Friday, April 29, 2011

Inductive Bible Study Received!

I received a desk copy of the long anticipated Inductive Bible Study, the updated and expanded version of the late Robert Traina's earlier Methodical Bible Study, edited and expanded in conjunction with David Bauer, who was my primary mentor at Asbury.

In my mind, this should replace any seminary using Grant Osborne's Hermeneutical Spiral for its inductive Bible course.  I thumbed through the book and found the familiar strengths of the IBS method they teach at Asbury with the distinctive style of David Bauer.  David and Traina worked out the revision just before Traina passed away last year.

I'll have to carefully consider whether to adopt it as the standard of Wesley Seminary.  It seems to me now to be the best book of its kind, and I think our adoption of it may be inevitable.  The problem of the book relates directly to Dr. Bauer and Traina's great strength.  They are so methodical.  On the one hand, make no mistake, this version is much better than Traina's original, in my opinion.  I just wish I could chop out about a fourth of it where Bauer's predilection for filling in every logical blank has taken over.

Some of you will know that I wrote a little book called Making Sense of God's Word.  It is basically the Reader's Digest version of this new book.  But my book does not put enough flesh on inductive method for a full seminary consideration.

Baker, I may be contacting you soon for permission to translate that 3/4 part into Spanish for our Spanish MDIV ;-)

Hebrews 1:1-4 (CEB, Wesley Study Bible)

Over the course of the summer, I hope to work through the new Common English Bible (CEB) translation of Hebrews, as well as the notes for the NRSV Wesley Study Bible on Hebrews.  So since I didn't have any juicy comments to say about politics or Rob Bell today, I thought I would post on the much less popular topic of the Bible (I've been surprised at the massive spike in readership to my blog these last couple days ;-)

1:2--"in these final days"
This is a fairly good equivalent to the literal expression, "in these last days" which echoes Jeremiah 31.

1:3--"The Son is the light of God's glory"
I suppose most interpreters go with "radiance" as the connotation of the word here.  The interesting thing, though, is that the parallel, "imprint," fits much better with another possible translation of the word, namely, "reflection."

1:3--"He maintains everything with his powerful message"
Interesting choice.  Some sort of spoken word seems to be pictured.  I'll have to think if I like "message" as a translation.

1:4--Christ became greater than other messengers, such as angels.
Very interesting.  I'm not sure that the author at this point of the sermon had any messengers other than angels in view. It is an interesting take, though, that fits with an introduction that speaks of various ways God has spoken in the past.  But I often think that interpreters see more profundity in passages than the original author's meant.  This quote of Udo Schnelle pointed out by Nijay Gupta struck me that way.

I feel that way sometimes about interpretations by people like N. T. Wright and Richard Hays.  I used to think, man they see so much depth that I didn't see. I'm so stupid.  Now I think.  That's deep and you are really smart, guys.  But Paul wouldn't know what you were talking about.  Be honest that you're playing a theological descant that transcends the original meaning.

Wesley Study Bible
Very nice and succinct words on this opening to the sermon.  deSilva (I think) gives the main point--the accomplishment of purification.  He gives the clear contrast between the many revelations before and the unique revelation now in Christ.  He mentions the intriguing allusion to Christ as Wisdom.  Perhaps it is wise that he does not try to explore what that allusion might mean.  I certainly have ideas, but one will not find any consensus here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Have you seen this?

From Jimmy Kimmel Live:

Remembering England...

I'm not really into the royal wedding.  I'm sure I'll see it tomorrow morning because my wife Angela will watch it.  I was watching a picture of Westminster Abbey on the news this morning and it brought back memories.  I did my doctorate at Durham in the north, so I went to London every time I flew in and out of the country for those three years.

Like most of life looking back, those were wonderful days, despite their challenges.  Seeing Westminster cued my first real visit to England to interview for a position as a residential tutor (RD) at St. John's College in Durham.  On my way back I walked from the Tower of London all the way to Buckingham Palace in an afternoon.  Back then, my first time in a city like that imprinted the city on my young 26 year old brain.  The setting this morning of Westminster brought back vivid memories.

It was a great time of life.  I was in grad school, so all I had to worry about was what God thought about issues, not what ye old scallywags out there thought (you know who you are ;-).  I was in another country, which brought the stimulation of thinking about the world in completely new ways and seeing my country from the outside.  I was around experts the likes of which many could not even imagine.  It was the privilege of feeling stupid every day.

So be young if you are young.  Soak up life and the unprecedented opportunities of youth.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Birtherism, Racism, and Xenophobia...

Given that no one has ever asked any other president to produce his birth certificate, is it really possible to explain the birther phenomenon apart from a conscious or subconscious element of racism and/or xenophobia?  I pose it as an honest question, but I sincerely have not been able to come up with any likely answer other than yes.

I am long convinced that most of us do not believe what we believe because of evidence or a real interest in the objective truth.  We believe what we believe overwhelmingly because we want to believe certain things.  Only someone who is willing to change his or her opinion given reasonable evidence is really interested in the truth.  This more than anything else is what education is supposed to teach you.

Your work ever feel like this? ;-)

Rob Bell's Love Wins

I don't know if I'll get around to reviewing Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins. As most of you probably know, he's accused of universalism (the view that everyone goes to heaven/will be in the kingdom of God).  He has provided a target for those who have had a gnawing feeling that younger Christians have no real sense of hell.  In a video, Bell has explicitly acknowledged belief in hell.

They're calling it neo-universalism and I believe it is a clear cultural trend especially among younger Christians.  Bell is simply capturing the trend and giving opposition a target.  If there proves to be demand, I can still read through the book later, but since Scot McKnight has already done it, I thought I would pass on his review for now:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

One word to Wesleyans.  Because we are a heart-oriented tradition, we often let others do the thinking for us.  In good frontier spirit, we even make fun of scholars and are suspicious of education. We are thus very prone to the influence of those outside our tradition who tend to share our social values.  Because so many of us are social conservatives, many have a tendency to jump on evangelical Calvinist trains without even realizing what we're doing.

So let's be very clear here.  Bell is far less extreme for a Wesleyan-Arminian than he is for an evangelical Calvinist.  Since McKnight is Arminian, his review is much more balanced than a lot of the stuff we're hearing out there from evangelical Calvinists.  I've never viewed Bell as a serious authority on anything, but his spirit comes much closer to the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition than John Piper or Mark Driscoll's does.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quote on Protestantism and the problem of biblical theology

What do you make of this quote?

