What Did Jesus Look Like? (Gupta)

What Did Jesus LoBook Cover.jpgok Like? By Dr. Joan E. Taylor

I am experimenting with short (5 min) video reviews. Let me know if you like the format – and you can give comments or ask questions here on the blog, or on my FB Scholar Page:

https://www.facebook.com/nijaykgupta/

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Paul as Pastor – Essay Collection (Gupta)

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For many years I have been interested in the subject of Paul as model of “pastor.” On this topic, I have appreciated James W. Thompson’s Pastoral Ministry according to Paul: A Biblical Vision (Baker, 2006) and Derek Tidball’s Ministry by the Book (IVP, 2008). Recently, editors Brian Rosner, Andrew Malone and Trevor Burke put together an essay collection on Paul as Pastor (T&T Clark, 2018). The contributors are mostly (though not exclusively) located in Australia and cover the range of Paul’s letters as well as some reception of Paul (Augustine and Whitefield). Overall, this book supports and cultivates further thought on Paul, not only as “theologian,” but as change agent amongst the communities under his apostleship. In this regard, the book re-frames Paul not only in view of what he wrote and thought, but also in view of what he felt called to do with these believers.

One important question that I did not think was adequately addressed is: what is a pastor? What exactly does it mean for someone to be “pastoral”? For some contributors, the focus was on the “teaching” work of the pastor (e.g., Peter Orr’s essay on Ephesians). For others, the focus is on pastor as “priest” who leads believers towards holiness in life (e.g., Colin Kruse on Romans). Rosner and Burke, in their respective essays, concentrated on the nurturing and caring aspects of pastoral ministry with interest in Paul’s extensive familial and kinship metaphors (e.g., Paul as father, mother, and brother). I did appreciate all these nuances (which are present and emphatic in different ways in different Pauline epistles), but it would have been helpful to have a discussion at the outset of the term “pastor.” I like to point out that this word is really not found in the NT apart from the bare mention in Ephesians 4:11. That makes it necessary to be clear about what it means to study the concept of pastor from the Bible. Some contributors tipped their hat to the notion of “shepherding,” but even still this concept can go in many directions (from teaching, to executive leadership, to “care for souls”, etc.).

This book adds helpful, diverse perspectives on the topic of Paul and pastoral ministry. I hope this promotes further dialogue and investigation.

How Do You Write So Much? Tips for Aspiring Writers (Gupta)

Book, school, paper.

I get folks asking me quite often, how do you write so much? I have written 20+ articles, several chapter essays, four books, and I have a few manuscripts I am working on now. Here are my tips:

Writing has to be a passion. It can’t just be something you do. You have to love it. You have to have a fire in your belly and heart and mind to get these ideas out there. If it is not a passion, it will get sidelined. You have to ask – why am I doing this? Do I love this?

Schedule and protect your writing time. For me, I have a master weekly schedule and I have blocks of time set aside for research and writing. I like to have 2-3 hour blocks to really focus. I know for others, you can only manage one hour blocks between classes or meetings. No matter what, though, you need to protect that time. It’s not “free time.” It’s writing time. If you don’t restrict it, you won’t use it well. One can easily get caught up in a conversation at the water cooler (or Facebook!), but I have disciplined myself enough to “excuse” myself from the conversation to sit down to write.

Overlap research and teaching. One of the main ways that I have been able to be “productive” involves the way I have been able to combine my course material with my research and writing interests. If I want to write on Philippians, I focus my Greek course on interpreting Philippians. If I am teaching a prayer class, I write on prayer. The one supports and fuels the other, and I am able to give fresh thought to my students, and I feel like the interaction with students supports my reflection on the writing project. This may seem obvious, but I assure you it has made it possible for me to do a lot of research.

Set word count goals. Don’t just make time for research, set goals. Set big goals (completion of book, article, etc.), but also weekly goals of how much you want to write. Goal setting will help motivate you to protect and use your writing time.

Permit yourself to write garbage at the drafting stage. This is probably what I have learned the most about myself as a writer. I struggle to commit to writing things down because I am afraid it is not good. But this has now become my mantra: Write something bad, and then make it better until it is good. Of course, the main thing I do at first is outline the chapter or essay. Then I fill in the outline. But the bigger point is about letting yourself spend time free-thinking and drafting.

