2, 2 Macc. 7:28, and Heb. 11:3 with later theological glasses. The underlying assumption of the ancient world was that existence was not conceived so much in the ontological way of my modern worldview but in the sense of order and functionality. In the ancient worldview, when God created, he took orderless chaos and made things to exist. It is currently the consensus that the Gnostic controversies are what solidified the ex nihilo perspective.

But if creation in Hebrews is the ordering of chaos, not creation ex nihilo, then it would make sense to say that the removal of the creation is not annihilation, but reformation.

I do therefore believe that I was wrong on one of the key ideas in Hebrews for which I am known--the annihilation of the cosmos. I presented a tentative paper to this end at Pepperdine a few years ago in honor of James Thompson. Sometime soon I need to publish the error of my way in a journal somewhere. I saw Thompson in November and he welcomed my submission.

87. My dissertation had two main sections after the introduction. There were two chapters on the setting of Hebrews' story in time and two on the settings of Hebrews in space. By the time I went to Germany, the two chapters on time were drafted. One addressed the overall division of time into old and new covenant. [2] The second looked more at the trajectory of time, the destiny of humanity. Originally I had thought to do the entire narrative substructure of Hebrews, but it was too much.

I'm quite sure I had also produced a draft of the introduction in my first year. The introduction of course either has to be modified after the whole book is written or perhaps even should be written entirely at the end. Almost all dissertations grow and evolve in the process of writing, so you don't entirely know what you are introducing until it is finished.

Of course one almost always writes material that doesn't get in the final piece. I think I wrote a chapter on the structure of Hebrews in my first year. I read through George Guthrie's The Structure of Hebrews, which had just come out.

However, I was also taken with Walter Überlacker's rhetorical approach (Der Hebräerbrief als Appell), which saw the first two chapters of Hebrews as a kind of narratio, with 2:17-18 as the propositio. When I was at the University of Kentucky, I had done a paper on George Kennedy's New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism and was fascinated with the application of insights from ancient rhetoric to the New Testament.

88. I had the opportunity to go to lectures but my German wasn't good enough to get much out of them. I think I did go with Christoph to one in the later part of my stay. It was on Karl Rahner and the idea of "anonymous Christians." Rahner is a Roman Catholic who has argued that there are individuals who have a heart of faith but their head does not know Christ. The lecturer was arguing against the idea.

One application of this concept would deal with individuals who have never heard about Jesus. Picture a Native American in the year 1200. Picture someone in a remote part of South America. If they must confess Christ with their head, they are doomed to hell. They have never heard of Christ. It is simply not possible.

Now some have testified to an appearance to them before they heard the name of Christ. I have found people to be very sympathetic to the idea that, if Jesus appears to someone and they don't know what to call him, they can still be saved by faith even though they do not know his name.

The harder suggestion of Rahner is with a person who, because of where they were born, might think that Christianity is evil. Is it possible for there to be a person who, with their head, thinks that Christianity is evil, and yet has a heart of faith toward God? [3] Can one actually have faith in their heart even though they do not with their head?

I think broader evangelicalism would tend to say no to this question. However, Wesleyans tend to be more pietistic than high Protestantism. I remember growing up with the concept of God judging us according to the light we have, a Quaker idea. I grew up with the idea that God "lightens everyone coming into the world" and that, as Romans 1 puts it, God's divine power is known by all so that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

I thus consider it within the scope of Wesleyan thinking to entertain Rahner's thought as a possibility. Certainly it is in keeping with Wesleyan theology to believe that God does indeed give every human a chance to be saved. Although I am not certain if Wesley took this step, the very idea of prevenient grace is that the Spirit reaches out to everyone and gives them the opportunity to be saved.

By contrast, the idea that God only chooses some--and thus that those who have not heard are just some of those not predestined to be saved--is not in keeping with Wesleyan thought. I cannot answer the problem of suffering and evil if you must have knowledge to be saved. The idea does not cohere with the character of God if we believe that all will face eternity and judgment. [4]

I sit loosely to these ideas, knowing they are controversial. I also know that they could be used to undermine evangelism. My response to this charge developed when I self-published a little booklet, The True Wesleyan. My hypothesis is that there is a threshold of light God gives to all. But a person can have much more light. Is it possible that our prayers, a Christian home, and other opportunities make it even more likely that we will believe?

If so, then our opportunity for faith is not equal but it is fair. Evangelism, unless it is done counterproductively, thus only increases the likelihood of faith.

[1] I think a chapter by David Winston in the Studia Philonica Annual was instrumental here.

[2] When I was working on Understanding the Book of Hebrews (a more general overview of Hebrews from the perspective of story), Carey Newman suggested I look at the story of Hebrews from a more global perspective (he was my publisher at Westminster John Knox). Something like creation-fall-redemption-salvation-consummation. My response was that this was a broader theological perspective on time and that I was interested in the way Hebrews itself conceptualized time.

