Biblical studies carnival: Call for post nominations


Hi, I have collected an ecclectic bunch of posts from here and there for the January carnival. But, like all carnival editors, I’d be glad to hear your nominations. Especially I do not have “enough” non-US or non-White or non-Male posts, any nominations for posts from these or other oppressed majorities would be especially gratefully recieved!



Tulips and Dandelions


tulipnegrita_2899511bI have many friends (and respect their theological accumen) who are calvinist (some with bigger some with smaller Cs). For me two of the main foundations of my theology forbid me the comfort of that neat system:

  • The experience of total depravity – which since my life includes living ten years in Congo (Kinshasa) as well as teaching in a refugee camp on the Thai Burma Border seems to me a mere fact of life, not a theory.
  • My trust in the Sovereignty of God – for in the face of human depravity nothing less than irresistible grace is sufficient to make sense of this world.

But you see precisely because these two things seem to me foundational, the other planks that comprise of the calvinist theology seem to me suspect. Total depravity – obviously, irresistible grace – hopefully, but limited atonement – sorry I believe in the sovereignty of God, and if God is to be God, only God knows whether or not love wins by Universalism or in some other way, and as for the perseverance of the saints – I am sorry but as well as total depravity I also believe in human agency, people are guilty of the crimes they commit and unless somehow (through their choice to be united with Christ, however that works, and however it is expressed) someone chooses salvation, they are dead in their sin.

So, you see no TULIPs for me, but just the slender hope of a dandelion pushing its way up through the concrete pavements of the (all too) human world.



Guerilla Bible

The battle is over, modernity won, but guerilla Bible readers still fight back.

the_empire_strikes_back_final_by_1darthvader-d45d5p6The battle for the Bible was over before war was even declared. Modernity won the battle, and people today (both Christians and Atheists) read Scripture using modern categories and methods. It is a history book, a manual, a book of poetry, full of myths and legends… all categories modernity imposed on Bible readers.

But there is another way, guerilla reading. Reading the Bible as it was meant to be read. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. Along the way it tells the story of his dealings with a chosen people, his entry into human life in the child born at Christmas, his death on the cross and triumphant rising to new life as the Spirit of God filled the church…

This series will teach you to read the Bible as it was meant to be read, to discover God through the ancient words of Scripture and to apply that knowledge today.

If you have read this far how does this sound as the sales pitch for a simple how-to series on reading the Bible? Does it claim too much? Is it too warlike? Or just fun?



Facebook and the end of conversation


urlToday has been a day for Facebook.1 The results have been interesting.

Following a Skype meeting I joined another Facebook “gated community” (you know one of those “closed groups” that is closed so people can say things freely without worrying about being attributed out of context. These communities are needed. But membership in them conflicts with one of my Facebook principles, I try not to write anything on Facebook (or here, or anywhere on the Internetz) that I am not OK with saying in public. In principle my public and private faces should be one.

Apparently2 I am an extrovert on Facebook, I “speak” before I think. I posted a quick knee-jerk response to a friend’s post, another friend of that friend objected strongly. I defended myself. By this stage my brain was back in charge, so I believe the reply though firm was curteous. The response was “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. Now, agreeing to disagree is fine, on occasion. When an atheist and a theist have been arguing for a while and neither is any more coming up with interesting new twists, time to agree to disagree. When a Muslim and a Christian discuss the divinity of Christ or the place of Sharia law, time to agree to disagree. For sure “agreeing to disagree” is often better than the alternatives. But is agree to disagree the appropriate response after just a couple of exchanges all of just a few dozen words at most?

My take is that “agree to disagree” engaged too quickly is an easy way to avoid the stress of having to consider views different from one’s own. (Which given the stresses and pressure of life is sometimes appropriate, God knows.) But it happens in a world mediated by Facebook and Google, both of whom make their money by not showing us things we dislike/disagree with but instead confirming our prejudices. In a world thus mediated “agree to disagree”3 are dangerous tools.

