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

previous post
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.