Thoughts in the Dark

Trying to Bring Ideas into the Light

Tag: God

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?


Women in Church Leadership

This won’t be a post arguing for or against females in leadership roles in the Church. If you know me, you know where I obviously stand.

This post is celebrating an event that happened a couple of months ago (and I feel like a terrible person for not posting about it until now!). On October 13th, Abingdon United Methodist Church (in Abingdon, VA) celebrated their 230th anniversary. For the event, they invited the Bishop of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church (covers all of east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, a little bit of Georgia, and there is one church that sits on the NC state line!). The District Superintendent of the Abingdon District, and the two pastors of Abingdon UMC were also present.

The really cool thing about this? All the above are women. This is the first time, as far as I know, that there has been a female Bishop, female DS, and two female pastors leading a Church service together.

Check out this link for the story!

Here is a picture of these four amazing Church leaders (for the sake of full disclosure, the one on the far right is my wife, Reverend Liz Hamilton):


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?

What is Wrong with American Christianity

I watched the following video and became rather sick to my stomach. This should win awards for missing the point by the largest possible margin. The fact that any of this should be the focus of a baptism goes to show how truly confused American Christianity (which is the only environment, that I am aware of, that would allow something like this to happen) really is.

Really? Really …

Book Review: “Red Letter Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo

Claiborne, Shane and Campolo, Tony. Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012. Hardback, $22.99.

          Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo have collaborated to create an enlightening book that reads like a conversation. The text of the book is a dialogue moving back and forth between Claiborne and Campolo, with each author’s thoughts in a different font so that they can be easily distinguished.

The book is divided into three parts: Red Letter Theology, Red Letter Living, and Red Letter World. These three parts build on each other in order, I believe, to provide an understanding about the process of becoming a Red Letter Christian; namely, that one begins with orthodoxy and then moves to orthopraxy, allowing him or her to positively influence the world.

Red Letter Theology covers a variety of topics: History, Community, the Church, Liturgy, Saints, Hell, Islam, and Economics. Claiborne and Campolo dialogue with each other about these topics in a way that urges the reader to approach these issues with new, open eyes. This is a movement away from the Religious Right and the fundamentalist movement of today (which Campolo specifically discusses in the introduction) to a movement of “Red Letter Christians” focused on what Christ teaches. If you are familiar with how popular Christianity in America as portrayed on the media views these matters, then you will not be familiar with Claiborne and Campolo’s approach.

Red Letter Living moves from discussing what Red Letter Christians believe (or more importantly, what Jesus taught) to how Red Letter Christians should apply these beliefs and teachings in their everyday lives. Such issues as Family, being Pro-Life, Environmentalism, Women, Racism, Homosexuality, Immigration, Civil Disobedience, and Giving are all discussed in this section of the book. The insights that the authors provide are truly eye opening at times.

The final part of the book, Red Letter World, discusses Empire, Politics, War and Violence, National Debts, the Middle East, the Global Church, Reconciliation, Missions, and Resurrection. These chapters basically discuss Red Letter Living on a global scale. The way Campolo understood the Christian’s role in politics during his generation and Claiborne’s understanding during this generation are starkly contrasted, but also seems to fit together quite nicely.

Ultimately, Claiborne and Campolo succeed in covering a wide range of topics and teachings in this book. Most average American readers will be pleasantly surprised by the results. Conservative Christians might be challenged or even slightly offended, which is a good thing (Jesus wasn’t afraid of offending the religious establishment, so neither should his followers). My only (slight) complaint is that the authors are in agreement on everything. They point out differences in method, such as how their different generations approached politics, but for the most part the dialogue is completely in agreement. It would be nice to hear Campolo or Claiborne dialoging with someone who was not in agreement on each issue. Outside of that single complaint, this book is great. I recommend it to anyone who either is a Christian or is curious about the role of Christianity in the world today.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Paper Proposal – Accepted!

I received some great news this week – my paper proposal for SECSOR 2013 (the South East Commission for the Study Of Religion in Greenville, SC this March) was accepted in the Bible and Modern Culture: (3) Interpreting Biblical Stories/Parables of Violence and their Significance for Contemporary American Culture program unit!

I will include my proposal below:

Divine Violence: How do we Promote Peace without Taming the Divine Warrior?

