Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Last Post Here

I decided to make the switch to wordpress. Mostly because Nick Norreli prefers it so much.

I will, from now on, blog here:
http://shallowthoughtswithgeoff.wordpress.com

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Gospel Coalition on the Gospel and the New Testament

Exordium
I honestly appreciate scholarly pastors like John Piper and Timothy Keller. I especially appreciate pastoral scholars like Don Carson. At one point I had read all of John Piper's books, including his doctoral dissertation (he has since written so many more that I stopped keeping up), I've read one Timothy Keller book, and dozens by Carson. These guys exude good things to say, though I disagree with certain things they say.

Narratio
I've also read a lot by Scot McKnight. At his blog, The Jesus Creed, he posted about the Gospel Coalition's new video. The video is of interest to McKnight because of his frustration with how the gospel has been truncated in the United States and Europe. His contention is that the gospel is simply treated as a plan of salvation, whereas in the New Testament the gospel saves us, but it includes a plan of salvation while being much more than just that. What McKnight wants his readers to do is to define the gospel by reading...you've guessed it, the four gospels, the sermons and Acts, and the gospel summaries in the Epistles. In general I agree with his proposals. People have been saying this for years. Irenaeus said it, Augustine implied it in the City of God, Luther said it in a marvelous tract, "What to look for when you read the gospels," Dallas Willard says it, N.T. Wright says it, D.A. Carson says it in "The Gagging of God," and Scot McKnight says it.

Propositio
Now, that being said, I'm not as excited about the video as McKnight. I think it makes a major category error.

Probatio I
Case in point: the discussion starts off all wrong. Piper immediately starts defining the gospel as Jesus saying (in Luke's gospel...where Jesus does not use purchase language), "I purchase all the benefits of the New Covenant, which includes the forgiveness of sins, by dying. That is the gospel. (1:17-2:00)"

Here's the rub with that, in Luke's gospel Jesus describes his mission like this, "It is necessary for me to preach the gospel [ευαγγελισασθαι] about the kingdom of God also in the other cities, because this is why I was sent (Luke 4:43)." Jesus said that his gospel was God's kingdom! Now, Jesus enacted God's kingdom with in part with his death, but Jesus didn't say, "I was sent to proclaim the atonement."

Again, when Jesus preaches the gospel in Mark it is described like this, "Now, after John was betrayed, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the gospel of God and saying, "The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15)" Now, Jesus includes in his preaching that to be in the kingdom is to live like the Son of man, who gives his life as a ransom for many, but that's a part of the kingdom. The kingdom, with the crucified and risen Christ, is the kingdom whose members have been purchased by the blood of Jesus.

The gospel coalition guys start with the wrong question. They seem to be saying, "Paul's gospel is [something] where is that in Jesus' preaching?" But the gospel writers call what Jesus preaches "the gospel." Mark calls his whole book the gospel. This does not nullify God's grace, it simply places it in context. Romans, a book which is famous for explaining God's grace, starts with Paul summarizing his gospel (1:1-7) and the cross and the atonement are not mentioned. In fact, the word for cross appears only once in Romans! This is again, not to decrease the importance of the cross, but to put it in context. The cross is important because it inaugurates the kingdom, it makes God's declaration of justification possible, and it is the king of the kingdom going to the cross! They should ask (and this does get danced around), "What is the total message of Jesus (including the kingdom) and how does that match up with the message of the gospel writers as a gospel?" Then ask, "What is the message of the sermons in Acts and the gospel summaries in the rest of the New Testament?"

Disgressio
It is okay to say, "The Reformers articulated the gospel like this, 'Jesus' death was a moment when God imputed your sins to Jesus and the resurrection made it possible for Jesus' righteousness to be imputed to you upon faith. We wonder if Jesus said things like that or is that merely an application and development of themes Paul himself articulated from the gospel?" That's a fair question. I think the results of that line of questioning would be awesome with a capital A...like Awesome! But I digress.

