Larry Hurtado and Michael Kok in Conversation about High Christology (Skinner)

KokYesterday, Bible and Interpretation posted an article by Michael Kok entitled, “Critical Questions for the Early High Christology Club.” After interacting with the ideas of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and others, Kok raises three questions:

(1) First, is there a concern to date a “high Christology” as close as possible to the founding of the “Christian” movement?

(2) Second, having been formulated in reaction to the parallelomania of the “history of religions school” (religionsgeschichtliche Schule), does the exclusive focus on the Jewish matrix of the Christ followers serve to insulate them from influences from the Greco-Roman world?

(3) Third, is there a risk of depicting ancient “Christianity” as monolithic, assuming that a divine Christology was the definitive feature of all Christ associations?

Here is his closing paragraph:

In the end, we must resist the tendency to treat the textual representations of Christian beliefs and praxis in the New Testament and other Christian literature as univocal. We must be rigorously historical in contextualizing which group was putting forward what claim about Jesus and what function did the claim serve in their symbolic universe and social formation. It is perfectly valid to inquire about the theological truthfulness of various canonical and creedal declarations about the person of Christ within confessional communities. The tools of the historian’s trade are not sufficient to engage such questions. They are only fit to investigate the individuals or groups who found a given Christology persuasive in a specific historical and social context.

HurtadoToday, Larry Hurtado has responded to Kok’s questions blow-by-blow. This could develop into something interesting. I’m wondering if (read: hoping) others will weigh in.

Richard Briggs on Teaching Scripture to Ordinands/Seminarians (Gupta)

In the latest issue of Theology journal, Richard Briggs offers a poignant reflection on teaching Scripture to ordinands and seminarians (“New Directions in Teaching Scripture to those Training for Ministry,” 118.4 2015). Firstly, he notes that many Bible professors are much more interested in their own hobby horses and working in traditional academic categories than they are deeply reflecting on what formational and vocational needs should be prioritized for seminarians. In his own words, he says that he has a troubling sense that “what we are good at in teaching biblical studies does not always equate to what our students need with regard to Scripture for lives to be spent in ministries of various kinds” (251).

Briggs notes that much of what students learn in regards to Scripture is how to write essays. Sometimes they break further beyond that to think more philosophically and hermeneutically about Scripture. But Briggs urges that students ought to be “orientated towards the cultivation of phronesis,” practical wisdom (252). Whether one agrees with Briggs or not (I am inclined to agree with him), our seminary faculty and leaders ought to be reckoning with the question – to what end is the Bible studied (252)? It is not enough to answer: “because it is there” (252, Briggs notes this problematic assumption).

Again, going back to our hobby horses and the trends within the guild, Briggs observes that too often our academic discussions don’t seem to have much clear bearing on ministerial formation. If we think that our academic concerns ought to be important, that should be properly explained.

Why not spend time talking about the church, Christian leadership, and worship? Briggs does not explicitly say this, but he implies that students have a need to learn about the Scriptural foundations of their ecclesial understanding of ministry and worship – why is this not discussed more in introductory courses?

At George Fox Seminary, we are going through a curriculum revision, so it is the perfect time to be re-thinking our Scriptural requirements. The more traditional academic NT survey model does not serve our students well. The textbooks handle “survey” matters well, so I have desired to focus class time more on ancient context, biblical theology, theological interpretation, ministry formation, and ethics. I hope I have tried to model some of the things that Briggs has been calling for. Furthermore, though, the traditional seminary approach is to train ministry leaders and academics (those going on to a PhD) with the same courses. Briggs has made me seriously re-think this. In any case, I hope you will get a hold of his article if you teach Scripture to seminarians and ordinands.

Video: NT Wright and Peter Thiel Dialogue about Innovation, Progress, and the Future (Gupta)

Fascinating video here from the Veritas Forum, a dialogue between NT Wright and Entrepreneur Peter Thiel about technology, history, progress, the future, religion and science/technology, and so forth. Perhaps what impressed me most was how well read both these speakers are on many topics beyond their “specialty.” I wonder who would win at Trivial Pursuit, or Jeopardy?

If you don’t know who Peter Thiel is (I didn’t until I googled him), have a look at his Wikipedia page. He is a fascinating person to say the least. Also, he is not afraid to disagree bluntly with Wright. Great video!

Do Online Resources Belong in Academic Footnotes? (Skinner)

Today while finishing up a review for a monograph (one I really liked, by the way), I wrote the following:

“I also noted at least seven instances where [author] references an online resource or a particular conversation taking place within the blogosphere. This is only the second book I have reviewed in which a number of online resources are cited and I remain ambivalent about the place of such materials in an academic monograph. While it is probably the case that blogs and online discussion boards are here to stay, one wonders whether we have arrived at the place where such materials rise to the level of being included alongside peer-reviewed journals and monographs.”

I am interested to know what our readers think of this. Please share your opinion as I am genuinely looking for a broader perspective on this.

