Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Preaching in a Liturgical Setting

I went to an Episcopalian church service last Sunday (for a paper I'm writing). Overall, I enjoyed it. Something that stuck out to me was how different it is when the preacher preaches after the readings rather than reading the scriptures as a part of the sermon. There is something strange about having already read the passage and put it away. The preacher cannot say, "Look with me at verse four," because it is past that time in the service for having the Bible out. Something about it seems to undermine its very purpose. Instead of going to the Bible for the message, we are attempting to remember what we read. The whole purpose of expository preaching (as its proponents often argue) is to make sure the message of the sermon flows from the biblical text itself rather than being imposed upon the text. But the message is blunted when the text is not in front of the congregation during the preaching.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

I'm sort of freaking out right now. I have so much going on. I have all kinds of papers due this week. We're doing a one-week non-stop (170 hour) prayer meeting at church, and I really ought to cover some of the time slots. Plus I would really like to find a job so that Diana can come back home with the kids, which she really really wants. I am just feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. And I have to figure out how to pay for all these classes (and the rest of the books I need... and the rest of our bills... you know how it goes).

And on top of it all, I have this crazy feeling like I really ought to go to SBL in San Diego in a few weeks. It seems absurd, but, I don't know. I'll gladly take donations. Second best would be advice on how to get really good deals to make it happen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Muslims and the Power of God

It is illuminating to read the reasons that Christians who are former Muslims give for converting. In a recent study conducted at Fuller Seminary in California, J. Dudley Woodberry looked at converts from many Muslim peoples and nations. The top three reasons given are:

1. The way Christians they were in contact with lived their lives
2. Visible manifestations of the power of God
3. Frustration with the way Muslims they were in contact with lived their lives
4. Dreams and visions, especially of Jesus.

Half the answers given are charismatic/pentecostal kinds of answers. Number 2 included healings, answered prayer, and deliverance from demonic spirits. Obviously, it is not the nice, tame Christianity of either Evangelicals or Liberals that is drawing Muslims. It is an honest-to-God supernatural faith with the power to back it up.

By the way, what ever happened to AlHaj? His blog seems to have disappeared several weeks ago? AlHaj, are you still around? I still owe you a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Quest for the Perfect Bible

Last night before I went to bed I spent an hour or so looking through the CBD catalog at Bibles. I dreamt all night about finding the perfect Bible. CBD has, I don't know, seven to ten pages of Bibles in their catalog, so there's a lot to look through. I was disappointed that I did not see one original language Bible. I guess there was one interlinear Bible, but that one is based on the centuries-out-of-date scholarship of the textus receptus.

I seem to get a new Bible about every three years. I am on a quest for the perfect Bible, which of course changes from season to season in my life. I started with the RSV I was given at confirmation. Then when I became a Christian, a friend of mine showed me the Student Bible, put together by Philip Yancey. I don't know what it is about the Student Bible, but there's something about it that says, "The Bible is cool. Read me." There really are not a lot of extras, and the 'helps' are not amazingly helpful, but there is something about it's layout that makes me, even now, think, "Wow, what a great Bible." For all the options out there, this one is still the best to give to a new believer.

Unfortunately my student Bible was only paperback, and it quickly became dogeared and beat-up. Time for hard cover. My parents took me to the bookstore to buy me a Bible for my birthday, and I picked out some generic study bible in the NIV. (For what I was looking for, I should have graduated to the NIV Study Bible, but I didn't know better yet.)

It was, I think, a year or two later that I asked my pastor what translation he preferred. He highly recommended the NASB. A few months later I bought my first NASB, the most literal translation available. This time I graduated to bonded leather. Though there were no book introductions or study notes, but I discovered the use of the side column references. I used them all the time to find parallel passages in the synoptic gospels, OT references, similarly themed verses, etc. The mini-concordance in the back was also quite extensive. Between the concordance and the references, I could usually find just about any verse that would come up.

