Month: September 2011

mostly random

Fun links from around the web

  • Richard Fellows has an intriguing little post on who stirred the pot in Corinth.
  • Jonathan Robinson offers sage insight on charismatic Christianity, insight which he’s given in the form of a confession.
  • My astute co-supervisor, Lloyd Pietersen has a new(ish) website for his thoughts on wine and opportunities for scheduling tastings.
  • My brother (Derek) just finished a great series on the book of Ruth, and he’s started a new series on 1 Timothy 4.12. Give them a listen here.
  • A goat-herder has found a new way of increasing his flock: he grows them on trees. (Okay, that’s not true; but the picture are).

Personal tidbits
I’m finally considering (with all seriousness) joining the Leisure Centre up the road. The reasons are multiple, but I’ll only give the big ones. First, I enjoy exercising, although I despise the first few weeks returning to a solid routine. Second, I’ve missed doing exercise (or, weight training) since moving to England. When my gorgeous wife and I lived in Cincinnati, I kept to a regular schedule of working out with a dear friend of mine (George). Third, I found that regular exercise contributed to my ability to think and concentrate. Since I have not done anything remotely resembling exercising here in England, that might explain why I’ve been struggling with my thoughts and focus. Finally, I’d like to get back in shape, not for aesthetic reasons but for healthy ones.

I recently began my annual teaching slot, a 5-week intensive course on Pauline theology. This year’s group (of 14 students) has already proven to be a lively and inquisitive bunch, which I thoroughly enjoy. While I’m looking forward to our discussions on various bits of Pauline theology, I’m truly anxious to discover what I will learn from the students. For me, teaching is not about spouting off what I (think I) know or offering grand ideas that will change the world; instead, because I prefer teaching through dialogue, teaching is a way of learning, and learning takes place when multiple ideas, practices and experiences converse with each other and strive for what is true, good and beneficial.

Curious rant
(*NB: this applies more to the States than anywhere else).

It might be a tad naive to say, but I’ve always been struck by the apparent one-sidedness of the ‘establishment clause’ in the US Constitution–i.e. the notorious separation between church and state. (For those of you better informed, feel free to school me or rip me a new one on this). It seems as though any time a religious (esp. Christian) belief or practice or moral viewpoint starts to creep into the political arena–whether it be politics in general, or institutions with political ties in particular–people shout, ‘separation of church and state!’ because of fear that the church is imposing itself on the state, which is explicitly contrary to the establishment clause.

However, any time a political belief or practice or agenda or moral viewpoint starts to creep into the religious (esp. Christian) sector–whether it be the church in general, or religious institutions (i.e. schools) in particular–the ‘separation’ exclamation is hardly a whisper. And even if such whispers are heard, they tend to be dismissed as coming from overreactive, hyper-conservative fundamentalists (i.e. those not worthy of hearing). But just because someone (or a group of someones) recognises an inconsistency or even a hypocrisy, that does not allow the potentially guilty party to sideline (via labelling) those voicing a concern. In other words, those seeing the State encroaching on the life of the church are just as entitled to resist as those seeing the church encroaching on the life of the State. Or to say it differently: the establishment clause is a two way street; if there is to be a separation of church and state, there is to be a separation of state and church.

Last but not least: One apology, multiple recipients
For whatever reason, my Safari ‘Top Sites’ page has been acting up and teasing me with false promises. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, ‘Top Sites’ is nothing more than a fancy way of accessing favourite websites (or, it’s a nerdier version of bookmarks). For those of you visually oriented, it looks like this:

Whenever new content emerges on any of these blogs (with the exception of the last two; they ain’t blogs), the top right corner of the individual image bears an unmistakably blue background, accented with a generic white star. Ordinarily, if I select a page containing new information, the indicator goes away once I return to the ‘Top Sites’ page. Lately, however, that’s hasn’t been the case: I’ll see the alert either later in the day or the following day (sometimes a few days later), rush to the site, but alas it winds up being the same post from my last visit.

So, to Jim, the folks at Koinonia, Nick, Ken, Dr Huxford, Dr Weatherly, Matthew, Jason, Scott, Ben (and Kim on occasion), Kevin, Chris, Pitre-Barber-Bergsma, George, Mark, the XKV8R himself, Jake, Matt, Micah, the team at Dunelm Road, Dr Shields, and Joel: my apologies for incessantly visiting your respective sites on the occasions when there is nothing new to see. However, I will not apologise for following your respective blogs; I love every one of them and enjoy reading what each of you has to say.

déjà vu all over again

At the start of the year, I voiced this complaint about WordPress. I can no longer say, “I’ve never had this problem before”, because I have and now I’m dealing with it again. I just don’t get it. Anyone have any ideas on what might be causing it and how I might fix it?

a little boost

For those who know me, it will not be surprising to hear that I tend to be my worst critic and I often question my abilities.  Admittedly this assessment occasionally creates negative feelings or thoughts, which are certainly not good.  However, there are times when this assessment compels me to push forward, try harder and hopefully become better.

