Does the world need more theology/Bible professors??

I recently got this very important questions from a commenter.  This is a difficult question to answer in a brief and straightforward way.  One ‘right’ answer is NO – please choose another profession, this one is taken.  There are way too many Phd folks of higher calibre who will struggle for many, many years to find any job, let alone the one they imagined or hoped for.  So, unless you have a direct line from God telling you that this is the only path, save your families some hearthache (and a boatload of money!) and reconsider.

Having said that, I do think that the world needs some better theology/Bible profs.  Ones that:

1. Represent better the student body (and the wider people of God): a major area is more female professors and men and women ‘of color’.  I don’t think this is just to fill a quota or seem ‘diverse’ – at Gordon-Conwell, where I did my MDIV and ThM, it was a very white student body.  The students and faculty would have liked to attract more Latin American and African American students, but at the time I started, there were so few faculty of color that it would be hard to see that happening.

Keep in mind, I got beat out for jobs in some part because I am male  – my wife (who went to seminary) reminds me that when a school has chosen a woman over me, that’s one more woman professor to encourage someone like my wife who felt alone and harshly judged sometimes in seminary.

2. Can do theology (as a Bible professor), or vice versa.  Many have recognized that we have kept Biblical studies and theological interpretation in different rooms for far too long.  Can we find professors who read widely – I have committed myself to read more ‘theologians’ – particularly Miroslav Volf, Hauerwas, and some ancients like Chrysostom.  Will theology profs read Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God or Dunn’s Beginning from Jerusalem?

3. Are good communicators – ones who read monograph-level books, but can teach the ideas presented there at a freshman-in-college audience.  Or who think with the scholars, but can write for the church (like Christopher Wright, Gordon Fee, John Goldingay, etc…).

4. Are confident and convicted, but are irenic and have a willingness to learn and hear during debates.  I fear that too many of my own (=evangelicals) protect ‘truth’ with a sharp sword instead of a shield.  How can we be heard and also listen?  I go back to NT Wright’s mantra – reformed and always reforming.  I have learned much from the Brits about going out for a drink after a heated seminar with the very ones whom you place on the other side of the line.

5. Can live with one foot firmly in the academy (e.g., participate in SBL-like stuff) and the other in the church (regularly teaching or preaching, serving as elders, benevolence committees, missions boards, etc…).  I tend to see profs heavily leaning one way or the other.  On the one side, the reclusive professor who writes weighty books and hopes that someone will explain them to laypeople, somehow.  On the other side, the professor who moonlights as a pastor but is not interested in being sharpened academically and reading those esoteric books, some of which have powerful ideas in them.

6. Actually care for students – this is common sense to some of us, but too many professors I have known don’t bother to learn the students names, talk to them in hallways or the cafeteria (heaven forbid some should actually eat in the cafeteria!), and make them feel welcome when they interrupt the office hours that are posted but just seem like any other hours.  I admit that in seminary, I would go to a profs office hours and wait, only for them to never show up!  Ouch!  At Gordon-Conwell, I felt that most professors kept a barrier to protect their professionalism and not get too chummy with students.  I can see some sense in that, but I really desired to be discipled and to have a mentor.  Sadly, I didn’t really find one.  Part of this lack of involvement is just busyness – professors are overworked and (way) underpaid.  What can you do?  I have committed myself to having lunchtime reading groups to work through some of the books I have assigned that we will not be able to discuss in class.  This is my way of getting personal time with a smaller group who seek that out.  Also, I am going to try to have a community service project I coordinate for all of my students who can earn extra credit by putting their biblical knowledge into practice by serving others.  I will be serving shoulder-to-shoulder with them (habitat for humanity, or a soup kitchen, or fixing up an old church building, etc…).

SO – these are just some reasons why maybe the dream to become a professor is still alive.  When schools get dozens and dozens of job applications, I fear that a number of these applicants are cookie-cutter shapes – ‘I wrote this, I studied with this guy, I went to this school, I want to be a professor’.  Today, you need something else to make it to the top of the pile: you need to be a leader.  I fear that many bible profs are ‘scholars’ but not leaders.  They are ‘thinkers’ but not visionaries.  They are one-dimensional.  I don’t consider myself to be the cream of the crop or anything.  In some ways, I was fortunate enough to be at the right place (like Durham) at the right time.  But also I was willing to think outside the box.  I was bold enough to go after things because I didn’t want to be another [fill-in-the-blank].  I do see a few people out there who are pushing the envelope, in terms of serving academy and church.  Too few, though.

The bottom line – I would trade in 10 cookie-cutter profs for one discerning, humble, church-serving, think-outside-the-box scholar that works for and with students to understand theology and the Bible for the good of the modern world.  If you can step up and strive for that, I will back you up all the way.

