Posts Tagged ‘NT Wright’

We can’t take it all: Books

May 4th, 2010 No comments

We are two and half months away from our summer trip to Swaziland and just a little over a year away from when we actually plan on moving.  That has Beth and I looking at things in new ways.  We are asking questions like “What are we going to do with our dishes?” and “Who is going to keep Shiloh?” We have spent close to two years trying to accumulate less and downsize where we can.  In my mind I have already begun making a list of what things we will want to take with us and what needs to be given away, sold, loaned out or put in storage.

I knew early on the hardest thing for me to part with would be my collection of books.  Not because they are so valuable (although I do have several thousand dollars wrapped up in them), but because in many ways they define me.  To help the transition, I moved most of my academic collection out of my house and to the church.  That way other people could use them and if I left them there I wouldn’t feel like they were lost.

Now, as we are beginning to investigate actually job opportunities, and we realize there is a decent chance I will be able to teach at either a school or the University, I have begun thinking about what resources I would need.  That, along with our overall planning for the future, has prompted me to start a list of books I already own that I want to take with me.  Since my training is mostly in Biblical Studies (especially the Hebrew Scriptures) a majority of the books are from this field .  I have also included books from fields like Christian History and Theology to have as a reference, but I must admit I do not feel qualified to teach anything but basic topics in these areas.  Finally, there are a few books that have been so influencial for me that they had to be included.  You will note I have not included any fiction or pleasure reading — I figure I can pick that up while I am there.

Stack of books from my first semester at Asbury. Only one of these made the list.

Here is my list of “Keepers” (shoot me a comment if you think of any good ones I am leaving out):

  • The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV -This was my seminary bible and still my favorite for reading through (I figure I can leave my leather-bound Thompson Chain here in the states.
  • BHS and NA27 – You have to start with the original texts.
  • Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar, Pratico and VanPelt – This is not the Hebrew grammar I learned on, but I have found it is the best for catching me back up when I find I have let my language skills slack.
  • A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Arnold and Choi – A concise reference that is phenomenal for making a budding scholar look like they know more than they really do.
  • Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, Mounce – The Greek counterpart to Pratico and VanPelt.  My Greek is much rougher than my Hebrew, but this is a good grammar to get back up to speed.
  • Life in Biblical Israel, King and Stanger – An excellent reference and even better bathroom reading.  This book is the gooey center of the cinnamon roll – it really helps the text come alive through detailed contextual insights.
  • A Biblical History of Israel, Provan, Long and Longman – More of a reference than anything else.  Well documented and easy to use as a gateway for deeper studies.
  • Harper Collins Concise Atlas of the Bible – Another great reference.  Not especially thorough, but very helpful.
  • Epic of Eden, Richter – If I ever have the opportunity to teach an introduction to Old Testament, I would want to teach it like Dr. Richter.
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament, Brueggemann – While I don’t agree with him on all fronts, my theology and understanding of the Old Testament is most shaped by Walter Brueggemann and this is a great primer/survey.
  • Introducing the New Testament, Achtemeier, Green and Thompson – Not my favorite New Testament Survey, but the only one I own.
  • Christian Origins and the Question of God Trilogy, NT Wright – These have long been my go to reference for all things related to New Testament concepts.
    • The New Testament and the People of God – This is the best book I have found for laying out the setting of the New Testament and its implications
    • Jesus and The Victory of God – My Christology is largely shaped by Wright’s thoughts in this book.
    • The Resurrection of the Son of God – I don’t have this one yet, and in practice, I use it the least so if space is tight, I may only take the first two.
  • Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible – By no means my favorite source for Biblical information, but handy to have around when you need to look up things you have forgotten (like which ecumenical council discussed the Arian controversy?)
  • History of the World Christian Movement, Irvin and Sunquist – In my undergrad and seminary career I have read quite a few Church History books and this one is by far the best.  I am anxiously awaiting Volume II.
  • The Story of Christian Theology, Olson – I am very weak in my knowledge of the history of theology and this is the only book I have to reference.
  • Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright – While Wright does discuss Christology in this book and it does have academic merit, for me, it is a defining book in how I understand the nature of Christianity.
  • Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann – I know I sound like a broken record when I mention this book, but one of the most important concepts in my life that I live by is Brueggemann’s idea of the prophetic imagination and criticizing/energizing culture and community.
  • The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder – I may never have the opporutnity to teach from Yoder’s book, but I will certainly be able to live by it.
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau – One of my sources of rejuvenation.
  • Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King Jr – We named our daughter after King; surely I must take his most seminal work.

