Saturday, April 30, 2011

Boston Trip and Conference Presentation

This past week I traveled to Boston for a regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature where I presented a paper on Augustine's hermeneutics in dialogue with the hermeneutics of contemporary New Testament scholar Dale Martin.  You can read an abstract on the New England SBL Regional Website.

The conference was enjoyable, heard several interesting papers on the portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hermeneutics.  Met several Ph.D. students from Brown and Harvard who had some good advice on future studies.  Also stayed with a couple friends of mine from undergrad- Nick (who is the author of the Alethia blog) and Andrea- and had a great time catching up some with them and watching the last episode of The Office to feature Steve Carell.

There may be some more thoughts to come when I am less stressed with the end of our semester here... Now its on to studying Hebrew Wisdom Literature and writing a paper about Aristotle's cosmological argument...

As a final note before jumping back into working, just wanted to extend condolences to all of my friends in Alabama who are recovering from the devastating storms last week.  The pictures I have seen of places I used to live and work and visit have left me in shock, but I know they aren't even capturing a small part of the damage done.  Praying for everyone there, miss you all, so sorry for your loss.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From the Easter Liturgy at First Presbyterian Church, New Haven This Morning

This is the day the Lord has made.
Healing touches the suffering, the lonely discover community, peace touches every broken place.
This is the day the Lord has made.
The day of sin's defeat, the day of resurrection, the first day of the new creation.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Wonderful God, in the company of your church, we gather to celebrate your life, your ministry, your death and resurrection, and your love for us.  God of the living, bring us new life where we are tired and stressed.  Transform our hardened hearts into fountains of love.  Forgive us the hurts and harms we have caused and fill us with the joy of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

A very interesting idea was raised in one of my least favorite classes today, which then distracted my thoughts for the rest of said class.  It was part of a discussion responding to a guest speaker who had visited in recent weeks who formerly led an Episcopalian church which is engaged in some innovative, "contemporary" worship practices and which puts a great deal of emphasis on art as a medium of worship.  The speaker, we were reminded, had highlighted what he took to be three different ways that people engage with their faith:
  1. Truth- for this group its about the message being true.  Doctrine, and correct doctrine (and therefore I can imagine correct/"sound" teaching) become very important for this group.
  2. Goodness- for this group its about moral goodness.  Moral direction is most important and social justice becomes a significant part of their expression of their faith.
  3. Beauty- for this group its about being engaged by something beautiful.  Aesthetics, story, etc., these are the things that they find most attractive about their faith.

What's important to realize is that these are not exclusive categories- just because someone thinks something is true doesn't mean they don't find it beautiful, or the other way around.  More thoughts on this later when I don't have a million and one things to do before the end of the semester, but wanted to post this short little thought now, particularly to stir people thinking about which of these ways they might find faith engaging.

What do you think?  There is a poll on the right side of the page, cast a vote there for the way you engage most with your faith.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Phenomenal, Creepy, Weird, Bizarre, Intriguing Video

For those who don't know, I have a slight penchant for conspiracy theories.  I don't really buy into them, but I find them very intriguing.  I also find the "para-normal" to be extremely interesting, though again am skeptical about its reality.  This video is fascinating, though I make no judgments about whether it represents anything worth worrying about.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lenten Series at First Church of Christ, Clinton, CT

I had the distinct honor and privilege of being both the opening and closing speaker for a series of talks reflecting on the Bible at the First Church of Christ in Clinton, CT during this Lent Season.  This is a Church with a great deal of history attached to it, going back to 1662 as part of one of the earliest settlements of Connecticut, they can boast that their campus was at one point the original campus of Yale University and that they have hosted such notable figures as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and Benjamin Franklin!  While I seriously doubt my name will ever have the coinage of that trio, it was quite an honor to be asked to come speak in a place with such heritage and to be asked to come back for a second presentation! Both talks were well received and followed by some excellent questions and discussions from a very good natured congregation.  It was a really fun experience from my perspective!

The first talk was a summary of the New Testament in forty-five minutes or less.  I joked about the impossibility of that task, especially if we tried to do it book-by-book.  Instead of taking that route, I think the more beneficial organization scheme was to focus on a framework for understanding the New Testament.  To do that, we looked at four concentric movements or waves as the early Church faced different conflicts in its fledgling development.  The four movements I indentified were these:
  1. Christianity in Conflict With Its Jewish Roots- How to understand itself as a Messianic Movement when Jesus claims to be Messiah were largely rejected by Israel?  Books dealing with this include, I think, James, Hebrews, and Matthew.
  2. Christianity in Conflict with Itself: the question of Gentile inclusion- How to negotiate the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Church?  Books considered part of this movement include Luke-Acts, and the Epistles of Paul.
  3. Christianity in Conflict with its Roman Context- How to respond to Roman persecution?  Books written in response to this issue include, I think, the two letters of Peter, Mark, and Revelation.
  4. Christianity in Conflict with Itself: the question of emerging Gnosticism- How to deal with the influence of Greco-Roman thought on the new faith?  Books showing the influence of these issues include John's gospel and letters and possibly the book of Jude (which might also fit in category 3).

