The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Apr 14, 2014

Book Alert! First Peter, Calvinism, and a Christian Autobiography

 Here’s some fairly recent books that my readers might be interested in.

Becky Lynn Black, My Life Story (Gonzalez, Florida.: Energion, 2014)
First off, lets step away from the strictly academic and focus on the practical and spiritually beneficial (not that “academic” and “spiritual” are necessarily mutually exclusive!) My Life Story, by Becky Lynn Black, is a blessing and a challenge to read. Mrs. Black was the wife of my doctoral advisor Dr. David Alan Black, and she recently pass away after a difficult struggle with cancer.

Mrs. Black is a missionary kid from Ethiopia with quite an interesting life story of ministry and struggle (by the way, the book includes full-color photos of ministry in Ethiopia, something which automatically elevates the “fun-factor” of any book, in my humble opinion!)  The book is a quick and enjoyable read (I finished it easily in a day, despite having to work), and the frequent pictures are a great bonus. The book is not meant to be an extensive autobiography, but more of a spiritual testimony. It is very exhortational and meant to challenge the reader. Thus chapter 9, for example, deals with the various “myths” that Christians are tempted to believe, myths that Mrs. Black herself had to deal with (e.g., the myth of the “Checklist Methodology that ‘Guarantees’ Positive Results”). Chapter 10, especially, is an important chapter since it provides us with a window into the very real struggle of a Christian dealing with terminal cancer (the last chapter, I believe, was written mere months before Mrs. Black passed away). Thus, although it is a quick read, it is not an “easy” read, nor is it meant to be. Ultimately this is a book that demonstrates the reality of Christian life, both struggles and joys, while challenging the reader to simply trust in Christ throughout it all.

Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, eds. E. Ray Clendenen and Brad J. Waggoner (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2008).
 Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue provides the reader with an important conversation between Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists, ultimately demonstrating (I hope!) that there is room for both sides within the convention. Various sections showcase the two sides of such issues as the role of Calvinism/non-Calvinism [seriously, we gotta get a better phrase to describe the latter, but rare is the SBC member who wants to be called “Arminian”] in SBC history, the doctrine of election, limited vs. unlimited atonement, etc., as well as concluding with a discussion of how both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together within the SBC’s mission.

Some of the essays are better written than others (and no, it has nothing to do with the particular author’s theological position!), and a couple of the essays come across as a bit too “preachy” in their presentation of their particular side, but overall I believe the book serves its purpose.  Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have a place within the SBC, and both can contribute to the Great Commission. This is hardly the book that will convince somebody to change sides (or whatever), but if it causes somebody to be less harsh and more humble in the debate, than it has served its purpose. Personally, I wish somebody would write a book like this for my own Independent Baptist brothers and sisters, since we also tend to look down on those who disagree with our soteriological position, and we can definitely be guilty of creating strawmen and overacting (one of the few genuine independent Baptist scholars, Dr. Kevin Bauder, once said in a class I was in that “The problem with Fundamentalism is the shrill Arminians and the snooty Calvinists”; J ).

Two books on 1 Peter
Although I noticed it too late to include in my own published dissertation, I recently purchased and am looking forward to reading Justin Langford’s Defending Hope: Semiotics and Intertextuality in 1 Peter (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf&Stock, 2013). I was able to hear Dr. Langford (adjunct prof. in NT at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) present a paper on this topic at 2013’s ETS meeting in Baltimore, and shortly thereafter I ordered a copy of his book (Wipf&Stock published dissertations are a significantly more affordable than others! My own dissertation is being published by the company’s Pickwick imprint). Langford basically looks at OT citation in 1 Peter, especially the Isaiah quotations, through the lens of “Semitics” (or the study of “signs” within the context of linguistics). This should be a helpful book to those interested in NT use of the OT within the general epistles; I'm hoping to do a full book review later.

Finally, once again too late to be used in my own book, we have a new collection of essays on 1 Peter entitled Bedrängnis und Identität: Studien zu Situation, Kommunikation und Theologie des 1. Petrusbriefes, edited by David S. du Toit (Beihefte zur Zeitschrfit für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft vol. 200; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013). The title roughly translates to Distress and Identity: Studies in the Situation, Communication, and Theology of 1 Peter. This tome, written in memorium of the great Leonhard Goppelt, contains essays by many of 1 Peter’s top scholars, including Karen H. Jobes (“Foreigners and Exiles: Was 1 Peter Written to Roman Colonists?”), Reinhard Feldmeier, (“Basis des Kontaktes unter Christen: Demut als Schlüsselbegriff der Ethik des Ersten Petrubbriefes”/ trans. “The Basis of Contact among Christians: Humility as the Key Concept of the Ethics of 1 Peter”), and David G. Horrell (“Das im Unglauben verharrende Judenvolk: 1 Peter 2:4-10, Its History of Interpretation in Germany (1855-1978), and the Important Contribution of Leonhard Goppelt”). For my personal research at this point, I am also hoping to study the essays by Lutz Doering on the significance of “Israel” in 1 Peter and Thomas Popp on the “Theology of Recognition” (i.e., in regard to the “elect strangers” of 1 Peter 1:1).

