David Capes – Video Lectures from Hayward Series on Christology (Gupta)

My good friend David Capes was the 2014 Hayward Lecture Series speaker at Acadia Divinity College. His topic was New Testament Christology and three lecture videos have now been posted to Youtube.

Check out excellent teaching from a foremost expert! (full disclosure – I have only watched the first introductory video – I will try to post again about the content when I have completed the series. I will be very interested in comments from interested viewers.)

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Luke, Luke, and More Luke! (Gupta)

There are some very excellent academic commentaries on Luke out there (I have often relied on Green, Bock, and Nolland), but it is nice to see some forthcoming books that examine the work of the Third Evangelist from pastoral and theological perspectives.

Justo Gonzalez, The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel (Eerdmans, March, 2015). This is an accessible thematic study, under 150 pages.

Mikeal Parsons, Luke (Paideia; Baker, Feb, 2015). The Paideia series has really impressed me so far with several remarkable contributions, including an outstanding future volume from Peter Oakes on Galatians. But I am also excited about Parsons’ work because he has clearly distinguished himself as a capable Lukan scholar. These commentaries are great for students, because they are easy to read, they are able to trace wider theological themes, and they are written by recognized experts.

I should also add to this list a forthcoming”mid-level” commentary for pastors – James R. Edwards’ The Gospel according to Luke for Pillar (Eerdmans, coming April 2015).

Reading Romans in Context – Coming in June (Gupta)

RRiCI have contributed a chapter to an exciting forthcoming textbook called Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan, June 2015). In my opinion, one of the greatest needs for Bible students is to properly understand the New Testament in its socio-historical context. This textbook aims at bringing portions of Romans into dialogue with a variety of illuminating early Jewish texts, authors, and inscriptions. It is meant to be very accessible to the uninitiated.

Part of the fun is that the editors and authors are mostly a part of a group of students that studied in England and Scotland around the same time and were trained to become historians as well as theologians. My chapter is on 1 Maccabees and Romans 14-15.

One of the best parts of this book – it’s short (only 160 pages), so it won’t “clog up” textbook options. Also happy to see female scholars included in this work, my friends Sarah Whittle, Mariam Kamell, and Susan Mathew! Truth be told, the only essay I have read the from book is my own (zzzzz), so I am excited to read the work of my colleagues and friends. If you teach Romans, or are looking for a good short supplementary textbook for an intro course, please keep a watch for this summer release.

 

My Review of Chris Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite (Skinner)

Keith BookThis morning I received an alert that my review of Chris Keith’s recent volume, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014) had been published in the most recent fascicle of Theology. Regrettably, I had a rather tight word limit so I could not say as much about this book as I would have liked. You will obviously get the impression, however, that I liked this volume very much. It combines scholarly creativity with academic substance and pedagogical sensitivity. I have mentioned this elsewhere, but Chris is one of the few really gifted academics I know who can write about complex topics in a very engaging way. He does more of that here. I do have some concerns (which I express in the review) that some of the material in the middle of book will be a bit too advanced for some non-specialist readers. Such is the challenge of taking the complexities of discussions in our field and presenting them to non-specialists without too much oversimplification. Still, I think the payoff will prove to be greater than any difficulties readers might face. And for the record, I intend to use this book as a supplemental text in my Jesus and Gospels course next Spring.

Watch My “FoxTalk” on Theology of the Cross (Gupta)

George Fox Seminary (where I teach) created a nice little video that allows me to introduce my interest in the theology of the cross. Our videographer does outstanding work and I really enjoyed producing this mini-talk. I hope to teach a course on the cross, discipleship, and ministry in the not-too-distant future.

 

FoxTalks Session XV: Nijay Gupta from George Fox University on Vimeo.

