on promoting theological education

theological famineIF you need an example of how NOT to do it – read this.   I find this approach not one that I could recommend.  I think maybe it has noble intentions as there is great need in the world for better resources for pastors and teachers in less developed areas of the world and especially in the global south where the church is growing faster then it can keep up with.   At the same time I think it somewhat misrepresents what theological education and “training for the ministry” is supposed to be about.  And perhaps unwittingly devalues the staunch realities and problems AND pain of true famines from which real people suffer.  It basically turns its back on the poor, the suffering, the oppressed.

As I see it, it is based on false juxtapositon of physical hunger and spiritual hunger.  They are not mirrors of each other.  They are worlds apart.  Many in the Western world are a far cry from true physical hunger and yet ALL human beings, rich or poor, free or slave, white or non-white are spiritually depraved and in desperate need of a SAVIOR.  It trivializes real hunger, real poverty, real suffering.

I think it reveals some ignorance (either they just don’t understand don’t know or are just not paying attention to it) of larger missiological contextual issues that are face in cross-cultural work.  It is a imposition of Western values on to other cultures which is a big big no-no in cross-cultural missions.  It reveals ignorance of the changing role of Westerners in world missions and or evangelization.  While there are plenty of places where westerns can be and are quite effective in evangelizing the lost where the national might be less effective (for a whole host of issues and reasons) the increasing responsibility of the Western Missionary is that of PARTNERSHIP, a coming along side nationals to reach the lost and to teach, tran, equip men and women for teaching/preaching roles in their own contexts.  The end goal of mission is not transference of one set of cultural values to another, it is TRANSFORMATION of the target culture to the glory of God.  I think it is not a good way to go about it and in my personal opinion, it would be best not to support this movement either financially, emotionally or any other sort.

It is true, there is a DERTH of theological and or ministerial resources for pastors, teachers, and leaders in the now dominant Christian world.  They are really truly asking for and desiring materials for them to tach and train folks in the Word to be sure the Bible is being well understood and followed  and adhered to in their own contexts.  But see even that raises issues as to the idea that they are looking to us for resources because (and I happen to have just enough world experience to know) they see us as successful and good and blessed by God so they want to learn from us and to emulate us.

Instead I think it would be good to help the best we can but not from the point of view of “theological famine” necessarily but in partnership in obedience to the great co-mission.  Partnering with them to teach and train their own people and maybe even from their own cultural perspectives – seems to me like a kind of theological colonialism to think we should go there and train them from our view so we know they are getting it right.

This is why I am a HUGE advocate for promoting Inductive Bible Study and that in a community context much like what we see in Mike and Tim’s book: People of the Book: Inviting Communities into Biblical Interpretation (Wipf and Stock).  That way we are working best to not IMPOSE our theology on them, but instead EQUIPPING them to study the Bible and draw their own conclusions in a way that is faithful to the Bibilcal text.  That way, we could learn something too!  🙂

Well I think that is enough of that!


Book Review: People of the Book

It is with thanks to the kind folks at Wipf & Stock that I had a chance to read and review Michael Halcomb and his friend Timothy McNinich co-authored work People of the Book: Inviting Communities Into Biblical Interpretation (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

Halcomb.PeopleOfTheBook.79276Michael is a PhD student at Asbury, I believe under Ben Witherington and blogs here.  Timothy is a pastor in the Vineyard denomination.

One of the many goals in Christian discipleship is to help people know God and to make him known.  One of the primary ways we come to know God and make him known (along with prayer and participation in a community of faith) is in teaching folks how to read and study the Bible, the primary source of the Christians faith life and practice.  A major barrier to all that is time.  We live in a time crunched world.  It can take a lot of time to  learn to read and study the Bible in a profitable way that contributes to a person’s spiritual growth and development.  Given the limits of time and resources (and the widespread demise of Sunday schools in churches) how is the church to go about educating folks in these matters?

Halcomb and McNinch provide a way!  Their book People of the Book, provides the Pastor or church leader, even Bible study leader a way to help facilitate study of the Bible in short time segments (roughly 45 min to 1 hr).  Their book provides principles necessary for good Bible study in a group setting.  The strongest emphasis is the need to do Bible study in a group setting and rarely if ever in a solitary setting.  Why?  Because group Bible study or communal Bible study helps safe guard against wild misguided interpretations and applications or what they call appropriations of the Scriptures.  When done together in a community setting, it is far more beneficial and fruitful for all involved, and it make the process easier.

The ultimate goal of “Inviting Communities into Biblical Interpretation” which is the subtitle of the book, is to promote interpretive integrity by studying in a community context and downplaying interpreting the Bible through a lens of individuality, something we in the West are prone to do.  Remember, the Bible was written to whole communities of people and congregations, not to individuals.  Though I&II Timothy and Titus were initially written to individual persons, they were then communicated to congregations.  There are very few if any uses of the singular “you” in Paul’s letters for example.  So it is important that as much as possible Bible study be done in a community context.