My New Association with Asbury Theological Seminary

Truth be told, I have always loved Asbury Theological Seminary.  When I was deciding between seminaries for my MDIV, Asbury was in my top four (along with Fuller, Regent, and Gordon-Conwell).  Well, as of recently, they have officially accepted me as an adjunct online-instructor and I can begin teaching courses for them.  (Whereas at some institutions, bringing on an adjunct is a matter of point and click, at Asbury there is a lengthy process and the approval must come from a number of people including several members of the faculty, as I understand.)  Because I will be teaching full-time for Seattle Pacific University next year, after August I can only do courses for Asbury in the summer, but that is very exciting as I can teach the online courses from anywhere!

Thank you, Asbury for bringing me on and I am proud to join the crew!

[NB: At the Midwest SBL, people kept assuming that I already teach at Asbury.  Actually, currently I am teaching at Ashland Theological Seminary, not Asbury.  Ashland Seminary has many methodists, but it is not the same thing.  And it is in Ohio.]

David Horrell on Zetterholm’s Paul

I thought I would direct your attention to David Horrell’s excellent review of Magnus Zetterholm’s Approaches to Paul in Review of Biblical Literature (found HERE).

In fact, I have my own review of Zetterholm’s book coming out in RBL and Horrell and I share many of the same criticisms of the book.  But I sincerely feel that Zetterholm has done a lot of excellent work summarizing the views of various scholars and it would be a very useful resource to remind oneself of the work of Wright, Dunn, Neil Elliott, etc… He gives especially good summaries of German scholars such as Kaesemann and Bornkamm.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Four on J.D.G. Dunn)

In chapter four of The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP), I was looking forward to reading what Prof. Dunn had to say about Jesus.  His chapter, as you might have guessed, follows his approach which he laid out in Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003).  In this ongoing discussion, he presents several points.

1. Dunn argues that the faith of the disciplines in carrying on the Jesus tradition and its eventual inscription does not obscure our knowledge of Jesus.  Rather, we see that ‘Jesus evoked faith from the outset of his mission and that this faith is the surest indication of the historical reality and effect of his mission’ (p. 203).

2. Dunn also reiterates his concern that our focus on the synoptic problem should move past purely literary theories dependent on author copying and redacting and take more seriously the ‘oral phase of the history of the Jesus tradition’ (211).

3. Like other Third Questers, Dunn encourages a search for Jesus within the context of early Judaism and not in pristine distinction to it (see p. 219).

Some of the responses to Dunn were useful.  Crossan challenges Dunn’s literary/oral dichotomy by pointing out that certain variances between the Synoptics almost beg to be understood in terms of redaction (he lists the excellent example of Mark 6:2; Matt. 13:55; nothing in Luke).

Luke Timothy Johnson also continues to impress me with his insights.  He, like Crossan, also clearly prefers a literary approach that sees a lot of intentionality in the divergences (as literary-theological crafting).

My position is that the Gospels both contain real memories of Jesus and the shaping of them from the resurrection perspective, as well as the shaping of the memory through the prism of Scripture.  Such energy in interpretation suggests there is really something to remember; but such levels of interpretation make the historian wary of overconfidence in describing the basis of the memory in detail (241).

Dunn takes the quest one step closer to the Jesus of history (as he walked on earth and existed in time and space) than Luke Timothy Johnson’s literary approach.  I think this is useful because Christianity is, in a distinct way, reliant on the belief that there was a real Jesus who really came from God, really died, and really rose again (and really sent the Spirit).  Dunn is happy to explain that the traditions upon which the Gospels are based were alive and came from various worshipping communities who had a remembrance of Jesus through the testimony of eyewitnesses.  However, the differences in the traditions still leave us with more than one Jesus!  These versions of Jesus all agree on some significant things, but what are we to make of the differences?

Again, if ‘Mark’ read Luke’s gospel – what would he make of it?  Would he say -no, you didn’t quite get that right.  Or, that’s a great angle of the story.  Would he hi-five him or punch him in the face?  Would the world implode?

While these four chapters have made so many things clear, there are several unanswered and unaddressed questions….

Next is Bock on the evangelical approach to the historical Jesus.

N.T. Wright for Everyone: Biblical Theology

In a previous post I mentioned that a group of us have begun preparing short essays on the work of N.T. Wright in preparation for the upcoming Wheaton conference on his work in April.

The first essay, by myself, was discussed here.

I am pleased to announce that Kyle Fever has now posted the second essay on the subject of Wright on Biblical theology (HERE).  Kyle is a doctoral student at Loyola University (Chicago) and has written a fine piece that will be a treasure to many readers, I am sure.

If you have questions or comments for Kyle, I would be happy to pass them along to him.

Our third and final essay will be on Wright on Jesus and will appear in the next few weeks – I will, of course, keep you posted.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Three on Luke Timothy Johnson)

See previous parts One and Two.

Luke Timothy Johnson’s chapter on ‘Learning the Human Jesus’ was both highly interesting and attractive, but also left me with too many questions about the “historical Jesus.”

Johnson articulates that in the past he has espoused a position that ‘Jesus is best learned through practices of faith in the church’ (pp. 154-5) – ‘Jesus is not a dead man of the past but a living Lord of the present’ (155); ‘…not an object of scholarly research but the subject of obedient faith’ (155).  Johnson notes that too often the Quest has been undertaken ‘to discredit Christian claims concerning Jesus’ (156).

