Here's a smattering of things that I've read recently that kicked my butt (in the most delightful way).
In the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, David Instone-Brewer wrote an article on the apostolic letter in Acts 15. He contends that of the four commands in 15:29, the third command (a reference to 'strangling') has to do with the killing of babies and infants, not with animals and dietary customs. He builds his case by culling evidence from intertestamental and rabbinic writings (his area of specialty). A very convincing article on what at first (to me) sounded like a bland topic.
This book has become the most important biblical studies book I have ever read. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This book deals with the questions of why and for whom the Gospel of John written. I'll devote a longer post to it soon, so that I can explain it better and to make my joy complete. All that to say: if you are a deeply-thinking Christian and have a background in biblical studies, read it.
'Church'--verb; the act of attending and being involved in a local ecclesiastical establishment.
Now that I'm in seminary (or have been for the past year), what should I expect or look for in a church? Now that I'm well on my way to being authorized (at least on paper)to teach and hold positions of authority in a church, and I'm looking for a church to regularly attend, what should I look for. I am being trained to preach and think deeply and theologically about the world, which puts me on par with most local pastors. So what do I need?
I realize my tone is borderline boastful/prideful, but do know that I have a very humble heart behind this post.
Almost one year later, I finally finished Larry Hurtado's "Lord Jesus Christ," the definitive book on the worship of Jesus in early Christianity. It's an immensely thorough and thought-provoking book (746 pages should do that for you), so I happily join the ranks of those who commend it to others.
Over the past year I was blessed to get to know Dr. Te-Li Lau at TEDS? A few months ago, his wife was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. And tonight I heard from a friend that she maybe has a few months left. I can't really process this, so I'm going to end the post here.
Now that the important part of my summer has been covered, I can now get into the less significant but still noteworthy occurrences.
This summer I saw a few movies that were crummy. "Bride Wars," "District 9," and "Lakeview Terrace" were three of them. Then I saw a few that I thought were quite good, and I was surprised at how much I liked them. "Changeling," "Inglorious Basterds," and "Nothing but the Truth" were three of those. I also saw some that are some of my new favorites. "The Devil's Backbone" and "The Seventh Seal" are the two that impressed themselves on me. "Devil's Backbone" (El espinazo del diablo, if you please) is a ghost/suspense story set in a Spanish orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. However, it is has a story with various themes and symbols running all through and throughout, and it never sacrifices story for scares (it isn't scary in the traditional, 'ghost story' sense). This movie is just too good for that.
"The Seventh Seal" is by prolific director Ingmar Bergman. The story takes place during the Crusades, and it centers around the question of God's presence/absence in the time of great suffering. Bergman was a former Lutheran, and in his movies (especially this one) he makes his questions and doubts about God painfully obvious. The movie was filmed in Swedish (Bergman's native tongue) in 1957, so some of the concepts and dialogue may be a bit alien and strange. Please don't let that deter you; go rent it now.
These things don't write themselves anymore. Shame. I guess two months of catch up isn't as painful as it could be.
So, where to begin?
I GOT MARRIED!
Yes sir/madam, it is all true; she liked it/put a ring on it/et al. The months leading up to it quickly trickled into weeks, then into days, and soon enough I'm standing in Biola's Calvary Chapel with one gorgeous woman. Not to mention about 360 eyes watching our every move. Everything and everyone was so overwhelmingly happy and wonderful. Some highlights were:
-seeing my awesome Biola friends -the harpist, Elise Berg, who rocked the house -everyone standing to see the bride enter, and the door opens and no one is there -having my former youth pastor, Andrew Garland, perform the ceremony -taking pictures in the Biola library and meeting random people there (John Dunne, for one) -dancing with my bride and friends -meeting Carissa's family -going to In-n-Out after the reception
Time for work, so this party train will have to start again later (but hopefully sooner).