Probatio II
Strange things get brought up in the video too. Piper mentions that he thinks (8 minute mark) that Paul does not mention the kingdom very often because he is preaching the gospel of the king. This is problematic because all through Acts people are preaching "the message of the kingdom." Now, Piper's training is German, so maybe he does not take Acts seriously as history, that is possible. But it is unlikely because he's adamant about the inerrancy of the Bible. I think Piper is so concerned to preach a reformation understanding of the atonement as THE GOSPEL that he has a difficult time seeing that even when Paul was in Rome (after he wrote Romans and Galatians) that Luke places him in prison, "Now, he remained there two whole years paying his own way and gladly receiving all who came to him proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord, Jesus Christ, with all boldness and without restraint.(Acts 28:30-31)"

Encomium
Carson said some good things in that presentation. I think that Keller is spot on in saying that Paul says things the gospel writers say, but in different language. I also think that John Piper is correct in saying that specific texts must be examined, but Piper picks passages that are simply not ones where Jesus is explicitly saying, "this is the gospel."

Few Ancient Rhetorical Terms Describe This Paragraph
So, what's the lesson here? I'm not sure. I suppose my point is that category mistakes happen all the time and this is an example of one. The death of Jesus is surely part of the gospel, so is the atonement, so is justification by faith, but Keller and Piper (less Carson) seem to be conflating the three things as though they were the same thing. They aren't in the New Testament and they aren't in most later theological discussions. Please see the woodcutting/childish chart in appendix 2 below.

Note: I do not intend to sound arrogant. I know these guys are just doing table talk. I know that table talk is not necessarily that indicative of serious thought (some of my table talk is super embarrassing). But I also know that it is table talk intended for didactic influence. I'm just confident that something is being missed here and it is something that is fairly self evident to most people. I teach a high school bible class and when my students read Mark's gospel and write observations most of them notice that the gospel in Mark is either "the whole book," "Jesus message of the kingdom," or "Jesus himself." I'm just wondering why that is not self-evident to John Piper, a man whose doctoral dissertation was written on the teaching of Jesus in the gospels about enemy love and its relationship to Paul's teaching. I have no qualms saying that the reformation doctrines are true development of Scripture as far as they go, but assuming those things as "the gospel" and then reading the gospels to find them is neither right now safe. God help me. Amen.

Appendix 1: When Piper remarks that the kingdom of God is mentioned less in the epistles of Paul than the gospels, he indicates that this is because of a fundamental shift in emphasis. Linguistically, this is totally possible. Nevertheless, I wonder if people would feel happy to apply that principle to Romans and how few times Paul mentions the cross explicitly. I would not, because the cross is in the background of Romans from beginning to end! Even the language of considering oneself dead to sin and putting to death the deeds of the body hearkens back to Jesus' ultimatum, "If you would come after me, take up your cross..." The cross is in Romans as central to atonement, crucial to justification, and the method of the Christian life!

Appendix 2:


Appendix 3:
There is a relationship between grace, faith, kingdom, and discipleship. Grace, in an ancient culture wherein patronage was a major feature, is a term used to describe a gift given by a patron (see Honor Patronage Kinship and Purity by David Desilva, 121-156). A grace from God could be anything: a piece of food, a good spouse, wisdom for good decisions, seeing fruit from spiritual disciplines, etc. But in the case of the gospel (Romans 1:1-7 is important here so stop and read it) it is the whole gospel. Grace is the offering of the gospel, Paul places grace in apposition with apostleship here. Grace is the message of the gospel and the response is to obey the gospel (be a student of Jesus) in a way that springs from faith (or intellectual and emotional loyalty to and belief in the message and the God who produced it). And Jesus, in Romans 1:1-7, is the Lord who brokers the deal. Now the theology behind the offer of grace is surely given in Romans 3-5, but the message itself is that Jesus lived, died for sins, was raised, and is to be trusted and obeyed in all nations and that those who trust him (or the God who raised him) receive grace.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: Larry Hurtado: At the Origins of Christian Worship


Larry Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 1999

Larry Hurtado is of New Testament, Language, and Literature at the University of Edinburgh. He's written helpful material on Mark's gospel, early Christian devotional practices, and he writes blog entries here http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/.