"The Protestant Reformation rejected allegorical interpretation because allegory had allowed the medieval church to go beyond the original meaning in ways they rejected.  The Reformers wanted to peel back developments in the catholic tradition and used sola scriptura as the method.  But what they really wanted to do was peel back developments to about 450CE, and their sola scriptura unintentionally set Protestantism on a trajectory that would eventually undo the glue of the first five centuries and, after the Enlightenment, the books of the Bible began to fall apart from each other.  This is the problem of biblical theology."

12 Ways to Make Arminianism Cool

Michael Bird pointed out this post 12 Ways to Make Arminianism Cool by Rachel Held Evans.


Fulbright Sabbatical in Fall

I received notice several weeks ago that my application to do a Fulbright in Germany this Fall had been approved by the Fulbright Commission.  We've started the logistics of the process (medical approvals, etc) but it looks like my wife Angela and our two youngest will be able to go.

We did our last sabbatical in Germany in 2004 in Tuebingen but we will be at the Universität München this time with Knut Backhaus as our host.  The proposed topic is "Salvation in the Making" and I hope to do something like what James Dunn done did in Christology in the Making but do it for soteriology.  And since Hebrews is my specialty, I have some ideas ;-)

I'm grateful to Indiana Wesleyan for granting me a sabbatical.  IWU hasn't fully worked out the category of Administrative Faculty, so it wasn't a foregone conclusion that I would be able to go on a sabbatical.  But they thankfully granted it.  With the MDIV curriculum effectively written and implemented, I could use the break.

I'd also like to be a scholar for a few days ;-)  There is of course SBL each year.  I get the occasional invitation to write a chapter in this or that project.  But most of the time I'm expected to be "high priority relevant" (as opposed to more typical research scholarship in biblical studies).  It will be a delight to spend a whole semester pursuing truth for its own sake with no one asking me how it relates to anything.

It will be nice to sail in the ocean of the history of human ideas for a few months, even though its more urgent to know how to navigate local creeks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why Believe in the Resurrection?

In my opinion, whether you believe in the resurrection of Jesus boils down to one thing: do you believe resurrections can happen?  If you do not believe resurrections can happen, then of course you will find some alternative explanation for what happened that Sunday so long ago.  But if you do believe resurrections can happen, then I believe you will conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.

There are two reasons.  The first is the fact that no one seems to have been able to account for the body of Jesus from Sunday on.  The second is the multiple eyewitness accounts to having seen him alive after his death.

1. I believe that even an objective atheist should conclude that individuals like Peter, James, Paul, and John were convinced they had seen Jesus alive after he was dead.  Paul knew these individuals (e.g., Gal. 2) and passed on their common testimony to Jesus' resurrection (e.g., 1 Cor. 15).  Paul himself gives clear testimony to seeing Jesus alive as well (e.g., 1 Cor. 9).

We can debate what they thought they saw.  But we have every reason to believe Paul's account that multiple people on multiple occasions were convinced that they had seen Jesus alive after he had died.  And they were  convinced enough to undergo quite a bit of hardship and ultimately to face death.  If they had any significant doubt, why would they have persisted?

And surely either the Corinthians or the Jerusalem church would have jumped on the opportunity to correct Paul if his story about Peter, James, and himself was not commonly accepted.  His multiple writings leave no trace of such counter rhetoric.

Some point to difficulties in reconciling the resurrection accounts as a reason to doubt them.  But consider, if oral traditions go in various directions, it points to some big splash at their root.  In other words, we are not talking about a single story that changed over time.  We are talking about waves that went out in multiple directions.

And what was the splash likely to be?  What is the common ground behind the variations?  It is sightings of Jesus alive after he died.

2. Certainly the canonical gospels indicate that a group of women were unable to find the body of Jesus on Sunday.  I don't suppose you would invent women as the ones to find the empty tomb, if the story were made up.  It would be much more believable to have some man, maybe even someone important find it empty. The specifics of the names point most likely to people who continued to talk about the story of the empty tomb and were remembered for telling the story for decades.

The idea of a Joseph of Arimathea--an otherwise completely unknown character--taking the body of Jesus and putting it in a tomb also is exactly the sort of oral tradition we would expect. Matthew further tells of a rumor that the disciples had stolen the body.  Notice what is being disputed--not that there is no body, only why there was no body.  In other words, we have evidence that at least some of those who disputed the resurrection accepted that the tomb where Jesus had been laid was later found empty.

So we have an empty tomb and a number of eyewitnesses.  A final thing to mention is that it does not seem likely at all to me that the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.  If Peter denies Jesus, if Judas betrays Jesus--these are not the sorts of things that happen in a climate of expectation.  Peter was thus firmly convinced over and against his likely expectations.

So if you believe resurrections can happen, you should certainly believe in this one.

May all have a blessed day celebrating Christ's victory over death!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Last Seminary Praxis Course in the shoot...

Spent the better part of the day with a group of friends laying out the scope and sequence of the final praxis course of our MDIV curriculum, "Congregational Relationships."  I think it looks to be a good course.  In fact, I'm quite proud of all our core courses. ;-)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

As mentioned in yesterday's post, Jesus' last supper and time in the Garden of Gethsemane were really the beginning of Friday by Jewish reckoning.  Now Judas comes with a group to grab him in the Garden and identifies him. I cannot think of any reason to invent this sequence of events, either intentionally or in the whims and fortunes of oral tradition.  The story permeates the tradition.

We find more diversity in relation to what happens in the night.  Many scholars suggest that the somewhat private meeting between Jesus and Annas in John 18:13, then Caiaphas in 18:24, 28 is more likely than a full Sanhedrin in the middle of the night (e.g. Mark 14:55).  Luke seems to have the Sanhedrin more in the morning (Luke 22:66).  In either case Peter follows and denies Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest, something that does not seem likely to be invented at all.

The appearance before Pilate not only has the unanimous testimony of the tradition, but appears in Josephus, the Jewish historian, as well.  Pilate offers to release to the people Jesus or a violent man named Barabbas.  They choose Barabbas.  Again, hard to imagine why such a story would either be invented or would develop naturally through oral tradition.  An appearance before Herod is only attested in Luke 23:6-12.

Allison has well affirmed that tidbits like a man named Simon from Cyrene carrying the cross, them crucifying Jesus at a place called Golgotha, a man named Joseph from Arimathea burying him--these have no reason to suggest invention of any kind.  Christians also are not likely to have come up out of the blue with the idea that he shouted Psalm 22:1 from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."  In fact, Luke omits this cry even though he is probably copying from Mark.

