R.R. Reno to give public lecture at Eastern on Sept 6

If you live in the Philly area, this may interest you:

You are cordially invited to come hear a public lecture by scholar, author and editor of First Things magazineR. R. Reno, PhD. Co-sponsored by the the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good, Eastern University Office of Development, and the Templeton Honors College, this lecture will examine Religious Voices in Public Debates.  The lecture will begin at 8 p.m. in Warner Libraryon the Eastern University campus at 1300 Eagle Road in St. Davids, PA.

Dr. Reno will address the fact that too often we hear that theological themes and religious terms are sectarian, and thus inappropriate in public debates. This view is based on the myth of public reason, a myth that seeks to silence religious voices. A more forthright view of democratic politics in a pluralistic society must recognize that religious ways of thinking and arguing rightly seek to convince a variety of fellow citizens and thus contribute to a governing consensus in a pluralistic society.

Dr. Reno is the author of several books, including, In the Ruins of the Church, andRedemptive Change: Atonement and the Cure of the Soul.  He has also co-authored two books, Heroism and the Christian Life and Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible. His scholarly work ranges widely in systematic and moral theology, as well as in questions of biblical interpretation.  Reno earned his Ph.D. in Religious Ethics from Yale University.  Since 1990, he has served as a professor of theology at Creighton University, and is currently on sabbatical while working as editor of First Things magazine.

Richard Hays’ Critique of the Critics

We can teach our students Greek and Hebrew. We can teach them logical fallacies to avoid and proper ways to diagram the text. However, we don’t want them to become cold-hearted “technicians” of the text. How do we teach our students in a way that fans the flame of their love for Scripture and the Godhead at the center of it, rather than forcing a dark veil of methodology to smother the flame?

With this concern in mind, I have decided to include a lecture on “Reading the Good Book with Faith, Hope, and Love” for my intro courses. What better source to turn to for guidance in the research for this lecture than Richard Hays? Have you read his outstanding essay, “Salvation by Trust? Reading the Bible Faithfully”? If not, it can be found online here. Here is a choice penultimate paragraph:

My concern that distrust may impede our reading of the Bible leads me to my final point. The real work of interpretation is to hear the text. We must consider how to read and teach scripture in a way that opens up its message and both models and fosters trust in God. So much of the ideological critique that currently dominates the academy fails to foster these qualities. Scripture is critiqued but never interpreted. The critic exposes but never exposits. Thus the word itself recedes into the background, and we are left talking only about the politics of interpretation, having lost the capacity to perform interpretations.


This is why theological interpretation of Scripture has made such an impact on scholarship recently. Scholars, young and old, abhor the drudgery that has become “Biblical Scholarship” and desire to move interpretation towards a constructive goal – wisdom, worship and mission.


Teaching about Bible translations – the fun way!

So, I am preparing a lecture on Bible translations and why there are so many. I am lecturing to freshmen for the general curriculum requirement mostly so they aren’t really ready or interested in the nitty gritty details of this and that translation. Rather, they just want to know- why are there dozens of translations and why are they so different?

One way I am going to introduce this subject is by showing them just how tough it can sometimes be to translate something from one language to the next. On that topic, I found this great example – English movie titles, when they get translated into other languages, often get changed to some pretty strange things!!

I tried checking if these are legit, and they appear so. If you know better, do let me know.

Pretty Woman = “I Will Marry A Prostitute and Save Money” (China)

The Matrix = “The Young People who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses” (France)

Thelma and Louise = “An Unexpected End” (Mexico)

Hot Shots! = “Warm Shots” (Czech Republic)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs  = “It’s Raining Falafel!” (Israel)

Grease = “Vaseline” (Argentina)

The Dark Knight = “Night of the Knight” (Spain)

If you want to see a few more, see here.


