Category Archives: England Updates

from a goldmine

This past weekend I attended the annual British New Testament Conference, which was held at the University of Nottingham. Aside from meeting new people and rubbing elbows with the greats, I was really looking forward to perusing the bookstalls. Even though I have my areas of study and personal interest, I always try to set such things aside when seeing what’s on offer. While a number of books outside of my usual subjects certainly grabbed my attention, I ultimately settled upon the usuals and the ones I could afford. Below is the small pile that will be added to my library:

The first is the acclaimed (more or less) translation of the New Testament by NT Wright. I sat in on his brief campfire-like session about this work and he did a fine job explaining his method and aims for this translation. A testament(!) to the ease and readability of Wright’s translation is the fact that I made through Matthew’s Gospel in just under two hours–something I would not see as possible with any other translation.

The second intrigued me not just because I’m always interested in books on Paul but also because this one is from one of the great Pauline scholars.  So far it’s a very readable treatment on Paul, although I occasionally get the sense that Thiselton is having to restrain himself from going too deep into a given topic. (That need for restraint is necessary for an introductory work such as this one). At present, I’m about two chapters in so I will have to postpone more informed reflections until later.

The third is a gift for my brother. I confess that I did not start reading that one, so I do not have any thoughts on its contents. Sorry.

The fourth was actually my first, in terms of purchasing. (It is where it is in the pile mainly because I’m a tad anal and wanted the picture to have clean lines). This one represents my ongoing interest in the field of ‘Second-Temple Judaism’ and, quite honestly, I find Grabbe rather fun to read. I’m nearly finished with the first chapter, which is not only a whirlwind tour of the history of the period (i.e. c. 539 BCE–135 CE . . . in 29 pages) but also a rather brief look at relevant sources for studying this period (5 and a half pages). So far so good.

I bought the fifth partly because it turned out to be quite different that I expected, with my expectations being set by my assumptions about the title. Okay, I’m speaking a bit prematurely (sort of): my assessment about its difference is based on the first chapter, a chapter which I devoured in less than 10 minutes. (It is that engaging and that well-written). However, because this is a published PhD thesis, that first chapter sets out not only the basic substance of the argument but also how it will unfold. Thus, I know what Dr Cho wants to say and how he’s going to say, and I am impressed with and intrigued by both.

Admittedly, the ones by Brondos and Barnett were my last purchases and I have not yet had time to give them the attention they deserve. I purchased the Barnett work primarily because it’s a treatment of Paul’s life and mission–two things that are integral for my studies and future career–and I’m always interested to see how scholars deal with both. I bought the Brondos work in mainly because of the tagline (which you cannot see in this picture): ‘Reconstructing the apostle’s story of redemption.’ I’ll let you know how it goes.

Finally, the work by Dunn. In some respects the reasoning behind this purchase was simple: (seeing the title) ‘Oh, that looks good’; (seeing the author) ‘Ah, even better.’ Quiet a rigorous process, as you can tell. While this is a bit lighthearted, I did choose the book partly because it’s an accessible introduction to NT theology and partly because it’s written by a scholar who, contrary to the size of his other works, knows how to write scholarly in an accessible way.

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huh* . . .

One of the challenges (for me) in doing PhD by research is remaining in touch with other topics, subjects and debates, even when such things are within my own discipline (i.e. Pauline studies).  Part of the reason for this comes from the fact that, for the past two years, my day has been fairly routine:  I come to the office around 7.30am, read and write until lunch time (noonish), go home for lunch, come back to the office around 1.00pm, read and write some more before finally going home for the day.  No classes, no lectures, no debates with fellow students in the office, nothing.  Just me, my books, my laptop, my coffee and my brain. 

Another part of the reason has been my focus of study.  When I’m doing my reading and writing during the respective times, I tend to be dealing with materials solely related to 1 Corinthians.  Sure, my project is concerned with multiple topics as well as multiple interpretative approaches in Pauline theology, but the focus remains on how these topics and approaches speak to the argument of 1 Corinthians.  If I were dealing the same topics and/or approaches as found in the other Pauline letters, I would need to be doing a different PhD.  The net result of this was that I started to become too isolated in my research, which is to say the abovementioned ‘challenge’ is my own fault. 

To remedy this, I decided to schedule into my day a time when I could get back in touch with Pauline studies in general.  One of the ways in which I did this was by finding lecture-series on iTunesU related to my discipline as well as those that are simply of interest to me.**  With regard to the latter category, Moises Silva‘s course on ‘New Testament Introduction’ (from Westminster Theological Seminary) is quite good.  With regard to my own discipline, I have recently begun listening to Knox Chamblin‘s course in ‘Pauline Studies’ (from Reformed Theological Seminary).  It was something mentioned in Chamblin’s first talk on Galatians that prompted this post. 