The book under review is a slight revision of the 1999 Didsbury Lectures. Hurtado looks at early Christian worship from four perspectives: the religious environment, the features of early Christian worship in the context of the previously examined environment, the binitarian shape of early Christian worship (it was apparently aimed at two figures while remaining monotheistic), and how those historical datum might assist contemporary Christians in their reflections on worship.

Summary and Critique
The Religious Environment
Hurtado simply points out the nature of religious devotion in the ancient Roman world. Religion was a public affair, a life consuming affair, and a political affair. He makes all of these clear as the chapter progresses. Those points do not reflect the headings in the chapter, Hurtado's break down of the subject is as follows: ubiquity, salience (visibility), diversity, images, rituals, meals, and then specific Jewish practices. The chapter is marvelous because it is informative and because destroys the idea that Greco-Roman pagans and Jews under Roman rule were more likely to convert to early Christian practices because of a discontentment with their waning religions (pp 10, 37). In fact, because of the exclusive and simple nature of Christian devotion (it was devoid of spectacle), the early Christians had to show that, “Powerfully attractive features (pp 37)” made the Christian gospel better than the other options.


Features of Early Christian Worship
“There are basically two main identifying marks of early Christian worship, when considered in its religious context: (1) Christ is reverenced along with God, and (2) worship of all other gods is rejected (pp 39).” The first sentence of this lecture is an effective attention grabber, but the following material only covers the second point (chapter 3 is reserved for devotion to Christ). I can summarizy essential conclusion and content of the chapter is thus, “Early Christian worship seemed weird and unremarkable to 1st century pagans.” The material is broken up into multiple sections: intimacy, participation, fervour, significance, and potency. Early Christian worship was intimate because it happened in small spaces, with shared meals which created and signified group solidarity. Note: Ancient personal intimacy is not necessarily what we consider being close to somebody, Hurtado does not mention this in the brief essay, but modern notions of friendship and “knowing” people appears uncommon in ancient texts see Malina's The New Testament World. Nevertheless, Hurtado points out that the frequent admonitions against sexual immorality in early Christianity appeared because of the unusual closeness of the community and the likelihood of increased sexual infidelity that might result (pp 43). Also unique was the demand that all kinds of people participate in the meetings. Slaves, women, former pagans, and outsiders were not only allowed, but were supposed to participate. The dicussion of fervour is helpful, but the discussion of significance is excellent. Hurtado points out the transcendence ascribed to Christian meetings that would make them completely worthwhile despite their lack of spectacle. The exalted status of Christians in Ephesians 1-3 or 1 Peter 1-2 created a sense of the transcendent that would later change the world (see David Bentley Hart The Atheist Delusions (Yale, 2009), 201-215).

The Binitarian Shape of Early Christian Worship
The term “binitarian” might be unfamiliar to most readers, but what Hurtado means is, “the inclusion of Christ with God (the 'Father') as the recipient of the worship (pp 63).” The chapter starts with a discussion of terms used in the ancient world for worship. It will be very technical (but worthwhile) for people who do not know Greek. For those who know Greek well enough to read a paragraph or two with a grammar book and a dictionary nearby, the discussion will be elementary. The point of the whole discussion is that Hurtado is looking for times when the words and concepts of worship directed towards a deity are used with reference to the resurrected Jesus. The distinction is important simply because the old Greek words can be used in multiple contexts only tangentially related to worship such as revering a king, a warrior, a wise person, or a righteous person or community (pp 65-69). The interesting thing in this chapter how the early Christians had a tendency to include Jesus in their worship practices while insisting on being rigorously monotheistic (intending to exclude the idea that more than one deity existed or was worthy of worship). Multiple categories of devotion to Christ are shown that indicate what Hurtado calls “a mutation in monotheistic worship.” Hurtado points out that Christ the recipient of prayer, included in invocations and confessions of faith, the subject of remembrance in the Lord's Supper, name invoked in Baptism (inclusion into the community sanctioned by God), the subject and object of worship hymns, and the cause of prophetic utterances! In other words, Christians thought they worshiped one God (they claimed to be monotheistic) but included the exalted Christ as a recipient of their worship (binitarianism).

