Rocking the Boat: Random Thoughts on Faith, Church, and the Bible…

It has been months since I last blogged and since I am still near the beginning of the semester, I figured I could spare a few words here before my life becomes almost utter chaos (between my thesis research, internship, and three part-time jobs [TA, writing consultant, student life leader], I will be hard-pressed to find any free time).

It is my last year of seminary. I’ve said that several times and it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I guess I’m not sure it’s really supposed to until I graduate, right? It’s like in the movie Amazing Grace where William Wilberforce asks William Pitt after they’ve raced through Wilberforce’s garden, “Why is it when you stop running you always feel the splinters?” and Pitt replies, “It’s a lesson: we must keep going.” The reality of seminary ending will not likely hit until I have stopped writing the papers and reading the books.

But more on that later.

What has come to mind lately has been where I was when I started this journey. And no, it is not when I began seminary, actually. It goes much farther back than that.

When I met with my internship supervisor (Brian Doak at the Newberg campus of George Fox) right before the first Hebrew class, we talked a bit about where things had begun for me. He had asked me who my professor had been at U of O and I said it was Daniel Falk (now at Penn State). And then I told him how I even got started into Falk’s classes: by way of frustration with my Math 112 class.

Only the Lord knows how I even passed Math 111 when I failed the final (I think I received roughly a 56%), but somehow I found myself two weeks into Math 112 drawing countless circles that weren’t doodles, but instead serious attempts at calculations. Unlike any other math class that I had taken up to that point, I had even met with the professor in her office hours twice in the first week. And by the Thursday of the second week, I was ready to call it quits.

But I needed something to replace it; financial aid would not allow me to take 8 credits at the undergraduate level since “full time” was considered 12. So, at around 3 am (so technically Friday), I started browsing the course catalogues and stumbled upon the Religious Studies section. I knew at least one of my friends was in an Intro to the Bible class, so I thought I’d check it out.

It was completely full.

Yet I knew that the end of Friday was the latest anyone could drop classes and receive a 90% refund. And since I had just eaten an entire box of those Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies, which are loaded with sugar, I figured I’d be up awhile. My math homework was certainly not getting done. So I sat there hitting “Refresh” for maybe ten minutes when, lo and behold, the Red Sea parted and the Intro to the Bible class had an opening!

To this day, it was the fastest I had ever signed up for any class.

Ever.

And that was when this whole journey began. I took that class, then the subsequent Jesus and the Gospels in the following fall. And during my fifth year (or as I call it, the Victory Lap year), I took two more classes from Professor Falk because why not? It was during those final classes that I realized that while my major had been English literature, my true passion was studying the Bible. And I believed that my time studying the Bible beyond the normal weekly Bible study was not done.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, the two afternoon coffees certainly help, but mostly because within the past two days, I have been reminded twice of a church experience that is difficult to relive. Sunday night I received an email asking about this post, which is my honest thoughts about the closure of Calvary Fellowship, my home church in Eugene for 5 of the 7 years I had lived there. And just yesterday afternoon, a fellow classmate and I chatted about Calvary Chapel and why Calvary Fellowship had split off from it (he had heard about it down in California). And like any break within a church denomination, it boiled down to a difference of opinion regarding key beliefs. This time, the two key beliefs were the doctrines of pre-tribulation (rapture) and inerrancy, the latter of which was the major one that I had experienced while at Calvary Fellowship.

Without going too far into the details of what happened that led to Calvary Fellowship’s final closure (honestly, some terminology that is used around “major doctrines” like these is triggering for me), it is enough to say that Danny believed the Bible to be God’s inspired word – the divine revelation that pointed to Jesus. Furthermore, any critique of the doctrine of inerrancy that Danny had had was not for the purpose of “bringing down inerrancy,” as he once stated in a sermon (by the way, that sermon was the one and only time Danny had addressed personal attacks on him and his family that were based off of his beliefs – I mean honestly, who should have to justify why they follow Jesus to fellow Christians?). Even in the final days of the church, we had plenty of members who disagreed with him on this belief, but loved the community that we had all helped to create.

Little did I know that, when I was listening to Danny defend himself to his own church based off of countless rumors spread about him, I would have a difficult time attending any church.