Chamblin makes two cases, one for the date and the other for the recipient of Galatians.  With regard to the latter, Chamblin argues in favour of the so-called ‘south Galatian theory’, which means that the churches in mind for Paul were those established during the so-called ‘first missionary journey’.  I have no real problems with this.  With regard to time of composition, Chamblin argues for an early date for the composition of Galatians–i.e. pre-Jerusalem Council, which means prior to 48 or 49 CE, which necessarily means that Galatians is Paul’s first letter.  I do have some problems with this suggestion, but that is another discussion for another day.

However, in making his case for a pre-Council composition, Chamblin argues (rightly) that Paul’s concern in Galatians is for Gentile-converts to be accepted into the people  of God without requiring them to adhere to the Torah–specifically the rite of circumcision.  Since Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council, Paul’s little spat with Cephas/Peter in Galatians 2 must necessarily (according to Chamblin) occur before to the Council as well.  Thus, when Peter makes his case in front of the elders in Jerusalem and argues for the inclusion of Gentiles without requiring circumcision (see Acts 15.6-11), Peter speaks with his confrontation with Paul in mind. 

Where I had to say, ‘Huh’* was when Chamblin flat out states:

[Peter says:] ‘No, we believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved just as they [Gentiles] are.’   There it is . . .  I think Peter read Galatians before he uttered those words.’

It is with that final claim that the lecture comes to a close.  I checked out the next lecture in the series to see if Chamblin continues his thought, but he doesn’t; he moves right into an examination of the letter and its structure.  The whole ‘I think Peter read Galatians before he uttered those words’ is almost like a hit-and-run kind of claim, one that left me a bit dazed and confused.  I don’t recall seeing anyone make that sort of argument about Peter knowledge of the Galatian letter.  Has anyone else encountered that claim?  Am I missing something?

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* A term that here means, ‘Well, that’s interesting’.  (And yes, I totally stole that style of explanation from Lemony Snicket).
** Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these series come from Reformed seminaries.  I have only been able to find one or two that are not from a Reformed tradition.

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this and that

It’s been a quite busy, yet absolutely wonderful two weeks.  (Well, week and a half; this one is still in the making).  My parents made the trek across the small lake that separates Atlanta from Cheltenham and spent a full week with us (from 12-Oct to 19-Oct).  They have never been to England, so my gorgeous wife and I made sure they got to see some of the best parts.  This meant giving them a whistle-stop tour of the lower half of the Cotswolds, taking them to some of our favourite villages and pubs.  We even took a day and ventured over to Chepstow (Wales) so that they could see a properly old castle.  It was so comforting to see my parents and spend time with them again.  My lovely wife and I are already plotting on how to get them back over for a longer stay.

Near the tail end of my parents’ visit, I had to attend to various responsibilities which forced me to exercise my time management skills.  Thursday night (the 14th), I had my usual class that I teach for WEMTC.  I admittedly fell behind in preparing the fine points of that night’s lecture (i.e. handouts, powerpoint slides), so Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening became my two opportunities to get things ready.  Thankfully, the night went very well and the class essentially taught itself, partly because the students were deeply tuned in to the discussion and its direction.  The other part was simply due to the questions and comments they had for our topic (which was on Paul’s understanding of justification as found in Galatians 3).  Things went so well that we unknowingly slipped past our 10pm cut-off time and no one complained.

Friday morning (the 15th) was the first in a series of Bible studies hosted by the chaplaincy at the University, and I had agreed to lead the first one.  When I offered to lead originally (near the end of September), I had a topic in mind and wrote the outline for it fairly quickly.  However, tasks related to my research studies took priority and required all of my attention, energy and available brain power.  These tasks pushed me  up to the week before my parents’ visit, which meant that the Bible study at that time was more or less a hodgepodge of ideas and notes.  If I would have taught from them ‘as is’, I’m sure it would have been incomprehensible–maybe even heretical!  Thankfully, I was able to steal a couple of hours Thursday night after my class to put things right and make sense of the notes.  As with my class the night before, the study went incredibly well–not because of what I had to say, but because of the dialogue between everyone present.  I am deeply grateful for the patience as well as the insight from everyone involved.

Saturday (the 16th) was mostly a breather for me, although I did need to finalise my sermon for Sunday (found here).  Side note: our church has been doing a study on the 10 Commandments, with one week given to each one, and we have been doing them in reverse order.  I knew that I was on the books to preach one of them, but I was not sure which it would be.  Shortly after my parents planned their trip, the vicar asked me to preach on the 17th, which happened to be the Sunday my parents would be in town.  Interestingly enough, the Commandment allotted to me was, ‘honour your father and mother.’  Slightly more interesting was the fact that I had just been in dialogue with my brother about that same Commandment.*  This meant that the significance (or, relevance) of that Commandment was still fresh in mind, which made some of the writing process rather easy.  It also meant that I could use some of the ideas my brother didn’t.  End of side note.