[3] I say Christianity rather than Jesus, since for example Muslims have a generally positive view of Jesus, although not as God.

[4] If one were an annihilationist rather than believing in eternal punishment, the idea would be more theologically coherent.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Tübingen - Speaking German 11

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80. I remarked as I left my two months in Germany that my German friends knew more about my visit than I did. I considered myself quite fortunate to have Christoph Lorentz as my friend as I came to stay in Tübingen. I arrived in either May or the first of June. Soon I met his close friends Reinhard Schmoltz and Gottfried Eberspeicher.

The rules were that they were not allowed to talk to me in English until I had a total language breakdown. That pretty much took place every sentence at first. I had not trained to speak German. I had studied to read German--biblical studies in German in particular.

It must have seemed to them that I didn't know any German at all. I have sometimes had the impression that some students from Asia I've known must have learned English the way I learned German. Sure, I did some records and tapes. But I learned German and French primarily from a grammatical point of view. I knew some vocabulary. I knew some sentence structure.

But words did not flow from my subconscious. Every sentence was like a homework exercise. Subject... auxiliary verb in the right form... direct object... participle... It was horrible. Christoph and the others were so patient. Reinhard and Gottfried used it as a chance to practice their English.

81. Most people in Western Germany also spoke English. They had a pretty positive, friendly view of the US in those days. It was very typical for people to want to try to practice English with me.

I met Frau Michel's son-in-law once, I believe it was. He was raised in east Germany. While the west Germans learned English as a second language, he had learned Russian as a second language. I remember him saying something like, "Die deutsche Zunge war nicht gemacht, russisch zu tonen." "The German tongue was not made to make the sounds of Russian."

I might add that I was in Germany five years after its reunification and six years after the Berlin War fell. It created quite a financial burden on west Germany. Make no mistakes, the communist economic system was and is a complete failure. I have a German friend whose father committed suicide in the 90s, I believe, because of the financial loss that followed reunification. Unification was the right thing to do, but the capitalism of west Germany had to absorb the economic wasteland of the east.

So the decision had already been made to relocate the German capital in Berlin. The capital of west Germany, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD) had been in Bonn. Berlin had been a divided city, half BRD and half DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik)

82. German gradually moved into my subconscious. I used to view fluency in a language as an all or nothing thing. Either you are fluent or you aren't. I have come to view it as a continuum, a sliding scale.

So I became fluent in certain conversations. I became very good at the "first meeting" conversation. The first minute of a conversation with a new person often goes very much the same. "Ich heisse Ken." "My name is Ken." I'm told my pronunciation was pretty good. So a person might think me fluent for a minute or so.

But I was not fluent in, say, getting a car wash.

We ate at one of the dining courts ("Mensa") on Wilhelmstrasse. There I was introduced to the Kirsch-Banane drink, a cherry-banana drink. Wunderbar!

In the Zentrum, the Marktplatz, the old part of the city, there was the opportunity for Wurst--Bratwurst, Currywurst, and Rotwurst. The Pommes frittes (french fries) with mayonnaise were good too. There was also a chance for Doner kebab. Das schmeckt gut! (that tastes good).

Then I might sit on the stairs of the Stiftskirche (the "pen church") and eat a kebab. Once I did this and Martin Hengel casually and somewhat absentmindedly wandered by. I didn't say anything to him, just smiled.

83. Lichtenberger inevitably had to speak English to me. I got a little better over my time with him but not good enough.

Even when I returned in 2004, my German was still quite lacking. A funny moment in that stay--I'm quite sure--was a paper I gave at a methodische Seminar in Reutlingen. I wrote the paper and tried to translate it into German. I'm sure it was half hilarious and half incomprehensible. I think I titled it something like, "Weltraum und Zeit in Hebräerbrief." I was going for "Space and Time in Hebrews," but Weltraum is more like outer space rather than the kind of space I had in mind.

During my first stay, I remember a man asking me how to get to the train station. I said, "Über die Brücke und geradeaus." My accent must have betrayed me. The man responded in English with a smile, "Over the bridge and straight ahead."

84. I wasn't able to speak much with Frau Michel until near the end. My main responsibility, in addition to rent, was Kehrwoche or Kehrstrasse. On Saturdays, I was expected to sweep the small sidewalk in front of the house. It took about five minutes.

I did meet with her, a young woman who took care of her, and one other person near the end of my stay. I hated that my German was no better than it was. There is so much I could have asked and learned.

In that conversation I learned that she had three sons that died in WW2. One died in a car accident, I believe. One died in battle. The third somehow was killed by a plane propeller.