Reward yourself. Set certain milestones for your writing (finishing the researching stage; getting to the half-way point of word count; finishing the first draft, etc.), and then reward yourself. Maybe it is a good cup of coffee. Or a hike. Or a nap! For me, little rewards are like milestone celebrations – I got through stage 2, 3, 4, 5…

Finally – and somewhat ironically – learn to say “no.” One of my mentors told me he did not learn how to say “no” to book project offers until it was too late, and now he is buried under piles of manuscripts, which is both stressful and also doesn’t leave room for fresh ideas. This has helped me to remember that I want writing to continue to be a joy, and not a burden (of endless deadlines). I am learning how to focus my writing energy more and more on projects I am passionate about, not just getting another “thing” on my CV.

Now, there are certain special projects or people that are hard to say “no” to, but the point is that we must evaluate why we want to be productive. Is it to feel important? To “be somebody”? Yes, getting that article accepted can be a “high,” a nice achievement. But I am thinking more and more about a scholarship legacy. What do I want to be my lasting mark on biblical scholarship? How do I want to change scholarship? How do I want to improve the world? It’s nice to pad the old CV, but you don’t want to look back at your career with regrets. Stick as best as you can to your mission and passion, and leave “space” in your life for fresh ideas to pursue.

What are your productivity tips?

 

 

 

 

Moberly – The Bible in a Disenchanted Age (Gupta)

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In this thoughtful short book, Prof. Moberly engages the matter of how to communicate the uniqueness of the Bible in a postmodern age. Put another way, while some have argued that we ought to read the Bible “like any other book” (using historical critical methods), Moberly makes a case for also reading the Bible as something special: “On what grounds, if any, is it appropriate to privilege the Bible and the biblical account of God in the world today?” (40). Moberly does not go the way of traditional apologetics – arguing that the Bible has objective authority because of its historicity.

He begins by debunking the notion that Christians are illogical or odd for privileging the Bible. Moberly argues that everyone privileges some lens or perspective for thinking about the world and the meaning of life. Christians happen to focus their lens on Jesus and the Bible. Moberly also appeals to the notion of “Plausibility Structures.” By this he means, “the idea that the social and cultural context within which people live regularly make a difference to the understandings of life that they hold to be true; among other things, to be surrounded by a consensus can encourage people to adopt that consensus for themselves” (93). I think this is Moberly’s way of saying that people will come to be convinced of the Bible’s unique perspective when they see a compelling, winsome, and special life of a special community that lives according to the Bible. I think he pretty much states this much: “the biblical portrayal of human nature and destiny will present itself to consciousness as reality only to the extent that its appropriate plausibility structure, the Christian church in its many forms, is kept in existence” (101). Thus Moberly can talk about the “complementary nature of Bible and church” (102).

There is more in the book, but this appears to be the main contribution. Overall, I am sympathetic to Moberly’s argument, and indeed in a postmodern and pluralistic era this is a wise approach to commending the Bible as revelation. Still, I am not as sour on the possibility of traditional historical arguments that this historical figure called Jesus did and said some amazing things that we must consider.

On a personal note, I also want to mention that, historically, Christian advocacy of the message and lifestyle of Scripture has focused on sin and salvation. Moberly is not denying this, but neither sin nor salvation is given much attention directly in this work. That is not unexpected in this kind of discourse, but I will say that in my personal story, the Bible’s pointing out of my sin, and promise of grace was a powerful message, and a message I did not hear anywhere else. Yes of course I was brought into a community of faith (a “plausibility structure”), but my direct encounter with the text, and with God through the text, was life-changing.

The Bible in a Disenchanted Age demonstrates Moberly’s mature thought and exquisite writing style. It is not easy reading, but it is richly rewarding.

Known by God – Brian Rosner on Personal Identity (Gupta)

Known by God

I had a chance to do some reading over the winter break. One book I was eager to look at is by Brian S. Rosner, Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity (Zondervan, 2017). As the title suggests, Rosner tackles the theme of “identity” by focusing on the idea of “being known by God,” tipping his hat to Galatians 4:9. The book is about the answer to the question who am I? People today are so desperate to build and curate their image and identity, but Rosner argues that Scripture teaches how what is most important (in terms of identity) is being known by God; that is, how we belong to, are remembered by, and loved by God in Jesus Christ. This gave me good pause for thought about the damage done by social media in our society today. We can feel “known” by people on FB or Instagram, but it can be so shallow and superficial and fake that we really don’t feel “known” at a deeper level. God knows us “through and through,” and that can make all the difference in terms of the security of our identity.

