The Prophet Balaam

My wife actually has a distant ancestor named Balaam (although he spelled it “Balum”). This ancient Gentile prophet is something of a paradox in the Hebrew Bible and even moreso in later Jewish tradition. Sometimes he is depicted as a paragon of virtue, a “righteous gentile,” but at other times he is vilified as one who led God’s people astray.

This post by Seth Sanders provides an informative introduction to this perplexing figure.

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An Alternative Christian Model

David Gushee has written a profoundly encouraging piece today about his observations of the recently concluded General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. After summarizing some of the amazing things that happened and were celebrated last week in Atlanta, he concludes:

If America and its religion is destined to continually fracture along right-left lines, and if that is the religion news story that everyone wants to talk about, then this particular religious community will be of little national interest.

But perhaps the very existence of a religious community — primarily located in the politically hot-blooded South — that doesn’t fit this narrative, but is instead doing the slow, organic work of ministry, service, advocacy, inclusion and reconciliation, is in fact a story worth telling.

 

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June 2014 Biblical Studies Carnival

There’s plenty for your reading pleasure now posted at Reading Acts.

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Piecin’ a Quilt Is Like Livin’ a Life

“Did you ever think, child,” she said, presently, “how much piecin’ a quilt’s like livin’ a life? And as for sermons, why, they ain’t no better sermon to me than a patchwork quilt, and the doctrines is right there a heap plainer’n they are in the catechism. Many a time I’ve set and listened to Parson Page preachin’ about predestination and free-will, and I’ve said to myself, ‘Well, I ain’t never been through Centre College up at Danville, but if I could jest git up in the pulpit with one of my quilts, I could make it a heap plainer to folks than parson’s makin’ it with all his big words.’ You see, you start out with jest so much caliker; you don’t go to the store and pick it out and buy it, but the neighbors will give you a piece here and a piece there, and you’ll have a piece left every time you cut out a dress, and you take jest what happens to come. And that’s like predestination. But when it comes to the cuttin’ out, why, you’re free to choose your own pattern. You can give the same kind o’ pieces to two persons, and one’ll make a ‘nine-patch’ and one’ll make a ‘wild-goose chase,’ and there’ll be two quilts made out o’ the same kind o’ pieces, and jest as different as they can be. And that is jest the way with livin’. The Lord sends us the pieces, but we can cut ‘em out and put ‘em together pretty much to suit[75] ourselves, and there’s a heap more in the cuttin’ out and the sewin’ than there is in the caliker. The same sort o’ things comes into all lives, jest as the Apostle says, ‘There hath no trouble taken you but is common to all men.’

“The same trouble’ll come into two people’s lives, and one’ll take it and make one thing out of it, and the other’ll make somethin’ entirely different. (Eliza Calvert Hall, Aunt Jane of Kentucky)

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May 2014 Biblioblog Carnival

Posted at thatjeffcarter was here.

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You Keep Using That Word…

Scot McKnight has a very handy guide to when to use—or refrain from using—the “H” word.

Let me suggest that the term “heretic” is used in three ways, only one of which (I believe) is justifiable — though I have little hope that the mudslingers will learn to use terms as they are supposed to be used.

Before I get there, though, let me add another point: it is too bad we don’t have such an evocative term for praxis. Jesus’ focus was on “hypocrisy” more than “heresy,” and it might just be an indication of how far we’ve strayed for us to give so much attention to “heresy” and not enough to failure in praxis. As far as we can see, failure in practice is just as bad as failure in theology. But this is not what this post is about. We are concerned here with the term “heretic.”

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Six Evangelical Heretics

Andy Gill has a list. Some people I could name need to take it to heart.

By the standards of these gatekeepers, the definition of “evangelical” is becoming so narrow that it really doesn’t describe anyone but themselves. As I’ve said before, evangelicalism is shrinking, and pretty soon even the gatekeepers will have to bid themselves “farewell” due to their inability to meet their own standards.

That, or they will continue to reshape the definition so that it will describe exactly (and only) what they believe.

(Probably the latter.)

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Hurtado Questions a Common Assumption

Larry Hurtado is wondering why the Deists’ theological assumption about what constitutes a valid starting point for Christology should continue to carry the day, even among traditional believers?

