Friday, February 1, 2013

Eric Seibert on the Violence of Scripture

In previous posts I have touched on the problem of how Christians should handle passages in the Bible that do not line up with the way we think in the 21st century. In particular, how do we interpret and apply passages in the Bible that endorse violent acts like that of genocide? 

Among those working on this topic is my friend Eric Seibert who teaches at Messiah College. Eric's most recent work on the topic is The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testaments Troubling Legacy (Fortress, 2012). I began reading the book this past weekend and look forward to learning more from Eric. 

In the mean time, Eric will be doing a three part series on Pete Enn's blog. Here is a bit of what Eric has to say. I hope this is enough to entice you to read the rest. 

Most Christians would attribute this misuse of the Bible to faulty interpretations and misguided  interpreters.  And this certainly is part of the problem. But, unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than this.  It runs right through the pages of Scripture itself.
To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us. I realize this may sound blasphemous to some people and flies in the face of everything they have been taught to believe about the Bible. When the Church grandly proclaims the Bible to be the Word of God, it gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach. We are taught to read, revere, and embrace the Bible. We are not taught to challenge its values, ethics, or portrayals of God.

Read the rest of the post here

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Passing of Paul Achtemeier (1927-2013)

I just learned from Michael Bird the Paul Achtemeier has passed away. He and his wife Elizabeth, who died in 2002, left quite a mark on the field of biblical studies. The Society of Biblical Literature has posted an obituary

Dr. Achtemeier was an internationally recognized scholar, having published eighteen books and over sixty scholarly journal articles. In addition, he was editor of a number of book series, most
notably the New Testament Editor for the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; he was General Editor of the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (the l985 prizewinning
edition) and the later revised edition (l996), in conjunction with the Society of Biblical Literature. Additionally, Dr. Achtemeier lectured and preached throughout North America and abroad at educational institutions, churches, scriptural institutes, and a wide variety of
conferences for scholars, clergy, and lay people, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. 

Dr. Achtemeier was a beloved professor for generations of students and a loyal colleague and
friend to other professors at institutions where he taught. He was generous in sharing with the
needy and greeted with joy and openness all who crossed his path.

What sports team does God root for?

A recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Institute has revealed some interesting figures about American theology when it comes to sports. According to the poll 27% of those surveyed think that God plays a role in determining who wins.  An even larger group of 53% of those surveyed believes that God rewards athletes who have faith with health and success.

It is no secret to readers of this blog that I am not a sports fan. I am not anti-sport, I am just not interested. I have no interest in who will win this Sunday’s Super Bowl, but at least I know it’s happening this weekend and I do know who is playing (purely by accident, I admit).

It’s also no secret to my readers that I find it somewhat interesting that people think God cares who wins a sports game or not.  As one commentator put it, this is news to Notre Dame fans who lit candles in the Grotto before being stomped by Alabama. Perhaps God is not a Catholic after all. Or perhaps God was busy elsewhere in the world and couldn't make it in time to help out Notre Dame. I have commented on this before in two posts in relation to the Tim Tebow phenomenon, that seems to have faded now which makes me wonder if God no longer is blessing Tebow (See: Jesus Doesn’t Play Football).

My frustration is with the very small view of the world and God that many American Christians hold. They think God has a favorite sports team, only blesses the Christians players, but don’t think about or ask why God is not acting elsewhere in the world.  Too often they watch a disaster (natural or human made) in another part of the world and don’t wonder why God hasn't done something to solve the problems of those people.  They feel no conflict in worshiping a God who guides the defense of a football team, but doesn't stop a wall of water from wiping out a section of Japan.

Perhaps I am unusual, but I think about the people in Haiti who suffered a devastating earthquake just over two years ago. Many of those people are still suffering and conditions have not improved in any substantial way.  And I admit that I find it difficult to believe that God cares more for a sports team than for the Haitian people. I have the same questions many do in the area of theodicy. If God loves us and the world why doesn't he do something to stop the suffering in the world?

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the 27% who think God takes sides in sporting events and the 53% who think God blesses athletes with faith have got it right. Maybe God is a sports fan and maybe God doesn't care about who suffers elsewhere because he is too busy watching the game. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who is our Crown of Boasting? A Gold Wreath discovered in modern Thessaloniki

In 1 Thessalonians 2:19  Paul says: For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
 The crown (stephanos) he speaks of here is not one of royalty, but the laurel crown given to the victor in an athletic race. This is a metaphor Paul sometimes uses to talk about his ministry (1 Cor. 9:25; Gal 2:2) and the crown and boasting in 2:19 are also references to his ministry.

Recently, an example of what Paul may have been talking about was uncovered during a subway construction project in Thessaloniki. Here is what the reports have to say.
Another gold wreath (the ninth since the excavations have started) testifies to the 2,000-year-old history of Thessaloniki. It has been revealed during the subway construction works.
The new impressive find was located on Friday morning, during the last excavations being conducted at the Dimokratias station.
The gold wreath was found within a large Macedonian cist tomb, at the head of the inhumated man.
Director of the 16th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquites (EPCA), Mrs. Vasiliki Misailidou, has confirmed the revealing of the gold wreath, but refused to give any further information regarding the quality and the exact dating of the artifact.
According to the first estimates, however, the golden wreath (and the burial) is dated to the Early Hellenistic Era, namely to late 4th-early 3rd century BC.
It is the ninth wreath coming to light during the metro construction excavations in Thessaloniki. At the beginning of June 2008, excavations at the intersection of the metro lines, at the Library of the University, eight Hellenistic era wreaths were revealed. The wreaths were placed within a female burial in an unusual way. The tomb was one of 840 found at the Eastern Cemetery of the city.
The new gold find was recovered from the tomb, where it lay hidden for the last… 2,500 years and was transferred to the laboratories of the 16th EPCA in Thessaloniki, in order to be cleaned and investigated.
Read the story here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Book of Revelation - Introduced by Ian Paul

The book of Revelation can be confusing, to say the least. For some it is a road map to the end of the world. To others it is more historical in focus with a message for the church both ancient and modern.