You go into your next door neighbor's house. You rummage through their fridge, use their toilet and don't flush it, and move their furniture to fit your liking. Then your neighbor walks into the room, and you go "What the heck! Why is Mr. Johnson here!?"
Listen to why this is my favorite. (Note: this is not my favorite music video; in fact, the video is horrid. Please do not judge the song by the video)
Why do I love this song so much? While I could go on and on about the musicianship (in case you weren't sure, Dire Straits is a musically proficient band), what seals the deal for me is the song's narrative. Everyone knows Romeo and Juliet takes place "way back then" when people wore funny hats and dresses and talked in King James ebonics ("Who me?" "Yes, thou"). The story is cute and deals with love, but it is hard to connect with because of the cultural/historical distance (unless you were in Honors English in high school). So, from the outset it seems that any song about Romeo and Juliet is doomed to be lifeless and irrelevant.
Not so, with Mark Knopfler's (songwriter, singer, lead guitarist) lyrical precision and storytelling finesse. While adhering to the natural flow of the story, Knopfler (that name is a pain to type) strips the story of its olde tyme cultural trappings in order to frame it as a simple contemporary love story. The bulk of the song is dialogue between R&J, which helps to loosen the story from the world in which it takes place. Also, no explicit mention is made of the characters' untimely deaths (more on this below), which does the song a double service. One, it anchors the song in the real "heat" of the relationship. R&J are madly in love, and nothing is going to mess with that. Two, it makes the song all the more gripping because you know how it ends. All the lyrics about "forever" and "love you 'til I die" have more punch. Side note: there is one recurring line that does allude to their deaths, but it is so indirect that I don't classify it as a "death reference." Anyway, back to the train of thought.
All of that to say: I love this song. My favorite line in the song? I thought you'd never ask. Towards the end of the second verse, Romeo begins to plead with Juliet to see that he's the real deal, that he really loves her. And he closes it with this bomb:
You promised me everything, you promised me thick and thin, yeah. Now you just say "Oh, Romeo? Yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him."
Wonderful. Enough of my blabbing (and blogging), how about you?
In another feeble attempt to feign responsibility and punctuality, I will give a brief update as well as a few semi-hollow promises of blog posts to come.
1) School is over! It's summer! And just when you thought all of the fun and challenge took place in the first year of grad school, I'm going to up the ante and get married! I love competing with myself.
2) Summer reading! Here's a quick list:
Markus Bockmuehl Revelation and Mystery in Ancient Judaism and Pauline Christianity This was his doctrinal dissertation that was published (now out of print, unfortunately). I really liked his recent book, Seeing the Word, so I figured I'd start from the beginning.
Edward "Mickey" Klink The Sheep of the Fold: The Audience and Origin of the Gospel of John Another doctrinal dissertation; Klink was one of my favorite Biola professors. So when I saw his dissertation on half.com, I had to pick 'er up. I'm most excited about this here book.
Finally, some N.T. Wright to round out the bunch. I plowed through 20ish pages of this beast. It's okay that this book is 500+ pages because the man couldn't write a boring sentence if he tried (which is good for a book on historical methodology and other big words).
3) Coming soon: my first official blog book review. I will be reviewing James White's "The King James Only Controversy" (2nd ed.). Yay!
A friend asked me to comment on the (new) classic battle of hymns vs. contemporary worship songs. So here are my thoughts in bullet-point format and in no logical order. And now, with little ado and much over-generalization, here it goes.
(From the outset I must confess that this post works as a sort of apologetic for contemporary worship songs. While I personally prefer hymns to contemporary music, I cannot get rid of the latter. Perhaps this post will show you why).
-Hymns are not inherently better than contemporary worship songs (CWS). There are bad hymns as there are bad CWS ('bad' in terms of solid, orthodox content).
-Worship music (both hymns and CWS) can have different functions. Some songs can be more didactic in their purpose (seeking to teach specific truths/doctrines); some are simply scripture passages put to music. Others work to build unity among believers and therefore do not focus solely on God. A mix of worship songs are needed; one 'song type' cannot be used alone.