Violence, while a part of our culture, is held out at a distance by most people. The Church attempts to do the same thing, condemning most or all forms of violence. Sections of the Bible that deal with violence are either exemplified as righteous examples of proper violence, or glossed over in an effort to tame the Divine. How then, do Christians deal with violence int heir own religious texts without changing the original meaning of the text to tame God, buts till continuing to promote peace as Christ-followers? The purpose of this paper is to better understand the use of violence attributed to God in order to gain a fuller understanding of how these texts can still apply to religious followers today, without taming the Divine Warrior. The sample text used will be Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55).

The paper will be divided into two parts. The first part will utilize the methodology laid out by Dr. H. Wayne Ballard in his The Divine Warrior Motif in the Psalms in order to identify the passages in Second Isaiah that contain the Divine Warrior Motif. By identifying key words and word usages Dr. Ballard was able to plot out the occurrences of the Divine Warrior Motif in the Psalms. In similar fashion, I will attempt to plot out the frequency of these same words and usages throughout Second Isaiah in order to determine the
applicable passages.

The second part will attempt to understand the purpose of these passages in light of the Ancient Near Eastern context and then interpret them for a modern readership. After discussing each passage in order to ascertain the socio-historical context, I will attempt to explain what impact these texts should have on a modern Christians and students of the Hebrew Bible. In light of modern ethical concerns about violence, particularly in religious texts, how can presenting a deity figure as a warlord in battle bring anything positive to the table? This paper will seek to answer that question and hopefully convince the audience that the Divine Warrior brings comfort instead of pain, and hope instead of terror.

So, this means that I have submitted two paper proposals (SBL this November and now SECSOR in March), and have been accepted to both! Does a 100% paper proposal acceptance rate garner any bragging rights? Or should I keep my mouth shut in order to not jinx myself (or possibly even to attempt humility, eh?).

A Review of “The Truth About the Lordship of Christ”

John MacArthur attempts to lay out his understanding of his Reformed faith. The back cover describes how MacArthur walks the reader through “impact of God’s sovereignty, our submission, the characteristics of holy living, and our assurance of salvation.” Unfortunately, the books is not nearly that clear. MacArthur composes many seemingly unrelated, 2-3 paragraph sections on different topics. Each of these small sections use 4-5 proof texts from the Bible to prove MacArthur’s point, and are gathered together in larger sections. A few of these larger sections make up each chapter.

MacArthur takes the Reformed understanding of God and describes it in similar terms as previous Reformed theologians. He discusses how God does not truly love the entire world, but hates the sinner and the wicked (he does call it a “holy hate” on page 8). The rest of the book follows in the same fashion, with these untrue and unbiblical description of God and God’s will being backed up by endless proof-texts.

I would not advise anyone spend money on this book. The only audience who would enjoy this book are those already in the Reformed and Neo-Reformed camps.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review of “Why Church Matters”

First, I want to the Blogging for Books program and WaterBrook Press for the free review copy of Why Church Matters in exchange for an honest review.

Joshua Harris, well-known for his I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl anti-dating, pro-courtship books, has entered into the realm of giving advice on church. Unsurprisingly, he uses a dating metaphor and asks are we dating the church, or are we married to the church. Harris makes many excellent points about the trend to be very non-committal when it comes to the local church. I see it every day; church tends to be what we do when we have nothing else going on. When asked if their youth will be at the next youth event, I’ve heard many parents say, “well, if there isn’t a soccer game,” or “yes, but we have to leave early to get to band practice,” or “if the debate team gets out early enough to get her there.” Excuses abound, and people refuse to devote themselves to the church.

Harris, while making many good points, also delivers some very poor advice. Some of the worst advice you can give young people is found on page 59, “Don’t go away to college or university and away from a thriving church experience.” He does say that he knows some young people who left for college and found great church homes, but ultimately he is arguing that if you have a good church, you should not move away to college. This means what? A student should settle for a community college or local college that doesn’t have their major? We are called to go out into the world, and without leaving our parents home and church I do not believe that we can make our faith our own.

One other sticking point is this: on page 80, Harris states that “you want to find a man you can trust whose example you can follow.” This patriarchal language is simply unacceptable. From other comments Harris has made, I fear that he actually believes that only men should be pastors, and that is a true shame. Furthering the oppression of women is not something that I am willing to support, and comments like the ones in this book work against Kingdom of God.

Although it does make a few good points, I would not outright recommend this book to anyone I know. If you find yourself locked in a hotel room or a cabin on a rainy afternoon with nothing to do and the books is sitting on the table, give it a read, but I would not seek it out for purchase.

“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!