Mar 31, 2014

Academic journals accessible online: Part 3 (key foreign language journals)

The first post in this series focused on journals that would be beneficial to Christians in general, for any kind of research (e.g., gathering background info for your Sunday School lesson), while highlighting those available for free on-line. The second post focused on journals that grad students should be familiar with, depending upon their field of study, once again pointing out what was available on-line. Finally, this section will mention more obscure, foreign language journals that doctoral students might need to consult (at least 3 of these journals were cited in my own dissertation/forthcoming book). Please note that archive.org can be helpful as far as viewing older, public domain issues of some of the more long-lived journals.

One final comment. It goes without saying that doctoral students need to be citing foreign language sources in their papers, and quite a few foreign language articles and essays (but especially articles) should show up in his or her dissertation. You don’t have to be a genius to do this, but just persistent (working with a foreign language source would take me a lot more time than working with an equivalent English source, and it’s not like I was reading anything from start to finish, either!) Nevertheless, doctoral students need to be familiar with all significant research on their topic, not just what’s readable in their own language.

1. Archive für die Reformationsgeschichte. Website: click here.    Not available for free. Interestingly, however, older issues are viewable for free at archive.org (click here).

2. Biblica. Website is here, but issues are viewable for free here.

3. Biblische Zeitschrift. I struggled finding the actual website for this journal (might work on it later), but older issues may be viewable at archive.org, here.

4. Foi et Vie. Website is here. Could not find any options to view past issues.

5. Kerygma und Dogma. I don’t think I found the home website per se, but past issues may be purchased here.

6. Revue des sciences religieuses. Excellent! Full text issues are available up through 2009 (as of the time of this post). Go here

7. Revue d’histoire et de philosopie religieuses. Click here. In a reversal of the norm, articles since (not before) 2002 are available for free.

8. Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche wissenschaft. Click here. Articles must be purchased, but older issues may be viewable for free at archive.org (click here).

9. Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche wissenschaft. Click hereSame as above, articles must be purchased, but older articles viewable for free at archive.org (click here).

Feb 16, 2014

Academic journals accessible online: Part 2

We are fortunate to live in an age where you don’t necessarily need a quality seminary library to do serious study of Scripture, whether for personal benefit or for a class. In the previous post, I listed journals available online (for the most part broadly evangelical) that I thought would be beneficial even to those not going to seminary or grad school. Today, I am listing (with a minimum of commentary) journals for more academic study. Every grad student in seminary or other master’s degrees in Biblical Studies or theology should be familiar with and able to utilize these journals. Next post we’ll look at some of the more obscure yet important journals that will be beneficial to doctoral students.

So here we go (in alphabetical order), with links. Let me know if I’ve missed any that are important for MA/M.Div. level Biblical studies. Please note: I’m listing even journals that require a subscription or a purchase to view a back issue. I want students to be aware of the important journals, and $10 for a back issue may be worth it for a good paper grade, or a better understanding of a topic. In just a couple cases, articles do not seem to be viewable online at all (seriously, people, get with the times!)
Also note: a lot of the articles that are not free can be digitally “rented” for a 24-hour period for a reasonable fee.
Final, important note: obviously most of you don’t intend to take hours a day to browse through journals just to see if your topic comes up. The SAGE website offers a search engine, and many of the individual journal websites (e.g., Theological Studies) have a search engine for their own journal. The downside with SAGE is that you generally have to pay for articles you want to read.

The Bible Translator—click here.
All articles viewable for free through 2012.

Biblical Theology Bulletin—click here.
Available through the SAGE website. Unfortunately, purchase or a subscription is required to view back issues.

Catholic Biblical Quarterly—click here.
Unfortunately, a subscription is required to view back issues.

Evangelical Quarterly—click here.
Archived articles are viewable for free up until 2008. However, there are some broken links, and some earlier articles (e.g., 1930s) are not yet viewable.

Expository Times—click here.
Available through the SAGE website. Unfortunately, purchase or a subscription is required to view back issues.

Filologia Neotestamentaria—click here
Articles are viewable for free through 2008 (they haven’t updated this site in a while, but the archive links still work). May I admit a personal favorite, and recommend Jody Barnard’s excellent article on verbal aspect theory? (click here). It’s pretty much the main reason I have yet to buy in to verbal aspect theory à la Port, et al.

Harvard Theological Review—click here.
Unfortunately, articles must be purchased.

Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus—click here.
Unfortunately, individual articles must be purchased or rented.

Journal for the Study of the New Testament—click here.
Articles must be purchased or rented.

Journal for the Study of the Old Testament—click here.
Available through the SAGE website. Unfortunately, articles must be purchased or rented.

Journal of Biblical Literature—click here.
Sadly, I can’t figure out if back issues of this journal are viewable online or not, whether with purchase or for free. A pity, because this is the premiere journal of biblical studies (and has been in existence for 130+ years)

Journal of Semitic Studies—click here.
Articles must be purchased.

Journal of Theological Interpretation—click here.
Apparently not viewable at all online, except for a free sample issue. You can, however, view the titles of individual articles.

Neotestamentica—click here.
Articles are viewable for free up through 2000.

New Testament Studies—click here.
Purchase or rent required.

Novum Testamentum—click here.
Articles must be purchased.

