Articles for the Month of May 2011

Interactive Online Study

Photo by LaMenta3

The always impressive John Hobbins has a fine post “Innovative Methods of Interactive Online Study” outlining the approach he uses in the course on the Bible and its reception, whose sessions he has been regaling us with details for some weeks now. This post is well worth reading by everyone interested in teaching using an online component. My only quibble is with the word “innovative” in the title which to me suggests doing something completely new, while it is precisely the detail of his approach, the precise and useful ways in which he adapts and changes well-established patterns of teaching using discussion forums which are the great strength and value of the post.

It makes me sad that in the coming years I am unlikely to be teaching in this way much and so will have little opportunity to use John’s ideas to refine and tweak my practice. Early retirement seems now a mixed blessing ;)

But if you are developing courses this post and its predecessors listing the resources for his sessions could be a fine stimulus to more creative and effective teaching. John has the same gift for well crafted questions that enabled Brian Smith on his retirement from Carey, teaching using Moodle for the very first time,1 to provoke nearly double the interaction of the next best teacher that year!

  1. As principal he had not had leisure to learn a new medium. []

The afterlife of the words

Facebook never (despite all its failings) ceases to surprise and delight. About a year after the post Kindle versus spindle? went to the electronic home of dead ephemal blog posts, discussion has revived on Facebook. You can join in either there or here, or elsewhere!

Ah, the joy of words :)

Does Jesus make me whole?

Alois Alzheimer's patient Auguste Deter in 1902. Hers was the first described case of what became known as Alzheimer's disease. (Wikipedia)

One of my long-term projects that I have hardly begun to work on (OK dreams rather than “projects”) is to address the theology of aging. As far as I can see no work has been done on the part the process of aging and decay plays in the divine economy. Having long sat at the back of my consciousness I’ve recently begun to think I might actually get to work on this next year.

So it was with great interest that I read ‘s excellent post: I’m Sorry but Jesus Does Not Make Anybody Whole, in which he points out that perhaps through popular worship songs and hymns (because “whole” rhymes with “soul”?) the claim  that Jesus makes us whole has entered our theological vocabulary.1 It is simply not true, as Joseph Black says, indeed the opposite is true, God makes us unwhole, we decay. The longer we live (on average) the worse we decay, body first and then the mind. At least in this life Jesus does not make us whole, life is not about becoming whole, but perhaps (as he says in the post2 ) it is about learning to love despite our brokenness.

  1. He may be correct in his implied claim that this is just an Evangelical and Pentecostal heresy, but I have not the evidence to evaluate the claim. []
  2. Do read it, even if you don’t subscribe to the excellent blog. []

…and into the fire :(

(Photo by Robert S. Donovan)

No, this post has nothing whatever to do with that Camp director guy. But it seems unfair, that having (with the help of my friends, especially Tyler) successfully found humour in such unlikely spots as Leviticus and Chronicles the next book on the list is Ezra.

If you thought Leviticus was dull, read Chronicles! And, if you think Chronicles lacks that je ne sais quoi then do try finding the humour in Ezra… but if you find any, please let me know…

Missiological reading on humour

Photo by Jim Legans, Jr

Both I (as part of strengthening the academic grunt of my humour in each book of the Bible project) and a Postgraduate student, planning an essay on “The significance of humour and irony in Biblical narrative for (cross cultural mission) teaching and preaching” would really appreciate any suggestions you may have for reading on humour across cultures.

The Gospel and the Land of Promise

Image from publisherIt has taken a while, but the book from the Gospel and Land colloquium is out:

[amtap amazon:asin=1608995453]

My paper is “‘Exile away from his land’: Is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?” on pages 75-85.

NB Amazon are taking longer than their usual very fast to get their data sorted the editors are Philip Church and the rest of us, not someone called just Philip and then a mysterious reference to the Church at the end ;)

2 + 2 = ?

A little slice of heaven (photo by Oriane Blandel)

I have just put two simple “facts” together. If both are correct then 97.5% of the readers of this blog are in for a severe disappointment.

The first “fact” is the claim by some interpreters (notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses) that there are, according to Rev 14:1ff., only 144,000 places in heaven.