So I was able to whittle my collection of several hundred down to 22. Even then there are so many that I am leaving out that I would love to include.  In reality, this list is probably too large when you consider how much we can actually take with us; but…. at least it is a start.

10 Ideas

July 30th, 2009 No comments

First… an apology to all my readers (all 8 of you… 6 if you don’t count Beth and my mom).   On July 14th Beth and I started a series of ten top 10 lists.  We tried to post daily, but unfortunately I have gotten a bit behind.  That has partly been because of craziness in life, but also because I have been a lot of thought in this final list.  So far we have explored the things that we enjoy, the things we want to do, and a few things about us.  If you have followed along closely, you might have learned a bit about what type of person I am.  I believe that underneath these lists are core ideas that define me as a person.

In reflecting on life these last two weeks, I have examined the concepts that drive me as a person.  In my mind, they all are synergistic and guide my day-to-day living as well as the larger direction of my life.  Here are the 10 ideas that define me as person.

  1. Trajectory of Redemptive History – I first picked up this phrase in Dr. Sandy Richter’s Intro to Old Testament my first semester at Asbury Seminary.  Since then, it has been the primary way that I understand the work of God, God’s people, and the narrative of scripture.  The idea is simple: Since the beginning of history, God has been working in and through his people to bring all of creation to redemption and restoration.  I do not believe the world is constantly descending into more and more evil and pain, but rather, it is consistently moving to place where all wrongs are set right and life is as it should be.  Martin Luther King Jr. expressed this concept when he said, ” The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  In regards to this central idea to my life, I must highly recommend Dr. Richter’s book The Epic of Eden.
  2. Kingdom of God – During the summer of 2006 Beth and I hosted a Bible Study for college students in our home.  We looked through book of Matthew at all of Jesus’ references to the Kingdom of Heaven (Kingdom of God in other gospels).  Simply put, it completely changed the way I viewed the message of Jesus.  In the 6 months that followed, my entire approach to Christianity began to morph.  This was one of the most formative and painful times in my life.  The concept of the KofG is complex and simple at the same time.  It is in essence the world where God gets his way — it is a world redeemed and restored.  I am convinced Christians are a part of the KofG and called to bring it about.  There is a constant tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of this idea.  A good intro to this concept is N.T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus.
  3. Nature of Truth – During my time of theological and philosophical transition (which, while coinciding with my entry into Seminary, was probably more of a push back to what I was learning than the result of it) one of the primary things I gave thought to was the nature of truth and how we know what we know.  I have written an extensive piece on my conclusions (this blog is actually titled after this paper).  To summarize, I believe there is truth, but it can only be understood through our flawed human existence.  Our worldview will always skew our perception.  This has led me to be more humble in how I understand knowledge and open to others conclusions.
  4. Interpretive Communities – If truth is dynamic (or at least flexible in our understanding of it) how do we reach conclusions on what is?  Stanley Fish has given me the framework for answering this question.  Truth is shaped by the communities we are a part of.  I have discussed the practicalities of this in this post.
  5. You must be the change you wish to see in the world – This quote is from Ghandi and is pretty self explanatory.  I tend to be fairly cerebral and will process thoughts on societal change in my mind quite frequently.  I constantly ask ‘What does it look like to have the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”  Sometimes I think I have the answer, other times I am overwhelmed.  But consistently, I must be reminded that knowing change is needed is useless if nothing is being done to bring it about.  I have spent way too much time trying to convince others to change, when in reality, I must first embody the change I wish to see.
  6. Pacifism – I have increasingly found as I explore the implications of Kingdom theology that if I want to truely follow Jesus, it requires radical pacifism.  This is one area where I feel my Mennonite brothers and sisters have a lot to teach mainstream evangelicals.  This is a topic I wish to explore further in the coming weeks.  Look for a full length post (or 3), but until then, I urge you to ponder the implications of this quote from MLK:

    Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

  7. Knowledge is power – This sounds odd to me when I list it out, but the essence of this idea play out regularly in my life.  This does not mean the more degrees you get the more influence you have, or that the most powerful people are the most learned.  Instead, it refers to ability.  If I have knowledge of how to fix a lawn mower, I can help my neighbor out in a pinch.  If I can speak another language, I can learn more about a person and their situation.  If I understand a person’s situation, I can empathize and appreciate them more.  Unfortunately, the withholding of knowledge can be used to oppress and subjugate.  That is why I find great power in open and non traditional learning.
  8. Stewardship of Creation – Because of the way I view the world and the Kingdom of God, I hold firm to the belief that all people are called to participate in the protection and redemption of the world.  While this included environmental responsibility, it also points to the belief that all people are part of a larger world and the needs of all must be considered.
  9. Umbuntu – This is an African concept that can loosely be translated “I am because we are.”  It focuses on the interconnectedness of all people and the need for mutual respect.  It also captures the way community identity shapes personal identity.  It is the antithesis of individualism.  In the past few decades, many of the leaders I most respect have used this idea to being about peaceful reconcilliation.  Here is a clip of Desmond Tutu discussing the concept of Ubuntu:
  10. Prophetic Imagination – In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann discusses the role of the prophet in brining about a better world.  He claims a prophet must be able to project a world as is it can be so we can see past the world as it is.  In doing this, he identifies two modes: criticizing and energizing.  Basically he says at times a prophet must speak out against injustices, and at other times a prophet must speak about things that can happen.  However, at the end of the day, the prophet must embody this alternate reality.  This tension between criticizing and energizing is put plainly by Ben Harper when he asks, “what good is a critic with no better plan.”  In fact, his whole song “Better Way” exemplifies this concept.

Closing note:

As I upload this final post in the my series of ten Top 10 lists, I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed writing them and have been encouraged by the response I have received.  I am very thankful Beth decided to join me in writing out her lists.  It was a great experiance to work through this process of self-reflection together.  If you have not read her posts and are interested in them, you can view them here on her blog: A Sugar-Mamma’s Thoughts

10 Books

July 21st, 2009 No comments

Beth and I have taken a short break from our 10 top 10 lists in order to spend some time with family.  Today we are on list #6, which looks at the most influential books for us.  Many of the concepts raised in these books will be revisited with our final blog post, which will examine the 10 ideas that define us as people.  I have listed them in a way that illustrates how each builds on the others.

  1. Is there a text in this class?, Stanley Fish – This book examines the nature of truth as it relates to the authority of texts.  As you will see, many of the books that follow rely on an interpretation of scripture to direct a community to action.  Fish provides a framework for understanding how interpretive communities shape truth.
  2. Nature of Doctrine, George Lindbeck – Whereas Fish looks as the authority of texts, Lindbeck looks at the nature of religion to determine how they practically function.  It is his conclusion that religion is like language and culture in that it explains the world around us, but it also helps us experience it.
  3. Life in Biblical Israel, Philip King and Lawrence Stager – Once we have discussed the role of community, religions and texts, it is essentially we understand the communities of Scripture if we are going to allow it to shape our lives.  This book is approachable and practical as it outlines the world from which the Old Testament was born.  Concepts such as kinsman redeemer and house of the father unlock amazing depth in the Hebrew Scriptures.
  4. New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright – No other theologian / historian has shaped my understanding of Scripture more than N.T. Wright.  He does an excellent job of allowing the historical setting to inform a reader’s understanding of Scripture.  He is a prolific writer, but this book in particular has been instrumental in shaping my understanding of the world of the New Testament.
  5. Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann – Once the world of scripture is established, we must understand how that affects the modern people of God.  Brueggemann (my favorite OT scholar) outlines the role of the prophet in projecting a world in line with God’s will.  Sometimes it requires critisizing an existing establishment, and at other times it requires energizing a new possibility.  I always try to keep both of these sides in tension in my own life.
  6. Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright – Whereas Brueggemann outlines the implications of the OT prophet, in this book Wright outlines the implications of the person of Jesus.  By showing Jesus in his historical context he allows the reader to grasp the importance of the Messiah beyond simply “personal salvation.”
  7. Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas – After understanding the role community plays in shaping an understanding of truth, and then exploring the implications of the communities of scripture, Hauerwas explores what it means for Christians today to live as a community wherein we are in the world but not a part of it — living in a colony of hope.
  8. The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder – I have already confessed that deep down I am a Mennonite.  I have the utmost respect for people who are consistent in their views of the world, and practical in their faith.  This book captures Yoder’s approach to understanding Christianity by outlining a way of life that the modern people of God can follow that is consistent with the person of Jesus.
  9. Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis – Moving away abstract and into the practical aspect of being a Christian, I most often turn to the tested words of Thomas à Kempis.  This is one of the most read texts of all time.  Since we are talking about books today, I will include this quote from him: “At the Day of Judgment, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done.”
  10. Walden, Henry David Thoreau – I end with the timeless work of Henry David Thoreau.  While his existentialist thought may seem out of line in light of the previous 9 pieces, for me it is the culmination of the list because in the pages of this book I have always found the honesty and connectedness to the world that is necessary to live daily.  It was Thoreau who said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and it is he who provides the most poignant commentary on my life as I flip through the pages of his works.