Old Testament Essays—click here.
Articles are viewable for free through 2001.

Perspectives in Religious Studies—click here.
Sadly, there does not seem to be any way to view articles online (though you can look at the abstracts).

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith—click here.
Basically every single issue is accessible for free! Wow! Some of the earlier ones are only available in HTML, and not PDF, but still, this is great!

Princeton Theological Review—click here.
Though a student-run journal, each issue is downloadable in its entirety for free (PDF format).

Reformed Theological Review—click here.
Articles must be purchased.

Review and Expositor—click here.
There does not seem to be any way to view articles online.

Scottish Journal of Theology—click here to search the journal.  Click here for list of contents.
Articles must be purchased.

Theological Studies—click here.
Articles available for free up to 5 years before the current issue. Also, this site contains its own search engine for the journal!

Theology—click here.
Available through SAGE, but articles must be purchased.

Theology and Science—click here.
Apparently articles are not viewable online (though the tables of contents are).

Theology Today—click here.
Apparently an archive is coming soon, but for now there doesn’t seem to be a way to view articles online.

Toronto Journal of Theology—click here.
Articles must be purchased.

Vetus Testamentum—click here.
Articles must be purchased.

Weslyan Theology Journal—click here.
Does not appear to be viewable online, though it does have a search engine.

Jan 28, 2014

Academic journals accessible online: Part 1

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer an actual book in my hands rather than one of them “new-fangled” I-pads or what-not. Nevertheless, when it comes to research in Biblical studies, the majority of folks probably aren’t going to live close enough to a decent library to access some of the better evangelical (and secular) journals that deal with Biblical research. Fortunately, many top-notch journals have started making their articles available on-line. Since the point of this blog is to function as a resource for those interested in Biblical studies, I am going to list and discuss some of the more important journals and link to their websites.

This topic will be posted in three separate sections. Today’s post will deal with the evangelical and accessible (but important) journals that contain articles which even less-formally educated Christians might be interested in. The second post will deal more with more specialized journals (as well as secular journals) that focus on a particular section of Biblical studies but are essential for serious academic work.  Finally, the third post will deal with obscure and foreign language journals that doctoral students should be familiar with.

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
To access articles, click here.
This journal allows anybody to look at articles up until the most recently published. So, at the time of this writing, anybody has access to all articles through 2010.
The strength of JETS is that it covers a broad range of topics associated with evangelical life and theology, from justification in the New Testament to a recent article on Biblical literacy in Ireland to a call for more academics to go teach in foreign countries (written by a friend of mine).

Tyndale Bulletin
To access articles, click here.
This is the cream of the crop of evangelical scholarship. Like JETS, anybody can access all but the most recent journals. Unfortunately, the free archives stop at 2007. You can download an article in either Word or PDF format.

To access articles, click here.
This journal is strictly an on-line journal (though initially it was paper-and-ink), and is actually now run by The Gospel Coalition. All articles are available for free in PDF format. The strength of this journal is that, in addition to more academic articles, it also includes discussions of a more practical nature (e.g., the April 2013 issue has an article by Eric Ortlund entitled “The Pastoral Implications of Wise and Foolish Speech in the Book of Proverbs”). As such, this journal caters to all Christians more than any other journal on this list.

Science and Christian Belief
To access articles, click here.
British journal run by “Christians in Science” and “The Victoria Institute.” Anybody can access its articles except for the past 5 years. Though not an evangelical journal per se (and much of the writers are theistic evolutionists), this journal contains many beneficial articles including the recently published very moving personal testimony by Jürgen Moltmann, and an excellent article by R. J. Berry dealing with “Adam” as representing a real person (and its importance for Paul’s theology in Romans). Also, this is a great place to read some top scientists and philosophers (e.g., Polkinghorne, who is both!) discuss issues in their field.

Bulletin for Biblical Research
To access articles, click here.
Another solid, broadly evangelical journal. Anybody can access all but the last 4 years of articles.

Detroit Seminary Journal
To access articles, click here.
Most journals associated with a specific school don’t seem to want to share them online (see below), but fortunately Detroit Baptist Seminary is an exception. By the way, this is the only self-identifying fundamentalist journal that consistently puts out scholarly articles on par with, or at least within the ballpark of, the other journals on this page. It is also the best source to go to if you want to learn more about the history of, and issues within, fundamentalism.

I also wanted to list here Bibliotheca Sacra, Westminster Theological Journal, and Trinity Journal, but those three are all associated with a particular school and do not offer free access to their articles (though at least Westminster offers a few “sample” articles you can download).

Some final thoughts: Unlike popular level articles, most books, and personal blogs (including this one), academic journal articles represent hours of critical research and a thesis that attempts to make a contribution to scholarship. What you read in, say, Tyndale Bulletin may not be the most original thought in the world (“nothing new under the sun” and all that), but it will be a usually be a higher-quality thought than you will be get elsewhere. Furthermore, these articles are (usually) peer-reviewed. That means that (in theory, at least) one does not get published on the basis of their name alone; they must actually have something interesting to say. Conversely, a totally unknown person can get published, if they have something to say that makes a genuine contribution to scholarship. These journals have anonymous referees (almost always established scholars) that weed out shoddy work. There is some subjectivity involved (I can attest to that: one journal rejected a paper that another journal accepted a couple months later), but overall this is where significant theological discussions begin.

