Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let the Reader Beware: Warning Labels on Theology Books

From time to time a student will ask me about what commentaries they should use/purchase. I usually provide the standard answer about buying individual volumes rather than an entire set since every series has its winners and losers.  My answer is usually followed by a request that the faculty at Ashland Seminary create a list of what is, in our opinion, some of the best resources to buy. This is a fair request from students, but one that we have never taken the time to complete.

So I was intrigued when I noticed that someone had posted a “Basic Library Book-list” prepared by the faculty at another seminary. I opened the list and began to look over the various recommended resources. I looked over the Old Testament section and recognized a number of familiar volumes, especially under Genesis where I am wont to spend my time when not in the New Testament.

But since I am by trade a New Testament scholar, I quickly scrolled down to that section and began perusing the list. I looked over the Matthew section and was surprised not to see Hagner’s commentary listed. But I did see Nolland listed under the section on Luke, so they must not have an issue with Word Biblical Commentary. I looked further and saw more names I recognized and thus concluded that the faculty at this seminary didn't think Hagner’s work made their type five list. But then I noticed that there was precious little from Jimmy Dunn, Joseph Fitzmyer and Tom Wright, to name a few. “What an unusual list,” I thought.

Then my eye landed on one individual’s name and I felt a bit better, but only for a moment. For next to his name was what looked like a little cross, the kind publishers will use to indicate that the author has passed away. My heart skipped a beat with the sudden realization that I had somehow failed to miss the passing of another great NT scholar.

I performed a Google search forthwith, but was unable to find any evidence that this person had passed away. I returned to the list and confirmed that it was his name that had the little cross before it. And then I noticed there were a number of names with little crosses. This time, however, there was no skipping of the heart. I knew many of these people and they are certainly not dead. I began looking for the place in the document that explained the meaning of the little cross.

That was when I discovered that it wasn't a cross, but a little dagger. And next to the dagger was this explanation:

† The dagger symbol indicates that a book, although valuable, contains some theological errors and, therefore, must be used with special discernment. Books that differ from a (particular theological) viewpoint are not so marked.

Now my heart fell out of my chest. This list of best resources also came with a warning label: “Let the Reader Beware.” In other words, guard your mind and soul as you use these resources.

I was taken back since I don’t live and work in a world where these types of theological warning labels exist. Certainly I will advise a student that a particular author, volume, or series has a particular theological, historical or methodological point of view. But I don’t warn them that they could be in mortal peril if they use them. My goal is to always encourage students to read widely and use any source that helps them to best answer their questions. Not infrequently, this will mean using resources that we don’t always agree with, but can learn from.

I wonder, what kind of theological thinkers are we training? Do we want those who can’t think for themselves or have to be warned that a particular resource may challenge some of their own theology? Is this truly what it means to educate?

When first found this list I thought perhaps I could “borrow” it from the seminary (with permission of course) and edit it to fit the preferences of our faculty and the needs of our students. But as I look closer I recognize I will still have to build my own list. At the same time it reminded me that, when I finally do create such a list, that I also consider why I may or may not include certain books. Am I truly picking the best resources, or am I subconsciously telling the reader to “beware” by not including them? 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

More "aha" moments with biblical scholars

Pete Enns continues his series with biblical scholars to which I contributed last week. In addition to Pete's and my own story you can now also read Daniel Kirk and Michael Pahl.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"aha" moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.

In case you haven't see it yet, Pete Enns is doing a series of blog posts in which biblical scholars from evangelical backgrounds tell their stories about their “aha” moments that convinced them they needed to find different ways of handling the Bible than how they had been taught.

Today's post is a piece I wrote for Pete on the topic.

Friday, June 13, 2014

My Commentary is Available for Pre-order on Amazon

I am pleased that a project I completed recently is moving through  the publication channels quickly. My  commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians is scheduled to be released on October 7th, but it can be pre-ordered now  through Amazon for $20.99.

The commentary is part of the Story of God commentary series edited by Scot McKnight. This is the first commentary I have written and I am pleased that it was on these two epistles since they are the first two NT books I translated from Greek.

I found the exercise of writing this commentary both challenging and refreshing. Since the target audience is those in ministry and believers who want to study the Bible more in depth, it was a challenge to communicate important information about these letters to a non-specialist readership. At the same time, I found writing the application sections (the "Live the Story" sections) refreshing as I considered how these ancient texts can and still should be applied in our 21st century setting.

Below is a blurb describing the series and a short video. I look forward to hearing  what you think of this new series and my work in particular.

A new commentary for today’s world, the Story of God Bible Commentary explains and illuminates each passage of Scripture in light of the Bible’s grand story. The first commentary series to do so, SGBC offers a clear and compelling exposition of biblical texts, guiding everyday readers in how to creatively and faithfully live out the Bible in their own contexts. Its story-centric approach is ideal for pastors, students, Sunday school teachers, and laypeople alike.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Should Christian Colleges Let Female Faculty Teach Men the Bible?

By now I suspect many are familiar with the new policy at Cedarville University. In March the president of Cedarville announced
that Bible and theology classes taught by female faculty members would not include male students. In other words, women will only teach women. A university spokesman said:
In courses where we seek to equip women for women's ministry in the local church, classes have been reserved for women in order to accomplish this goal most effectively," said Mark Weinstein, spokesman for the university.

I am not looking to debate whether or not what Cedarville is doing is correct. The fact is I am in strong disagreement with the decision. I teach at a seminary where women are full faculty members and have men in the classes they teach. I have also been a student at colleges where women were my instructors. So I think the restriction is wrong. 