Now, what can a historical pursuit of the person of Jesus gain us?  Johnson is skeptical that we gain much.  The sources outside of the Gospels offer very little other than occasionally as control over our NT sources.

How to the NT Gospels hold up when viewed purely as ‘historical’ accounts of Jesus?: ‘It is simply impossible fully to harmonize these accounts while still retaining any credibility as a historian.’ (159) – But there are some convergences that give us useful information (multiple attestation).

When all is said and done, a historical sifting of the various sources on Jesus yield only very little “factual” (true-to-history-and-the-way-the-past-played-out) details: Jesus was a real Jewish man who died by execution.  This is helpful, Johnson argues, if for nothing else, to show that ‘the Christ symbol [which is] attached to the historical person of Jesus…is not infinitely malleable’ (160).

Can historical research (from a critical standpoint) help us in other ways?  Johnson admits that when such research is undertaken, it leads to a better understanding of the ancient context which, then, informs our understanding of the Gospels.  The constant danger of Questers is a blindness to the fact that it becomes ‘a theological agenda wearing the external garb of history’ (p. 167).

Instead, Johnson advocates a (purely?) literary approach  which ‘engages the human Jesus as a literary character in the narratives written about him within fifty to seventy years of his death’ (p. 168).  In that way, fact-based recovery of history is not as important as recognizing that (in the Gospels) ‘plot and verbal differences are part of a larger deliberate literary crafting’ (p. 168).

Can the Gospels, then, tell us anything really about Jesus the human of the past?  Johnson affirms his literary view, but offers this proposal: though the Gospels differ as witnesses to various events and sayings, they converge and ‘agree’ on Jesus’ character (ethos) (p. 173).

RESPONSES: I particularly appreciated Dunn’s views.  He still wonders ‘why the differences between the Gospel narratives are present and what we are to make in historical terms of the differences between the Synoptics and John in particular’ (p. 191).  How important is it that Jesus did and said any of the things in the Gospels?  How do we know?

Next up: James Dunn and ‘Remembering Jesus’.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Two on Crossan)

I have caught up on several chapters now of The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP, 2009).  The previous part was on the introduction and the chapter by Robert Price (“Jesus was not a real historical person…probably”).  This chapter is on the views of John Dominic Crossan and “Jesus and the Challenge of Collaborative Eschatology” (pp. 105-32).

Crossan is insistent that Jesus must be understood in the context of the Roman Empire: after all, we must remember that before Jesus there was a human in the first century BCE that carried the title “Divine, Son of God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator and Savior of the World’ (p. 109) – Augustus.

In order the get Jesus, though, you need to understand eschatology – not an understanding of end-times, but that the eschaton would be ‘the Great Divine Clean-Up of the World’ (109).  Rulers and their kingdoms would be judged and overthrown by God.  This helps us see that the lines between politics and religion weren’t as firm in their day as in ours.  Jesus was challenging the ideology of Empire, but through non-violent means.

As for the life of Jesus (and Crossan affirms that he was certainly a real being), Crossan traces his thought as follows.  Jesus originally accepted John the Baptist’s theology that saw God’s kingdom as coming imminently (p. 125), but changed his mind (after John was killed).  Instead, Jesus decided to focus on God’s presence now – because John was not rescued by God, the kingdom must be already here and now.  Thus, ‘it is not that we are waiting for God, it is that God is waiting for us’ (125).  That is where Crossan gets the term “Collaborative” – it is an ‘eschatological dialectic between the human and the divine world’ (125).

There are significant differences between John and Jesus’ approach to their ministries.  John was the whole show – he had the power (to baptize) and if he died, his whole ministry died.  Jesus learned from this and took a different approach where he passed on the power and message and equipped others to carry it out as well.  In Crossan’s words, ‘John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise’ (126).  [Nijay: Personally, however pithy Crossan’s words are, I don’t like the analogy because it makes it sound like Jesus opened a Chicken Shack or something….]

What is God wanting us to do in collaboration?  Resist evil political powers in non-violent way.

RESPONSES: I won’t go through each response, but what several point out is that Crossan has to do a lot of psychologizing in his construction, and we have seen in the past that it is very difficult to presume what was in the mind of Jesus.  Secondly, the Gospels themselves don’t really give us this impression that Jesus’ main interest was opposing Caesar and his way of ruling.  Overall, Crossan takes the Jesus Seminar approach to the Gospels by dicing it up and working from the bits he finds ‘authentic’, and his own analysis is as controversial as any of the other ones performed by Seminar members.

Now, I am not familiar with the details of the Quest, but it seems like Crossan’s approach has similarities with the way that liberal protestants focused on the morality of Jesus versus his Messianism and death/resurrection.

As I read the responses, it confirmed that IVP put together a very good crew in this book – experts who are all along the spectrum of interpretation, but when they agree on a criticism against Crossan (or any other participant), it is helpful to see where methodological consenses lie (though Price is often following his own track, but that doesn’t mean his response points are invalid, just not in line with the others).

More to come…