Reflections for Christian Worship Today
This chapter is marvelous because of Hurtado's criticism of a “di-theism” wherein God the Father and Jesus are treated almost like two separate deities. God is made, but Jesus placates him. That version of Christian theology creates a sort of Jesus veneration that is not recognizable on the pages of Scripture (because Jesus is revered to the exclusion of God the Father). One of the safeguards Hurtado brings up is the ease with which new God's were created in ancient Rome. The early Christians could have easily just set up Jesus shrines, instead they were very careful to worship God in the name of Jesus or through Jesus, even pieces of Scripture that offer worship directly to Jesus, it is usually in the context of glorifying God the Father (pp 105). Hurtado wants us to be truly trinitarian, distinguishing clearly between God the Father and the unique Son, who comes from God.
Seeing Jesus as unique can help Christians to see our relationship to God as derivative. Jesus' relatedness to God is without parallel, but nevertheless, it is an analogy of our relationship to God. He then points out that we worship God in and through Jesus. In other words, because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we pray to God as recipients of an honorary status from God. Hurtado does not use this term, but if God were an ancient benefactor, Jesus is his broker or intermediary and gives us a status similar to his own, allowing us access to the benefactor. His acceptance of feminist critiques of biblical patriarchy while showing where they miss the mark for understanding the Trinity is helpful (pp 110). The doctrine of the Trinity does not exist to project human maleness onto God, but to express the analogy by which we understand the relationship of Jesus to God the Father and our own relationship to God in light of Jesus'.
Hurtado also mentions the provisional nature of Christian worship as it exists now. Calling Jesus, “Lord,” is a recognition that he is God's appointed judge at the end of time. This means that that the church is only a temporary outpost of Jesus and God's own kingdom. So, the inclusion of Jesus as a divine entity is also a witness to our own relative unimportance, despite the transcendent nature of early Christian worship.
I would have preferred more information on how the ancient discussions of substance and person were in line with the over all substance of the New Testament and in what ways Jesus' preexisting nature figures into ancient and modern worship, but a lecture can only go so far.

Conclusion
The book accomplishes what it intends to accomplish: it outlines and clarifies early Christian devotional practices in the Roman milieu. The recommendations it gives for modern Christian worship are important, if incomplete. I wish he had focused more on how ancient Christian worship won converts through moral energy and its “powerfully attractive features” in the face of the pomp and spectacle of ancient pagan worship. That would be a helpful salve to the mega-church, awesome music, giant building, cool looking pastor mentality we have grown to love so much (Hurtado does mention that early Christians brought a certain kind of experience to worship, but it was through fervour and moral zeal, not expensive accoutrements). All in all, I fully recommend the book, it is inexpensive, historically informative, and devotionally helpful.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paul's Master Story, the Gospel, and You


Paul's Master Story and the New Testament Gospel

Paul has a master story. A master story is a piece of one's worldview that is evidently central, in that it regularly becomes explicit in expression or can be adduced as the foundation of many other assertions and associations. Sometimes master stories happen accidentally, sometimes they are intentional. Paul's master story is something he wants to become the master story of Christian churches and the individuals that comprise them. Paul's master story is summarized clearly in Philippians 2:6-11. Mike Gorman gives four reasons for identifying this section of narrative as central for Paul:1
  1. It is comprehensive in scope, beginning prior to creation, including Israel, the life of Jesus, and the future glory of God.
  2. It is creedal and counter imperial (Jesus is called Lord).
  3. It includes many themes Paul elsewhere develops about Jesus.
  4. It constantly reappears in different forms in Paul's other letters.

