Friday, February 27, 2009

Traditional Atonement Theology

For a traditional but brief statement statement on the atoning nature of Christ's death, check out Ben Witherington's article at Beliefnet entitled "It's Not Just About Forgiveness.". He touches on the concepts of 1) sacrifice, 2) substitution, and 3) propitiation. For Ben, God does require blood.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Last Week - ONE Palm Sunday

During the weeks of Lent, I am going to do a post on each of the eight chapters from The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. These will not be long chapter summaries but rather a quick look at key ideas/concepts.

Chapter ONE: The conflict that resulted in the death of Jesus was not Jesus against Judaism but rather Jesus' protest against the domination system centered in the Jerusalem Temple that was at odds against the already present and coming kingdom of God. The defining features of this domination system were: 1) rule by a few, 2) economic exploitation of the poor, and 3) religious legitimation of the domination system.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. This is a good time to call out the lead article in the February 10 Christian Century entitled "God Does Not Require Blood." The author is Daniel M. Bell Jr., associate professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.

Bell notes that although Christians have never practiced blood sacrifice (and he might have added, often looked down on ancient Judaism for offering animal sacrifices) the logic of of blood sacrifice has often shaped the way Christians think about God and carry that belief into practice. That is, Christians have bought into the concept of redemptive violence, which at its core means violence saves.

He sees this concept playing out in our war on terror and in the message of pop culture. And he sees it in much of our theology. Only blood can make things right with God. Consequently, Jesus had to die on the cross to redeem the world.

Bell, however, opts for a different logic, a logic that is seen in the life and ministry of Jesus. He says: "The logic of our new way of life does not reject justice, accountability or discipline; this way of life is disciplined and accountable and seeks justice."

He closes his article with the words of the prophet Ezekiel, and words that I want to make a part my Lenten reflections this year: For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God, "Turn, then, and live." (Ezek. 18:32)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Milton and Fred's Clinic

In the church, we talk much about building community. This piece from ABC News' Person of the Week illustrates what it means to be a part of a community and remembering the debt we owe to that community. Take 3 minutes and watch two brothers from Kenya who receive a gift and do not fail to remember those who gave it.

"From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required . . ." (Luke 12:48)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Easy for you to say

John H. Walton teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School and is the General Editor of, are you ready for this, The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament (ZIBBCOT).

Each Friday at Koinonia (see previous post), Dr. Walton is posting on some aspect of Biblical Backgrounds until the 5 volume ZIBBCOT is published in the fall.

See his initial post on the importance of understanding the background to our biblical texts. If you're interested, visit him weekly for bite-sized learning opportunities.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Speaking of books . . .

Each week on Thursdays at the Koinonia blog, in an on-going series of posts entitled Influential Books and Authors, a respected scholar briefly discusses a book/author that was important to his/her spiritual/intellectual development. Representative of what you would find there is this video from Craig Blomberg, a professor at Denver Seminary.

Koinonia is hosted by Zondervan Academic, an evangelical publishing house.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

In 1938, Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior in the Roosevelt Administration, proposed that the Alaskan territory be opened to the Jews of Germany and other European counties experiencing "oppressive restrictions." The idea was, of course, rejected by Congress. But what if it had met with approval?

This is the historical footnote that provides Michael Chabon (SHAY bon) the setting for his 2007 alternative history/detective novel entitled The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Chabon, who won a Pulitzer in fiction in 2001 for Kavalier & Clay and a Hugo in 2008 for this work, is a master craftsman with language, even creating for the residents of fictionalized Sitka, Alaska, a slang vocabulary all their own.

This is a world of rebbes gone wild. And when the messiah comes, he is unable to bear the burden of his calling.

Even if you don't normally read fiction, sample Chabon's work for his use of language and the vividness of his descriptions. Here's a sample, a description of a steak house where his protagonist, Detective Meyer Landsman is dining:

"The decor is minimal as a snack bar's, vinyl and laminate and steel. The plates are plastic, the napkins crinkly as the paper on a doctor's table. You order your food at a counter and sit down with a number on a spindle. The waitresses are renowned for their advanced age, ill humor, and physical resemblance to the cabs of long-haul trucks. All the atmosphere in the place is the product of its liquor license and its clientele: pilots, hunters and fishermen, and the usual Yakovy mix of shtarkers and sub rosa operators. On a Friday night in season, you can buy or sell anything from moose meat to ketamine, and hear some of the most arrant lies ever put to language."

shtarker (Sitka slang, lit. "gangster") strongman

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sorry Mr. Darwin, But We're #2

Today marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. And according to an online entry at The Economist, the United States ranks only behind Turkey in our belief that evolution is false.