My only real difficulty in writing that sermon, however, was that we are following the study given by J. John.  While the series basically follows his outline, it also seems to emerge from his own experiences.  When it came to ‘honour your father and mother’, the focus was on: how to do the honouring thing when you’re in a crappy family.  I certainly see the relevance of that type of focus, and I certainly understand that some families today are more than crappy.  However, that’s not my experience.  I’m not saying life was easy growing up or that my family never had any problems.  (I’m quite certain I caused plenty of them).  All that I’m saying is that when difficulties arose or when problems surfaced in the home they were dealt with in a godly way, and this way of handling things ensured growth, understanding and respect.  This difference in focus or perspective caused me to rewrite much of what was ‘supposed to be’ said on Sunday, and much of this rewriting took place Saturday morning (before anyone else woke up) and Saturday evening.**  I should also acknowledge that much of what I wrote came out of my conversations with my beautiful wife and my loving parents on Friday.

Sunday (the 17th) was a wonderful day; attendance was more than usual, the singing was inspirational, the prayers were real and heartfelt, and the conversations afterward were encouraging.  (I’m guessing the sermon was helpful simply because nobody ran me out of the church or threw shoes at me).  The only thing missing was our vicar and his family, although their absence could not be helped.  If you are the praying sort, please do remember our vicar, Roger as well as his family in your prayers–his father passed away last week after an arduous fight with cancer.  Even though Rog says not to be sad but to celebrate because his father served in the church for ’60 odd years’ and is now with Christ; prayers of comfort are still relevant and meaningful.

Monday (the 18th) was the last hurrah in showing my parents more of the Cotswolds.  Surprisingly, they wanted to revisit both our favourite village (Stow-on-the-Wold) and pub (Fox Inn, in Broadwell).  Neither my darling wife nor I complained about the request.  We spent the bulk of the day in Stow, enjoying lunch at a quaint little restaurant (the Vine Leaf), coffee from our new favourite shop (Willoughby’s) and perusing the various charity shops in town.  I almost forgot: there was a necessary stop at the chocolatier in town–not for me, of course seeing that I loath the stuff.  The evening was capped off with a lovely dinner and comforting conversation.   We all crashed early that night, partly because of the busyness of the day, another part because of the amount of food we ate, and the last part because of the early wake-up call the following morning.

Tuesday (the 19th) was probably the hardest day for me: it was the day I had to drive my parents back to the (London) airport so that they could fly home.  Their week-long visit with us seemed to go by too quickly, and I cannot think of how many times on our journey to London I wanted to turn the car around and say, ‘Forget it; you’re staying here with us’.  It had been just over two years since I last saw my parents in person, and I guess I didn’t realise just how much I missed them.  I know now.  However, their love for me and their unyielding support for what I’m doing make things easier to manage, and such things motivate me to finish in a timely manner so that the separation is not prolonged more than it should be.  So yeah, it was a tough drive to London (and back), but I’m focusing on the time we had together during their stay.  It was a great week.

The rest of this week has thus far been fairly normal, but there are a couple of differences.  Wednesday (the 20th), I attempted to return to the office and get some things done that were necessarily post-poned.  However, my attempts failed miserably because I was smacked with another headache–which we now know are mild migraines–and this caused my ability to focus to fail as well.  I tried to muscle through the early parts of it, but ultimately had to succumb to the prescribed drugs, which usually kick my butt.  As a result, I went home early and remained in a fog for the rest of the night.

Today, things started to look up seeing that the majority of the headache was gone.  However, our fuzzy little ‘mule was acting strange and refused to use her litter box.  When she finally did use it, we noticed that she was once again having difficulty and was leaving small drops of blood.  We immediately knew it was another UTI, which meant another trip to the vet.  This wound up disrupting our respective morning responsibilities, but we did what needed to be done.  Thankfully, the vet did not take very long and I was able to attend to a few necessary bits that needed to be completed before noon.  Later this afternoon, we are expecting the arrival of my beautiful wife’s sister, brother-in-law and their son, who will all be staying with us for a couple of days.  (They should be here within the hour).  The only real down side for this evening is that I can only play host until about 6pm–I have my final class to teach tonight.  However, tomorrow is wide open, which means we can enjoy our time together.

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* My brother has been working through the 10 Commandments since the start of the year, and he plans to take the rest of the year to finish it.  (There are a few weeks where random topics are explored between some of the Commandments).  I highly recommend checking out the series, which you can find on his church’s website.  Click on ‘Launch Sermon Player’ at the bottom.
** For the record, it is not my habit to be so ‘last minute’ with sermon writing.

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BNTC Reflections: Personal (1)

This past weekend (03-05 Sep) was the annual British New Testament Conference, which this year was held at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland).  Next year, it will enjoy the picturesque environs of Bangor University (Wales).  In many ways, this year’s conference was a stepping-stone for me–both personally and academically.  In the next few posts, I will detail why that is the case.  As can be surmised from the title of this post, my focus here (and the next one) will be on the personal; although, there is some overlap with the academic.

