Theology for the Long Haul

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Couple Reviews from my Summer Reading

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener

While this volume is over 800 pages from cover to cover, half of it is notes and works cited. Like Keener's other works (I’ve also read his commentary on Matthew) this volume on the “Historical Jesus” is filled with extra-biblical citations and observations. Keener’s expertise in socio-contextual study makes him a force to be reckoned with (even if this is his first work devoted to the topic). What I appreciate most is Keener’s firm grasp on “Historical Jesus” methods and paradigms, and his ability to use them responsibly (Keener's book could be used as a guide in my opinion). Keener levels serious critiques of some of scholarships earlier works (Crossan, Mack, the Jesus Seminar, etc.), while building upon the works of some influential scholars (Sanders, Davies, Hurtado, etc.). All-in-all I think Keener’s volume is indispensable, especially when read alongside other works on the same topic.

The Historical Jesus: 5 Views (Price, Crossan, Johnson, Dunn, and Bock) edited by Paul Rhodes Eddy

I can’t recommend this book highly enough as a foundational primer for contemporary Jesus studies. In one volume the reader gets 5 views, each with 4 critiques (from the other authors). By the time the reader finishes the book, he or she will have a basic grasp of the discussion and its primary points of argument. What is likely the most helpful contribution of a book of this nature is that each opinion is balanced by its critiques. While not perfectly, it forces the representative scholars to wear a rhetorical seat belt. If you want to know what people are saying about the Historical Jesus, than this is the place to start.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shocking News from Jerusalem: The Bible has Changed!

The following post by Dan Wallace was written in response to an Associated Press article...

"What shouldn’t surprise us in all this is that here is yet another piece by a respected journalist, writing for a highly regarded news agency, in which he turns a straightforward story about serious biblical scholarship into a sensationalist piece that borders on yellow journalism. When will journalists learn that the story as is is interesting and significant in its own right? Historically, journalists simply can’t relay the narrative of discovery or research of biblical manuscripts without midrashing the story and taking cheap shots at believers. This may reveal something of the shallow soil of their own theological convictions in which a robust orthodoxy never had a chance to take root."

Read the rest here...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What to do with Creeds and Councils?

I found this post by John Starke on The Gospel Coalition website and thought it was helpful. Here is a piece. You can click the link below to read the rest.

"The church—be it Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—has long debated the role of creeds and councils without reaching full consensus. Evangelicals care about sound doctrine, and we would be wrong to think it didn’t exist until the Reformation. So what’s an appropriate emphasis on creeds and councils for evangelicals in particular? What authority should they have in our life and doctrine?

Follow Me as I Follow Christ

In his first letter to the Corinthians, after exhorting them to do all things for the glory of God (10:23-33), Paul sets himself apart as an example when he says, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Notice, though, he doesn’t set himself apart as a perfect guide. He has a very important qualification: “as I follow Christ.” In other words, Paul wants his readers to recognize where Paul’s life is that of Christ’s (I would say, where it is biblical) and therefore follow him in that way. This is an easy paradigm to remember how Protestants have thought about creeds and councils: follow the creeds and councils as they follow the Bible.

Bruce Demarest, in an older Themelios article, “The Contemporary Relevance of Christendom’s Creeds” (by the way, you can look through our entire archives of Themelios, all the way back to 1975) makes the same point rather well:
[T]he creed is not only a rule; it is also a rule that is ruled. As human formulations the creeds are subordinate to Scripture, the supreme rule of faith and practice. However majestic its language, however moving its assertions, however closely it purports to approximate apostolic doctrine, the creed is a human and therefore potentially fallible document. Ultimately the creeds must be checked and ruled by the Word of God. Christendom’s creeds are worthy of honour to the degree that they accord with the teaching of the Word of God.
What Kind of Authority

Since we’ve concluded that the creeds and councils don’t have ultimate authority, which is ascribed only to Scripture, do they have any authority at all? There’s a cavalier spirit in evangelicals that is quick to say, No! But that’s a tough line to plow since our evangelical understanding of the gospel is built upon the orthodox formulations of the creeds and councils. Even the most rogue, “no-creed-but-the-Bible” evangelical still uses words like orthodox and heresy. These aren’t biblical words, so to speak, but Christian words that depend upon some sort of agreement as to what our spiritual ancestors have claimed to be good and right beliefs and what is damnable, according to the Bible.
So for Protestants, creeds and councils are viewed as norma normata, which is a fancy Latin phrase for “a rule that is ruled.” Creeds and councils are rules ruled by Scripture. But note, that it is still a rule... "

Click here to read the rest...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Travel Plaza Tuesdays: Kindles, Pickles, and Other Little Things

Do you know the best thing about turning thirty-one? You spent so much emotion on the trauma of turning thirty, you just don’t have the energy to feel bad about age again. Thirty-one is quiet and uneventful, like an afternoon rain that comes and goes before it’s noticed.

