Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Heiser’s Free Book)

Michael Heiser, The Naked Bible, is offering the first draft of his book FREE (329 pages) Subtitle: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. I’ve really enjoyed the preface.

…My life has been spectacularly mundane…It‘s kind of like watching It’s a Wonderful Life…looking back I see the ordinary deeds of steadfast friends and passing acquaintances, frivolous remarks that provided unintended clarity…providence.

I’m a big fan of God acting in the mundane. Heiser continues:

…I came to suspect that the key to understanding [difficult] texts—and really the entire biblical revelation—was to approach them the way the ancients would have on their own terms. People who claim to be serious about the Bible often expend a lot of energy talking about how it needs to be interpreted in context—but then turn around and filter it through their own traditions. The context for correctly understanding the Bible is not…(p. 6)

…After reading the Old Testament and other ancient material from the biblical period closely, I discovered a number of items that didn‘t jive with traditional ways of formulating biblical theology. I had to make a choice. Was I willing to side with the Bible when its own content, illumined by a deep knowledge of the ancient world in which God moved people to produce it, deviated from what I had been taught in my modern evangelical context? Again, a special grace compelled me to think that choosing the Bible wasn‘t going to hurt my faith. God was the same God then as he is now. I wasn‘t going to understand the text by making its writers fit into molds created by theologians who lived centuries after its creation and who worked without access to its ancient cultural context. The Bible would be okay, and so would I.(p. 6).

…. I can say with confidence is that you‘ll never look at your Bible the same way again. And while we‘re on that subject, I need to say a few things about what the Bible is and isn‘t…. (p. 7)

Introduction: “The Bible–How Much Do You Really Believe It?”

…we aren‘t as open to the supernatural as we think we are. Many Christians are supernaturalists who think like skeptics. Ask yourself what would be going through your mind if a Christian friend confided in you one day that they believed they had been helped by a guardian angel, or that they audibly heard a disembodied voice warning them of some unforeseeable danger, or that they had seen an image of Jesus in some moment of crisis…

…our modern, rationalistic evangelical sub-culture has trained us to think that our theology precludes these experiences or this kind of contact. [Yes, Heiser recognizes abuse and excess.] (p. 11).

Whether we want to admit it or not, since we live in a modern scientific age, we are prone to think these kinds of experiences are misinterpretations of some other happenstance, or something that is treatable with the right medication. We would think it absolutely unwarranted to insist on scientific evidence for the virgin birth, insisting that faith is required. Why then do many Christians call on academic SWAT teams to explain away other ―weird passages? Aren‘t those important? Does acceptance of the supernatural extend only to the items referenced in creeds and confessions?

Think of this book as my offer to drive you home to the faith (13)

 Download his FREE book and enjoy. You may find it as fascinating as I did just to click (skim) through the entire document for the big picture.

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On faith and the academic pursuit of correct answers (Yoda)

I was in a silly mood this morning while corresponding with a friend about young students wanting direct answers from their profs. It got me thinking about my own academic and spiritual journey.  My five-year-old son has become a Star Wars fanatic, and many conversations in our home are now conducted now with a Yoda voice. So in my best Yoda imitation, here is my response to a younger me.

Right answers seek you?

Truth. Very difficult.
Much confusion in the world there is.
Through a glass darkly many facts we cannot know.
Answers maybe not helpful.

Dogmatic world: someways easy.
But too much they deny.
In fear many live.
Stuck in past they are, but no more sense all makes today. Some yes.
But too much Good News dogma misses.

Even here, only guesses we can offer.
Try we do.
But reality are they?
A much bigger world there is.

Like Peter, where else go we? The Dark Side?
Much worse it is.
In faithful community refuge seek.

The deeper Wisdom, very hard for you now, my Padawan.
I know. I know. Hmmmm…
But your feelings you must probe.
Why? OK to ask.

Trust God you must.
Faithful to Jesus you can be.
Through fresh eyes, the Bible read we.

To others listen.
Different cultures understand.
Marginalized reach out to.
Touch them.
Loving, you must become.

For Peace, Jesus ask.
Answers? Not so much.
More knowledge? Maybe.
First, much suffering you will have.
Much pride from you he must remove.
Till you become as a child.
In openness and humility, solutions lie.

Your fear, he must conquer.
Your questions, he must change.
Deeper Wisdom, he will give.

But much time it takes.

Paul believes in BOTH predestination AND freewill (Kirk and Sanders)

Tucked in his ongoing series of blog thoughts on Douglas A. Campbell’s, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, my favorite New Testament scholar says,

…Now I know that on many of these issues you don’t think Ed Sanders has gotten things as straight as needs be. Fair enough. But one thing he said around the seminar table has stuck with me and resonated as true to much of early Jewish literature: “Paul believed both in predestination and free will, and so did the other Jews of the first century. Do you know what the Qumran community called themselves? The elect. You know what else they called themselves? The volunteers!”

