Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mark Twain, Wales McCormick, and Alexander Campbell

Ron Powers, in Mark Twain: A Life, introduces us to Wales McCormick, a teenage chum of young Sam Clemens, who worked as typesetter along with Sam in the print shop of Joseph P. Ament in Hannibal, Missouri. Sam, writes Powers, was awed by Wales' "genial amorality."

As an adult, Sam, now known as Mark Twain, often told the story of what happened when Alexander Campbell, the famous preacher and a founder of the Disciples of Christ, preached in Hannibal. When Campbell's followers desired a copy of his sermon, he took his manuscript to Ament's shop and there encountered Wales McCormick.

In one version of the story, Twain insisted that when Campbell stopped by Ament's shop with the sermon, he overheard McCormick exclaim, Great God! The preacher took the the boy aside and admonished him that "Great God!" was blasphemy, and that "Great Scott!" would be one example of an acceptable substitute. McCormick apparently took this to heart; while correcting the proof sheet of the sermon, he dutifully changed Campbell's own pious use of "Great God" to "Great Scott." Taken with the spirit, he amended "Father, Son & Holy Ghost" to "Father, Son, & Caesar's Ghost," and then improved even that bit of euphemism - to "Father, Son & Co."

Wales's moment of divine reckoning approached when he removed the full name "Jesus Christ" from a line in the sermon to create more space, and substituted "J. C." For some reason, this infuriated Campbell as he read the proof sheet; he strode back to the print shop and commanded McCormick: "So long as you are alive, don't you ever diminish the Savior's name again. Put it all in." McCormick took this advice to heart: the revised line came out, Jesus H. Christ.

A Twain "tall tale" or truth?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Jesus We'll Never Know

Speaking of historical methodology, Scott McKnight, an evangelical and long-time Jesus scholar, has a lengthy article in Christianity Today in which he concludes that historical studies can do little to advance our understanding of Jesus. Here's how he concludes his article:

This is what I said to myself: As a historian I think I can prove that Jesus died and that he thought his death was atoning. I think I can establish that the tomb was empty and that resurrection is the best explanation for the empty tomb. But one thing the historical method cannot prove is that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification. At some point, historical methods run out of steam and energy. Historical Jesus studies cannot get us to the point where the Holy Spirit and the church can take us. I know that once I was blind and that I can now see. I know that historical methods did not give me sight. They can't. Faith cannot be completely based on what the historian can prove. The quest for the real Jesus, through long and painful paths, has proven that much.

McKnight is then challenged in the same edition by three other evangelical scholars:
N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, and Darrell Bock.

History and the Resurrection

Does scholarship exclude the possibility of resurrection? The question was posed by Brian LePort at Near Emmaus here.

See the response of James McGrath at Exploring our Matrix here.

See the counter response of Doug Chaplin at Clayboy here.

What is your take? Can historical methodology say anything helpful about a "non-repeatable" event? In the end, is resurrection a matter of faith?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bart vs. Craig

Recently here in Kansas City, Bart Ehrman (the skeptic) and Craig Evans (the evangelical) squared off in a debate on the reliability of the gospels. But some attendees did not view it as much of a "debate." As one said, it was "two scholars 'talking past' each other." See for yourself in the video link at this post at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

Ain't No Grave

Here is the title track from the Man in Black's last CD. Preach on John.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Progressive Revival

Bruce Epperly, a Disciple/UCC pastor and professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, calls for a Progressive Christian revival in a guest post at Bob Cornwall's blog. Among a few of the positions that Epperly champions are
  • Evolution is compatible with faith in God.
  • Humankind isn’t necessarily the center of God’s plan and that other species matter as well.
  • The bible is inspired but not infallible.
  • Faithful persons can have serious questions about their beliefs.
  • Persons of other faiths also receive revelations from God.
  • Non-Christians, atheists, and agnostics can be “saved.”
  • Progressives have a prayer life and believe in divine healing.
  • Persons of faith are interested in saving the earth.
  • God treasures ethnic, sexual, religious and cultural diversity.
  • Persons can disagree without hating one another.
  • The Bible supports an ethic of social concern supports the rights of immigrants and the recent health care initiatives.
  • Jesus’ had female followers and these women were given the Great Commission before their male companions.
Check out the complete post and let me know what you think of his proposal.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Downtown Church

If you haven't heard yet about this recoding, I'm happy to be the one to tell you about it and to suggest you check it out as soon as you can.