To see how we stack-up with other countries and see a hilarious presentation of the data, take a look at this marvelous way of showing the stats. Make sure you scroll down past the brief narrative entitled "Untouched by the hand of God" to see the graph. Really, click here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Looking for Lincoln

I am watching a superb PBS documentary this evening hosted by historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. and featuring Lincoln experts such as Doris Kearns Goodwin. One of the features of the first hour deals with the mythology that has grown up around Lincoln since his death. One of the lines from the show that caught my attention went something like "Memory has as much to do about forgetting as it does with remembering."

One of my "take-aways" from this evening relates to the mythology and misconceptions that grow up around great historical figures. This leads to the question for Christians who study the historical Jesus: Are we prepared to address the mythology that grew up around Jesus that seems already evident in the New Testament documents?

If you missed this show, you can see it online at the PBS website.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is the Historical Jesus lost?

If you are even slightly interested in how some leading scholars have attempted to construct the Historical Jesus and the methodology behind their approach, please check out the four posts beginning January 29 by April DeConick at The Forbidden Gospels blog, succinctly titled: "The Jesus Seminar is Bankrupt."

If you are not familiar with April and think this is a conservative Christian rant about "liberal scholarship," you will be very much mistaken. She is the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University, and these posts, along with one entitled "Is the Historical Jesus lost," are a clear and level-headed critique of the methodology used by many scholars to arrive at their portrait of Jesus.

April's conclusion is that the Jesus of history may very well be lost to us. What we have are memory constructions of him by Christians writing long after he was dead.

Finally, one of her recent posts asks: "Should the Historical Jesus matter to people of faith?" April here reflects on the impact of her research on people of faith. Please note the comments on this particular post, especially the comment by Magdalene6127. Click here to visit April's blog.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Google Reader May Change Your Life

On the previous post, I recommended the Faith Matters blog site of Bill Tammeus. If you're like me, you may now have a large number of blogs bookmarked as favorites that you attempt to follow. The question becomes how to manage multiple sites efficiently. Here's one solution you should really try: Google Reader.

If you have a Google account (and you really should so you can leave messages here at revJohn), then you have available, FREE, a Google Reader. With the Reader, you can "subscribe" to your favorite blogs, organize them into folders, see at a glance which blogs have new posts, and quickly review the title and content of each blog post. From the Reader, you can then access any of your favorite sites with a single mouse click.

Try this out. If you don't have a Google account, establish one now. It only requires your current email address and whatever password you assign to get to your Google account.

Once you have your account, click on My Account.

Select the Google Reader.

In the subscribe box, type in the revJohn URL (

Try it out, and thanks for visiting revJohn.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Visit Bill Tammeus on Faith Matters

Many of you were probably just as disappointed as I was when the Kansas City Star pulled the column of Bill Tammeus from the Saturday Faith section of the paper. But here's the good news; his blog site, Bill's Faith Matters Weblog, has daily posting, great visuals, and Bill's reflections on matters of religion and ethics.

Do yourself a favor. Whether you live in Kansas City or not or whether you are a "church goer" or not, bookmark Bill's blog and visit it on a regular basis.

Click here to visit.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grave Doctrinal Errors

The February 10 issue of The Christian Century has a news item that American Catholic theologian, Roger Haight has been censured by the Vatican for "grave doctrinal errors" and has been told to cease teaching about the nature and identity of Jesus Christ. The book that caused the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to take action was Haight's Jesus: Symbol of God, which the Catholic doctrinal watch dogs deemed dangerous for casting doubt on the reality of Christ's divinity, resurrection, and unique role as the savior of all humanity.

The past year this book was on my "must read" list. It is a difficult read but well worth the effort. And who wouldn't want to think critically about the central and distinguishing doctrinal affirmation of the Christian Church.

Here's my take. If the Holy Father requests you not read this book, politely but firmly tell him to "take a hike." For others, you need not be so polite.

Tyrants, political or ecclesiastical,who attempt to control knowledge and critical thinking need to be rebuffed.

Here's the link to check out Jesus: Symbol of God.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Willie and the Wheel

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of "the day the music died," so it didn't seem right to post about the day's release of a good-time, get-up-and-dance, feel-good, Bob Wills-type Western Swing CD with Willie Nelson teamed with Asleep At the Wheel. If this doesn't lift your spirits and get your toes to tappin', check your pulse and look around for Saint Peter, cause you may be a goner.

To check it out, click here.