John Walton on Genesis through Ancient Eyes

I really appreciate John Walton’s work on the thought forms of the ancient near east and how this impacts our reading of Genesis.  He helpfully gets to the root of what we need to understand when looking at the text of Genesis.  Check it out.

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Absinthe and the Apostle Paul

 

In one of Paul’s letters we have the curious advice offered to Timothy that he should take a little wine for his stomach to help him heal because of his frequent illness (1 Tim. 5:23).  It would seem odd that such a recommendation is offered by the apostle Paul of all people.

However, I came across an interesting parallel employing the same idea with a surprising substance, Absinthe.  Apparently, the French Army distributed Absinthe to its soldiers to put in their canteen water to prevent them from getting sick or developing malaria or dysentery from the substandard water supplies they had to make use of in the campaign of the African battalions into Algeria.  This is in fact what popularized the drink in France.

Water supplies in biblical times often times were sub-par and carried similar problematic microorganisms which meant much of the water was diluted with wine to kill those same said bacterial bad guys.  Fast forward to today with hiking kits, one can use a type of iodine in water to accomplish a similar task.  This points out the practice is one which has been practiced for millenia and the Bible no less mentions an example as an aside in the occasional writing of Paul to his faithful disciple Timothy.

The Language of Science and Faith

If I could recommend on book on the subject of contemporary understandings of science and how those gel with Christian understandings of the universe it would be The Language of Science and Faith by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. http://www.amazon.com/The-Language-Science-Faith-Questions/dp/0830838295/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347137258&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Language+of+Science+and+Faith

It is straight forward, easy to understand and does a great job of covering the span of scientific understandings that have  led up to this point in our understanding of how the universe works.   The book addresses a number of concerns evangelicals have when thinking about this topic and the last chapter alone which gives a flowing  narrative of the creation of the universe is worth the price of the book.  I had been trying to cobble something together like this on my own and I am glad to say this work has done the job for me and confirmed many of my own conclusions on the subject.  I hope others can find it helpful also.

A Christian’s Stroll Through the Portable Atheist

Call it the anti-Bible.  A consolation of writings for the faithless,  the infidel, the unconvinced.  I picked up the book because the topic is interesting.  I also thought it could be helpful in understanding why some people find faith incredulous or just don’t have an interest in spirituality.  With major names ranging from the new atheists to some of the old, the book offers a who’s who of disbelief and logical discourse.  I thought it could be interesting to share my initial reactions as I worked through the book, giving my own impressions of the work and offering some comments relating to elements that I find most persuasive/useful, even if one maintains a faith oriented perspective.  So begins the journey, like Don Quixote and the windmills.  If anything else, it hopefully should be interesting.

My initial impression of Christopher Hitchens is that he is an engaging writer.  His metaphors and allusions are quite colorful and his rankor is rich with  journalistic wit.  I immediately am somewhat perplexed though with the main contention of Hitchen’s rub.  He rails on and on about how illogical the Christian faith is, all the while using innumerable allusions, references and parallels to Christian ideas, events and theological descriptions.  This is what I find so interesting.  If Christianity were as illogical as he claims, such journalistic wit would be wasted, as it would run aground on countless logical dead ends.  What I find to be the opposite, is that Hitchens is able to be so engaging and artful BECAUSE OF the fact Christianity is logical and consistent.  Someone is overstating the case here, with intricate logical discourse nonetheless.  Hitchens may weave a masterful narrative of disbelief but it hinges on the solidity of the logic of Christian discourse.  To suggest otherwise seems to render Hitchens style impotent.  With every artful pary of the journalistic sword, I become less convinced of its powerful thrust.  Time will tell if the rest of the book offers more than this but that is my first impression with the introduction at least.

Learning to Walk Again

The Foo Fighters have a new album with a song titled “Walk.” It captures where I’m at right now. The line that strikes me is “learning to walk again, I believe I’ve waited long enough, where do I begin?” My year and half in California at Fuller was in many ways a respite, in spite of the fact it has been one of the busiest times in my life.  I have learned a lot about myself more than anything.  I learned that I need to manage myself and discerned key aspects of my personality where I can allow stress to affect me in negative ways. Also, the question of intimacy with God is rolling in again like slow, small waves.  I am slowly trying to wade back into the water and find my footing.  I have found myself seeking for more thoughtful engagement than I had in the past.  Some of the more uncritical approaches I developed are now giving way to deeper forms of connecting with God.  It is going beyond behavior and certain practices to the real heart of the matter.  I do long for that centering feeling when you know you are in the place where you and God are vibing again.  I think God has led us on this journey for many reasons, some connected with issues in my family, but others related to our own trust issues with God.  I feel like God is putting us in a place of radical trust where we will know for sure when he is doing something tangible and lately it has been apparent. The numerous people who helped us with moving is one example of how we experienced love from Christian friends and neighbors.  One of my biggest hangups has been expectations and being on the receiving end of actions or behavior from Christians who weren’t quite acting Christ like.  It really damaged my faith in some ways and caused me to question the efficacy of God in this world at times.  One of the worst contributors to that experience unfortunately was fundraising.  

