Thoughts in the Dark

Trying to Bring Ideas into the Light

Tag: books

The Bible as Myth

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing lately on the use of myth and mythic language in the Bible. Some people view the Bible as entirely myth (do not fear, I am not one of them), while others cringe at the thought of the word myth being used in the same sentence as the word Bible (I am not one of them, either).

Either side seems to be using myth as a bad word; either they are purposefully insulting the Bible by calling it a myth or a book of myths, or they are scared of such a terrible word being used to refer to the Holy Scriptures. My questions is this: why is the word myth viewed so negatively?

John Oswalt has written a book on the topic, attempting to break the ties between myth and the Bible, which relies somewhat on an early book by Brevard Childs. Oswalt, a former seminary professor of mine, goes too far by declaring the worldview of myth completely incompatible with a biblical worldview. Certainly, those behind the writing of the Old Testament were saturated with the culture that surrounded them (just ask John Walton)!

It is apparent that the people behind the Old Testament appropriated myths and mythic language from surrounding culture. Certainly they applied new meanings to the myth, but they were not always the devotional, monotheistic re-appropriations that Oswalt wants them to be. Sometimes, they viewed sea monsters like Leviathan to be mere play-things, created by Yahweh with no more power than your average kitten. Other times, however, they were viewed as serious opponents that Yahweh had to battle to fend off chaos and restore the restful state of the cosmos. There is a full range of appropriation when it comes to ancient Near Eastern myth in the biblical text.

My question for you, my readers, is this: Does myth fit in your understanding of the biblical text? How does it, or why doesn’t it? Please respond in the comments section!

2013 Reading List

Some of you might have remembered my post at the end of 2012 where I listed everything I read during that calendar year. For those interested, I’ve done it again.

Last year I set a goal of 25 books and ended up reading 35. This year I decided to set a goal of 40 books, but I fell short of that goal and only read 30. I did cut out some of the fluff (none of that garbage like the books by John MacArthur or Jonathan Falwell), and a lot of the reading was geared towards the papers I wrote for SECSOR and SBL, as well as a few for the classes I took in my MA program.

Here is the list of what I read in 2013:

1. “The Problem of War in the Old Testament” by Peter C. Craigie
2. “The Divine Warrior in Early Israel” by Patrick D. Miller, Jr.
3. “The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?” by John N. Oswalt
4. “Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God” by Eric A. Seibert
5. “Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel” by Millard C. Lind
6. “The Divine Warrior Motif in the Psalms” by H. Wayne Ballard
7. “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament” by John Walton
8. “Myth and Reality in the Old Testament” by Brevard S. Childs
9. “Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel” by Frank M. Cross
10. “Against Calvinism” by Roger E. Olson
11. “The Andrew Paradigm: How to Be a Lead Follower of Jesus” by Bishop Michael J. Coyner
12. “The Dawn of Apocalyptic” by Paul D. Hanson
13. “Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem” edited by Heath A. Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan
14. “Biblical Theology: Introducing the Conversation” by Leo G. Perdue, Robert Morgan, and Benjamin D. Sommer.
15. “Sacrifice, Scripture, & Substitution: Readings in Ancient Judaism and Christianity” edited by Ann W. Astell and Sandor Goodhart
16. “Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan” by John Walton
17. “John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 1: God and Providence” by Thomas C. Oden
18. “John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 2: Christ and Salvation” by Thomas C. Oden
19. “John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 3: Pastoral Theology” by Thomas C. Oden
20. “Moral Dilemmas: An Introduction to Christian Ethics” by J. Philip Wogaman
21. “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals” by Immanuel Kant
22. “Moral Man and Immoral Society” by Reinhold Niebuhr
23. “The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide” by Gerald R. McDermott
24. “The Modern Theologians” ed. by David Ford
25. “Historical Theology” by Alister McGrath
26. “The Old Testament of the Old Testament” by R.W. Moberly
27. “Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture” by R. W. Moberly
28. “Invitation to the New Testament: First Things” by Ben Witherington III
29. “Exclusive Inclusivity: Identity Conflicts Between the Exiles and the People Who Remained (6th – 5th Centuries BCE)” by Dalit Rom-Shiloni
30. “Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation” by Patrick Gray 

I think my goal for this next year will be 35 books. I also would like to read at least 3 fiction titles (which you can see is a category missing in this year’s list).

What did you read in 2013?

To-Do List

The Fall seems to be an exceptionally busy season for me. I am working on my second MA, teaching two classes (because the third fell through due to low enrollment), and have a number of small writing projects going on. In addition to this, I have a very amazing two-year-old son and an incredible wife who both deserve more than every minute I can give them. I also am looking for a full-time job!

I am posting my to-do list here so that I can hold myself accountable. These are my goals for the Fall:

(1) Write lectures for my world religion class on a week-to-week basis. I’ve never taught this course before, so at 12:25pm today (Monday), I am writing the lecture for the 8am Tuesday (tomorrow) class. Same thing will happen on Wednesday. Also – keep up with grading for this class!

