Thoughts in the Dark

Trying to Bring Ideas into the Light

SECSOR 2013

I have not posted much recently because I have been busy writing; as I mentioned a few months back, my paper proposal to SECSOR was accepted, and this past weekend I had the opportunity to present my paper.

The presentation seemed to go great; there were four of us presenting seemingly unrelated topics, and questions were saved for the very end. I had 3 or 4 questions directed to me concerning my paper, but there was just enough unexpected overlap between papers that we could all interject with each other’s questions. This led to a Q&A discussion that lasted almost an hour!

Next step: turning this paper into a journal article and submitting it to a journal. Does anyone have any advice for that process?

A New Goal and Direction for this Blog

I have been blogging for two years now. I have a number of faithful followers as well as those who pop on in because there is a “controversy” or I use some controversial keyword (like “Mark Driscoll”). So far, I’ve had a number of thoughtful posts, but also more than a few rants. There has been quite a bit of discussion lately about the future of blogging in higher education, with special focus on blogging in the biblical studies / theology realm. A good introduction to this discussion of blogging and biblical studies can be found here, which then links to a number of other discussions (particularly of interest in Robert Holmstedt’s blog that he co-authors with my former professor, John Cook).

Ultimately, the concern is that your blog will come up (a) when you apply for PhD programs, (b) while you’re in your PhD program, (c) once you graduate and are looking for that first teaching position, and (d) when you are finally on the tenure track and up for review. The problem is that EVERYONE blogs the occasional inflammatory rant. Do we want that to get in the way of our academic progress?

That said, I am NOT going to stop blogging. Instead, I am going to change direction. I am starting a second Master of Arts degree this summer, and plan on applying for PhD programs after that. My goal is to read and write as much as physically possible between now and then. In order to organize my reading, I thought I might use this blog as sort of a “Forschungsgeschichte,” or “History of Research.” Basically, I will take notes as I read sources here on the blog, whether books, journal articles, or book chapters. I will write a “review,” followed by the pertinence to my current and (hopeful) future research.

I still will attempt to interact with the occasional current events in religion and theology, but I need to remove myself from the most inflammatory subjects for the sake of my calling and my future career.

What do you all think of this idea?

Stepping Out on Faith

How many of you have seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? I watched this movie over and over again when I was a kid. It came out when I was six years old, and I had a new hero.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie was when Indy steps out in a “leap of faith” on to the invisible bridge.

Image

Recently, I decided to take a leap of my own. My graduate coursework was not exactly of the highest quality (maybe I should rephrase: the effort put into my graduate coursework was not exactly the highest quality!). If I want to get into a PhD program, I need to find a way to improve.

A couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to apply for and enroll in a Master of Arts in Applied Theology at Carson-Newman University (my alma mater; I received a BA in Religion there in 2007). Many people have asked me why a MA in Applied Theology; my reasoning is simply: (a) To show that I can graduate from an accredited MA program with a 4.0; (b) expand my horizons and add theology to my biblical studies background; (c) be able to relate the academy to the church, and (d) have a supervised writing statement that I have to orally defend.

That said, when I made this decision and applied, I had no clue how I was going to fund this program. The program is new, so little to no financial aid is provided by the school. I stepped out on faith, and said “God, if you want me to do this, show me how.”

And it turns out that he has! The very next week I was asked to teach an additional summer course for the community college where I am an adjunct. This would cover the cost of the summer course I planned on taking. That same day I received an email from the dean of religion at CN saying that there is a good possibility that I can teach an undergraduate course, which will cover two more courses. Later that same week, I received an email from another community college, offering my a course to teach in the fall. Suddenly, I have Summer, Fall, and most of Spring paid for!

I don’t often mix theology and emotion, although I probably should consider that to be acceptable practice. Today is different, because I am in awe at how God provides.

Amen and amen!

