Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Disciples and Theology

Do you ever wonder how Disciples of Christ go about doing theology? For a fledgling denomination with a heritage that proclaims “no creed but Christ,” do you sometimes wish you had a handle on contemporary Disciple theology. If so, you’re in luck. Chalice Press has recently published the Chalice Introduction to Disciple Theology, edited by Peter Goodwin Heltzel. This comprehensive volume contains essays by over 30 Disciple leaders under five sections that include The Task and Sources of Theology, God in Creation, The Church, Reconciliation, and Mission. Check out the table of content and an excerpt at Amazon. This just might need to be on your Christmas hint list. (Click here)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Buried Secrets

With all the holiday activity, you may have missed the NOVA episode on PBS called the Bible's Buried Secrets. It is a very well done look at Old Testament history based on archaeological evidence. You can watch all 13 segments from the special by clicking on the link at the end of this post. Running time for each segment is between 6 to 11 minutes. Some of the topics include Who Wrote the Bible, The House of David, and the Exodus. Check it out. (Click here)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Google Jesus - Week 4 Assignment

After a short ministry that had gained little traction, the life of Jesus came to a sudden and violent end at Passover time in Jerusalem. Having reproached the cities of the evangelical triangle (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) where he performed his mightiest works with only meager results, it was time to go to the holy city. Yet Jerusalem would be even less welcoming to his preaching, and highly dangerous as well. Luke records that Jesus resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem. Whatever was to happen with his ministry would now happen there. After a tumultuous entry and an incident in the Temple, the days of Jesus were numbered. This week’s assignment then centers on Jerusalem and the death of the teacher from Nazareth who some believed was the Messiah.

Trace the steps of Jesus from baptism to the Via Dolorosa at Sacred Destinations. (Click here)

Let John Dominic Crossan give you a lesson in “Crowd Control.” His essay will cause you to rethink a significant aspect of the passion story. (Click here)

Visit again the home page of the PBS series From Jesus to Christ and bookmark this important site. While there, read the articles on “Crucifixion” and “Arrest and Execution" at the Jesus' Many Faces tab. (Click here)

For as masterful job of explaining how Passover was celebrated in the first century, again visit our friend Barry D. Smith. (Click here)

Find out what a archaeological architect does by checking out Leen Ritmeyer’s sketch of the Jerusalem temple and the location of the crucifixion of Jesus. Make sure you click to enlarge the sketch for a closer view. For more of Leen’s work, see his interview at the Bible Illustration blog and then visit his own web site. (Click here) then (Click here) and then (Click here)

Take a quick look at another model of the temple and important surrounding locations at the Holy Land Model of Ancient Jerusalem. Be sure to click on the numbers at this site. (Click here)

Finally, at the Jerusalem Archaeology Park, thanks to the UCLA Urban Simulation Team and the Israel Antiquities Authority, you can tour a visual simulation model of the Herodian Temple Mount from the time of Jesus. At this amazing site, you have access to a wealth of historical and archaeological data, as well as viewing the Virtual Reconstruction Model. (Click here)

Online Assignment
How did this week’s study of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount help you better understand the last day’s of Jesus.

Reading Assignment
Read Chapter 4 and Epilogue, pp 111 – 171

Write a brief amazon.com-style review of our text, Jesus and the Land by Charles Page. Think of your readers as revJohn visitors who are looking for helpful “customer reviews” of the book. Provide a 1 to 5 star rating, with 5 stars the highest and 1 star the lowest rating.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Google Jesus - Week 3 Assignment

One of the most dramatic scenes in the New Testament comes when Jesus at Caesarea Philippi asks his disciples who the crowds think him to be. They reply with a series of choices—Elijah, John the Baptist, etc. Then Jesus asks of them: “Who do you say that I am?” This weeks lesson works with this theme. We’re going to visit three web sites that give different answers to our question. These are substantial sites that you should explore and sample areas that are of interest to you.