(2) Continue to build my online New Testament Intro class. I have the first 8 weeks built in Edvance360 (we are starting week 3 this Wednesday), but am trying to build a 1-week lesson each week as we move through the semester. Also, I have a ton of grading for this course, so I’m trying to keep up.

(3) Write my paper for SBL! I cannot believe that it is September already, and I have nothing beyond preliminary notes for my SBL paper (I have done a good bit of reading, at least!).

(4) I have no choice but to make an A in my September class for my MA. Class starts this Friday. I’ve already read about 800 pages of material in preparation for the course, “Ten Theologians that Speak from the Grave,” so that during the 5-week intensive I can focus on the theologians’ primary works. This course may also involve a decent amount of writing.

(5) Lexham Bible Dictionary. I have a contract for 5 dictionary articles, and have turned one in already (although they have requested a few minor revisions). I hope to have all 5 completed and turned in by December 31st.

(6) Book Reviews. I currently am reading one book for Religious Studies Review, and also have the first three volumes of Thomas Oden’s John Wesley’s Teachings read and am writing a 2,000 word review of them for Reviews in Religion and Theology. These need to be finished SOON.

(7) Find a JOB. Teaching two courses as an adjunct isn’t paying the bills. My 1-year, grant funded position at the community college last year was nice, but I need something now that it is up. With one MA under my belt, I could teach more as an adjunct (or even be hired full time at a community college), but I don’t see that happening any time soon. My next hope is for something in higher ed, just to make contacts and stay involved in education. I am, however, willing to look outside the field just to pay my way through this MA and make sure food is on the table and the lights stay on. I’m just not getting many call backs yet.

Will I accomplish all this? I believe I will! It is time to get busy …

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?

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.

Blog Tour: Review of “Francis Schaeffer” by Mostyn Roberts

Roberts, Mostyn. Francis Schaeffer. Darlington, England: EP Books, 2012. 144 pgs., paperback, $14.99.

Reading this biography was the first time I’ve read anything about Francis Schaeffer. At 144 pages, the author, Mostyn Roberts, moves the reader very quickly through the life of Schaeffer. The book can easily be divided into two major parts, chapters 1 through 9, which cover the history of Schaeffer’s life, and chapters 10 through 13, which cover the work of Schaeffer. Most of the chapters about Schaeffer’s life are 6 to 8 pages, while the later chapters average about 12 pages each.

The first 9 chapters, discussing Schaeffer’s life, move the reader along at a rather quick pace, stopping here and there for stories and anecdotes about Schaeffer’s life. Roberts does an excellent job of keeping the reader interested in the story while somehow managing to keep the book under 150 pages. The final 4 chapters, “Schaeffer’s Teachings,” “Schaeffer’s Apologetics,” “Films, Politics and the Final Battle,” and “Schaeffer’s Legacy,” move at a much slower pace. I probably spent more time reading the final 4 chapters than I did reading the first 9.

Ultimately, I disagree with a great deal of Schaeffer’s teachings and thoughts. The two issues that particularly irk me are his teachings on the doctrine of Creation and his schismatic mindset and desire to separate himself from other Christians who approach the Bible in a different way than himself. Roberts’ biography of Schaeffer, however, has allowed me to appreciate the good that Schaeffer did in his life over the disagreements that I have with him theologically. What I really took away from this book was the opportunity to see the good in an intellectual opponent that I would not have seen if I had focused solely on his theology.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for a free copy of Francis Schaeffer, by Mostyn Roberts, in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Book Review: “The Radical Question / A Radical Idea” by David Platt

Platt, David. The Radical Question / A Radical Idea. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2012. 112 pps. Hardcover, $9.99.

David Platt follows up his best-selling Radical with this booklet that actually contains two publications, The Radical Question and A Radical Idea. These publications are very small, not much more than pamphlets. Each is about 50 pages, although the font is large and the pages are approx. 5′ x 7′. There are no chapter divisions, and none are needed as each half of this booklet is about the length of a single chapter in a standard size book.

The Radical Question asks the reader, “What is Jesus Worth to Us?” (10). The follow 40 pages are spent discussing the excesses of Western Christianity and the want in Christian communities in the rest of the world. The “cost of non-discipleship” is a repeated theme, discussing how we spend more on the individualistic, westernized “American dream” than we do on being faithful and obedient followers of Christ.

A Radical Idea can be summed up in one sentence: “How can we in the church best unleash the people of God in the spirit of God with the word of God for the glory of God in the world?” (63). Platt goes on to discuss how the American church has focused so much on extravagant church buildings and well-paid professionals to run those buildings in order for the general people in the church to remain complacent. While he does not go so far as to condemn the paid pastor position, he makes it very clear that without every individual in the church stepping up in order to make disciples, the mission of God will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.

