Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jesus Around the Cracker Barrel

Dale Allison's new book is a gem. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus is not another scholarly "Jesus book," providing a "new" portrait of the real Jesus. Rather he asks: What is the religious implications of the quest for the historical Jesus.

This is no sappy "just read your bible." After all he is one of the premier critical New Testament scholars. And his three volume work on the Gospel of Matthew is at top of most commentary recommendation lists. Nor is this a" faith is foolish" tome. Rather, reading this book is like sitting around a cracker barrel at an old general store and listing to wise old expert tell you "what s/he has learned over the years.

It is, Allison, says "my personal testimony to doubt seeking understanding." And again: "the unexamined Christ is not worth having." The open chapter provides a warning to those who put the historical Jesus of modern scholarship to theological use." And it only get better from there. At only a little over 100 pages, this is a reminder that book does not have to have 800 page in order to challenge and inform. I highly recommend this book!

Monday, July 27, 2009

One Good Reason

Here' s one good reason why I'm glad to be a Disciple. Yesterday at Hillside's 10:30 am worship:

At the Communion Table . . .
  • Melissa led the prayer for our offering
  • Sue handled the communion meditation and words of institution
  • Sheryl offered thanks for the bread and cup
Three women lay members led the congregation in celebrating the Lord's Supper. It was not a special occasion; it was not lay Sunday; it was not because ordained minsters were missing. It was just Sunday, and those asked to serve just happened to be women, just happened to be lay members.

It was an ordinary Sunday for a fellowship that really believes in the priesthood of ALL believers!

Social Sources of Division

Here are three graphs I created from the data utilized by David Edwin Harrell to demonstrate reasons for the Church of Christ - Disciples of Christ division in 1906. From my vantage point, these statistics give clear indication of the social pressures that manifested themselves in the theological wranglings of the division. Besides the North-South polarization, economics and rural/urban dynamics surely played a significant role.

The first chart looks at average church building value:

The second looks at the average value of property in five selected states:

The third chart looks at rural verses urban membership percentages:

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I'm writing this blog entry while listening to Rhonda Vincent and similar bluegrass artists on Pandora. Here's the concept: create an account (email and password) and then enter an artist or song. Pandora will steam music of the chosen artist along with similar artists in that musical genre.

What could be better? Reading revJohn and listening to your favorite music. Check out Pandora here, pick an artist, and come back for some exciting blogs. While you're gone, I'll finish listening to Ricky Skaggs.

A Social History of the Disciples of Christ

In 1966, David Edwin Harrell, Jr. published Volume One of his social history of the Disciples of Christ. Entitled Quest For a Christian America: The Disciples of Christ and American Society to 1866. Looking at factors that would lead eventually to the rending of the Stone-Campbell Movement into Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ, Harrell shows how economic issues, slavery, and sectionalism led to church schism. Harrell argues convincingly that the division was "basically a North-South division (although rural-urban and other factors are important." (p. 132)

From Harrell's view and against many Disciple historians before him, the Civil War played a major role in the rupture of the fellowship. The church in the North (Disciples) following the war "committed to a more denominational and socially active concept of Christianity." The church in the South (Churches of Christ) emerged from the war "more strongly than ever committed to the extreme sectarian emphasis in Disciples thought." (p. 173)

1973 saw the publication of Volume 2, The Social Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ, 1865 - 1900. Both volumes provide a wealth of information and illuminating insights into our heritage. Members of the Stone-Campbell tradition still have much to learn from Harrell's work.

The Sectional Origins of the Churches of Christ

I want you to know the name David Edwin Harrell, Jr. He is arguably the premier historian of the Stone-Campbell Movement. His work focuses on what Disciples thought and did on social subjects, unlike most Disciple histories which examine our theological convictions. In 1964, his article, The Sectional Origins of the Churches of Christ, appeared in The Journal of Southern History. An abridged version of the articles was subsequently published in Mission Journal in 1980. Here's how the latter begins:

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Churches of Christ from their beginning has been the marked sectional distribution of the membership. According to the 1906 religious census, 101,734 of the churches 159,658 members lived in the eleven former states of the Confederacy. Another 30,206 lived in the four border states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, and Oklahoma. The only state north of the Ohio River to have a membership of over 5,000 was Indiana. . . .

These statistics are even more striking when compared with the membership distribution of the more liberal wing of the movement, that listed in the 1906 census as the Disciples of Christ. Only 138,703 of the total Disciples' membership of nearly a million lived in the eleven southern states. Excluding Virginia and North Carolina, where the liberal Disciples won virtually all of the churches, the group had a total membership of only 99,233 in the remaining nine states. . . .