I would add that, though this is Paul's master story, this is definitely not some abstract, codified version of it. It is rather a full, but summarized adaptation of it for the needs of the church in Philippi. Paul wanted them to see how Christ displayed God's character by counting others above himself, but to do so, he gave them a point by point summary of the whole gospel message. One obvious piece of evidence that this is not the sum total of Paul's thought is that this expression of his master story only implies the atonement, which is fairly explicit in Paul's much shorter, truncated master story/gospel summary in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. But the point is that Paul gives his most fully-orbed summary of his gospel here and he expected it to resonate with the Philippian readers because of “what you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me (Philippians 4:9).”

Why is this information important for Christians?
  1. Because Paul's gospel is the gospel that saves us from our sins.
  2. Because Paul's gospel summary is exactly a shorter version of what we find in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the sermons in Acts, but with startling conclusions about what Jesus' life, death, and resurrection means about our understanding of God.
  3. Because Paul thought that Christians who were mindful of Jesus' mindset here would stop having conflicts over stupid things.
  4. Because if you get an idea of Paul's master story, the most important piece of his worldview, then how he responds to his culture (in ways that are similar and in ways that are startlingly different) make sense. His letters come alive when we see that the crucified and resurrected Jesus is precisely the pattern for a life that glorifies God, but not only so, that God will only be glorified as he brings all peoples to call Jesus, “Lord.”
  5. Because once we find this story to be central to Paul, Acts, and the gospel we can find much more unity in the New Testament than many surface level readings allow.
  6. It helps us to see that the gospel is precisely about Jesus, God, Israel, world history, and about our own lives. The gospel has to be big, but it has to give hope to the individual.
So, try to memorize this passage. As you read Paul's letters think about the fact that his gospel is the whole Jesus story (like what we find in the four gospels) and that it carries with it the mindset of humility that Jesus himself wants us to emulate. Read Philippians, looking for places where Paul's command in 2:5, "Have this mind in you, which was in the Messiah, Jesus..." makes sense when you see the example of Jesus, who though/because he was God, died for us. 

Appendix: The Greek Text and My Translatino
ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων
οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,
ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών,
ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος·
καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος
ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν
γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου,
θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ.
διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα,
ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων
καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός.


Who [Jesus, the Messiah],
because he existed in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God a matter of exploitation,
instead he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
existing in the likeness of humanity.
Then, being found as a man,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedience until death,
even death upon a cross.
For this very reason,
God highly exalted him and has given him the name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee would bend in the heavens, upon the earth, and under the earth and every tongue might confess that Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord, for the glory of God the Father.



1Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, Theosis, and Paul's Narrative Soteriology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 1-13.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and Basic Problem Solving


Sherlock Holmes and Basic Problem Solving
*This is an adaptation of a post about Sherlock Holmes and Biblical Interpretation taken from the gospel coalition website.1 I have kept most of author's section headings and generally maintained his editing of the Holmes and Watson quotes, but I have added a quote because of an insight by Dr. Doug Jackson. I have also added different comments under each quote. I intend to use this for mathematics and public speaking students.



Conan Doyle's collection of stories is utterly marvelous to read. Holmes is great fun, most movies have made him insufferably boring, the Robert Downey Jr. iterations have bucked the trend. Anyhow, the novels not only point to some excellent principles for reasoning, but they have shown themselves to be fruitful for the field of expertise because of Doyle's apparent insight into how people with expert capacities in multiple fields of knowledge would behave.2
  1. Try to discern the true nature of the problem at hand and gather appropriate data before finding (or suddenly claiming to know) a solution, conclusion, answer, or thesis statement.
    Holmes: “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

    Similarly, “This is a very deep business,” Holmes said at last. “There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon our course of action.”

    And again, “I had,” said Holmes, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data…I can only claim the merit that I instantly reconsidered my position.”