But what I do find curious is that the restriction is only on those females teaching Bible/Theology. In other words, a female could, in theory, teach English, history, science or any other topic that wasn't somehow related to the Bible or, more importantly, viewed as training potential candidates for the ministry. Somehow that is the problem based, I'm sure, on 1 Tim 2:11-15. 

This is not the first time I have encountered this attitude. I have met many a person who thought women couldn't be pastors, but could teach Sunday school. The logic here seems to be that the women can teach children, but not adults. But now this logic is being extended to the halls of the academy. 

Christianity Today posed the question to five people most of whom play some role in a college or seminary. All of the respondents would agree that women should not be pastors, but they have varying views on how that works out in the classroom.

What do you think about their conclusions? Does the topic or location of a female teacher impact whether or not she can teach? 

"A college is not a church. It does not baptize, exercise church discipline, have elders and deacons, and so on. Biblical restrictions refer only to office (usually elders) rather than function, and that view simply can't be fairly transferred to a college or even a seminary."
Craig Blomberg, New Testament professor, Denver Seminary 
"It comes down to your view of ecclesiology. I don't think you take an 18-year-old, crank him through a 4-year degree, and once he has a letter behind his name he's a church leader. I think that's a worldly way of looking at the office as an institution."
Mary Kassian, women's studies professor, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"The university is a gray area, but we should stay as much to the center of God's Word and principles as we can. He is going to have far greater pleasure in seeing a male theologian in the classroom than in our seeing if we couldn't put a woman in simply because she's gifted."
Dorothy Patterson, first lady, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
"While Scripture addresses church settings, teaching roles that are elder-like should be shaped according to biblical eldership. Other aspects of elder qualifications would be operative for schools, so there's no reason to lop off the requirement that they be men."
Owen Strachan, executive director, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

"Mixed-gender theology classes should be taught by men. It is illogical to say a woman should train men to be Bible teachers and pastors when she shouldn't be one herself. If women shouldn't be pastors or elders in churches, then they should also not have that role in other contexts."
Wayne Grudem, theology professor, Phoenix Seminary

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Case for Requiring Biblical Languages in Seminary

It's no secret that many students come to seminary fearing having to take Greek and Hebrew. Many can't see the point since we already possess so many good English translations. Indeed, I have struggled with the notion of requiring languages (see my post here) since many pastors never use them after seminary. And in the next curriculum about to be unveiled at Ashland Seminary, languages will no longer be required for most degrees.

But I'm still convinced that those going into ministry should be able to work with the original languages; and this means more than owning a copy of a Bible Software.

Over at the Seminarium Blog Reed Carlson has a good post in which he makes a case for requiring languages and answers the following statement that are often raised in opposition to requiring languages.

But seminaries prepare ministers, not scholars…
OK, but isn’t there an abundance of Bible 

translations, software, and other tools for that sort of thing?
Look, seminary curricula are already bloated with bookish coursework. We need more relevant learning experiences for the twenty-first century.
The Bible is just too big… 

Friday, April 25, 2014

What Happened to Cain in the Bible?

I recently published an article in the May/June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. BAR has provided an abbreviated version on the Bible History Daily page. Below is the article.

What happened to Cain in the Bible? In the Book of Genesis, we are told about Cain’s birth, his violent act of fratricide and his subsequent exile. We learn that he married and had descendants, but the Bible is strangely mute about his death.
How did Cain die? If he did not die naturally, who killed Cain? In the Bible, do we have any clues? John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, tackles these questions in his column“Did Cain Get Away with Murder?” which appears in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR.
DID LAMECH KILL CAIN? How did Cain die? This 12th-century column capital from the Cathedral of Saint-Lazre in France depicts Lamech hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. They accidentally shoot and kill Cain, mistaking him for a wild animal. Photo: Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.
DID LAMECH KILL CAIN? How did Cain die? This 12th-century column capital from the Cathedral of Saint-Lazre in France depicts Lamech hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. They accidentally shoot and kill Cain, mistaking him for a wild animal. Photo: Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.
Byron explains that ancient interpreters were not afraid to change the story of Cain in the Bible to fit with their sense of justice, ensuring that he was adequately punished for killing his brother Abel. One of the most popular interpretations credits Lamech—Cain’s great, great grandson—with killing Cain.
Lamech admits to having killed a man in Genesis 4:23–24. Ancient interpreters believed that this passage sheds light on who killed Cain in the Bible, and they identified the man Lamech killed in verse 23 with Cain.
How and why did Lamech kill Cain? According to the Lamech legend—which was based on Genesis 4 but which evolved over the centuries—Lamech accidentally killed Cain while he was hunting with his son Tubal-Cain. In the legend, Lamech is a blind but skilled hunter, and Tubal-Cain accompanies him to direct his bow and arrow. Hearing a noise in the bushes, they shoot what they think is a wild animal. Upon investigation, though, they discover that Lamech’s arrow has killed Cain.
In this version of events, how did Cain die? Like an animal. Justice is served.
However, the Lamech legend is just one of the ways ancient interpreters sought to answer the question: How did Cain die? Did Cain die in the flood? Did he die naturally? Did Lamech kill Cain? If Lamech did not, then was there someone else who killed Cain? In the Bible, we will not find a definitive answer.
To find out more about the Lamech legend and other interpretations that seek to explain what happened to Cain in the Bible, read the full column by John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary, in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR.