Monday, April 23, 2007

Is it a compliment? Episode III

Welcome to the third installment of "Is it a compliment?", the favorite gameshow here at Blog of Danny. The basic jist of the game is this: I give you a comment someone has recently made to me that may or may not have been a compliment (and of course the ambiguity is heightened by the lack of context or voice inflection), and you weigh in with your opinions/contextual conjectures. You can check the "Is it a compliment?" link to the right to see previous episodes. This has been a popular feature thus far, I trust it will continue to be. Anyway, here is this week's quote:

"Well... you have hair."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

my top 5 NT studies books

Those who know me well are aware of my affinity for books, especially books in the realm of biblical studies. A while back I decided to post my favorite 5 NT books from my own personal library, but I'm just now getting around to it. Please note, these are only from my personal library, there may be (and probably are) some out there that would make it on the list but I don't own them. Also note that these are not commentaries (maybe I'll get around to that), but rather books that cover a particular topic or theme. These are not necessarily in any particular order, except that my favorite is last, because I believe in saving the best for last (which is why I eat the edges of my Pop-Tarts first, as well as the crusts of my sandwich).

So my first one is actually an honorable mention, which is kind of cheating (maybe I should have called this my top 6). The Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament by Craig Keener is technically a commentary, so it doesn't fit the criteria for my list. However, I feel that I can't leave it off because I have found it to be an indispensable resource (I just realized after I typed this sentence that those exact words are on the cover of the book, weird). The truth is that most of us never study ancient history or ancient cultures, so our knowledge of important background information is limited. We often get the sense that there is something going on that we don't understand because the NT culture is so far removed from our own. So whether you're dealing with head coverings or Jewish dinner customs, Keener has given us a crash course in ancient culture all in one book going passage by passage. I personally think that if someone learns the basics of exegesis and hermeneutics (see the Fee and Stuart books pictured on the right), then the most important resource for them is a good book on background information. Keener fits that bill.

Back in my senior year of college I took a class on the Life and Teachings of Jesus. One of the books assigned to us was this book, The Jesus Quest, by Ben Witherington III. I suppose it isn't so much an NT studies book as it is a book about NT studies and studiers. Witherington is a master of making clear what is often confusing, especially when it comes to the view points of other scholars. In this book he takes on what is known as the "Quest for the Historical Jesus." He gives an overview of various scholarly opinions, from those of the Jesus Seminar (his chapter is great for those who aren't familiar with this group) to more serious scholars, such as John Meier and N T Wright. He gives solid critiques of the views presented, but also is able to pull away some good lessons to learn from just about any scholar. It would be nice if he would update this book to include some of the recent works (such as that of James Dunn), but if you're one of those who watch all those "Jesus specials" on TV (I'm raising my hand) and wonder who these scholars are, chances are Witherington will talk about them.

I've always found Richard Hays to be an absolutely fascinating scholar. Though I often disagree with his approach, he never ceases to challenge my reading of a text. At least one of his books has become something of a modern classic (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul) that is referred to frequently by NT scholars. Simply put, he's one of those scholars that you must deal with even when you disagree. That is how I approach this book on NT ethics, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Hays will no doubt infuriate those from a strong conservative viewpoint (that would be me, by the way) because he doesn't really take an "inerrancy" point of view, but if you read him carefully you'll find that he presents strong cases for his arguments. He often comes away with conservative stances (abortion is wrong, homosexual intercourse is wrong, etc), but is probably not strong enough for some. In a rare touch for Bible scholars, he even includes some personal stories, which I find refreshing (his story about his good friend who was gay was particularly touching). His chapter on war and pacificism (he's a pacifist) was, to be honest, challenging. I'm not saying he turned me into a pacifist, but he certainly made me think. All this to say, I highly recommend this book, but only for those who are well grounded in Scripture. For someone who is still trying to figure out where they stand on some issues and struggle with the authority of the Bible in our lives, this is not the book for them.

One of the hardest things about making this list is choosing only one N T Wright book. I could just as easily have chosen his book on Paul, The Climax of the Covenant or even better is his phenomenal treatment of the resurrection, The Resurrection of the Son of God, which is probably his best book. I have opted, however, to go with Jesus & the Victory of God because it was this book that introduced me to Wright's scholarship and made me a fan. Mind you, there are plenty of points of disagreement, but he often forces me to rethink my position. Wright is probably the most consistent scholar I've ever read, even if consistent to a fault. For example, Wright opposes much of popular Christian writing on Jesus by arguing that Jesus did in fact have a message to preach to His original hearers, not just a timeless system of salvation (this is easily misunderstood, Wright certainly believes in salvation for all ages). Wright reads the gospels in light of this understanding, which I agree with. However, being stubbornly consistent in this has led Wright to take some unlikely interpretations, such as the notion that Jesus never refers to His second coming. Those references in Mark 13 (and parallels) to Christ coming on the clouds of heaven are Christ's judgment on Jerusalem in 70AD rather than Him returning some day (again, Wright does believe Jesus is coming back from other texts, notably Paul, he just doesn't think Jesus Himself predicts it). I tend to think that runs contrary to the words of the angel in Acts 1:9-11, spoken a mere month and a half after Jesus uttered His words. At any rate, Wright is masterful in placing Jesus within His historical context and explaining His message in His own time (which does, in turn, help us understand it more clearly, rather than confusing it as some might suppose). Wright is also quite adept at pointing out the fundamental flaws in some scholars (such as Crossan & the Jesus Seminar). If you get nothing else out of his writings, you should pay attention to his methodology and his critiques of other's presuppositions. You will learn more than you counted on.