Quote of The Day

Olu Brown, speaker at this year’s Divine Rhythm conference shared this gem of a conversation:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call someone who only speaks one language?
A: An American

Sad, but true. What are we missing in life by isolating ourselves to our own culture and language?

Reading, Reading, Reading … Writing?

I MUST get some thoughts down on paper.

I have read a couple thousand pages over these past four weeks about my paper topic, but I have not been able to scribble more than a few notes. I need to put some words down on the page. They want a draft in February for the presider and respondent, and I am NOT on target to have that done.

In other words – I need to get to work!

My goal is this: Write.

That is it; I have to write. It doesn’t matter if the writing is great, good, or terrible. I can fix that later. I just have to write this all down. Once I have a draft, I can edit to my heart’s content.

2012 Reading List

Alright, the following list is every book I read in 2012. Most of them were sent to me to review, although some were Christmas and Birthday gifts, as well as one that I borrowed from a friend (The Hobbit). Some of these books were thought-provoking and all around amazing, while others were difficult to finish and really quite miserable. My goal was to read 25 books in 2012, and I read 35. My revised goal for 2013 is 40 books! Let’s see how it goes!

1. “Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty?” by Alister McGrath
2. “Civilizations of Ancient Iraq” by Benjamin Foster
3. “Mark: The Gospel of Passion” by Michael Card
4. “The Jesus We Missed” by Patrick Henry Reardon
5. “Festive Meals in Ancient Israel: Deuteronomy’s Identity in Their Ancient Near Eastern Context” by Peter Altmann
6. “Israel and Babylon: The Babylonian Influence on Israelite Religion” by Hermann Gunkel
7. “The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible” by Gordon Fee.
8. “Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is There a God Who Cares? Yes. Here’s Proof” by Dinesh D’Souza
9. “Job: Understanding the Books of the Bible” by Christopher Smith
10. “Biblical hermeneutics: Five Views,” edited by Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell
11. “Psychological Analysis and the Historical Jesus” by Bas Van Os
12. “1000 Days” by Jonathan Falwell
13. “Return of the Chaos Monster and Other Backstories of the Bible” by Gregory Mobley
14. “The Later New Testament Writings and Scripture: The Old Testament in Acts, Hebrews, the Catholic Epistles, and Revelation” by Steve Moyise
15. “The Fourth Fisherman” by Joe Kissack
16. “Deuteronomy: The NIV Application Commentary” by Daniel L. Block
17. “The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins” by Peter Enns
18. “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
19. “Hidden in Plan Sight: Finding Wisdom and Meaning in the Parts of the Bible Most People Skip” by Boyd Seevers
20. “For Calvinism” by Michael Horton
21. “Biblical Hebrew Grammar Visualized” by Francis I. Anderson and A. Dean Forbes
22. “Why Church Matters” by Joshua Harris
23. “The Truth About the Lordship of Christ” by John MacArthur
24. “Go-Do” by Jay Milbrandt
25. “Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said” by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo
26. “The Radical Question / A Radical Idea” by David Platt
27. “Christ and the Desert Tabernacle” by J. V. Fesko
28. “Francis Schaeffer” by Mostyn Roberts
29. “Leveraging Your Leadership Style” by John Jackson and Lorraine Bosse-Smith
30. “God is a Warrior” by Tremper Longman III and Daniel G. Reid
31. “Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh” by Seth D. Postell
32. “Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit” by Lovett H. Weems Jr.
33. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
34. “The Characterization of the Assyrians in Isaiah: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives” by Mary Katherine Y. H. Hom
35. “Holy War in Ancient Israel” by Gerhard von Rad

If you want to know what I thought of these books, most of them were reviewed either on this blog or in the following publications: Reviews in Religion and Theology, Religious Studies Review, The Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament, and Bible Study Magazine.

AiG Responds to Peter Enns

Which means that I owe an apology to the staff at Answers in Genesis for a comment that I made in a previous post. I said the following:

“I would not be surprised, unfortunately, if Ken Ham and the rest of the guys at Answers in Genesis ignore this criticism and refuse to engage with any ideas outside of their own minority view.”