Halcomb and McNinch discuss six movements in the process of studying a passage or book of the Bible.  The process they present is much like the Inductive method but has some slight nuances and the biggest one is that it be done in a communal context meaning in a group together where perhaps pairs of people work on different movements at the same time then have the things learned be shared together so all can see and learn from one another.

The first movement is observation (20).  Observation involves looking at the text (any set of verses being studied) and seeing what can be observed about a text at the surface level by asking lots of questions of the text (the primary path to understanding).  The main way to do this is by way of recurrance ( finding repeated words, phrases, concepts, in the text).  This helps really get at the details and specifics so you can know what the text says.  You might do this by asking the who, what, when, where, how kinds of questions.

Once that is done and recorded, the next step is interpretive synthesis (27).  This involves a “communal interpretive conversation” where “some hypotheses about what the author of the text was trying to communicate to his original audience utilizing our own best insights and the studied interpretations of biblical scholars.  The goal is to come up with a shared synthesis of meaning (27).”   Like working a puzzle you work the edges then work the pieces until it forms a picture, observation might be working the frame of the puzzle, interpretive synthesis could be putting the pieces together, together.  🙂  One area of difference Halcomb and McNinch have from what is typically taught is that in the search for meaning doesn’t involve looking for supposed “timeless truths” or in asking the question “what does this mean to me?” kinds of things.  Instead, in pursuing interpretive synthesis the goal is simply to determine the meaning of the text as it stands, the best we can figure in its original context and setting.  The whole “what it means to me?” issue comes in a later movement.  It’s the same basic approach to when one is determining meaning in various kinds of literature.  The main difference however lies in what we do with that meaning, how we let it influence us that differentiates between studying the Bible and studying other literature (29).

The next movement is to look at the ancient implications.  What would it have looked like in the time of writing?  It seeks to respect the intentions of the writers and seeks to know what they wanted folks to hear through their writings.  It overlaps with interpretive synthesis and helps in transitioning to the fourth movement – appropriations.

Appropriations is working to bridge the gap between the past and the present.  For Halcomb and McNinch appropriation is different than the typical “application” element of Inductive Bible Study.  Appropriating involves determining “which realities of God’s nature and character do our biblical authors bear witness?” (39).  So, after having made some observations to ask questions of the text and making an interpretive synthesis, appropriation ask, “so what do we learn about God from all this?”  What does this passage. text, book, teach us about God’s character, ways, or reality?

After appropriations there is modern implications.  Modern implications involves bringing the implications from the past forward into our own contexts.  But that can only be done after you “bridge the gap” between past and future with appropriations.  This is finally when you can ask the question “what does it mean for us today?”

Once we consider the modern implications the final movement in communal biblical interpretation is devotion.  This is the ultimate goal of all Bible study – personal and corporate transformation that leads to greater levels of devotion.  It is also what separates it from mere academic exercise and makes it an act of worship, and hence why they do not call it “application.”  Devotion is meant to capture “the whole-life whole-community response to the God of the Bible” (45).

This is a great book and if you want to know more about these things and what they say about it all you will need to get it!  Following the lay out of the movement for communal biblical interpretation the authors follow up with four different case studies where the reader can see how it all works in varying contexts from a home Bible study to a church service, to a cross-cultural setting (I remember Mike sharing about going on this trip).  There is a final chapter on tips for facilitators and how to go about leading such groups and getting something like this going.

If it has made you tired just looking at all this, thinking man that’s a lot of work and there are only so many hours in a day.  Well, it isn’t that much work as it takes everyone to get it done, there is little actual prep time since the work is being done as a group and different folks do different parts of the study, all the facilitator has to do is keep things moving along!

I think Mike and Tim have done a great job with this book and that those brave pastors and or church leaders who are willing to relinquish control over the direction of the study and allow a communal interpretive approach ought to go for it!

on the Gospel of Mark

Congratulations to Joel Watts on his new book published by Wipf & Stock.  Looks like it should be a pretty interesting read!

Here is a description from the website:

Watts.MimeticCriticism.22895What if the story of Jesus was meant not just to be told but retold, molded, and shaped into something new, something present by the Evangelist to face each new crisis? The Evangelists were not recording a historical report, but writing to effect a change in their community. Mark was faced with the imminent destruction of his tiny community—a community leaderless without Paul and Peter and who witnessed the destruction of the Temple; now, another messianic figure was claiming the worship rightly due to Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Mark takes his stylus in hand and begins to rewrite the story of Jesus—to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.

