As promised, Brian has posted some reflections on last night’s discussion between Marcus Borg and Paul Anderson on the subject of the origin of the Gospels. He led off with a post interacting with Borg’s tendency to claim a scholarly consensus for his positions, something Brian apparently finds a little annoying. And, he followed that up with a summary of Borg’s presentation. Brian does a nice job summarizing some things that he appreciated, while still concluding that Borg’s understanding of the historicity of the Gospels and the nature of the post-resurrection Jesus is just wrong. And, there will be a follow-up post summarizing Anderson’s counter-presentation, which emphasized particularly the historicity of the Johannine tradition.
Tonight here in Portland there will be a discussion/presentation featuring Marcus Borg and Paul Anderson. Borg is a popular historical Jesus scholar. Anderson, a professor at George Fox, is at the forefront of a movement of scholars who are revisiting the historicity of the Fourth Gospel. The subject will be the origin of the Synoptics and the Gospel of John. Both JohnDave Medina and I (who blog at Near Emmaus)will be attending so you can expect some discussion on that blog later in the week.
If anyone else in the Portland area is interested this event will take place at the Reedwood Friends Church located at 2901 SE Steele St. It is scheduled to take place from 6:30-8pm. For more information call 503.234.5017.
Evangelical Textual Criticism has posted a ranking of the top journals in New Testament studies by compiling the results of three separate rankings. If you’re interested in New Testament, this could be a helpful list as you decide which journals you should be keeping your eyes on.
Michael Lawrence’s new book Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry (Crossway, 2010) has received a very favorable review on The Gospel Coalition site. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m particularly pleased by the good reception that it’s received since Michael will be the new pastor at Hinson Memorial Baptist Church in Portland, OR when he arrives this summer. He’s been an associate with Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for several years. I’m looking forward to getting to know him and seeing where things go with Hinson in the future.
I’m going to be honest here. If I hear one more person talk about the ABCs of the Gospel, the Four Points of the Gospel, the One Minute Gospel, or the Twitter Gospel, I think I’ll have to go home and vent my frustration on one of the two cats who seem to think they live at my house. (Unfortunately, my wife and daughters agree with them.) And, why do I find this so frustrating? Because there is simply too much in the Gospel to unpack in such short Gospel summaries.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with summarizing the Gospel, the NT authors do it all the time (of course, they assume we know the story they’re summarizing). And, a good summary of the Gospel can be very helpful at times. The problem comes when that’s all we do.
This is where I find the idea of “thick” vs. “thin” narratives helpful. (Does anyone know who first developed this language? I know Brueggemann used it quite a bit, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the first.) Our typical Gospel presentations are thin narratives. Such thin narratives provide just enough detail to make it a coherent story, but they leave out most of the detail that makes it a really compelling story. That would be somewhat akin to summarizing Les Miserables as a story about a guy who fell, experienced grace, and sought personal redemption through serving others. That’s technically correct, but you’ve lost all the power that’s in the story. A “thick” narrative, on the other hand, tries to unpack the story in all its rich detail. That way, when you get to the climax of the story, you really know what’s going on. Why it’s good news.
We need to spend much more time telling “thick” Gospel narratives. I don’t know about your church, but we hear about the Gospel quite often in mine. Unfortunately, it’s usually summarized in 5-10 minutes. Occasionally we’ll get a whole sermon on it (especially on Easter). But, I don’t think anyone at my church has ever tried to present a truly “thick” Gospel narrative that helps people understand how it all fits together.
I’ve been doing this recently with the high school group at my church. I’m working through the story of the Gospel in eight weeks. By the time we’re done, I’ll have spent around five hours telling them the story of the Gospel. And, we really don’t have anywhere near enough time to get it all in. But, when we’re done, they’ll have a much thicker narrative for the Gospel. They certainly won’t have the whole story. So, I hope they’re coming to appreciate that they could spend a lifetime filling in more details. But, they’ll have more of the narrative than they did before.