    Holmes is right, during the course of solving any problem, it is necessary to gather the appropriate amount and kind of data. For instance, the wrong data can lead somebody to asking the wrong question to begin with, and from that wrong question, assuming the wrong answer before gather more data can lead to a conclusion that is off by many degrees and miles. But, if the appropriate questions are asked and the appropriate data is examined before the conclusions are made, then the makings of a good solution are in order.

  2. The kind of looking that solves mysteries.
    Holmes: “You have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
    Watson: “Hundreds of times.”
    Holmes: “Then how many are there?”
    Watson: “How many? I don’t know!”
    Holmes: “Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.


    One of the most important steps for gathering data is simply being observant. Seeing a triangle and observing that it is isosceles are two different things. Noticing that the door to your house is open when you arrive is less helpful than observing that it has rubber marks from being kicked open. When doing research (and math exercises) it is important to make observations about a topic or problem. If you try to make observations about the kind of arguments made toward a certain thesis, then you might gain an insight into what kind of evidence is actually available. If most of the arguments advanced against an author's idea are ad-hominem it does not follow that the idea is false, but it may call into question the motives of those attacking it.

  3. Know what to look for.
    Watson: “You appeared to [see] what was quite invisible to me.”
    Holmes: “Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, and so you missed all that was important.”

    In word problems involving mathematics, one must know what to look for. Key words are central here. Words like integer, consecutive, or mixture tell you a great deal about what tools to use to find a solution. If you have a problem with your car starting you need to know to look for data related directly to the problem at hand. Are you out of gas, is your battery dead, do you need a new alternator, is the correct key in the ignition? Look for data related to the problem at hand.

  4. Mundane details are important!
    Watson: “I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, he had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.”

    When doing humanities research, one must notice mundane details, like repeated words, repeated settings, and small allusions to prior works. These details are commonplace, but it is precisely their commonplace nature that the author may have been relying upon, a common technique to convey meaning. On a larger scale, somebody researching the role of the American government in marriage should start with something mundane: the Constitution and the documents related to understanding it.


  5. Use solutions to little mysteries to solve bigger ones.
    Holmes: “The ideal reasoner would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it.”

    Or elsewhere, Watson: “Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and all of [the pieces of evidence] with the keenest interest.”


    Many mathematics problems involve finding dozens of small pieces of data first. The most common thing I hear from students is, “I don't know.” But that's the point, it is a problem, there is no knowing, only solving. If you can break a difficult problem into numerous smaller problems for which you have the data to solve, the many small solutions can lead you to a competent solution. This is especially important in Geometry wherein in proving some angle measure might unlock a whole series of possibilities (for instance same side interior angles being supplementary proves that two lines are parallel, at this point numerous things can be said about a transversal passing through parallel lines!). Similarly, if you were writing a Bible paper about the meaning of a controversial passage, the problem can be broken into numerous pieces: Greek syntax, intertextuality, ancient rhetoric, discourse analysis, history of interpretation, and its relation to the rest of Scripture. But each problem has some solution which can contribute to the over all problem, which when phrased as a question is, “What does this passage mean?”



  6. Simple solutions are okay if the problem is simple. Do not over complicate things.
    Holmes: “The case has been an interesting one…because it serves to show very clearly how simple the explanation may be of an affair which at first sight seems to be almost inexplicable.”


    If the solution is easy to discover using simple methods, then by all means, solve it simply.

  7. But, do not use simple thinking to solve complicated problems.
    Holmes: “This matter really strikes very much deeper than either you or the police were at first inclined to think. It appeared to you to be a simple case; to me it seems exceedingly complex.”


    But, if a problem is very complex, do not imagine that shortcuts will do. This is true in mathematics and humanities research. Just because some problems involve a nail, it does not mean that all problems require a hammer. Nuance is necessary in mathematics as well as in studying the big ideas.