Of her husband, Otto Michel, she spoke in understatement with a sly grin. I think she said something like, "Es ist manchmal schwierig zu wohnen mit jemandem der immer richtig ist." "It is sometimes difficult to live with someone who is always right." I think her children were somehow part of the comment as well.

At another point the question of Bultmann came up. Perhaps I asked her if she had known him. She said something like, "Er hat einmal in unserem Haus geblieben, aber er war natürlich ganz anders von uns." "He stayed in our house once, but he was of course completely different from us."

She gave me a copy of Michel's commentary on Hebrews as a parting gift. She even signed and dated it. It was quite lovely to stay with her. I think her house was something like Hauffstrasse 14 or 16.

85. For worship, I attended an English speaking fellowship run by Scott Caulley. At that time, he was in charge of the Institut for Christian Studies founded by Loren Stuckenbruck's father. That was a  nice, small worship opportunity in the Disciples of Christ tradition.

Near the end of my stay, Reinhard thought I had become good enough at my German for him to begin to practice his English. It was quite good. When I was on sabbatical in 2004, he was just barely still in town. He was just about to move, as was Christoph. My children called him "reindeer."

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Paris to Germany 10

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76. The main reason I am writing these memories is my realization that they will only drift away more and more as I get older. My memories are not important, but it pains me to think of losing them. With every death, a chunk of history is lost, and I am an ideological hoarder.

I was not caught off guard, but it was still sobering to think of the loss of memory that happened when my father died. There are things I could have asked him the week before he died that will never be answered now. Even though they are insignificant, the web allows my memories to live forever.

77. I don't remember all the details of how I ended up going to Germany. I imagine that I got the idea from Christoph and Alex. I had of course heard of Tübingen at least since seminary. It was the place where Julius Wellhausen had developed JEDP. It was the place where F. C. Baur had applied Hegel's dialectic to the evolution of early Christianity. In fact Hegel himself had studied there.

I must have inquired with Dunn, and in typical form he made things happen. He arranged for me to meet with Hermann Lichtenberger while I was there. Then perhaps Lichtenberger arranged for me to stay with Frau Michel, whose husband had just passed in 1993. [1]

I stayed in Tübingen in June and July of 1995. I believe my parents came over just before to spy out the land. My dad had not been to England or Europe since World War II, and my mother had never been. We drove to Cheltenham, where he had been stationed when he first shipped to Europe. Perhaps we drove to Paris. [2] My dad had gone on leave at least once to Paris during the war, of course after it was liberated.

When we heard there was going to be a strike, we left early on a Sunday morning from Gare de l'Est. I wish I could remember our precise path. I know we took a train from Paris to Germany. It makes sense that we would go first to Mannheim, where my dad was stationed just after the war ended. On the way, the train passed Nancy, France, where my dad was I believe when the war ended. The factory in Mannheim where he had been stationed was now a Mercedes plant, I believe. [3]

I will say that in Germany there was a tinge of my Dad having to adjust his thinking from fifty years earlier. When he had been there before, the Americans were in charge. Now the Germans were equals. Another interesting thing I noticed in Germany were buildings with one year for the first floor and another year and style for the upper floors. Clearly most of Germany had been blasted to bits during the war.

It makes sense that we would go to Tübingen next to meet Frau Michel. I would live in her basement for two months (Keller). Some other scholar had just left, maybe Robert Jewett.

I believe we then continued on to Munich for the night. We visited Dachau the next day. From Munich we went to Zurich and on to Bern. We had something like a three country pass in five days, so our intention was to do France, Germany, and Switzerland. In typical Ken fashion, I did not anticipate that the train went very briefly through Austria. It was something like 20 miles or so. My dad had to cough up train fare through Austria for three people.

My dad had taken leave in Bern once while he was stationed in Mannheim. That was the attraction to go there. I believe it was not entirely different from what he remembered. Then it was back to Paris, back to London, and my parents returned home.

78. I think I stayed in Paris three more times that summer. It's hard to believe that I would go back to England in the middle of my stay in Germany but it seems like I did for some reason. Here are the fragments of my memory.

There was no internet in those days, no Google, so I made my plans by way of travel books. [4]  That's how I found hotels. My front weapons were thus a small French or German pocket dictionary and a travel book for either Britain, France, or Germany.

Back in my room were books on conversational French and German. I always tried to prepare myself in advance for such trips. I always wanted to speak the language. The idea of using English was anathema to me. I have never understood the presumptuousness of Americans who expect everyone else to speak English when you're in their country. I find this quite angering, to be honest.

When I first headed for Tübingen, I stayed in a hotel I found in a book in Montmarte. I believe it was called the Hôtel Régyn, just outside the Abbesses stop on the Métro. It is in Montmarte, just south of Sacré Coeur. There was also a small place to eat just across the street, I think Le Saint Jean.