And I was wrong. As Mark Looy, staff member at AiG, informed me, a response was written and posted to Enns’ blog post. In the spirit of full disclosure, I read AiG’s response, and I disagree with both their premises and their conclusions. I will also leave it up to you, the reader, as to whether this is a “critical engagement” or not (giving a response the title, “Mutilating God’s Word,” doesn’t quite ring of responsible, critical engagement).

What they did do, however, is respond, and that means that I was wrong. I made an unfair comment, and for that I am sorry. I wonder if Dr. Peter Enns will respond in turn?

Fox News Wages War on Advent!

This article is deeply profound and thought-provoking. It is simply too good not to share.

Fox News’ War on Advent

Great Example of Critical Engagement

Shortly after I posted this morning about Fundamentals and Liberals and their lack of engagement with each other (or anyone), Peter Enns posted a great blog entry wherein he critically engaged some of Answers In Genesis’ fundamentalist propaganda.

Enns (if I were a fan of labels, I’d plop him down somewhere on the conservative side of moderate) does a great job of critically engaging the arguments put forth on a a poster available for sale on Answers in Genesis. The poster represents basic fundamentalist tactics to avoid biblical arguments and instead, as Enns puts it, tells “us how Ham reads Genesis having already assumed the point that has to be argued.” Enns moves through the first major points of the poster to show his audience how these arguments do not hold water and engages them without being belittling or rude. I would not be surprised, unfortunately, if Ken Ham and the rest of the guys at Answers in Genesis ignore this criticism and refuse to engage with any ideas outside of their own minority view.

Fundamentalists and Liberals in the Church and Academy: Finding Middle Ground

Lately we have heard a great deal about academics and scholars losing their positions (sometimes even tenured positions) at conservative Colleges and Universities (for example, see my posts about statements of faith). Michael Pahl, Christopher Rollston, and Anthony Le Donne instantly come to mind. All three of these men are top-notch academics and also somewhat conservative in their beliefs, at least from what I can tell from their blogs and publications. Yet they were all fired based upon what the majority of Christians (and all academics) would consider minute details of little importance. The fundamentalist alumni and donor base at each of these colleges pushed them out the door because these scholars challenged the status quo of fundamentalism. The fundamentalists attacked these conservatively-moderate scholars because they disagreed with basic, non-essential ideas.

On the other side of the coin, you have the minimalists. I am most familiar with those taking part in the biblical studies Yahoo group, namely Thomas Thompson, Niels Peter Lemche, and Philip Davies (collectively named “The Copenhagen School” on wikipedia). Now, I have learned a great deal from these scholars through the email group, however, their tone is as negative towards moderate scholars as it is towards fundamentalists, and the disapproval of anyone disagreeing with their ideas seems as harsh as that of the fundamentalists.

The problem that I see in both of these groups (which I term “fundamentalist” and “liberal,” although other terms could be used in their stead) is their inability to converse with the other, or with anyone falling in a middle category (the “moderates”). Instead, all we see is finger pointing and ad hominem attacks.

This problem is not a new one. While doing some research for a paper that I will be presenting this March concerning the Divine Warrior Motif, I ran across an article that Paul D. Hanson wrote in 1985. This article is nearly 30 years old, yet it describes our current situation very well. The title of the article is “The Responsibility of Biblical Theology to Communities of Faith,” and it was published in Ex Auditu (Wipf and Stock) volume 1, pg. 54-62. Hanson begins by arguing that theologians, academics and scholars in biblical studies and theology, pastors, teachers, and church leaders need more self-criticism and ethical responsibility. In other words, we have to be held accountable for what we do. If we sit in our own circles of like-minded peers and never interact with “the other,” the people with whom we disagree, then we are not being held accountable at all.

Hanson states, in regard to the “liberal” leaning members of the church and academy:

Biblical scholars who understand their vocation within the larger context of a community of faith have reason to be concerned that a large proportion of the younger members of the profession consider the questions of spiritual and moral accountability beneath their scholarly concern.