My Recent Book on the Gospel of Thomas Reviewed over at RBL

I have now had an opportunity to read the first of two reviews of my book, What Are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? posted today at the Review of Biblical Literature. The first review was written by Ian Brown, a graduate student of John Kloppenborg at the University of Toronto. For the majority of his review, Brown is sympathetic to what I do in the book but levels this critique toward the end of the review:

[T]here are sections of Skinner’s book that are somewhat problematic.While it is true that questions of Thomas’s date and relationship with the New Testament are important, Skinner somewhat exaggerates the degree to which they still dominate the field. Skinner’s book gives the wrong impression that, because there is so much disagreement over Thomas’s date and relationship with the New Testament, other questions about Thomas are not being asked. In fact, with some notable exceptions, a great deal of recent scholarship on Thomas has dealt more explicitly with questions of Thomas’s sociohistorical location, Thomas’s parables, Thomas’s ideology (theology), and Thomas’s potential for our redescribing of Christian origins. With these questions in mind, it is a shortcoming that Skinner did not include the more recent work of Ron Cameron, Risto Uro, John Kloppenborg, and William Arnal. Many, if not all, of the studies that address these questions say something about Thomas’s date and relationship with the New Testament, but these are not the questions that drive inquiry. So while it is true that we are far from a consensus on Thomas’s date, relationship with the New Testament, or theology, this does not mean that these are still the questions that propel scholarship (p. 4).

These are fair criticisms. I guess I would respond by saying two things: (1) Given the aims of the series in general and my volume in particular, these areas of recent scholarly inquiry would have taken my discussion far afield from the “introductory” nature of most discussions within the book; (2) These areas of disagreement SHOULD continue to propel scholarship (at least until we arrive at a consensus), even if they don’t. Too often scholars on different continents  speak past one another because they assume a starting point that is not accepted in all areas of Thomas scholarship. Call me crazy, but scholarly exchange requires that we establish (i.e., argue for) rather than assume the validity of our starting points. A lot of scholarship does the latter with respect to foundational issues like Thomas‘s date and relationship to the NT. This is, to my mind, what makes April DeConick‘s work so outstanding (even when I disagree with her). She always makes a solid argument and always attempts to move discussions beyond the traditional impasses that have emerged.

In the end, I am appreciative of Brown’s comments. It is clear that he took the time to digest what I wrote in the book. I am also grateful that he found the book, on the whole, to be a useful introduction to Thomas studies. There is another review at the site but it’s in German, so I’m going to have to work through it later today (alas, the German skills have deteriorated in the past few years). That review was written by Thomas Bergholz. I went to the final paragraph and saw that he ends the review with praise for the strength and merit of my “handy book”: “Und genau darin liegt die große Stärke und das Verdienst dieses handlichen Buches.” I guess I need to go back and read the rest of his comments after my 9:30 class.

High Praise for new Campolo/Claiborne Book about Jesus

Being at Eastern University, you tend to get familiar with the names Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo very quickly (the Eastern motto is “faith.reason.justice.”). Claiborne and Campolo have a new book coming out in October called Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said? (Amazon is selling this for $13.64).

The authors focus on the words of Jesus in the New Testament and how his voice comes to bear on issues like violence, community, Islam, hell, sexuality, civil disobedience, and dozens of other topcis “for people of faith and conscience today.” Ultimately, Campolo and Claiborne are concerned that there is a kind of Christian culture in America that ignores or domesticates the radical social vision of Jesus.

I am interested in this book, and I might even have my students read it next semester, but what really caught my attention were the endorsements. Who has had a book endorsed by the likes of Jimmy Carter (yes the president), Desmond Tutu, Phyllis Tickle, Eugene Peterson, and Brian McLaren??? And a rabbi!