We had some amazing experiences during our time fundraising, connecting with people who shared our vision for ministry and telling them about what we were doing.  We also encountered some difficult situations.  It was more than a number of occasions that people specifically told us they wanted to give to us only to later provide some lame excuse as to why they had a change of heart.   For someone whose living came from these commitments, the failure of a number of people to follow through with them was heart wrenching.
It wasn’t about the money so much as the keeping of one’s word. I know this shouldn’t have affected us but it did.  I felt like “where is the integrity here?”  Fundraising is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life and people were just flippant about it.  This is only one example of a number of encounters that challenged my faith in many ways. What also hurt was the alienation and exclusion we felt as we exited our church family in Denver. It was very painful and caused a lot of sadness in our family. In one sense we felt excommunicated. Its tough to leave years worth of community all at once. Especially with a new baby on the way. I couldn’t help feeling rejected by friends who we had spent a lot of time with. It has only been in the past year or so I would say that we have experienced more loving Christian actions towards us in meaningful ways. The truth is I felt hurt by God. I felt like ” these are your people and you just let them treat us this way.” I sought reconciliation with the pastor and feel good that we came to a mutual resolution towards the whole thing. We both felt regrets and sought forgiveness from each other. I harbor no ill will today and wish him the best. I just can’t help some of the feelings that linger as a result of the whole experience. Especially in relation to folks from that community. Its like a freshly healed sore, getting better, but still a bit sensitive. I want to move on and California has been a big part of that transition. Now that we’re moving again I feel cautiously optimistic about the next step. I’m calling this year “the year of Steve.” Somewhat like George from Seinfeld but focused on my own health and well being. If there is one thing I have learned from a wholist view of the person, it is how negatively my substance dualism affected my own view of my body. I definitely want to get away from the more gnostic way I viewed the physical and let God inform and challenge my life in those areas to grow and develop them in more healthy ways. So here’s to ” the year of Steve!” 🙂 and may God challenge me to continue to draw closer to him.

The Theory of Evolution in Two Minutes

I thought this was a quick and dirty explanation for evolutionary theory that gets at the core elements taken into consideration regarding the overarching theory.  In science, a “theory” is made up of already existing facts and laws, which are combined to articulate a larger explanatory narrative i.e. a theory.  So when people say something is “just a theory” what they don’t realize is that in science, the facts and laws drawn upon to make such a claim are not in question.  The larger explanation utilizing said data is what is up for discussion.  The laws and facts drawn upon have already been shown to stand up to rigorous empirical testing and verification.   If we can clear up the use of this terminology, it can get us further down the road in discussing these kinds of questions.  Hope it helps.

Glimpses of the Promised Land

I’ve talked a bit about feeling like I’ve been in exile over the past couple years and luckily it seems like I am starting to see the Promised Land again. I entered into my MA here at Fuller with a lot of pressing issues I needed to address. I felt completely deconstructed by my previous studies and left with no real resources to piece things back together. At the core of a lot of it was epistemology and my loss of confidence in foundationalism as a viable model for the current philosophical and cultural landscape.  I also had some areas of study  I just needed to dive right into. Over this past year, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do just that.  I feel I am starting to hone in on a better epistemological method. Many of my research hunches about where the conversations are going in numerous fields/topics have been vindicated and I am starting to get my confidence back in my own abilities to write and do biblical research. It’s strange how things change over time. Not long ago I felt totally adrift at sea, now I am starting to feel like its time to set anchor.

God has been working on me a lot too. I noticed him in some small details of my life recently and it was encouraging. They were silly little things that wouldn’t seem important to anyone. For example, I needed a dime for one last page of photocopying from a book in the library and had no money to do it. I would have to trek all the way home for one but I decided to check the floors of the copy rooms on the off chance there might be one laying around. The first room had nothing but when I went up to the second floor, there it was, right in the middle of the floor in front of the copying machine. It was like God was saying, this is small potatoes Steve. I can do this. Another instance was when a friend of mine gifted me a book that was on a topic we both shared an interest in. It was totally out of the blue and much appreciated. I know these are not terribly huge or earth shattering events but I had kept my eyes open for God, and noticed him show up in the minutest of ways. Another instance was when I was on the computer and managed to book all my flights, hotels, car rentals for trips this quarter and subscribe to the necessary scholarly organizations and register for a conference all in one fell swoop. I have been really stressed about this quarter because of all the commitments I have to keep, I have a close friend from college getting married which I am standing in the wedding party for, a trip to the SBL/AAR conference in November, two sets of parents visiting and oh I also get to TA a class this quarter. Not to mention study for the GRE and work on Ph D applications. It seemed an insurmountable task. Yet, somehow my trip stuff all pooled together into one productive afternoon. It was serendipitous and I felt like God was behind it. Then, after committing to the fact that I would have to spend a small fortune to stay in San Francisco for the conference, a friend offered to put me up for free. God has really been addressing the area of finances with us this year. It’s quite humbling to be working on your second masters and also be on food stamps. That’s just where we are right now and God has been meeting our needs. In Denver, we were very intentional about working hard and being responsible with our money. I think in some ways, God needed to show us that he can support us when we are in need and that it isn’t all about the work ethic.