And in reference to the “fundamentalist” leaning persons:

Uncritical, self-serving enthusiasm has had a sordid history of its own, and movements advancing under the banner of a return to the Bible have often made powerful contributions to social oppression, nationalism, and a host of other personal and communal ills.

These statements are very telling of our own situation. Hanson moves on to explain how proper biblical theology works:

Within a community of scholars that draws together members from a wide diversity of confessions and theological positions, biblical scholarship exercises its critical function only if from the perspective of its own history, accumulated research, and collective wisdom it subjects all positions to a steady critique.

Therefore all positions, fundamentalist, conservative, moderate, and liberal, need to be criticized and critiqued in order for the field to grow. Simply shunning academics who disagree with your position will not further the conversation or the field of biblical studies / biblical theology. We need to critically engage all ideas. Hanson goes on to say:

A further degree of modesty and integrity is cultivated by the frequent gathering together of biblical scholars of all confessions for serious discussion and open dialogue on issues of the Bible and theology. Such occasions foster understanding and trust even as they encourage an openness both to self-scrutiny and the criticism of others. Because the commitment for drawing scholars together for dialogue should transcend the interests of any particular group, suspicions and animosities which have created barriers between biblical scholars in the past can be overcome.

This statement rings very true, especially as I read it a couple of weeks after my 2nd annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (and the first one I’ve attended in which AAR and SBL combined their meetings). I heard a number of papers from positions much more conservative than my own, as well as many papers much more liberal. I had conversations with old friends and new contacts in which I was challenged from both sides (I will again note that I am using the terms “conservative” and “liberal,” which may not be the best terms. I continue to use them for lack of better terminology). Ultimately, I learned the most from listening and critically engaging ideas that were unfamiliar and even somewhat scary. Engaging new ideas is different than embracing new ideas; I feel that the fundamentalists (who are, by and large, absent from meetings such as SBL) are scared that to critically engage a new idea means adopting that new idea. I learned a great deal from conversations with people whom I disagreed (and still disagree) with.

Hanson speaks of engaging the use of scripture in one’s community as follows:

Those entrusted with the teaching of the Bible act responsibly by subjecting the use of Scripture in their communities to a rigorous, disciplined critique, in which underlying presuppositions are identified and brought into the light of community discussion. Only loss of confidence in the self-authenticating authority of Scripture leads to the desire to enshroud the presuppositions of faith in a cloak of ecclesiastical secrecy. Open discussion of presuppositions leads not to disunity or the erosion of faith but to a proper understanding of the nature of faith if it is carried on in a community context characterized by a sense of life derived from divine grace and dedicated to a self-transcending purpose.

This, I think, really hits the nail on the head. We must be open and engaging in both our own faith communities, academic communities, as well as engaging other communities for the sake of academic learning and spiritual growth.

I want to close with a brief sentence from Hanson’s closing paragraphs:

The most exciting of all challenges to biblical theology in its responsibility to communities of faith is the possibility of facilitating fresh new formulations of the dynamic center of our biblical heritage which, in a modem, emergent world, will invite growth of faith rather than its destruction.

This is key. Our goal needs to be growth, both academic and spiritual. As a member of a faith community and an academic community, I want to strive to see that we all grow closer both to God and to the truth found in scripture, through a proper understanding of the Bible, of the Ancient World, and how the two influence each other.

I want to note that one does not have to be a Christian in order to be a theologian or a biblical scholar. I, much like Hanson does in his article, question the effectiveness of being a biblical scholar without engaging the community of faith. The “liberals” or “minimalists” that I mentioned earlier are not people that I know personally (nor are the fundamentalists who were unnamed but referred to, for that matter), and I have no clue what their belief system is. I would say that the argument is still valid, however, in that to further the academic conversation they must still be willing to engage with those of other mindedness without reducing their own arguments to polemics.

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