“This book, by a young and an elderly Christian, will help you decide how we Christians could change the world if we took the ‘red letter’ words of Jesus literally and seriously.” —President Jimmy Carter

“In Red Letter Revolution the uncompromised truth of Jesus’ teachings are given voice by two modern-day Christian leaders who do more than preach this Good News. They walk the talk and lead the way.” —Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“I started reading this book and couldn’t stop. . . . Thank you, Tony and Shane. Thank you for this book. May the movement spread around the world.” —Abuna Elias Chacour,
Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee

“Red Letter Revolution is an adrenaline-producing conversation with prophetic bite.” —Eugene H. Peterson, author of The Message Bible

“I cannot over-emphasize or exaggerate the richness of this book.” —Phyllis Tickle, author of Emergence Christianity

“In this courageous and well crafted book, we have a return to the core message of the Gospel from two Christians who first tried to live it themselves—and only then spoke.” —Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation

“Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo are two of the most significant prophetic voices in the Christian world.” —Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine (tikkun.org)

“This is a must-read book for anyone who is seeking to take Jesus’ call on their lives seriously.” —Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine

“If you ever wished you could eavesdrop on a conversation with two of the world’s most interesting and inspiring Christians, just turn to page one.” —Brian D. McLaren, author/speaker (brianmclaren.net)

“Christ Alive and At Large” – Previously Unpublished Works by C.F.D. Moule

When I was reading the book reviews in latest Expository Times (Sept 2012), I stumbled across this book I had previously known nothing about:

Christ Alive and At Large: Unpublished Writings of C.F.D. Moule (Canterbury Press, 2010).

The writings in this anthology (edited by R. Morgan and P. Moule) cover a broad range of sermonic and lecture-like literature from the mind of Prof. Moule. The author of the book review in ExpTis David Catchpole and he has a good many things to say about this commemorative collection of unpublished works. Here is one like that Catchpole writes about Moule: “an Anglican clergyman to his scholarly fingertips, but one with a wide vision and deep convictions nourished by liberal Protestant Anglicanism in the best sense of all three words.” 

In the book, Robert Morgan and Rowan Williams both offer reflections on Moule’s spirituality, scholarship, and legacy.

Biblical Hermeneutics – Five Views – A Short Review

A couple of days ago I blogged on a multi-view book called Four Views on the Apostle Paul (ed. Mike Bird). Now, I would like to make mention of another recent book entitled Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (ed. Stan Porter and Beth Stovell). Now, while these books came out around the same time, not only are they in different series, but also by different publishers! Apostle Paul is a Zondervan title. Biblical Hermeneutics is an IVP title.

OK, now on to the substance of the book. Stan Porter and Beth Stovell are on to something very important. Scholars (and students and pastors) regularly argue and disagree about what this verse means and what that passage means. There are wider hermeneutical issues involved, not just in the interpretation of one passage, but in the whole manner of approach to the Bible itself. In the book, five scholars (representing five “schools of hermeneutical thought”) give their own take on the primary mode of interpretation. One nice feature of the book is that each one works on a case study, all working on Matthew 2:13-15. That addition helps one to see the practical difference between the contributors’ views.

Here are the five views.

1. Craig Blomberg (The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View) – Blomberg represents the traditional evangelical approach that focuses on history and basic exegetical method (which concentrates especially on grammar). I rather like Blomberg’s commentaries, but his case study on Matthew 2:13-15 was not especially interesting. I am “on-board” with the grammatico-historical approach, but I was taught in seminary that it needed to be complemented equally by literary criticism. So, I naturally utilize both historical and literary criticism regularly.

2. F. Scott Spencer (Literary/Postmodern View) – As the view title implies, Spencer is interested in the “synchronic connections in, around and in front of the text in contradistinction to diachronic developments behind the text” (68). I am not sure it was the best idea to blend a “literary” approach with a “postmodern” (or open-text) approach – I know often these go together for scholars, but they need not always do so. Still, Spencer was a good choice – clear, clever, and offering a persuasive essay. I am not sure the “literary” end of his view is all that controversial. Diachronic analysis has been waning for some time, though there are pockets of scholarship that insist on a revival (especially in Jesus studies)!