Despite the rigorous scholarship behind these journals, they can still benefit ministry. I have more than once incorporated findings of a journal article into my own Sunday School lessons or sermons (being careful not to pass off somebody else’s idea or quote as mine), while occasionally a journal article will actually challenge or encourage me spiritually. In other words, academic research and spiritual edification are not mutually exclusive!!

One more note: “academic” does not necessarily mean “jargon-filled.” This will actually depend upon the author. And you don’t have to read an article through all the way to benefit from it, either. Skimming can give you just enough food-for-thought and get the theological portion of your brain humming.. If, however, you intend to critically interact with an article, make sure you read it thoroughly, more than once. I can’t stress that enough. Plagiarism and misrepresentation are the two great sins of academic thought!

Jan 11, 2014

Proper etiquette for posting comments on blogs

I suppose I can be grateful that I even have to discuss this topic. For a couple of years, the only comments I got were generally along the lines of “fun post/keep up the good work” (all of which I greatly appreciated, by the way). In 2013, however, I started getting spam, as well as some odder comment, including one attempt to direct the reader to a website that will write your doctoral dissertation for you!  (this latter comment was what finally made me decide to moderate all comments before allowing them to be posted) Indeed, there is very good reason why some very prominent bloggers and prolific writers (*cough* my doctoral advisor *cough* J) prefer not to post readers’ comments on their blogs, except for occasionally quoting a notable e-mail. For those allowing comments on their blog, however, some guidelines should be posted. (and let me direct the reader to excellent discussions by Roger Olson, Larry Hurtado, and Ben Witherington).  I would like to call my own views on the matter the “RePoB” principle (for “Relevant, Polite, and Brief”; okay, that’s pathetic, but it’s the best I could think of.  I'm hoping it sounds like "repub," as in, "republish." I’m open to suggestions for improvement, so put it in a comment.)

First of all, be relevant. This, of course, means no spam, but frankly the kind of people who post spam are not the kind of people who would actually read a blog in the first place, so I’m not too concerned about that. Furthermore, Google’s “Blogger” program actually does a decent job at catching spam comments even without the blog creator’s moderation. What this does speak to, however, is what happened to my blog a few months ago. I had written a comparison of four first-year Greek textbooks (the blog post itself is over a year old), and somebody posted a comment about how we should all forget about Greek because the original Greek manuscripts don’t exist, and how everybody should just cleave to the King James Bible. This comment had nothing to do with the purpose of my post (to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of 1st year Greek text books), and thus was promptly deleted. If somebody wishes to ride their hobby-horse of disrespecting one of the languages the Holy Spirit chose to write the Bible in, they’re welcome to do so on their own blog! So, the question one should ask is, “Does my comment actually concern itself with the spirit of the blog post?” How much time (if any) one should spend studying Greek may be a legitimate question, but it’s not very relevant to a comparison of four Greek textbooks (since the presupposition of that post is “yes, Greek is important!”) This would be akin to trumpeting the superiority of basketball on a blog dedicated to baseball fans (the technical term for this kind of internet behavior is “trolling”).

Secondly, be polite. This is actually the only one of my three points that I have not had an issue with on my blog. Everybody who has commented on my blog (including those who disagree with me) has exhibited a reasonable level of politeness. However, I have seen online discussions elsewhere (especially Facebook) where people quickly cross the line from “debate partner” to “jerk.”

To be clear, it’s okay (and even healthy) to disagree with others. In fact, theological dialogue is beneficial to the church as a whole, in my opinion. Yet proper theological dialogue sticks with the issue, no the character of the person one is talking to. There’s a whale of a difference between saying “I disagree with you, and here’s why” and “you’re an idiot” (or even the more indirect “that’s idiotic”). Good theological dialogue at the higher level (in contrast to the college dorm room) should not include your assessment of the other person’s character, intellect, or lifestyle (unless we are dealing with sin, in which case this ceases to be a dialogue and becomes a confrontation, which may be necessary). In other words, your “sparring partner” in this debate on “election/Bible versions/justification/whether or not dogs go to heaven/” may have just said something totally naïve, completely misinformed, or even downright stupid. If so, then the facts and the proper use of logic, as well as the occasional citation of Martin Luther in the original German, should all swing the argument in your favor. You do not need to point out their absurdity or wishy-washiness. If their statement truly is as dumb is you think, a response that focuses on the facts and utilizes critical thinking will surely swing the intelligent reader to your side. If not, then perhaps their statement was not as dumb as you might think.