Throughout it all I’ve been trying to get at the heart of the issue, why is it that I still feel like I can’t trust God?  In some ways, I feel like its God fault I’ve encountered so much adversity these past few years but then I am beginning to see the fruit of those experiences.  It changes my perspective and sometimes I think I just need a good Holy Spirit God cry session to get all this junk out.  I might visit the Pasadena International House of Prayer to do just that.  I need to let go of the overwhelming sense of loss I experienced and am trying to figure out the best way to go about it.  All in all things are getting better even though life continues to throw me challenges.  It’s good to be alive and I’m happy with where I am right now.  I think that’s all I can hope for at this stage of the game.  Soon  a lot will be changing but for now, I’ll just rest in the fact that I am finally making some progress in my life without God kind of phase.  Exile is only for a time and I for one am glad that it looks like it will soon be over.  I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side………Will it be the Promised Land?… That still remains to be seen.  One thing I do know,   I will be glad to be out of the wilderness

Did Jesus go to theater camp?

 

Partially reconstructed theater at Sepphoris

Partially reconstructed theater at Sepphoris

When we read in Matt. 6:1-8;16-18, curiously, Jesus demonstrates knowledge of theatrical terminology and practices which would seem out of place in first century Jewish contexts.  How did Jesus know what a “hyporcrite,” literally one who wears a mask or plays a role, meant when he lived in a largely rural town?  Did Jesus go to theater camp? It may sound a bit cheeky, but the truth  may not be so far off.  Richard A. Batey in “Jesus and the Theatre,” New Testament Studies vol. 30 no 4, O 1984, pp. 563-584, makes a strong case that Jesus knew Greek theatrical terms such as hypocrite, “hupocritai” occurring in Matt 6, vv. 2, 5 and in 16 “hupocrites”, because he lived close to the Hellenistic Roman city of Sepphoris.  How is this significant?

Sepphoris was founded by Herod Antipater as “the seat of his power and centre of culture” in Galilee and Perea. Here, the remains of a Greco-Roman style theater have been found in the style of Vitruvius, a great architectural mind who built the Roman water system. Herod the Great had sent his children to Rome to be educated and trained in the ways of Roman politics and culture. When Herod Antipas returned and subsequently took control as one of four tetrarchs or rulers of the region after his father died, he founded a city resplendent with Roman luxury and opulence,  symbolizing the embodiment of Roman culture he had experienced while in the capital of the empire. Being that the city was only an hour’s walk from the town of Nazareth and that Nazareth was along the main highway south of Sepphoris makes it likely that Jesus traveled there. Jesus was involved in a trade, carpentry, that would require commerce with such places and it is likely Jesus travelled to Sepphoris to conduct business and knew some Greek in order to carry out regular business deals. It is here that the young Jesus may have talked to actors or seen a performance of Greek tragedy.  One can imagine Jesus taking a break from his hard work and listening in on a  practice between actors, seeing them getting ready for a show or catching the show with his dad while they were in town.

In Jesus’ own description of the hypocrites in relation to fasting, Matt. 6:16-18, he describes how they paint their faces, the same way actors prepared for their tragic roles and comedies. Additionally, according to Craig Evans, the description of “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” in Matt 6:3 is actually instructions about how to use one’s hands in performance.  Clearly Jesus knew something about the theater and some of its mechanics.  The remains of a theater in Sepphoris has been found and dated to the period of Antipas based upon Hasmonean coins discovered in the orchestra area. (Coins were often thrown as praise for good performances, much like roses today at ice skating events.)  Hupocritesoccurs thirteen times in Matthew compared to once in Mark and three times in Luke. The theme became important for Matthew in delineating true worship from false piety and he uses it often. This would not make sense unless Jesus knew what the term meant.  Even more so, Jesus’ indictment of the pharisees and teachers of the law, the religious folk, as “hypocrites” would be particularly biting as the religious Jewish elite saw acting as a form of lying.  This is why they are offended when Jesus  accuses them of  false piety.  He is calling them a bunch of liars.  Pretty in your face.  Matthew utilizes this theme to great effect throughout his Gospel.  It would appear that Jesus had to have known some kind of Greek and more specifically, Greek theatrical terms, in order to make the kind of accusations he was making.  How did he acquire such Greco-Roman terminology? Did Jesus go to theater camp?  The idea makes me smile just a little bit.  Regardless of how he came to know the terms, Jesus certainly understood what they meant and used them to great effect.  Jesus didn’t “act the fool” but told it straight.  That’s why he was so controversial.

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

The Barna Group – Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.

The above article is based on recent research in the changing landscape of young adults and faith.  Over the past decade I have seen a lot of this going on and have tried to address some of these issues in my blog.  The research reinforces in my mind the need to present a more robust articulation of our faith tradition that handles the many challenges of an increasingly pluralistic and technologically advanced culture.