It is this agreeing to disagree that enables Jerry Falwell’s disciples to stomp and cheer his hitlerian remarks, or that permits the radicalisation of Muslims in the streets and busses of European cities.

  1. On Tuesday early I finished marking for the year, after a weekend trip to Auckland for a wedding, and went back up to Auckland for the Aotearoa New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies meeting. I am due a day off! []
  2. I blame my “performer” trait. []
  3. And its cousin censoring by deleting comments you do not like. []



Landmark decision


The Grand Palabre of the Baptist Union of a small and insignificant island nation (that most readers of Sansblogue will think is a merely a province of Gondwanaland) took a landmark decision recently. Their exhaustive and exhausting process involved a working party meeting over a two year period to listen to anyone with an axe to grind. After some time of seclusion and retreat, the working party formuated a careful report with several carefully worded recommendations. However since the topic, gluttony, was one that affected so many of the denomination directly the governing committee decided to decline the careful recommendations and replace them with three resolutions that will end the gluttony problem for ever.

These wise resolutions (that declare clearly and unequivocally the denomination’s hatred of gluttony while nevertheless somehow maintaining “fellowship” with churches who encourage gluttons as members) were as follows (after some hard-fought ammendments were passed or failed):

  1. We affirm the clear teaching of the Bible that gluttony is a serious sin.
  2. We covenant togrether to remove glottony from our midst.
  3. Any Baptist Senior Pastor (or Junior or Subaltern pastor left momentarily in charge) who allows anyone who is overweight at or above the 10th centile to atend a church lunch will in the first instance be removed from the Union mailing list.1

As you can see the governing comittee were well advised to ignore the working party recommendartions, which might have allowed promiscuous gluttony at Baptist Church meetings, and to replace them with such a clear statement.

  1. It is understood that what follows “the first instance” does not need to be defined, since the punishment in the first instance is sufficient on its own to act as a deterrent and end the scourge of gluttony. []



Prophecy and prediction II: genres and function


My post “Prophets and prediction: when conservatism and Bible clash” generated some interesting discussion, it almost felt like the good old days when blogging was on the frontier and people actually conversed with each other. Thank you all so much (and particularly Jerry Shepherd and also the bloggers, like George Athas, who linked to the post). I’m returning to the topic because that post left some interesting loose ends, and because the comments which too few readers actually see (because so often comments threads are full of venom and vitriol and so are filtered out). helped clarify other loose ends.

Form and function

In that first post I was careful not to say that prophets never foretell. Yet I did not, perhaps, make clear exactly what I was denying. For me, the issue is the nature of prophetic speech and therefore the function of the future-talk. After all Motyer’s quote was in a section headed “The Function of the Prophet”. The word at the heart of my issue with Motyer (and Jerry’s with me) was “prediction”. I talked about prophets “warning” and “encouragement”, how is this different from “prediction”? It seems to me that while there may well be no difference at the level of form – the sorts of speech I refer to may be couched in the same language as “prediction” – there is nevertheless a functional difference. The purpose of a prediction is to foretell future events. A prediction is successful if the event(s) foretold happen as foretold. By contrast the purpose of a warning (even when couched in the same language as prediction) is to change behaviour and thus avoid the predicted event. A warning is successful when the event warned about does not happen.

Formally a prediction and a warning may use the same words, the difference is in their intended effect. That is, the locution (what is said) is the same, but the perlocution (intended effect ) is the opposite.



Writing the essay


People hate to write

writersblockMost people hate writing. Even professional writers suffer from “writers’ block”, a combination of symptoms that lead to them doing anything else except actually write. Students with assignments do not have the luxury of years to prepare their masterpieces – they work with tight deadlines. The good news is that if you follow the advice in the earlier post “researching an essay” then you are already past the first barrier, you have begun to write!

Let me explain: As part of the research process, indeed as the goal of that process you have a title and a summary paragraph. I described the summary paragraph like this:

The first sentence should define the areas or issue. The last should present a conclusion. In between the sentences should each address one thing, and together they should present the arguments and sorts of evidence that lead to the conclusion.