I will readily admit that attending such a conference was an emotional and mental roller-coaster, simply because I constantly struggle with self confidence.  In new situations, mostly with people I have never met, I know how to put on a brave face, and I know how to hold my own in a general conversation.  However, if the ties of the mask become loose or my input to simple dialogue runs dry, nervousness sets in and I tend to lose focus and long for a quiet refuge.  I want to do better, and I want to move past these struggles–I need to.  Strangely enough, despite my inner reservations, these sorts of events are an excellent catalyst for making such progress.  I am deeply grateful that I had my wonderful wife beside me who gave me the words of encouragement and the warm smile of assurance at all the right times.

One thing that impressed me about this BNTC was the congenial atmosphere of those who were present–some 170 New Testament scholars from various places.  The academic snobbery typically endemic of conferences such as the Society of Biblical Literature was lacking at the BNTC.  (If it was present, I did not encounter it).  The scholars here were approachable and willing to dialogue on a diversity of topics, ranging from current research projects to favourite pubs in the UK.  This sort of atmosphere helped alleviate many of my initial fears and reservations.

Immediately, on the first night, I ran into other PhD students that I knew personally–either from previous encounters or through e-mails.  One of these was Ben Blackwell (at Durham University), previously known only from e-mail correspondence.  Ben was extremely helpful in providing useful information for us prior to our move from the States to the UK.  When I met Ben this past weekend, for the first time, I quickly realised that the help he provided prior to our move was reflective of who he is as a person.  He is a very gracious and welcoming person.  Ben also kindly introduced me to other PhD students–several of whom are working in similar fields of study.

Another encounter was Matthew Malcolm (at University of Nottingham).  Matthew and I (and my lovely wife) met earlier this year at Oxford right before a lecture given by James Dunn.  Matthew and I share research interests in that we are both working in 1 Corinthians.  When he and I met earlier this year, he was amazingly insightful with recent trends and ideas–many of which have become foundational to my studies.  Between the Oxford lecture (which was in March, I think) and now, Matthew and I have remained in sporadic contact through e-mail.  Matthew has always shown incredible patience with my ‘newbie’ type questions and my occasional delays in correspondence, and he has been a wonderful sounding-board for ideas related to 1 Corinthians.  It was simply good to see him again.

As the evening progressed, I found myself meeting a slew of entirely new people–both student and professor alike, and many of these professors were ones I deeply admired, which initially prompted feelings of worry.  However, as mentioned before, the atmosphere of welcome proved to me to be opportunities for personal growth; and my wife’s presence with me and her supporting love were immensely comforting, which allowed me to be real and open with everyone I met.  After a rather entertaining welcome from Andrew Clarke (the overseer for the conference) and Andrew Lincoln (the president of the conference), we broke for dinner.  This proved to be beneficial in that I was immediately thrown into a context where being in contact with new people was inevitable.  However, I found myself strangely calm.

Jenn and I sat with my other supervisor, Lloyd Pietersen, which meant we would be close to someone we knew.  In front of us sat another PhD student called, Joe Baker who is working part-time on his research.  The conversation between us was both relaxed and challenging.  Challenging because Joe and I quickly became immersed in each other research projects, and I was deeply intrigued by his (rather ambitious) project, which is essentially a philosophical re-reading on Tom Wright’s narratival approach to the New Testament.  Joe clearly sees the tasks before him and all that he must do to reach his goal; and, from what I can tell, he’s ready for the journey.  The conversation was relaxed simply because of the company.

The evening, after dinner, closed with a main session, which was a lecture given by Todd Klutz (of the University of Manchester).  The subject matter of Todd’s topic was clearly beyond my knowledge and I readily admit that I was lost about half way through the lecture.  (His talk was on a particular interpretation of the so-called Eighth Book of Moses [in Papyri Graecae-Magicae XIII.1-734] and possible allusions to various Jesus traditions).  It was at this point that my struggles with self-confidence began to re-emerge in a powerful way; and the darkness of the room was not helping.  However, to myself, I prayed for comfort and asked for a mind of receptivity–not only for what was being discussed but also for being okay with the fact that my knowledge of such things was completely lacking.

The evening session ended and I began to make my way back to the room to see my lovely wife.  (She was exhausted from travelling and as a result did not want to attend the lecture).  Before making it out of the conference hall, I met one final person: Richard Ascough (of Queen’s Theological College [Canada]).  I overheard Richard having issues with the internet service in the room–issues that I too was having earlier that afternoon.  We chatted briefly about possible solutions to our similar plights and then parted ways, but not without the promise of talking more over the weekend.  Richard was yet another example of the congenial make-up of the conference.  On my short walk back to the room, I was able to reflect on all that had happened and how God constantly provided the comfort I needed.  I said a quiet prayer of thanks and asked for strength to make it through another day and a willingness to learn and grow from this experience.