A year after we had said goodbye to Danny, who moved back down to California to take up a job that would provide for his family, I started gathering with other former members of Calvary Fellowship. I think it was only because of their presence that I was even able to sit comfortably in a church (without feeling like I didn’t belong). I haven’t been able to do so since.

In my one normal class, which is all about hermeneutics (“the art of interpretation”), we’re reading this book by Michal J. Gorman who describes the interpretation process as a spiral – we begin in one spot, circle by critique and deconstruction, and ascend upwards as we construct a new way of understanding the Biblical text. As I read those words I pictured a spiral staircase that essentially gets designed as it is being built (something akin to the staircases at Hogwarts). But I didn’t that it was an apt description of how it feels to strive toward a better understanding of the text as you both deconstruct and reconstruct along the way.

As I found out with Calvary Fellowship, deconstructing to reconstruct can feel like chaos. In fact, it can feel like a shipwreck – like a church closing its doors because a pastor dared to challenge a dominant view of the Bible, but do so in a way that was conducive to a healthy faith and spirituality. Interpreting the Bible often feels like sailing on a boat; sometimes it will be smooth and easy, but others it will be terrifyingly rough and it will feel like the boat is about to capsize.

This imagery of a ship at sea is deliberate: almost two years prior to Calvary’s closure I had written a post about why I had chosen to stay with Calvary Fellowship; because my little individualistic faith had become grafted in with the other members. Or as I had put it then, my little rowboat and been broken apart and pieced back together with the much larger ship of Calvary. So when Calvary was no longer a church, I had to reinterpret what my faith even looked like, let alone where I saw myself in the church.

Where my seminary comes into play is how it has provided a place where I can ask questions and not be afraid of not finding an answer. I can mull over things without feeling the pressure to produce a nicely-packaged response (but of course, there is always the pressure one feels right before a paper is due, but that’s a little different). The interpretive methodologies that I have learned thus far have helped redeem a text so wrapped up in religiosity (a word I often heard at Calvary; not even sure if it’s a real word). I feel more comfortable in exploring a text, especially after having learned its original languages.

As you might guess, I’m pretty excited about this hermeneutics class – not only because I might learn some new methodologies for interpretation, but also because it continues the journey that I began in a night of frustration with a college math class my freshman year. Learning more about the Biblical text is all that I really wanted to do in the first place. But now I can do so without feeling inadequate simply because I have a different method of approach or don’t have the “right” method (which is all that inerrancy really is: a method).

Because it’s okay to rock the boat.

Faith, then, seems to be a byproduct of how well we trust God when we don’t feel like we can trust anything else, like the Bible or the church. God is above and beyond all of that. In fact, no amount of prepositions accurately depicts where, when, how, or why God even is (I know, such an English major thing to say, right? Ugh.). God just is. And sometimes when we come to the Bible, that’s all we have to go on.

And that’s okay.

God bless.

Discovering Nuances in the Greek: An Evaluation of Eph. 5:21-25…

As mentioned in my last post, Greek has been reviving my interest in the Biblical text. Learning all the different features of how the grammar works provides a whole new sense of understanding the text. And again during class on Monday, another passage came into a whole new light. But this time, it has left me carefully considering the kinds of study Bibles I spend my time reading.

Ephesians 5:22-24 is a controversial passage for it appears to be giving a complementarian view of marriage (where the husband is the head of the marriage while the wife submits to the husband). But this word “submit” is actually becomes a little more interesting when one takes a look at the Greek (with my literal translation after):

αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησίας ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

“the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ (is) head of the church, he savior of the body but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and so the wives to husbands in all.”

What’s odd about this passage? If one takes a look at the beginning of the passage, it appears that there is something missing, no? Here is how the ESV Bible has translated it:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Notice the difference? In my literal translation of the Greek, any form of the word “submit” only appears once, but yet, in the same amount of verses, the ESV has it listed three times. What is even more problematic is how the first usage of “submit” appears: “Wives, submit to your own husbands…” It is an imperative (a command). Yet if one looks in the Greek, one not only does not see the imperative form of “submit” (which would be ὑποτάγητε, for the second person, plural; Cf. James 4:7), but one does not see any form of “submit” anywhere, certainly not in v. 22. Where is it coming from then?

For our translation assignment last week, we were asked to translate Eph. 5:21-25 to get a full sense of what is going on here. Here is what the full passage looks like in Greek:

Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ, αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς…

“Submitting to one another in reverence of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ head of the church, he savior of the body, but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and thus the wives to husbands in all.

