A video of Western Seminary’s ThM students

I took this video during my Th.M. seminar last spring, and it clearly shows our Th.M. students excitedly gathering to learn more amazing theological truths from their esteemed program director. I’ve tried to tell them that they really don’t need to squeak like that all the time, but we were discussing the Greek Fathers, so I can understand why they’d have a hard time constraining themselves.


Flotsam and jetsam (9/3)

The top banned books of the decade

The American Library Associated has published a list of the top 100 banned/challenged books from 2000-2009. Here’s the top 10:

  1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
  2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
  5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
  9. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Apparently, I need to read controversial books a bit more, since the only ones I’ve read in the top 10 are the Harry Potter books, Of Mice and Men, and the His Dark Materials series.

Some interesting inclusions from the rest of the list:

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn comes in at #14. Still? After all these years, there’s still controversy. That by itself is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Go Twain.
  • My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier hit #27. What’s the deal with this one? This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I don’t know how many times I read it, and I don’t remember anything particularly controversial. Maybe I just wasn’t sheltered enough as a child.
  • I have the same question with the Bridge To Terabithia at 28. Is this really controversy worthy?
  • #35 on the other hand is one that I haven’t read, but the title alone probably explains the controversy: Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison.
  • The fact that The Kite Runner comes in at #50 is just a shame. Sure there’s a pretty tough scene in the book, but can’t we get past that and appreciate the power of the story?
  • The Junie B. Jones books (#71)? Really? Did we run out of things to complain about?
  • And, of course, there’s the normal list of great literature that touched on difficult themes and therefore should be kept from our children: The Color Purple (17), Catcher in the Rye (19), To Kill a Mockingbird (21), Brave New World (36), Fahrenheit 451 (69), and The Handmaid’s Tale (88).

I could keep going. There’s some great literature on this list. (It also looks like there’s some real garbage, but I can’t comment on books I haven’t read). Since I obviously haven’t read everything on the list, I’d be curious to know what books you think are on here that kids really should be reading.

Piled High and Deeper on the fear of graduating

Yale Philosophy Lectures by Shelly Kagan

For those who will be taking Marc’s philosophy class I thought I’d mention that you can watch a long list of videos from Academic Earth that seemingly deal with some of what we will be covering in classes and in our reading. The philosopher is Shelly Kagan of Yale. You can find the lectures here.

Flotsam and jetsam (9/2)

I’ve been out of town for a while, so I haven’t posted many links in the last couple of days. Here are some of the more interesting ones, just in case you missed them.

Free online access to Sage Bible/theology journals

Sage Publishing is offering “Free Online Access to all SAGE Journals until October 15, 2010.” The free registration will give you access to journals across a broad range of disciplines, but here are the journals in Bible and Theology I thought you might be most interested in. Six weeks of free access (think downloading pdf files) is hard to pass up.

  • Biblical Theology Bulletin
  • Currents in Biblical Research
  • The Expository Times
  • Irish Theological Quarterly
  • Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  • Journal for the Study of the New Testament
  • Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
  • Journal of Pentecostal Studies


How does language affect the way we think?

In a recent NYT article, “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” Gary Deutscher addresses the question of whether our native language affects the way that we think about the world. The article begins with a very nice discussion of  Whorf’s (not the Klingon) original theory that a person’s native language constricts their ability to think in certain ways. You may have encountered this, for example, in the popular notion that Hopi Indians cannot think in terms of past/present/future because their language has no tense – i.e., it is an entirely aspectual language. Deutscher points out that this theory “crash-landed on hard facts and solid common sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims.” As he points out, there is a pretty basic fallacy in this theory: “The general structure of his arguments was to claim that if a language has no word for a certain concept, then its speakers would not be able to understand this concept.” But, we simply don’t work this way. We are perfectly capable of understanding a wide range of concepts for which we have no specific word or grammatical structure in our native langauge.

But, the fact that Whorf’s original theory had some serious flaws does not mean that our native language might not still exercise some influence on the way that we think about the world. So, Deutscher draws on the work of Roman Jakobson to contend, “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” In other words, our native language does not prevent us from thinking about any given concept, but it may cause us to focus on and highlight particular things in ways that can affect how we view the world. He specifically focuses on how the gender and spatial aspects of  a native language can nuance a person’s thinking in important ways. Again, this does not mean that our native languages comprise uncrossable boundaries, necessarily preventing us from understanding foreign concepts. But it does highlight the ways in which we use language to conceptualize and construct the world around us.

I’d encourage you to read the whole article if you’d like a nuanced take on how the way that you’ve learned to speak can impact the ways in which you understand the world around you. Language does not create reality, but it does shape it in important ways.