Like a little daisy sprouting up after that rain, Phil bought me a Kindle for my thirty-first birthday. It was unexpected—we aren’t big gift givers. At first I was hesitant. I suspected he purchased it for financial advantages: the Kindle downloads could prove less expensive then the library fines I tend to rack up (when we moved from Indiana two years ago, Phil pointed to the town’s under-construction-library and remarked the project would probably come to a standstill since the funding was being pulled). I was also skeptical about reading from an electronic screen. There would be no paper and ink smell, no chocolaty fingerprints from the last reader, no sound of the page as it turns. What a surprise! I love that little device with its slender, gray cover. It is by far the one of the best gifts I have been given.

When we moved to South Carolina, I was determined to have a new couch. Our old “corduroy gold boat” was left in our rental in Indiana, so we were couchless. However, after a little shopping and the shock of the huge retail price tags, I baulked and ended up buying a used microfiber off craigslist. It was nice, but wasn’t really what I wanted. A few days after the purchase, my boys ran into the kitchen to tell me a water bottle spilled on the couch.

“Okay,” I sighed, “It’s just water. I’ll soak it up.”

“Actually,” said my four-year-old matter-of-factly, “It’s pickle juice.”

Later that evening, we snuggled up on the (slightly dill smelling) couch to watch the movie The Prince of Egypt. We ate popcorn, and I suddenly felt grateful for our second hand couch. If it was new, I would be way too uptight to let the kids eat on it. The pickle-juice-fiasco would have put me over the edge. With a used couch, I just half-laughed and cleaned it up.

Kindles and pickles. They got me to think about how things that are unexpected or don’t happen quite as planned often end up being the sweetest things in life. So often what I think I want is near-sighted. But I have a God who sees the big picture. Often if I rest in Him and His sovereignty, He shows me a glimpse of what I couldn’t see close up. In big and little things.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mixin' it up for the Glory of God!

What do The Case Against the Case for Christ by Robert Price and Abiding in Christ by Andrew Murray have in common?

Nothing, and maybe that's the point.

A few days ago I started plowing through The Case Against the Case for Christ in preparation for my classes beginning next week (we are spending a couple days on Bart Ehrman and a couple on Robert Price as preparation for college). It has been laborious let me tell you.

In TCATCFC, Price sets out to discredit Lee Stroble and the host of scholars and teachers he references and interviews in his A Case for.... series. Price spends as much time "bleeding his heart" and venting his bitterness as addressing real issues. His argument is full of opinion and scathing criticism, but not clearly conveyed. Thankfully, I don't think he has written successfully to students or scholars. He is far too technical for undergraduate students or a popular audience and his bias lacks the professionalism needed to make sense to Academics. It is difficult to take seriously someone who, without fail, accepts the most critical opinion on all matters all of the time (whether it is the most logical or not). It's a heart problem, in my opinion.

On the other side of spectrum, I have been reading Abiding in Christ by Andrew Murry. Many of you have probably read this book (if you haven't, you must), and have found it to be as enriching and encouraging as I have. In the book, Murray encourages the believer to not only hear God's loving and generous call to salvation, but also His call to abide. I am in constant need of this reminder. Like you, I have found that a busy life is not conducive to intimacy with God. I make myself too busy to abide, and so I fail to live in all of the blessing Christ's work affords me.

So why am I reading these two books at the same time?

Because God has called me to read and understand people like Robert Price, and He has called me to care for my soul. There are many scholars and students who have sacrificed their spiritual life for the self-made glory of academia. The academic world thrives on human pride and teacher worship. The cost of seeking to glorify God in this profession (I prefer to think of it as a ministry) can be high if you don't purposefully determine to abide.

At the end of the day, there is no life other than what is found in Christ, and there is not glory that lasts--save that given by Christ at the end of one's life.

Fulfill your calling, but also abide. You cannot accomplish the former without prioritizing the latter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Travel Plaza Tuesdays: It's a Scary, Scary World, but Take Heart

As July melts into August, our little family settles into life in the South. While the majority of southerners hibernate in air conditioned living rooms, I prefer to take in the heat, as if still defrosting from thirty-one years of below freezing winters. Bike rides in the front yard, homemade lemonade in the afternoons, and long hours at the neighborhood splash pad. I love the fact that clothes put on the line at one o’clock in the afternoon are dry by one-thirty. For a girl who said she would never go south, I’ve gone south, if you know what I mean.

There’s a stereotype about the south that people are friendly. It’s so true. We know our neighbors fairly well already and I always get chatted up at BI-LO. Two Sundays ago when we arrived home from church, we even had a visitor. It was a four-foot brown snake curled up in the shade of our porch.

I am not even kidding.

