Monday, September 28, 2009

Exodus (and Ken Burns)

The book of Exodus has three distinct parts: 1) Escape from Egypt(the Exodus); Giving of the Law (the national covenant); and 3) the Tabernacle. Two concepts that surface in Exodus are the notions of sacred time (sabbath, passover) and sacred space (tabernacle).

This lead me to Ken Burns. I hope you got to see his opening episode on PBS of The National Parks: America's Best Idea. That opening episode was called The Scripture of Nature. It looks at how the idea of national park was in many ways a religious quest. John Muir, founder and first president of the Sierra Club, wrote of Yosemite Valley (circa 1870) that it was "by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature that I was ever permitted to enter . . .the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierra"

So are there holy places in this world. Christians have affirmed that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but beyond that do believe that there is sacred space in this world? And have you experience sacred space?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Covenant with Noah

The covenant with Abraham is not the earliest covenant recorded in Torah. An earlier covenant is found in Genesis 9, one made with Noah and his descendants. This covenant is for all time and is for all humanity. And it includes every living creature.

*According to the Talmud, all humanity is obligated by seven commandments:
1)establish courts of justice; 2)refrain from blaspheming the God of Israel; and refrain from 3)idolatry; 4) sexual perversion; 5) bloodshed; 6) robbery; 7) and not eat meat cut from a living animal. Gentiles who honor these commandments can meet with God's approval. (*From the Jewish Study Bible, p. 25)

Perhaps Christian who operate under Grace are also to operate under at least some Law as well.

Yom Kippur

Today at sunset marks the beginning of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Here is the biblical injunction:

Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord; you shall do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. (Lev 23:27-28)

As a devout Jew, this would have been the holiest day of the year for Jesus of Nazareth. Would you assume that he believed, based on the Torah passage above, that expiation for sin was made on his behalf on this day?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The 10 Commantments of Interpretation

April DeConick offers up the 10 Commandments for historical-critical interpretation of ancient texts. She warns against allowing a confessional stance to influence an understanding of history. This seems an appropriate challenge for both the academic and church community.

This raises a number of question for religious studies within a faith community. Here are three:
  1. Can adult education in a church embrace historical-critical methodology?
  2. What impact does historical-critical studies have on faith and practice within the church?
  3. Can serious academic study within the church do so without a confessional stance?
Let me know what you think on any or all of these questions.


We are one class away from completing our Wednesday evening class on reading the bible with Jesus. We are looking at Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Here is a quick look at Genesis. The book is often read for it's account of creation or the story of Noah. But it is really is a book about a covenant. God and Abraham enter into a covenant, an everlasting covenant. The promise associated with the covenant includes descendants and land (Canaan). Here then is the basic structure of this Genesis six-pack:
  1. Creation (Adam/Eve)
  2. Flood (Noah)
  3. Abraham (covenant)
  4. Isaac
  5. Jacob
  6. Joseph
When the book of Genesis ends, the descendant of the promise are enslaved in Egypt. The sequel is Exodus.

10 Reason Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

Eugene Cho puts tongue firmly in check and provides 10 solid reasons why men should not be ordained to ministry. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Spite of Ourselves

Why does love fade for some but endure for others? Perhaps we have unreal expectations about love and our beloved, not seeing the person for who s/he really is (warts and all). Singer/songwriter John Prine teams with the marvelous Iris DeMent to show how love can triumph in spite of ourselves. Hope you're not offended by some of the lyrics! O well, that's love.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stone-Campbell - The Women

Judy Hancock contributes another post on the Stone-Campbell Movement, this time with brief sketches of a few of the women who contributed to the growth and vitality of the movement during the early years. How many of these women and their contribution have you heard of?

Even before the union of Stone and Campbell, widely differing practices existed regarding the roles of women in the church. The recognition of women ministers and evangelists may seem to us like a recent phenomenon, but our early leaders discussed the subject endlessly, passionately debating hard-to-interpret biblical passages. Though we rarely hear their stories, women in the earliest years of the tradition preached, exhorted, taught, and testified, especially among those Churches of Christ associated with Barton Stone.

Nancy Towle, a young New Hampshire schoolteacher, was such a woman of faith. Without support from either family or friends, she set out in 1821 as an itinerant evangelist, traveling over 10,000 miles in fourteen years of preaching. “I have ever believed that in Christ Jesus they are one, both male and female,” she explained, “and that according to both the Old and New Testaments, holy women, as well as holy men of God, were wont to speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Toward the end of her ministry, Towle reflected on the “growing evils” in the world, one of which she saw as the “excluding of female gifts from the Church of God, which I view as an occasion of great provocation and immense loss to the Church of the Lord Jesus throughout.”