Husbands, love the wives, even as Christ loved the church and delivered of himself over on behalf of her…”

What is particularly significant about this passage is that the “submit” command that the ESV implements in v. 22 (which is nowhere in the Greek v. 22), comes from a participle and not an imperative (Ὑποτασσόμενοι). Instead of suggesting a command, Paul is reshaping (though not dramatically) what is known as the “household code.” This is proven true by the only imperative in or near this particular passage: ἀγαπᾶτε, which is a direct command to the ἄνδρες, the “husbands.” In a culture where men mostly married to produce heirs rather than for love, this is a huge statement and not quite as demeaning to women as the ESV (NIV and NASB as well) has it. What is even more deceptive on the part of these popular translations is that little subheader placed in between v. 21 and v. 22; “Wives and Husbands” for both ESV and NIV and “Marriage Like Christ and the Church” in the NASB.[1] With that direct (and theologically driven) break in the text, one would not at all see the discrepancy.

However, there are two translations I have recently picked up that actually give interesting renderings here – renderings that are much closer to the sense of the Greek. The first is the Common English Bible (CEB), which came out two years ago. Here is its rendering of the passage:

“… and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While it still inserts “wives should submit” (again, not quite present in the Greek), they have at least placed the header “Be filled with the Spirit” all the way back right before v. 15 and keep the entire passage as one paragraph (all the way to the end of the chapter). And when the Greek is considered, this is precisely the sense conveyed (note also the “For example”; this comes closer to presenting the “wives submitting to husbands” as an example of what reverence in Christ looks like, but still avoids the participial sense by inserting “should”).

The second translation is the Inclusive Bible, which is an explicitly egalitarian Bible:

“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ, because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body – the church – as well as being its Savior. As the church yields to Christ, so you should yield to your partner in everything. Love one another as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for it…” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While they have steered slightly away from a literal translation of the Greek, it is crucial to note the language used in place of husbands being the heads of wives: “because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body.” Does this not convey the sense of Gal. 3:28 precisely: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (CEB, emphasis mine)? Of course, it is worth noting that Ephesians is a “partially disputed” letter of Paul (term Dr. Gupta introduced to us last night in our NT class); this means that it is possible that Paul did not actually write Ephesians. While I am on the fence about that, the Greek (at least to me, a novice) in this passage does not drift too far from Paul’s profound statement in Gal. 3:28.

As my Greek class plunges on through controversial passages of Paul’s letters, it is becoming overwhelmingly clearer and clearer that there is a massive amount of patriarchal language that must be unraveled – not necessarily patriarchal language from Paul himself, per se, but certainly from the more modern translations. The ESV and NASB footnotes pertaining this passage were terribly geared toward a patriarchal lens of the text, which, in my view, is exceedingly dangerous as it enables all sorts of manipulation and abuse of power and goes directly against Jesus’ teaching of not lording one’s power over another (cf. Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:24-27).

So, yes, studying Greek this year (although it may kill me), has proven to be one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.

God bless.

[1] I cannot give the NRSV a full pass either, but the Catholic Edition I have at least places the header “The Christian Household” above v. 21.

Spring Break Refreshment…

Spring Break, for many graduate students, is not much of a break. Even though the weekly assignments are somewhat put on hold or reduced to a moderate amount, there are still the semester papers, projects, and countless hours of course reading to catch up on. With this in mind, I took a quick trip to Eugene yesterday with my girlfriend – both for a mini-vacation and to show her where I spent seven years of my life.

We first parked on Agate St. just outside of Hayward Field. From there we walked up 15th, past the turf fields, through the dorm halls (passing my own Morton Hall of the Earl complex along the way) toward the EMU (now being rebuilt). After taking a quick stop inside the EMU, we walked down 13th, paused a bit in front of Fenton, and then wandered over to Deady, so she could see the first building built on the University of Oregon’s campus. We continued on to McKenzie, then crossed the street to the Duck Store. She was amazed by the enormity of a school bookstore and I was amazed by the renovations they had made (I used to work for the company and it did not look like that the last time I was there). We then stopped in Café Roma for a coffee with my former pastor, Tony. After a quick photo at the Starbucks next door (where I had met Jenna’s sister, Sierra, who introduced me to Jenna), we hung out at the Knight Library.

