Thoughts in the Dark

Trying to Bring Ideas into the Light

Reza Aslan, Fox News, and the Historical Jesus

As it has since gone viral, most of you will have heard of the terrible interview that Lauren Green of Fox News did with Reza Aslan. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here it is:

Green (and more importantly, Green’s producers and writers) seem to have a blatant bias and believe that a Muslim should not be writing about Jesus. I want to share a quote by Hershel Shanks from The Search For Jesus: Modern Scholarship Looks at the Gospels, a publication of a 1993 symposium at the Smithsonian Institution. It is found on page 4 of the introduction, and it starts out with a quotation from Time magazine:

“The Churches have always taught that Jesus Christ was a man as well as God, a man of a particular time and place, speaking a specific language, revealing his ways in terms of a specific cultural and religious tradition.” That is our subject. And because of the terms of the discussion, because we will be looking at the evidence as objectively as possible, people of all faiths, or no faith, can participate. And that’s one of the wonderful things about historical Jesus studies. It brings people together, regardless of their confessional perspective. Indeed, the various perspectives we bring to the task enrich the venture.

This two-decade old quote is telling that the attitude of Fox News towards a Muslim writing about Jesus is (a) nothing new, and (b) dead wrong. Fox News is still trying to defend their view, but it really is a lost cause to get them, or any modern money-hungry media to seek truth.

Now, although Aslan obviously deserves more respect than he received, and his voice deserves to be heard, his book is not fairing so well with Historical Jesus scholars. You see, Aslan is a generalist trying to fish in specialist waters. I’ve not read the book yet, but hope to soon. Historical Jesus is not my field, however, so I will not be offering a review or critique. Instead, I will link this one by Anthony Le Donne.

Also, I want to note that I am teaching a section of New Testament Survey this Fall, and am very excited about working this controversy into my class somewhere!


Paper Accepted to SBL 2013 in Baltimore!

I received some good news Sunday afternoon (although I realize it pales in comparison to the good news of Easter Sunday, it was still a nice email to receive). It went something like this:

Dear Matthew,

Congratulations, your paper, The Role of the Divine Warrior in Hebrew Legal Tradition, was accepted for the 2013 Annual Meeting program unit Hebrew Scriptures and Cognate Literature. The meeting will be held in Baltimore, MD from 11/23/2013 to 11/26/2013.

Please note that, by submitting a paper proposal or accepting a role in any affiliate organization or program unit session at the Annual or International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, you agree to participate in an open academic discussion guided by a common standard of scholarly discourse that engages your subject through critical inquiry and investigation.

And that is that! I actually had already been rejected from this program unit, but apparently one of the chosen papers backed out (I’m assuming they were accepted in multiple program units), and mine had been the last paper to be cut, so I’m in!

Look for me in Baltimore in November!


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.


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