Nancy Cram, originally a missionary among the Oneida Indians, became a successful and well-known “female preacher” of her day. At least seven of her male converts went on to become respected preachers in the Stone Movement. Abigail Roberts, a convert of Nancy Cram, began her own preaching ministry in 1816. She preached in out-of-the-way places, often every day for weeks at a time, sometimes against bitter opposition. Once a woman became so angry with her that the woman urged her husband to seize the “female preacher” and gag her, so that she might be tarred and feathered.

Nancy Mulkey, the daughter of Kentucky preacher, John Mulkey, joined the Stone Movement shortly after the turn of the 19th century. Nancy served as an exhorter in her father's congregation but soon became well known for her own powerful sermons. Isaac Jones described how, “she would arise with zeal in her countenance and fire in her eyes, and with a pathos that showed the depth of her soul and would pour forth an exhortation which neither father nor brother could equal.” In 1810 Joseph Thomas also witnessed her powerful preaching and declared it to be “surely by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

Mary Graft, Mary Morrison, and Mary Ogle, lovingly known as “The Three Marys,” also hold a respected place in Stone-Campbell history. Soon after the three women were baptized, they resolved “to make the Word of God their only rule of life and faith.” They began meeting together regularly for prayer, singing, and the study of Scripture. Following a visit from Thomas Campbell in 1828, they adopted the name “Disciples of Christ” and set out to evangelize their community of Somerset, Pennsylvania. Devoting themselves to preaching the gospel and baptizing converts, they established the Somerset Christian Church, which grew to over 500 members by 1840.

Alexander Campbell, himself, opposed female preaching, but reluctantly agreed that women did have a role in “the ancient order” of the church. In 1835 he wrote, “From Romans 16:1 and 1 Timothy 3:11, it appears that females were constituted deaconesses in the primitive church.” It followed, then, that they should have a place in the restored church. Campbell's editorial associate, W. K. Pendleton, wrote in 1848 that it was “generally regarded, among our brethren, as an essential element in the restoration of primitive order, to ordain, in every church, both deacons and deaconesses.” Deaconesses were also included in John R. Howard's list of “original marks” of the true Church of Christ. In addition to serving as deaconesses, women also participated in the worship service of some of the early Campbell churches. Alexander Campbell's own “Model for Worship,” directs the worship presider to call on either a “brother” or a “sister” at the appropriate time to lead congregational prayer or give the scripture reading.

Churches of Christ have lost touch with this part of their history. While churches in the north began to ordain female ministers beginning in 1888, the southern part of the movement, being more agrarian, has resisted this. Southern churches almost universally accepted the place assigned to women by the dominant culture of Victorian America rather the biblical presentation of women in charge of both the home and the family business.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

L'Shanah Tovah (For a Good Year)!

Last evening at sunset began Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. To learn more of the significance of this day, check out Judaism 101 here. The origin of the holiday is found in Leviticus 23:24-25. One of the customs associated with this day is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of the hope for a good new year.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ancient Hebrew Poetry

John Hobbins left a comment on the recent Q post. He has a blog called Ancient Hebrew Poetry that you should check out. You may especially want to read his series on the double and triple synoptic tradition. Here is the link to Part 1 and another to his post that suggests a hypothetical common source for Matthew, Mark, and Luke!

Joachim Jeremias - 1900 - 1979

The work of older scholars are seldom talked about. This past Sunday our adult education teacher, Bill Geary, mentioned the name of German scholar Joachim Jeremias. Jeremias, a Lutheran, was appointed to the chair of New Testament studies at the University of Gottingen in 1935 and taught there until his retirement in 1968. His writings have greatly influenced New Testament studies and anyone interested in "Jesus studies" should know his work. Three books in particular that Disciples should have in their library include:
  1. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus
  2. New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus
  3. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation int Economic and Social Conditions During the New Testament Period
You have only to read Jeremias' Theology to be convinced that Jesus used 'Abba consistently as an address to God.

Best 100 Videos For Teachers

John Costilla at Classroom 2.0. has identified what he calls the Best 100 Videos for Teachers on YouTube. Check out Grammar Rock.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

To Q or Not to Q? That Is the Question.