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Teaching opportunity

I was holding off on announcing this until I knew it would be definite.  Now that it is, here you go.

Recently, I enquired about teaching a module for the West of England Ministerial Training Course (WEMTC), which has strong connections with the University of Gloucestershire (i.e. where I’m doing my PhD).  The module deals with Pauline theology and Christian ethics, and it is broken down into two parts–one dealing with Pauline theology and the other dealing with (surprise, surprise) Christian ethics. 

Even more recently, I happily learned that my request to teach this module was granted; although, I will only be covering the first part of the course–the Christian ethics portion already has someone (far) more capable to cover that topic.  So, beginning in September, I will be teaching Pauline theology to a small group of individuals for two hours a night, one night a week, for five weeks.  While I admit my trepidation with trying to cover such a massive topic is an extremely condensed period of time, I am absolutely looking forward to it.  I’ll update the opportunity as it unfolds. 

In the meantime, here is the outline that I will be using for the course (each main point represents one week and the material to be covered):

I. BACKGROUND
A)  Paul and His World
1. Early Life
2. Changed Life
3. Missionary Life
4. Literary Life
B) Paul and His Interpreters
1. Pauline Literature–Critical Views
2. Rhetorical Criticism
3. ‘New Perspective’ on Paul

II. THESSALONIAN CORRESPONDENCE
A) Cause for Writing
B) Developing Eschatology (?)
1. Proposed Differences
2. Proposed Solutions
C) Second Coming and Resurrection
1. Analysis of 1 Thess 4.13–5.2
2. Ethical Function

III. CORINTHIAN CORRESPONDENCE
A) Cause for Writing
B) Textual Concerns
1. Number of Letters
2. Interpolations (?)
C) Love and Expression
1. Unity in Diversity
2. Gifts, Love, and Meaning

IV. EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
A) Cause for Writing
B) Theological Troubles
1. Competing Gospels
2. Impact of the Competition
C) Paul’s Response
1. Covenant Promised
2. Covenant Fulfilled

V. EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
A) Cause for Writing
B) Israel and ‘Election’
1. Jewish/Pharisaic Views
2. Pauline Views
C) ‘Election’ and Grace
1. Grace and the Jews
2. Grace and the Gentiles
D) Paul’s View of ‘Works’
1. Three Types

If any of you are familiar with this territory, you will understand (or empathize with) my trepidation; if any of you are not, this sort of outline–to be covered in 10 hours!–creates just cause for such feelings.  However, again, I am truly looking forward to this opportunity and how I can be taught by it.  I am always in need of learning and growing.

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Review, Article, Proposal, etc

I am in the midst of tackling multiple tasks all at once in a fairly short amount of time.  In many ways it has proven to be a wonderful mental exercise, while in other ways it has been rather exhausting.  (Lack of sleep might factor into the exhaustion bit).

Yung Suk KimOne of the projects is another book review for the Stone Campbell Journal (SCJ).  This time, the review focuses on Yung-Suk Kim‘s dissertation turned book, Christ’s Body at Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor (2008).  It comes from a series of books with which I am admittedly unfamiliar: Paul in Critical Contexts; however, if Kim’s work represents the tenor of the series, it does appear to be rather interesting and worthy of consideration.  My goal is to have the review submitted to SCJ this Thursday.  Something that I failed to ask with the Gorman review was whether or not I would be allowed to provide a digital copy of the review on this blog.  This time, I will specifically ask to do so–for both Gorman and Kim.  If I am permitted to do so, I will provide an update with a link for the PDFs.

Another project is a dictionary article that I recently submitted.  The article focuses on the topic of Stoicism and its influence within the Graeco-Roman world.  The dictionary for which it was written is rather unique.  It is part of the HyperText Bible Project, which seeks to provide scholarly resources in a user-friendly web-based format.  That being the case, my article had to follow a format with which I have had minimal experience.  However, as I made my way through the article, the format and style began to make perfect sense.  Presently, the article is slotted to be reviewed by an unknown (to me) scholar who will either approve it or ask for revisions (or scrap the whole thing).  Obviously, I’m hoping for approval.

Thirdly, I have submitted the latest revision of my PhD proposal, which seems to be the one that will take.  It has been a long and arduous journey to get to this point, but I would not trade a single moment.  The hope is that the only corrections needed are typographical (if any).  I meet with the supervisors this Thursday (25-Jun) to discuss its preliminary acceptance and/or need for slight editing.  Once that meeting comes and goes, I will be able to post more details regarding the project.

Finally, I have been on the search for additional funding for this PhD program, which has proven to be rather difficult (and disheartening at times).  When Jenn and I moved to Cheltenham, we admittedly moved with a number of hopeful assumptions.  There is one really good possibility on the horizon, so I am presently writing up a “request for funding” proposal and hope to submit it by Wednesday at the latest.  Please keep us in mind and in your prayers as we pursue this opportunity and continue to search for further possibilities as well.

