So, What’s the Status Quo, Anyway?

Chaplain Mike takes aim at this article:

So, Thom Schultz suggests that the church learn from Kodak’s failures. This is our “Kodak moment,” he warns. Unless we (1) accept the reality that things are changing and churches are declining, (2) give up trying to simply “tweak” what we do and instead focus on “revolutionizing,” and (3) take risks by acting now and experimenting with bold new ideas, we face a future like Kodak experienced.

Therefore, Schultz exhorts us to re-examine everything we’re doing. To ask big questions. To step out and try something. To boldly step into the future because that’s where God is moving.

Etc. etc. etc.

To which I say, with all due respect, “Yawn.”

This is not challenging the status quo. This is the very definition of the status quo when it comes to evangelicalism, and it has been at least since Thom Schultz started writing youth curriculum back in the 1970′s. It’s the same old church growth mantra: “Change or die!” It’s the same old focus on “catching the next wave” and riding it into the future. It’s the same old emphasis on “relevance” and “effectiveness” and “success.”

Thom Schultz’s article represents the same tired evangelical thinking about the church’s mission and methodology: imagining that what we’re about requires relying on “spiritual technology” to “connect people to God” and build “effective” churches. It’s just plain bad theology, folks.

In fact, it is nothing less than an ongoing denial of Jesus’ words about the organic nature of the Kingdom, which involves seeds falling into the ground and dying so that they may bear fruit and bring forth life.

Though all the world go digital and beyond, building gleaming towers that reach to the heavens, the mission of Jesus proceeds with a quiet, unstoppable tenacity at ground level.

Get the picture?

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Why Bart Ehrman Is Good for the Church

Greg Monette nails it, I think. Even though my own faith had to confront the sorts of issues Ehrman raises before Ehrman really came on the scene, I can identify with a lot of what Greg says. He concludes his piece thusly:

Bart Ehrman is showing evangelicals where their weaknesses actually are. We should thank him for this rather than berate him. Yes, he pushes the envelope. He’s a writer of popular trade books. Of course he’s going to do that. However, though he may be wrong on many of his startling claims, he is thinking of all the possible weaknesses that may exist in the ‘fundamentalist‘ armour. And if these really are weaknesses, than they deserve to be exposed and dealt with.

My faith in Jesus has increased because of Bart Ehrman. I understand that many people have lost their faith in Jesus of Nazareth because of Ehrman’s writings, but that’s not what happened to me. I know what I believe about the Bible and the Historical Jesus because I took the time to engage with Ehrman’s writings. I’m convinced that the Bible is quite reliable (not necessarily perfect) and that Jesus was raised from the dead. Bart helped me on this journey because his textbook was the first one I studied in university and reading it kickstarted my quest for historical knowledge. Personally, I owe Bart Ehrman a lot. Without his introduction to the New Testament textbook I may not be the Christian I am today. The challenges he put forward in his textbook drove me to look into the historical veracity of the Jesus movement in the first place.

The Church will be better off because of you, Bart. I certainly am!

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Gospel of Thomas Mnemonic

This is right clever:

G = Gnostic (obviously a question as well of definition, history, provenance & theology)
O = Origen (knows of a Gospel according to Thomas, Hom. Luke 1)
S = Sayings (GT 1: ‘these are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke’)
P = Parables (many: net, sower, weeds, banquet, vineyard etc.: diff. from SGs)
E = Early (early material on almost any view)
L = Lacking OT (nothing; polemical: GT 52)

O = oi logoi sophwn (words of the wise: connection with wisdom genres)
F = Form/genre

T = Three Greek papyri (P. Oxy 1, 654, 655)
H = Hundred and 14 sayings (not numbered in original, but clearly demarcated)
>O = One Coptic Manuscript (Nag Hammadi Codex II; Apoc. JohnGT,Gos. Philip …)
M = Monachoi (‘monks’ = GT 16, 49, 75)
A = ‘All’ (GT 2: ‘… king over the All’, 67, 77: ‘I am the All’)
S = Seventy-Nine sayings have synoptic parallels

Makes me wish I were teaching something that involved Gospel of Thomas so I could use it.