The second “fact” is that the end is nigh, indeed has been scheduled since forever (though unknown to Jesus or the writers of the Bible, but revealed to some Camp guy through a simple mathematical calculation) for next Saturday. The same “authoritative” source informs us that the end will occur in an orderly manner (as befits an orderly and mathematically minded God) rather like the allocation of seats on an airplane by time zones.

Since the date is fixed, and the exact hour by timezones, and the number of places limited I suggest you all come to the real East. While a number of Pacific Islands have (not least by sneaky adjustments to the Dateline) possibly earlier claims the first major landmass (and therefore the last place on Earth where you can reasonably hope for a seat among the 144,000 elect) is NZ. And if Creator is sophisticated enough to work in minutes and seconds those in the Eastern parts of NZ may have an advantage.

Laurie Guy author of the straightforward and clear:

Guy, Laurie, Making sense of the book of Revelation. Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys, 2009.

will be visiting Tauranga that day, Tauranga is in the East of the North Island. Why not visit us on Saturday and increase your chances of a place in heaven!

One simple ‘secret’ of better coffee

This cup is TOO full! (by Bjb-de, via Wikimedia)

OK this post is not for coffee snobs. You either know it already or you are beyond such mundane trivialities in your aesthetic appreciation of the finner things of life. But for the benefit of all the others, especially anyone pulling me an espresso in cafe or home, or making a plunger that I’ll be sharing, and because of all the horrible cups and mugs of dishwater or bitter ground acorns I have drunk over recent days, here it is: The One Simple ‘Secret’:

But THIS cup is just right (by Berthold Werner, via Wikimedia)

Take a leaf from the book of nature. Follow the Creator’s example. Be generous!

That’s it, it is really simple, though not really a secret. More coffee in the plunger, within reason (or rather – for the Scots-in-spirit among us – only a step or two beyond reason), makes better coffee. Again, if you are entrusted with an espresso machine, since more coffee would mean pressing the grounds too hard, run less water through. Again, within reason, the same principle applies, being generous with the coffee makes a better brew.

There, I’ve done it, revealed the ‘secret’. Now I wonder how many more Scrooge-coffees I’ll suffer this week ;)

Chronicles is not a laugh a minute. No really!

Lee, S. 'As Clown'. Pungent, Inept..

I did not get much help last time I appealed to you all. It was most disappointing, I thought I had an intelligent and widely read audience here… Maybe it’s just that you are a serious and somber bunch, or maybe the opposite, you are all so busy cracking wise that you don’t spot the humour in the Bible…

But either way I’m stuck again for my podcast series on Humour in the Bible Book by Book. You see, as I read them the books of Chronicles are so full of serious information, like who begat whom, and how many stones could dance on the head of a temple complex, or so full of nasty political propaganda whitewashing David and Solomon, that they have no time for humour.

But I accepted David K’s challenge, and I’m trying to show that there is humour in every book of the (Hebrew) Bible, and I am stuck on Chronicles. I managed to uncover humour in Leviticus without your help, but I really need you now…

Please, someone, point me to something humorous in these books!

Pretty please…

On the importance of reading with care

Ursus Arctos Syriacus photo by מתניה

I’m marking at present, therefore in a stroppy mood.

So, when in a students comments on Amos 5:19:

Like someone escaping from a lion,
who meets a bear;
and entering the house,
leans a hand on the wall,
and a snake bites him. (Amos 5:19, TempEV)

Hubbard’s commentary is cited saying:

The lion and bear are signifiers of God; the snake of evil and craftiness.1

I was about ready to consign Hubbard’s commentary to the waste bin. What a load of cobblers’! Isn’t it obvious that for Amos here the animals are simply natural threats? Why spiritualise them? Such over-spiritualising is typical of the worst of old-fashioned Evangelical biblical studies!

But, of course, I should have known, Hubbard is a much better reader than that. The over-spiritualising was my student’s – students are even more prone to such a penchant than old-fashioned Evangelical scholars ;) What Hubbard actually did was to rehearse both the historico-zoological facts of the dangers of these animals, and their possible metaphorical or symbolic significance,2 before concluding:

We view, therefore, Amos’ three figures as well-understood symbols of danger rather than as images with any deeper spiritual meaning.

Oh, that students actually read the works they cite! My blood pressure would be lowered, and their education raised ;)

  1. Alan Hubbard, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Joel & Amos (Leicester: IVP, 1989), 180. []
  2. Noting on the way that few species of poisonous snake are often found in Palestine. []