I believe I took a Hovercraft across the channel the first time. It was the usual struggle with a box full of books and my rucksack full enough to break my back. I arrived in Paris with just barely enough time to get to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa. I was never able to get back. It was always closed by the time I arrived in Paris.

I had arranged though to have a day to look around. I saw Notre Dame and the Champs-Élysées. I did not go up the Tour Eiffel, but I went to see it. I went out to Versailles. I actually found the city quite sewery in general, but I have good memories of it.

Then it was from Gare du Nord to Stuttgart, Stuttgart to Tübingen. Train station to Frau Michel's house.

79. I'll mention my intermittent trip here now. I wanted to get to Hamburg, where Alex was from, so I took a ferry back to Durham from Hamburg to somewhere like Hull. When I returned to Tübingen, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris through the chunnel. I booked a round trip ticket for my final return in July. I've already mentioned that I sat next to someone who had seen Anastasia before she was executed.

When I called the Hôtel Régyn for my final stay, I tried to speak to the hotel in French. But by that time, every time I tried to speak French, it came out German. The hotel person was not amused. He did not speak German. Finally, I spoke English and he was fine again.

[1] It is fascinating how easy it is for me to find out such things now that Google exists. I did not realize how recently Otto Michel had passed when I was there. I certainly knew nothing of his past with the SA and such. No one really did at that time.

[2] We must have driven at some point in Paris because we have a picture of my mother stuck in the car in Paris. She had put her coat on in the car after her seat belt and so found herself initially unable to get out of the car.

[3] Every time we drove south of Gainesville, Florida on 1-95 in Florida my dad would mention coming down to the plains of Westphalia into Germany from France. That's a bit north of where we were. I remember my dad saying that there had been a sniper in the plant when it had been cleared out, not long before he arrived in Mannheim.

[4] Durham had just gotten email. My mother, who hardly ever had received a letter from me, now could expect to hear from me more regularly.

Monday, January 27, 2020

England - Second Year 9

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71. I went home for a brief visit in late summer. Then I was back for Michaelmas in October. Second time teaching Greek. Another year as residential tutor. More acting and singing.

Christoph Lorentz was back to Tübingen. Helen Fox was off to continue her life. There was no more rowing team.

I did run my first marathon the next summer in Leeds. I did my training, but about mile 18 I hit the well-known wall. I came up over a hill to see another gully and another hill. I thought to myself, "I'll just walk up this next hill then start running again."

But I was unable to start up again. I little bit of Orangina at a hydration station might get me going for a few feet, but I mostly walked the last eight miles. It was very annoying, because the last few miles were well downhill, but I just couldn't get going.

I tried to jog the last few hundred meters. A 70 year old man pulled up beside me. He had run a marathon the previous Saturday in Belgium. Very humbling... especially when I suddenly developed a cramp in my leg and had to limp across the finish line. "Don't stop now!" The very few people left yelled from the sidelines.

I had fish and chips in a nearby chippy afterwards. Very greasy. One of the best meals I had for my whole time in Britain. :-) [1]

I couldn't let that be my last marathon so my final year I ran in the London marathon. I was determined never to stop. Even if I slowed down to a pace that could hardly even be called a run, I must not stop. And I didn't. I believe it was 4 hours and 20 minutes.

72. Christoph left and Alex Jensen came. Alex was not a stereotypical German. He was from Hamburg in the north and also a Tübingen student.

Alex's very first degree was a PhD. It takes seven years to get your first undergraduate degree in Germany. I've also mentioned already that you have to do the equivalent of two doctorate degrees to get a teaching post in Germany.

So Alex did a year abroad in Durham in something like his sixth German year. Then he switched to Durham as a master's student. Then after satisfactory process, I think with Stephen Barton, he became a PhD student. He did his work on theological hermeneutics and the Gospel of John.

Alex was a hoot. In his early days you could tell when he didn't understand what you had said because he would go "uh huh." Of course my German was much, much, much worse than his English.

I believe it was in my third year that George van Kooten wandered through Durham from the Netherlands. He has gone on to become quite a significant scholar at Cambridge. I saw him this fall at SBL.

73. With the departure of Sandy Wedderburn, Loren Stuckenbruck came to the university my second year. Postgraduates had participated in the sample lectures at the end of the previous year. Another well-known scholar also presented. I enjoyed that presentation as well. He suggested that the Jews would have likely understood the star over Bethlehem to be some sort of heavenly being.

But Stuckenbruck's presentation was clearly the best. He fielded the questions well and did a great job teaching. Over the years, I have found him to be one of the most personable brilliant people I know. He's clearly a genius, so it is always a little surprising to find him also to be one of the most helpful of people. It always seemed like he bent over backward to help students on their path, even well beyond graduation. It didn't matter whether a person was his student or not.