Barry Smith, a Baptist professor, offers an entire online course on the Life of Jesus. Pick a section(s) that interest you and spend some time with the material. Cam Howard presents a portrait of Jesus based on the work of Marcus Borg who you met in last week’s assignment. Finally, the Jewish Encyclopedia allows us to look at the ministry of Jesus through the eyes of Jewish scholars.

We begin our assignment with a Mahon’s Smith’s Land of Israel. This is not just a map of first century Israel. Left click on one of the place names and check out the resources that pop up about that location and its relation to Jesus. We conclude with a brief essay by Gerd Ludemann, a secular scholar and skeptic who has written extensively about Jesus and the origins of Christianity. His summary of Jesus and his ministry is insightful even as his conclusions are disheartening. And finally, a bonus assignment for those with time and interest in the topics shown.

Online Assignment

Mahlon Smith – Land of Israel (Click here)

Barry D. Smith - Life of Jesus (Click here)

Cam Howard’s Portrait of Jesus (Click here)

The Jewish Encyclopedia – Jesus of Nazareth (Click here)

Gerd Ludemann – The Life of Jesus (Click here)

Bonus Assignment

Did Jesus Oppose the Purity Laws - Paula Fredriksen is William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University . She specializes in the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity, from the late Second Temple period to the fall of the Western Roman Empire . In 1999 she received a national Jewish Book Award for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity. This article originally appeared in Bible Review. She is, I believe, a Roman Catholic convert to Judaism. (Click here)

Jesus and Women - Amy-Jill Levine is E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School , Department of Religious Studies, and Graduate Department of Religion. Her most recent publications include The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, the edited collection, The Historical Jesus in Context and the fourteen-volume series, Feminist Companions to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings. She is an Orthodox Jew.

This lecture was delivered to the Otter Street Church of Christ in Nashville, TN. The Church of Christ traditionally has not permitted women to teach, preach, or take public worship leadership roles because of their belief that such activity violates God’s will, as seen in such passages as 1 Corinthians 14:34 where Paul writes that “women should remain silent in the churches.”
(Click here)

Online Question of the Week
How would you describe Jesus’ ministry from a historical perspective? Try your hand at providing a brief thumbnail sketch of Jesus and his ministry in just a few sentences with these limitations: no confessional language or theological descriptors (Savior, Son of God, etc.).

Reading Assignment – Jesus and the Land
Read Chapter 3, pp 71 – 109

The author presents two “conversion experiences” that he presumes for Jesus. But what about Jesus’ baptism by John? In what sense was that too a “conversion experience”? Share a few comments around the idea that Jesus’ faith developed through a series of religious experiences.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Google Jesus - Week 2 Assignment

Welcome to Week 2 of Google Jesus. If you’re just joining us, jump right in and check out this week’s assignment. And if you like, check out some of last week’s sites as well. I encourage you to join in this online learning community by setting up a Google account. That way you can add your comments and questions as we study together online.

It’s free and all you need to do is provide your current email address and create a Google account password. Click on comments and sign up or create an account by going to Google.com

This week’s lesson is centered on the birth of Jesus. You’ll find a variety of viewpoints in the sites we’re visiting. Don’t worry if you don’t agree with all the ideas you come across. You’re not suppose to. Engaging other differing viewpoints will challenge you and help you put your own understanding into perspective. So let’s get started.

Internet Assignment
Read Matthew, Chapters 1 – 2 and Luke, Chapters 1-2. How are the two stories alike? How are they different? Make a list you can refer to in future studies.