If I had one small bone to pick, it is the limitation of focusing on the word “known.” For my part, belonging to God is more central to what Scripture communicates about identity. Rosner talks a lot about belonging as a feature of being known, but I think it made more sense as the focus (especially in view of the centrality of familial metaphors in the Bible).

While Rosner does a lot of good work in Scripture itself, this book is wide-ranging in terms of dialogue with theologians and church leaders as well, and what is most striking is how Rosner talks about his own journey to locating his identity in “being known by God.” I think this would make a great Bible study and a good book for personal growth as well.

(Some) Best Academic Books of 2017

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Well, I realize I haven’t blogged much this term  – I am finishing up several writing projects, and I got shingles in November which set me back for several weeks. But thinking about the close of 2017, I thought I would briefly mention some noteworthy books. This is far from a true “Best Books” list (as I usually do) because I did not read very much this year beyond what was directly related to my scholarship needs. But I did some reading, and now is a nice time to mention what I think are worthy contributions. In no particular order:

Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Baker, 2017). 

Read it cover-to-cover and loved it. It is more than a commentary; it tries to read the Sermon in historical and cultural context, but also draws out the way the Sermon addresses timeless questions about life and flourishing.

Michael Gorman, ed. Scripture and Its Interpretation (Baker, 2017).

This is a welcome companion to Gorman’s excellent Elements of Biblical Exegesis. Experts give insight into a variety of topics and perspectives pertaining to hermeneutics. Perfect textbook material here!

Matthew Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker, 2017).

This book has made some big waves in the last several months, and for good reason. Matt is a sharp scholar and gifted teacher. Learn and engage. Also, it’s short and cheap. #XmasList

Joshua Jipp, Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Eerdmans, 2017).

This just may be my book of the year. The word that kept coming to my mind when I read this is: bold. It is a bold manifesto on what lies at the heart of Scripture – the unilateral hospitality of God towards sinful, broken, and rebellious humanity, and the call to reach out to the outsider, foreigner, or “other” with God’s love. #XmasList

Stephen Chester, Reading Paul with the Reformers (Eerdmans, 2017)

This is a meticulously researched and carefully argued academic work that gives penetrating insight into how the Reformers read and approached Paul. Really liked his reading of Luther.

Fleming Rutledge, Crucifixion (Eerdmans, 2017)

I did not agree with everything Rutledge had to say in this, but unarguably she is a profoundly gifted communicator, and there are numerous flashes of brilliance in this tome.

Christoph Heilig et al, God and the Faithfulness of Paul (Fortress, 2017)

Just scratching the surface of this massive response to NT Wright’s PFG – very happy to see detailed engagement with Wright and plenty of pushback. Expect an RBL review of GFP (WUNT version) from me sometime in 2018.

Paul Holloway, Philippians, Hermeneia (Fortress)

Anytime a Hermeneia Commentary is released, it is a big deal. Holloway is a respected historian of early Christianity and knows a thing or two about Philippians. I am about 60% through the commentary and I have mixed feelings. In some ways it is more of a monograph (Holloway takes a very particular approach to interpreting Philippians) with an explanatory commentary – which can be a good thing, because it is fresh and intellectually stimulating. At the same time, it is rather short and can feel rushed or incomplete. I am reviewing this for Interpretation and I will have much more to say about the strengths and weaknesses of this volume. But I will readily admit that I am learning a lot from Holloway I would not have learned elsewhere.

John Walton, Old Testament Theology for Christians (IVP, 2017)

I don’t get much time to read OT literature, but this one grabbed my attention. Walton is a winsome writer and has thought a lot about interpreting the OT theologically. Just getting started with this book, but very much enjoying his approach so far.

Books I WANT to read soon:

Sarah Melcher, et al, ed. The Bible and Disability: A Commentary (Baylor Press, 2017)

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Lynn Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes, Christian Women in the Patristic Period (Baker)

Important historical work that is long overdue.

Christopher Skinner and Sherri Brown, ed. Johannine Ethics: The Moral World of the Gospels and Epistles of John (Fortress, 2017)

This book boasts a top-flight list of scholars weighing in on a perennially thorny question – did John have an ethic, and if so, what was it?