A really important point I wanted to make was that the New Testament is far more weighted toward the first two of these questions than the last two.  The relationship of Christianity and its Greco-Roman context, both politically and culturally, will occupy theology from the second century to the present day.  What I take that to mean is that while the New Testament provides a starting point for dealing with those issues, it should maybe not be viewed as the ending point for those discussions, especially given the drastic changes that occur in Christianity after Constantine when Christianity becomes an accepted part of Greco-Roman society and thought and not the underdog struggling to gain an identity.  More on that might occupy another blog post soon, as I think this is a big issue.

The second talk concerned issues related to Bible translation.  I have to admit that I struggled a bit at first to figure out how to not make that an incredibly boring lecture- certainly we don't want to just compare facts about Bible translations or talk about the history of translations for forty-five minutes!  With some last minute advice from a friend far wiser than I it came together, though.  We began with a little historical context, noting that Bible translation is a very central part of what it means to be Protestant in the Western Church.  Then some talk about issues that affect translation, namely the available texts to base a translation on (which ones to use?), the philosophy of translation to be taken (how much of an interpretation will the translation be?), and the bias of the translators (will it intentionally reflect a school of thought or are we trying to make an "ecumenical" translation?).  Major points that I wanted to make included that there are indeed differences in the base manuscripts and those differences include readings and canonical questions, that all translations are to some extent interpretive (there is no one-to-one correspondence of one language to another), and that all individuals read with a particular bias.  After covering some of these issues we looked briefly at a fact sheet on a few popular translations and then compared their renderings of Psalm 23.  Then there was a really lively and entertaining discussion!

This was a really fun and exciting opportunity, and something I hope to get to do more of soon!  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Future of Evangelicalism

Just read a very interesting blog post and listened to a very interesting pod-cast about the current state and future of Evangelicalism that I thought I would pass along.  I am still negotiating my relationship to Evangelicalism.  I will say that through the prodding of a couple very close friends and reading Rachel Evans' blog (from which one of the posts I want to draw your attention to here comes) I am beginning to reconnect more with my Evangelical roots.  More thoughts on that later when I am not under the crushing weight of the end of the semester...

So this started when I saw a link from Rachel Evans' blog to this interview with theologian Roger Olson on the Homebrewed Christianity site.  The opening of the pod-cast is a little home brewed and the interviewing is a little messy, but its very much an interview worth listening to. Olson talks about a lot of different things in the hour or so long program, but over the course of doing that he gives a pretty good description of some of the current trends in Evangelical theology and some of the difficulties it faces.  One of my only points of criticism came when he took up the issue of younger people from the "post-conservative" crowd abandoning the Evangelical label.  His thought is that keeping the label allows for the maintainance of some relationships or connections that would not be possible without it.  Certainly true, but I think the other side of the coin is equally true- there are some relationships and connections that can probably never be made with the Evangelical label.  The "cash value" of Evangelicalism doesn't solve the problem of choosing a label, I think, because being "mainline" has an equal, perhaps greater "cash value."  The question could possibly be asked which set of connections and relationships are more significant, but that seems a bit too political for my liking.  Overall, I was a little disappointed with that part of the discussion.  However, on many other points he makes some very insightful assessments and comments.

Then, I clicked to another post on Rachel Evans' site entitled "The Future of Evangelicalism."  It was a very well written post, I thought, that largely describes the growing rift in the Evangelical community from the side that I find myself most aligned with.  It has a more pessimistic outlook on the idea of maintaining the Evangelical label than Olson's interview did, and that may pretty adequately describe the attitude I've had lately.  But it also highlights that such a rift is not inevitable.  The problem, as I see it, is that the solution she has outlined requires the "Neo-Reformed" movement to give up a lot more than the "Post-Conservative" movement- I cannot imagine Piper or Driscoll openly saying "we are fine with people holding an Arminian theology.  We don't hold it, but if you want to hold that view, be our guest."  That kind of conciliatory gesture seems to me to require a pretty radical change not just in the rhetoric of these leaders but also some of their fundamental theological ideas, particularly as it pertains to the locus of theological authority, which as I understand it is the very thing that they see as defining "Evangelicalism."  Which means, I predict, that such ideas won't be given up, the rhetoric from the "Neo-Reformed" movement will continue to get more and more fundamentalist in tone, and more progressive minded Evangelicals will continue to leave the Evangelical community altogether.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

Dear refuge of my weary soul, on Thee when sorrows rise,
On Thee when waves of troubles roll, my fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief, for Thou alone can heal.
Thy word can bring a sweet relief to every pain I feel.