After you have completed your list, compare it with that of New Testament scholar, Felix Just. (Click here)

For a bit if a surprise, see the reconstruction of a typical Judean home and find out what Luke probably meant when he said there was no place for Joseph and Mary in the “inn.” Scroll down to the December 18, 2007, post at Stephen Pfann’s blog site until you come to his entry “A New Light on an Old Story.” (Click here)

Reflect on the historicity of the “virgin birth” and its meaning for contemporary Christians by reviewing the sharply contrasting views of two ministers/New Testament scholars, Bishop John Shelby Spong and Ben Witherington. (Click here) and (Click here)

Listen to an interview about the Christmas story with popular author, teacher, and Jesus Seminar fellow, Marcus Borg. (Click here)

Watch a brief video lecturette by Brian McClaren on the meaning of “Son of God” in a first century context. Scroll down and choose the video "Who is Jesus". It will take a moment for the video to load. (Click here)

Judge who has the better argument for the birth place of Jesus from a historical perspective by reading the articles of Steve Mason and Jerome Murphy O’Connor in Biblical Archaeology Review. (Click here) and (Click here)

Finally, check out how contemporary Judaism understands the concept of “Messiah” by visiting Judaism 101. (Click here)

Online Question of the Week
How did this series of assignments add to your understanding of the historical Jesus? Did they present any challenges? Raise any questions? Share a comment.

Reading Assignment – Jesus and the Land
Read Chapter 2, pp 39 – 70 (Note: we’ll discuss the baptism of Jesus next week.)

Do you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusion that Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus best fits historically with what really happened? Explain your reasons.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Google Jesus - Week 1 Assignment

Welcome to revJohn and this inaugural online course called Google Jesus. The purpose off this course is to discover more about Jesus, allowing you to work at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home.

If you put the name “Jesus” in a search engine, you’ll get back over 211 million results. With so many options, it’s difficult to find really helpful sites, especially scholarly sites. Consequently, with this course, we’ll visit some important web sites and explore key resources available on the internet.

Each week on Sunday evening for four weeks, beginning tonight, I’ll post several bite-sized assignments for you to complete. Most will take only a few minutes to complete. For those doing the optional reading assignment (see below), I’ll also post a few question for you to consider. Each week you can also respond to a question we’ll consider as an online learning community.

Internet Assignment
It is sometimes difficult for faithful Christians to think of Jesus as a man, a human being who lived and died at a particular point in history in a particular geography. This week’s assignment helps us locate Jesus to the land of Israel and to explore how that specific geography shaped his life and ministry.

Begin by reading Matthew 11:-20-24. Note the specific villages/cities mentioned.

Go to Maps of War and play History of Religion. Take note of what changes and what stays the same on the map. (Click here)

Check out several aerial maps, especially, Galilee and the North (Map 3). Find Sepphoris, Tiberias, Narzareth, Capernaum, Chorizin, and Bethsaida and the Hill Country of Samaria (Map 5). (Click here) and (Click here)

Read Jonathan Reed’s article Excavating Jesus. (Click here)

Check out Galilee at the time of Christ. (Click here)

Listen to archaeologist James Strange talk about Sepphoris. (Click here)

Read Rami Arav’s discussion of Bethsaida and vicinity. (Click here)

Enter the Land of Jesus and visit the seven scenes depicted there. Make sure to roll your cursor over the highlighted areas on each scene to see more information. (Click here)

Online Question of the Week
What do you make of the fact that the gospels do not report Jesus visiting or preaching in Tiberias and Sepphoris?

Reading Assignment – Jesus and the Land
Read Chapter 1, pp 17-38

How does the author describe the inhabitants of Nazareth? For him, what was important about the word “netzer”?

Order Charles Page’s Jesus and the Land from Amazon. (Click here)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Course Starts November 2

Our online course, Google Jesus, begin here on Sunday, November 2. The first weekly assignment will post around 7:00 p.m. on Sunday evening. You'll visit some new web sites and hopefully gain a few new insights into Jesus of Nazareth. If you would like to also do a book assignment, just order Jesus and the Land by Charles Page by clicking this link. (Or let me know, and I'll help you get the book.)

We'll do one online and one book assignment each week for four weeks. I hope you can join in.

The Code Delivered by Gene

The Cowboy Code - Gene Autry

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

For you cowboys and cowgirls that would like to visit Gene's site, just click here.

The Code Delivered by Moses

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 NIV)
And God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


There was a priest, a minister, and a rabbi. To have a good chuckle, visit the post of biblical scholar, Ben Witherington, on October 16, called "An Unbearable Ministry." Check out some of Ben's other posts while you're there.


