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Monthly Archives: January 2008

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Using the F-word in Class

Yesterday in class I must have used the f-word at least half a dozen times. I must admit, I was surprised that my students took this in stride. Past experience had led me to expect that at least a few students would be uncomfortable with the f-word. After all, this is a Bible class being taught at a Christian university!

Even so, most of my students didn’t seem to mind when I said the word “feminist.” The topic for the day was women in the patriarchal narratives. I wanted to challenge the class to see what happened when they tried to read the stories from the point of view of the female characters. In the process, we discussed feminist hermeneutics and some of the reading strategies adopted by feminists who remained faithful to Scripture, and yet found that the same inspired texts that liberate them spiritually often serve to subjugate them socially.

We talked about how men were also the victims of the patriarchal mindset. We talked about how the same attitudes influence how women treat each other in a patriarchal society. It was a cool day to teach, especially since we did it all in a group-discussion format rather than a “straight” lecture.

By the end, we had wandered into the realization that the Bible tells the story of real people‚ not Sunday school cardboard cutouts. With the stories of Genesis, we see rounded, three-dimensional characters who do not always conform to stereotypical roles that might be assigned to them. This is probably the first literature in history to treat its characters this way, and I’m inclined to agree with Thomas Cahill, who in The Gifts of the Jews connected the phenomenon to the new kind of religious outlook the patriarchs embraced. In a nutshell, because Abraham and his kin had begun to relate to God in an interpersonal way, they began to relate to each other as individuals as well. The biblical writers took pains to paint these characters as individuals.

The struggle to understand and follow this new sort of God who had spoken to Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans made for a messy, chaotic, and unpredictable life, and in Genesis we are treated to seeing it in all its morally ambiguous glory. So Jacob, that magnificent bastard, cons and swindles his way into history. Abraham all but pimps his wife to two foreign kings in order to save his own neck. Sarah beats her slave, Hagar. Rachel and Leah get locked in an obstetric arms race for their mutual husband’s love, which apparently ends only when one of them dies in childbirth.

All these polygamists, slave-owners, would-be child-sacrificers, manipulators, and pathological liars are the fathers and mothers of faith. That is no doubt a scandal to some. Skeptics may read these stories and wonder how anything good could come out of a story that starts with such despicable characters. More attentive readers learn to separate the eternal message of the text from the culturally bound stage setting in which it occurs. We look for the redemptive trajectory of the text rather than getting bogged down in the particulars of any specific episode. We find the positive stories‚ and even the subversive ones‚ that lead us to higher ground. We admit that we are not interested in defending the morality of the Middle Bronze Age. We wrestle with these men and women who once wrestled with God and prevailed.

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technorati tags: feminism, feminist hermeneutics, genesis, matriarchs, patriarchs

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Thought for the Day

Courtesy of John Hobbins:

The passibility of God should be a no-brainer to someone who has actually read the Bible…

Read the whole thing, which wanders into the intersection between divine passibility and open theism (or perhaps a mollified offshoot thereof). In the process, you’ll learn the difference between systematic and biblical theology as well as why God is not a Leninist.

Friday Fun

Hotel California, performed by Vocal Sampling, a Cuban a capella group.

Review: The Mass of the Early Christians

Let me state at the outset that I am jealous of Mike Aquilina for having produced The Mass of the Early Christians. It is the sort of book I wish I had written. (Actually, I pitched a similar idea to some publishers a few years back, albeit unsuccessfully.) It is an accessible summary of what can be known about Christian worship in the early centuries, written by some who obviously loves worship and thinks often and deeply about it.

The book begins with several chapters summarizing the early development of the Eucharist and its centrality to the early church. The author briefly touches on such topics as: the Last Supper, the Christian appropriation of Old Testament sacrificial imagery to the Eucharist, early forms of Eucharistic devotion, and the theology of the Eucharist.

These chapters are informative, to be sure, but the real treasure of the book comes in its major central section, in which Aquilina has collected English translations of nearly every important early source for reconstructing the theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper in the early church, from the first century (New Testament, Didache, 1 Clement) to the fourth (Eusebius, Sarapion, Cyril, and others). I’m not aware of another user-friendly resource that puts all these documents together in one place. Lucien Deiss’s Springtime of the Liturgy has many of them, including one or two Aquilina omits (but Aquilina also has some that Deiss omits), but that book doesn’t provide the kind of big-picture summary that The Mass of the Early Christians does. Paul F. Bradshaw’s The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship is unbeatable as a a brief introduction to the subject, but is written for a far more academically inclined readership. Frank C. Senn’s Christian Liturgy covers all the historical, practical, and theological bases admirably and gets high marks for readability, but at 747 pages is more than a little foreboding for anyone who is simply curious about how and why the early Christians worshiped as they did.

In his final chapter, Aquilina invites the readers to imagine themselves as participants in the kind of worship he has described in the preceding chapters. He walks us through “an imaginative venture” that describes in narrative form what it would have been like to be a Christian in pre-Nicene North Africa going to church on Sunday. Some might think such an undertaking would end up being cheesy or contrived, but here it is actually rather effective.