At the root of the matter is the issue of humility. To attack somebody’s character in what is supposed to be theological dialogue [not the same thing as confronting somebody over heresy] elevates yourself above them as adequate to pass judgment upon their character and their intellect. Yet all of us say stupid things now and then, and most of us (including myself) are not quite as good at evaluating the intellectual merits of somebody’s argument as we think we are. [as an aside, and a shameless plug for Ph.D. work—in my college days, I could scoffingly dismiss an argument with the best of them! During my M.Div., I would at least listen to you before scoffingly dismissingly your argument. Doctoral work, I believe, taught me to absorb and evaluate somebody’s argument much more fairly than before. Hopefully I’m now much less likely to dismiss somebody’s argument as “absurd” without a fair evaluation and a balanced response]

This is a totally different issue from confronting heresy. If a member, deacon, or elder in your church denies the Trinity, or the literal resurrection, or any other essential doctrine (emphasis on “essential”), then you and others in the church have an obligation to confront this person and rebuke him or her. This is not the time for fair, cordial, academic dialogue! (for a relevant discussion on “essential” doctrine, see the fascinating article by Craig Blomberg, “The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or When Do Jesus and the Apostles Really Get Mad?)” in JETS vol. 45:1, viewable online here.

An Exercise in Dialogue: “Jerk” response vs. “Academic” response
1.    “Only a moron would believe that!”  vs.  “I’m not sure you’re understanding that passage correctly. Here’s why I disagree: . . .”
2.    “If you actually had ministerial experience, you’d see how out-of-touch you are” vs. “Yet my own experience in ministry leads me to a different conclusion. For example, one time . . .”
3.    “That’s an incredibly naïve viewpoint” vs. “But does that really reflect reality? Consider, for example, . . .”
4.    “You understand Barth like a politician understands ethics!” vs. “But let’s look at what Barth really said. In page 56 of Church Dogmatics . . .”
5.    “The Nazis believed the same thing!” vs. sticking with the points under discussion. Godwin’s Rule states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Thanks to “WiseGeek” for the quote. We evangelicals generally prefer to replace “Nazi” with something else equally repugnant to our theology, like “Calvinist” or “Arminian” or “Dispensationalist” or “Reformed” or whatever]

Finally, be brief. If you disagree with me, I am definitely interested in reading why, especially if you can point me to an academic work that argues the same as you do. I am not, however, interested in reading a 5,000-word essay on how exactly I’m wrong. Frankly, there are a ton of books and articles out there on various topics in Biblical studies that I would much rather read. In other words, give me 300 words on why you disagree, clearly stated, and you have my attention. Anything longer than that and you’ve lost me (and the comment will probably not get posted).

This applies to comments that don’t necessarily disagree with me as well. For example, on a post comparing and contrasting four Greek textbooks, you may provide a 300 word discussion of a book that you think would be beneficial to the first-year student. Anything longer, though, and I would suggest you submit it as a review to a journal or, better yet, post it on your own blog.

So there’s my “RePoB” method of engaging in dialogue on a blog! [patent pending]. I think a lot of these principles could be applied to regular conversation as well (how many of us, for example want to be part of a discussion where only one person does the talking, looks down on everybody else, and scampers off on countless rabbit trails?) Of course, may the Lord grant that I consistently “practice what I preach” (not an easy task, let me assure you)!

Dec 21, 2013

The Ultimate Paroikos

Paroikos: “A stranger, foreigner, or resident alien; one who is displaced from his or her home; one who is treated as a stranger by those residing in his or her vicinity” [Source: The PAH Lexicon for Rare Koine Words Used in the NT, soon to be published in 2050 (maybe!)]

“He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11, NET Bible)

“But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4, NET Bible)

I know what it’s like to be a “Paroikos,” as do many of my readers. At its best, you experience exciting new cultures, new foods, new adventures, new friends. Playing alongside my Japanese friends, accepted as one of them, constitute some of the best memories of my childhood. At its worst, however, your own foreignness is thrown back into your face in the form of insults, discriminatory actions, and the state of being simply ignored.

Yet even for the most displaced Paroikos, there are times when you can feel “at home.” For me it was with my parents, with my closest Japanese friends, or even at the local Japanese Ramen noodle shop—Japanese service is the best in the world, and even a foreigner is made to feel like royalty in the average store or restaurant! Furthermore, there is a sense in which the common band of humanity binds us all: language, skin color, and mannerisms may all be different, yet at the least we all shame the same basic features and can reason rationally. Direct communication can take place, food is always edible (yes, even “squid on a stick”) and our basic needs remain the same. In light of that, there may even be something romantic and adventurous about being away from home. Thus Plutarch, when trying to comfort a friend who has been exiled from his homeland, argues that the exiled man, rather than being bound to a single city, now has the air itself as his sole boundary and is truly free to go where pleases! (see Plutarch, On Exile, 1-12).

Hold that thought, however; we are, of course, talking about humans among other humans, humans on earth where they were born to be. The whole concept of “Paroikos” is taken to another level now when we dare to talk about the Incarnation. Here it is not a matter of simply “leaving one’s homeland” or “moving to another country” or even “being around people who are different than you [and who eat squid!].” Now we are forced to grapple with the idea of a whole different type of being (indeed, the Supreme Being) being sent to a whole other plane of existence, if you will. In other words, the second Member of the Creator/Trinity Who, like the other two Members, existed outside space and time without regard for any of the laws of matter and energy (indeed, He created them!), now voluntarily becomes part of the physical universe in the form of a human baby some. So that eternal Being who existed outside of space and time now exists as part of space and time.