There is a song from the U of O’s acappella group, On the Rocks, called “Call Me a Duck” (a remake off of Maino’s “All the Above”). In that song, which is all about being a student at the university without a football focus, there is a portion of a line that goes “Picture you studying Greek…” At the time I first heard the song, I did not think much of it. But when I sat down at a window seat in the top floor of the Knight Library to do a little Greek homework, it was the first thing I could think of.

Top floor, far left corner from the stairs.
Taken after finished transcribing Col. 3:9-11, a passage about renewal.

It was a poetic moment that encapsulated the journey from the University of Oregon up to George Fox Evangelical Seminary, where I am now two years into a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree. At a point in the semester (and even in the degree pursuit altogether) when exhaustion is beginning to hit me, it was a refreshing reminder that there was a point when I did not imagine seminary. And as I am now beginning to plan what to write for my Master’s thesis as well as studying for the GRE to move on to a PhD program in a year and a half, it is a nice motto of what I hope to study and teach after I have left George Fox.

No, it is not as if Greek is my primary area of interest, but it certainly is a part of it. It certainly is a fascinating language all its own. It certainly has opened up my understanding of the Biblical text. And I certainly would not be studying it had I not gone to the U of O. As I plan for the upcoming academic year and prepare myself for what may (hopefully) follow, remembering where I have come from and all of the transformative processes I have gone through will be what drives me forward.

Even in seminary, God can seem a little distant. When that happens, one’s future looks a little blurry and confusing. But every now and then, God – on God’s own timing – sends little reminders that God is still there, refreshing you and your passions like rain to an Oregonian.

All that God wants in those moments is for us to simply soak it in.

God bless.

Halfway Assessment: Reflections on How Seminary Has Changed Me…

A little over a week ago I found out that I am now up for candidacy assessment, which all (or most?) at George Fox Seminary who are reaching the midway point of their programs must undergo. It essentially evaluates how well or not well I’m handling my courses, whether or not I’m growing in a healthy way spiritually, and then ultimately it decides if I’m up to the task of finishing. From all of what I have read about it thus far, it’s a simple means of determining whether or not my degree program is benefitting me and those around me. It is such a weird feeling to be nearly halfway done with a pursuit that I began a little over a year ago.

Part of the assessment asks how my theology has changed over the duration of my time at George Fox. This was a tough question to answer mostly because we’re supposed to keep our words few and our meaning specific, but also because I am not sure whether it is better defined as a theological shift – a change in what I believe – or as a coagulation of things that I believed in part – undercurrent beliefs or questions long held, but merely affirmed throughout my time in seminary.

For example, I believe that women can and ought to be on the forefront of ministerial leadership, which includes being the head pastor of a church, but is not limited to that. Even if Adam and Eve were truly the first humans, Eve – as the supposed model for all women – is the co-helper with Adam and vice versa. Women being placed beneath men is a consequence of humanity’s break with God, which was then mended in and through Christ, rendering there to be “no longer Jew or Greek, … slave or free, … male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[1] When we treat and value women as equally capable leaders and thinkers, we are ushering in the new creation that Christ has established.

I believe that calling God “Father” is not a terrible thing to do, but that there are plenty of shortcomings in taking this label – as really with any label – further to attribute “masculine” characteristics back onto God. There are also shortcomings with calling God “Mother” as well, which only means that any label we would like to give God that depends solely on modern terminology (or even dated terminology) will only wind up leaving us with a God in our own image – or the image we would like God to be in. This is not to say we create God in our own image when we call God Father or Mother, but to say that we must always allow God to be God – transcendent beyond gender, time, and material, yet embedded deeply and relentlessly active within each. God is much larger than our simple regurgitations of our pastors’ favorite theologians.

I believe our understanding of sexuality from the lens of Scripture is exceedingly limited – particularly with homosexuality. Declaring heterosexuality the norm based on a text from a time period where loving, caring, homosexual relationships were practically non existent (at the very least, not attested for) – where in fact homosexual acts were a means of expressing dominance – is stifling the voices of the LGTBQ community before they’re even given a chance to speak. At that point, we are no longer bullying them; we’re dehumanizing them.