They crucify him at 9am in Mark 15:25 between two criminals (in John at about noon, 19:14, when people were sacrificing lambs for the evening Passover meal).  The charge appears to be sedition--"The king of the Jews," written above his head (Mark 15:26).  From noon till three, Mark says it is very dark (15:33).  Then he shouts at 3pm and dies.

Joseph of Arimathea then takes the body and buries him in a rock tomb.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pedagogy of Faith in the Science Classroom

Indiana Wesleyan University is hosting a conference on campus, June 27-29, on the question of how faith and science should or might co-exist in classrooms of all kinds.  Here is the website for the conference.

The purpose of the conference is not to discuss the merits of various positions on issues (e.g., theistic evolution) but to discuss pedagogy and to discuss it in the pursuit of insight, not indoctrination.  So not only will there be young earth creationists there, but Karl Giberson of BioLogos will be keynoting.  J. P. Moreland the apologist from Talbot at Biola will also be keynoting.

It should be interesting!  Dennis Brinkman, chair of the School of the Physical and Applied Sciences here, has had no shortage of angry emails, ranging from those who think faith and science should have nothing to do with each other to those who think Christian pedagogy should only indoctrinate against evolutionary theory.  Papers of all sorts are on the program, including a paper from a self-avowed atheist who insists he cannot help but discuss questions of faith in his classes because, whether he likes it or not, his students always bring the issue up.

Admission is $125 if you have your own lodging.  It is $225 if you need to stay in our lodges.

Thursday Last Supper

It is of course incorrect to say Thursday Last Supper.  The supper happened after dark and thus was at the beginning of Friday.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke this is the Passover meal (e.g., Mark 14:16).  Similar to when Jesus sent for a donkey, Jesus either foresees that a man with a jar will appear and lead some of his disciples to a master with an upper room, or Jesus has prearranged it. They go and prepare the Passover meal, which would involve killing a lamb and preparing it.

John seems to picture a slightly different scenario.  In John, the morning Jesus is crucified seems to be the morning before Passover (e.g., John 18:28; 19:14, 31).  If we take these comments in John straightforwardly, then, Jesus would be crucified at about the same time as the Passover lambs were being sacrificed for dinner that night, and Jesus' last supper would not be a Passover meal but a meal the day before Passover.

Thursday seems to be the day when Judas arranges to betray Jesus.  We've seen plays and heard speculation that Jesus might have made such arrangements with Judas, to try to trigger God's hand.  But none of the gospels remember the story this way, and Allison has convinced me that, even from a secular historical perspective, such collective memories should generally be trusted.  Every tradition before us remembers it as a betrayal.

Was Judas himself trying to force God's hand? Was Judas upset because Jesus corrected him, if it was he who objected to the woman with perfume?  Had Judas come to the conclusion that Jesus was not the messiah and he was turning him in?  This is the stuff of novels.  It's just hard to know given the evidence we have.

I am more convinced than ever that, even from an objective historical approach, Jesus knows he is about to die.  For example, Allison points out the collective memory of all our materials that Jesus faced his death as an act of will, of obedience.  He knows Judas has betrayed him.  He knows he is going into the city to die.

The memory of Jesus' words at that last meal, even in Paul who knows Peter and has direct access to the earliest memories (1 Cor. 11), already understands Jesus' death as a sacrifice.  The Synoptics do not remember Jesus speaking much about himself in this way--Jesus as a means of salvation does not seem to have been a major theme of his ministry.  But they do remember a trace--Mark 10:45.  Jesus is dying for Israel's redemption.  The intrinsic comparison of Jesus to a Passover lamb seems there from the very beginning.

The earliest memory in Paul also remembers "new covenant" imagery from that final meal. Such language was around among the Essenes and the Dead Sea community.  So again, even from an objective historical perspective, I find it very plausible that Jesus spoke in such terms.  John especially remembers Jesus talking about the coming of the Spirit at this last supper.  This fits in the same milieu and would naturally explain the prominence of Spirit-imagery in the thinking of the earliest Christians.

They are already in the city when they eat their meal.  They go to Gethsemane to pray. Where is Judas?  Jesus knows.  He knows what is coming.  He doesn't run.  He wrestles, but he stays put.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday Withdrawal

In Mark's presentation, Jesus seems to stay in Bethany on Wednesday.  Probably he has stirred up a hornet's nest in Jerusalem.  Perhaps it is very clear that if he shows himself in the city again, there will be trouble.

The only event Mark tells us about on this day is Jesus' dinner at the home of "Simon the leper."  A woman anoints him with expensive perfume.  Some of Jesus' followers complain.  It could have been sold; the profit could have been given to the poor.  Jesus tells them to back off.  She is anointing him for burial.

As an aside, Luke intriguingly puts a very similar story in Luke 7 with a Pharisee of the same name.  John places a very similar event 6 days before Passover with Mary (sister of Martha) as the woman and Judas as the complainer.  It is of course possible that these are amazingly similar events within a week's time, but it really seems more likely that they are different versions of the same event.

Jesus' comment that this woman is anointing him for burial and the idea that people everywhere would talk about this woman later on--these elements sound exactly like the kinds of things that would stick in your mind from the day before Jesus was arrested.  It also points to Jesus knowing what was coming.  I know most of you never doubted that, but I'm engaging the person for whom these things have to be argued.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Budget Thoughts...

I know few of you are interested in my thoughts on economics or the budget--and it is especially a shame to speak of such things in the middle of Holy Week--but I am sitting here watching Hannity interview Sarah Palin and thought I would jot down my thoughts.

1. The S & P announcement, whatever the politics behind it, confirms to me that Obama's budget proposal is not enough.  We should be looking at something more extensive like the bipartisan budget commission's recommendations this past Fall.

2. The debt ceiling has to be raised.  I think almost everyone recognizes this, and it is really too serious of an issue to use for political bargaining.  Anyone who votes against it is a danger to the US, almost on the level of impeachment.  We should immediately eliminate from our minds any candidate who suggests we should not do so--these are very, very dangerous, loony people.

3. Ryan's proposal to privatize Medicare and push Medicaid down to the states is a non-starter.  Not only does it have no chance of passing--I get so annoyed with people who can't handle reality and prefer to beat their heads against the wall until they knock themselves out--it seems to deconstruct the very purpose of these programs, which was to provide medical care for the most vulnerable in our society--the elderly and those unable to take care of themselves.  Instead, it likely lops off these in favor of those partially able to take care of themselves.  Cut it we must, finance it some other way we must.  But Ryan's idea is DOA, period.