-Both hymns and CWS are attempts to express biblical truth and/or responses to biblical truth in a particular time in a particular culture. They both use language and imagery of their times to make Christian realities relevant and understandable to their own particular time. Now, on this point I must dwell for a bit. The reason I enjoy hymns more is that hymns (for the most part) employ language and imagery that is drawn directly from the Bible ('thee' and 'thou' notwithstanding). I love 'Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah' because of the OT wilderness imagery; I get how the imagery is being used in the song to describe the Christian life. And yet, if I go to the middle of downtown Chicago and tell people about how my wandering in the desert is not a problem because I am being guided by a pillar of fire, and I call them to follow that pillar as well, what is the most obvious reaction. Whatever the colorful language and awkward stares I get, it all points to the fact that the language I used makes no sense! And I'm sure the reaction in most churches today wouldn't be much different (I hate the phrase 'most churches today,' but I used it anyway). That language of wilderness wandering had more significance and resonance with believers from an earlier generation, but now it is lost (this isn't the time and place to explain why, unfortunately). So now we have CWS that uses (*gasp*) contemporary language and imagery to convey similar truths, and that is a good thing. For good or for ill, at least songwriters are striving to worship God using language that our culture understands and resonates with. Christians seeking to understand the times and address it properly is always praiseworthy, although the results may not always be perfect.
As I always end my posts, there is much more that must be said. But my time is short and my attention span is shorter, so good night.
Okay, I must confess. I am a negligent blogger. It's a sad fact, but that's how it is.
Feels good to get that off my chest. Now onto the post!
Trinity's bookstore had a store-wide 40% off sale. Needless to say, the phrase "book sale" is my bat signal. So I swooped into action, and here are my little treasures:
These two are simple overviews of the past few decades of study on the OT and NT respectfully. They both average around 500 pages, each chapter written by a specialist on their own specialty. Topics covered (to name a few): textual criticism (OT and NT), linguistics (Stanley Porter writes this for the NT edition), historical issues, and each genre/body of writings (Pentateuch, Gospels, etc.). Each chapter is basically a "here's what people are saying about (insert subject), so nothing new is going to be said in these books. Unless anyone wants to do further biblical study or is extremely curious, I can't really recommend this series. But for my purposes I find them quite useful, maybe even invaluable.
This little number comes from a theology conference a few years ago. I'm not sure why I bought it. I have really enjoyed other things I have read by Markus Bockmuehl, and the opportunity to read an essay of his along with essays by Kevin Vanhoozer and N.T. Wright (and many others) pulled me in. From what I gather so far, the book is based on the popular movement (not sure if that is the right word) of 'theological interpretation of scripture.' And this book uses that foundation to investigate how the NT influences and prescribes theology. So I'm curious. Pray that I'll remain orthodox :]
This book comes highly recommended by a fellow blogger and patristics/trinity buff. This is a wonderful textbook that gives brief overviews of the life and writings of a great many church fathers. Since my familiarity with the fathers/early church history is painfully little to none, this is great for me to be able to taste a little bit of information about a lot of people. And if I find something that interests me, the book's massive bibliographies on each entry provide more than enough direction for future study. If you are like me and need a gentle intro to early church history, go here first.
Lastly, I had to pick up another book in Carson's New Studies in Biblical Theology series. And what better volume to buy than 'Thanksgiving' by Dr. David Pao (who is also known as 'my academic adviser'). This volume looks at the uses of thanksgiving language throughout the Bible--especially in Paul (as well as extra-biblical/intertestamental literature), and shows the seriousness of thanksgiving (yes, it is serious thanks!). This book is an easy skim-read (unlike other volumes in this series), and Pao's pastoral sensitivity shines through. If you have ever read anything by Paul, read this. I'm not sure Dr. Pao would like me to say that.