Lastly, and not at all of least importance, I believe that racism is still alive and manifests itself in many realms and on many levels. The people of Ferguson, Missouri and their reaction to the killing of unarmed Michael Brown is but a taste of what many marginalized races have been feeling for God knows how long. And, most importantly, this is not to harmonize all races – that because they have the same struggle, they must have the same story. This is profoundly not true. The story of the Native American people – my own heritage – is not the same as the African-American people nor the same as the African, Korean, Afghan, Palestinian or any other marginalized people’s story. Loving one’s neighbor, particularly in this context, is not standing idly by while fellow siblings are trampled on and dehumanized without being given a chance to speak for themselves. And yet at the same time, it means not taking up their cry for justice as one’s own and further muting their voice. Inasmuch as I can claim the Cherokee people as my own heritage, I cannot claim their struggle as my own; I was raised by a successful, white family (my mother is white). But I can certainly help.

One must pardon the matter-of-fact nature with which I write all these; there has been an exhausting amount of controversy revolving around each of these lately and I am simply fed up with the lack of neighborly love shown from fellow Christians (and of course, myself). In many ways, those who have been marginalized, whether Christian or not, have displayed greater Christ-likeness than many of the Christians arguing against them. Rather than responding in kind, they’ve chosen to love their neighbors as themselves (similar to what Paul describes in 2 Cor. 6:1-10). In many ways, I have been challenged to follow their example.

By and large the biggest challenge of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is listening to one’s neighbor and allowing them to define themselves in their own terms. I have no right to tell the gay Christian that she is not really a Christian because she is gay; I am not God, therefore, I am not omniscient. Furthermore, Jesus teaches that we will know the false believers by the fruit they bear; are the predominately-white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri truly bearing Christ-like fruit when advancing on peaceful, unarmed gatherings (which is a right granted to all by the 1st Amendment) or are the protestors – who have shown a greater wherewithal to protect their own community peaceably – showing bad fruit by crying out for justice for Michael Brown and his family (and the families of many other black men and women killed and demonized within white communities)?

Seminary hasn’t changed me, really. It’s simply helped me refine things I have already been believing for some time and then challenged me with opportunities to live out those beliefs. And as I have said, these beliefs are quite simple: loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself – valuing them as equally as I value myself despite the drastic differences there may be between us. If I am only at the midpoint of my seminary experience, I have a lot of work ahead of me.

God bless.

[1] Gal. 3:28, NRSV. Paul here repeats “there is no longer” to further emphasize the break from “the way things are.” Richard B. Hays writes, “Paul is echoing the language of Gen. 1:27: ‘male and female he created them.’ To say that this created distinction is no longer in force is to declare that the new creation has come upon us, a new creation in which even gender roles no longer pertain.New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol. XI, p. 273, emphasis mine.

Thoughts on Faith, Posture, and Academic Paths…

It’s weird not having blogged for a month. I mean, I have been busier than usual what with getting ready for and traveling to Oxford, England – where I’m writing from now. But I have had things to write about. However, in the beginning of writing those potential posts, I had realized they all required a bit more thought and care than I was giving them.

Why am I in Oxford, though? Several months back I was awarded an all-expenses-paid, two week trip over here to study manuscripts as well as work on a few. There are a little over 30 other students here with me, including a couple from my own school at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Thus far, it’s been quite the experience – for one thing, it was my first international trip and for another, it was my first flight in fourteen years.

Every student here is working on a small project which is part of a much larger project conducted by the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI). We’ve been given lectures and talks on being a member of the faith in the academic world, various methodologies in textual criticism, and even a few on Oxford’s history (including a talk on C.S. Lewis). This last Saturday we were led over to Winchester to tour the city as well as the famous Winchester Cathedral, which is incredibly large and stunningly beautiful. Walking around inside felt as though I had walked onto the set of a Lord of the Rings movie. Like I said, it has been quite an experience thus far (despite missing out on the opportunity to travel around London yesterday and a few lectures today due to a recent cold).

Inside the Winchester Cathedral.
Inside the Winchester Cathedral.

Coming near the end of my third semester at George Fox (yes, I’ve been in Summer Semester for about eight weeks now) and hearing these talks and lectures about being Christian scholars has caused me to think ahead of my own future and where I’ll be after Spring of 2016 (when I’m planning on finishing my Master’s). For now, the hope is to do well enough through my Master’s and on the GRE to get accepted into a fully funded (or at least partially funded) PhD program. I don’t think I’m questioning what I want to do, but I am questioning how I want to approach what I want to do.