4. We should increase revenues at the same time we make deep cuts.  Perhaps we could compromise by only  returning to pre-Bush rates for those who earn over 500,000.  Or perhaps we could institute a flat tax on these individuals without any exemptions.  I am as unconvinced as ever that tax breaks at this level for this group return more economically than the taxes do, and there is no moral argument to be made here that stands up against even the smallest scrutiny.

My thoughts in troubling times...  It's compromise, compromise, compromise.  The fear that Congress and the President will not be able to compromise, more than anything else, stands behind the S&P statement.

Tuesday Controversies

Mark presents Tuesday as a day of controversy, a day when Jesus gets into debates with various parties.  Matthew and Luke--which seem to use Mark as the skeleton for their presentations--follow suit.

The controversies are these:
1. Some temple people ask him where his authority comes from.  He responds by asking them where they think John the Baptist's authority came from.  Fun pictures this incident triggers in my mind.  No doubt Jesus' disruption in the temple drew a lot of attention to him.  Many would say that, logistically, it more than anything else set him on a trajectory for crucifixion as a revolutionary type figure.  You can imagine Jesus actually teaching about the movement started by John the Baptist, triggering this question.

2. Jesus tells the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, clearly an indictment of the Jerusalem leadership, with Jesus as the son the tenants killed, bringing God's judgment.  One of the most interesting features of this parable is that it includes a quote from Psalm 118:22, which is the same psalm that is quoted in relation to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.  It supports the picture of Jesus knowing that he is going to Jerusalem to be rejected and thus that actions like the one he makes in the temple could have been pre-planned, intentionally provocative.

3. Some Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus on the subject of taxes.  If as is usually said, the Romans were the ones to put people to death, then this subject could be a trap.  Jesus pretty much dismisses coinage as having nothing to do with God.  Money has nothing to do with God.  If Caesar has lost a coin, give it back to him.

4. Some Sadducees try to make Jesus look stupid for believing in resurrection.  Sadducees of course did not believe in any meaningful afterlife of any kind.

5. A teacher of the law asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is.  Love God; love neighbor.  This would have been an answer many Pharisees would have agreed with.

6. Then Jesus gives them a tricky question about the interpretation of Psalm 110.  It would be interesting to know if Jesus winked when he raised this question.  Were they saying he could not be the messiah because he was from Galilee?

7. Jesus comments on how much more a widow gave to the temple than many rich people.  This fits with my sense that there is a "wealth/poor" theme involved in the temple action.

8. Comments on hypocritical leadership by teachers of the law/Pharisees.  Matthew, probably writing at a time when the Pharisees had become the leadership of Israel, not long after the destruction of Jerusalem, expands Jesus' condemnation of them to its most feverish pitch in the New Testament (chap. 23).  Luke-Acts has a much less harsh view of the Pharisees, and did not see being a Pharisee as incompatible with being a believer.

9. Chapter 13 gives the "eschatological discourse," Jesus' prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD70.  We find Matthew's version in chapters 24-25 and Luke's in chapter 21.  Each has unique features in keeping with their theological emphases.

It is easy to see tension in all these related to what Jesus has done in the temple, related to Jerusalem's rejection of him, related to his sense of God's impending judgment on Jerusalem for their values and their rejection of him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cleansing of Temple (Monday)

In Mark's chronology (chap. 11), Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday, looks around, then returns to Bethany.  On Monday, then, he returns to Jerusalem, curses a barren fig tree on the way, and then overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the temple.  Then in the evening they return to Bethany again.

The chronology of Matthew, Luke, and John is a little different, which is why we cannot be absolutely certain about what happened on which day.  In Matthew 21, Jesus seems to overturn the tables on the same day that he entered Jerusalem, in contrast to Mark.  In Mark also, Jesus curses the fig tree right before overturning the tables on Monday, and it is only on the next day, Tuesday, that they find it withered.  In Matthew, Jesus curses the tree and it withers immediately, the day after the temple action.

Luke seems to follow Matthew's chronology at this point, but does not have the story of the fig tree.  John seems to move the temple action to the first year of Jesus' ministry.  It is of course possible that Jesus did this twice, but after you have compared the gospels even a little in detail, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that they intentionally move things around from time to time.  This shouldn't be a problem for us.  It has to do with our (faulty) expectations rather than any problem on their part.

There are differing interpretations of Jesus' action in the temple.  Was Jesus angry because they were selling things in the temple?  But they had to sell things so that travelers would have something to sacrifice.  Were they selling in the wrong place?  I really don't think the relevant texts will bear this weight even though this is often said.  Was it a symbolic action, planned out and meant to symbolize God's coming judgment of Israel and even the destruction of the temple itself?  I think it is very likely that Christians read it this way, especially after the temple was destroyed.

The key to me at this point (meaning after this round of reflection ;-) is Jesus' quotation of Jeremiah 7:11: "Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?" (NRSV). The context in Jeremiah is a prediction of the temple's destruction because Israel's leaders have oppressed "the alien, the orphan, and the widow" (7:6), which fits in with Jesus' focus on the poor and powerless in his earthly ministry.

So I find the spirit of John's presentation to fit very much with a general distaste Jesus must have had for the wealthy, profiteering atmosphere he must have seen before him.  It couldn't have been disapproval of the selling per se, because that was necessary.  But the spirit of what he saw must have represented to him everything that was wrong about the values of Jerusalem.

His action was thus an indictment of the spirit of Jerusalem's leadership and a foreshadowing of coming judgment.  It is no surprise that Mark "sandwiches" the event inside the incident with the fig tree.  Just as the fig tree did not bear fruit and withered under Jesus' curse, so the Jerusalem of that day was eventually judged for its failure to bear the kind of fruit pleasing to God.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

I wish you all a meaningful day of reflecting on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem in his final days!  I don't have time for a full post, but wanted to jot down some notes if I were going to write one ;-)
  • We think of Jesus' entrance happening on Sunday largely because of counting back using Mark.  However, the chronology of Matthew seems slightly different and it is difficult to know with absolute certainty.
  • Jesus sends disciples ahead to a village to get a donkey (Matthew has two animals probably reflecting a tradition that conformed the story to a particular interpretation of Zechariah).  One question is whether Jesus had prearranged to get the donkey or whether this was more miraculous.
  • They spread their garments and lay palm branches down.  Different readings here.  Horsley thinks he was mocking Herod Antipas, who would have entered the city with immense splendor.  Was he symbolically acting out Zechariah and thus indicating that he was the Messiah?  I tend toward this last idea.  I am sympathetic also to those who see a middle ground between Jesus entry being an "in your face" statement of his identity and more one that mostly insiders understood. 
  • The laying down of palms seems reminiscent of Psalm 118:26-27.  A picture of Jesus emerges in which he has mediated on Scripture in relation to God's purpose for him.  The practice of connecting events in his life to OT passages thus originates with him.
  • This verse in Psalm 118 also has overtones of rejection.  The one who comes in the name of the Lord enters but with overtones of rejection by his people.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Puerto Rico 3

Yesterday was our last full day and we leave for home this afternoon.  One of the members of our team continued to meet with the Wesleyan Academy, another with a government accreditation official, and others of us with leaders of kindred denominations here.  Then in the afternoon some of us met with some individuals with significant knowledge of San Juan and brainstormed.