3. Merold Westphal (Philosophical/Theological View) – It is hard to summarize this approach. It is not really on par with the others – it is really a call for Biblical scholars to think more philosophically about hermeneutics and theology. There is really no reason for one to see this view in conflict with the others.

4. Richard Gaffin (Redemptive-Historical View) – it is hard for me to summarize Gaffin’s view as well. Here is what I understand from his “view”: Scripture is focused on Jesus Christ. It is based on revelation. It is directed towards God’s action of redemption. Much like Westphal’s essay, I kept thinking to myself, this does not seem to be a “view” that rules out or stands against any of the other views per se. I can’t say I had any trouble accepting Gaffin’s overall perspective, but I am not quite sure it is easy to compare and contrast it to the other views.

5. Robert Wall (Canonical View) – Wall is an expert in this area and his essay represents well the “canonical” view.


Again, I love books where we get a nice broad picture of something critical (meaning “essential”!) to Biblical Studies. It doesn’t get any more important than “hermeneutics”! Also, who better to introduce the subject than Stan Porter? He is the hermeneutics and Greek guru (see here).

For me it was helpful to see evangelicals who think quite differently about hermeneutics. Sometimes I think that evangelicals (a group I identify with) are mostly “historical-critical.” However, this volume shows the breadth of evangelicalism. I think that can be a very good thing, and for the most part the various contributors are irenic in their responses.

I would also like to note that Porter and Stovell are to be commended for a fine conclusion that capably analyzes and synthesizes the discussion.


While I appreciate that there are five views included in this book, I am not sure the 5 “views” are true alternatives. In some cases, it appears we are comparing “apples” and “oranges.” I think the Historical-Critical, Literary, and Canonical could be reasonably compared (and contrasted), because they are genuinely different “ways” of looking at a text and interpreting it. How this works out exegetically is very clear.

For the views of Gaffin (Redemptive-Historical) and Westphal (Philosophical), they are dealing with higher-order theological issues. Westphal is basically making a (good!) case that Biblical interpreters need to care more about philosophy and the hermeneutics of meaning. However, it is not clear how a “philosophical” view works in view of interpreting a particular passage. Note what Wall writes in his response:

…he [Westphal] offers no interpretive strategy in particular or a set of conditions that might help explain or guide one’s interpretation of Matthew 2:7-15. He evades a reading of this passage based on his philosophy of hermeneutics. (p 189)

One of the key areas of confusion here, then, is how one uses the word “hermeneutics.” Is it referring primarily to a method of interpreting Scripture (Wall, Blomberg, Spencer), or a broader philosophical approach to finding meaning in the Bible (Westphal and Gaffin)?

Personally, I think seminary students will learn the most from the introduction/conclusion, and then close comparison of Blomberg, Spencer, and Wall with interest in their responses.

Short A.J. Jacobs lecture – great for hermeneutics courses!

In my OT and NT intro courses, I do a couple of lectures on basic hermeneutics, especially the matter of why Christians have a hard time figuring out why we obey some commands, but not others. As an opener for this subject, I usually make mention of A.J. Jacobs’ book, A Year of Living Biblicallywhich chronicles Jacobs attempt to obey all the hundreds of commands in the Bible. As he well notes, it is impossible. The more important question is – is it necessary? Is that what the Bible is all about? At the end of it all, was Jacobs a better Christian (or Jew or whatever)? My answer is, no, that is not what the Bible is for, and that does not make you a better Christian per se.

Anyway, it is really helpful (especially for those who have not read the book, including most of my students) to hear from Jacobs about his experience. So, I found a short (17 minute) lecture that summarizes his experiment and experience. There is much in this entertaining lecture to discuss and debate! I am definitely going to show it (or maybe 12 minutes or so of it) in class.

Note – A.J. Jacobs had and has a lot of the same questions and misconceptions about the Bible that my students do, so his perspective and experience is especially interesting and relevant. I actually rarely show video clips by Bible scholars.