The only thing that bothered me about the NASB was the stupid idea of the translators to refer to God with the pronouns Thee and Thou. But this really bothered me. Imagine my delight when, in 1995, the translators released an updated version with the Thees and Thous gone! I immediately bought a new one, this time in genuine leather. Do you know the difference between bonded and genuine leather? By this point I sure did. Unlike genuine leather, bonded leather is strips of leather glued on to a cardboard back. If you use it with any regularity, the glue will begin to come loose and the leather will start to fray, especially at the corners. Genuine leather is much nicer.

Once I started to learn the original languages, though, English bibles were no longer as exciting. My most recent Bible is built of two Bibles: an interlinear Greek/English (with UBS4/NA27 text) and parallel NRSV; and the Jewish Publication Society's (JPS) Hebrew-English Tanakh (Old Testament). I put grocery-bag book covers on them (just like high school textbooks) and taped them together, creating a complete Bible. What a cool idea, I thought.

But in practice I am very frustrated with this solution. First, it doesn't sit open like a single book. Whichever I have open sits awkwardly on top of the other book. I could deal with this, but a much bigger frustration is that I have no cross references or mini concordance. I didn't realize how often I use them until I no longer had them. Now I am absolutely lost whenever I get to the point of, "Oh shoot, what's that one verse?" Or reading through Matthew, I read a passage and I want to remind myself quickly whether the passage has a parallel in Mark. So I end up keeping my old NASB open next to me as I read, which entirely defeats the purpose.

Eventually I hope to graduate to a straight Hebrew/Greek Bible (which does include cross-references, though no mini-concordance). But even then I'm not sure how happy I'll be with it. I could do away with the Greek/English interlinear, but I will also lose my ability to read through, say, the gospel of Mark in a single sitting. Plus, I use my Bible too much "on the fly," and I don't think I'll ever be at the place where I can interpret on the spot for whomever I'm talking to.

Maybe I just have to use a computer Bible on laptop or handheld as my primary Bible. Something about that just seems wrong, though. I still want my primary Bible to be printed on real, physical paper.

My perfect Bible for this stage in my life would have: (1)Greek/Hebrew, (2)Parallel English translation; (3)Cross-references. It would also be great if it had (4)a mini concordance (in English, I suppose), and (5)still fit in my bag. I suppose I'm living in a dream world, but I'm not quite willing to admit defeat yet. I would love any advice from anyone else who has gone through a similar struggle.

What is your Bible story? How many Bibles have you gone through in your life? Why did you switch from one to another? Drop me a comment. I would love to hear.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Challenge of Chrisendom

I've been thinking about this interview with Chris Tilling over at Pisteuomen for a few days now. I read Chris's blog more than about anybody else's blog because, well, it's just dang funny. He's got a Charismatic background but he gets frustrated because, contrary to the tendencies of the bulk of common Charismaniacs, he actually likes to think. He's a Ph.D. student, so he's smarter than me. But what is most fun is that he is absolutely irreverent towards people's sacred cows, so you're almost certain to get offended at least once. (Which I have. But what fun would it be otherwise?)

Here is a brief response to four points Chris made:

1. "I think the pastor has the greatest responsibility to preach honest sermons, not to gloss over difficulties, gray areas and real differences of opinion."
Amen. The gray areas are one of the the primary reasons I left the pastorate to go back to school for my M.Div. I think we have an obligation to sort the stuff out fairly without just parroting the received traditions.

2. "Scholars would do a major service for the church if they enabled people to get beyond disorientation. I suspect that explains a great part of Bishop Wright's popularity."
Tom Wright, more than anyone else, was responsible for my plunge into the disorientation of scholarship. So even though I think he is pretty much the coolest scholar ever, part of me thinks he sucks.

3. "I am a theology/NT-o-phile, if you understand me. I salivate over books, read them almost non-stop, and am all-in-all a bit obsessive compulsive about turning the next page."
I admit that I am challenged by this statement. See, I love books. I love to look at books. I love to handle them and hold them. I love to read the dust jackets and flip through them and make piles of them. But I have to admit that I can tend to lose interest about half way through reading them. Sometimes it's from information overload and I need time to process, sometimes it's because I just get bored. This has really inspired me to press through and to want to become obsessive compulsive about turning the next page.