We'll see what happens.  I was thinking yesterday how extensive the consequences of one decision by a former president of IWU might turn out to be.  President Barnes decided to offer distance classes around the state of Indiana in the late 1980s and then to offer them online in the 90s.  The result is a university that went from several hundred students to 16,000 students, and now we may offer classes around the world.

One day someone will analyse this story from an objective point of view, with its good and bad.  It is full of insights organizational, cultural, economic, and religious.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Puerto Rico 2

Yesterday was a full day but very rewarding.  We started with a brief tour of Wesleyan Academy in San Juan, a pre-school through 12th grade school that does all its courses in English (which sounds bad, until you realize that all the teachers are from Puerto Rico and the English orientation is considered an advantage).  Some of us stayed and brainstormed with them. Then others of us met with the Seminario Teologico which is a branch of Nyack in New York, with the Interamerican University, and with the Seminario Evangelico.

But the highlight of the day was meeting and eating with Wesleyans in the evening at the Caparra church.  Some of them were clearly passionate about extending the reach of Wesleyan higher education here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Puerto Rico 1

Traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, yesterday at the invitation of Wesleyan leaders to explore possible seminary and university connections.  Last night we were hosted by Benjamin Galarce, District Superintendent, and Irving Figueroa, pastor of one of the central Wesleyan churches.

Today we fellowship with and listen to various leaders in the church and Christian education.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sacred Pathways 1

Because Spanish language resources for theological education are not as plenteous as the English, Wesley Seminary--with a lot of help--is facilitating the translating, contextualizing, and writing of materials for our MDIV curriculum in Spanish.  For our Spiritual Formation course called Change and Transformation, I am initially summarizing some of the material our English MDIV students read for the Spanish cohort.

Here is my summary of the first five chapters of Gary Thomas' Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God (Zondervan).
Some truths are fairly obvious once someone points them out to you, and yet sometimes hard to see on our own. One of these is the fact that we are all different people. We have different personalities based in part because we have a different genetic make-up and in part because we have grown up under different circumstances.

Our failure to recognize these differences lies at the heart of all sorts of relational problems we have because we assume that everyone else thinks or should think the same way we do. These differences are not simply a matter of different cultures or even sub-cultures—and many are not even fully aware of these very obvious differences. They apply to the difference between me and my spouse, between me and my children, between me and other people in my church or work.

It should be fairly obvious that if God relates to each of us as specific individuals, then he will relate to us all a little differently. Certainly we as human beings share certain things in common. We all need food, water, shelter, love, and many other things. But we are also all different from one another.

It seems that we humans often have a tendency to assume that the way we interact with God is the way to interact with God. Those who find it easy to get up at 4am to pray for an hour may wonder how spiritual someone else is whose prayer time is less regimented. The person who devotes hours each week helping the needy may equally wonder about the spirituality of the person who does not. The same goes for the tireless evangelist who wonders why we are not spending as much time as she talking to non-believers.

In short, we observe a tendency among Christian leaders to see their primary way of relating to God as the way, with a “one size fits all” mentality. The brilliance of Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways, is not necessarily the specific paths he mentions, but the fact that he recognizes that we all approach God differently. His first chapter, “Loving God,” expresses the same basic point we have just made. We have one God, but God has many different relationships (p. 18).

Somehow it seems obvious that God will relate to an introvert a little differently than he relates to an extrovert. He will relate differently to a person oriented around their senses and the external world than a person who is more intuitive and inwardly oriented. You have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test and should recognize these as some of the different personality types people have. God will relate differently to a thinker than a feeler. God will relate differently to a person who likes to leave things open-ended than to a person who likes to come to definite conclusions.

To be sure, we should expect God to help us to grow. Could it be that God both causes and allows things to come into our lives to make us more balanced? Just because we are not prone to certain things because of our personalities does not mean that we would not glorify God by moving beyond our comfort zone. Nevertheless, God is a God who takes on flesh (John 1:14). He comes to us because we cannot reach up to him. He is a God who meets us where we are and then takes us from there.

Chapters 2-5 of Sacred Pathways discuss five types of individual Thomas has identified as different in the way they most easily relate to God. They are:

Chapter 2—Naturalists: Loving God Out of Doors (pp. 35-50)
The first type of person Thomas discusses are those who seem to meet God most easily when they are outside, surrounded by nature. When they see God’s handiwork, they strongly resonate with the fact that “los cielos proclaman la Gloria de Dios” (Salmo 19:1). He also discusses some of the temptations these “naturalists” need to avoid.

Naturalists can mistakenly think that they do not need other believers or to gather in Christian assembly (cf. Heb. 10:25). They can substitute their impressions for genuine revelation. They can even elevate nature almost to a divine status. However, these extremes do not negate the fact that some people most easily experience God when outside, surrounded by the creation, communing with him in their own Garden of Eden.

Chapter 3—Sensates: Loving God with the Senses (pp. 51-68)
Thomas thinks of Ezekiel when he thinks of a “sensate,” a person who experiences God best with the stimulation of touch, smell, taste, and so forth (pp. 52-53). Ezekiel feels the winds. He sees flashing lightning. He hears the sounds of wings. He eats a scroll.

It is probably obvious that the sensate shares some similarities with the naturalist above. One of the main differences is that you can smell and taste things both indoors and outdoors. What does a church smell like? How does beauty affect you? Although we will discuss the “traditionalist” next, there is probably a reason why God instituted sacraments like baptism and communion, which involve sensations and tastes.

Do you feel closest to God in a service that makes your senses come alive? Would drawing or art help you pray to God? Then you may be a sensate. Thomas warns the sensate not to “worship worship” (p. 66), where you mistake the experiences or beauty for the one you are worshipping.

Chapter 4—Traditionalists: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol (pp. 69-93)
Many Protestants, especially in Latin America, have reacted strongly against “empty ritualism.” We might thus start with some of the warnings Thomas gives to the traditionalist—a kind of mechanical repetition of rituals without really encountering God. Other “temptations” he addresses are those who neglect reaching out to others in their preoccupation with traditions or those who judge others because they don’t do things the “right” way. But it is also significant that Thomas does not limit traditionalism to what we might think of as “high church” or Roman Catholic worship. All churches have traditions, and most churches resist changing them.