Many of my readers will, perhaps, be familiar with the expression “culture shock.” This occurs when you visit a new culture and find out that things are different than what you expect, and your brain has trouble grappling with it: what for you is a simple wave in your home country may actually mean “yes, I will marry your daughter and bring the bride-price of a live goat” in your new culture. Furthermore, whatever expectations you have armed yourself with fly out the window when exposed to reality. Thus, for example, when my parents first went to Japan they more-or-less expected Japanese men to be walking around in traditional robes armed with Samurai swords (compounding their “cultural shock” was the irony that the very first place they ate at in Japan was a “Denny’s”). Likewise many Japanese, based off of their exposure to Hollywood, assume that American urban life is a constant mish-mash of gunfights, exploding helicopters, and high-speed car chases involving unrealistically thin supermodels (this is, of course, only true in Los Angeles and certain parts of Chicago).

Now I would not be so bold as to suggest that the second Member of the Trinity experienced “culture shock”; after all, “shock” implies being exposed to something that surprises you, and God cannot be surprised, at least cognitively. Nevertheless, for all of our theological adherence to the immutable nature of God, we must stress that God certainly experienced something different in the transition to human flesh in our space-time continuum. It is one thing to go from the skylines of New York to the mountains of Switzerland. It is another thing entirely to go from being outside of space and time altogether to being voluntarily confined to 4 dimensions (or 12, if you’re a String Theorist). It is one thing to never know the need for food or drink; it is another thing entirely to suddenly know hunger and thirst, and, in the early stages of the Incarnation, to be totally dependent upon others to provide it. It is one thing to see new sights and hear new sounds in a different culture; it is something else entirely to actually experience sight and sound, in the limited human way, for the very first time. And this, of course, included pain, suffering, and temptation, various concepts totally foreign to the nature of God himself because it was brought on by Adam’s sin! Thus even in something as simple as the tears he shed when first exposed to planet earth’s light and sounds and temperature outside the womb, Jesus experienced something entirely different as a human, a new world, a new existence where he, the King of the Universe, was destined to live as a stranger.

My friends, can we truly wrap our mind around the true “strangeness” of the incarnation, especially in the early stages? Take whatever “strangeness” you may experience in a foreign culture, among foreign people, and multiply that by infinity. Yet this “strangeness” represents the great (and only) hope for humanity; the fact that, in the apt words of J. Houghton, “the God out there has entered our world in the person of Jesus” (page 158 in Houghton, J. ‘Where is God? Thinking in More Than Three Dimensions,’ in Stannard, R. (ed) God For the 21st Century, Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation, 2000)

One more thought: Jesus, the Son of God, did not come to earth to only temporarily experience humanity and then leave this plane of existence, shedding his human body. Rather, his transition to this state of existence was permanent. He did not leave his humanity behind when he descended into heaven (albeit it is a glorified human body, a precursor of what is in store for his followers). No, he remains human, a part of his creation, and someday he will reign on the literal earth from the literal city of Jerusalem, once more literally existing as Immanuel, “God with us.”

Yet what, then, is the immediate result of the incarnation for Christians? Why, namely this: “Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16, NET Bible).

So Merry Christmas, my friends! Oh, and while you’re at it, this holiday season be kind to the foreigners living among you, for Jesus Christ was once one of them.

Postscript: Whenever we describe the Trinity, we naturally fall short of the exactness of language and clarity that most scientific disciplines would demand. I reject any form of polytheism on the one hand and modalism on the other: God is “three persons, one essence”; yet sometimes the language I or others might use may seem to come close to either of those heresies. This is not my fault; if God had wanted to us to better understand the Trinity, he would have described it more clearly for us through the writers of Scripture! Nevertheless, I beg the reader’s forgiveness for any inexact language or descriptions of mine in this (or any other) discussion.

Dec 7, 2013

Reasons to attend the ETS national meeting

 (From November 19th-21st, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Although I did not present this year [the deadline for submissions was right in the middle of the “final stretch” of my dissertation work!], I greatly benefited both from other presentations and from hanging out with friends. Also, please note that there were plenty of non-PhDs there as well, including many pastors; you don’t need to be a professional academic to benefit from it!)

The annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) can, at its worst, be a confusing maelstrom of harried and exhausted 500-meter dashes to various conference rooms, overspending on massive tomes of arcane theology (but hey, they’re half off!), and needless amounts of pedantic bickering and debating. But all-in-all, the three annual meetings I have attended have “done me good,” and I would wish to discuss why and how one can benefit from attending.

But first of all, there’s been plenty of blog posts about attending ETS, etc., and I just want to point you to a few. Mike Bird, as Australian evangelical NT scholar, has posted his thoughts here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2013/11/reflections-on-ets-and-the-conference-theme-of-inerrancy/  Though I disagree with him on inerrancy, Michael Bird is always one of the most enjoyable reads you will find.

On the far other end of the spectrum, Mark Snoeberger, from one of the more scholarly independent Baptist/fundamentalist schools (no, “scholarly” and “fundamentalist” is not an oxymoron) posts his thoughts here: http://dbts.edu/blog/some-random-thoughts-about-ets/   I especially appreciated his comment that “I have made peace with the fact that the ETS doctrinal standards are not denominational subscription standards or ‘fundamentals’”;  yet nevertheless Snoeberger states that he “come[s] back each year thoroughly refreshed, with new books to read, new ideas for teaching/research, and a generally renewed resolve or ‘vision’ for what I can accomplish for the cause of Christ and of God.” It’s worth pointing out that at this year’s ETS there were attendees from at least 4 (and probably more) self-professed independent Baptist/fundamentalist institutions, an encouraging sign!