The sectional bifurcation of the Disciples of Christ - using the name to refer to the whole movement - is one of the most vivid American examples of the bending of the Christian ethos to fit the presuppositions of the community. All of the complex antagonisms in nineteenth-century America society - North and South, East and West, urban and rural, affluent and dispossessed - left their marks on the theology and institutional development of the group. Schism was a result of differences far more complex than doctrinal disagreement - far more than the simple statement that "the 'Christian Churches'. . . took their instruments and their missionary society and walked a new course.". . . The obvious fact that the Churches of Christ are sectional (and, for that matter, so is the Northern-oriented Disciples church) leads to the obvious question: What are the sectional origins of the group?

If denominational identity matters, Harrell's question is well worth pondering. We'll do that in our next post.

Note: A copy of Harrell's complete article can be obtained from JSTOR.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Declaration and Address

2009 marks the bicentennial of the publication of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address, one of the foundational documents of the Stone-Campbell movement. Here is his opening proposition:

That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.

Believing division among Christians "a horrid evil," Campbell's vision of unity continues to influence present-day Disciples.

To read from the Declaration, click here.

The ICC Online

All of the older volumes of The International Critical Commentary (ICC) series are now online. If you're doing research on a difficult passage, one of these classics might provides some valuable insights.


At the SBL Forum, Elizabeth McCabe reexamines the titles given to Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) and looks at the inaccuracies of some of our English translations.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Second Pentecost

The concluding verses of Acts 10 provides the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a Gentile household. It is a dual conversion story. The non-Jew, Cornelius, becomes a follower of Jesus, and the evangelist, Peter, is "converted" to the reality that God accepts Gentiles into the people of God.

Below is a list of study questions you can use in personal reflection or a group inductive bible study.

1. What is the destination of Peter’s trip? (v. 24)

2. Who does Peter visit? How is he received by his host? (v. 25)

3. What is the problem associated with Peter’s visit? Why did Peter make the visit without an objection? (v. 28 -29)

4. According to the host, why did he send for Peter? (v. 30-33)

5. What does Peter believe about prophecy? (v. 43)

6. What happens while Peter is speaking? Why are the traveling companions astonished? (v. 44-45)

7. What order does Peter issue? (v. 47-48)

8. How is this event like the Pentecost event? How is it different? (Acts 2)

Monday, July 20, 2009

2009 General Assembly

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly is fast approaching. Dates are July 29 - August 2 in Indianapolis. Here is a brief promotional video for the event hosted by Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President.

Denominational Identity

Bob Cornwell, a Disciple minister, blogs about denomination identity on the Christian Century's Theolog site. He asks an important question: How important is denominational history and identity to local congregations? To put it into terms related of my home congregation: How important is Disciple history and identity to Hillside Christian Church.

How would you answer for your congregation?

The blog article captures two different responses. Which response resonates with you?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Cornelius Episode

Acts 10 is vital to Luke's narrative outlining the expansion of Christianity beyond the bounds of Jerusalem. Consider the importance to Luke with these measurements. In the preceding chapter, Luke tells how Peter raised a woman from the dead. He covers the event in 5 verses. Acts 10 requires 48 verses! What in magnitude requires almost 10 times the amount of space. Answer - the conversion of the first Gentile convert, the Roman centurion, Cornelius. And the one responsible for the conversion is not the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, but rather the Apostle Peter.

Chapter 10 shows how this momentous event is directed by the hand of God. For Luke, from his vantage point in time, it explains why the church was becoming predominantly Gentile (non-Jewish). If anyone were to accuse St. Paul of leading the church astray by bring unclean pagan into the faith, Luke's narrative sets the story straight. The church should welcome Gentiles because it is God's plan, coordinated through visions and trances.

Cornelius and his household even experienced a "second Pentecost" similar to Jewish believers. More about that in a later post.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

First Light

Living the Questions has posted this promotion on YouTube of their 12-week course, First Light, on the historical Jesus, featuring Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book 5 - The Heart of Christianity

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Top 5 books that influenced the way I read the Bible are not in priority order. However, I did follow a chronological order, which gets me to Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, first published in 2003. Most readers of this blog probably know of Borg. He is a historical Jesus scholar, a member of the Jesus Seminar, and has spent the latter part of his career reaching out to an audience that can no longer accept much of what is considered traditional Christianity.

Borg is a master teacher. If you've ever seen him in person, you know he makes sure his audience follows his line of thinking, clearly defining the concepts and ideas in his lecture. His writing follows a similar pattern. In the Heart of Christianity, he packages systematic theology into a structure that is logical, and he writes carefully to set out his view of an emerging paradigm that differs sifnificantly from fundamentalist/evangelical approaches to faith and the Bible.