Joel L. Watts moves the Gospel of Mark to just after the destruction of the Temple, sets it within Roman educational models, and begins to read the ancient work afresh. Watts builds upon the historical criticisms of the past, but brings out a new way of reading the ancient stories of Jesus, and attempts to establish the literary sources of the Evangelist.

I really like that line “to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.”  Awesome!  Just from this description I could see a lot of implications for the local church and implications for how it will bring transformation to preaching and teaching as well.  I look forward to when I can get it and read it.  🙂

Good job Joel!

ps. he is doing a giveaway.

on Ephesians and the Center of Paul’s Theology

We’ve all been trained to think the bulk of Paul’s theology is found in Romans, when actually….


consider the following:

The Christian church—at least in the West, and especially Protestants—has read Paul through the lens of Romans.  We have historically regarded this letter as the center of Paul’s theology.

I don’t think this is right.  Inasmuch as we can speak of a “center” of Paul’s theology and insofar as any extant NT letter represents that, I think Ephesians is a better candidate.  Among other reasons, here are just a few:

First, Romans is situational while Ephesians isn’t.  Paul argues as he does in Romans because he’s trying to resolve a conflict.  Many of his statements are directed to that end, and when they’re taken out of their communicative context and transformed into abstract theological principles, they give a distorted picture of Paul’s theology.

Ephesians, on the other hand, isn’t situational.  It’s probably a circular letter that Paul intended to be read to a range of churches in Asia Minor, informing them of what God has done in Christ and how they can participate in that.  Because Paul writes to give multiple Christian communities a broad understanding, we can say that Ephesians represents Paul’s basic gospel proclamation (i.e., Paul’s “theology”).

Well there is more and it is certainly a provocative post.  I like it!  Let me know what you think.  🙂


a thought on “grace”

I recently picked up a copy of Siegfried Schatzmann’s A Pauline Theology of Charismata (Hendrickson, 1987).  It is his PhD dissertation from SWBTS.  It’s a packed 103 pages of reading and highly technical reading on the use of “charismata” in Paul’s letters.  It’s a good work.   As well one should he starts out exploring the etymology of the concept and it is quite interesting.  Consider the following:  (sorry I am not able to access Greek fonts at this time so you will forgive the transliterations and keep reading?  Thx!  🙂 )

Xarismata is derived from the root word xaris.  Whereas the former is used sparingly, the latter occurs profusely both in secular Greek literature and in the NT.  Xaris, in the Pauline letters generally translated as “grace,” and xarismata, the unique NT term for “gift,” develop from the stem, xar-.  “Grace” is probably Paul’s most fundamental concept by which he expresses the event of salvation.  It is crucial to understand, therefore, that “grace” does not, for Paul, convey the notion of God’s disposition or attitude towards mankind but rather God’s gracious “act.”  Rudolf Bultmann appropriately summarizes the foundational character of xaris in Paul as “God’s eschatological deed.”  Paul’s Theology is this appropriately described as “charitocentric”; xaris denotes God’s “fundamental gift of salvation” to humanity.  By no means must this be construed to mean that Paul considered “grace” as God’s generous act in the past only.   Every cursory study of such passages as Rom 3:24, 5:15, and Eph 2:5,8, shows that grace, as God’s eschatological event in Christ, is experienced in the present and also transforms and characterizes existence in the present.  This understanding of xaris, then leads to its correlate, xarismata.  Yet, the further probing into the significance of the relatedness of these terms mus await the exegesis Rom 5:15, 16, and of 6:23.

This is interesting.  So often we talk about grace as God’s unmerited favor towards us, and probably this is true, but as seen in Schatzmann, it in fact refers to God’s act of salavation!

Yes, this is interesting.

Ephesians and the Drama of God

The other day I learned of Stephen E. Fowl’s recent contribution to the New Testament Library Commentary set, Ephesians: A Commentary.  I tweeted about it and asked if any one knew much about it since it was so new and I hadn’t seen any reviews.  Chris Tilling said to be sure to get it as Stephen is the real deal.   A little while later that day, a friend blessed me with a copy (Thank You!) and I can already tell it is going to be good and one you are going want to get your hands on!!   Dr. Fowl is a leading scholar on the theological interpretation of Scripture and he incorporates that into this work on Ephesians!  Michael J. Gorman calls it a “truly theological commentary.”

Well, for me at least, how do I know it is going to be good?  🙂  Feast upon this short snippet summarizing Ephesians chapter 1:

Following the opening greeting, Paul offers a blessing to the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” On the one hand, this directs praise to God and invites the Ephesians to likewise praise God. Moreover, this blessing also allows Paul to narrate God’s drama of salvation, a drama that was initiated before the foundation of the world and that reaches its climax as everything is brought to its proper end in Christ. This drama is cosmic in its scope and consequences.  In addition, God has graciously incorporated the Ephesians into this drama.  Indeed, the presence of the Spirit in the Ephesians’ midst confirms their incorporation into God’s drama of salvation (1:3–14).