We should not assume that this group of people cannot genuinely meet God because they prize following time honored traditions. John Wesley not only took communion every week, but suggested you should take it as often has you had opportunity. You would be hard pressed to argue that communion was ever an empty ritual for Wesley. How could we seriously object to a church that read a passage from the Psalms, from the rest of the Old Testament, from the Gospels, and from the rest of the New Testament every Sunday?

So the traditionalist should not judge the person whom God does not meet in these ways. But we also should not assume that the traditionalist cannot genuinely meet God in their practice of tradition.

Chapter 5—Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity (pp. 95-113)
The final type of “sacred pathway” we want to look at this week is the ascetic, the person whom God most easily meets through self-denial. Again, some of those with this personality have a tendency to look down on those who do not fast as often as they do. But we also should value those who feel closest to God when they are alone and nothing is around to distract them. These are those who like to go on retreat or practice periods of silence.

Thomas describes several types of actions that ascetics highly value. “Watching in the night” is a practice of being quiet when everyone else is asleep. They resonate with the verse that says, “!Quédense quietos y sepan que yo soy Dios” (Salmo 46:10). They fast. They live simply. They grow incredibly through hardship and value working. Their temptation is to seek pain for its own sake or to overemphasize personal piety.

Next week I might post summaries of chapters 6-11.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Allison: Death and Memory (S)

I've been moving at a snail's pace through chapter 5 on the Passion of Jesus in his book, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History.  I might actually finish the chapter by Good Friday ;-)

1. pp. 387-92
2. pp 392-95
3. pp. 395-99
4. pp. 399-403
5. pp. 403-5
6. pp. 406-21

Today, pp. 421-27
The first couple pages mainly finish up Allison's thought on Paul's testimony to the historical Jesus.  I think he captures a bit of the truth when he says that "most of what he [Paul] believed about Jesus cannot be evidenced in a small collection of occasional, ad hoc correspondence" (421).  He ends with three further comments:

1. That the apostle spent time in Jerusalem not long after the crucifixion and had access to information about Jesus' final days there.

2. Some scholars have argued for a pre-Markan passion already in the 30s and 40s.  Here for the first time, Allison hints that such a narrative could have been oral.  Thank you, finally.

3. Paul says nothing that contradicts Mark's account.

Death and Memory

In this section, Allison returns to and extends some of the key ideas of his first chapter.  For example, "memories and imaginations, shortly after death, often converge upon a life's end, upon 'the events leading up to the loss'" (423).  Allison plausibly says that "doubtless some of the traditions behind the passion narratives had their genesis very early on, which surely ups the odds of their containing some true-to-life memory" (424).

Some of the details that Allison considers very likely historical, simply because they do not seem like things someone would invent, include the conscription of Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross, the place called Golgotha, the presence of female followers at the cross, and burial by Joseph of Arimathea.   Things that might be considered embarrassing have somewhat of a claim too, although Allison feels them less powerful and argument: Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, Jesus' wavering in Gethsemane, and Jesus' cry from the cross.

Six more pages in the chapter!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Introducing Hebrews

If I had to introduce Hebrews without taking sides, what would I say?

1. It seems to be a "word of exhortation" (Heb. 13:33; cf. Acts 13:15) a sermon of sorts.  But this sermon was sent as a letter to an audience at some distance (cf. Heb. 13).  If there was originally an opening greeting to the letter, it is lost to history.

2. We do not know with certainty the author, destination, or place it was written.  It makes sense to think of the author as a Greek-speaking Jew who was connected in some way to the Pauline mission (cf. 13:23), but we simply lack sufficient information to make a conclusion.  Some of the most prominent suggestions include Apollos and Barnabas, but we simply do not know.  Experts are only agreed that it was not likely Paul because of significant stylistic and theological distinctions, not to mention the fact that the author does not consider himself a direct witness to Christ (2:3).  We know the author was male because he identifies himself as such grammatically in 11:32.

3. Italy would seem to be either the point of origin or, perhaps more likely, the destination of the sermon (13:24).  Although the evidence is inconclusive, Rome currently holds first place among suggestions for the location of the audience.  We know the audience has believed for some time (5:11-6:12).  We also know that they went through a time of persecution earlier in which some of them at least lost property (10:34).  They supported individuals in prison (10:33-34), and it is even possible that some of their leaders were put to death (13:7).

If Hebrews addressed some church or churches in Rome, two principal options emerge as the earlier time of persecution.  Those who date Hebrews to the early 60s tend to see the earlier persecution as the time when the emperor Claudius expelled Jewish Christians from Rome (cf. Acts 18:2).  Those who date Hebrews even later might see the persecution under Nero around the year 64 as the earlier time of persecution.

4. Experts on Hebrews are also divided on whether the audience was predominantly Jewish or Gentile.  Initially, one might think that the audience must be Jewish in order to understand the author's complex use of the Jewish Scriptures.  Nevertheless, Gentile believers would also have embraced them as their own Scriptures and many of the earliest converts to Christian Judaism may have been "God-fearers" already worshiping in synagogues.  Galatians also has an intricate argument of this sort and its audience is primarily Gentile. The nature of the foundations the author wants them to relearn in 6:1-3 may actually point more to a predominantly Gentile audience, since a Jew would have known these things well before confessing Jesus as the Son of God.

5. It is impossible to determine the precise situation facing the audience with certainty, although the sermon certainly gives us strong hints.  The sermon clearly means to bolster both their confidence in the atonement provided by Christ's death (e.g., 10:13) and to move them to endure in faithfulness until the end (e.g., 3:14; 10:36-39).  Many have suggested the audience was tempted to return to mainstream Judaism and its system of atonement, assuming that the temple stands in some way behind the author's argument.  The sermon gives hints throughout that their environment is beginning to weigh on them in some way as believers (e.g., Heb. 11; 12:4).

Others note that Hebrews' argument is more theoretical and concerns the wilderness tabernacle of Moses.  Aside from the enigmatic aside of 13:9-10, Hebrews does not tell its audience not to utilize Levitical means of atonement, a dissuasive argument  It rather tells them to rely on Christ's atonement, a positive argument.  This fact has led some to suggest that the audience may be more discouraged and confused by the destruction of the temple in 70 than tempted to turn to an existing temple system (e.g., 13:14).