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Plan-C

The meeting with my supervisors came and went, and it was both trying and illuminating. It was trying because both of my supervisors (Andrew Lincoln and Lloyd Pietersen) are deeply knowledgeable men and the calibre of work that they expect is quite high. While I admit that these meetings are at times mentally exhausting for me, they are absolutely worth it because I know that Andrew and Lloyd are wanting the best for me and from me. The meeting was illuminating because we think we have come to a conclusion regarding my research topic.  

Prior to this most recent meeting, the plan was to do an overarching survey of Paul’s understanding of how the Spirit shapes community identity and ethics. For roughly three months, that was the focus of my investigations and I was trying to find points of entry and relevance for that particular issue. However, over the past few months, we’ve come to see that such a topic would not only be too massive for a PhD thesis, it would also be difficult to say much that is revolutionary in light of the work already done by people like Gordon Fee or Wolfgang Schrage.  

As a result, we concluded that an overly specific study of a particular text was the best way to go. The text in question is 1 Corinthians 2, which, while having been dealt with in the major commentaries, has plenty room for growth and further explorations. My task for the next few weeks (which really began almost two weeks ago) is to survey recent scholarship on this particular chapter and find my point of entry–i.e. see if there are things that are not being discussed either at all or with much detail. I have already stumbled across a couple of ideas that might be fruitful, but I will have to wait until I’m done with my reading before I say anything more.

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Latest pursuits

The past few weeks have been quite a blur in so many different ways, which might account for my lack of posting.  In light of the posting hiatus, I can offer no good excuses–just a heartfelt apology.  

To bring everyone up to speed on things: with respect to both Jenn and me, life here in England continues to go well.  We are beginning to get a handle on how to do laundry without the benefit of a dryer.  It’s really just become a matter of thinking two to three days ahead with what we need, and also keeping track of what we still have on reserve.  We are also getting used to walking everywhere and not being burdened with a car–and all that comes with owning one.  The only concerns we have to worry about with walking are: getting splashed by passing cars when it rains, the occasional poop from a wandering/stray dog, and “bomber” pigeons as we walk under bridges.  

On the more exciting front: Jenn has an interview for a receptionist position on the 17th with the major hospital here in Cheltenham.  (We have found it to be quite difficult to secure a job, but we are remaining hopeful).  The nature of this position is right up Jenn’s alley, which is always a good thing.  So, please remember her in your thoughts and prayers as she goes into this interview.  In more immediate news: Saturday (08-Nov), Jenn and I took a trip to Bath with a group of international students from the University.  I wanted to surprise her with it because I knew she had been once before (many years ago) and has not been back since.  So, when this opportunity arose, I knew we had to take it.  Even though we had to wake up at 5:30a, it was a great trip–long, but great!  We took plenty of pictures, and you can see them here if you like. (If the link doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll see what I can do).

We respect to me and my studies: lots of things have been progressing, and some things have been dragging.  I believe in my last (major) post I mentioned that I was going to meet with my supervisors about my research topic.  Well, I did meet with them and we did discuss the topic in some detail–especially its viability.  The conclusion of the meeting was that the topic needed to be reworked in light of recent publications from either other PhD students or other scholars working in the same field.  I admit that such an outcome was a fear I had going into the meeting, simply because my original topic was submitted almost two years ago; thus, I knew it would be a gamble for it still being a good possibility.  We chatted for a while more and concluded that I needed to come at the topic from a different angle.  My responsibility then was to pour over all of the texts in Paul’s (undisputed)[1] letters that deal specifically with my topic and see what emerges.  I was given four weeks to complete this task, which was quite generous.  

One week into the project, on the first run-through of the texts, I began to notice a theme that struck me as very curious.  I wrote down some initial thoughts and then read the texts again.  It showed up once more, only this time with slightly more intensity.  So, at the end of my second week, I e-mailed both supervisors with a rough draft of the new approach and they both came back with positive remarks.  I was given the additional task of jotting down notes on the specific texts I read, which highlighted this newly found theme, so that we could discuss it at an informal interim meeting.  For three days, I did just that.  At the end of those three days, I went in to talk with my supervisors–with notes in hand–and we discussed every single relevant passage.  However, it became immediately clear that I had come prepared in a way quite different than they had wanted/expected.  

My default mode of thinking is “big-picture” and trying to find how the all the pieces fit.  So, I was prepared to discuss how the pieces I had found connected with larger themes within the rest of the Bible.  I was quickly, and respectfully, told that such was not to be my concern at this point in my research.  My concern needs to be establishing a starting point and determining the significance of that starting point.  Thus, my preparation and discussion with the supervisors needed to be based on: “What is Paul saying in this specific text; why did he say it in that way; and what does he want to show by saying it?”  The rest of our meeting was a re-review of the texts I brought with me, but it was a re-review with me having to think in completely different terms–and doing this (admittedly) on-the-fly.  I struggled through the rest of the meeting with my explanations for three concerns noted above.  It was exhausting; but certainly worth it.