10 People

July 15th, 2009 No comments

We continue with day 2 of our 10 lists on 10 days.  Today, Beth and I have listed the 10 people we would most like to sit and have coffee with.  Of course the consumption of coffee is optional — surely it would make more sense to share a beer with a few of these folks, and others, I would rather talk with as we hiked through nature.  As always, these are in no particular order.

  1. Martin Luther King Jr. — Surely no surprise here.  After all, my daughter Mikayla Lillian is named after this civil rights leader.  King is best known for his role in fighting for equal rights for minorities.  However, he was also a passionate pacifist.  He was as opposed to the Vietnam War as he was Jim Crow laws.  I would want to share a drink with him to ask him what issues he saw as most pressing?  Would he concentration on gay rights?  Would he address war and torture?  Would he shift his attention to international issues?For me, MLK embodies the concept of the prophetic imagination (a concept we will explore in a later list).  I still cannot hear his I Have a Dream speech without tearing up.
  2. Desmond Tutu – Since we are talking about baby names, I must mention Desmond Tutu.  If our firstborn had been a male, I was advocating for the name Desmond.  Originally we were going to go with Douglas (my middle name), but I realized I would prefer my child to emulate him than me.  Tutu was instrumental in ending apartheid and symbolizes for me how a pastor can lead social change in the name of Christ.  His work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is awe-inspiring.  I want to know from him, how we can apply these concepts to our daily societal fissures.
  3. Bono – I wouldn’t have a string of questions for the lead singer of U2 like I would with many of the others, but in terms of having a good time, hanging out, discussing the ebbs and flows of life, I would think Bono would be the man.  Plus, his lyrics are so deep and harmonize the secular and the sacred.
  4. Peter Abelard – Perhaps the most obscure on my list.  Abelard was a tormented theologians in the 12th century (read about him here).  Theologically he is best known for going toe to toe with Anselm over atonement theory.  Abelard advocated for a Moral influence understanding over a substitutionary understanding.  He was quite eccentric and misunderstood.  Here is a paper I have written on him.
  5. Henry David Thoreau – I love his unfiltered commentary on life and society.  In addition to his emphasis on self reflection and the awe of creation, he is always honest with his understanding of faith.  I also have been influenced by his thoughts on civil disobedience.
  6. Stephen Hawkins – I have been fascinated by theoretical physics since I was in Middle School.  It is only a short jump from physics to philosophy and then to theology.  Hawkins not only provides an entryway into this crazy world, but the way he has approached life’s struggles epitomizes focus and direction.  As you will see in susequent posts, I am convinced quantum physics provides insights into truth.  Here is an approachable clip that will force you to reexamine your understanding of the world.  (Not Hawkins, but he works in the same areas.)
  7. John Howard Yoder – deep down I am a Mennonite, I just have not admitted it yet (well except to Brett).  I have learned more from other theologians, but I have yet to find a person who such consistency in their life, faith, theology and philosophy.  Politics of Jesus should be required reading for… well… everyone.
  8. N.T. Wright – There is not a simple person who has been more influencial in shaping my theology and understanding of the world and scripture than Bishop N.T. Wright.  I have listened to so many of his lectures I can hear him speak when I read his books.  I find so many of the concepts I regularly explain and rely on come from Wright.  I doubt I could keep up with him, but I would love to drink from the fire hydrant of his knowledge.  Plus, he has a that super cool British accent.  Here is a great resource for other lovers of his work.
  9. The Tank Man – Bravery is not something that is planned.  It is not something that is sought out.  It is something that occurs when we stand up for what is just.  I am fascinated by the story of the Tank Man – the young man who stopped a whole line of Chinese tanks through a simply act of resistence.  There are a couple reason he makes my list.  First… I want to know who this person is (to this day, it unknown).  But more importantly, I am drawn to this person because they were able to change the world with simple acts without demanding fame or recognition.
  10. Jesus – rounding out my list is the God-Man Jesus Christ himself.  I almost didn’t list Jesus.  That is not because I don’t think it would make for excellent conversation, or because I don’t have the ultimate respect, love, and devotion to Jesus.  Rather, it is because I realize I am way too like Peter (see below) and rather than sitting down with a whole list of questions, I would love simply follow Jesus as he navigated the world today.