The Kind of Review I’ve Been Waiting For (Skinner)

Sarah HeromanBack in May my seventh book was released. It was written primarily for students and non-specialists and the goal was to take the fruits of modern scholarship and make them truly accessible to those without formal training in biblical studies. We’ve all seen those books written by scholars that are supposed to be for laypeople, but when you open them they have little chance of actually connecting with the intended audience. Since I consider myself a teacher first and foremost, I wanted to produce a book that would do for readers what I do for my students in person. So far the book has been well-received by other professors but I have yet to hear from someone in my intended target audience, until now……

This past week while vacationing with my family, I saw this review from Sarah Heroman in which she describes reading my book as “life changing.” I assume this is hyperbole, and while my writing goals are often more modest than changing someone’s life, I don’t actually mind the description of my work. :)  Here’s an excerpt from her review:

His writing is clear, and the use of analogies at the beginning of a new topic is helpful. Even better, once he’s done describing the analogy, whether it’s watching the movie Toy Story, or his wife’s feelings about the end of a great fiction series, his switch into academic language is not jarring. You get the sense that the author is a good classroom teacher- one who truly wants his students to get the topic and will meet them where they are without a condescending tone……

While reading, I found myself making connections and moving along a trail of thought only to find it confirmed at the end of the chapter/paragraph. That’s damn good writing right there, and it works on two levels. One, obviously- it helps guide the reader to the conclusion the author is making and two- it makes the reader believe in their ability to think/process/learn. Now I feel smart, or at the very least, not dumb. I think I can tackle Bauckham with less frustration.

I cannot tell you how encouraging it was to read this review, not just because it was so positive but mostly because it came from someone inside my intended audience. Also, if I’m being completely honest, this book is the one thing I’ve written over the past ten years that I am proudest of having written. If you know someone who wants to learn how to read the Bible with perspectives informed by the best scholarship, please consider recommending my book, Reading John. Also, many many thanks to Sarah Heroman for reading the book and taking time to review it!

deSilva’s Day of Atonement Novel – A Must-Read Book of 2015 (Gupta)

DAMany books I read are just fine. Some are good. A few are outstanding. David deSilva’s latest offering, Day of Atonement, is in a league of its own. The subtitle is: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt (Kregel, 2015). This is a work of historical fiction that places the reader in the world of early Judaism with a specialist interest in Hellenization and the negotiation of Jews in the Greek and Roman world.

I read fiction from time to time and I think that I have relatively high standards for good fiction. I know that sometimes biblical scholars try their hands at fiction (for pedagogical reasons) and most of the time I can tolerate the amateur fiction-writing because it is in service of better learning through narrative. But Day of Atonement is really good fiction. David deSilva completely blew me away with his gripping writing style. I have rarely – scratch that – never said that a biblical studies book is a “page-turner,” but this is a bona fide page-turner.

You can tell a great book based on two things: you are “lost” in the book as you read it (hence – page-tuner) – and you continue to be lost in the world and ideas of the book after you finish. The longer you are lost, the better the book, or something like that.

It has been a month or so since I finished the book and I can’t stop thinking about it. Let me give you four issues that have stuck with me.

#1: Love for the Jerusalem Temple – deSilva captures the Jewish reverence, admiration, and love for the Temple in a striking manner. It reminds me of how a Catholic might feel going to the Vatican. There was a feeling that Jewish priests must do everything in its proper way out of respect for God. This is where they go to be close to God in a special way. No wonder its desecration or destruction was so shattering.

#2: Hellenization – perhaps the most captivating aspect of the novel for me was the pressures and desires to Hellenize amongst certain Jews. Here is an example. A Greek gymnasiarch says this to a Jew attracted to Greek life and thought: “People are Hellenes not only by descent but by disposition. Those who share our education are as fully Hellenes as those who share our ancestry. I have no doubt, Jason, that you are a true Hellene at heart” (p. 72).

The debates that Jews had in that time (2nd century BC) are remarkably similar to how we talk about church and society today – we must move forward and find our place in culture. Culture has much to offer us without the risk of losing our identity. God speaks to us through other cultures, etc. And then there is the same push-back: how far is too far? When have we forsaken our tradition? Are we not supposed to be counter-cultural? This reminded me: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

#3: Jew-Gentile Relationships and the Problem of Idolatry – there is a nice sub-plot in the book about whether a Jewish craftsman can make jewelry for a Gentile that wants an image of an idol. The wise elder says to a young craftsman: “when we, who have enjoyed God’s care and favor, prefer to make idols for the Gentiles for the sake of money rather than use those encounters as opportunities to testify to the grace and majesty and goodness of the Only God, what would that say to the one who looks on from above?” (this also says something about the Jewish desire for positive witness to Gentiles)

#4: The Importance of meals and honor-shame dynamics. Much of the book’s stories take place around meals and clearly meals (in Jewish as well as Gentile circles) were treated as places where status was very important, and where honoring and shaming clearly took place.

One more thing – perhaps one of my favorite moments in Day of Atonement was deSilva’s narration of Mattathias’ speech in Modein where he stood against Antiochus’ orders. Again, the opportunity to see the social dynamics, the history, the tensions, is eye-opening.

If you don’t tend to like biblical studies books (especially if you struggle with finding “history” engaging), this might be the book for you. But carve out 6-8 hours in the week you start because it is the kind of book in which you will get lost!