Strange Glory – Was Bonhoeffer Sexually Attracted to Bethge? (Gupta)

BethgeI wanted my first word about Charles Marsh’s Bonhoeffer biography (Strange Glory) to be a positive one, praising Marsh’s work for its eloquence, thoroughness, and frankness. It is a masterpiece in these regards. The one part that troubled me was a theme in the biography that others have noted as well – while Marsh does not refer to Bonhoeffer as gay/homosexual, he does portray Bonhoeffer’s feelings towards his friend and student Eberhard Bethge as sexual desire (passim, but see in particular p. 384). I don’t think this was a wise choice for Marsh, but I do want to give Marsh credit where credit is due.

What Marsh did right

I think what Marsh was drawn to when he engaged with the personal writings of Bonhoeffer (and information from Bonhoeffer’s friends, relatives, and associates about him) was how he singled out Bethge as a companion and friend and poured out love and affection on him. This was not just about strong feelings, but also about frequency and intimacy – Bonhoeffer wrote scores of letters to Bethge (sometimes more than one per day). He thought about Bethge constantly, almost endlessly while he was in prison. This relationship with Bethge is not examined so microscopically in most other biographies. I think Marsh was right to highlight this because Marsh’s intentions in the biography was to capture Bonhoeffer the person. I think it was appropriate to bring up Bethge as often as he came up in Bonhoeffer’s life – which is a lot during and after Finkenwalde. This relationship simply cannot be ignored.

I also think it right for Marsh to portray this relationship as somewhat one-sided. Bethge relished his one-of-a-kind friendship with Bonhoeffer, but acknowledged his own failure to reciprocate letter-writing, visitation, and effusion of adoration equal to his mentor. In that sense it is acceptable to call Bonhoeffer’s love “unrequited.” Bonhoeffer needed Bethge, he was dependent on him in many ways. I think this needs to be recognized to really understand Bonhoeffer.

Marsh said more than needed 

Where, I think, Marsh goes too far is sexualizing Bonhoeffer’s interest in Bethge. As others have noted (hat tip to my buddy Wesley Hill), Bethge was asked at a gathering (years after Bonhoeffer’s passing) whether his relationship with Bonhoeffer was sexual. Bethge denied this and referred to himself and Bonhoeffer as “normal” (an insensitive label by today’s standards, but insightful nonetheless).

Now, could it be that Bonhoeffer really did, after all, have sexual desires for Bethge? Perhaps – we must leave open the possibility. Human desire, after all, is complex. But to characterize Bonhoeffer in the way Marsh does, gap-filling as a biographer is trained to do, is going too far and psychologizes Bonhoeffer in a way that seems to me unnecessary.

I think it right to say that many people around Bonhoeffer conceived of his friendship with Bethge as peculiar (even his parents). Even Bethge seemed overwhelmed at times. But for “strange glory” people such as Bonhoeffer, sometimes their feelings and experiences defy such classifications. He lived a lonely life in many ways – on the road, living in several different countries, hiding here and there from conscription and the Gestapo. He found a soulmate in Bethge, and Bethge was not unwilling to have this unique friendship (though he did sometimes feel guilty he could not write or visit more often to assuage Bonhoeffer). He needed Bethge. That relationship was an anchor for his soul, especially when he was isolated in prison. I think we can see this in all its “strangeness” (so to speak) and not feel compelled to say more. That is my two cents.

For helpful further reading, see this great post by Wesley Hill.

 

 

Strange Glory – Marsh’s Bonhoeffer Bio PART ONE (Gupta)

Marsh-Strange_Glory_horizFor Christmas, my wife kindly gave me a copy of Charles Marsh’s excellent new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I flew through the 500+ tome in less than 10 days thanks to Marsh’s inviting writing style. Several good Bonhoeffer bios are available, but Marsh wanted to capture the person of Bonhoeffer in all his humanness – his style, his passions, his idiosyncrasies. For example, you get a taste for how Bonhoeffer was infatuated with fashion (including shoes) and music. He was also a very critical person, always analyzing and taking things apart with his mind (movies, concerts, books, even people). This bio definitely painted a realistic portrait of a complex person – yes a hero, yes a genius, yes an inspiring pastor-theologian, but strange like any other human is strange.