I'd like to get back to that wonderful topic of evangelism. However, I'm going to approach evangelism from a different angle. And the angle might be such that I may not even tangentially touch on evangelism. But it's okay; God is good. Let's get at it.
In a conversation between two professing Christians, one fields the question: "I repented and asked Jesus to save me, so why bother reading your Bible all the time and stuff like that? What else do you need?"
After hearing about that conversation (and especially that question), I almost collapsed on the floor, Jenga-style. On the one hand, I felt like I had never heard such blasphemy in my life (I've calmed down since then and have retracted the accusations of blasphemy). Come on! Who doesn't want to read their Bible!? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
Then I stopped. The scales came off, and I realized that that question is simply one of the best questions I have ever heard. One half of me screams "Burn the heretic!" (as previously demonstrated). But the other half marvels at and sympathizes with the question and the question-er. Here's why:
The question itself "Why bother to read the Bible and (insert other Christian practices) when being saved is all that we need?" is so foundational and significant that it deserves its own individual treatment. Then, have that question be asked by a well-churched, well-seasoned, professing Christian and you have a whole new knot in a tangled piece of string. If that question was posed in a vacuum, or even by a non-Christian, then the answer is seemingly simple. But a senior Christian asking that question shows some major holes in their foundational beliefs.
So I've labored the point long enough. And since I've labored over making that point long enough, I'm going to post this little diddy. But, friendly reader, what do you think about this person's question? What does this question reveal? How would you respond? We can't really address the individual in question (pun, unintentional), but we can look at the question and work from there.
Here are some books that have been throwing words at my eyes this semester.
David Clark's To Know and Love God has been one of the most enjoyable reads in recent memory. The book is essentially a book on how to do theology, but it isn't as boring as it sounds. With a theological-philosophical focus, Clark gently takes you through competing ideas about theology, the method, and the difficulties surrounding the study of theology. Clark puts a lot into the 300+ pages. His treatment of doing theology in a globalized context shouldn't be missed. It is focused, broadly-evangelical, gospel and God-centered, understandable, and many other words. Books like these make me like theology again. Please don't miss this one.
It's hard for me to review (if you call what I'm doing a book review) Daniel Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding. From the get-go, this book is a success. It succeeds at being an up-to-date introduction to the major doctrines of Christian theology. Christology, salvation, God, humanity, it's all there in 439 pages (complete with index, biblical citation list, and a glossary of theological terms!). There's plenty of quotations and interaction with feminists, Roman Catholics, liberationists, and Karl Barth. And them some more Karl Barth. 73 Barth citations is what the index tells me. However, for all this outside (read "non-evangelical") interaction, the book succeeds in being a more liberally-minded text, full of statements and conclusions that one can only agree with in part. Take, for example, this quote from his only paragraph on Hell:
Hell is simply wanting to be oneself apart from God's grace and in isolation from others. Hell is that self-chosen condition in which, in opposition to God's agapic love and the call to a life of mutual friendship and service, individuals barricade themselves from others. It is the hellish weariness and boredom of a life focused entirely on itself. hell is not an arbitrary divine punishment at the end of history. It is not the final retaliation of a vindictive deity. Hell is self-destructive resistance to the eternal love of God. it symbolizes the truth that the meaning and intention of life can be missed.
There is so much I'd like to agree with in this quote, but there's so much that is skewed or unsaid that in the end I have to leave it. This still is a very interesting book, for no other reason than to see what others are saying.
Frank Lambert's Inventing the 'Great Awakening has awakened the sleeping historian within me. This book is written against those who in the past few years have argued that the Great Awakening of the 18th century didn't really happen. They say reports about the awakening were blown out of proportion and used by 19th century revivalists to justify their claims to a revival. So Lambert goes through the historical context of the 18th century colonies and the data to see if the Great Awakening was in fact Great. I'm still in the beginning of this one, and so far I have been blown away by Lambert's clarity and slow treatment of the material. I was intimidated by this book, not being a historian of any stripe, but I am loving it now.