During the first few nights of our time here, there were a couple talks given about life as a Christian scholar in a mostly non-Christian world. Such talks carried a strong theme of defending one’s beliefs – of the need for apologetics, which included, to no small degree, defending Scripture’s authority, reliability, and essential nature for the modern day Christian. Included in all of this was the emphasis on practicing thorough scholarship. Looking back on all this now, I see this as one potential approach to academia that many take. However, I do not find that this approach fits me.

Instead I find a strong need for quality scholarship in biblical and theological studies. I do not see the need for faith to be defended largely because I do not think God is so small that God would need our defense. I’m quite certain that should there be a mass falling out within Christianity and biblical scholarship that left nothing but non-Christians handling the biblical text, God would remain untouched. However, such a falling out I do not think is in God’s agenda.

Why do I feel this way? Why am I surrendering apologetic studies in favor of a more “secular” approach? Because I find agendas such as defending God’s existence or the validity of the Scriptural texts to be in the way of quality scholarship. I find that it skews one’s studies to input their own conclusions long before the evidence supporting such a conclusion ever gets drawn out (if it ever gets drawn out).

None of this is to demean those who choose to go the apologetic path; it is simply to say that it’s one I don’t think fits best for me. Instead, I think God wants me to go a different route that hasn’t been defined entirely. Yet I know that I must allow God to be God – to defend what God finds worthy of defense. And if we are paying attention to the Scriptures we (yes, myself included) deem authoritative, we should find that God seeks to protect those who cannot protect themselves (Prov. 31:8-9). Perhaps if we started there, then we may realize that this alone is enough of an apologetic for those who are willing to see, hear, and listen to the God we proclaim.

Such a path as the one I see before me requires a certain kind of posture – one of sincere humility, diligence, and discipline. Yet this posture is not exclusive only to the world of biblical scholarship nor even the larger umbrella of academia. It is a posture set forth by Christ himself for all who proclaim his name to follow. Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to talk about the other areas this posture plays into (one that immediately comes to mind is the topic of gay marriage or homosexuality as a whole – I have been silent for too long on this and I am excited about taking it up).

As you wonder about where God is leading you or has led you, what kind of posture do you sense that you have or had? What is or was the impact of your posture? How do you think it could be improved upon?

God bless.

On Being a Seminarian: Enjoy the Process of Rejection…

Over last weekend I was privileged to attend a couple sessions for the West Coast Qumran Study Group, which felt like a miniature conference with scholars from the west coast of the U.S. and Canada gathered to share ideas, research, and give tips on utilizing Bible software. Or, at the very least, those were the topics of the sessions I was able to attend (the bulk of the study group was held on Saturday – the same day I had my eight hour class). After the final session on Sunday, we went to the Stickmen Brewery in Lake Oswego for lunch.

What was really cool for me was to see my former professor from U of O, Dr. Daniel Falk, talking with one of my new professors at George Fox – my advisor, in fact, Dr. Steve Delamarter. What I found even cooler, though, was having the opportunity to chat with Falk after everything was over. I had told him that I had just finished my first year of seminary and am hoping to continue on for a PhD thereafter. Somewhat to my surprise, he seemed excited and after sharing a couple tips here and there, we got to talking about how scholarship – that is, the advanced study of a particular subject in a particular field – works. He had told me that if I spent my time researching and presenting a topic that doesn’t get rejected, then I haven’t really done much for scholarship. However, if I were to find something – preferably something that hasn’t been tried before – that does get rejected by other scholars, then I actually have advanced – however minutely – scholarship. By ruling something out, one is actually moving the greater pursuit forward.

As I ruminated on this while heading home, I realized there are a few things that I must focus on even as I pursue my Master’s. First of all, however studied one may be, one must never fall in love with their thesis or their particular methodology. Should this happen and that thesis become utterly rejected, then one will feel that they have failed – even though, as just discussed, one has done something for the field. Ultimately, then, my focus should be on being proven wrong; to do as much research as I can and as well as I can with the hope that it gets knocked down. It will not be for naught; it’ll be an opportunity to try something new.