By my estimation, there is only one notable flaw in The Mass of the Early Christians, and I don’t know if I notice it more because I’m a Protestant or because I’m a New Testament scholar. That flaw is that there seems to be little if any discussion of liturgical development in the pre-Nicene period. I come away from the book aware that, if I had not already known that certain liturgical practices had their origin in a particular region and only gradually spread to other communities, I would not have found out about it from this book. Although Aquilina’s style is warm and engaging, he is no slouch when it comes to the scholarship. I’m confident he could have handled this issue without losing his readers or jeopardizing the page count. Having such material woven into the first five chapters of the book would have blown me away!

First, as a Neutestamentler, I understand that the apostles weren’t conducting the Eucharist the same way Cyril of Jerusalem described 300 years later‚Äîand I’m sure Mike Aquilina knows that, too. To me, however, how we got from “point A” to “point B” is the most interesting part of the story, and it was disappointing to find it so little discussed. Second, as a Protestant, especially one in the free church tradition, I am perhaps more attuned to issues of regional and cultural variety in worship. Egyptians, West Syrians, and East Syrians (not to mention Romans, Milanese, and several others!) followed their own inherited traditions about how to conduct the liturgy, and that is as it should be. That is also, in my opinion, an important part of the story of the Mass (Eucharist, Divine Liturgy, Lord’s Supper, etc.) of the early Christians. Diversity within a greater unity ought to be celebrated‚Äîjust as it was, for example, when the eastern-rite clergy participated at Pope John Paul’s funeral in accordance with their distinctive traditions (to offer but one example my readers may remember).

Despite my misgivings on this one issue, I am happy to recommend The Mass of the Early Christians to anyone who is looking for a solid basic summary of worship in the first three or four Christian centuries. Christian leaders, especially non-Catholics, will probably want to supplement this with other resources such as those suggested above, but as a first step into the world of liturgical worship it will be hard to beat.

technorati tags: eucharist, liturgy, mass of the early christians, mike aquilina, patristics, worship

Press Release: Millard Fuller Book Signing

Smyth & Helwys to Host Millard Fuller Signing

MACON, GA – January 22, 2008 – Smyth & Helwys will host Millard Fuller for a signing of his new biography, The House that Love Built: The Story of Millard and Linda Fuller at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration. The signing will be held at the Smyth & Helwys booth on Thursday, January 31 following the evening plenary session. Over 12,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event held at the Georgia World Congress Center for which Millard Fuller will be a speaker.

Millard Fuller is the founder and former President of Habitat for Humanity and the founder and current President of the Fuller Center for Housing. Mr. Fuller is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and author of 10 books, including Building Materials for Life: Volumes 1-3, published by Smyth & Helwys.

For more information on the release and signing, contact Matthew Michael at matthew@helwys.com or at 478-757-0564.

Smyth & Helwys is best known for its line of Sunday school materials, books, and the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series. The organization has been a leader in creating online resources for Bible study and group support through innovative web based resources such as NextSunday.com, Learning Matters magazine, and its newest service, Caleb’s Cafe.

Contact information:
Smyth & Helwys
6316 Peake Road
Macon, GA 31210
www.helwys.com

478-757-0564 • 800-747-3016

View the latest press releases from Smyth & Helwys at www.helwys.com/news.

Press Release: Tony Campolo Book Signing

Tony Campolo to Sign New Book in Exclusive First Event at New Baptist Covenant

MACON, GA – January 22, 2008 – The New Baptist Covenant will feature the first public release and exclusive author signing of Tony Campolo’s new book, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics. Smyth & Helwys Publishing will host the signing on Thursday, January 31 at 3:00 p.m., with the book scheduled to be released nationally on Friday, February 1, 2008. Over 12,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event held at the Georgia World Congress Center for which Campolo will be one of several marquee speakers.

Tony Campolo is the bestselling author of 35 books and the Founder and President of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education. He is also professor emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and has appeared on Crossfire, Larry King Live, CNN News, and MSNBC News.

For more information on the release and signing, contact Matthew Michael at matthew@helwys.com or at 478-757-0564.

Smyth & Helwys is best known for its line of Sunday school materials, books, and the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series. The organization has been a leader in creating online resources for Bible study and group support through innovative web based resources such as NextSunday.com, Learning Matters magazine, and its newest service, Caleb’s Cafe.

Contact information:
Smyth & Helwys
6316 Peake Road
Macon, GA 31210
www.helwys.com

478-757-0564 • 800-747-3016

View the latest press releases from Smyth & Helwys at www.helwys.com/news.

Easter Must Be Coming

The infamous Talpiot tomb, purportedly the final resting place of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, his son Judah, and various other family members, came to public attention last year. Although the claims of its promoters have been thoroughly refuted, the thing seems to be trying to rise zombie-like from its coffin for another round of hijinks. Mark Goodacre has the text of a rather interesting statement that does not jibe at all with the “official” press release of a recent conference dealing with Talpiot.

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Also sighted:

technorati tags: jesus tomb, talpiot