Things I Love about Bonhoeffer

Marsh helped remind me why I love Bonhoeffer – he is one of my favorite theologians/pastors.

#1: Bonhoeffer was an ecumenist – yes, he was bred on Luther, but he had enough Reformed Barthianism to trouble this, and he learned much about black church tradition while in the US, and he had a peculiar fondness for Catholic spirituality and liturgy (while maintaining a disgust of anything that smacks of dogmatism and ritualism – so he writes in his diary). He was, actually, quite unusual for being so open to sharing life and finding the good in other Christian traditions.

#2: Bonhoeffer did not feel completely comfortable in the academy or the church. His was bored with the academy (and never took up a normal faculty position, he was a perpetual adjunct until his teaching rights were refused). He was also a bit of an odd duck in the seminary and church (though seemed to be well liked overall). I feel that ways sometimes, uncomfortable in the pew (sometimes), but also at the academic conference (too often).

#3: Bonhoeffer loved to travel and experience new cultures. He loved Italy especially, but also drove all over the US and into Mexico and beyond. It was partly because his experience in Harlem and in the US south that he was so forward thinking about racial issues in Germany after his US time.

#4: Bonhoeffer was neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” He had studied under Harnack and a Liberal Protestant faculty at Berlin, but also ended up fitting into the label of Neo-Orthodox and enchanted with Barth (to the chagrin of Harnack!). Still, he never turned his back on his teachers. He tried to take the best of both these worlds of his.

#5: Bonhoeffer failed at quite a number of things (and so do I). He had many troubles in ministry, and his seminary work (Finkenwalde) did not “hit home” with many of his students. Certainly some folks did appreciate him, but he struggled throughout his short life with connecting with his audiences. But he was so creative and energetic. He was honest about his failures, self-aware. But never lost hope or gave up.

#6: Bonhoeffer walked a fine line of dealing with wealth. He came from a very wealthy family and took many opportunities to cash out (often literally) on it – clothes, traveling, a fancy car, food/drink, gifts for others. He took no vow of poverty! But when it counts, he knew how to give it up or share. Because of the status of some of his relatives, when he went to prison he was given some perks – a better room with a good view, better and more food, etc. He refused the special food because he knew he didn’t deserve better than the other inmates and didn’t want to take food away from them. He would mail out encouragement notes that would be smuggled back in to encourage other prisoners. He was “spoiled” with money, but he wasn’t “spoiled” by money. When he wrote his will (in prison), he seemed very happy giving away his belongings and imagining others enjoying them.

#7: The Gospel is about Redeeming People through Jesus Christ – many people around Bonhoeffer thought he was nuts for obsessing over “the Jewish question” (many Christians, I should add). But Bonhoeffer was in a league of his own by being singularly focused on fighting the evil around him to realize a redemptive vision of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

#8: Bonhoeffer treated Scripture as living and active. Read his sermons. Read his letters. Read his books. He read Scripture often – many people do. But he also read Scripture as a message alive for today. Not many people do that. Scripture would speak to Bonhoeffer, because he was attentively listening. I used to take this for proof-texting, but Bonhoeffer was tuned into the frequency of Scripture, the voice of God, in a way I rarely see (I think Eugene Peterson fits as well). But it did not fill him with pride. He was honest (in his prison letters to his friend) that he struggled with reading the Bible very much then.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this biography, even though it busted my hagiographic bubble of Bonhoeffer as a one-dimensional saint. Now more than ever, though, I wish I could have met him. Perhaps that is a testament to Marsh’s great achievement. Go buy this bio if you are interested in Bonhoeffer.

(In another post, I will give my opinion on the complex matter of Bonhoeffer’s friendship with his friend Bethge and how Marsh handled this)