The end result of that meeting was that I needed to go back through those same texts and survey them exegetically–i.e., determine the function of Greek terms and phrases and how they operate within the whole of the argument.  I was specifically given the task of focusing on about nine major chunks of material–three of which were entire chapters from Paul’s writings.  The “part-B” of this task is to determine, after doing the exegetical work, what Paul is saying about my particular topic of interest.  The point here is to determine which texts speak either in favor of or against what I’m seeing.  This new task began just over a week ago and I am starting to make some decent head-way through a notoriously difficult text: Romans 8.  (I’m also working on 2 Corinthians 3 simply because I want to get the bigger, and more troublesome, texts out of the way first).  In this initial research, I have found things that do support what I am seeing, and I have certainly found some things that will require significant revision.  I’ll let you know what happens.

Just in case you’re wondering: yes, I am being intentionally cryptic about my new approach/topic simply because it is this stage of flux.  Once I have something more defined, and once the supervisors give their stamp of approval, I will spill my guts on what the topic is.  (Naturally, I will update the “MA, PhD, etc” page so that there isn’t any [more] confusion).  Until then, I will keep plugging away and keep pushing myself to go beyond what I’m used to–both mentally and academically–and try not to go insane in the process (haha).  I will say that having a wonderful and supporting wife, and having all of your thoughts and prayers makes this whole process both doable and rewarding.  I am thankful for all of you.  

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[1] For those unaware, scholarship has divided off the letters into three categories: 1) those undoubtedly from the apostle Paul; 2) those debatably from Paul–most likely from a close disciple of Paul; and 3) those that are definitely not from Paul–most likely from someone simply writing in his name.  The first lot generally includes: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon (these are the focus of my research).  The second lot generally includes: Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.  And the final lot includes 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.

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Slight changes

There have been some small changes in the blogging habits of the Sweatman household.  The change in question is the creation of a blog specifically for detailing our life and times here in England.  The more explicit reasons for the change can be found on that site.  Bookmark it, read it, comment on it, and enjoy!

That being the case, this blog will no longer house such posts; the focus here will return to all the academic (i.e., boring–for some of you) stuff.  On a happier note, some of our boxes from the States are on the way, which means: clothes and “Wellies” for Jenn, and books and papers for me!  Once the book-boxes arrive, I will be able to continue with the book reviews.  

That’s all for now.

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Long delays yield “new life” (aka: England Update – 5)

Once again, I am a bit overdue in posting not only to this blog in general but to this category in particular.  I am assuredly not trying to make delayed writing a habit; although my recent postings would naturally seem to suggest otherwise.  However, like the most recent post, this too has the benefit of coming on the tail-end of a number of wonderful bits of news and life-experiences.  

On the Visa front: I last mentioned that Jenn and I were both approved for our visas (albeit at strangely different times) and that we were simply waiting for them to arrive in the mail.  Not 24-hours after posting that bit of news did we hear the doorbell (at my parents’ house) ring–Jenn and I both “knew” who it might be.  So we ran up the stairs to the front door to find a friendly UPS man holding a mail-package in hand.  (I think we might have scared him a bit because not only did Jenn and I ascend the stairs in near record time, but my mom made her way to the front door from the office down the hall in similar fashion).  Lo, and behold, our visas arrived!  (I have a nice picture of it, but Jenn would have my head as neither of us had properly cleaned up for the morning just yet).  

In other (book reading) news:  before leaving Cincinnati, I came across an opportunity from one of the blogs I typically read in the morning.  The opportunity was to receive an advanced copy of Scot McKnight’s new book in order to read it, review it, and blog about it.  There was a limit as to how many people could take advantage of this opportunity, so I took my chances and e-mailed the publisher.  A few days later, I received word that I was chosen as one of the lucky few.  I then sent my mailing address for both Cincinnati and in Atlanta–just in case the publisher mailed the book after we had moved from one to the other.  We did move from Cincinnati to Atlanta before receiving anything.  Almost three weeks lapsed before my mom tossed a UPS package down the stairs (standard M.O. for delivering mail in our house–unless it makes delicate noises), and I opened it with great anticipation.  The book was inside (unhurt by the fall)!  As promised to the publisher, I will finish reading it (I’m better than half way through at the moment), and blog about it in the next few weeks.  