At the heart of the synoptic question is the discussion on the hypothetical source document "Q."
Did it exist or is it a scholarly construct? Here are two contemporary scholars who come to completely different conclusions: John Kloppenborg (Q - Yes) and Mark Goodacre (Q - No).

At Google books, you can preview the introduction to their work and see for yourself their line of argument:
John S. Kloppenborg - Q, the Earliest Gospel
Mark S. Goodacre - The Case Against Q

The Synoptic Problem - Resources

Our Sunday morning adult education class has spent several weeks thinking about the literary connection between the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Here are two excellent online resources for synoptic studies:
1. Stephen C. Carlson's Synoptic Problem Website, see especially his FAQ section
2. Mahlon Smith's A Synoptic Gospel Primer

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reading the Bible with Jesus

Our Wednesday night adult education is called Reading the Bible with Jesus. The idea is to take a look at the meta-narratives of the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament and to think about how a devout Jew such as Jesus would understand those stories. Last week we looked at Genesis and the Abraham saga. The primary theme: covenant.

What would belief in the Abrahamic covenant mean to Jesus? Circumcision. Yes. What else? How about the concept of "being chosen." Take a look at the three key narratives about Abraham in Genesis: Chapter 12:1-8, Chapter 15, and Chapter 17.

Walter Brueggemann in his Genesis commentary speaks of "vertical exclusiveness" and "horizontal inclusiveness." Abraham committed to the God of the covenant, and he was to be a blessing to the nations. Sound a lot like how Jesus responded to the question: What is the greatest commandment: #1 - Love God (vertical) and #2 Love your Neighbor (horizontal).

What does it mean for Christians to understand themselves as chosen?

Next week - Exodus.

April's Ticked

April DeConick is "mad as hell" and she's "not going to take it any more." A comment about how few women are doing blogging on the bible really upset her. She comments here on gender bias in the workplace, the church, and the world of scholarship. I'm especially interested in her comments on the apostle Paul, who she sees as engaging in a form of patriarchy in Corinth that attempted to subordinate women to men. Having just taught a Sunday adult class on 1 Corinthians in which I defended Paul against the charge of sexism, I'm wondering what others think of Paul's remarks at Corinth. I took his remarks both to the men and women at Corinth as an attempt to protect them from the danger of disregarding Roman cultural standards.

See Gender on My Mind and Gender Inequality: Is the Problem the Bible?

Barton W. Stone - A Thumbnail Sketch

Judy Hancock provides a second installment on the Stone-Campbell Movement with a sketch of Barton W. Stone.

Barton W Stone would become another principal leader of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Stone was already deeply involved in his own reform movement in western Kentucky several years before the Campbells arrived in America. Born in Port Tobacco, Maryland in 1772, Stone grew up on the Virginia frontier, where he experienced the religious revivalism that broke out periodically on the American frontier. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister at the age of 26, he was assigned to a church at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, where he organized and participated in the largest and most famous camp meeting revival of what American historians call the Second Great Awakening.

As Scotch-Irish Presbyterians immigrated to America, they brought with them the practice of the communion festival. These communion festivals became the highlight of the church year, with people coming from miles around to attend. A wave of such revivals swept through southern Kentucky in the early 1800s, culminating with a camp meeting near the small community of Cane Ridge on August 7, 1801. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people of all faiths converged on the area, where fiery sermons were preached day and night, often simultaneously, at different stations throughout the neighboring woods. The revival continued for almost a week with nearly a 1000 conversions. Stone, who had participated in the preaching, became convinced that it was the direct work of the Holy Spirit that moved men and women to put aside denominational divisions and join in Christian unity. Unity would emerge, he believed, only as the Holy Spirit worked in human hearts, transforming people into God's new creation.

In the years following Cane Ridge, tensions over revivalism escalated as conservative members of Stone's sect deemed the revivals disorderly and excessive. In late 1803, Stone and five other pro-revival ministers broke away to form their own association, the Springfield Presbytery. Nine months later, however, they disbanded, publishing a declaration of their intention to put aside all denominationalism in order to merge into the universal body of Christ. The declaration, entitled The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, reads in part, "We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." In that spirit, they formally renounced all names but "Christian" and all creeds but the Bible.