It was almost enough to make me price moving trucks back to Ohio. Instead, in a panicked state, I texted my sisters. My younger sister’s response: You’re kidding me. Oh, I wish.

“Is it poisonous?” my older sister texted back.

Of course I had already checked online. There are no poisonous brown snakes in upstate South Carolina.

“So what’s the problem?” she asked.

Um, it’s a snake? Maybe that didn’t register from her townhouse in downtown Columbus’ Victorian Village where the nearest snake is fifteen miles north and in a zoo. Or maybe she just simply forgot snakes are inherently evil.

But I had not forgotten. That is why I did not go outside for the rest of the day, even after the snake had moved on. This was a normal reaction to an encounter with a snake longer than my first-born child. However, some other reactions were a little less rational. As Phil reentered the house from a brave, brave venture out, I screamed,

“Shut the door, shut the door!”

The door was hastily shut.

“Lock it! Lock it!”

This time there was only a look.

I got the same look later in the day as I folded laundry in our bedroom. I couldn’t shake the image of a snake slithering around and in a fit of mania, grabbed my unprotected ankles and leapt onto the bed.
Just a long, long stare.

What? You never get the heebie-jeebies?”

I’ve heard it said many times that fear is not a rational emotion. I beg to differ. When you take into account the things that can and DO happen in life, you begin to realize how legitimate fear is. People get cancer, die in car accidents, miscarry babies, lose jobs, produce prodigals, and a myriad of other unhappys. The chance that you or I will experience one, two, or possibly even three of these pains is almost certain. That’s some seriously scary stuff.

Jesus’ talked a lot about fear. Often He acknowledged the reality of something to be feared, but offered a word of instruction or comfort. An example of this is John 16, when He plainly told His disciples they would have tribulations, but told them to “take heart—I have overcome the world.”

To put it in my modern-day parallel: Yes, you will encounter evil-eyed serpents, but take heart (and stop wearing those ridiculous rubber boots in the yard)—I am the one who crushed the snakes head.”

It comforts me to know that Jesus never said, “Oh don’t worry about such and such, it’s no big deal and probably won’t even happen.”

No, Jesus laid the snakes of life out on the table...

It’s going to be scary.

But I am in control. I will be with you.


Monday, August 1, 2011

The Historical Jesus and Therapy for Bible Scholars

Many of you know I am currently working on my master's thesis. The topic is The Scandal of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. My goal is to find out how Jesus' teaching and ministry was an offense to some in his culture and context. I see this as useful information given the nature of Jesus words in Matthew 10:

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. "It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. "(vv. 24-27 NASB)

That said, investigating "Historical Jesus" studies is a part of my research, and to that end I have been reading three books:

1. The Historical Jesus: 5 Views edited by Paul Eddy and including essays by Robert M. Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James D.G. Dunn, and Darrell Bock.
2. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener
3. The Sage from Galilee by David Flusser (a Jewish Rabbi)

While I have gained a greater understanding of how scholars from diverse backgrounds and with varying theological commitments interpret Jesus, I have also been frustrated and disappointed. I expected to be greatly challenged by the writings of Price and Crossan especially, only to be blown away by how much one can assert from very little evidence. Price it seems, would have me believe that the ancient narrative of Attis, (whose hair grew and pinkie finger moved after death) was a source for Jesus' resurrection story....really? Crossan would have me doubt the Biblical account and trade it for a re-creation of his own, which looks more like Crossan than any Messiah of a 1st century Jew. Johnson's post-modern approach is appealing at times, Dunn makes me laugh (in a good way), Bock is predictable (not necessarily a bad thing), Flusser is informative, and Keener is awesome (though at times giving too much credence on too little evidence in my opinion). Like I said, I'm learning a lot.

Two of the most valuable things I am learning are: 1) Scholars don't know all they say they know; and, 2) All people (including those who claim to be objective) create a Jesus that reflects their theological commitments and personal concerns. The more I read from scholars like Robert Price, Bart Ehrman, Crossan and others I find their struggle with Jesus is spiritual and not intellectual. If you listen to Price speak, he can't seem to help mocking people who believe there could be divine accountability. He's afraid of hell, and so he mocks it. Ehrman also wears his heart on his sleeve. His desire to be more intelligent than his professors at Moody and Wheaton fuels his animosity towards evangelical Christians. The further I get into Biblical Studies the more I realize that the profession has as much to do with personal therapy as it does scholarship.

I am unsure at this point where all this will take me. I want to make a difference with my studies, but I am seeing that what people really need (Bible scholars included) is an encounter with the living Christ. I'm sure the answer includes both a move of the Holy Spirit, and my (and others') obedience to thier calling. My prayer is that good scholarship will open a door for unbelieving academics to encounter Christ on a spiritual and experiential level.

What are your thoughts