Now the interesting bit is that this (originally Deist) argument was wildly successful, at least in setting the terms of the ensuing theological and scholarly debate.  That is, even those (e.g., advocates of traditional Christian faith) who opposed the Deists’ conclusions accepted their terms for the debate that followed (right down to our day):  Jesus’ own teaching about himself was the criterion of legitimacy for any claims about him.

So, what you have is a fundamentally theological issue becoming the shared assumption for a great deal of subsequent historical investigation.  And the result, as I’ve said, was a great deal of mischief:  Christian apologists producing contorted historical arguments trying to pump up maximally what might be attributed to Jesus, and critics of traditional Christian faith…contending that these claims were invalidated by the evident historical events/process through which they had emerged.

But I’d like to make two observations.

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Protestants and Catholics and Polemics and Challies

Read this:

Memo to Tim Challies: The War Is Over

Tim Challies represents the mindset of far too many Protestant Christians who have little understanding of the Roman Catholic church and who continue to recycle old, tired, and often incorrect ideas about the church’s teachings and practices. Without any authority but his own opinion, Challies has decided to issue a public statement calling Pope Francis a false teacher. He includes the current Pope in a series examining such historic religious notables as Arius, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Norman Vincent Peale, and Benny Hinn. Interesting group of names, huh? …

As far as I’m concerned the war is over. Of course, there is plenty to talk about, many areas of debate, and much work to be done to clarify the faith. But we are on the same side. So much has changed in the Roman Catholic church, especially since Vatican II, that it is ridiculous to rely upon old, tired formulas and stereotypes and to think we are accomplishing anything worthwhile by continuing to hide behind thick walls of separation. To do so is not only shoddy thinking, but it is also uncharitable to our brothers and sisters in Christ and unhealthy for our own spiritual well being. Ecumenical dialogue, theology, and mission has come a long way. I encourage you to put down your sword and shield and invite a few well-informed Catholic brothers and sisters to the table. Get to know them. Interview them. Have question and answer sessions with them. Review their books. Have them write posts for your blog. Don’t automatically label them, listen to them.

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Oxford City Council, You’re a Bunch of Idiots

Get this:

Through centuries and across countries, it has remained a staple of traditional Easter celebrations. 

But that rich history, it seems, has been rather lost on one council bureaucrat – who forced a church to cancel its Passion play because he apparently thought it was a sex show.

The performance, telling the story of the crucifixion of Christ, had been planned for Good Friday by St Stephen’s House Theological College and Saints Mary and John Church in Oxford.

That was until an official at the local Labour council refused to rubber-stamp the event, forcing the church to scrap it at short notice. 

Oxford City Council banned the re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ…wrongly believing the play was a sex show and could cause ‘grave offence’

Actors had planned to walk through the streets of Oxford on Friday to re-enact the lead up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has they had done previously in 2012.

The worker in question apparently did not know that a Passion play was a religious affair – and thought it was an obscene production.

Last night ministers, MPs and religious groups criticised the ‘unbelievable’ actions of Oxford City Council, saying it showed Christians were becoming increasingly marginalised in society.

A Passion play is a dramatic performance of the Passion of Christ, depicting the trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus. The name comes from the Latin verb ‘pati’, meaning ‘to suffer’.

The Oxford performance was previously held in 2012, without a licence, when an audience of some 200 watched Mischa Richards, playing Jesus, haul a wooden cross from Cowley Road Methodist church to Saints Mary and John. 

This year, the organisers decided to stage a repeat, but were told they must apply for a council licence – and were astonished when they were turned down.

A church source told MailOnline: ‘A council official didn’t read the paperwork properly and didn’t realise it was a religious play, so told us we needed an events licence when we didn’t.

‘If they’d told us 24 hours earlier, we would have had time to apply for and get one, but we ran out of time. It’s frustrating because we didn’t need one in any case – they just hadn’t read what the play was about.’

SS Mary and John vicar, Adam Romanis, said: ‘It’s very upsetting because so many people were looking forward to it.

‘Someone said to me: “You can’t hold a crucifixion these days without a licence”.’

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