Three central themes marked Stone's vision of non-denominational Christianity. First was the restoration of simple New Testament Christianity. Second was the unity of all believers based on a return to the Bible and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Third was the freedom of individuals to understand Scripture for themselves, free of all coercive human creeds and traditions. Stone suffered a great deal of persecution from his Presbyterian friends because of his innovative ideals, but under his leadership, the new "Christian" movement grew substantially throughout Kentucky. By 1823 it numbered over 15,000 members.

At that time, Stone's "Christians" knew little or nothing of Alexander Campbell's "Disciples." Later that year, however, Campbell's movement entered Kentucky, where he preached at one of Stone's churches. Soon after, in 1824, the two men met for the first time. Although they would have lasting doctrinal differences, Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell held each other in high esteem. Both sought a pure faith grounded in the Bible alone; both abhorred division among Christians. On January 1, 1832, the two groups came together in Lexington, Kentucky, where they issued a declaration of unity and thus began the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bart's New Web Site

New Testament scholar and self-designated agnostic, Bart Ehrman, has a new web site. Check out the multi-media tab that includes a number of items of interest. Two of note:
1. An audio of Ehrman's debate here in KC at Midwestern Baptist on the topic: "Is the Resurrection of Christ Provable?" Bart doesn't think so.
2. A video interview at U C Berkley on his book on suffering - God's Problem.

Historical Jesus Podcasts

Phil Harland at Religions of the Mediterranean has a near-complete Series on the Historical Jesus, with episodes conveniently gathered into a single post. Two episodes of particular interest for me are on the differing portraits of Jesus by scholars E. P. Sanders and John Dominic Crossan. Check out the series here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Alexander Campbell - A Thumbnail Sketch

You may not want to read 800,000 pages on Alexander Campbell (see previous post). So here guest blogger Judy Hancock provides a brief sketch. This, and a future post on Barton Stone, comes from a series of articles for the Tammany Oaks Church of Christ in Madisonville, LA, as they prepare to host a Great Communion service on October 2 for local Stone-Campbell churches, including Disciples of Christ.

Twenty-one-year-old Alexander Campbell joined his father in America in October, 1809, just as the Declaration and Address went to press. Like his father, Alexander had become increasingly dissatisfied with the sectarianism he saw dividing the church. Under his father's guidance, he plunged into an intensive study and pledged himself to the unifying principles set forth in his father's document. The Declaration and Address would become the driving force of his life's work.

Licensed to preach by the Brush Run church in Pennsylvania, Alexander had already be-come a recognized leader of the reform movement by 1815. His work centered on the foundational principles initiated by this father: 1) that the church ought to be without sectarian divisions, and 2) that the church was divided because “human opinions” had been added to the practice of the early church as revealed in the New Testament. Like his father, Alexander believed that the restoration of simple New Testament Christianity (primitive Christianity) was the only means to unify all Christians. Wanting to abandon denominational labels, they used biblical names for followers of Jesus that they found in the Bible. Among these names, Campbell preferred to call his group the “Disciples of Christ.”

Both father and son, as did many in colonial America, accepted the thinking of John Locke and other philosophers, who championed empirical reason and the scientific method. Thus Campbell believed that by applying this method to the Bible, religion could be “reduced to a set of essentials upon which all reasonable persons might agree.” “The Bible,” he argued, “is a book of facts, not opinions, theories or abstract generalities.” In his view, the young Campbell saw the Bible as a kind of scientific manual or technical blueprint, laying out in precise, factual detail the structure of church order. History shows how problematic this approach is, but it was Campbell’s starting point.

Because he focused on the order and worship of the primitive church (the “ancient order of things,” as he called it), Campbell did not center his study on Jesus and the Gospels. In-stead he majored in the latter part of the New Testament, the Book of Acts and especially Paul’s letters as these seem to provide more information useful to the reconstitution of the New Testament Church. Over time, the “gospel” began to be defined in terms of law and pattern for the organization and worship of the church. Not everyone within the movement agreed. Campbell's close friend, Robert Richardson, lamented that “people confuse trust in a living savior with belief in certain doctrines.” Robertson's words still ring true today as he reminds us that “Christ is not a doctrine, but a person, and at its heart, Christian faith centers on a person, not a body of doctrines.”

As the pivotal leader of the movement his father started, Alexander Campbell never lost sight of the hope that the restoration of primitive Christianity would bring Christian unity, which, in turn, would hasten the return of Christ. By the end of his life, he had shifted his direction and embraced an even broader vision of unity, seeking “a common Christianity…in which all good men of all denominations agreed.”