And once again, back to Michael Bird for a little bit of his humor in a post entitled “If you’re going to ETS and SBL, remember to . . .” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2013/11/if-youre-going-to-ets-and-sbl-remember-to/ (warning! Some of his lines require a knowledge of contemporary theological trends in order to get the humor!)

So anyways, here’s the reasons I go to ETS:

1.    First of all, ETS annual meetings represent cutting edge evangelical scholarship that is well-engaged with broader academic scholarship. This is the place to hone your own skills, pick up leads for further research ideas, and gain an understanding of which books you should read next. An individual presentation may or may not be profitable, but at the least it should introduce you to a few keys sources and the current trends within scholarship. Also, all the major theological issues will be addressed in some form or the other, and generally the annual meetings focus on one key topic to discuss (e.g., this year focused on inerrancy; past years have focused on justification, Open Theism, the Christian and the environment, etc.)       
2.    Secondly, the ETS meeting is a great time for fellowship. I drove up with my friend Chuck, both of us stayed at my friend Aaron’s house in southern PA, and we enjoyed great theological (and other) dialogue between the three of us. In addition, I saw plenty of former professors and former fellow class mates, and I had a great lunch and conversation with the outside reader of my dissertation.
3.    Thirdly, ETS is a great opportunity to hear the “heavy hitters” of conservative theology and academia. Now hero worship is always a danger, of course (and I can lapse into it occasionally), but the meeting’s most prominent speakers, as well as those giving the key note addresses, are popular for a reason: they’re great teachers, writers, expositors, theologians, and they challenge your thinking better than most!. This past meeting at Baltimore featured D. A. Carson, John Frame, and Ben Witherington, who collectively have done for evangelical scholarship what the Miami Heat have done for the NBA (and, to continue the analogy, each of them can be just as polarizing! I could call D. A. Carson the “LeBron James of conservative scholarship” and just leave it up to the reader as to whether or not that’s a compliment!)
4.    Finally, the ETS annual meeting does not just showcase the academic side of scholars but occasionally their spiritual side as well. My first annual meeting in Valley Forge, PA, I was as lost as a sheep in a blizzard, and a Canadian professor, whom I didn’t know from Adam, out of the blue invited me to eat lunch with him. At the recent meeting in Baltimore, I was privileged to share a lunch with and receive encouragement from the Wheaton scholar who had acted as the outside reader for my dissertation. Furthermore, in the midst of all the bickering and some academic posturing, occasionally you see glimpses of genuine humility. Once again at my first national ETS in Valley Forge, I sat in on a presentation on the role of Elihu (Positive? Negative?) in the book of Job. This was done by an older professor in front of a decent-sized crowd (possibly about 30), including a significant number of his own students. The QA session at the end was surprisingly . . . “robust” (as in, “there was a rather dominant sentiment of disagreement with the presenter’s position, expressed rather more strongly than you would expect for such a minor issue”). The presenter, however, handled it perfectly, respectfully fielding his audience’s questions (“comments,” in some cases) while noting the wonderful freedom evangelicals have to disagree on relatively minor issues such as Elihu’s role in the book of Job while still remaining on the same side. This professor (don’t remember who; I think he taught in a school in California, though) became a role model for me in that instance. Someday in the future, when I’ve been teaching for decades and my position is strongly criticized by others (and right in front of my own students!), will I be able to keep my composure and answer respectfully and fairly as this gentleman did?

Now a couple of observations on how best to enjoy ETS:
1.    You get a lot more out of the sessions if you’re well-rested! This wasn’t really my fault, since I drove up all evening/early morning before ETS started, but I struggled staying awake during the presentations I attended on Tuesday and even during John Frame’s interesting address! Wednesday was much more profitable for me since I slept fantastically Tuesday evening (and a good thing, too, since I was privileged to be granted a job interview Wednesday afternoon).
2.    Try to go with friends. Fellowship is key; it’s not fun being by yourself at such a large conference (and I was privileged to be with friends for most of this trip). Also, it’s much easier to share a hotel room, gas money, and toll money than pay for it all yourself.
3.    Once in a while, go to a session completely unrelated to your main field of study. It’s good to know more about theology and Biblical studies in general, especially as it might pertain to counseling and practical theology. Although I may focus on New Testament studies, I realize the value of the Old Testament and theology in general, as well as the need for me to be knowledgeable about more issues in practical theology.

So, for what it’s worth, there’s some info and thoughts on the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings. It’s not the only outlet for evangelical scholarship (e.g., the Institute of Biblical Research is worth its weight in gold), but it may be the largest. Next year’s meeting will be in San Diego, CA. I may not make that one, but I’m definitely looking forward to 2015’s meeting in Atlanta, GA (been there once, sort of know my way around). The theme for 2014 in San Diego is “Ecclesiology” while the theme for 2015 in Atlanta is “Marriage and Family.”

Nov 27, 2013

The Heart's Desire

Generally, I don't write blog posts based off of something else that I read online, e.g., an article that piqued my interest (else I would never get anything done!) Recently, however, I ran across a quote that I just could not pass by without some theological commentary.