From the daily meditations of Frederick Buechner in Listening to Your Life:

"You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention."

"They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next."

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Mystery Worshipper

The October 10th Wallstreet Journal ran a feature story headlined The Mystery Worshipper. "To try to keep their flocks," the article began, "churches are turning to undercover inspectors who note water stains, dull sermons and poor hospitality."

Retail stores and restaurants have long used mystery shoppers to provide feedback on their shopping/dining experience. But now secret shopper firms are expanding their market to include churches who want to find out what first time visitors think about their worship experience. Chris Sonksen of Real Church Solutions offers: "First-time guests, they don't come with mercy, they come with judgment. They're looking for a reason to leave."

The cost of a mystery worshipper can range from $150 for a one-time visit to between $1,500 and $2,500 for multiple visits and a detailed report. So what if we hired a "Mystery Worshipper" to check out Hillside? What categories of our worship experience would attract a critical eye? Let's consider a few categories:
  • Sermon
  • Music
  • Appearance of grounds
  • Website
  • Greeters
  • Friendliness of members
  • Cleanliness of restrooms
  • Classes for children/adults
What other categories would you add? And more importantly, what can all of us do to be more attuned to how we're perceived by first-time visitors!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Laurie and I are off on vacation for a week. I'll pick up the blogging when we get back. Mean time, check out some of the older posts. And feel free to leave a comment or two. See you here at revJohn on Monday, October 20. I want to tell you then about the "Mystery Worshipper."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hymns & Faith

If you like the old gospel hymns such as Anywhere With Jesus, O, Master Let Me Walk With Thee, and We're Marching to Zion but with arrangements that are fresh and contemporary, then you absolutely must check out Amy Grant's two CDs, Legacy and Rock of Ages. Grant's husband, Vince Gill, has added a modern Nashville touch that is terrific. The second of the two CDs at Amazon still allows you to preview the entire album. Take a listen.

Francis of Assisi

During our worship services the past few weeks that focused on Creation, we had occasion to experience the words of St. Francis of Assisi. If you would like to know more about Francis, send a peace card, read up on the blessing of animals, or check out St. Francis and ecology, go to this site.

And of course our friends at Wikipedia have a substantial article on St. Francis.

Finally, you may want to read his Canticle to the Sun (or Canticle of the Creatures) for a spiritual boost.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Let's get back to some of the characteristic speech patterns exhibited by Jesus. Scholars are confident that Jesus spoke Aramaic. Even though the New Testament is written in Greek, there are several examples of his Aramaic words scattered throughout the gospels. One such word is "Abba." In many older works, this word was explained as a term used by children that was an equivalent to our English word "Daddy." This is not correct, nor is it correct that the term was unique to Jesus. There are a number of instances of its use by other writers of the period. The word, which was not just for children, is a term of respect and is perhaps better translated as something like "dearest Father." The one instance of Abba in the gospels is found in Mark 14:36, but it is assumed as the Aramaic basis of the Greek word for "Father" that is frequently on the lips of Jesus. So another characteristic way of speaking for Jesus is to refer to God as Abba. A question to consider: How has Jesus' use of Abba shaped our understanding of God? How comfortable are you in thinking of God as Mother?

Google Jesus

Let me encourage you to join me for our first online course at Hillside - Google Jesus. Over the past few years, I've discovered a number of online resource that help us learn more about Jesus and his message. And I want to continue that learning with your help.

Here's how the course will work. Each week I'll post an online assignment with links to a few select sites. We'll check out what the site has to say, and there will be an opportunity to respond to one or more assignment questions. That way you can share your experience and also learn from others.

As an option, for those of you who have the time and like to read, I suggest securing an insightful paperback entitled Jesus and the Land by Charles Page II. For those choosing that option along with the online work, I will suggest a weekly reading program and few questions to ponder based on the book. Click on the link above to see the book at Amazon and place an order.