Four Views on The Apostle Paul (Schreiner/Johnson/Campbell/Nanos) – A Short Review

Perhaps one of the most hotly anticipated NT academic book releases of 2012 is the Zondervan Counterpoints volume Four Views on the Apostle Paul edited by Stan Gundry and Mike Bird. If you are not familiar with how this series works, a handful of specialists give their approach to a subject and the other contributors take turns responding. In this book, here are the four views

Thomas Schreiner (“A Reformed Reading”) – Conservative evangelical Pauline scholar Tom Schreiner offers a classic, penal-substitutionary perspective on Paul. Nothing shocking or surprising here. He capably condenses a traditional perspective.

Luke Timothy Johnson (“A Catholic Perspective”) – Johnson is one of my absolute favorite Biblical scholars. He is a generalist, not limited in expertise to Paul, but well-versed in all of the NT. He focuses especially on the phenomenological dimensions of Paul’s influences as well as his social context.

Douglas Campbell (“A ‘Post-New Perspective’ Account”) – Doug Campbell, known for his massive book Deliverance of God, is a brilliant Pauline scholar – innovative, interdisciplinary, and extremely well-versed in “Dogmatics” and philosophy. I would HATE to be in a debate with Campbell. I recall N.T. Wright saying about Campbell, “He could sell me a dead horse.” Right. As for his “viewpoint,” he has his own particular take on Paul that is highly influenced by strands of Barthian Reformed theology and also apocalyptic thought.

Mark Nanos (“A Jewish View”) – Nanos is a very welcome voice in Pauline Studies because he brings a uniquely Jewish perspective on a discipline that has had an unfortunate anti-semitic bias for too many years.

Strengths – this is a fun book. I practically read the whole book in one sitting because, thanks to the type of series, the reader gets excited about digging into both main chapters and responses. Mike Bird does a fantastic job taking stock, when the dust has settled, of who said what and how each contributor gave a unique perspective in his conclusion. It is like going to a conference without taking the airfare and hotel hit! I recommend seminary and PhD students interested in Pauline theology pick up this book. It is well worth the time!

Especially in the responses, one can see brilliant minds at work – analyzing, criticizing, and challenging. If you are a PhD student, you can learn a lot in these responses about how one breaks down an argument and tests each idea. It is scary to be on the receiving end, but in this case you can just watch it all take place! Some of the responses remind me of a horror movie – terrifying to watch, but you cannot turn away because you HAVE TO see what happens next!


Weaknesses – OK, having said that it is well worth reading, it did not quite meet my expectations. It is a great idea for a book, but somewhere in the planning it became idiosyncratic. The Counterpoints series, as I understand it, begins with “main views” and then tries to find experts that can represent that view. Here we have 4 excellent Pauline interpreters, but (aside from Schreiner and possibly Nanos) their views are rather personalized. That makes me wonder, who is this book for? It is not really something I would use for an introduction to Pauline theology. It belongs more with a senior seminar or ThM course on “modern interpretations of Paul.”

Secondly, I think the range for each contributor was too broad – Paul’s view of salvation, Christology, ecclesiology, and epistemology. Wow! Just one of those areas would be stretching the task, but all four? As you could imagine, each contributor ended up focusing on something more specific -thus, it was hard, at the end of it all, to compare views. 

Finally, some of the contributors did not really follow the book plan, which also made the book a bit uneven (a point picked up by some respondents).


Pour a cup of coffee, kick back, and enjoy a Bird-brewed (but not bird-brained!) Pauline roundtable discussion. You will learn a lot along the way about just how differently one can approach the theology of Paul. While the book was not what I expected (e.g., it won’t really work for an intro course to Paul), it should not be ignored. All four of these scholars are “here to stay,” so to speak, in Pauline studies, so why not get a good grip on what they think about Paul and how they are different?

Also, we are working on getting a very worthy Pauline scholar to give a full-fledged review of this book in a soon-coming (probably 2013) issue of Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters (and, no, Mike Bird doesn’t have any editing privileges when that review comes on!)