In an online article [click here] in the Huffington Post entitled “Couple has open marriage so complicated, it’s hard to keep track,” author Jenny Block, when interviewed, had this to say: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others,” said Block, who has been in an open marriage for the past 10 years. “You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.” [emphasis added; online: accessed 11/27/2013, could not find the author for this particular article. Note also that Jenny Block is not part of the particular "marriage" being discussed in the article]

Keep those words in mind: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others.” Now, the sad thing is that Jenny Block is absolutely correct for those who do not have the Spirit of God. In other words, the unbeliever truly cannot control his or her own desires; he or she remains a slave to sin. Thus Scripture can describe unbelievers as “slaves . . . of/to sin” (Romans 6:16 and 17 NET Bible)  Furthermore, “. . . the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8, NET Bible). Thus Jenny Block’s words, applied to an unbeliever, are absolutely correct: “We cannot control our own desires . . . . The heart wants what it wants.” Unlike J. Block, however, this is not a cause for celebration (much less an excuse for a polyamorous lifestyle), but rather proof of how fallen the human race is, and how much in need of redemption we are.
Yet how, then, does the Christian differ? For some theologians, there really is no difference and the Christian still cannot control his or her desires. In other words, for some theologians, Christians truly have no say in the outcome when faced with temptation at a particular point in time (i.e., the result could not have gone otherwise). Yet if that is the case, then Romans 8:2 is absolutely meaningless when it states, "For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you  free from the law of sin and death” (NET Bible). How can we truly be free from sin if J. Block’s words apply equally to Christians and unbelievers alike when faced with temptation?
Furthermore, as I have argued elsewhere (see the bibliography below), 1 Corinthians 10:13 clearly states that Christians have an “escape route” for each temptation they face, an escape route that is lacking in an unbeliever. In other words, when the Corinthian believers faced the temptation via social pressure of participating in idolatry, they could not say “my desires caused me to sin” or “the peer pressure was just too much for me.”

What, then, makes the difference? It is nothing less than the indwelling Spirit of God Who becomes the great Enabler to do what is right. Consequently, Galatians 4:6-7 states, "And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God" (NET). Indeed, it is this very fact that causes the Apostle Paul to soundly rebuke the Galatians in 4:9 for reverting back to their old ways! They cannot claim that they were unable to resist the siren call of temptation, for the Holy Spirit provides a powerful force that enables the Christian to pull away from beckoning temptations. [note: in a response to my JETS article, the objection was raised that this means Christians could live an absolutely perfect life, successfully rejecting every single temptation they run across [thus attaining sinless perfectionism, more or less; it was implied, though not explained, that this was theologically incoherent]. My response was to raise the analogy of a hitter in baseball. A good hitter is entirely capable of hitting every single pitch in the strike zone for a home run; in reality, however, this never happens. Potential and actuality are two different things. Yet even if a Christian could reach a point where he or she successfully resists temptation for an entire year (or two, or three), I would find that a much more theologically coherent state than positing a God who does not allow Christians to resist a particular temptation at a particular point in time, perhaps even foreordaining his own child to sin]

So what, then, is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever? The unbeliever truly cannot resist a life of sin, whatever his or her heart is bent towards. They may exercise a certain degree of restraint, of course (and I am not arguing that unbelievers are as bad as they can be!). Yet without the Holy Spirit’s influence, they remain incapable of permanently resisting sin. For the believer, however, it is the Spirit’s influence that becomes the competing force against our sinful desires. With the Spirit, we can truly chose the good and reject the evil. The heart may indeed “want what it wants,” but fortunately with the Spirit’s presence, the heart also wants to please the Lord. Thus the Christian must deal with competing sources of desire: the remnant of our sinful past vs. the new heart given to us by the Spirit’s regenerating work. In my opinion, one of the best articulations of this difference between believers and unbelievers is the following quote by Hae-Kyung Chang: “In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that ‘being free under sin’ and ‘being free from the law of sin and death’ are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true” (Chang, p. 268; emphasis added).

To return to the original article: ultimately, then, one who names the name of Christ yet lives, without chastening or remorse, in an “open marriage” such as described in the HuffPost article truly demonstrates that he is not a Christian, for clearly the Spirit has no part in him. God will not allow a Christian to consistently choose the evil and demonstrate no sign of the Spirit’s power in his or her life, for God Himself has a vested interest in us! 

[one final note: I am even OK with the idea that God can “overrule” the Christian's will in certain circumstances; simply because the Christian always has the ability to resist sin does not mean he or she always has the ability to accept sin; the converse of a law is not always true]

For further reading:

1.   Hae-Kyung Chang, “The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7–25 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum vol. 49 (2007). In my opinion, this is a fantastic article, and it has heavily influenced my views on Romans 7.
2.   Paul A. Himes “When a Christian Sins—1 Corinthians 10:13 and the Power of Contrary Choice in Relation to the Compatibilist-Libertarian Debate,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54 (July 2011).
3.   Steven Cowan, “Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply to Paul A. Himes,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).
4.   Paul Himes: “First Corinthians 10:13: A Rejoinder to Steven Cowan,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).