  8. Learn to look for similarities between new and old problems:
    Holmes: "'Quite an interesting study, that maiden,' he observed. 'I found her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, is a rather trite one. You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, in Andover in '77, and there was something of the sort at The Hague last year." And again, "I was able to refer him to two parallel cases, the one at Riga in 1857, and the other at St. Louis in 1871, which have suggested to him the true solution."

    All right triangles have an hypotenuse. All quadratic equations with discriminates greater than zero have two roots. Most authors are trying to be understood, most biographies are trying to convey meaningful, accurate information, and most quotations or statistical studies should be fact checked.



Thursday, July 05, 2012

Why Read Paul's Prayers?



Why read Paul's prayers?
I have reflected upon Paul's prayers in the past and these four reasons to study them in depth have crystallized in my mind. I hope they are helpful for you.
  1. Paul's prayers are the introductions for the main body of his letters. To read and understand them well help you to understand what to look for in the rest of the letter. (In ancient rhetoric this is called the “exordium”)

    So, when Paul expresses in Colossians 1:10 that he wants his hearers (and readers) to "be fruitful in every good work," you can bet that he is going to explain what that means and/or how to do it later. And he does, in chapter 3 he tells them, "Put to death..." certain habitual behaviors, and to "Put on..." other habitual behaviors. It's a long, step by step, mentally engaging process. Another example in the same verse is that that Paul prays that the Colossians would "grow in the knowledge of God." He then reminds them in chapter 2:1-10, that knowledge of God is derived from the traditions according to Jesus Christ, rather than the philosophical traditions of man.
  2. Paul prayed for the kinds of things that are necessary for the church to thrive, and as the above principle implies, if Paul was willing to pray for something, it was also something he was willing to participate in accomplishing.

    It is common in church leadership manuals for phrases like, "vision casting" and "visionary leadership" to be used. I suppose there is some function merit to those labels, but the "vision" is not the pastor's, not primarily anyway. The 'vision' is the future that Jesus proposed and commanded for his people. Paul's prayers are gold mines for the priorities of that mission. So when Paul says that he "prays constantly" for people to "grow in the knowledge of God," and we see that he means "understanding and obedience to the gospel message about Jesus Christ, it is very important for pastors and teachers to make similar goals for their congregations and to pray for the same things.
  3. As a pastor, Paul was thankful for the kinds of things that are important for us to have and experience in our own lives.

    Paul's thanksgivings are general priorities for the lives of individual Christians. So when Paul mentions his thankfulness for how the Thessalonian Christians "have a working faith, have worked hard at love, and have endured in their hope in the Lord" he is giving insight into what a man who has seen the resurrected Jesus thinks is important for Christians to do. This is a powerful tool for self examination. Paul's thanksgivings are things we should seek to foster in our own lives.

  4. Paul teaches us how to pray for our church and those around us by example.

    Finally, Paul's prayers are necessary instructive for our own prayers. For one, Paul wants people to imitate his example, but also Paul's prayers are like a Christ-centered and church-oriented update for the Psalter. Paul's prayers show us how to pray. Especially certain words and phrases he uses like, "always, constantly, concerning you all, upon every remembrance, etc." Paul wants us to pray for people and churches to have the spiritual traits and experiences that Paul himself prays for them to have.



Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: One.Life by Scot McKnight


Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2010

Because I'm a high school teacher and a pretend New Testament scholar, certain things pique my interest. One of them is the intersection between an analytical reading of the New Testament and the lives of young people. Most devotional material for young people is fairly poorly written. If the authors of this material were trying to produce what they have written, then they were trying to misread the New Testament while being boring and unhelpful.
Now, when a book that meets those concerns is released and it is written by Scot McKnight, I get fairly excited. One Life is a very helpful book, it has some flaws, but I will get to those later in the review. All in all, the author's goals are admirable and they are met. He aimed to write a book that explained what it means to be a Christian around this definition, “someone who follows Jesus” rather than, “someone who has accepted Jesus and the Christian life focuses on personal practices of piety. (pp 15)”