This leads Paul to offer a prayer on the Ephesians’ behalf. The hope of this prayer is that the Ephesians will come to understand the significance of God’s drama of salvation and Christ’s particular place in this drama (1:15–23).

I love it!  Paul is narrating the great drama of God’s redeeming work in Christ to redeem all creation and especially to include us in that process!  A story that reaches back to the very beginnings of time and space!  A story that each one of us, who is “in Christ,” has a part in (he later talks about how Eph 2 tells more of our incorporation in to the great drama of God in Christ!)  A story that each one of us lives out in the different contexts of our own lives and situations and circumstances!

Yeah, this is gonna be a good one!  🙂


my weirdest post ever

could be this one…  sorry if it weirded people out…. 🙂

I mean have you heard of anything weirder than that?

what is wrong with a Christ-centered focus??!!

Is not nearly the whole of Scripture Christ centered?!

As one person (a fellow AG pastor and Pentecostal) objected on Facebook:

Christo-monistic? Does that mean “Jesus only”? The entirety of the NT is Christ-centered. Jesus’ promises of the Paraclete in Jn 14-16 describe the Spirit as pointing to Christ and his will. Over & over, the NT talks in terms of the world being made by and for Christ.  That is not at all Monistic. The Holy Spirit points to Christ, and Christ points to the Father. The Father puts “all things” into Christ’s hands and under his feet. All are “one.”

Yeah… so uh, how about we all just move on?  🙂

Dave Black on Philippians 2:12-13

Aug 5th 2012, 9:11 AM I always enjoy and benefit from reading Roger Olson’s blog posts. Since we’re studying Philippians in our Greek 3 class this summer, I was especially glad to see his recent sermon called “Grace Works” Philippians 2:12-13. I partly agree, and partly disagree, with his exegesis. I agree that the term “salvation” (soteria) in 2:12 is not referring to forensic, juridical justification but rather to what Olson calls “life after conversion.” Where I might diverge a bit from Olson is in his definition of “life after conversion”: “maintaining a healthy relationship with God as a converted believer.” This interpretation, in my view, is short-sighted since it begs the question of context and the macrostructure of the book (see my Novum Testamentum essay, The Discourse Structure of Philippians).
What does Paul mean by “work out your own salvation”? As Olson correctly notes, there are too many contextual clues to conclude that Paul is referring to initial justification. The emphasis is on the life of a Christian. But let us take that thought one step further. There are two main imperatives in 2:12-16: “work out your salvation” and “do all things without grumbling and complaining.” Hence 2:12-16 may be analyzed as a continuation of the plea to unity begun in 2:1-4. The theme of 2:12-16 may be stated thus: “I plead for you to obey me and to work at bringing healing to your community. For God is already at work among you to foster mutual good will instead of ill will. Do this in order that one one will be able to find fault in you as you share with others the message of life.” As F. F. Bruce writes (Philippians, 56-57), “In this context Paul is not urging each member of the church to keep working at his or her personal salvation; he is thinking of the health and well-being of the church as a whole. Each of them, and all of them together, must pay attention to this.”
In other words, what many commentators fail to consider is the corporate dimension of Paul’s exhortation in Phil. 2:12-13. Apparently his concern is that the Christians in Philippi, torn apart by dissension and strife, will work to complete the sanctification of the church (and each individual within it) lest the work of the Gospel be hindered. Believers are “co-souled” (2:2), inextricably linked together by the Spirit of God on the basis of their common faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, who is in the process of creating a visible community of faith — a living, breathing organism that knows that its most credible form of witness to the world is its own unity and love. In this light, verse 14 now makes perfect sense: the Philippians must “do all things without grumbling and complaining.” To be saved is to enter into a faith community that grants all of its member the opportunity to experience the depth of Christ’s love. Thus Paul is addressing the matter of unity where it matters most — in the area of interpersonal relationships. Perhaps this explains why his love ethic is so thoroughly eschatological. It is an ethics bound up with the purpose of the church as the New People of God whose citizenship is in heaven and whose ethics are best seen in the virtues of self-abnegation and humility of mind (2:3-4).
From this point of view, “salvation” in 2:12 is not simply a matter of one’s relationship with God. The role of the saints is much broader and deeper. Salvation helps us to structure our congregational life in such a way that we have the greatest potential to be influential witnesses within our families and communities, among whom we shine as stars in the world as we offer them the life-giving message. Hence we must always be praying that our love for one another (and, of course, for God) “might abound yet more and more in knowledge and full discernment” (1:9), simply because lovelessness is one of the main reasons people say they do not want to accept the Christ of Christianity.