Biblioblogging in August

I’m a little behind on a couple of things today, but I wanted to make sure you knew about two things that have been posted recently about biblioblogging in August. First, Jim West has posted the 2010 August Biblical Studies Carnival. Jim has done an outstanding job pulling together some of the best blog posts in Bible, church history, theology, archeology, and other areas of interest. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check it out. And, I especially like to highlight that Jim noted several posts from our general blogging community:

  • “Speaking of blogging, don’t – for any reason – miss Ben Myer’s piece titled Theology 2.0 – Blogging as Theological Discourse.” (Ben doesn’t have anything to do with this blog, I commented on his post here.)
  • “Marc struggled with Psalm 109 and he dragged Spurgeon in for help.” (This was actually Billy’s post, but he and I interacted quite a bit in the comments.)
  • Brian LePort leads us down the path of examining John the Baptist’s shrinkage in a multi-part series.  I don’t know why.  I worry about Brian.  I think you should all put him on your list of prayers.”  (According to Brian, Jim’s comment here stems from the fact that Brian’s reference to the “shrinkage” of John the Baptist has nothing to do with its Seinfeldian implications. I find that hard to believe, but that’s what Brian claims.)

And, second, the Biblioblog rankings for August are out. Jeremy’s done a great job putting all of this together and highlighting a number of really good biblioblogs.

Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?

Guest blog by Daniel Attaway (Student at Dallas Theological Seminary)

“Bible, Bible, Bible. Everybody is reading the Bible.” This is how one of my seminary profs chose to begin one of his classes and it was slightly shocking because it was satirical. This statement is more or less true about Evangelicals because the Bible is our authority and the written revelation of God (no argument there). Have you ever encouraged someone to read their Bible? Have you ever told them that if they want to know God’s will for their life then they need to read the Bible? Have you ever even given the slightest thought as to what you were asking that person to do?

On a large scale we as Evangelicals claim that if Christians will interpret Scripture using a historical-grammatical method and good exegesis they will arrive at an orthodox interpretation. Is this true? No, and here is one reason why: interpretation never arises from a blank slate, which is what the historical-grammatical approach claims. This approach does not take into account that everyone comes to the text with presuppositions and a predisposition to interpret the text in a certain way. Currently, we find ourselves living in a post-enlightenment world, which states, “I am just concerned with the data.” So we look at the original language, the grammatical structure, and the cultural setting for our interpretation. This method is not all-together wrong or incorrect, but is it complete?

Here is how this scenario plays out… Suppose the head pastor of an evangelical church wants to do a sermon on David and Goliath. He spends the week leading up to Sunday studying the cultural background, geography, history of the Philistine/Israelite controversy, and the fight between David and Goliath. What will likely happen is after this information has been given, the pastor will say, “Here is how you slay the giants in your life,” and he goes off on that subject. Is that a poor application to make? Maybe not, but is the interpretation whole? Is that reading distinctively Christian? I submit that it is not because it is not informed by the Christ event, namely the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Stopping at the “facing your giants” interpretation seems to be what Dr. Christian Smith calls “Therapeutic-Moralistic Deism.” So what is the distinctively Christian reading? Tim Keller gave a good answer when he said, “Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.”

So what is the alternative? A Christocentric, orthodox informed lens through which we read and interpret the Scriptures. The early church interpreted Scripture through the lens of what had been passed down to them, known as the “rule of faith.” A simple definition of the rule of faith is apostolic, orthodox teaching. Irenaeus was a mainstream defender of the Christian faith against heretical teaching and he wrote that the one standard of correct interpretation is the rule of faith, which has been preserved in the church in the apostolic succession. So what is the lens? What should inform our interpretation? Orthodoxy. What is distinctively Christian is our starting point and that informs our interpretation.

In conclusion, we should not seek to read Scripture as anyone other than a Christian. You should not want to read the Old Testament like a Jew. You are not Jewish! You are Christian. The call is that we no longer place ourselves at the center of the Scriptures and determine “what they have to say to me,” but to read the Scriptures through the lens of orthodoxy and what is distinctively Christian. Is the Bible about what we are to do, or about what God has done? I believe that we have taught our people to read the Bible. We have even taught them to read it correctly with a historical-grammatical approach. But have we taught them how to read it Christianly? Don’t get me wrong, the historical-grammatical approach to interpretation is beneficial, but I do not believe it is complete. My fear along with others is that we are encouraging people to go home and read their Bibles in isolation and we give them no lens through which to do so. Sadly, the average layperson does not view God as Trinitarian, nor do they read the Scriptures through a  Christocentric lens. This is raising up a multitude of people who view the Bible as their “roadmap to life,” and have little to no knowledge concerning historic Christian orthodoxy. This, among other things has lead many to predict an evangelical collapse. Do you agree or do you think orthodoxy as a starting point is ill conceived?