The Content
The book follows a fairly simple format. Each chapter ends with a recapitulation of its content, there is a one page interlude, then the next chapter begins: wash, rinse, repeat. For the first 106 pages the Christian life receives an extended definition at the end of each chapter. The topics under which it is examined in Jesus' teaching are helpful: kingdom, imagination, love, justice, peace, wisdom, and church. All of these are under the heading of you one life. One life functions as a technical term for the entirety of your life, abilities, talents, relationships, and time. At this point the nature of Christian faith is touched upon in the chapter on commitment. The next section of the book applies the nature of the one life lived for Jesus to issues of sexuality. After that, other aspects of Christian thought are related to the Christian life, namely, the resurrection and crucifixion of Jesus and what those mean for Christians today. The book concludes with a five part summary of how to grow as a Christian (this is my summary of the summary):
  1. Pray with frequency.
  2. Listen to God by learning the scripture, all of it, and relate it back to Jesus and his teachings. Then listen to promptings you experience that are related to the teaching of scripture.
  3. Ask God's Spirit to empower you and begin participating in a local church that commits itself to Jesus and his ways.
  4. Recite Mark 12:29-31 and Matthew 6:9-13 out loud daily to recall the priorities of living in God's kingdom.
  5. Tell others the good news about Jesus.

The Good
The book is excellent because it is easy to understand and it seeks to explain the Bible in two notes that create a wonderful harmony: Jesus and his setting and the modern readers who wish to obey Jesus and their setting. To write about Jesus without recourse to obedience to him is to miss the whole reason that the gospels were written at all, but to write about Jesus without sensitivity to what he and his biographers meant is tantamount to disrespect and scholarly irresponsibility. McKnight sides with neither Scylla or Charybdis and gives an adequate account of what Jesus demands of his followers in the gospels.
Of special note is that his treatment of the parables is very creative. He uses the metaphor of imagination and refers to the parables as dream builders. They inform us of how things could be now and will be when God's kingdom work is complete. It is a very considerate reading of the parables.
McKnight also gives the reader insight into the kind of wisdom Jesus wanted his followers to learn (pp 87-95). He must have seen the lack of focus on good sense in many college ministries and churches, but this chapter is gold. He focuses on how to apply Jesus' teachings to our skills, talents, and capacities to find our vocation and to seek it daily with a God-ward orientation. You will find no 'head in the clouds' spirituality here, but an earthy, hard-work, discipleship in the process of the daily grind. I love it. This chapter also includes this advice: “I'm going to ask you not only to find a mentor and listen to a mentor, but do everything you can to do what the mentor advises you to do. (pp 88)”
Other gem quotes from the book include:
  1. I wasn't into Jesus because I was a legalist. p 15
  2. Here's how to determine God's will for your life: Go where ever your gifts will be exploited the most. p 23
  3. We have to go back to Jesus and the gospels and we have to ask how Jesus understood this word kingdom. p 24

The Bad
The book does have some bad parts. McKnight has seemingly created a new literary convention and what he does is prefix the word 'life' with various words, followed by a period. For instance: sex.life, commitment.life, one.life, kingdom.life, God.is.love.life, etc. I do not mind the convention, but I have a high tolerance for things of that nature, my guess is that the average reader will be annoyed by it, even if it is helpful for creating technical meaning out of an otherwise ordinary word “life.”
Also, the word perichoresis is used (pp 150) to talk about the Trinity. This is good and well, it is even defined well, “mutual indwelling.” This may be nit-picky, but a I do not like the relationship that is made between this word and dance, because they do not mean the same thing. Though McKnight does not say that the word means dance, he makes the connection by calling the Trinity the Dance of Eternity. That's not really a problem, just a pet-peeve.
Finally, his use of pop-culture references is sometimes jarring. I won't give examples because for many these references are likely to be helpful, but I predict that others will find them funny because they feel out of context.

Conclusion
This book has no significant flaws and is a helpful guide to understanding how the four gospels relate to the Christian life. I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to understand the Bible and the nature of discipleship with Jesus Christ. *