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Philemon

A former slave, fearing his ex-master’s anger, seeks out a powerful ally who might plead on his behalf. The story of Philemon? Actually, it is also the story of Sabinianus, whose freed slave came for help to the Roman senator Pliny. As N. T. Wright explains (as summarized by Chaplain Mike at InternetMonk), the similarities between the story of Sabinianus and the biblical account of Philemon offer an important study in contrasts:

But the main impression, once we study the two letters side by side, is that they breathe a different air. They are a world apart. Indeed — and this is part of the point of beginning the present book at this somewhat unlikely spot — this letter, the shortest of all Paul’s writings that we possess, gives us a clear sharp little window onto a phenomenon that demands a historical explanation, which in turn, as we shall see, demands a theological explanation. It is stretching the point only a little to suggest that, if we had no other first-century evidence for the movement that came to be called Christianity, this letter ought to make us think: Something is going on here. Something is different. People don’t say this sort of thing. This isn’t how the world works. A new way of life is being attempted — by no means entirely discontinuous with what was there already, but looking at things in a new way, trying out a new path.

Chaplain Mike summarizes:

Pliny was concerned about resolving a problem in a way that maintained social order. Said social order was based on social distinctions and rules of propriety, as well as the rewards and punishments that kept it intact. Second chances were allowed up to a point; kindness and mercy had room to operate within limits. In the end, Pliny remained on top, Sabinianus was beholden to him, and the freedman was on the bottom of the pile.

Paul was concerned about two entirely different matters: reconciliation and unity in the Messiah. Paul was in prison because he advanced this agenda. From there he continued to promote these concerns to people like Philemon, by not only writing about them but also by offering to be the very bridge by which two parties at odds could become one again.

For Paul it was all about Jesus the Messiah, and this is what Jesus was all about.

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Biblical Studies Online

This web resource looks like it’s going to be quite good. Bookmark it now. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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What If?

You may or may not be eager to delve into the ritual details of the Jewish Day of Atonement, but Adam Kirsh’s latest blog at the Tablet offers an important insight into what the Talmud is all about generally. In “What Happens When the Talmud Asks, ‘What If?’” Kirsh highlights something about how the early rabbis used hypothetical situations to probe the essence of things. He writes,

Throughout the Talmud’s description of the Yom Kippur ceremony—the ongoing subject of Tractate Yoma—the rabbis have displayed what might seem like an excessive concern for what might go wrong. In the whole history of the Temple, for instance, it seems unlikely that a single high priest died during the performance of his duties in the Holy of Holies. But the Talmud worries repeatedly about what to do if this should happen. Such attention to unlikely or purely hypothetical cases is highly characteristic of the Talmud, and it can make the reader impatient: Why did the rabbis bother with such remote, academic speculations?

I’ve found it useful, in the course of reading Daf Yomi, to think of these kinds of questions as the rabbis’ indirect way of asking about definitions and essences. In laying down the Shabbat laws, for instance, one rabbi asks whether transporting saliva in one’s mouth is considered “carrying,” in which case one would have to spit it out every few paces. The point of the question, it seems to me, is not whether a Jew should go around spitting all the time, but exactly how to define a substance: Is matter within the body a separate entity, or part of the body itself? This kind of speculation about substances and their qualities was central to classical and medieval thought, including Jewish thought. Because Jewish law deals with everyday matters, it produces a kind of everyday metaphysics.

It’s a really enlightening read.

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What Do You Know about Global Christianity?

Take the Pew Research Center’s ten-question quiz on the word’s Christian population.

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Amen and Amen

Larry Hurtado offers “A Plea for Affordable Book-pricing.”

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Read Big. Read Real. Read Together

Wisdom from Pete Enns about how to address the decline of Bible-reading in churches. He doesn’t go into specifics, but he does set out the three main reasons behind this decline (as described by the folks at Biblica) and condenses these into a broad trajectory of action.

Bible reading is down because people read it

  1. in fragments,
  2. a-historically,
  3. in isolation.

In fragments, meaning in the verse level rather than in large sections. A focus on verses not only encourages prooftexting but  prevents readers from seeing the larger points of biblical works–whether we are talking about a letter like Romans, or large narratives such as we find in the Old Testament…

A-historically, meaning without a feel for the historical context of the texts being read…

In isolationmeaning individual “devotions” rather than in groups. The idea here–completely correct, if you ask me–is that reading Scripture is mean to be a community task for mutual enlightenment and encouragement.

Sound advice.

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Biblical Studies Blog Carnival for December 2013

It’s posted at Cataclysmic. Go see! Go see!

Also, the fifth Septuagint Studies Soirée has also arrived at Words on the Word.

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