His work on Angel Veneration and Christology was helpful to my work on Hebrews, since he deals with Hebrews 1 in his book. He studied with James Charlesworth at Princeton and so was particulary good when it came to the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Jewish literature. In recent years he has been heavily involved with the Enochic literature.

I was also sad to see Bruce Longenecker leave Cranmer at the end of my first year. Bruce is the son of well-known evangelical scholar Richard Longenecker. He is currently thriving at Baylor and has a great book on Pompeii coming out next month.

So in my second year we also interviewed for Bruce's replacement, who would eventually be Mark Bonnington. I don't remember the name of another person who interviewed but he didn't choose a good topic for the setting. I felt sorry for him but it was pretty amusing.

His paper was on the seven last words of Jesus. [2] He basically did a historical Jesus study on the words, asking which words it was likely that Jesus actually said. Principal David Day wasn't impressed. He made some snarky comment like, "So you're saying that Haydn got it all wrong? Good luck with that."

74. I believe Dunn was working on a small commentary on 1 Corinthians in my second year. So the graduate seminar worked through 1 Corinthians. It was incredibly helpful and enjoyable. It was because of that semester that I would jump at the chance to write a commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians for the Wesleyan Commentary series.

Scholars would occasionally come through. Paul Trebilco wandered through Durham one semester. Carl Holladay appeared. I seem to remember a brief exchange with him about coming from a fundamentalist background. I got the impression that a lot of prominent mainstream New Testament scholars had come from more sectarian backgrounds.

Ralph Martin gave a presentation once. I remember being struck with how "in progress" his work was. It gave me hope. I felt pretty inferior in those sessions. I felt like if I would say anything, I would inevitably look stupid. There would be some obvious work that I should know about but didn't.

Stephen Barton encouraged me once on this score. He said I always prefaced my comments with something like, "this probably is overlooking something but ..." Yet he said my questions and comments were always helpful or insightful. That was encouraging.

75. I believe it was at the 1995 British New Testament Conference that I presented a paper. My paper was "Did Hebrews Know Wisdom?" In it, I argued that the book of Hebrews demonstrates an awareness of the book of Wisdom.

[1] I had some family friends do a bus trip around England, and they stopped down at the Durham City Centre. They had seen enough castles and cathedrals so weren't interested in seeing another one. But they were up for some fish and fries. The most memorable moment was when he complained something like, "What do I have to do to get some ketchup for these fries?"

[2] There's a famous piece by Haydn called The Seven Last Words of Christ. We may have even performed it that year. I can't remember.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

England - Problem of Evil 8

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67. In the early 90s, the biggest challenge to my faith was not so much theology. I've already mentioned that the resurrection is historically likely if you accept that it is philosophically possible. And having gone through the fires of historical criticism, I believe you come out the other end with an outline of Jesus' earthly life that coheres with the Christ of faith.

The greatest boost and the greatest challenge to faith, in my opinion, is experience. If a person has benchmark experiences of God to which they can refer back, their faith has an asset more powerful than any argument. If a person experiences unfathomable suffering or deafening silence, that is when their faith will likely be most vulnerable.

My sense of apologetics has developed over the years. When I was in my teens, I was totally on board with the "evidence demands a verdict approach." In more recent days, I've integrated my theology of prevenient grace into the mix. Wesleyans technically believe it is only the prevenient grace of God that makes free will possible when it comes to justifying faith.

When you bring that into discussion of apologetics, it becomes clear that apologetics is only a tool. Our minds cannot bring us to faith; only our hearts can. Apologetics can thus remove obstacles to faith but it cannot produce faith. Only a heart of faith can produce an act of faith. Reason is just the messenger.

To quote Blaise Pascal, "God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will." To put it in my words, "God has left the evidence for his existence and the truth of Christianity potentially ambiguous. If your heart is inclined to faith, you will see the positive evidence. If your heart is not, you will see the negative."

68. There were two powerful movies that reached Durham in the summer of 1994. It always took a few months for movies that had already shown in the States to get to England. Very annoying! This summer, the two movies of interest were Schindler's List and Shadowlands.

Schindler's List was of course a powerful movie relating to the Holocaust. Why did God allow the Nazis to wreak such havoc on Germany and the world? From 1933 to 1945, Hitler inflicted such great injustice and seemed to go unchecked. When I took my sabbatical in Munich in 2011, I became acquainted with the Munich students who called themselves the "White Rose." They tried to muster public opposition to the Nazis and were executed by guillotine in 1943.

Why didn't God stop their execution? Why didn't people listen to them? Even the assassination attempts on Hitler's life failed, when their success would have saved thousands, maybe even millions of lives.