It seems more than a little likely to me that what we consider theological contradiction a first century Jew might consider paradox or mystery. This is one reason I’m less than eager to base my assessment of Paul on an idealized reconstruction of theories. I’m not persuaded that our only other option is to relegate Paul to the realm of contradiction and confusion.

Both/and might be an alternative to either/or…

JRD Kirk, More on the Reformed Traditions in Campbell

I’ll just add that my African colleagues tend to have an easier time handling these BOTH/AND paradoxes than my linear Western EITHER/OR friends do. That’s just one more benefit of doing biblical studies in the African context.

Onesimus Online: a blog to stir your thinking (Bill Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Ask any of Bill Black’s students here about him, and they will probably say: “he provokes; he really challenges us to think.”   Thankfully, for the rest of us, Bill blogs at Onesimus Online: history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff. If you are at all interested in theology, theological education in Africa, global Christianity, missions, evangelicalism, American cultural Christianity, and other related topics, you might enjoy his blog–and having your thinking provoked and deepened. I know Bill appreciates the broader dialog.  Bill and his wife are both pastors, graduates of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, PhDs from Cambridge, and teachers here at NEGST.  Previously, they taught in Ethiopia. Plus, they are a lot of fun to talk to;  I’ve learned a lot from them.

Here are a few “sound bytes” from some of Bill’s posts to whet your appetite:

The passing of evangelicalism

…We Western Evangelicals thought we were the center of the Christian universe, only to discover that the glory seems to have departed and moved south to Africa, Latin America and Asia. Those tongues-speaking, hallelujah-shouting, other-side-of-the-tracks-dwelling so-called Pentecostals, even more derisively labeled as ‘holy rollers’ by the upstanding Christians in my home church who, of course, knew better, have become the most explosive force in the global expansion of Christianity ever. There is not a single individual person in my systematic theology class who would not identify themselves as either Pentecostal or Charismatic. On the ‘mission field’ at least, the old paradigms of missionary Christianity are in the process of being leap-frogged entirely. ..
…Anyway, the point of all of this is that things have changed. Radically. Decisively. The old verities and polarities don’t work anymore (if they ever did). The systems and structures which we created to manage the world as we knew it are being pressed into service beyond their capacity to cope. This is not a call to somehow change Evangelicalism. It’s actually too late for that. Its day has passed and cannot be recovered. Instead, …

A Plea for Civility, Sanity and Integrity in Theological/Political Debate (3 personal examples)

Theology is not safe:

…there is another reason why I am undertaking this blog. Theology is a dangerous thing. Theology that attempts to reduce God to what I can understand about God is an attempt to tame God. But the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures is untamable. Our Western theological traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, are attempts to mount God onto a specimen board, attempts to dissect and label God’s constituent parts, attempts to deduce divine physiology from divine structure. But efforts to catalogue the parts fails to apprehend the whole. Our orthodoxies miss the point…

…This blog then is becoming increasingly like my own incident at the fords of the Jabbok, my own wrestling with the one who refuses to be named and categorized…

The Western Captivity of African Christianity

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Brain tumors, theological education and the church

The human brain is an unimaginably complex piece of work…Though my extended parable may be like the tumor it describes – a malignant profusion of words that obliterates the intended purpose – the purpose itself remains. The concern of this post is with theological education as it is actually practiced, especially at the higher levels, and its relationship with the church it’s intended to serve. My concerns come from my own experience as one who has benefitted from theological education and who has gone on to serve several churches in a professional ministerial capacity, and from my observations of theological education in actual practice…

…I think there are likely a number of reasons contributing to this fundamental dysfunction in our churches. First,…

….The breathtaking irony of all this is, having created such an institutionalized system for training our leaders (the theological education industry), a system that has succeeded in taking us further and further afield from that which Christ is calling us to be, we heedlessly presume our institutional model to be the most effective way to train Nigerians or Indians or Chinese or Ethiopians for the ministry…

Africa, Spiral Logic, Systematic Theology, and the Perils of Theological Education

The Indefensible Evangelical Habit of Shooting Our Wounded

Last week there was a gun battle outside our gate. Four gangsters had hijacked cars and shot drivers and the authorities finally caught up with them just over the fence from my house. In the ensuing firefight, two of the carjackers were killed outright, one escaped over the fence (and through my garden!), and the fourth lay wounded on the road…

Believers Baptism vs. Infant Baptism, Must it Matter?

Evangelicalism Inc.

…Not only are the Western Prosperity gods raking it in, but developing-world prosperity-god-wannabees are trying desperately to get in on the cash…Dare I even mention the Evangelical publishing industry, which seems to have taken on the role of God in conservative academic and popular religion circles, raising up this one and ignoring that one, and on the grounds of whether or not it is ‘marketable’. I can’t imagine Jeremiah being able to secure a publishing contract from this crowd…

…Then there are the incredibly large and wealthy Christian aid organizations poised globally to respond immediately to the latest front page disaster and who must raise gazillions of dollars not only to feed the starving, but to buy the planes and Toyota land cruisers and computers and iPhones and Blackberries and pay the travel fees for all the conferences and meetings and consultations that must happen in the background for the hungry to be fed…

Does this bother anybody else?

