Articles for the Month of August 2014

A new low? New heights?

One of the more depressing outcomes of a post-infection fatigue is the things one is reduced, but lack of energy to do better, to eating. Come lunchtime, I was hungry, from a morning dutifully preparing my paper for the symposium: “Doing Theology in the Light of the Trinity“, later this week. But I have barely enough energy to prepare words, none to cook food. In the freezer there were some “Chicken Tenders”. I remember them, they epitomise the phrase “cheap and nasty”. That’s why there was still the remains of a small packet – after trying them I had not (previously) been desperate enough to have a second go.

I won’t shame the company that produced them by naming them here, but they taste and look like mechanically recovered meat from roadkill. I’m tired, lacking energy to cook, I grilled a few. The first was as bad as I remembered, mushy, mild and flavourless except for the excess of pepper, with the slight crunch (where they had not absorbed mushy softness from the “meat”) of breadcrumbs to redeem them.

In desperation I drizzled the remaining monstrosities with some decent olive oil. It was a revelation, the “Chicken Tenders” were still as unappetising as ever, but the zing of the oil made the meal quite edible, almost satisfying. No wonder chefs drizzle olive oil over everything! If it can almost redeem those cheap and nasty “Chicken Tenders” it must do wonders for real food.

Theological librarian needed

Colombo Theological Seminary, a fine interdenominational seminary teaching in English, Sinhala and Tamil both in Colombo (the capital) and in centres around the country (in both Sinhala and Tamil areas) is looking for a theological librarian to work in their Colombo main building.

Colombo Theological Seminary is a fine institution and Sri Lanka a really beautiful island full of friendly people so this would make a dream appointment for someone that would also enable them to serve the church in a place where Christian churches are one of the few community institutions that really cross the ethnic and political divides that led to the many years of civil war.

If you know a theological librarian who is willing to travel and work in a beautiful tropical location please pass on these details:

 

Killing the Bible with kindness

Rhett has a typically sensible and thought provoking post “New” which begins with the strange obsession academia has with “new”, leading in disciplines that deal with a limited corpus of texts and ideas, like biblical studies or theology, to bizzare thesis topics and many silly claims. (Read Rhett’s post!)

From where I stand (often in front of a class of beginning theology students, sometimes Christians studying to be counselors or teachers, even more often in churches or Facebook chatting about this and that) the problem is not so much an obsession with “new”  as one with “simple”.

Fact/FictionChristians are taught from Sunday School upwards a simple approach to a simple Bible. The Bible says it, it is so. This is typified by the habit of citing “verses” to settle arguments.

Relevant Children’s Ministry has a post today also, “Are We Blurring the Lines Between Fact and Fiction When We Teach Children?” This begins with a terrifying statistic

 A recent study says that children who attend church have a harder time distinguishing between what is fact and fiction in life.

The study by Cognitive Science was based on research with 5 & 6 year olds who do and do not attend church.  An example – kids who attend church would be more likely to believe a talking animal they see on television is real.

They go on to ask what seems like a sensible series of questions about whether several of the things we do in children’s ministry risk confounding fact and fiction for these children. Their questions are good ones (and I hope my reply did not seem to suggest that we should not consider them) but I think they miss the more basic point.

The “line” between fact and fiction is already blurred. Thinking about historical biography and good fictional biography of historical personages shows this. Children, and adults too, need to be able to think critically, not merely “know” the line between fact and fiction.

Christians claim the Bible is their source of authority (different Christians give different roles to tradition and contemporary revelation by the Holy Spirit alongside Scripture). Yet few people I meet (who do not have Bible College training) can explain well and sensibly why Paul’s advice that women praying or speaking in church ought to cover their heads/hair (1 Cor 11) does not mean that Christian women today ought to wear hats in church. The answers range from the antinomian: “it’s out of date, that was his culture, it is not ours”, to the weird: “Gal 3:28 means we ought to treat men and women the same” – so men should wear hats also?! Almost none can go on from their explanation to also show how Paul’s teaching in this passage applies today! By one route (temporal snobbery) or another (bash your opponent with a “better” Bible verse) Scripture is denied and therefore devalued.

We need to teach our children, and our adults too, to think critically about Scripture (as well as about other things, don’t get me started) else the Bible will lose what little authority (as more than a tribal totem) it still retains.

[NB this is not my attempt to respond to Rhett’s post, that’s in the comments there. Nor is it my attempt to show you how to approach reading a passage like 1 Cor 11 today, I’m gradually doing that as simply and briefly as I can in monthly articles in the NZ Baptist and at Reading the Bible Faithfully.]