I spent some time in the summer of 1995 in Tübingen, Germany. I stayed in the home of Frau Ilse Michel, wife of the great conservative German scholar Otto Michel. She lost three sons in World War II, all fighting on the German side. Her husband Otto spent the last half of his life as an ardent supporter of Jewish-Christian relations. He is remembered and honored as a pious man, which I believe he was.

However, it turns out that in the early 1930s, he signed up first for the NSDAP and then for the SA. [1] He resigned from the SA in 1936 because of his health. I strongly suspect that, in those days, he was not unlike many conservative American Christians today in his faith. He simply did not see the contradiction. I would like to think that, as Hitler's dictatorship progressed, Michel came to realize the error of his earlier ways.

But I was not surprised to find this backstory out today. I did a little digging today on a hunch. Michel fit the temperament of a certain kind of American Christian I know very well.

This raises a serious question for faith. Why doesn't God let the truth be known to Christians like this? Surely there were many ardent Christians in Germany who had a zeal for Germany but were deceived. Why didn't God correct them? Why did God let Otto Michel, of all good people, know that he was dead wrong about Hitler's movement? [2]

I suspect there were many conservative Christians in Germany who supported Hitler in his rise. They probably believed he was only punishing bad people and that the Jews were evil people who needed to be stopped. And they didn't believe reports about what Hitler's real intentions and ambitions were. Maybe even Hitler himself didn't fully know at first where his political maneuvering would end up.

In a particular phase of his rise, all it took was for him to say the right thing or do something that fit their values, and their subconscious doubts fled away. Those Christians who objected soon learned that if they continued to be vocal, they would face persecution or even death. For their own safety they watched the Nazis take away the non-German, the immigrant, the homosexual, the communist, the liberal.

69. The second movie of the summer of 1994 was Shadowlands. It was a movie about how C. S. Lewis came to grips with the suffering and death of his own wife. I was annoyed at the movie because I did not know enough about Lewis to know the degree to which the movie might be overly dramatizing the story.

In the movie, Lewis goes from giving glib answers to the problem of suffering to a real personal sense that those answers were inadequate. Lewis' early answer to the problem of suffering and evil, as I understand it, was largely limited to what we might call the "Irenaean theodicy." This is the idea that suffering helps us grow and become more mature moral individuals.

In the movie, the death of his wife makes him feel this answer inadequate. I believe there is truth to this portrayal. At the end of the movie, he does decide for faith, even though he recognizes he doesn't have all the answers. By contrast, his step-son chooses in the opposite direction. [3]

Many who choose the step-son's direction, I believe, don't really mean it. Their anger betrays them. You can't get angry with God if you truly don't believe he exists. While the problem of pain may present a challenge to our sense of God as love, pain would be completely meaningless if God did not exist. This is the desirability of Gods' existence based on our belief that evil is real and not meaningless.

70. Sometime that summer an atheist student asked me why I still believed in God in the face of such questions. I could not explain it. "I just do," was my answer. [4]

Faith is a mystery. I do not agree with Kierkegaard that it is blind or irrational. It is reasonable to have faith.

But it is something deeper than reason. "The heart has reasons that reason doesn't know." (Pascal). There are those who confess faith whose heart shows no sign of it. Is it possible that there are some who confess doubts but whose heart is full of faith?

[1] The NSDAP was the Nazi Party. The SA were the storm troopers, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party.

[2] In a slightly different vein, Hannah Arendt wrote about the "banality of evil" as she observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann. He appeared "terribly and terrifyingly normal."

[3] A delightful student named Emma had on her door once at Durham, "If evolution is true, then animals are just as significant as humans. Discuss." I never responded, but my thought was, "If [atheistic] evolution is true, then humans are just as meaningless as animals."

[3] On an occasion at dinner my first term, I sat with another person who would become a friend. Quite innocently, I asked him if he was a Christian. After all, Johns had a Christian foundation. His response was a little strong. "No, I'm an atheist, the thinking kind." :-)

England - Traveling Britain 7

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59. It took me a long time to formulate positions on issues. [1] The arguments on both sides usually seemed pretty strong. The same was true of my Hebrews writing. It was hard to decide. I might go for a run or a walk, talk myself through a question.

Sometimes I would get to the part of my dissertation where I had to take a position on an issue and would sit there trying to decide what position to take. I remember doing this when I got to Hebrews 2 and needed to decide whether I thought "son of man" referred to humanity in general or Christ in particular.

Eventually I began to take positions. Each position taken suggested more likely positions to take on other questions. Eventually I had my own interpretations.

60. Being in St. Johns was such a blessing. I made all sorts of friends. I don't know whose idea it was but I was on a rowing team with friends from Germany, Spain, and England. Christoph Lorentz was a theology student from Tübingen doing a year abroad in Durham. Juan was doing the same from Spain. Jonathan was a normal English student.

Together, we were the "international team." Helen Fox served as cox: "Stroke, stroke, stroke." We were horrible. We came to be known as the "crowd-pleasers." But it was good fun.