4. "By the way, I’m just joking about the Fundie shooting, of course. I know lots of lovely Fundie Christians–far better people than me. And bullets cost too much. Give me fifteen minutes with a golf club–that would be cheaper!"
Though most of what Chris writes is awfully funny, there comes a point where his pseudo-scholarship and lame-blog humor just makes me feel, well, crappy and defiled. Is this supposed to be funny? Sorry, but taking offense at gratuitous violence is not a sacred cow. Chris Tilling, you should be ashamed of yourself.

So today I (1) openly disagreed with a comment he made; (2) dissed Tom Wright; and (3) called his blogging humor pseudo-scholarship and lame; so I get three (or depending on when he reads this, four) fingers up from Mr. Tilling. I feel honored.

Thanks for the blog, Chris, and thanks for the interview, Michael.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Contempory Worship

I am a subscriber to Worship Leader magazine, and every so often they will talk about the so-called "worship wars." I have never experienced the worship wars. I grew up in a denominational church where liturgy was the epitome of rote (and meaningless) prayer. I thought to myself in high school, if people here really meant what they are saying, wouldn't they say it differently? ...wouldn't they live differently? When I became a Christian and was first looking for a church in college, my only requirement was that they had to have contemporary music because I believed anything else would be inauthentic worship. God placed me in a church that had (and has) a very similar philosophy.

Since then, I have actually come to appreciate the old hymns. When I visit my parents' church or sing in hymns at a Trinity chapel service (which is never this semester, unfortunately) it would be unnatural for me to not lift my hands and sing with all my might. I have learned to worship because of the words but in spite of the form.

In the 19th century, missionaries tended to confuse Christianity with Western culture - the buildings were European architecture, clothing was European, and missionaries looked down upon the indigenous "tribal" cultures. And of course, they all sang Western hymns. Since then, we have figured out that Christianity must be properly contextualized within each society. Churches should be as authentically native to the culture as possible, and music especially should use culturally appropriate forms, not an imported and foreign culture.

With increasing globalization, the line between what counts as missions and what doesn't has become blurred or perhaps even non-existent. We must view our churches from a missional perspective. Does our worship adequately reflect the forms of the surrounding culture? In general, hymns represent an alien musical form to people in today's society. (And honestly, most of what passes as 'contemporary worship' is really only half-way there. But that is a topic for a different post.)

Let me be clear: this is NOT about evangelism. I argued earlier that worship services are not for unbelievers. This is about meaningful worship. It is about breaking the unbiblical distinction between 'sacred' and 'secular.' Worship is us coming honestly before God, not putting on some religious show.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Self-Perpetuating Club

Me: Would you like to join our club? It's really fun.

Unbeliever: That sounds great. What is it?

Me: Oh, it's the self-perpetuating club. Our purpose is to establish clubs everywhere we can.

Unbeliever: Wow, sounds like quite a vision. What do your clubs do once they are established?

Me: Well we make more clubs, of course.

Unbeliever: Oh, I see. And what do you talk about at your meetings?

Me: We talk about getting out there to get more people into the club. Would you like to come so that you too can be taught how to get more people into the club?

Unbeliever: No thanks. The club doesn't seem to really do anything.

Me: What?! Of course it does. It's the most important thing any club could ever do. We perpetuate ourselves!

Unbeliever: Have fun. I think I'll do something with my life that matters.