When we finish after four weeks, if anyone is interested, we will offer a chance to debrief our various learning experiences at Hillside and discuss any questions that have arisen that were not (or could not) be addressed online. Let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Carnival XXXIV

The Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIV can be viewed at Doug Chaplin's MetaCatholic blog. A Carnival is a summary of major blogs entries in the area of biblical studies with links to the individual entries. The Carnival appears regularly at rotating blog sites and is a great way to find out what happening in the world of biblioblogging. Check it out.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Temple for Kansas City

On Saturday the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) announced the planned construction of a new Temple in the greater Kansas City area. The only other Temple in Missouri is located in St. Louis.

The location of the new Temple has not been made known by church officials. Upon completion of the Temple, but before it is dedicated, non-Mormons will be able to visit and be provided information on the different functions and ceremonies performed in the Temple.

Once dedicated, only Latter Day Saints in good standing may enter a Temple.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Stone's Throw

We all have characteristic ways of speaking. Think about the closest members of your family and some of their distinctive ways of communication. My Dad ran a small town garage and gas station. If a tourist stopped to ask directions, they most often heard: "Well, you go down east about a 'stone's throw' and then turn . . ." In most cases, a stone's throw distance was hard to discern for most tourists. And rightfully so because it appeared to have a range for Dad of about 25 yards to 5 miles!

With this said, did Jesus have characteristic ways of speaking. Scholars tell us "yes." One of the distinctive marks of Jesus' speech is the use of the Hebrew "Amen." Now while the common usage of "amen" was to affirm the words of another, Jesus used it to introduce or strengthen his own words. Our translation often disguise this by translating the word as "truly". Joachim Jeremias in his New Testament Theology lists 59 occasions in the gospels where this word is on the lips of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, it appears in double form: "Amen, Amen, I say to you . . ." Which leads to another characteristic, when "Amen" is used by Jesus in the Gospels, it is followed by the phrase "I say to you." And this way of speaking is only associated with Jesus in the gospels.

Here are a five examples in Mark and John to look at: Mark 3:28; 8:12; 9:1 and John 1:51; 3:3.

We'll look at a couple of other characteristic ways Jesus spoke in some upcoming posts.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Marginal Jew

In 1991, John P. Meier, Catholic priest and New Testament scholar, published A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1. Next spring, Volume 4 is to be published. And a Volume 5 is anticipated. Meier has spent almost two decades researching and writing about the historical Jesus, which raises the question for me: What do I know for sure about the Jesus of history?

In his initial volume, Meir imagines the following scenario: "Suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic - all honest historians cognizant of first century religious movements - were locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library . . . and not allowed to emerge until they had hammered out a consensus document on who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended . . ."

If all were honest and maintained their academic integrity, what consensus would emerge from such a gathering. And, more importantly, what might emerge from our own historical study of Jesus?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And the answers are . . .

Spoiler Alert: the answers to the previous post are shown below. If you want to experience the joy of researching and learning on your own, please avert your eyes NOW. Review the questions on the post and go to BibleGateway. If you have your answers, read on.

By my count, there were 24 occasions where Adam is mentioned based on the New International Version. And 8 of those occasions are found in the New Testament. Did you think there would be more entries listed; I did.

Bible Gateway

If you have not been to BibleGateway, take a quick visit. It is a terrific tool for reading and researching scripture online. For example, suppose you want to know each mention of "Adam" in the Bible and especially the places where that name is mentioned in the New Testament. By selecting Keyword Search, you can find your answers almost instantly.

Or suppose you want to read Mark 10:46-52. By choosing Passage Look-up, you can immediately have access to your scripture selection. You can also see how the passage is translated in other English versions by selecting 1 of 20 (or more) different versions.

Try it out and compare your answer with mine in the next post.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Forbidden Gospels

If not on your Blog roll, make sure and check out April DeConick's The Forbidden Gospels Blog (here). April is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University and her site always has something of interest.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Initial Post

Thanks for visiting revJohn. This initial post, as with several subsequent posts, is just a chance for me to practice blogging. It feels a bit weird, but I hope to get the hang of it soon.