Sometimes it takes an “outsider”…

Please note the scare quotes, Richard Beck is not an outsider, in church he is a committed leader, in the blogsphere he is a powerful voice. Yet, the debate about gay marriage has been framed and is largely conducted in the light of stances taken by professional biblical scholars, systematic theologians, ethicists and pastors. Richard is a psychologist, but one with a fine and catholic understanding of the Bible and christian tradition. As a psychologist one of the striking features of his theological writing is how he keeps rooting it in experience.

With that introduction (though I have been linking to Beck since 2006), here’s why you should read him today in The Icons of God in Marriage: Nature and Election he reframes the debate about gay marriage in ways that I find interesting noting what each “side” does to talk of the image of God in marriage. I had not thought about it that way, and I think the thought is worth more time for reflection.

“He literally glowed”

No, it’s not a post about Moses, nor have I transgressed into the smaller Testament. Rather it’s a post pointing to a post. One that is well worth reading. I have for a long time been upset by the patently untrue claim that “people today” are using “literally” to mean its own antonym. It just did not ring true, nor did it really seem to describe what I hear happening.

Jeremy at Parableman has a fine clear and well-documented (except without proper academic references :( post explaining what’s wrong with the claim, and giving a better explanation for the usage people complain about. Including several fine quotes some from well respected writers of times past, like the one from F. Scott Fitzgerald which I used as a title. Go! Read!

Jim West’s “For the Person in the Pew” commentary project

For several years now Jim West has been posting from time to time about progress with his huge project as he knocks off book after book of his For the Person in the Pew Bible commentary series. This began in 2006 with the ambitious Jeremiah: for the person in the pew, the Pastoral Epistles, Matthew and Micah were finished that same year and the flow continues. In recent months Jim has announced a deal with Logos that will see the series made available in that convenient format. This development needs more pre-orders before it can get off the ground (this is Logos’ clever way of ensuring a profit before they commit to the work of adapting such a large project to their format). Jim has therefore been (uncharacteristically?) indulging in self-promotion as authors without commercial publishers must, and also asking others to help him in this task by posting a notice of his work.

I am happy to do this, and agreed to prepare a notice (less than a formal review but more than a mere puff) of his “Ruth” from the volume Ruth and Lamentations: For the Person in the Pew (Quartz Hill Publishing House, 2007). This task was less easy than I expected. Here is what I wrote:

Preparing even a brief notice (let alone a full review, which this is not) of a commentary written by a friend is a dangerous business. One is more tempted to be either too harsh or too accommodating compared with reviewing the work of some stranger. One error is unfair to the author, the other to the reader.

Reading Jim West’s little commentary on Ruth (in the 2007 volume on Ruth and Lamentations) I found myself applying higher standards than I would use for a stranger’s work of this scale. (I know the quality of Jim’s scholarship and the breadth of his reading, how could he miss out this, or that!) Yet to express such reservations would be unfair to Jim. His work is a very short (some 7,000 words including the text from the ASV) set of notes aimed at “the person in the pew”. By and large it explains what such a reader needs.

As well as the brief explanatory comments this goal is achieved, to a considerable degree, by carefully selected extracts from ISBE articles covering key ideas: marriage in Israel, the Moabites, gleaning, grace in the Bible, and kinsman (go’el). These are likely to be really useful for readers. The selection within the articles of the material to quote has been made with a view to its usefulness for reading this Bible book, so they are more helpful than a copy of ISBE itself would be.

Yet I have two quibbles. The origin, and nature, of these excursuses as extracts from the ISBE is not made clear enough. I don’t think the intent to avoid burdening the reader with cumbersome apparatus is sufficient reason to omit marking quotations clearly and noting their origin. The selection of terms to cover also is open to questioning, why was hesed not included when grace (hen) was, surely hesed is a key motif in Ruth? The first of these quibbles is serious, and because Jim is a friend I find it difficult to draw attention to such a weakness.

The format, Bible text with very short explanations, is popular. The use made by beginning students of the short edition of Matthew Henry or Adam Clarke’s commentary demonstrates the perceived need. I have reservations about the format though. Such short comment risks merely repeating the text in other words without space to explain. More than most authors of this genre, Jim has avoided this danger, indeed he manages deftly to introduce and suggest conclusions about several complex interpretational issues. In the 30 or so pages on Ruth, the issue of the sexual innuendo of chapter 3 provides a good example.

So, based on this small sample, should “the person in the pew” purchase these commentaries? On the positive side they offer a quick, clear explanation that does not seek to avoid or disguise interesting or difficult features of the text. To get the same level of understanding without them would mean more work and/or more expense. On the negative side the comment is very brief, and so inevitably questions many people in the pew will want to ask will be omitted. Yet the Ruth section (and, from a glance not a thorough examination, also Lamentations) offers enough to resource most of the immediate needs of a home group or Bible study.