In the below video Ian Paul from St. John's Nottingham provides a nice introduction to the book.

Monday, January 28, 2013

How Professors Should Read Student Evaluations

One of the Joys and banes of teaching in higher education is the dreaded course evaluation. I am talking about the evaluations which provide students the opportunity to evaluate a professor and the ten or fifteen week course in which they have just shared considerable time and effort.  On a single piece of paper (usually one sided) the student is able to “rate” the professor, the subject matter, the course textbooks, the professor’s style of teaching, the way the professor interacted with and treated the students and whether or not the student learned anything. In the context of a seminary, the student might also be asked how this class helped them understand their “calling” and whether or not it was “spiritually nurturing.”

All of this happens anonymously, usually on the last day of class when the final exam and papers are due and everyone is tired, perhaps a bit grumpy and ready to make a dash for Christmas, spring or summer break. And rarely have I witnessed students spend more than ten minutes on the evaluation. Many of them go through it as a perfunctory exercise. And they do so very quickly. It is their last required act before breaking free from the professor and the class.

In spite of my rather snarky description of the process, I admit that I can’t think of another way to evaluate a course. Students who have paid good money should get a good course and if they get less than the syllabus claimed and if the professor was unprepared or didn't put forth the effort to educate, then the student has a right to respond, and anonymous evaluations provide a venue for them to speak without fear of being persecuted by said professor. I can recall on two occasions using the evaluation form as a way to let the professor and the administration know that I was not happy with either an absentee professor or he/she’s lack of preparation.

Sitting on the other side of those evaluations has been interesting, however. There is a love hate relationship. I actually find those who simply give me all “10s” with no comments or suggestions to be quite unhelpful. Perhaps the course was everything the student and I both expected, but I doubt it. I greatly appreciate the handwritten notes, both positive and critical, that help me know what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong. And I have made adjustments to my courses based on those comments.

Some comments I simply ignore.  No matter how many times I am told that I require too much reading or too much vocabulary in Greek I simply remind myself that I have given the students what they need to be successful in the course and, hopefully, life. And I check my requirements against other colleagues and institutional standards to make sure that I am not “out of whack.”  

What really gets me going is when I get two evaluations from the same class with completely opposite comments. There are times when I wonder if they were in the same course. I have had evaluations that read as if the two students wrote from a similar script, but from opposing sides. The one that seems to always get me is about my use of humor. One student will comment how they like when I lace humor through my lectures and make funny quips. The other will call me an arrogant, sarcastic individual and demeaning to students. Whew. I am never sure which one of those to work with. I sometimes wonder if I am a bit Jekyll and Hyde.

Along these lines, John Stackhouse, who teaches at Regent College, has a good post on student evaluations. He and others have wondered how students can be so mean sometimes. But he also offers ten valuable tips for reading them. Here are snippet views of his tips, but I suggest you read his full post here.

  1. Read evaluations when you have time to read them slowly. Don’t read them when you can only skim them.
  2. Read them when you’re in a good mood. We all tend to give much more attention to negatives than positives, so don’t begin what will likely be a challenging process already in a less-than-optimal frame of mind.
  3. Read them with a nice snack nearby. Keep a steady supply of goodness running through your system: fresh fruit, nuts, smoothies, chocolate, milkshakes, Cabernet Sauvignon (only California or Bordeaux will do), single malt whisky…be sure to coddle yourself a bit so as to maximize your receptivity.
  4. Read them analytically. I was annoyed this time ’round by a powerful phrase that stuck out: One student decided that he (it might have been a “she,” but I’m guessing “he” is male) didn’t like the number of stories I told to illustrate the various points of epistemology I was teaching to an introductory class last term.
  5. Read them humbly. Upon further reading and reflection, perhaps that student was at least partly right. I probably did overdo the stories.
  6. Read them with intent to improve.
  7. Read all the data. Every place I have taught has used a combination of ranking questions (from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” or the like) plus opportunities for comments. Don’t look at the average scores in the former questions without also looking at the particular scores. I seem invariably to have one, two, or three people who really, really don’t like me or the course I teach.
  8. Read them with a colleague. A colleague shares your values but doesn't share your responsibility in this course, so she can hear better than you can what’s being said about it, and you, particularly if it is something negative.
  9. Get colleagues to sit in on your classes and critique you rigorously. You've got to really want this, and you've got to pick the colleagues carefully, of course. But there is nothing like peer review to make you self-conscious, and self-consciousness is good especially for veteran professors as we are inclined to get too comfortable in our classes.
  10. Pray over the evaluations. God is the Master Teacher. What does he want you to learn from them?