One of my favorite quotes relates to scripture and how it can be sacred though not a divine product. He writes of the Bible: "It is sacred in its status and function, but not in its origin." Much critical scholarship is focused on the academy; Borg's work takes seriously the work of scholars, but shows how the historical-critical methods can be put to work inside the community of faith.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Quote of the Day

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is"
Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus

Note: the compete text of Schweitzer's Quest can be found at Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings.

Hurrican Season - 2009

With family in Madisonville, LA, this animation from the Associated Press on the destructive power of hurricanes at each of the 5 categories of the Saffire-Simpson Scale is a reminder of the dangers of living in, Florida, the Carolinas, and the Gulf Coast during storm season.

Note: this may take a few seconds to load.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book 4 - A Tie

Two books are in my number 4 slot: John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew and E. P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus. Both books are representative of the continuing quest by scholars to document the historical Jesus.

Several years ago, I began to read about the renewed interest in historical Jesus studies. I started asking myself how much I knew about Jesus beyond the church's doctrinal assertions and a few favorite gospel passages. In looking at my personal library, I quickly observed how few books were focused on Jesus, and I concluded I needed to really work on learning more about the one I try to follow.

The books by Meier and Sanders started me on my own personal quest--still in progress.

Book Notes: Sanders' more substantial and detailed work on the historical Jesus is his Jesus and Judaism. Meier's original work published in 1991 has now grown to four volumes, with a fifth in preparation. His recent volume 4 release, Law and Love, deals with Jesus' teaching on the Mosaic Law and morality..

All My Faves

If you don't have enough sites to visit on the web, check out this listing. It will keep you surfing for a while.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Missionary Journeys of Peter - A Short Class

Imagine this Sunday morning adult education class at your church: Welcome everyone. Today's class is on the missionary journeys of Peter. Peter left Jerusalem and went to Lydda. Then he went Joppa and stayed there some time. And then he went to Caesarea and returned to Jerusalem. Thanks everyone for being here. Let's go get some coffee.

Think of all we know about St. Paul and his missionary travels, both from Acts, which devotes practically half the book to his missionary journeys, and from Paul's own letters. Now think of the second great apostolic figure, Peter, and what we know about his missionary activity. The above summary from Acts 9:32- 43 and the subsequent narrative in Acts 10:1-11:1 pretty much covers it from our canonical documents, except for Paul's note that Peter visited Antioch where the two had a confrontation and that Peter traveled with his wife on his journeys.

However, the one trip narrated in Acts plays an enormous role in Luke's understanding of the development of Christianity. We'll look at "the rest of the story" in a future post.

Additional Note: Even if the letter of 1 Peter was not written by the apostle, do the opening verses suggest that Peter traveled in Asia Minor? Do the closing verses support a later tradition that Peter died in Rome?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Velveteen Rabbi

The Velveteen Rabbi is Rachael Barenblat. She is not a rabbi, but she is a writer, a poet, a lover of Torah, and a rabbinic student. Here is an older post on the weekly Torah reading that deals with Balaam and his donkey. I think you'll appreciate how this articulate young Jewish woman approaches this passage, taking it seriously and drawing meaning from the story.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book 3 - Unity and Diversity in the New Testament

James D. G. Dunn's Unity and Diversity was a blockbuster for me. I devoured it when it came out in the late 70s. It was both an advanced introduction to the New Testament (not authors and dates, but concepts and origins) and an exploration into the validity of speaking in terms of orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity. Listen to these words from the opening paragraph:

The relation between orthodoxy and heresy has always been important in the history of Christianity. Orthodoxy has traditionally been thought of as conformity to 'the apostolic faith.' Up until the twentieth century the tendency has always been for each church, denomination or sect to claim a monopoly of this faith, to deny it to others, to ignore, denounce or persecute the others as heretics.

At some point, I wrote in the margin "the c of c approach," a painful reminder of my Church of Christ experience.

Dunn goes on to explore the unifying elements in the New Testament. He concludes that THE unifying element was the unity between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ. And he concludes that there was no single normative form of Christianity in the first century. Various Christianities are explored--Jewish, Hellenistic, Apocalyptic, and Early Catholicism.

If you're ready to move beyond the standard introductory text book fare, here's a book that you can learn from each time you pick it up. This is not a radical repudiation of Christianity, but a substantial historical/theological look at how a new religion developed.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus Online

One of the oldest and most important Greek manuscripts of the New Testament is now online. It contains the earliest complete copy of the New Testament. This is a marvelous site. With other scholars and those interested in the history of the Christian scriptures, you can view the text with translation and, as the site proclaims, experience the oldest bible to survive antiquity.