Patty Griffin does not do gospel, until now. Recorded at Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church, this CD is for those who like music, regardless of musical genre. But "gospel" may be misleading. From the opening Hank Williams classic House of Gold to the concluding traditional All Creatures of Our God and King, this recording covers a lot of musical terrain. Did I mention Leber and Stoller's I Smell A Rat?

From the stark Death's Got A Warrant to the get-up-and-testify Move Up, you'll find yourself "feeling" a spirituality that can only come from music, and perhaps an old downtown church that still cares for the homeless and those in need.

Listen to all the cuts here, including the complete Little Fire video with Emmylou Harris.

Leprosy, Acne, and Afterbirth

This week's Torah study, Parashah M'tzora, covers Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33.

Will it preach? Sure, especially if you are Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport who is co-senior rabbi with his wife, Gaylia R. Rooks, at The Temple Congregation Adath Israel Brith Sholom in Louisville, Kentucky.

Enjoy the rabbi's humor and prepare to be surprised at what you'll learn. You can read the text but let me encourage you to listen instead.

An Introduction to the Pharisees

Helek Tov provides a concise post on the Pharisees for New Testament students. His timing is perfect because our Sunday Adult Education class is going to spend one or two weeks on this stream of Jewish thought during the time of Jesus.

Another concise online look at the Pharisees can be found among Felix Just's Electronic New Testament Resources.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


In a recent study of Jewish dietary laws, I had occasion to notice that official kosher foods receive a certification so that observant practitioners have confidence in the food product. That go me to thinking of the importance of certifications for other types of products, such as books, CDs, movies, and laxatives. Thus, henceforth, all products reviewed on this blog, if worthy, will receive the official revJohn seal of approval. Please use caution when purchasing products that do not bear this seal.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Passion Narratives

Holy Week and Christmas are times of devotion, time for matters of the heart. In a word, "worship."

Now that Easter is past, it seems appropriate to again approach the intellectual aspects of our faith. Below are the links to four podcast by Mark Goodacre of Duke University on the Passion of Jesus in each of the four gospels. And, of course, in my mind study is also a form of worship.





Hillside Prayer Blog

"Sometimes I find it difficult to pray." If you've ever felt this or wondered "what" to pray about or even "how" to pray, then do yourself a favor and bookmark Hillside Christian Church Prays.

Thoughtful. Timely. Helpful. Challenging. Contemporary.

This is a devotional resource you'll want to visit often. Click here to see for yourself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Different Order of Time

Judith Shulevitz keeps sabbath and attends synagogue because she loves to hear Torah expounded. She also does not believe in God. Her new book is The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. Read a short excerpt from her book and listen to her NPR interview here.

The Talmud asks, What if a person is traveling in the desert and forgets which day is Shabbat and there's no one around to tell him? The answer takes the form of a dispute, as do all answers in the Talmud. . . The question underlying the dispute, I think, is this: When time has disappeared and space is a comfortless ripple of white sand, should you imagine yourself inside the skin of the first man or inside the mind of God? The Talmud gives an answer to this question. It is, the mind of God. To save yourself, you re-create the world.

Second Inning

Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson talk baseball in their relatively new book Sixty Feet, Six Inches.

Here is NPR an interview with these Fall of Fame greats that's like setting in the dugout and hearing the tricks of the trade. Listen to Bob talk about "pitching inside" and when he would intentionally hit a batter. Or Reggie talking about the "little red dot" vs. the "big red dot," his ability to see the seams of a slider and know a good one from one that was going out of the park.

Why talk about baseball on a blog like this. Because I don't know anything that evokes true religion like baseball, unless it's studying the Book of Leviticus.

Play Ball

See a variety of off-beat baseball stats in graphic representation at Flip Flop Fly Ball here.

On Relics and the Shroud of Turin

At Religion Dispatches, there is a helpful and critical look at the recent History Channel documentary on the Shroud of Turin. See Jesus in 3D here.

Pondering Deep Theological Issues???

NO!!!!!!!!!!!! It's something more perplexing. Let the folks at the Sacred Sandwich help you out.