As with N T Wright, I had trouble choosing which Richard Bauckham book I would add to this list. Interestingly, my favorites are two small books. I could have chosen God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (a mere 89 pages) and been quite happy with it. But I opted for his book in the New Testament Theology series, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. What I love about Bauckham (again, similar to Wright) is that you can learn how to do exegesis/theology while you read his books. Packed into 164 pages are discussions on the high Christology of Revelation (the sharing of divine titles and worship between the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb as evidence of this), the importance of God as Creator for the book ("Where faith in God the Creator wanes, so inevitably does hope for resurrection, let alone the new creation of all things. It is the God who is the Alpha who will also be the Omega." p51), a great discussion on true victory as depicted in Revelation (faithful witness through suffering and death), and so on. As I am currently teaching Revelation I continually find myself refering to Bauckham to make clear what I often find muddled.

Without a doubt my favorite book in NT studies is Gordon Fee's magesterial tome, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. In this book, Fee discusses (in great depth) every instance where Paul mentions or alludes to the Holy Spirit. He covers grammatical issues, theological issues, contextual problems and so on with great clarity. This book is over 900 pages (!), but can be read in portions (although if you want to read it cover to cover I'm sure you'll still learn a lot). He pulls his exegetical discussions together at the end with a helpful synthesis of Paul's view of the Holy Spirit. One of the distinctive contributions Fee makes to this discussion is his insistence that the Holy Spirit was an experienced reality to Paul and his churches. In other words, there were actual manifestations of the Spirit's power and presence (see 1 Corinthians 14 and Galatians 3:5). While Fee comes from a Penecostal background, he does have some differing views from this tradition. Most notably is the view that all Christians are full of the Spirit from the moment of conversion. In Paul's mind, there is no such thing as a non-Spirit filled Christian, those terms are contradictory (see Romans 8:9 and the assumption that his readers all have the Spirit in Galatians 3:1-5 and 5:22-25).

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter service comedy

This morning in church our pastor gave a childrens sermon, which is always a treat. After he had gathered all the kids of the church around him, he asked them what was special about Easter.

A little boy, William, age 3, yells out, "new underpants!"

Friday, April 06, 2007

once again, 5.5 random things

5.5: This post is dedicated to Sarasota, Florida. Though you are hot, you were a pleasure to visit.

5: Well, the Sox have started out 2-2, with 1 great pitching performance (Dice-K), 2 good pitching performances (Beckett and Wakefield, who lost due to a lack of offense), and 1 horrible one from Curt Schilling, who thinks he deserves a $13 million dollar extension for next year, despite the fact that he's only getting older (at an age when this is not helpful) and his numbers have dropped each year he's been here. Obviously it's early, but you have to wonder about him. Plus, he has a blog now, how cliche is that!

4: Boston is hardly a hotbed for college sports, but the city paid more attention to this year's basketball tournament than probably any in recent memory (including ones where Boston College actually had a chance to make some waves). This is due to the Celtics' deplorable record, ensuring that they will not pick worse than number 5 in this year's draft. My fear is that they'll buy into the hype and draft Joakim Noah from Florida. He's done well in college, and I'm always fond of picking proven winners, but he'll never be more than a good bench player in the pros. He can play some defense, can rebound, and will out-hustle anyone on the floor. But he can't shoot, at all, and I'm not convinced he'll be able to cover power forwards in the NBA (can you picture him covering Duncan, Garnett or Brand?).

3: Speaking of drafts, you may get a kick out of this, courtesy of Tim Challies.

2: I'm ready for a weather change here in Boston. I've always loved the cold, and I always will. But I think living in an apartment with no heat this year (yes, that's right, no heat all winter) has finally taken its toll, well, that and being in Florida last week where I could wear shorts all day long and not have to worry about it. Besides, it's baseball season, it's time to be outside playing and watching games, not bundling up. I think I'm getting soft in my old age.

1: Well folks, it's Good Friday. Easter is my favorite holiday of the year. I pray that you all relish in the grace that God has given us. Take time to meditate on the single greatest act of love and power this world has ever, and will ever, witness. Praise God for the death and resurrection of His Son!