I am a part of a church planting movement, and I have a desire to see a thousand churches planted in the next thirty years (no matter how long it takes). But when evangelism and church planting becomes the primary focus of the church, it quenches my desire to do either. Is the purpose of the church to perpetuate itself? If not, what is it?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Road to Emmaus

Emmaus is mentioned only a single time in the gospels, though this reference occurs very prominently in Luke 24.13, in the “Road to Emmaus” story. Luke tells the story of two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed person, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on Easter Sunday. They are discussing early reports that Jesus has risen when Jesus Himself meets them, though they are unable to recognize Him. After lamenting how, “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24.21), Jesus explains through the scriptures how the crucifixion was a necessary fulfillment of Israel’s story. The three arrive in the evening at Emmaus and have dinner together. Suddenly the disciples recognize Jesus and He instantly disappears. The two return to Jerusalem to share their story.

Last week I turned in a paper on Emmaus for my M.Div. course on the gospels. I got an A on it which I'm pretty happy about. I am posting the results of my study in hope that someone somewhere will find my brilliant argument useful in some other endeavor, perhaps another paper. If you happen to use any of my argument in your own paper, please cite this page and drop me a comment.

Emmaus (modern Khirbet Imwas) is located about 20 miles Northwest of ancient Jerusalem. It is described in the Palestinian Talmud (Shevi’it 8, 9, 38d; Abodah Zarah 85, 44d) as the most important walled city[1] in the Shephelah, the lowland between the Mediterranean cost of ancient Philistia and the mountainous region of inland Israel. Yet Luke describes Emmaus as a village (κώμη), a small group of houses that are typically unwalled,[2] and its location being seven miles (60 stadia) from Jerusalem, not 20 miles. Within the context of Luke’s narrative, it is unlikely that the disciples would have been able to travel 40-miles round-trip on foot in a single day.[3] Because Emmaus was a relatively common name, scholars have speculated that Luke may have been referring to another Emmaus in the vicinity of Jerusalem. At least three candidates have been proposed along one of two routes from Jerusalem to the traditional Emmaus:
1. Mozah (modern Qoloniyeh/Colonia) located along the southern route to the traditional site. Mozah may be a Hebrew transliteration of Amassa (Latin) or Ammaous (Greek)[4], which are linguistically close to Emmaus. It is located only 35 stadia from Jerusalem, which may be explainable if Luke was estimating the distance, especially from the Southern side of Jerusalem where the disciples had probably taken the Last Supper.
2. Kiriath-jarim (modern Abu Ghosh) is located on the same southern route, about 83 stadia from Jerusalem. It had once housed the Ark of the Covenant for twenty years (1 Sam 7.2) before David brought it back to Jerusalem. The only thing to commend this site as the actual site is it’s relative proximity to Jerusalem, though it is still over 20 stadia farther than Luke records.
3. Castellum Emmaus (modern el-Qubeibeh) is located along the northern route to the traditional site. It was identified by the Crusaders as the Biblical Emmaus because (a) it was originally the site of a Roman fort named Castellum Emmaus, and (b) it is located 60 stadia from ancient Jerusalem. The difficulty remains, however, that this site had never been a village and likely took its name because of it’s proximity to the city of the same name.

Despite scholarly debate, it is highly likely that Luke’s Emmaus is the traditional city on the border of the Shephelah. First, there is a minority, though reliable, textual variant[5] that locates Emmaus 160 rather than 60 stadia away, the distance of the traditional site. It is conceivable that this was the original reading, and may have been changed by scribes because they could not imagine a 40-mile round-trip being taken in a single day and changed it to reflect the distance of the Roman fort (site 3). If, on the other hand, scribes changed the reading from 60 to 160, they likely did so in an effort to make the text conform to the actual distance, which shows that Luke’s Emmaus was associated with the traditional Emmaus from early on, if not immediately.[6] The closeness between 60 and 160 (rather than, say, 25 and 90) makes it much more plausible that one of these scenarios is true rather than the explanation depending on simple coincidence.

Secondly, a distance of 160 stadia actually makes better sense of the Lukan story than a shorter distance. It makes sense of the disciples comment in verse 29, urging Jesus to stay with them at Emmaus for a meal, “for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” Luke is emphatic that the disciples returned in the evening, (“They got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem,” v.33), which would have only been mildly notable if they were a two-hour walk from the city, but an entirely fitting (and dangerous) response to a life changing event like a resurrection appearance, forcing them to travel through the night.