I agree with Platt on many points. I have experienced many people in churches that are there for an hour on Sunday and are willing to make no further commitment. Unless we are all willing to go and make disciples, instead of leaving it to those who are ordained or are staff members, we have not committed ourselves to Christ and his Kingdom. The book itself, while making clear these good points, is lacking in answers. The majority of the content points out the issues and problems in the American church, but does not come out and clearly attempt to answer these problems other than “we all need to go and make disciples.” An example was given about how a church stopped leasing warehouse space, met in the parking lot outside, and used the money they had been spending on the space to help the poor. This is an incredible example of a church making a selfless decision to further the Kingdom of God, but it is not feasible for all churches in all places. My current church has been meeting in the same building since 1883, so leaving it would incur additional cost of leasing or buying a new space (there are not parking lots nearby that 250 people can fit into every Sunday).

I recommend this book, as it is a quick read (one afternoon at the most), and it brings up some challenging questions. It would be useful as a discussion starter for a small group or church council that wanted to get together and brainstorm ways that they might engage in Kingdom Living.

 

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and balanced review.

Why Hello, Fall!

Summer is over (for the most part). There is only one day in the 10-day forecast that has a high in the 80′s, and lows are dropping into the 40′s. I LOVE this time of year. I told my wife this morning that it is getting close to time for sweater vests and caramel apples. She gave me an odd look, but I like to think that she knows what I mean.

I am headed down to the University of Tennessee’s library in Knoxville today in hopes of finishing my last dictionary article for the Lexham Bible Dictionary. This has been an awesome experience, and I hope they give me the opportunity to write more! In the mean time, however, I need to get back to reading. This week I have started and finished two books: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Binders to Better Understand the Bible, and Hidden in Plain Sight: Finding Wisdom and  Meaning in the Parts of the Bible Most People Skip. (I highly recommend the first, while the second one was difficult to wade through – primary audiences for Hidden in Plain Sight are those who have never really studied the Bible before at all). Reviews for both of these will be published in Bible Study Magazine this coming Spring.

I hope that I can catch up on my reading this fall. Writing these articles has taken a great deal of my time, and while I read a great deal as I researched each topic, I did not read any books from start to finish. I set a goal at the beginning of the year to read at least 25 books, and I am still hoping to get there! I also have a tendency to read multiple books at the same time. Here is a list of everything I’ve read so far this year as well as the books I am currently reading:

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

I am currently reading:

20. “Biblical Hebrew Grammar Visualized” by Francis I. Anderson and A. Dean Forbes
21. “Go-Do” by Jay Milbrandt
22. “In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History” by Van Seeters
23. “For Calvinism” by Michael Horton
24. “Against Calvinism” by Roger E. Olson

I also have a couple more short Christian non-fiction books sent to me to review on this blog that I have not gotten to yet, so hopefully those will be quick reads!

Fall, for me, is a time to get back into reading. The weather is so wonderful that I can read outdoors or indoors, and it really reminds me of my days in school when I would return to the Carson-Newman campus each fall a few weeks before the leaves started changing (which reminds me, I am extremely excited about visiting CN in a few weeks for homecoming; I cannot believe that it has already been 5 years since I’ve graduated!).

Anyway, I hope you all are enjoying the beginnings of fall, and I hope that you all try to read at least a book or two!

A Challenge for this Week!

In light of a recent blog post by Peter Enns about the extreme chronological distance between the events in the Bible and the events in our own lives, I want to offer a challenge to all of my readers:

Read your Bible this week and write down everything in the text that you think would be out of place in your everyday life. Each time you compile a list, post it here as a response.

This should make for an excellent exercise in understanding how reading the Bible is an act of translation; even reading it in our own, native tongue.

As a side note, I am wondering this: how do each of you handle the temporal difference between the events in the Bible and the events in your own life? How do you cross those millennia in order to draw significance out of the biblical text?

“Fifty Shades of Grey” – A Challenge

A few people, including a good personal friend, have mentioned to me that I shouldn’t make judgements about “Fifty Shades of Grey” without first reading the book (if you missed it, I posted a blog about the book here). I would like to take a couple of minutes to respond and offer a challenge to those who feel that way.

First off, I want to make it clear that I am approaching this book as a Christian. I am concerned with whether or not this book is a good and edifying thing for Christians to engage with. I am not concerned with whether or not the book is “good” literature (although many question the value of Twilight fan fiction and wonder why it is on the best seller lists).

Without reading the entire book I obviously cannot judge the writing quality or the story line, so if that had been my goal my critics would be absolutely correct. My problem was that in each and every excerpt that I read, I found explicit sexual content that had no redeeming value. For those who don’t think I should cast judgment on a book without reading it, I guess that you could say that I am not – I am casting judgment on specific content within said book.

I do wonder, and I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s opinion, but if someone judged a 2-hour pornographic film to be inappropriate and unsuitable to watch, would they be overstepping their bounds by recommending other Christians to not watch it? I have to wonder what is making this book any different.

This is my challenge to any and all who read this blog but completely disagree with me (and I surely don’t expect everyone to agree with me, so I hope to get some responses!): Answer a couple simple questions!

(a) Why do you disagree with me?

(b) How is “Fifty Shades of Grey” edifying for Christians? How does it build them up, make them stronger? What is good and righteous about the book? (I’m not saying that all reading material has to be all of these things, but I’d hope that for Christians to defend this book that there is something that I am missing by not reading it that makes up for the incredible amount of inappropriate material.)

 

I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say!

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