In the early summer I flew with a group from Johns to Belfast in northern Ireland to do a 200 mile bike race. The only other person I remember going, maybe, was Ceri Huws, a Welsh student who played the harp. It was my first and only time in northern Ireland.

I bought an orange bike for £100 and started training. The seat feels like a knife over time if you don't get used to it. But that was fun, riding out into Durham County to train for the race.

At that time, Britain was at the tale end of trouble with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a northern Irish group that would bomb things in England. There were still signs in the London subway warning about packages left alone. So there were still armoured vehicles patrolling up and down the streets of Belfast with machine guns aimed at the sidewalks. It was quite a sight.

In the morning we started the 100 mile trip to Dublin. The border was about half way. Although I didn't like Snickers bars in general, I very much enjoyed one at the half way point that day. In Dublin I saw a Subway shop from the bus shuttling us to Trinity College to spend the night. It was the first Subway I had seen over there. So close, yet so far away.

Then the next day it was 100 miles back to Belfast.

By the way, the closest McDonalds to me was a three mile walk. I was not a super-McDonalds fan before I went to England. But the hamburger was so scarce and bad that I did actually walk to McDonalds and back early on to get something that tasted half good to me. Six miles for a "hamburger royal" or whatever they called it.

61. I can't remember if it was that spring that I was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. My American accent was amusing to them and so I was cast in a few plays put on in Johns. I was also in Comedy of Errors and then Dame Sirith my final year. I also did some singing. Andrew Lloyd Webber was really big at the time.

In the summer I went with a couple friends to the Edinburgh festival. I think it was Neil and possibly Alistair Kirk. It was my first time to Edinburgh. We climbed to the top of Arthur's Seat. We walked the mile.

I tried blood pudding and Haggis while I was there. Haggis is pig innards in a sheep's bladder. It basically just tasted like anything fried. Same with blood pudding. I had a twinge of conscience because of Leviticus, but felt like it had to be done. Once a year, on Burns night, Jimmy Dunn would sometimes read Robert Burns' Ode to a Haggis in a thick Glaswegian accent.

62. At some point I parachuted with Rachel Leonard, which I mentioned before. I think we both intended to go back. I think you had to do five jumps before you could pull the cord yourself. We could have gone again immediately but we both chickened out.

I think it was also that summer that Rachel, James Quirk and I did a backpack trip around Scotland. I bought a great military green backpack. We went up by bus from Edinburgh to Inverness, then headed west to the Isle of Skye. The mountains were magnificent, the most stunning I had ever seen.

There wasn't a bridge to the island at that time. We took a ferry. I had booked a hostel for us in Armadale in the south, but it was a Sunday. In those days (unlike the trips I took later with my family), I expected everything to work out. But there were no buses after 5 to Armadale on Sunday.

No problem. We'll take a taxi. When we got to the hostel, the guy had given our beds away. "I know I guy who'd like to get in the hostel business," the hostel manager said. Then ensued Rachel's nightmare.

The guy had this small trailer that looked like it had been under water. James and I slept in it. Rachel slept in the bedroom of one very disgruntled daughter of this guy. We gave her the bedroom because, frankly, we expected the house to be better than the trailer. We were very happy to leave the next morning. In the words of Rachel at one point on that trip, "Basically, you're crap." :-)

63. I learned to despise Henry VIII. David Fox, maybe James Quirk, and I took a walk up the Weir once to Finchale Priory, beautiful walk. The priory is in ruins. It ceased to be used after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. You could see that some of the stone from the priory had been used to build the farmhouse next door.

Neil turned out to be in an interesting phase of his spiritual pilgrimage. Prior to coming to Johns, he had done master's work on John Jewel. As I understand it, Jewel had argued in the mid-1500s that the Anglican Church was in fact a catholic church, not a Protestant one. In fact, Neil would always correct me if I said "catholic church" in reference to the Roman Catholic Church. I would say "Catholic Church," he would interject "Roman Catholic Church."

So it was very interesting to hear after I left England that he had finally converted to become a Roman Catholic priest. I would not have guessed it at the time, since he had worked so hard to claim a truly catholic identity for the Anglican Church. It was from him that I really learned about Cardinal Newman.

There was a woman teaching church history? in Cranmer at the time (Anne?) who was part of the first wave of women to become priests in the Anglican Church. That transition first took place while I was living in the country. I remember having a conversation with her about whether lay people could serve communion. I didn't see any biblical basis for prohibiting them. With a smile on her face, her response was that, having spent so long waiting to become a priest, it was hard for her to relinquish the authority of communion.

It was interesting to watch Neil process the ordination of women. His hesitance was not biblical but historical. It represented a departure from "catholic" practice. They even set up "flying bishops" as I recall for individuals concerned about apostolic succession. There was quite a flight to the Roman Catholic Church in those days.