In case your curious, I’m presenting it around the standard Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative (after, that is how the Bible tells the story). But, I think we need to be careful here as well. A Creation/Fall/Redemption approach could easily be a “thin” narrative as well. It’s easy to assume people understand all three parts of this story and how they fit together. I actually find that that is generally not the case. Many Christians know the creation story, but don’t really know what it has to do with the Gospel. And, the same is true with other parts of the story (especially the history of Israel). So, I’m trying to provide a thicker narrative all the way through. (You’re probably getting a sense now for why 5 hours is not enough time.)
Here’s the outline:
- Week 1: Introduction and explanation of why everyone (non-Christians, new Christians, and old Christians) need to understand the Gospel more than they do.
- Week 2: Genesis 1:1-25 and God’s plan to manifest his glory throughout creation as an expression of grace.
- Week 3: Genesis 1:26-2:25 and God’s plan to create human persons through whom in particular he would manifest his glorious presence in creation.
- Week 4: Genesis 3 and the fall of Adam and Eve as well as the horrible consequences that resulted for all of creation.
- Week 5: The rest of the Old Testament (seriously, I only have eight weeks) and God’s faithfulness to his people, plans, and promises in the Garden and throughout the history of Israel.
- Week 6: The Messiah as the fulfillment of God’s plans and promises for his people and for all of creation.
- Week 7: How we should respond as individuals and as the people of God.
- Week 8: How this Gospel transforms the way that we see everything.
So, that’s what I’m doing to try and give the students a thicker narrative for the Gospel. What are you seeing in your churches and ministries? Has your church/ministry done a better job providing thick narratives for the Gospel? If so, what have you been doing?
Yesterday’s post, “The biblical languages in life and ministry,” sparked quite a bit of discussion. So, I thought it might be worth following up on that with a few more thoughts on the subject. Why bother with learning Greek and Hebrew? By the time you are done, you will have spent countless hours and probably a fair amount of money learning these languages. Was it worth it?
Martin Luther wrote a wonderful little tract titled “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” In it, he addresses the issue of why he thinks it is important to spend time learning the biblical languages (see relevant excerpts here). I thought we could use his ideas as a starting point for our own discussion.
First, Luther is very clear that there is a pragmatic need for learning the languages; it makes us more effective students, teachers, and preachers.
A simple preacher (it is true) has so many clear passages and texts available through translations that he can know and teach Christ, lead a holy life, and preach to others. But when it comes to interpreting Scripture, and working with it on your own, and disputing with those who cite it incorrectly, he is unequal to the task; that cannot be done without languages.
And, he continues with a fabulous statement about the importance of the languages for powerful preaching:
Therefore, although faith and the gospel may indeed be proclaimed by simple preachers without a knowledge of languages, such preaching is flat and tame; people finally become weary and bored with it, and it falls to the ground. But where the preacher is versed in the languages, there is a freshness and vigor in his preaching, Scripture is treated in its entirety, and faith finds itself constantly renewed by a continual variety of words and illustrations.
For Luther, then, we need to know the original languages because they add power to our messages, confidence to our ministries, depth to our arguments. And, those are no small matters. We should be able to handle the Word with confidence and proclaim with power. The time we have spent on the languages is a gift to our ministries and students.
But, as several of our commenters pointed out yesterday, there must be more. If understanding the languages is a purely pragmatic issue, then my best bet would be to find Greek and Hebrew scholars that I really trust and simply rely on their conclusions. It’s unlikely that I will ever spend more time on Greek and Hebrew than Bill Mounce or Miles van Pelt (since they actually wrote books on learning Greek and Hebrew). And, if I can’t really do better than they can, wouldn’t it be more efficient to use my time doing something else? Why not trust a good commentary and spend my time working on powerful illustrations and applications? This is precisely what a pragmatic approach to the languages would suggest.
So, I find it interesting that Luther’s main argument is not a pragmatic one. His starting point is the Gospel.
we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments.