What is your driving question?

June 27th, 2009 No comments

I participate in a book study at Broadway UMC.  Right now we are working through a called Simply Christian by NT Wright (who happens to be one of the scholars I most look up to).

This past week the topic was supposed to be the Character of God and the story of Israel.  It surprised no one when we got a bit off subject and began talking about “souls” and what the main point of Christianity was.  When it comes to the soul I am a monist with reservations and thus don’t believe in a soul as traditionally defined — I reject the dualism of the whole proposition; I find thinking of the body as something separate from the soul leads to an unhealthy anthropology as we either see the flesh (and therefore the world) as bad or inconsequential.

That was a bombshell for some.  However it led to a good discussion on the philosophical development of the idea of the soul.  For the most part, writers in the Old Testament did not conceive of a soul.  Where the word does appear (nephish) it is referring more generally to “the self.”  Furthermore, the concept of an afterlife is virtually non-existent until the post-exilic age.  By the time of the second temple and the ministry of Jesus, the soul and the afterlife were firmly developed in Religious discussion.

So, that leads one to wonder, “What caused this change?”  Well the answer is relatively simply.  In the patriarchal (Abraham-Moses) era through the Monarchy (David, Solomon, and then all those chaps whose names you skim over when reading), the people of God saw all their needs fulfilled in YHWH in their day to day life (granted they did not always act like it).  They had YHWH’s presence with them; they had been given the promised land; and their identity was firmly established. There was no need to ask questions about what happens when you die because they saw fulfillment in their current situation.  For them, the primary question was “What does it look like to be the people of God.”  The answer to that is simple and contained in the promise to Abraham: “You will be blessed so that you can cause the blessing of all nations.”  From there, the laws and customs evolved to help flesh that out.

Things change once exile comes.  After the sins of the divided kingdoms, YHWH turns to the Assyrians and the Babylonians to be his instrument of judgment.  Simply put, Israel was not living up to their calling and the Presence, Land and Identity were stripped of them.  Before YHWH dwelt in their temple, now they were captives and YHWH presence seemed so distant.  They lamented: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…  How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”  Their daily lives did not exhibit the hope they once had.

Carving depicting Assyrian Exile (you can tell by the pointy hat).

Carving depicting Assyrian Exile (you can tell by the pointy hat).

At this point, hopefully you are connecting the dots.  The concept of a soul and of the afterlife developed because the people of Israel had lost their identity and primary calling.  It no longer made sense to envision God’s will being played out in their day to day lives.  Their hope instead had to lie in the “by-and-by.”

The early Jews were driven by the question: What does it mean in this day to be the people of God?  This included issues of identity, blessing and duty.  For exilic and post-exilic Jews, the question evolved: What will it mean to be the people of God?

It is interesting these questions still dominate today.  To oversimplify, liberals/emergents tend to ask the first question while evangelicals/fundementalists ask the second question.  It is easy to find ourselves in one camp or the other.  One may say, “I am better because I realize the presence of God here and now” and the other may “I am better because I care about things that eternal.”

Of course the correct answer is that both questions are valid and equally important.  We must understand what it means to be the people of God in this world, and live in eager expectation and preparation for the world that is to come.  Without doubt, the ministry of Jesus brought together these questions and he provided the ultimate answer for each in these: He lived the perfect life of reconciliation and restoration, while providing mediation and direction for the life to come.

The real power is actually not found in asking these questions side by side or together.  Rather, I am convinced we should simplify our question back to original roots:  What does it mean to be the people of God.  This question involves Identity, lifestyle (holiness) and hope.  It is rooted in an understanding that we are blessed in order to cause the blessing of all the nations.  Christians must first understand themselves as the people of God and with that identity they can begin to ask “How should the people of God live in this present world” all-the-while experiencing the hope and reassurance of the world that is to come.

There were a thousand tangents I wanted to take with this post (community vs. idividual understanding of Christianity; Hebrew parsing of Abraham’s calling; heaven, hell, sheol, souls and nephish, etc.) but for now I will be content not making my primary question revolve around my present actions or my future destination, but rather about my identity and implications it brings.

Pondering the Question

Pondering the Question