NPR's Robert Siegel has a brief interview with the project's chairman, Scot McKendrick, on the importance of this online version. Listen here.

Web Side Story

If you're ready for a little fun, check this post at NPR's technology blog. From CollegeHumor.com, this video, set to the music of West Side Story, provides a tribute (???) to some of our favorite websites.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Book 2 - A Theology of the New Testament

The second book on my Top 5 is George Eldon Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament, first published in 1974. Note the indefinite article; Dr. Ladd did not see his work, as do many scholars, as "the" theology, but rather a contribution to the field of New Testament inquiry. His explication of the kingdom of God in the gospels put substance to an otherwise benign sounding concept. And it was a breath of fresh air after having spent over 2 years in study at the Church of Christ sponsored Harding Graduate School of Religion.

After reading this book, along with those of several others then teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary, I quit my job at IBM and moved from Arkansas to California so I could study under such articulate evangelical scholars. The irony of all this is that on arriving at Fuller I discovered Dr. Ladd's teaching skills had deteriorated, and I was encouraged by fellow students to take professors other than Ladd. And I took their advice and never was in the classroom with him.

To understand "why" and the pressures of being an evangelical scholar during that time period, see Michael Bird's book review of Ladd's biography, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John A. D'Elia.

Despite all the tragedy surround Ladd's life, this book is still a tribute to evangelical thought and one I still turn to ponder New Testament theology.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Why Christians celebrate freedom every day:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:1-2).

Friday, July 3, 2009


We've been talking lately about books. And one thing I know about books--they're expensive! So here are some tips for saving money on book expenditures.
  1. Check your church library. Most churches have a limited library, but some have invested in quality commentaries and resource books. Instead of buying, borrow.
  2. Start today using Google books. Before you invest, see if the book is in the Google collection. Even if only certain portions of the book are available for preview, it may just be the pages you need. Besides, you can check whatever text is available and make an informed judgment on whether you really need to invest in the book.
  3. Read the reviews at Amazon by customers who have purchased the book you're considering. Also check whether you can look inside the book to review the table of content and select pages.
  4. Check your local library. Even if the book is not in the stacks, most libraries offer inter-library loan services to their patrons (and enjoy doing it). I've borrowed highly technical and expensive New Testament works from major universities using this technique. Most have a liberal return time, so you'll have time to read what you need.
  5. Finally, make sure you know where the used book stores are in your area. Many communities have stores specializing in religious studies. Visit these on a regular basis to find bargains.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Book 1 - The Gospel According to Paul

Here is the first of five posts on my list of Top 5 books.

I have had this little book in my library since 1967, before graduation from college, before Vietnam, before seminary. The price on the cover is $1.65.

When studying Paul, it is still a work I read with profit. In slightly more than 100 pages, A. M. Hunter puts St. Paul's thinking into a framework that makes sense to me. When I preached my first sermon, I stole shamelessly from this book, and of course learned there's more to preaching than reading a book on theology, even a good one.

Hunter groups Paul's think around the concept of salvation. He writes:"When Paul thought about salvation, he saw it in three tenses. It meant a past event, a present experience, and a future hope."

Any book that can make sense of Paul's theology in 100 pages has to be on my list.

Annotated Bibliography - Tanakh

This extensive bibliography from Denver Seminary should give you plenty of options when considering resources for the study of the Hebrew scriptures. Ranging across the theological spectrum, the annotations provided helpful insights into authors and their approaches.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tanakh - Torah, Nevi'im, Kethuvim

What is a practical way of gaining a greater command of that great body of sacred literature known variously as the Hebrew Scripture, Old Testament, Tanakh, etc.? Note: "Tanakh" is commonly used in Jewish circles when referring to Scripture, representing in shorthand the three-fold division of the bible into Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi'im), and the Writings (Kethuvim).

Here are five suggestions for your consideration:
  1. Get a good sense of ancient Israelite history. Consequently, make sure you have a solid history to refer to such as John Bright's A History of Israel.
  2. Study with Jewish scholars. Check you local library or consider purchasing The Jewish Study Bible, edited by Marc Zvi Brettler and Adele Berlin, with comments, book introductions, and essays by the best of modern Jewish academic scholarship.
  3. Have one solid Introduction available. Here are two to consider: Walter Brueggemann's An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination and The Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament. Also worth considering is Jon D. Levenson's Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible.
  4. Resource one substantial theology such as Walther Eichrodt's 2 volume classic, The Theology of the Old Testament.
  5. Get some help with how to read this ancient literature. Two volumes, again from a Jewish perspective, are James Kugel's How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now and Marc Zvi Brettler's How to Read the Bible.