Third, the repetition of the name Emmaus at such a close location becomes absurd for sites 1 and 2. By comparison, it is not surprising that there are Deerfields in both Illinois and Wisconsin, but it would be quite bizarre for there to be a second Deerfield located just fifteen miles from the current Illinois Deerfield.

Fourth, 1 Maccabees 4 records one of Judas Maccabaeus’ most decisive victories over the Syrian army. The battle was fought at Emmaus, and there is no debate that this Emmaus is the same as the traditional Emmaus. In fact, the very name of the city would have evoked a feeling of patriotic faith in first century freedom fighters. To make another modern comparison, Emmaus probably evoked a similar reaction to that of a modern American at the mention of Gettysburg. Luke could hardly have told a story about Emmaus without expecting many of his readers to hear an echo of Judas Maccabaeus.[7]

For these reasons, we may identify Luke’s Emmaus with the traditional site of Emmaus with a very high degree of certainty. There are, however, two additional events which were important in the history of Emmaus, and thus for an understanding of the Lukan passage. In the first century B.C., the Roman general Cassius asserted his might in Israel by sacking Emmaus and selling its inhabitants into slavery.[8] Then in 4 B.C., a shepherd named Anthronges from Emmaus led an uprising in the spirit of the Maccabees to retaliate against the Romans. In contrast to the Maccabees, however, Anthronges was defeated and killed, and the Roman proconsul, Varus, had the city burned to the ground.[9] This would explain why Luke could call it a village rather than a city, and would have actually emphasized the fact that Israel had not been able to expel the Romans the way they had done with the Syrians.

Then, in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, Emmaus was captured by the Roman general, Vespasian, where he stationed the entire Fifth Legion.[10] He later gave land from the city in reward to his veterans.[11] Though this event occurred nearly thirty years after Luke’s narrative, it would have been a recent event for Theophilus and Luke’s initial audience when the book was written.

In this context, the initial disappointment of the disciples takes on a fuller meaning. In Luke 24.21, the disciples explain, “we were hoping that it was he [Jesus] who was going to redeem Israel.” In other words, we had been hoping he would be like Judas Maccabaeus and deliver us, but instead he was executed the same as Anthronges. They had not been anticipating that Jesus would have gotten crucified, and had not even remotely considered that he would be resurrected in three days any more than anyone considered that Anthronges would be resurrected to finish what he had started. Jesus’ response shows that His messiahship must be understood in light of God’s purposes for Israel (and the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham that they would be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth) rather than the story of national military resistance.

[1] Excavations have discovered city walls over two-feet thick. Avi-Yonah, “Emmaus” in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (NEAEHL), 386.
[2] BDAG, 580.
[3] Strange, J.F., “Emmaus” in Anchar Bible Dictionary (ABD), 497.
[4] Ibid, 498.
[5] In the Codex Sinaiticus. This variant is also found in Jerome’s quotation of the passage.
[6] It is conceivable that the mistake between Emmaus and the Castellum Emmaus goes back to Luke himself, though this is not a tenable solution for those who hold to a version of Inerrancy as represented in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. We must then posit that the change occurred very early in the manuscript tradition. If we hold to inerrancy, it is far easier to take the minority reading as the original based on the weight of the rest of the argument.
[7] Safrai, The Jewish People in the First Century, 86. Even if my argument for the traditional site fails, the name alone would have still induced a powerful comparison.
[8] Josephus, War i.9.
[9] Josephus, Antiquities xvii.10.7-9. This event happened subsequent to Varus’ destruction of Sephoris to the North, whose inhabitants he had sold into slavery. This compelled the residents of Emmaus to desert the city before he got there.
[10] Josephus, War of the Jews iv.8.1. The discovery of Roman Army tombstones from this period confirms Josephus’ account. (Avi-Yonah, 385).
[11] Shürer, et. al., The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 512.