…I do not deny the good intentions of most (I hope) of my fellow Christians involved in these so-called ‘ministries’. But I can’t help but thinking that we Evangelicals have become like addicts hooked on methamphetamine. We’ve got to have more, more, more. We’ve got to be successful, or at least appear successful, because if we are or appear so, more people will be drawn to our ‘ministry’ which will make us all the more successful. But like the meth addict, this stuff is destroying us…We dare not take a genuinely prophetic stance on anything, because if we do, someone will be offended and we will lose support. We’ve become like Ahab’s court prophets, cunningly discerning which way the wind is blowing before committing ourselves on any issue, and viciously smacking down anyone who does not toe the party line.

We Evangelicals are seriously compromised. And seriously compromised people are like salt that’s lost its savor…

And much, much MORE.

My Book

He’s baaaack!!! The blogger formerly known as Sibboleth (Kirk)

I’m happy to announce that Daniel Kirk (the artist formerly known as Sibboleth) has returned to blogging at “Storied Theology: Telling the story of the story-bound God.” His first post Communal Story & the Face of God.

As a New Testament scholar and a blogger, he writes:

…My guild exists for the purpose of high-level, carefully developed, carefully articulated, fully digested assessment of data and arguments. A blog entry is an impression, a first thought, a work in progress. This means that a blog is a strange genre for a New Testament scholar. We need to continue the task of cultivating a new category for “blog,” one that assumes that the author’s thought is a work in progress, one that anticipates change, adaptation and growth of ideas expressed in public…

Update your blogrolls and set your RSS feeders to: http://www.jrdkirk.com/?feed=rss2

The New Testament is a short book; know its context (Keener)

…the NT is a short book, as far as scholarly disciplines go, and NT scholars ought to know its context better [Hengel]…It is simply naive to take a document written to a particular ancient setting, written in Greek, using figures of speech and cultural allusions that were shared assumptions by the ancient author and the author’s intended audience, and assume that we can read it without taking any of that into account.  I’m not saying that we can’t get many correct ideas from a translation without additional background, but you will also miss a lot.

Craig Keener, interview on Romans with Nijay Gupta. (Read the whole interview here.)

Ken Schenck has some harsh words for Carson, Beale, and Piper for their “innoculation” of the complacent

In Who’s a scholar, Ken Schenck (Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University) has this to say:

…It seems like whenever a study or trajectory of real significance arises, some “conservative”–meaning someone resistant to change–then commissions a counter-study to address it. Such counter-studies, far from actually disproving the new development, more innoculates the complacent, who can now simply say, “You can see that the new book by D. A. Carson or John Piper shows that this or that is not in fact true but another liberal conspiracy to corrupt the masses.”

….Justification and Variegated Nomism…the “scholarly” excuse for ignoring genuine developments. Of course the volumes themselves are far more “new perspective” than old…

So also N. T. Wright introduces the actual ancient background of the New Testament into his interpretations of Scripture and it begins to make its way down into the masses. Commission a study! So John Piper produces a “scholarly” volume refuting it to innoculate the masses. Sorry. Just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you haven’t been caught with your theological pants down.

Another reactionary “scholarly” innoculation is D. A. Carson and Greg Beale’s Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Sorry. The truth doesn’t care. The New Testament simply isn’t majorly concerned with the context and original meaning of Old Testament passages. [Jim West complains about this last sentence, but see Peter Enns’s chapter on the Christotelic interpretation of the Old Testament in the New Testament – Inspiration and Incarnation. ]

There have been a glut of new commentary series it seems this last decade, but most of them promise to fill Amazon with this sort of innoculatory rubbish. Books to allow us not to grow, not to wrestle truly with hard issues.

Oh where is objectivity to be found? Nowhere, of course, but there are better and worse examples of the attempt. It used to be that we simply ignored the experts. Now the anti-intellectuals have infiltrated them, across the spectrum of scholarly disciplines in America.

Read the whole post– Who’s a scholar. I have a lot of respect for John Piper. I appreciate many of his books and sermons, and he has done some wonderful things, and I think that he genuinely has the glory of God at interest. However, I have to agree with Shenk on this point, and I think the harsh truth needs to be told.

In a somewhat related issue (for those of you that aren’t already completely ensconced in the biblical studies blog world) Scot McKnight responds to Dan Wallace’s frustrations about biases against evangelicals in scholarship (more than 500 comments so far.) David Miller has collected some of the links to this issue and says,

… AKMA‘s comment (scroll down to #38) on the Jesus Creed is the most helpful I’ve read yet. There’s plenty of good advice in the comment thread for students interested in graduate schools too.

*For other posts on the same general subject see Biblia Hebraica, kata ta biblia, Exploring Our Matrix.
For my own thoughts on the intersection between faith and scholarship, see here and here.