If you have actually done this, instead of skipping over it as an unnecessary extra as many of us (sadly) do, you have a framework that you will now expand into your essay.

From summary to essay

target-970640_1920You are basically going to turn each sentence into a paragraph or two of your essay. So, how many sentences do you have. (Remember they need to be short and focused, if they are long and complex edit them!)  If each sentence was a paragraph (of the average length of paragraph you write) how close would you be to the word target? If this estimate is over you may need to begin thinking of what to cut, or trying to write shorter paragraphs – often shorter simpler sentences will help you do this ;)  If the estimate is under you may need to make each sentence of the summary (or some of them) into two paragraphs. Ideally at this stage you are aiming for an essay that will be 10-20% over the word target.

These paragraphs should be easy to write – you have already done the research. They will be focused – each expands on one simple sentence. They will lead your reader sensibly through the arguments and evidence to your conclusion. Congratulations. You are one of the few students to write a coherent essay!

Already you are on track for better marks – you would be horrified how many incoherent essays teachers have to mark – if you doubt this befriend some (ex)teachers on Facebook ;)

The final steps

According to the Daily Telegraph: Mark Smithers, from Kent, recently revealed that he lost 11 stone in one year

According to the Daily Telegraph:
Mark Smithers, from Kent, recently revealed that he lost 11 stone in one year

You have two tasks left:

Edit, then edit again. Cut the waffle. In speech we need time to think so we use words and phrases that mean nothing or which add little to the meaning to give us time to think. Cut them out! We think descriptive words, especially superlatives, make our writing and ideas stronger, usually they don’t – cut them. A slimmed down, taut and powerful essay will come out of this painful process!

Write a conclusion. What it will look like depends on the subject and type of essay. BUT it should say nothing new. It should merely repeat in compressed form what you have already said. It serves to remind your reader what you said, and draws attention to how cleverly and in what a focused way you arrived there.



Eucharist: when Fundamentalists fail to read Scripture literally


I love old hymns. They are so often full of such deep theology.  I love the eucharist, I need the grace that this sacrament transmits. A couple of us had a stimulating Facebook conversation about the riches of those old hymns. For me “old” here means before the invention of printing, not the 18th and 19th centuries ;)  I said in passing that two of my all-time favourites are Thomas Aquinas’ “Pange Lingua” and Fortunatus’ hymn of the same name – perhaps it is no accident that they start with the same exhortation Aquinas seems to have shared my delight in Fortunatus’ fine hymn. My liking for Aquinas hymn, though, shocked my interlocutor, unused (as they were) to high-church Baptists.

Actually I am more shocked by all those low-church Baptists, who persist in praying lengthily over the bread and wine carefully informing God, and through him the assembled people, that whatever Jesus may have meant by the simple words “this is my body given for you” he did not mean them to be taken seriously, let alone literally.

It’s funny how these words, so important in our regular celebration of the story of Jesus (I’d say “worship” but today worship means singing I’m told), are read paradoxically differently by “Fundamentalists” and Catholics. Catholics read the Bible (at least these words) over-literally. For it seems quite clear to me that, whatever Jesus meant, he did not intend to be understood literally. Just imagine his disciples’ reactions: “But the law forbids us to consume blood!” (Lev 17:14) On the other hand for my Fundamentalist friends, not only did Jesus not mean these words literally (however keen they would be to read other words – like the “days” in Gen 1 – literally), he hardly meant them at all! (Though for such low Baptists Jesus words about remembering seem for some reason to be less overlooked. Perhaps because they hold to the doctrine of the real absence of the risen Christ they are keen that communion should remember Jesus’ death.)

“This is my body, broken for you.” surely means, in some sense (though not a literal one), that the bread of the eucharist is the broken body of the Son of God who died for us. If we can believe in two-a-penny miracles, like healings and gems or gold teeth from heaven, what is so hard about the promise of the real presence of Jesus in the bread of the Lord’s Supper?