Wednesday, July 30, 2008

George Eliot on Egoism and Faith

"For the egoism which enters into our theories does not affect their sincerity; rather, the more our egoism is satisfied, the more robust is our belief." - George Eliot, Middlemarch (Penguin Classics, 521).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


It's not a competition. This academic thing.

We start in different places, end at different times, run in different directions, with different commitments to the (more important) non-academic world.

Misconstrued as a race, it's end is vanity, a chasing after wind.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Biblical Languages "Teen Challenge"

Here's John Hobbin's with a variation on Teen Challenge:
"Permit me to dream for a moment. How about a Teen Challenge program of memorization of Scripture in the original languages? Going into the program, inductees would have to have a firm grasp of the languages already, and a commitment to detox from a culture that tells them it’s normal to know dialogue from their favorite TV shows and song from their favorite songstresses by heart, but not Psalm 23 in Hebrew and 1 Corinthians 13 in Greek even if they studied the requisite languages for years. Coming off the program, graduates would be able to pick up their original language Bibles and sight-read a core of important passages with ease and pleasure. A foundation on which to build." (Read the whole post here.)
"My" computer is back, by the way. It's actually a different computer, but with everything set up and (mostly) running the way I had it before. I now have a recent backup of my data too. Nice!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Blue Screen of Death

My computer crashed hard yesterday morning. Normally a simple restart is enough to get it working again, but this time I got a message saying something like "no bootable device." Our computer service people didn't get to it yesterday, so for the first time in recent memory I am facing a computer-free weekend--except, that is, for brief snatches on t's computer.

I am looking forward to it actually. Without the distraction of the internet I hope to get more reading done than I otherwise would. Maybe I will also have time for some philosophical reflections on what in the world I think I'm doing and why it matters.

I assume, of course, that the computer people will be able to recover my data. This apocalyptic scenario holds no attraction.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

(Pre)Views of Israel and Palestine

Since I am organizing a study tour of Israel for next year, I was delighted by Dr. Michael Pahl's wonderful collection of pictures and comments from his recent trip. Michael visited many of the same sites we will be seeing at almost the same time of year, so his posts make a great preview.

Bruce Fisk's May and June posts on Crossings offer a very different perspective on life in the land--one that we will unfortunately have little opportunity to observe because our itinerary is almost entirely restricted to Israel. Bruce and his daughter spent the first part of their summer in the West Bank city of Nablus volunteering with Project Hope. I trust the sudden silence on the blog after the tear gas episode is because they returned safely to the States, not because they are mouldering in a Middle Eastern prison somewhere.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for A New Day

Called to Be Church (Eerdmans, 2006) is co-written by New Testament scholar, Robert W. Wall, and his good friend Anthony B. Robinson who, according to the back cover, "is a pastor in the United Church of Christ, the executive director of the Columbia Leadership Network, and the author of four books, including Transforming Congregational Culture."

I ordered a copy hoping it would help me think about the contemporary significance of Acts as I prepare to teach a course on the book. My tendency is to get so excited about what Luke is saying that I forget to reflect on its implications for believers today. On the other hand, I am allergic to approaches that ransack Acts for answers to contemporary questions in total disregard for the context and concerns of the author. I want my students to emerge from a course on Acts equipped to read and respond to Biblical narrative in a way that is more faithful to Scripture than the moralizing approach of a Chuck Swindoll or the "principlizing bridge." F. Scott Spencer's glowing blurb makes it sound as though Robinson's and Wall's book will help my students (and me) do just that:
"Never settling for easy modern applications based on thin biblical analysis, the authors wrestle seriously with the book of Acts as living Scripture for today's church and a prime resource for ecclesial renewal."
Wall's chapter on method is promising, and his exegetical comments on Acts 1 are engaging and often insightful. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between Wall's exegesis and programmatic statements about method, and Robinson's attempts at application. We learn from Robinson, for example, that Acts 1:1-14 is a succession narrative that teaches about "the perils and prospects involved in changing leadership." Jesus' ascension is reduced to an exemplary model of leadership transition:
Finally, the departing leader does need to actually depart. Jesus ascends in a cloud, disappearing from their sight (v. 9). Too many leadership transitions fail because the outgoing leaders, pastors, CEOs, presidents, or directors do not actually leave. Too often they hang around, which inevitably sends mixed signals about who really is in leadership. . . . The final act of leadership is to leave.
Give me a break! The whole point of the ascension is to show that Jesus really is in leadership. He is, after all, the Lord. Surely, leadership transition is not a subject about which Acts 1 speaks authoritatively. If it did, one would need to explain where casting lots fits in (Acts 1:26), something about which Robinson (and Wall) are strangely silent.