Friday, April 08, 2011

Rob Bell's Confession of Faith

Saw this over at Jesus Creed, for those interested.  Ironically, Love Wins came in the mail yesterday.  There's been such a fuss over the book I thought I should probably at least thumb through it to see what it says.  In the video, Bell says he believes in hell.

Hebrews 3-4: The Rest of God

I was delighted to be the External Examiner yesterday for a PhD dissertation oral defense yesterday at Andrews University in Michigan.  Nice people and I want especially to commend Erhard Gallos. His dissertation explored the possibility of a connection between the sabbath rest of Hebrews 4:9 and the failure of the audience to assemble in Hebrews 10:25.  I personally don't see any connection, but he was granted his driver's license and is now free to scholar at will.

While the train of thought of these two chapters is a bit difficult to follow at times, I am at rest with most of my interpretation ;-)  First, the lead off is the common warning of Hebrews that if the audience does not endure to the end, they will experience the judgment of God.  We have become and remain partakers of the Christ if and only if we are holding firm and hold firm to the end (3:14, 6).

The wilderness generation illustrates this fact.  The Israelites left Egypt, but most of them did not enter Canaan because of their failure to continue in faith.  They did not enter God's "rest," which in relation to the audience becomes the post judgment existence of believers, the heavenly homeland and better country of Heb. 12.

Hebrews 4 then brings this point home.  The audience is like the wilderness generation in the choice they face.  They "are entering into rest" like the wilderness generation.  What gets confusing is the "now-future" nature of the imagery.  The ultimate entrance, given the typology, must be future.  But the author also speaks of entering in "every day called 'today'" (4:7; 3:13).  Every day, we choose to have faith, so every day we enter into rest.

But the ultimate rest is yet to come.  There remains a "sabbath rest" for the people of God (4:9).  On that day, we will rest from our works as God rested from his on the seventh day.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Every denomination should have a Bible scholar ;-)

I come from a revivalist/Pietist denomination.  Our history has tended to assume, I think rightfully, that the most important qualification for a minister or church leader is an "anointing" from God.  This goes along with things I've said about the heart being God's number 1 priority.  It shows our proximity to the charismatic movement (which grew from the same soil as the holiness movement).

We have tended to admire the down to earth, not necessarily too educated soul through whom God chooses to speak, the "fool" through whom God changes the world.  Indeed, in our history we have sometimes seen education as a tool of Satan to lead the church astray.  Not a single institution in my denomination grants a PhD in any area. ;-)

I'm involved with a PhD dissertation defense today at Andrews University and was finishing up the dissertation this morning when an amusing thought hit me.  You know, every denomination should at least have one or two Bible scholars, in addition to all its Spirit-filled prophets and leaders.  Every denomination should have one or two experts on what the Bible actually meant.

And what does that involve?  It involves things that I agree are not the priority for a minister or necessarily a denominational leader. I doubt massively that the most impactful pastors and leaders need to be or will be biblical scholars of this sort. Although I'm clearly having fun in this post, I really mean it when I say the heart and not the head is the number one priority even for a minister or church leader.

But you cannot be an authority on the original meaning of the Bible unless you know thoroughly and deeply:

  • the biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic
  • the historical-cultural background, meaning for OT the archaeology of the relevant sites and the relevant Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Canaanite literature; meaning for the NT the relevant Second Temple Jewish and Greco-Roman literature and archaeology
  • the history of interpretation/analysis for the last 100-200 years (the history of ancient interpretation is of minimal value in terms of the original meaning)
  • enough textual criticism to be able to reach an informed conclusion on the way the original text read
  • how to follow a train of thought inductively, including being able to ask questions the text wants to answer and to answer them using inductive evidence from the text read in its historical context
This is what you need to know to speak authoritatively on the original meaning of any biblical text.  God must more often than not speak in living and fresh ways regardless of these things.  But I was thinking this morning, every denomination should at least have one or two people somewhere on retainer who are actually qualified to speak to what it really meant too. ;-)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Clever Republicans

It looks like Boehner is going to call for a vote tomorrow on a one-week budget extension that cuts $12 billion and extends Defense funding for the rest of the year.  It's smart because I imagine it will pass the House and then it puts the Senate or less likely the President in the position of saying "no" to something that results in a shut down.

I don't know what I would do if I were in the Senate's or President's place.  To meet in the middle, cuts should probably include Defense.  After all, Defense is 20% of the budget.

But you can see the clever plan.  With each extension, put in for the rest of the year some item the Republicans want until all you're debating are the ideologically driven cuts.  So then the Democrats finally get the blame for shutting down the government over NPR or Planned Parenthood, which would not go over well.

Political Cartoon of the Day ;-)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Brown and Meier: Antioch and Rome

I was remembering this morning how significant the little book, Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity was to my understanding of early Christianity.  From a scholarly perspective, it is somewhat of a popular level book, the kind you might have as a secondary text in a college or seminary class.  But it confirmed some very key paradigm shifts I was undergoing, simple yet profound.

Two in particular come to mind:
1. The diversity of the New Testament world.
This book, not actively, not polemically, but just by doing what it does, undermines the popular myth that the early church was this monolithic group that all agreed with each other.  Oh, if we could only get back to the early church, goes the restorationist myth.

It turns out we are already there.  Sure, we have more diversity than they did.  But the early church had groups that we might easily call different denominations today.

2. The fact that "conservative" / "liberal" did not coincide with Jew/Gentile.
There were Jews that were as liberal as any Gentile believer (even more than Apollos or Paul) and there were Gentiles who were so conservative that they became circumcised (i.e., that were more conservative than James).

Maybe at some point these simple paradigm busters will coalesce into a nice list in my mind.  They are simple, obvious, and profound... and contrary to many assumptions boldly and mistakenly proclaimed from pulpit and  even classroom.

I'd love to revive a proposal I submitted once to a publisher, which I would now title, A New Perspective on Hebrews (I abandoned the earlier proposal when they told me they wouldn't pay a royalty until I had sold something like a 1000 copies).  Hebrews is fertile ground for exploding unexamined assumptions of this sort.  Unfortunately, I am committed to a different book as my next scholarly venture.

Maybe next year.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

I was working yesterday on the section of my philosophy book that covers utilitarianism.  I was again fascinated by Jeremy Bentham.

He was of course no friend of faith, but this was not because he was an evil-hearted man.  Ironically, his opposition to the organized church and Christianity was because he was fighting for some things we would consider to be Christian values today.

For example, his goal was for everyone to count in society, not just upper class men from the right families.  He not only wanted all men to be able to vote, even if they came from those dirty, newly industrialized monstrosities like Manchester, but he believed women were fully equal to men and believed the pain and pleasure of children counted exactly the same.