The Atlanta scene:  our time in Atlanta (from 25-Aug to 24-Sept) was wonderful.  We were able to visit family and reconnect with some old friends from high school.  With regard to the latter, we were amazed at how it seemed as though no time had lapsed.  Granted, life happens and things change; but it was as though the friendship connection had never really been broken.  One of our friends, Kim, had us over for dinner with her family and it was incredible to see how much had changed and how much had remained the same.  (Apparently, I’m still sarcastic).  It was a wonderful time spent with Kim and her family–her children are a blast.  Another friend, Brian, and his girlfriend, Jennifer, invited us out to a rather interesting event known as Jazzoo.  A good number of the local restaurants in Atlanta bring samples of their menus and allow the attendees to taste the famous and the new.  There were also various bands dotted throughout the Zoo to create a soothing experience.  It was great to reconnect with Brian, as he and I were good friends all through elementary and high school; and it was equally exciting to meet his girlfriend and learn about her and their life together.  

England prep:  we spent a few days trying to sort out the best way for us to transport not only ourselves but our “stuff” from Atlanta to London and finally to Cheltenham.  Originally, we were going to either take a train or a coach (i.e., a bus); but we quickly learned that the cost would have been rather extensive.  So, I looked into simply renting a car and driving from Gatwick airport to Cheltenham.  Jenn, being the voice of reason, strongly advised against such an idea, as we would be severely jet-lagged and we would have to drive on the other side of the road (and car)–something I have never done.  In the meantime, while considering other options, I got back in touch with Roger Widdecombe (the Vicar of St. Paul’s Church in Cheltenham) just to give him an update on our status and arrival times.  (Roger and I have been in contact for quite some time and he has proven to be extremely helpful).  I simply asked if he had any recommendations for how to get to Cheltenham from London.  He immediately put things into play and arranged to have us picked up at the airport by a member of his church.  An unexpected blessing!  

New life in England:  on 24-Sept, we said goodbye to my parents and nephew, Alden, who took us to the Atlanta airport.  We boarded the plane and took our “business class” seats, which was a new experience for me.  We depart a few minutes later than expected and began our 8-hour flight across the pond.  I finally had the opportunity to watch the movie, Ironman, which was quite good; and Jenn watched her girly movie: “Made of Honor”, which was a bit of a disappointment (in her words).  We landed in London around 8:30a (Thursday) and got through customs quite easily.  Shortly after retrieving our luggage, we were met by Colin–the chap from St. Paul’s–who graciously took us to our house in Cheltenham.  Colin was (and is) an amazing individual who has a great story.  Around 4:00p, Roger stopped by the house with gifts in hand and heartfelt welcome.  He then took us right into town (on foot) so that we could see the basics and the essentials.  After dinner, Jenn and I walked back to our house–walking is the new car for us–and went straight to sleep.  Sixteen hours, we awoke to a new day and the beginning to our new life.  

Since then, Jenn and I have tried to become as acquainted with the street and stores to the best of our ability.  Thankfully, the main grocery store (Tesco) is one block away, which makes matters easy for us–especially since we will be carrying our groceries on foot.  Sunday, we attended Roger’s church and we were warmly welcomed by various members of his congregation.  It was interesting (and comforting) to be greeted by people whom we did not know but who knew (about) us.  Following the service, we were picked up by a gentleman (Martin) from an outlying town so that we could have Sunday roast with him and his wife, Mary.  Lest this sound like a random event, it was actually prearranged before we even arrived in Cheltenham–Mary knew of our coming and wanted to welcome us properly.  The Sunday roast wound up including two additional people, Andy and Rachel, who were such a joy to meet.  The entire time was spent in great company and we were grateful to have spent time with all of them.  

Later Sunday evening, Roger and his wife (Hannah) had us over for Sunday dinner.  This meal, too, involved two additional people from Roger’s church–Mark and Harriet (aka: “Harri”).  What was amazing about the entire evening was that all four of our hosts welcomed us with open arms and treated us as though we had known them for years.  They will never know how much that meant to us. 

This week has been rather productive and equally rewarding.  We were able to meet briefly with my primary supervisor, Dr. Andrew Lincoln and my secondary supervisor, Dr. Lloyd Pietersen.  I had not met Dr. Pietersen properly, so it was exciting for me to do so.  Given his background and research interests, I am anxious to see the avenues we will explore in the coming years.  Tomorrow (02-Oct), I am scheduled to meet with both Dr. Lincoln and Pietersen to discuss my proposal and methodology of research (found here, under the heading of “The Focus of My PhD(?)”).  I am assume it’s going to be a healthy (and friendly) “grilling” session, but I would not expect any thing less at this stage in the game.  I want to be as adequately prepared as I can before doing anything.  I’m looking forward to all of it. 

Final thoughts:  I am planning on getting back to my reviews in the next month or so–the two books originally under examination are still in Atlanta waiting to be shipped.  Once they arrive, and once I iron out a schedule for “free-time reading”, I’ll get back to posting on them.  Others will certainly appear on this blog as I will have a healthy share of books to critique during my studies.  

For your viewing pleasure, I have uploaded some pictures taken in our first week here in Cheltenham.  They can be found here.  More will be taken this weekend as we are taking our first “holiday” (i.e., vacation) to Coventry.  I’ll post more about that weekend early next week–it’s an interesting little story.  Take care.

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