Luther’s fundamental concern is that if we do not pay particular and close attention to the text, we will lose the Gospel itself. Left to ourselves, we will inevitably fashion the Gospel in our own image, after our own preferences, according to our own desires. Although Luther regularly ascribes value to studying translations of the Bible, he argues that this is not ultimately sufficient. Unless we dig deeply into the text, we will eventually lose our moorings and drift into the stream of contemporary (ir)relevance.
Hence, it is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.
So, we have now two reasons for studying the original languages: effective ministry and protection of the Gospel. To these, I think we must add a third: spiritual formation. I would agree with a comment that Ben made yesterday: “this is part of a spiritual journey not necessarily an educational one.” We must constantly remind ourselves that we are not studying the original languages; we are studying the Word of God. The languages are simply a means to that end. As Luther said, they are the “sheath.” So, I think we would do better to think of learning the languages as a spiritual discipline. It is an intentional practice designed to draw one toward a more intimate knowledge of God so that he/she can be continually re-shaped in his image. Only by constantly reminding ourselves that this is what we are doing, can we resist the alluring pull of pragmatism and the inevitable conclusion that we should just let someone else do it for us.
Many thanks to Dane Ortlund at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology for posting this excerpt from G. K. Beale on the adamic flow of the biblical narratives:
The first Adam should have obeyed and subdued the entire earth, but he did not.
After the flood, Noah was commissioned to subdue the earth, but he had his own ‘fall’ in a garden-like environment, also in connection with the image of nakedness.
Subsequently, God creates a corporate Adam, Israel, who was to be obedient to God in the promised land, which the OT refers to repeatedly as ‘like the garden of Eden.’ They were to go out from the promised land and subdue the rest of the earth. Appropriately, Israel was called by Adamic names, like ‘Son of Adam (Man)’ and ‘Son of God.’ Israel had her ‘fall’ at the golden calf episode, the effects of which were devastating for the nation’s destiny. Instead of subduing the earth, she was subdued by it.
Lastly, God raises up another individual Adamic figure, Jesus Christ, who finally does what Adam should have done, and so he inaugurates a new creation which will not be corrupted but find its culmination in a new heavens and earth. And his names ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’ also allude to him, not only as the Last Adam, but also as true Israel.
G. K. Beale, ‘The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,’ in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)
Thanks to the NT Resources blog I ran across an interesting post on Original Languages and the Priesthood of All Believers. Since most of us have spent a fair amount of time with the original languages in our academic development, I thought his would be worth reflecting on.
The article begins with the following statement:
The original languages of scripture can be a blessing and they can be a curse. They can help or they can harm the priesthood of believers. I have seen both happen.
He goes on to express high appreciation for the value of studying the original languages, but also a significant concern that we be careful how we use our understanding of the languages – especially from the pulpit.
The problem for the priesthood of believers comes when someone uses the Hebrew and Greek to set himself up as “the one with knowledge.” This may happen inadvertently, but it harms the church nonetheless. For example, when a pastor (who does almost all the preaching in the modern Western church) repeatedly says, “Well, in the Greek this means…” he is telling the folks of that church that he has special knowledge that they don’t have. While he may not mean it this way, this is the message that they receive. He is the expert and they are not.What does this do to the priesthood? It can devastate it. It causes a passive church when it comes to reading and interpreting the bible. If the people think that the pastor is the one “who brings the word of God,” they won’t be motivated to study and think for themselves. Instead, they will wait for the expert to bring them “the message” on Sundays.
You’ve probably heard by now that John Piper is taking a leave of absence from his church and all speaking/writing engagements. Unfortunately, this means that he will no longer be one of the plenary speakers at this year’s national ETS conference, the theme of which is “Justification by Faith.” That is unfortunate since N.T. Wright will be one of the other plenary speakers and it would have been fun to have both of them involved.
But, ETS has announced that Tom Schreiner will be stepping in to take Piper’s place. What do you think? Tom has written extensively on the subject, but I’m not personally familiar with most of his books. Do you think he’s a good replacement for Piper? If you were on the nominating committee, is there anyone that you would have suggested instead?