So much for Acts 1. I'll keep reading. The book asks the right questions, and it may work well as a way to get students thinking critically about good and bad ways of applying narratives.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Have Baby, Will Travel

Must read for anyone interested in graduate work in Religious Studies

John Stackhouse of Regent College has excellent advice for MA students thinking about going on to do a Ph.D. Much of what he says also applies to students interested in university MA programs. The comments are helpful too. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Frederick Buechner, Daniel Amos, and the Alphabet of Grace

Reading Frederick Buechner's wonderful The Alphabet of Grace, I was delighted, among other things, to be reminded of songs by Terry Taylor, one of my favourite obscure Christian artists. This song, for example, is the book set to music:
(What's Come) Over Me
words and music by Terry Taylor

You're in the light and in the dark
In the peace and in the chaos
In a world that's ours for naming
You're in my sleeping and my waking
You're in the color and in the sound
In every joy and every sorrow
You're in the faces of each stranger
In estrangement and in failure
In the books I read and
in the air I breathe
You live and move and have your being
There's a window in the wall
there you are behind it all
the Holy Dream becomes a Holy face
and it leaves me reeling

You're in the sunshine and the rain
in open spaces and in shadows
You're in my incantatious longings
"Come unto Me," I hear you calling

and I fear the very thing I'm looking for
here's someone at my door
I'm floored again by
what's come over me

(For more on Buechner references in Terry Taylor's music, see this excellent site by J. Brandon Barnes.)
I also enjoyed Buechner's asides about writing:
It is the first day because it has never been before and the last day because it will never be again. Be alive if you can all through this day today of your life. What's to be done? What's to be done? Follow your feet. Put on the coffee. Start the orange juice, the bacon, the toast. Then go wake up your children and your wife. Think about the work of your hands, the book that of all conceivable things you have chosen to add to the world's pain. Live in the needs of the day" (40).

"It is time to put on raincoats that smell of childhood and to say goodbye and to drop the children off at school and say goodbye, goodbye, and go off to what it embarrasses me to call my work because it is my idiotic game instead, my solitaire, played out in an empty room where when I'm lucky, I manage to escape everything including the question whether there is anything anywhere that the world needs less in its pain than another lecture, another sermon, another book" (62).

"Then, as so often happens, just as I am ready to start writing, knowing pretty much what I want to say and excited about finding a way to say it well, something in me tries to get up and leave it--drink a glass of water, look out the window, read a magazine. Just as the spell has a chance of working, I break it. Just as there is a chance of bringing light out of dark, I choose the dark, withdraw my hand from the hand I have reached out for" (88).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Josephus and Pedagogy

In a May 12 post on "Piper and Pedagogy" I said that "A true education will encourage in students the ability to think for themselves so that they can continue to be nurtured by their own ongoing study of Scripture." Shortly afterward I ran across John Barclay's Brill Translation and Commentary discussion of a passage in Josephus which made me wonder whether my take on what a "true education" entails is more Greek than Biblical.

The passage in question is from Josephus's discussion of divine inspiration in Contra Apionem 1.37-38:
Naturally, then, or rather necessarily – seeing that it is not open to anyone to write of their own accord, nor is there any disagreement present in what is written, but the prophets alone learned, by inspiration from God, what had happened in the distant and most ancient past and recorded plainly events in their own time just as they occurred among us there are not thousands of books in disagreement and conflict with each other, but only twenty-two books, containing the record of all time, which are rightly trusted.
And here is Barclay's comment:
This association of Judean historiography with prophets . . . is without parallel in Greek or Roman culture . . . . Similarly striking is the sense that those responsible for writing history learned it from God. “Learning” . . . suggests a passive subordination quite contrary to the Greek . . . spirit of enquiry, which involved the critical testing of sources . . . As “prophets,” these Judean historians would be recipients of divine inspiration . . . since the prophet was mastered and possessed by the divine Spirit (Ant. 4.118-19). Josephus elsewhere speaks of Moses “learning” the Judean code of laws “from God” . . . and it is this conviction that undergirds Judean commitment to the “decrees of God” (1.42). The Judean attitude to their scriptures thus matches this ethos of deference implied in the “learning” of their contents.

(John Barclay, note 152 in Against Apion 1.37. Both translation and commentary are available online here at the Project for Ancient Cultural Engagement [or PACE] website.)
For a study of Paul's epistemology that argues for a more reasoned approach to knowing, see my friend Ian W. Scott's monograph, Implicit Epistemology in the Letter's of Paul (WUNT 2.205; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006). Ian describes his argument as follows:

In this book I explore Paul's assumptions about how human beings could come to knowledge about God and our relationship with him. The Apostle is surprisingly optimistic, I argue, about the power of human reason to attain such knowledge, once the moral will has been restored by God's Spirit. We do not come to knowledge, however, by building brick by brick upon unquestionable premises. Rather, Paul's theological knowledge is structured as a story, and ethical knowledge is a matter of discerning how to play a good role in that cosmic narrative. All of this suggests a model of theological knowing in which change and development can grow naturally out of our authoritative tradition.