But oh, when gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call Thee mine
The streams of comfort seem to fail and all my hopes decline.
Yet Gracious God, where shall I flee?  Thou art my only trust.
And still my soul would cling to thee, though prostrate in the dust.

Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face, and can I seek in vain?
Or can the ear of Sovereign Grace be deaf when I complain?
No, still the ear of Sovereign Grace attends the mourner's prayer.
May I ever find access to breathe my sorrows there.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reason and Emotion in Religious Thinking

Another sample from The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel.  This one is taken from Part II, Chapter 3: "The Philosophy of Pathos."

We have been trained to draw a sharp contrast between reason and emotion.  The first is pure spontaneity, the drawing of inferences, the ordering of concepts according to the canons of logic.  Emotion, on the other hand, is pure receptivity, an impression involving neither cognition nor representation of the object.  Such a contrast, however, is hardly tenable when applied to religious experience.  Is religious thinking ever to be completely separated from the stream of emotion that surges beneath it?  Religious reason is more than just thinking, and religious emotion is more than just feeling.  In religious existence, spontaneity and receptivity involve each other.  Is there no reason in the emotional life?

True, if emotion is unreasonable, it tends to distort a person's thinking.  But emotion can be reasonable just as reason can be emotional, and there is no need to suppress the emotional roots of one's life in order to save the integrity of one's principles.  Receptivity and spontaneity involve each other; the separation of the two is harmful to both.

Reason may be defined as the capacity for objectivity or as a person's ability to think in impersonal terms.  To think in personal terms, or subjectivity, is to be exposed to bias and error.  In the light of such a definition we have to exclude reason from the nature of God, Whose Person is the truth, and ascribe only emotion to Him.  Impersonal reasoning in God would mean an operation in ideas devoid of divinity.  Furthermore, pure reason comprehends a concrete fact as if it were an abstraction, a particular being in terms of a generalization.  But it is the greatness of God according to the Bible that man is not an abstraction to Him, nor is His judgment a generalization.  Yet in order to realize a human being not as a generality but as a concrete fact, one must feel him, one must become aware of him emotionally.

Is it more compatible with our conception of the grandeur of God to claim that He is emotionally blind to the misery of man rather than profoundly moved?  In order to conceive of God not as an onlooker but as a participant, to conceive of man not as an idea in the mind of God but as a concern, the category of divine pathos is an indispensable implication.  To the biblical mind the conception of God as detached and unemotional is totally alien.

Friday, April 8, 2011

God Is At Stake

Have just discovered Abraham J. Heschel, who is quickly becoming my new favorite writer.  Reading his excellent book The Prophets, which I highly recommend.  To give you a taste, here is a section from chapter 11 (Justice) that I find beautiful and provocative:

Why should religion, the essence of which is worship of God, put such stress on justice for man?  Does not the preoccupation with morality tend to divest religion of immediate devotion to God?  Why should a worldly virtue like justice be so important to the Holy One of Israel?  Did not the prophets overrate the worth of justice?

Perhaps the answer lies here:  righteousness is not just a value; it is God's part of human life, God's stake in human history.  Perhaps it is because the suffering of man is a blot upon God's conscience; because it is in relations between man and man that God is at stake.  Or is it simply because the infamy of a wicked act is infinitely greater than we are able to imagine?  People act as they please, doing what is vile, abusing the weak, not realizing that they are fighting God, affronting the divine, or that the oppression of man is a humiliation of God.
He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
He who is kind to the needy honors him.
Proverbs 14:31

The universe is done.  The greater masterpiece still undone, still in the process of being created, is history.  For accomplishing His grand design, God needs the help of man.  Man is and has the instrument of God, which he may or may not use in consonance with the grand design.  Life is clay, and righteousness the mold in which God wants history to be shaped.  But human beings, instead of fashioning the clay, deform the shape.

The world is full of iniquity, of injustice and idolatry.  The people offer animals; the priests offer incense.  But God needs mercy, righteousness; His needs cannot be satisfied in the temples, in space, but only in history, in time.  It is within the realm of history that man is charged with God's mission.

Justice in not an ancient custom, a human convention, a value, but a transcendent demand, freighted with divine concern.  It is not only a relationship between man and man, it is an act involving God, a divine need.  Justice is His line, righteousness His plummet (Isa. 28:17).  It is not one of His ways, but in all His ways.  Its validity is not only universal, but also eternal, independent of will and experience.

People think that to be just is a virtue, deserving honor and rewards; that in doing righteousness one confers a favor on society.  No one expects to receive a reward for the habit of breathing.  Justice is as much a necessity as breathing is, and a constant occupation.

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