Another professor in Cranmer at that time was the late Michael Vasey. I believe he taught theology. Not long after I returned to the States he came out openly as gay. He published a book revisiting the key passages on the subject in the Bible. It was interesting to be around individuals who were openly gay in England in an environment in which there was no stigma attached. Apart from the student I knew at Asbury, it was really the first time the subject was not just a matter of ideas but actual people.

64. I attended the United Reformed Church while I was in Durham, with Bob Fyall as pastor. It was on Claypath, but now looks to have become an evangelical Anglican church. Bob taught Old Testament for Cranmer Hall. He was the first person I ever remember taking about how God conquering the "chaos monster" Leviathan. I'm not sure who first invited me to go there, but it was a little more evangelical in flavor.

I've already mentioned the Tuesday evening service in John's. It was evangelical Anglican. I cantored for it often. I did attend some services in the cathedral. They were quite ethereal. There was a school with young boys associated with the cathedral. They sang angelically.

Life in Durham was delightful. British food is not known for its greatness. There was a restaurant called Garfunkel's in London that I was told had American hamburgers. Several suggested I just had to try it because I was American, but the hamburgers just didn't quite taste the same. In fact, the hamburger I myself cooked didn't taste the same. The Angus steaks from Scotland that were supposed to taste so great didn't quite float my boat.

There's a joke I heard about the peoples of Europe in the afterlife. In heaven, the French are the cooks, the English are the police, the Italians are the lovers, and the Germans organize everything. In hell the English are the cooks, the French are the police, the Germans are the lovers, and the Italians organize everything.

There were some English options I liked. For a while there was a place that made great cold sandwiches under the train bridge. At the Court Inn I could get "chips" with garlic mayonnaise. Once or twice I got the Croque Monsieur. Yorkshire pudding wasn't a bad option in those places that had it.

But the non-English food was phenomenal. Every once and a while Neil and I got Chinese from a little place up Claypath. There was an Italian restaurant just across the Silver Street Bridge. I learned to love spaghetti carbonara in Durham. I've rarely found good carbonara in the States.

There was an Indian restaurant on the Bailey that Fox, Leonard, and the crew sometimes visited. They loved the chutneys. Again, I've found it hard to find peshwari naan, papadum, and beef bhuna in the States.

65. There was a bookstore on the Bailey that had used books. Given the location of Durham, I was sometimes able to find biblical studies classics there. On perhaps my first trip home for Christmas, I took the bus to Oxford to look around. There I was able to see the famous Blackwell's book store.

I would eventually visit Cambridge with Neil. When Neil and I visited Cambridge, we were sure to get out to the Orchard Tea Garden, which Wittgenstein used to frequent. I can't remember if we also went to Stratford on Avon on that trip. It seems to me Neil and I also did a brief drive through Wales as well, his homeland. As in Scotland, the mountains were magnificent.

I preferred the flavor of Cambridge to Oxford. Oxford seemed so cluttered and showy. It also seemed more snooty. I had a friend named Elisabeth who had done her undergraduate work at Oxford. Even as a northeasterner, she had found Oxford pretentious. She and I were the actors in Dame Sirith.

We had a race on to write. She was a grad student in English. I was hoping to finish a novel in a year. Of course that didn't happened. I've started over fifty novels over the years. Finally self-published one in 2017. I don't know whether she ended up writing.

I made a couple trips to the Birmingham area while I was in Durham. The first was to visit David Wright and his family. He was coordinating the Wesleyan work in Birmingham and London at that time, a largely Caribbean community. We went to church in London. I remember him asking me if I thought postmodernism was actually amenable to our Wesleyan heritage.

Then after he left, Kerry Kind brought me down to see if I would feel called to continue where he had left off. I still had over a year to go on my doctorate. There was a school consortium of some sort at that time too. But it was not the right mix at that time.

66. In my final year, David Fox, Rachel Leonard, and I went to the west coast of Ireland. David had a relative with a cottage there. I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of Galway. I remember having to stop in the middle of the drive across so that sheep would get out of the road. It was still a little cold, so there wasn't much swimming.

Durham on the whole had mild temperatures. Although we were pretty far north on the globe, the Gulf Stream kept it much like the temperatures of Indiana. Sometimes there was some wind up the Bailey. There was almost never snow. But it only got really warm for a few weeks in the summer. In the winter it got light at 8 and dark at 4pm. Then in the summer it was light till about 10, as I recall.

[1] In my younger years, I might have looked to my tradition to answer such interpretive questions. What did Wesleyans think? What did Adam Clarke think? Now the question had become, "What is true?" What is the most probable interpretation? Obviously this is no guarantee that someone will be right, but it makes you more likely to be right.