To be rather candid, the past few weeks have been littered with the negative aspect–i.e. I’ve not seen myself (or my work) as adequate or worthy of much of anything. (See, the bad stuff is still lingering). But I just encountered something that gave me a good laugh and a little boost of encouragement, and that something was this:

I have no idea who performed this search or even what they expected to find; but none of that really matters. Whoever you are, know that you just made my afternoon. Cheers! (Don’t worry, I won’t let it go to my head).

bittersweet progress

Early on in my research, I had to resign myself to the fact that there are very few (if any) ‘original’ ideas or arguments,[1] and the more I have pressed on with my writing, the more I become aware of that truth.  For starters, my specific focus of 1 Cor 2.1–3.4 began with the prospect of representing a unique way of situating the argument, but Joseph Fitzmyer’s 2008 commentary quickly deflated my hopes of originality in that regard.[2] 

Then, I offered a critique of the usual arguments for and against a particular reading of 2.1 before offering my own conclusions, which I thought were (more or less) distinctive.  However, Veronica Koperski’s incisive 2002 essay[3] and Benjamin Gladd’s wonderful 2008 monograph showed my offering to be rather delayed and not atypical.

Not too long afterward I attempted to plow new ground with another tricky passage in the argument (i.e. 2.4), but quickly learned that James Dunn’s 1975 work (reprinted in 1997) already created adequate trenches and that Wolfgang Schrage’s 1991 commentary had brought in the crop and made a fine meal of it. 

The most recent occasion took place while attempting to provide a unique explanation for the apparent shift in style and content of 1 Cor 2.6-16.  I ran with a line of argument that seemed to offer a strong enough defense against those critical of this particular section of text (e.g. Widmann, Walker).  The quick version is that the wisdom of which Paul speaks in 2.6-16 is theological descriptor for the nature of the gospel he proclaims, thus maintaining a continuous line of argument from 2.1 onward.  For a while I thought I was onto something, but then I read this:

In v. 6-16 erläutert Paulus die Verkündigung und die Erkenntnis des gekreuzigten Messias als rettende Weisheit Gottes.

 –Eckhard Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (2006), 163.

Translation: ‘In verses 6-16 Paul explains the proclamation and the recognition of the crucified Messiah as the saving wisdom of God.’  Schnabel also contends that there is no need to argue for discontinuity in Paul’s argument; the apparent shift at 2.6 and the apparently diverent content of 2.6-16 can be explained by seeing Paul defining the nature of the gospel in terms of God’s wisdom, a gospel, as he says in 2.1-5, he proclaimed during his time in Corinth. Application (or significance): Schnabel beat me to it.

I freely confess that these sorts of things do bother me from time to time, and I admit to occasionally wrestling with the question: ‘Why even bother, if everyone else has said what I want to say?’  But then I am reminded of two things. First, and this is my alloted arrogant moment for the month, I remember that many of the conclusions or arguments I reach precede my awareness of them elsewhere.  While I may not come to an original idea, I did come to it via my own wrestling with the text and my own reasoning ability, and I need to take pride in the fact that the fruits of such labours are in the same basket of scholars who have gone before me. 

Second, I remember something one my previous professors once said.  To paraphrase (and adapt) slightly: doing a PhD is not so much about finding a great idea or a new way of arguing a point; doing a PhD is about examining and (re)finding yourself and learning from the incredible and new experiences such a process offers.  It is from that process that you begin to see not only who you are but who you have the potential to become.  Moreover, in seeing that reality and hope, you realise the uniqueness that God has given you and continues to shape; and it is from that realisation that a distinctively unique voice begins to be seen and heard in all that one does, especially one’s writing.

[1] Admittedly, this resignation was also prompted by many seasoned scholars telling me that exact thing. 
[2] He is the only other scholar I’ve encountered who isolates 2.1–3.4 as a distinct ‘rhetorical’ unit.  
[3] ‘ “Mystery of God” or “Testimony of God” in 1 Cor 2.1: Textual and Exegetical Considerations.’ Pages 305-15 in New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis: Festschrift J. Delobel. BETL 161. Edited by A. Denaux. Leuven.

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.