Secondly, I must never carry myself as though I’m always right. In fact, I ought to do the opposite: invite my professors and fellow students to prove me wrong, even in the littlest of essays. Our culture, of which I am very much a part, has become so engrained and fixated against criticism that we’ve become blind to the benefits of criticism – of our work and ideas being out-rightly proven wrong, unsupported, or too steeped in presuppositions. My first paper for writing 121 in college received an ‘F.’ Had it not received such a low, demoralizing grade (with extensive commentary in the margins), I highly doubt that I’d be as motivated to try harder and rework the incorrect areas until they were right – or at least closer to being right.

Thirdly, I must lower whatever expectations I might have about being an influence in scholarship. As Dr. Falk told me on Sunday, nobody really sends waves throughout the rest of the scholarly world for nearly fifteen or twenty years later. There are the rare exceptions, sure, but they’re the geniuses of the scholarly world. I still ought to strive to change the world, but adjust the scope toward something very, very small with the major focus on being utterly rejected and sent back to the drawing board. This, of course, leads to the last thing I realized.

Enjoy the process. Studying more and more is less about acquiring knowledge and more about creating more questions and unraveling one’s knowledge. My experience in seminary has ultimately been a journey of epistemology – of learning and relearning how I know what I know, which requires unraveling one’s knowledge and asking more questions instead of giving more answers. Such a process seems hopeless, if not annoying. But perhaps, once again, this is because our culture has misled us into believing that success is in finding more answers than questions – in being right more than wrong.

Dr. Falk’s words could not have come at a better time. I just finished my first year, have already signed up for classes this fall, and have begun deciding where I’d like to explore for my Master’s thesis (or if I even want to write a thesis). Having my understanding of what defines successful scholarship flipped around allows me to see that the thirst for understanding thrives in an environment where things are proven wrong rather than right. Even as I head into more coursework and build ideas for a thesis, I am shifting my focus not onto proving my arguments right, but to boldly push small, new ideas to rule them out and keep trying. I mean, after all, it gives me an excuse to read more books.

Sundays With St. Paul: Do We Still Need Torah?

With my spring semester at George Fox having finished this past week and my “Paul and the Law” class with it, I’ve been thinking a lot about Torah and how much it matters to us in modern day Christianity. Ever since the first few weeks of class, this question has been on my mind: Do we need Torah if we have Christ?

My first inclination is to jump to Romans 13:8-10[1], combine it with Romans 3:31[2], and make the conclusion that those who are in Christ and love as Christ has loved fulfill Torah, which means we would no longer need Torah for our faith in Christ. Yet, I know this cannot be true because 1. Paul either quotes Torah (understood here as a general reference to the Hebrew Bible) or at least references it as a foundation for teaching about Christ and 2. we would not be able to make much sense of Paul without a thorough study of the Hebrew Bible.

Furthermore, if we take 2 Tim. 3:16-17[3] as a reference (at least) to the Hebrew Bible (and if 2 Tim. has Pauline authenticity – or at least his stamp of approval), then it’s clear that Paul wanted those in Christ to utilize the teachings of Torah to build up the church. And even beyond that, there is much to be found within the Hebrew Bible that reveals the character of God (as is implicit within Paul’s letters).

I guess what I’m reacting against is the idea that since Christ has come the “old” way of studying Torah is no longer necessary. It’s an idea that I don’t think was ever taught to me explicitly, but certainly was by implication. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,”[4] is the general understanding behind the implicit idea. Yet does this truly apply to our modern day usage of Torah?

I’m not suggesting we turn back to Judaism, nor do I think Paul is suggesting such a thing (although I don’t think he initially saw a difference between Christianity and Judaism until much later in his life). I just think, after learning the world in which Paul lived and breathed and talked about Jesus, there is still significant value to Torah. And in my experience of 12 years of Christianity, I am finding very little – if any – focus on the Hebrew Scriptures. Until I had taken “Paul and the Law” with Kent Yinger, I feel as though I was missing out on so much within the Hebrew Bible.

In your studies, teaching, or life in general, do you give weight to the Hebrew Scriptures? Do you think there is still significance to the Hebrew Bible in and of itself? What are some of your experiences in coming to Torah with or without the Christ lens? Did you find something good or did you see something lacking?

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

 

[1] “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
[2] “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
[3] “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
[4] 2 Cor. 5:17b, English Standard Version. I do not think Paul is talking about Torah practices in this passage, but I could be wrong.