This is a trajectory, and his trajectory led him to ideas we might debate.  He believed, for example, that the suffering of an animal was also a consideration in evaluating the consequences of an action.  He was opposed to the death penalty and saw prison as a matter of reform rather than punishment.  In some work published posthumously, he argued for the liberalization of laws against homosexual practice.  My guess is that American law today is similar to what he was advocating, remembering that they used to imprison and even put to death homosexuals.  Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in England for homosexual practice at the turn of the twentieth century because he ticked off someone in Parliament.

The picture above is Bentham's skeleton dressed up and his actual head at the bottom.  Believing somewhat like Epicurus, he did not believe death was something that should be feared.  He bequeathed his estate to the University of London on one condition (he was its godfather, and it was the first secular university in England that anyone could attend, even if you were not a member of the Church of England).  The condition was that his dressed up skeleton was to be present at all the board meetings.  It is still there in the box above.

So we can disagree with him on his religion, and his simplistic utilitarianism should rightly be tweaked, as John Stuart Mill in fact did.  But from this casual acquaintance, it seems to me that his heart was substantially in the right place.  We are prone to vilify individuals like him because of his "head."  But the Pietist in me, at least from my superficial acquaintance, finds someone here more Christian at heart than scores of the confessing in the Parliament and Church of England of his day.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Allison: more argument that Paul knew a pre-passion narrative

So far:

Today, 406-21.
I am less than impressed with Allison's attempt in this section to make a cumulative argument that Paul knew a pre-passion narrative, based on tiny little verbal parallels.  As I said in the previous post, (if I remember what I said ;-), I have no problem with the idea that Paul knew the general contours of the passion story.  Indeed, I think it very likely that he knew oral traditions about Jesus' final days.  I'm just not sure we have enough evidence to argue objectively that he knew a specific narrative like Mark's passion, especially a written one.

Here are Allison's little parallelobits:

1. Paul had a definite impression of Jesus' character as he faced death.
Check, no problems here (cf. Phil. 2).

2. Paul associates Psalm 69 with Jesus' character (Rom. 15:3; 11:9-10).  The gospels associate Psalm 69 with Jesus' passion.
It is quite possible that the earliest Christians quickly came to associate Psalm 69 with Christ's death and that Paul inherited some of this association.  It does not prove a pre-passion narrative.

3. Romans 15:3, as the gospels do extensively in their passion narratives, have Jesus quoting Scripture in the first person, a phenomenon Hays has explored most famously.  Maybe Paul learned this from a passion narrative.
I consider Allison's conclusion beyond question that "from a very early time, Christians identified Jesus as the speaker of several psalms of suffering" (411).  Indeed, I find it quite plausible that Jesus himself did so, and that Jesus himself is the origin of the practice.  This does not prove, however, that Paul knew this hermeneutic because he had read a pre-passion narrative.

4. Paul twice uses a very rare verb systauroo ("to crucify together").  Does he get it from a pre-passion narrative mentioning two criminals he was crucified together with.
Whaaaatt?  I like Allison, but this one just jumps the shark.  This is something you write down on a napkin while down to your final coffee in a restaurant late at night with friends... and you probably throw the napkin away in the morning.

5. Paul mentions the Passover in 1 Cor. 5:7... could he be reading a pre-passion narrative?
Are you serious?

6. Colossians 2:13-14 uses the image of nailing to a cross... could he be...
Come on.

7. Paul uses paradidomi ("hand over") on five occasions... could he be...
All these are easily explained as oral traditions about Jesus' death.  They in no way demonstrate that Paul knew a pre-passion narrative in an expanded form like Mark's passion.  And although I don't find him entirely clear, Allison gives off the vibe of talking about a written pre-passion narrative, which would be even harder to prove.

8. "thorn in the flesh"... Paul thinking of Gethsemane?
This is possible, but as even he says, the parallels asking of God to let something involving a thorn pass "hardly establish beyond reasonable doubt" (416).  Insufficient evidence.

The last few pages of this section try to add more evidence, but are less and less helpful.   
a. Allison argues that the Gethsemane story was widely circulated.
I don't have a problem with the possibility that Paul knew Jesus had wrestled in the Garden.  I'm just not sure he gives any substantial evidence of that knowledge in his writings.

b. Paul uses abba; Mark's passion uses abba.
Weak, weak, weak.

c. Colossians 4:2 says "continue in prayer, watching," which is reminiscent of the Garden.
Insufficient evidence.

d. Romans 15:2-3 could evoke images of the Garden.
Could.  Might not.  Again, no problem with the possibility that Paul knew of Jesus' struggle before the cross in some general way.

e. Paul carries around Jesus' sufferings
f. the verb to torment.

Just weak all around.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Lead Plates Apparently Forgeries

A couple individuals have asked me about some lead plates that surfaced in Jordan recently.  We Christians have to be careful about these things because we are prone to jump on them without sufficient care.  When we are wrong--and these things almost always turn out to be hoaxes--not only we look stupid but we make Christianity look stupid.

First, this article from the Mirror so smacks of sensationalism and unlikelihood that, even if the plates were authentic, this article would almost certainly be a stretch.  The very idea of Jesus keeping a diary sounds massively anachronistic in itself.

But Peter Thonemann, as reported by Daniel McClellan, has apparently correlated some of the writing on the codices with some material on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman.  James McGrath has links to a number of other bloggers who have concluded similarly, and David Meadows has a sagacious review of the issue.  Thonemann believes that some confusion over what the Greek letters A and L are, as well as the repetition of the same exact Greek phrase in more than one place on the same page, points to someone who did not actually know Greek and was trying to fake it.

None of this disproves anything about Jesus.  It just proves that after the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries, someone was motivated to create something he or she could turn in for money.

Online Spanish Ministry Courses Begin!

Today we have two online Spanish ministry courses opening: La Iglesia Misional (The Missional Church) and Cambio y Transformación (Change and Transformation, a spiritual formation course). These correspond to the first full semester courses of our Anglo program as well.

Team teaching La Iglesia Misional is Dr. Victor Cuartas of Regent University (focusing on the practice elements of evangelism, service, church multiplication, and global mission) and Dr. Pablo Jiménez (focusing on the foundational elements of Bible, theology, church history, and integration).  Teaching the one hour spiritual formation course is our Directora herself, Joanne Walker.

As I wrote before, this is the first MDIV degree in Spanish to be (primarily) online and contextualized.  It's an exciting day in the ministry of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, in fact the very first courses to be taught in Spanish at the university itself.

Thanks to all the many hands, including the pilot cohort of students, who have made this day possible!