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.

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!

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.”